Daily WTF: The NYC Pedestrian-Driver Dynamic

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting New York City for the first time (anticipate a post this upcoming weekend), and while much of it was wonderful, there was one glaringly awful facet of it: the pedestrian-driver dynamic.

We all know NYC is crowded (Over 8.5 million people live there and millions more visit.), but that’s not what I’m talking about.  No, I’m talking about the fact that cars just lurch from lane to lane, around corners, and through red lights while pedestrians stand far out into the road, cross against the lights while cars are mere feet away from them, and don’t even look up from their friend, phone, or latte while crossing.  It is nerve-wracking and just plain baffling.

I had the dubious pleasure of being on both sides of the dynamic, though thankfully not during rush hour, and, honestly, pedestrians are much more irritating.  Drivers have developed keen instincts and the technique of basically living on their horns to let people know when they’re driving through, changing lanes, letting someone in, or the light has turned.  It’s actually pretty easy to work with drivers (though the never-ending stream of horn blasts during rush hour is hella irritating).  Pedestrians (which includes bicyclists) are mad, inconsiderate creatures who see about two feet of open space and just dart for it.  Now, I know everyone in Manhattan is just super busy, but you’d think avoiding having your crumpled, broken body thrown onto the hood of a taxi would be more important that crossing the street right this second.

So, my fellow country bumpkins, if you ever wind up in NYC as a driver, keep a weather eye out: there will be thousands of ear bud-wearing, coffee-sipping, power-walking, fast-pedaling, cell phone-shrieking New Yorkers there more than willing to dart in front of your car to get to their destination 15 seconds earlier.  Watch out for them and use that horn liberally.

Adventures in Reading — September 21 — September 27, 2015

AdultingWhat did I read (and finish) this week?  Look below to find out!

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown (2013) — This book contains hundreds of tips on how to be a more effective adult from Kelly Williams Brown’s Adulting Blog.  It covers cleaning, maintenance, making friends, starting and ending romances, cooking, and much, much more.  Some of the advice is a bit intuitive, other pieces are unrealistic, and the book can drag given how information dense it is, but it’s a good read with several really important nuggets.  I especially like the section on working, which I thought was great for the person just starting out in the professional world.

Nana by Ai Yazawa (2000 — 2009/on permanent hiatus), ch. 1 — 16 — This manga is about the lives, romances, friendships, and dreams of two girls named Nana.  Nana Komatsu (later called Hachi) is a sweet if unfocused girl just trying to have a grand romance.  Nana Oosaki is a punk rocker with the dream of making it big and trying to resist the siren call of a normal family life with her rockstar boyfriend Ren.  It’s extremely well-written and beautiful though it can get a bit heavy sometimes.  This is my second read of the manga (and I am loving it).

Ongoing manga:

Shokugeki no Soma (Food Wars!/Soma’s Cooking Battles) by Yuto Tsukuda (2012 – ongoing) ch. 134 & 135 – Okay, big events in the Tootsuki Academy world, including a weird and expected upheaval in the Academy’s leadership.  I actually didn’t expect this turn, so I’m pretty excited to see where it goes, but I hope that it won’t put too much expectation on Soma.  I’d like to see other characters step up too.

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu (Assassination Classroom) by Yusei Matsui (2012 – ongoing) ch. 152 & 153 – We reached a slightly anticlimactic end to the space exploration, learning that Koro-sensei is essentially okay but that the kids are still going to try to kill him.  I think this arc was essentially a mistake and am a bit disappointed with it.  Hopefully, it improves soon.

Boku_GirlBoku Girl by Sugito Akira (2013 to ongoing) ch. 1 — 59 — This manga centers around Mizuki, a very girly looking boy who catches the attention of Loki, the God of Mischief.  Loki decides to turn him into a girl.  Mizuki must now hide his gender switch while dealing with his burgeoning affection for his long-time best friend Takeru and trying to get the girl his likes, Fujiwara, to like him back.  It’s a fun comic that likes to be mischievous and a bit ecchi.  I really like it because it’s not getting too hung up on what a girl “should” be or drawing out Mizuki keeping his gender change from his friends.  I’m really looking forward to its eventual continuation.

