Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Strike in Bologna

La dolce vita...

Shady Ebay

I don’t ebay, at least not under normal circumstances. But a few days ago I was looking around for an old old movie, and the only source was a VHS sold on ebay. At first glance it seemed that there were 21 copies available at $19.95 each. But when I returned to the site there was only one, with an auction that was going to end the following day, at a starting bid of $19.95. I tried to find the old link, the one with a conclusive price, but couldn’t find it, so I put in a $19.95 bid.

That evening I got an e-mail that someone had outbid me at $20.45.

I decided the best strategy would be to log on a few minutes before the close of bidding (2:00pm the following day), and put in my $20.95 bid and be done with it. But of course I forgot. Oh well…

And then, a few hours later, I got an e-mail from ebay. Congratulations! My $19.95 bid had been accepted. The video would be shipped the following day.

Clearly fraud… n’est pas?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

More on the AAP Recommendations

I said in my recent post that I had no problem with the recent AAP directives on SIDS prevention, that include placing a baby to sleep on their backs. For the record, mine, per the then-recommendation, were always put to sleep on their sides, and generally made their way to their stomachs during the night…

However, I realize now that I wasn’t considering all the ramifications. The NYTimes has an article today about how many parents, guiltily and covertly, are still putting their babies to sleep on their stomachs, because they sleep so much better that way. I’d probably do the same…

Quoting the NYTimes:

In the face of so much advice, many well-meaning parents simply balk. Doctors, they feel, issue proclamations without living in the real world.
"I'm very sympathetic to the mother who is so sleep-deprived that she puts the baby on its belly knowing that all the experts recommend not to," said Ms. Lyon, of the RealBirth center. "The role of the professional is to say 'these are the recommendations and this is why.' The role of the parent is to think critically and apply those recommendations in a way that makes their life manageable."
Perhaps surprisingly, Ms. Lyon finds no argument from Dr. Kattwinkel of the pediatrics academy.

"There is some justification to mothers who want to accept some of the risk factors and not others," he said. "You can follow all the risk factors and your baby may still die of SIDS. But as a national organization, we need to warn the public about it."

He added, "Any pediatrician who didn't would not be responsible."

I find this story particularly interesting because it pertains to so many other noble efforts that doctors often foist upon us with little regard for the real life, real world implications of carrying them out.

Regarding My Two Cats

First, I must digress and say that half the men I encounter claim an allergy to cats. Of course, for some this may be true, for others, I expect is psychosomatic.

For myself, I don’t have any particular affinity to animals in the house, whether cats or dogs, but I do find cats a lot more tolerable. They’re clean, they can be left alone for days at a time (mine are outdoor cats so they just take walks around the neighborhood and have wet dreams about catching birds…), and their physical grace is a marvel of nature. Dogs, on the other hand, require constant attention, often in the form of French kisses, which is something I prefer to reserve for my relations with attractive human males… They also need babysitting, get sad when left alone, and needed to be walked with a poop scooper on hand. That’s a lot more than I’m willing to do for anyone but a real child, and even then, I know that at some point the child will grow up, dogs never do…

So as you probably understand, I do have cats. Two cats that we adopted when we moved into our house, as pets for my kids. My daughter in particular wanted them, although for some reason I’m the only person in the house that seems to remember, on a consistent basis, to feed them…

I’m slowly getting to my point…

When we adopted the cats, there was the one that my kids wanted – slender, long legged, shiny black fur, genteel in every way, and afraid of her own skin. We called her Laila (night in Hebrew). And there was the one that I wanted. A smaller, athletic, slightly cross-eyed white and black cat that kept harassing her adjacent cage mates in a kinda, “come on, let’s play” type of way. We named her Criss Cross, for her eyes, and affectionately we call her Crissy.

For the first few years of their lives, Crissy ruled the roost. Harassing Laila. Visiting all our neighbors to collect choice selections of food (much better than the dry cat food I laid out for her), while Laila stuck religiously to the boundaries of our yard, and bounded away when anyone came near.

