Category Archives: This & that

The healthiest meal is… no meal at all

And here we go again, with another pointless warning about why you should abstain from eating/drinking something you had always been told was good for you if you want to live a long, healthy life… come to think of it, if you were to listen to all those warnings you would probably have to give up food altogether. Anyway, the latest bit of nonsense that had me slamming my head against the nearest wall was an article on Yahoo about how unhealthy fruit smoothies happen to be (if you want to read it, you can find it here). Yes, smoothies have sugar in them, and sugar is not the healthiest of ingredients, but  that doesn’t mean that smoothies are poisonous or that they are ‘as bad as soda’, which is what the so-called-experts behind the study on which that article is based seem to claim.

The thing is that the presence of one or more unhealthy ingredients doesn’t cancel the benefits of the other ones. In fact even heath nuts acknowledge that chocolate has a number of health benefits (not the least of which is that is delicious and one of those things that make life worth living).

In other words, it’s not black and white, you can eat some sugar and that’s not likely to kill you (not unless you are diabetic). The key word here, in case you were wondering, is ‘some’. Besides, for all the dangers that experts keep reminding us are lurking in every mouthful, it is worth noting that there are few things you can eat as part of your regular diet that will kill as surely as not eating at all, so give yourself permission to enjoy your life, and if you want to have a smoothie or a piece of chocolate, go for it!

Redefining endurance

What picture comes to your mind when you think of the world’s most extreme endurance athlete? Today that image is looking an awful lot like what most of us have always thought of as its antithesis. In fact, thanks to Diana Nyad swimming from Havana to Florida, that mental image should probably be replaced by that of a sixty-four year old woman.

Congratulations… and thanks for the lesson, it was a much needed one!

When grandpa rocks (In defense of Miley Cyrus)

This week one of the stories I have been following are the responses to Miley Cyrus performance in the VMAs. It was also the first time I’ve actually watched her (though I did so long after the fact and mostly to figure out what the big deal was supposed to be)… and while I agree that the whole thing was racist and more than a little tacky, the first word that comes to my mind is ‘sad’… sad, and maybe a little pointless.

To me it looked like an attempt at being outrageous that wound up sounding more like a temper tantrum than anything else, but at the same time I realize that that’s just me.

Oh, in a way I get where she and her generation are coming from. For more than fifty years -almost since it became possible for individual performances to reach a mass audience thanks to the radio- music, and to a lesser extent dance, have provided safe outlets for the next generation as it tries to define itself and to find its own voice, a that voice is almost invaribly raised in defiance (and I realize that, trapped as she is by her lily white past as a Disney megastar, Miley Cyrus has more to rebel against than most if she wants to remain relevant to her own contemporaries). The problem is that there are few boundaries left for young rebels to tear down. We’ve been there, done that… and to add insult to injury this generation is also having to deal with the fact that their parents get it, at least to a certain extent.

Let’s face it, Rock Around the Clock was written more than sixty years ago, and was already topping the charts back in 1955. Paul McCartney, who wrote When I’m Sixty-Four some forty-five years ago, is now in his seventies himself. In fact When I’m Sixty-Four was released on the same year in which Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild gave us the term ‘heavy metal’… and let’s not forget that a quarter of a century ago the parents of Miley’s generation were already grumbling about the fact that a forty-year-old-plus Mick Jagger looked kind of pathetic singing Satisfaction. If James Dean were alive today, he would be in his eighties.

The point of this little digression is that  Miley and her cohort are trying to express themselves using a language that was first developed by their grandparents, one that had already been tamed, at least to a certain extent, by the time their parents came along. That is going to make it hard to for them to be outrageous enough to shock their elders no matter what they do.

That, I suspect, is part of what lies behind that particular performance, but at the same time there are other issues that hardly anyone has mentioned, issues that, with all the scorn that is being poured over Miley’s head, deserve some attention. To me the most striking of these is the question of whether or not the idea behind that performance was hers at all. She was not alone on that stage. In fact what we saw was a very sophisticated production, and the truth is that Miley has always been a prepackaged product. Yes, she may be trying to rebel, she may be trying to break free, to show the world that she is a grown up, and she may be willing to do whatever it takes to stay relevant to her own contemporaries -who are themselves itching to prove to the world that they have outgrown her- but Miley Cyrus is the puppet, and in the end the one responsible for the puppet’s actions is the puppeteer.