Daily WTF: Dudes Hogging the Gym Equipment While Doing Nothing

Photo taken from: http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=133340553

Photo taken from: http://forum.bodybuilding.com/ showthread.php?t=133340553

When I go to the gym I’m on a mission.  I want to get in and get out, preferably within the hour (45 minutes if possible).  Why?  Because I have a life to lead.  I have 11,500 steps to do every day, which is not as easy as you might think.  I have the GRE to study for.  I have a house that perpetually needs to be cleaned.  I have comics that I am way behind drawing.  I have 26,000 words to write every month.  So I want to get this shit done.

Accordingly, I have a plan.  Five minutes walking on a treadmill, eight machines, two free weights, five minutes on a treadmill, and I’m out.  I know exactly which eight machines I will use, which free weight exercises I will do, how much weight to use with every machine, and when I increase that weight.  I write down every set, every rep, every weight, and every machine, and I rest five breaths between every set.  I have my routine down, and I do not like changing it.

So it annoys the hell out of me when some dude with his shirt cut to show his side boobs/nipples and not-so-inspiring obliques plunks down on one of my machines and starts texting, scrolling, or talking.  Is he ever going to use that equipment?  Certainly not within the next ten minutes.  Never mind the fact that my gym has two sitting areas with couches in addition to the locker rooms for him to use.  Never mind that this is a busy time of the night.  Never mind that I am using every machine around him and glaring daggers.  Dude needs to send texts and pretend he’s working out.  Fuck everything else.

I have had dudes sit and text on the same piece of equipment for over thirty minutes oblivious to the fact that this is a gym and that is extremely poor gym etiquette.  I’ve had groups of guys do this, shouldering me out of the way or literally shoving so close to me that I’ve hit them with the machine (which I can’t move so fuck you, guy, for getting all pissy).  I’ve had guys refuse to move when I’ve asked them to even though they are doing nothing.

Now, I’m not going to claim that this is a dudes-only problem.  I’ve seen a few women do it, but women are more likely to be hogging the cardio machines, texting in the corner, and setting up a train on three pieces of equipment with five of their closest friends (which is a post for another day).  Dudes are much more likely to feel entitled to the space and not care about spreading out and getting in others’ way.  It’s the gym.  It’s their area.  The rest of us are just passing through.

But ya’ll need to stop it.  Need to send a quick text?  Go for it.  Need to write down your reps?  Be my guest.  But the leg press machine is not just a weird-looking bench, and the v-triceps machine is not a watering hole.  So go lean against a wall or sit on a couch or just fucking leave and let the rest of us get our shit done.  Ain’t nothing impressive about you sitting on your ass being a dick.

Basic Background on Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha

Photo taken from: http://biblicalisraeltours.com/2013/09/yom-kippur/

Celebrating Yom Kippur Photo taken from: http://biblicalisraeltours.com/2013/09/yom-kippur/

This past week, several billion Jews and Muslims celebrated two incredibly important religious holidays, Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha  However, because this country doesn’t recognize non-Christian holidays like it should, many of my fellow Americans might not know much about Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha (-raises hand guiltily-).  While it’s too late to wish your friendly neighborhood Jews and Muslims a joyous day, you can still learn about these two holidays and perhaps prepare a bit better in the future.  With that in mind, I present you with Basic Background on Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha.

Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in Judaism and its most important religious holiday.  It’s often the only holiday that more secular Jews observe.  On this day, people are closest to God and “to the quintessence of our own souls.”  It is part of the High Holidays, and occurs on the tenth day of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah (Rosh Hashanah is when the new year starts.).  On this day, people participate in fasting and other forms of self-denial such as not washing, having sex, or wearing clothes made of animal skin.   The purpose of this self-denial is to dedicate your mind, body, and soul to God, your fellow human beings, and yourself.  It is also a means of preparing yourself to have your sins forgiven by God, hence the “atonement.”