How things change… Today Laila rules the roost. She slowly realized that her long legs and superior strength count for something, and today, when new food is presented, Laila makes Crissy wait will she’s eaten her fill. Chrissy, who in her youth was never home, always visiting around and generating midnight phone calls from remote neighbors that had found her and thought she couldn’t get home by herself (she could), is now a homebody. All she wants to do is rest, sleep, and come over to nudge her nose into my breast (dreaming probably of her mom…).

A friend of mine recently described Crissy as a housewife… That was a shock. In my mind she’s still the tomboy, but maybe not…

Is there some analogy that can be drawn here? The fearless tomboy that grows into a sedentary housewife, and the neurotic, clumsy, long legged beauty that grows into Miss powerful career woman? I don’t know. But it’s tempting…

Regarding Hebrew liturgy, Latin liturgy

At dinner Sunday night a friend and I were discussing the relative merits of reciting the Jewish high holiday liturgy in Hebrew vs. English. My bias is towards recitation in Hebrew, because the Hebrew original is so beautiful and so vastly superior to the English version. I think English translations and transliterations should be included on the same page for reference, but I don't like synagogue readin of the English translations - so clumsy and awkward-sounding...

My friend was mentioning that people who know Latin say the same about the comparison between the Christian Latin liturgy, and today’s English version. This analogy hadn’t occurred to me, but it’s probably true. The best minds in the business put the Hebrew and the Latin liturgy together over hundreds of years. What makes us think that some obscure translator can get even close?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Back to Babies

Have you heard that about this week’s new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP’s)? Here they are:

1. Babies should sleep on their backs, and should not be placed to sleep on their sides.
2. Babies should sleep with pacifiers from the time they’re one month old.
3. Babies should not sleep in one bed with their parents

And why all this? To prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

So first I must digress. How can Sudden Death be a Syndrome? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Isn’t a syndrome by definition a set of symptoms as opposed to just one? And isn’t sudden death just one? How about calling it just plain SID? I need an explanation

But back to the main subject. When my daughter was born, my 70 year old neighbour told me a little anecdote about his mother. She used to say that pediatricians drove her crazy. She had given birth to 11 children. When her first baby was born, bananas were the best food for babies. When the second appeared – bananas were an absolute no no, sure to bring dire consequences. When baby number three was born, bananas were back in favor, but by the time baby number five showed up, they were in disgrace. You get the idea.

When my daughter was born the recommendation was to put babies to sleep on their sides, and the hospital took great pains to teach us how to do this (it’s not easy). We had just been coming out of an era when it was recommended to lay babies on their stomachs. Pacifiers were a bad thing. Sleeping in bed with the parents – well, I think that recommendation has remained consistent…

Let’s focus a bit on pacifiers. My daughter loved pacifiers from the day she was born. There was a natural bond between her and her pacifier. My son, in contrast, never could stand a pacifier. Never. I could never convince him to take one. I can’t explain it.

Now was it bad for my daughter to suck a pacifier? At the time a lot of American parents considered it a sin and an abomination. Well, here I’ll get on my high horse and say that aversion to pacifiers is just one more way that American parents make life difficult on themselves. In my opinion, pacifiers are good in every way. They calm the baby, and make the baby more alert. Instead of listening to his own inner angst, the baby seems to relax and take in the world. And perhaps most important of all, pacifiers help prevent thumb-sucking. Babies that take a pacifier very rarely start sucking their thumbs.