There were others that had the power to put the brakes on that one, they didn’t.

I’m not trying to argue that Miley had no control whatsoever over what happened on that stage or that she was an innocent victim. Even if she was not the driving force behind that performance she was certainly a willing participant, one whose voice must have made itself heard at some stage, but to all the parents out there that are outraged because their little girls are still clinging to her former image, and don’t want to have to explain to those daughters what they saw in that particular performance, the only thing I can say is: kids grow up, deal with it. Miley Cyrus is no longer a child, she’s no longer even a teenager, and asking her to remain frozen in time, to deliberately allow herself to become a has-been at the age of twenty to help you ‘protect’ your much younger daughters’ so-called-innocence is absurd.

No, I didn’t like her performance. There were plenty of things I found objectionable, if not downright disgusting, in it  and I most definitely don’t get it, but at the same time I do realize that in a way that was precisely the point, that I wasn’t meant to get it. It wasn’t to people like me that Miley was addressing her message.

Apple, the NSA, iWork and the cloud

Okay, let me get this straight: the new version of iWork (one that is sorely needed seeing how the last major update of the desktop version of that particular app suite was released back in 2009) is going to be iWork for iCloud. That means that if you want to access get some work done you have to rely on Apple’s servers and online storage, where we your files are ‘conveniently kept for you’ and where you know for a fact that you have no expectation of privacy… am I the only one that sees something very wrong with this particular picture?

Yes, I realize that Google Docs has always been a cloud-based service, and that there are a number of other such services available, but the key there is in the always part of that description. People signing up for these services knew all along just what it was that they were getting into. iWork users, who are stuck with a proprietary format, are effectively being shoved into the cloud whether they want to or not.

Now, I realize that, except for the iOS ecosystem, iWork is a pretty minor player in the field, but I am afraid that this is just the beginning, that other programs will eventually follow suit (so far other programs allow you to collaborate online, but they don’t force you to do so). To me this push towards the cloud is unacceptable.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the cloud has its uses, and I appreciate the freedom it gives me, and the comfort of knowing that my files are (relatively) safe no matter what happens,  but I want to remain in control of what I store and where I store it. I want to retain the freedom to choose a different service provider or to work off line altogether, and this move (and others like it) threaten to deprive me of that right. It is my computer, my work and my files we are talking about here… what part of MY doesn’t Apple understand? After all, given what Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the like have done with my trust in the past, is it that surprising that I want Apple and its ilk to keep their filthy hands to themselves?

1984, the PC version

These past couple of days I’ve been following a news story in a different way: I’ve been following the Chelsea Manning story via Wikipedia’s talk page, watching each and every little change being debated, and I have to say that the whole thing has been highly entertaining, not to mention that it has been a fascinating and enlightening experience. What is an encyclopedia to do when the subject of a fairly major entry suddenly switches pronouns?

Let me be clear about it, I respect her decision, and I also think that her expressed preferences should be taken into account and given a considerable amount of weight, but at the same time there is no getting around the fact that rewriting her biography to reflect the fact that she is a she is problematic to say the least. That the name should be changed seems to me like a matter of respect (especially because the use of redirects ensures that anyone looking for the information will find it regardless of what the article is called), and the fact that the introductory text should be adapted to reflect such a major change is undeniable, but by trying to modify the entry as a whole we create a situation in which all of a sudden all those little illustrative anecdotes, descriptions and quotations no longer seem to fit. Do you edit what others have said in the past to reflect the new reality, or do you respect those quotes, even if the end result is that you wind up with a text that, truth be told, at times doesn’t seem to make much sense?