This year, Yom Kippur started at sundown on Tuesday, September 22 and ended at nightfall on Wednesday, September 23 and was just over 25 hours long.  Before Yom Kippur begins, families have a meal called seudat mafseket that starts with the blessing of the challah, which is braided bread eaten on Shabbat and other holidays.  The meal concludes with the lighting of candles, which begins the official fast.

During the day, Jews try to go to as many worship sessions as possible as congregational worship is at the heart of the holiday and it is a mitzvah (a religious duty/commandment) to go to all the services.  These services are the Kol Nidre on the first evening, Yizkor, N’ilah, and Havdalah at the end of Yom Kippur.  The Kol Nidre, or “all vows,” is the recitation of a special liturgical formulation that goes back centuries.  Its purpose is to annul all unintended vows made in the previous year and allow you to start fresh.  Yizkor is a memorial service that remembers those who have died in the past year.  N’liah is the concluding services, and Havdalah is a separation chant used to mark the end or beginnings of holidays.  It marks the end of Yom Kippur and is recited after the shofar (a special horn) is sounded.  Then there is a meal either with the congregation or at home.

There are many more aspects to Yom Kippur, including traditional clothes, colors, and food, but this is a very brief overview.  So if you know someone that is observing Yom Kippur, remember to be respectful of their fast and religious observance.  As for next year, Yom Kippur will be on October 11 and 12.  For more information, click here and here.

Eid al-Adha, The Festival of Sacrifice

Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, is one of two religious holidays that Muslims celebrate and the most important one.  It is often called Greater Eid to differentiate it from Eid al-Fitr, which takes place earlier in the year immediately after Ramadan.

While Eid al-Adha is called the Festival of Sacrifice, it is actually a joyous celebration.  It marks the end of Hajj, the pilgrimage all Muslims (who have the means) must take to Mecca.  It also commemorates God’s (Allah’s) commandment to Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Ismail) to show his devotion to Him.  However, before Abraham could commit the deed, God stopped him, now convinced that he had shown his spiritual resolve.  Accordingly, Muslims around the world will sacrifice an animal such as a goat or cow to commemorate the event, eating one third of the animal, giving one third to friends and family, and giving the final third to the needy.  In countries like the UK and US where people cannot personally slaughter an animal, they will either get the animal from a slaughterhouse or give food and money to the needy instead.

Eid al-Adha began on sundown on September 24 and lasted four days, which is typical.  On the morning of the first day, people will dress in their finest and visit the mosque for religious services.  Afterwards, they will visit friends, family, and the needy, eating, celebrating, and giving gifts.  People will tell each other, “Eid Mubarak! (Blessed Eid!)”

This is a very short summary of Eid al-Adha and one that I hope to expand upon more in the future.  While Muslims are not fasting or abstaining on these days, it’s still important to be respectful of them and their traditions and try to be mindful of how you’re asking them questions.  Remember that it is a joyous celebration.

While sources vary, Eid al-Adha in 2016 will be September 13 — September 16.  To learn a little bit more, click here and here.

The Pros and Cons of Fall

It’s fall, y’all!  That means warm drinks, oversized sweaters, running outside, creating, and much, much more.  And, although fall is probably my favorite season, it’s not all frothy cappuccinos and olive-hued boots.  Yes, there can be a dark side too, which brings us to The Pros and Cons of Fall.