But when my daughter was young, pacifiers were considered a taboo in the U.S. A sign of a negligent parent. I always loved to compare it to Israel, where people have much more children, and generally seem to enjoy them more. In Israel pacifiers came in three sizes, small (for infants), medium (for toddlers), and large. The large ones were about the size of an orange – even adults have a tough time sticking them into their mouths, but 3-4 year olds seemed to love them. By the time kids got to first grade of course none of them would go around with pacifiers. And guess what. They wouldn’t suck their thumbs either. Thumb-sucking is almost exclusive to kids who don’t take, or were denied pacifiers, and it’s actually is a big problem. If you decide to lose your pacifier, which kids do as they get older, you just throw it out. If you get used to sleeping with your thumb in your mouth, it’s a very tough habit to break. And if children continue sucking their thumbs past age 6 or 7, it causes permanent deformation of the mouth, with upper teeth sticking out. Then it provides plenty of income for orthodontists (I know, I was married to one…).

But why did the AAP recommend that pacifier use start only after age one month? Why not from birth? Because the breastfeeding lobby is claiming that giving a pacifier to a newborn interferes with breastfeeding. Do any of you believe that? How can a pacifier interfere with breastfeeding? There’s no nutrition involved. Babies have a primal need (as do we all) to eat. If they’re offered a breast and a pacifier, as opposed to only a breast, does that mean they won’t nurse? No, it just means that they may not use the breast as a pacifier – a good outcome in my opinion…

I don’t think the AAP thought the pacifier would interfere with breastfeeding either. I give enough credit to their basic sense of reason. However, the breastfeeding lobby is a different story altogether, and has power to make or break pediatricians’ practices. So when they say so, the AAP jumps. And that’s how you get this funny statement that pacifier use should start only after the first month…

Bottom line, I don’t have any problem with the new recommendations of the AAP, and in any case, for anyone who isn’t happy with them, I can assure you that these too will change.

Monday, October 10, 2005

On Harriet Miers

I was amused

Guilty as Charged

Having a pregnant friend is reminding me of my own childbirth experiences. Which I won’t bore you with here, but I do have a point to make…

I had very easy deliveries. At least my first one was very easy, and my second was fast if not easy. My daughter was actually coming out before the doctor or nurses even realized anything was happening. I guess I wasn’t in enough pain to make a convincing case of actually being about to give birth.

My point is this. However easy my birthing experience was, the doctor and nurses made sure to make me feel like I was doing something wrong. Maybe it was this east coast guilt thing (both my kids born at St. Francis hospital in Connecticut), maybe it’s the medical establishment superiority thing, maybe it’s the medical propensity, when faced with lack of evidence, to take a strong position on the importance of some nonsensical this or that…

So I’ll clarify:

When my daughter was born, common wisdom was that:

1. When a woman has the urge to start pushing the baby out (this happens when the cervix is dilated, and the baby needs to move down the birth canal and out), this urge is actually false. The cervix is not fully dilated. She should wait at least 15 minutes before starting to push.

Now in my cynical mind, why in the world would they think the urge is false? The urge to push happens because the baby’s head gets low enough that it triggers a certain reflex that is also triggered when we go to the bathroom. Except that this reflex is much much stronger with a full baby’s head pressing down. Is there any specific reason to think it happens prematurely? No. The real reason for this superstition, per yours truly, is that this is the exact point where the medical crew needs to transfer the woman from the labor room to the delivery room and to setup for the delivery. They’d rather have that extra 15 minutes. They don’t want the baby emerging in the corridor. So they make up this old-wive’s tale that if you push prematurely, the cervix will be damaged, it will swell, and the baby will never come out (I kid you not, this has all been said to be with straight faces by fully certified MD’s).

2. Once you are pushing, with each push, you should hold your breath, because that gives more force to the push.

Hmmm. Interesting. But do you need more force? The baby does come out. If it’s coming out at reasonable speed, and your body isn’t very happy with holding its breath, is that holding your breath really necessary? Yes, absolutely the doctors, and especially, the nurses, will say. Based on what? Who knows.

So you guessed it. When the doctor finally realized that I was fully dilated, he didn’t want me to push. Because obviously if I push I’ll damage my cervix (really???). So the whole crew is standing over me with every contraction telling me to breath fast – because that should prevent me from pushing. Of course I couldn’t fully handle that, try as I might I couldn’t stop myself from pushing. Between breaths I’d push. They kept looking at me suspiciously and telling each other: “She’s pushing”.