Pros

  • Saying “It’s fall, y’all.”  There is nothing objectionable about that phrase.  It rhymes, it utilizes the greatly under-appreciated pronoun “y’all,” it’s cute, and it has no problematic religious connotations attached to it.
  • The best fashion of the year.  Fall is when we get the best colors, the best types of clothes, and the best fashion.  Everything is maroon, orange, deep teal, olive, and burgundy with plenty of charcoal, chocolate, and black.  There are thousands of new jackets, boots, jeans, scarves, and long-sleeved shirts to ogle, and, unlike in the winter, you can actually be seen wearing these clothes!  And everyone looks good in fall fashions, whether you’re wearing skirts and colorful tights, skinny jeans tucked into ankle boots, or sleeveless hoodies over long-sleeved shirts.  And I do mean everybody — men, women, nonbinary people, fat people, skinny people, pear-shaped people, black people, old people — everybody looks like a Goddamn model in fall fashions.
  • Cuddling.  Yes, you can (and should) cuddle every day of the year, but in the fall we cuddle in oversized sweaters, fluffy blankets, and duvets.  It’s like cuddling inside a cuddle, and it’s awesome.
  • Crafting season.  We don’t craft during the summer.  I don’t know why that is.  Maybe it’s because we’re way too busy going on vacation/being too fucking hot, but we just don’t.  But that makes fall all the more exciting because suddenly we have to craft.  We need to make wreaths and customize our jackets and bags and make a scarf/bag/hat/mittens/boot cuffs that match the season/Halloween.  It’s fall, y’all, and we’ve got shit to do.
  • Crafting for crafting’s sake.  Fall is different from winter in that all your crafts are just for fun whereas winter crafts will most likely either be intended as gifts or to stave off the cabin fever and thus attract significantly more pressure.  So you fucked up your Nightmare Before Christmas wreath?  Big deal, just make another.  Oh, you slipped a stitch in your girlfriend’s Christmas scarf?  TIME TO LOSE YOUR SHIT.  Fall crafts FTW.
  • Leaves changing.  I grew up in Texas and for about 22 years was not aware that leaves changing color was an enjoyable environmental process.  In Texas, you have green leaves, yellow leaves, brown leaves, and no leaves, though that’s often because it hasn’t rained in 96 days and has been over 100 degrees for 106 days.  But when you get above the Mason-Dixie line in vague proximity to some mountain range or hilly area, leaves changing color is actually really cool.  The world becomes colorful, textured, and alive.  If you can see leaves actually changing color the way the Northeast intended, please do so.  It’s awesome.
  • Trips to an orchard.  Yeah, you can visit orchards during the spring and summer (Berry picking, anyone?), but it becomes much more of an event during the fall.  Apples come in, cider donuts are freshly made, pumpkins must be picked, and hay rides must be gone on.  Ain’t nothing better than an afternoon at the local orchard.
  • Pumpkin/spices everywhere!  Man, I love pumpkin.  It is a delicious-flavored gourd and great in pretty much everything.  Then there’re the accompanying spices — cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger (maybe even cardamom!) — that’s the good stuff.  You throw various mixtures of that in basically anything and it’s going to be delicious.  Mmmm…
  • The return of egg nog.  Yeah, pumpkin spice is great, but I can actually get the basic ingredients any time of the year.  You know what I can only get November through December?  Egg nog.  Come January 1, that shit is gone.  Time to stock up (And you cannot make it yourself.  Believe me, I’ve tried.).
  • Cooking.  So much damn cooking.  Let’s make cookies, guys, and strudel and streusel and cobbler and bread and soup and chili and roast chicken and chickpea soup and lentils and oatmeal and everything in The Joy of Cooking.  Why?  Because it’s fucking fall, y’all.
  • Hot foods and beverages.  While I will absolutely have hot chocolate and chili during the summer, it’s not quite as satisfying as it is in the fall.  Fall marks the moment when my body (especially my hands) crave hot foods and beverages and when I flood it with chai tea, various other teas, hot chocolate, coffee-flavored drinks, chili, soups, and roasts.  And I never regret it.
  • Halloween.  Halloween is my favorite holiday.  There’s dressing up, being silly with friends, crafting/creating, candy, sweets, booze, parties, and decorations.  What’s not to love about Halloween?
  • Haunted houses.  Haunted houses.  Haunted houses.  Haunted houses.  HAUNTED HOUSES!!

Cons

  • The sad, inevitable slide into winter.  Yes, it’s lovely to go running during daylight hours without getting heat stroke, but every day that drops a fraction of a degree is just one day closer to slipping on the icy steps outside your apartment and futilely trying to caulk the chinks in your window frames.  Ugh.
  • Christmas invasion.  There is a time and a place for Christmas.  That time is not September.
  • Football.  After four years of high school marching band, I am done with football.  And now that I live in a college town with exceedingly poor city management, I am further done with football.  Football encourages 19-year-olds to get drunk in parking lots, hog employees’ spaces, and clog up traffic for miles.  Boo on that.
  • A severe decrease in fresh fruits.  What fruit do you eat during the fall?  Apples?  Maybe bananas?  Aaaaaand…?  Everything else is either canned or frozen, and you can only eat apples for so long.  Bye-bye, berries and melons.  I’ll see you again in nine months.
  • Pumpkin spice everything.  So we’ve established that I love both pumpkin and the spices one puts in pumpkin spice and pumpkin-flavored things.  You know what I don’t love?  An over-saturation of a flavor that doesn’t even taste like pumpkin.  There’s nothing pumpkin-y about pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin spice Twinkies (Also, what the hell, Twinkies?).  We are reaching critical mass of the pumpkin spice-ness, and it is not going to be pretty.
  • Hearing people use the word “basic” unironically/constantly.  Yes, I understand that we have an over-saturation of pumpkin spice everything and that people will in fact riot over it, but there’s no need to call everybody basic.  Do you even know what that means?  Does anyone?  Is it even a bad thing?  No?  Then STFU.
  • The inevitable reminder that you’re too old to trick-or-treat.  Unless you’re below 18, you’re not legally allowed to go trick-or-treating (at least, not in my city).  This seems patently unfair to me.  I don’t want to scope out kids, molest them, or feed them poisonous candy.  I just want to dress up, go door-to-door, and get free candy.  And yet, I will never be able to again.  Sniff.
  • Family stress.  Suddenly, not visiting your family for nine months is not “understandable” or “forgivable” but is an execution-able offense that shows that you’ve never really loved your grandmother.  Prepare to argue, to shout, to rehash old offenses, to smile while your misogynistic uncle leers at you, and to have every life decision made or not yet made undermined.  Yay…
  • Fucked up work schedule.  Do you enjoy a stable work schedule where you get everything done like checking items off a list?  No?  Then are you going to love shifting around your schedule, deliveries, and social life to accommodate holidays, insane new opening and closing hours, and every single one of your coworkers taking extra time off at the last minute.
  • Body shaming.  Someone, either you, a family member, a friend, or a complete fucking stranger, will point out that all that delicious food has calories and eating too many calories can make you fat.  If you’re super lucky, someone will poke your belly at Thanksgiving and say you’ve gotten “big.”  Do your best to ignore them, make peace with any incidental body changes, and have another fucking piece of pie.  It’s fall.  Food is awesome.  Enjoy.
  • Black Friday.  Seriously, fuck Black Friday.  The sales aren’t really any better than any other time of the year, and they’re never better than Cyber Monday (or the following Saturday or Sunday).  It’s just a way for corporations to trick people into overspending while simultaneously controlling employees and stealing their time.  If possible, do not shop on Black Friday.  Please, just don’t.  Rather, could I suggest baking or crafting with your family and friends?  Both are significantly less stressful and more satisfying (and won’t involve you getting stabbed while carrying a TV to your car).

Adventures in Links — September 25, 2015 (Fall Crafts & Food)

Photo taken from Country Living

Photo taken from Country Living

Theme: Fall Crafts & Food

This week saw the official passage from summer into fall, signaling that we need to give up watermelon, fresh-picked berries, and tank tops and switch to pumpkin spice everything, do-it-yourself craft nights, and rich, vibrant hues.  It’s a great time of the year when temperatures drop and the leaves begin to change, and it just make you want to create.  In celebration of what’s probably my favorite season (exempting its inevitable slide into winter and the attendant chilliness), I present some links to fall DIY (do it yourself) projects (notably crafts and food) to get you making in this glorious season.  Enjoy!

One of the most common must-have crafts of the season is the wreath.  Honestly, I’d argue that it’s more important to have a fall wreath than a winter one because fall wreathes can be so varied!  You can make generic fall ones, Halloween ones, or Thanksgiving ones, ones from local product and flora, and ones in any hue of the rainbow.  Country Living has an especially awesome collection of 21 DIY wreathes complete with pictures, instructions, and links.  Even if you don’t want to follow someone else’s example exactly, this is a great starting point for your own wreath projects.