The doctor stood over me seriously and said: “Hava, I want you to stop pushing, you'll hurt yourself”. Like he’s talking to a kid in kindergarten…

When they finally allowed that I should be pushing, they weren’t happy because instead of holding my breath I was making some sort of aggressive sound. Let’s not get into the details, but they felt I wasn’t doing the right thing. In the meantime the baby is coming out just fine, just as fast as she should, but I’m not holding my breath with each push, so they’re not happy with my technique…

Ultimately, I had my first child within 4 hours of getting to the hospital, it all went so fast that no medications were necessary, she was fine, I was fine, but the doctors and nurses were not pleased with my performance… I so remember that. Imagine how bad they would have made me feel if there had actually been problems, or even if it was as bad as a normal first delivery. Self important geniuses...

The Politics of Science Journalism

I attended a panel discussion this week on the Politics of Science Journalism hosted by the L.A. Press Club. Three science journalists, one from the L.A. Times, one from Reason magazine, and one from Skeptic (whatever that is…) talked.

A lot was said, but what ultimately stuck in my mind was:

1. When reading a science article, if you know anything about the issue at hand, you’ll almost always find that any connection between the facts and what is being reported is purely coincidental. Yes, from my experience this is unfortunately very true. Which is particularly disconcerting because it makes you wonder about the connection between political reporting and the truth. I hope it’s not quite as bad. But this also explains why I often find pop science articles so disconcertingly obtuse. It’s because if they discuss a subject that I’m not familiar with, and they’re saying nonsense, there’s no way for me to make sense of them.
2. That science journalists are usually not scientists, as evidenced by the illustrious panel…
3. That science is often manipulated to serve political purposes, and journalists play along with that. A prime example being, perhaps, the various environmental disasters that we’re so often warned about…

Regarding #1, I’ve had first hand experience from the other side of the fence – when doing PR for technology companies. I’d write a press release that was as clear as I could possibly make it. I’d do a press tour, sit for over an hour with each reporter, explain, elucidate, answer their questions. Then I would read the article they wrote and be stunned at the nonsense that was written. And no, it was not just me, others had the same problem. I can’t fully explain it, but I think the writers got so carried away with their words that they forgot to pay attention to the content…

Monday, October 03, 2005

Moneymaker Tomatoes

I’ve been slicing tomatoes for Rosh Hashana dinner, and remembering the story of the Moneymaker tomatoes.

Israelis are very particular about their tomatoes. A tomatoer/cucumber salad along with white cheese and bread is the traditional Israeli breakfast, and it’s a point of pride among Israelis that their tomatoes are the best. Indeed the classic Israeli tomatoes – small and round - are wonderful.

But in the early 60’s, the then minister of agriculture, I believe it was Moshe Dayan of one-eyed fame, decided to give Israeli agriculture a boost. Instead of growing the notoriously finicky standard Israeli tomatoes, they would grow Roma tomatoes, nicknamed in Hebrew “Moneymakers” because they’re so easy to grow, and therefore profitable. In best planned economy form, ALL Israeli farms converted their crop that year to Moneymakers. And lo and behold, that year a plague hit the Moneymakers, a pest specific to that breed, and they all died. It was a sad year in Israel. No tomatoes. And that was the end of the Moneymaker tomato craze in Israel.

Now this is a story that my father told me, and I’m assume there’s a level of exaggeration in it, but who knows…

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Just So You Know

The latest in junk mail is people posting ads for their products or websites on blogs...

So if you see a comment that I've deleted (as in my previous post), I want you to know that it's not an opinion comment. I never delete opinion posts, even if they say, as one previous one did, that I'm "loathsome". I only delete posts of the type: "Hey, loved your post, have a look at my web site, www.bonsai.com"... I think I can spare you those.