Photo taken from Country Living

Photo taken from Country Living

Country Living also has this great post about mason jar crafts.  Now, if you’re thinking that mason jar crafts sound lame, you couldn’t be more wrong.  They’re actually really pretty and make nice house-warming gifts for friends that you can endlessly customize for their aesthetic and personality.  Seriously, give them a try; you’ll be surprised by how much you like them.

Were you aware that, in addition to Southern Living, there’s a Midwestern Living?  Because I was not.  But I’m glad I went poking around the Internet because they have this great post about different fall craft ideas.  They’re all quite elegant and would simply and quickly spruce up your house or dinner party.

If you’re like me and just love cross-stitching, then you should click on this link to a Pinterest board with tons of fall/Halloweeny cross-stitch patterns.  Some are really cute, others are clever, and still others are quite spooky.  I can’t wait to try them myself.

But let’s not forget the kids.  While you’re off finding that perfect sprig of ginkgo leaves or endlessly winding burlap, you’ve got to have something for your kids to do (lest they get bored and mess up your perfect centerpiece).  Click here for several really cute kids’ crafts, including mosaics, found crafts, and crowns.

Photo taken from Closet Cooking

Photo taken from Closet Cooking

Last but not least is the food.  Yes, the food because what is fall without tons of delicious food and hours spent baking and cooking with friends?  Both of these links come from Closet Cooking which, if you’ve never looked at it, is this amazing site with hundreds of delicious recipes and list upon list of ingredient-specific recipes.  First up is this link of 20 Apple-icious Recipes including Cheesecake Stuffed Apple Muffins with Streusel Topping and Caramel Sauce, Roasted Apple Sauce, and Sweetango Apple, Bacon, and Cheddar Pecan Sticky Buns.  And, as a piece de resistance, we have this link of 31 Pumpkin Recipes which includes Pumpkin Goat Cheese Fettuccine Alfredo with Crispy Fried Sage, Pumpkin Hummus, and Pumpkin White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Cookies.  I’ve actually gotten to try the cookies, and they were just incredible!  I can’t recommend these recipes or this website enough.  They’re out-of-this-world!

Daily WTF: Banning The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The_Immortal_Life_of_Henrietta_LacksOne of the best, most interesting books I’ve ever read is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010). This book is about Henrietta Lacks, a woman who in 1951 was diagnosed with, treated for, and subsequently died of cervical cancer (or the treatment of it, rather). However, what was unique about her is that her cancer cells are essentially “immortal.” Unlike every other cell in existence, Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells did not die after a few hours. Rather, they continued multiplying and have continued to multiply to this day – approximately 65 years later. Her cells, the HeLa cells, have helped further science, allowing us to study and discover new diseases, cures, and vaccines. In fact, one could argue that her cells are the single greatest scientific discovery in the modern era.

Surprisingly, her family didn’t know about this for about two decades after her death and didn’t really understand the details until Rebecca Skloot started researching the story in the 1990s/early 2000s. It was Rebecca that met with Henrietta’s children and told them how important their mother’s cells were and what she had shared with the world, and it was Rebecca who finally published the full story in 2010 – including who Henrietta and her family are.

Now, five years later, one woman, Jackie Sims of Knox County, Tennessee, is trying to ban the book. A passage early in the book where Henrietta discovers the lump in her cervix had made her 15-year-old son, who was required to read the book for summer reading, uncomfortable. She read the passage and deemed it pornographic, first demanding that her son be allowed to read something else, and now trying to ban the book county-wide.

While I agree with a person’s right to choose what is appropriate for themselves, I don’t agree with Jackie Sims’ crusade to ban the book or her assertion that any part of it is pornographic. Pornography is a medium with unrealistic sexual expectations that, more often than not, takes advantage of its participants and dangerously skews society’s perceptions of sex, pleasure, intimacy, and bodies. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a nonfiction book that documents the discovery and use of the HeLa cells while focusing heavily on Henrietta and her family to show the dangers of unethical doctors, scientific illiteracy, and racism (Henrietta and her family are black.). It opens up a dialogue into the importance of gynecology and anatomical awareness and the need to get a patient’s consent before doing anything to them or with their tissues. It also contains one of the most interesting, suspenseful, and moving stories I’ve ever read.

I will admit that some parts of the book did make me uncomfortable. Henrietta’s discovery of her cancer while not graphic was intimate, and the description of her treatment highlighted how painful it must have been. However, just because I am uncomfortable with the human body and medical procedures does not mean those are pornographic, inappropriate for teenagers, or inappropriate in and of themselves. Because I am uncomfortable with those things, it is important that I be able to learn about them in a safe, informative, and non-intimidating environment – which The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks provided. In fact, I strongly suspect that this book’s accessibility about such an informative but misunderstood topic is why Knox County School District chose it.

So, fine, Jackie Sims, pull the book from your son’s reading list. Tut about it to your friends. Complain about modern society’s moral depravity to your husband. But don’t take knowledge from other students and don’t make other parents’ decision for them. Everyone has a right to choose what they think is appropriate, not just you.

Personal Update

For the next six days, I’ll be out of town for a wedding in New York.  As I’ve never been to New York and rather enjoy these relatives, I won’t be able to maintain this blog during that time.  I’ve managed to queue up some posts and should be publishing on the regular schedule, but there may be some disruptions (I am frantically blogging across Pennsylvania as I type this.).  Either way, we will return to the regular schedule by Thursday, October 1.  Thank you for your patience and your support, and I hope you’ll pursue the archives in the meantime.

— POM

P.S. In the future when trips like these happen, I’ll be requesting guest posts.  If anyone would like to submit a guest post or a post exchange, let me know.  Thanks!

Daily WTF: The 5500% Daraprim Price Hike

On September 20, The New York Times writer Andrew Pollack broke the story that Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals was raising the price of a life-saving drug, Daraprim, by 5500% overnight. The cost of each pill went from $13.50 apiece to $750 – solely because Shkreli and Turing Pharmaceuticals wanted to make money.

First off, let’s not understate how important Daraprim is. It’s been in the market for about 62 years and has a good record of treating toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can cause fatalities in people with compromised immune systems. It’s one of the most common treatments for toxoplasmosis, perhaps the only one (weigh in on this, actual doctors of the Internet), and it was just priced far out of the hands of low-income hospitals, people without insurance, and insurances that refuse to pay for things above a certain price.

Shkreli’s decision to hike this life-saving drug is pretty par for the course for pharmaceutical companies, though still reprehensible. Anecdotally, anyone can look at the cost of their medication in the last five years and see a significant hike in costs, resulting in insurances dropping certain drugs and forcing their clients to use generics or alternatives – sometimes to disastrous effect. The issue has become so virulent that in August two Congressmen, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Elijah E. Cummings, began investigating the drug price increase. Meanwhile, prominent oncologists are calling for more oversight into the rapidly increasing price of cancer drugs, demanding that Congress allow Medicaid to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for more reasonable prices. Shit’s getting dire, folks.

What makes all of this worse is that Shkreli (and assumedly other CEOs) simply don’t care about the real-world harm that he’s doing to people and the economy. Shkreli is quoted as saying, “This isn’t the greedy drug company trying to gouge patients, it is us trying to stay in business… This is still one of the smallest pharmaceutical products in the world… It really doesn’t make sense to get any criticism for this,” painting himself as a victim of Big Pharma on par with kids with compromised immune systems and cancer victims. He feels affronted that people would question either his motives or his actions and is pouting, wondering why the world is so mean to him. After all, he just wants to make a little money, just wants to run his own pharmaceutical company. Is that so much to ask?

Men like Shkreli are why prices increase as the middle-class shrinks. They artificially inflate prices simply to boost their own sales and pass the hardship further and further down the line. If their drug is potentially life-saving like Daraprim is, they know that people will continue to buy it regardless of the cost (I mean, they have to if they don’t want to die.). They know that people will go bankrupt to get the medication they or their loved ones need, even if they have to pay out-of-pocket because their insurance refuses to cover it.

“But why can’t people just get generics?” you might ask. Well, the answer is twofold. One, generics are not always as good as the name brand. Often, they are created by analyzing the original drug, extrapolating the structure, and then trying to reproduce it. The generic company might get something wrong or not have enough money and need to cut corners. Two, sometimes pharmaceutical companies will try to control the distribution of the drug, making it harder for other companies to get the samples they’d need to create a generic. This, in fact, is what Shkreli tried to do at his previous company, and it seems somewhat similar to what is happening with Daraprim. Hospitals have reported that it’s harder and harder to get as the cost has increased from $1 a pill to $13.50 in the past few years. They need to call up the copyright holder or distributing company and actually request more Daraprim – which can take time, be refused, get lost, or cost too much. So generics aren’t always the magic cheat code to get around grasping pharmaceutical companies.

Fortunately, Internet outrage isn’t just a few moody posts on LiveJournal anymore, and as of September 22, Shkreli has announced that Turing Pharmaceuticals will be lowering the price of Daraprim once more – though probably not back to $13.50 apiece. He credits the most recent decision to the social media coverage, saying, “Yes, it is absolutely a reaction… I think that it makes sense to lower the price in response to the anger that was felt by people.” Good to know bad press and a huge dip in stock prices still has an effect on entitled, grasping douchebags.

Daily WTF: The Drive to Discredit Ahmed Mohamed

Dawkins_TweetThanks to the insufferable Richard Dawkins, I now know that there are at least a few people that think Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Texan who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, faked the entire thing. Specifically, that he just took a commercial clock, pulled it out of its casing, and put it in another case. Dawkins watched this YouTube video by Thomas Talbot, who pointed out several indiscrepancies between what a “maker” clock would look like and what a commercial one would. And, of course, Talbot then tried to hashtag #ClockIsAFraud because how else will people get on the bandwagon?

Here’s why this is bullshit.

  1. Even if all Ahmed did was transfer the innards of a commercial clock to a pencil case that still takes skill and shows a passion for electronics. People who are curious about electronics often take them apart and try to put them back together rather than just making their own. It’s a learning tool and something that every person just starting out would do. As commenter Anthony Sherwood of Adafruit Industries pointed out, “Repackaging electronics that you’ve taken out of their case is how nearly all of us started out… This is how you start out… Nobody has been duped. We know that the kid was being creative by putting the guts of one thing into another thing, and we would like him to grow up in a world where he will be encouraged to make his next project bigger and better, not one in which he is arrested for showing an interest in STEAM topics.” Ahmed is 14 and evidently self-taught. It’s understandable that he pulled apart and reassembled a clock – as a real engineering teacher and supporter of children should know.
  2. Claiming that Ahmed was committing a deliberate fraud begs the question of his motive and portrays him as some sort of mastermind. One Twitter user asked Dawkins what he thought Ahmed’s motives were. Dawkins’ answer was, “I don’t know. Possibly wanted to be arrested? Police played into his hands? Anyway, now invited to White House, crowdfunded etc [sic].” So those that think Ahmed deliberately wanted to create a suspicious device also think that he is some sort of criminal genius who is so in tune with the prejudices and feelings of his school, his town, his police force, and the nation as a whole that he can manipulate all of those by simply throwing a commercial clock into a pencil case. That is incredibly unlikely if not downright impossible. His “happily ever after” of getting invitations, national support, and scholarships is dependent on someone disliking his clock and then calling the principal and then the principal overreacting and calling the police and then the police overreacting and interrogating him and then his sisters setting up a Twitter account and then people actually caring about him enough to make his story viral and then the majority of people being on his side and then… That’s a lot of working variables, and there really would be no way for him – or anyone else – to account for all of them. It’s just not likely.

So Ahmed perpetuating some kind of “fraud” to be noticed is unlikely and both Dawkins and Talbot trying to claim otherwise are just perpetuating the bigoted mindset that led to Ahmed’s arrest. Now, if either of them would like to bring attention to the fact that we should be encouraging all kids to get involved in STEM and STEAM topics, not just the ones with media coverage, that is a perfectly valid point. Kids should be encouraged to pursue math, engineering, and creative pursuits, but don’t push that agenda at the expense of a kid that was just trying to impress his teacher. It’s immature, closeted Islamophobic, and just plain trifling.