I have to admit that more than once the debate reminded me of 1984’s newspeak, but of course I think part of the problem is that this whole incident has shone a spotlight on some of the problems inherent to the way in which the world has been transformed when it comes to LGBT issues, on the fact that we are still trying to work the kinks out of the system… and on how far we still have to go before common usage catches up with those changes and we wind up with something remotely resembling a standard that can truly be described as neutral. As things currently stand it seems to be impossible to even address the issue without making some sort of statement… whether we want to or not. At the risk of being accused of mixing my dystopias, it’s a brave new world out there, one that seems to have come without a user’s manual. In fact, even as I write this I find myself struggling to avoid a word that keeps coming to my mind, a word that is necessary to make sense of this whole mess, and that word is ‘he’.

No, I am not trying to make light of the situation, and I understand why that little pronoun suddenly becomes so problematic, but at the same time there is such a thing as taking things too far, and equating a pronoun with a slur (a position that some of the most extreme voices in the transgender community almost seem to advocate) makes no sense, at least not in this particular instance. Wikipedia is supposed to be an encyclopedia. As such it should be factual, and there is this whole thing about how we can’t change the past… which is precisely what that entry seems to be trying to do at times by rewriting things as if to make it look like hers has always been a woman’s bio.

If you ask me, the solution is simple (not perfect, but simple): we should do exactly what Chelsea asks us to do in her letter:

I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.

If we take that request literally, and then use it as our starting point, we come to a situation in which there is no need to rewrite the past as such, and while her entry will probably wind up being modified substantially to incorporate the latest developments (as well it should), this approach doesn’t require us to do it at the expense of accuracy, readability and reliability.

UPDATE: and the title of that entry is back to Bradley Manning, not that that has made things any more coherent as far as the content of the article goes. Honestly, with redirects being what they are the name is not going to make much of a difference when it comes to users looking for that particular bit of info, but it seems like there are two camps that are determined to have an all or nothing outcome. Personally I would favor renaming the entry to something like Bradley/Chelsea E. Manning, and being done with it, but I do realize that that may contradict some of wikipedia’s policies.

A glimpse into a different world

A couple of months ago I was fooling around buzzfeed when I stumbled upon a story that for whatever reason caught my eye. It was about a blogger in Singapore who specializes in makeup tips who had just had her face ‘destroyed’ by a facial treatment gone wrong (you can find it here, if you are interested). I clicked on the link and got my first glimpse of a world that felt completely alien to me and left. That should have been it, except for the fact that for whatever reason I remembered that post yesterday, so I decided to go back to that site and see what had happened since then… and unlike what had been the case the first time around, I wound up spending some time there.

It was an interesting experience, both enlightening and horrifying. To begin with, let me state something: I don’t get makeup. I never have, and I probably never will. I am who I am and I am comfortable in my own skin, but at the same time I realize that makeup is a multibillion dollar industry and that there are plenty of women out there who can’t even begin to imagine going out in public without their gunky armor on. That may seem weird to me, but I guess that’s my problem.

The thing is that while I was reading this story I was horrified not so much by what had happened to this woman’s face as by the impact it seemed (or rather seems) to have had on her life. Yes, the damage was extensive, and I understand that the whole thing must have been quite a shock for someone who describes herself as extremely image-conscious, but it was as if in her mind there could be nothing worse than having a skin condition, and that a couple of months later she is still apparently ashamed to even show her face. Granted, in her case that situation is likely to have been made worse by the fact that, being a professional makeup blogger, makeup tips are literally her life, but at the same time in reading her words I couldn’t help but to think that it went deeper than that.

I mean, in the original post there were more warnings about how gross, graphic, disturbing, disgusting, horrifying and downright revolting the pictures were than you would get from a serious news organization before a segment dealing in detail with the carnage of war, massacres, bombings, catastrophic accidents and the like, and those warnings anything but tongue in cheek.

Now, under normal circumstances I would consider it her business, acknowledge that she is entitled to her opinion and leave it at that. I certainly don’t want to minimize her feelings, but at the same time I feel that her story is a perfect, albeit extreme, example of the importance women are taught to ascribe to their looks. Yes, I understand the concept of beauty, but at the same time I hate the fact that there are all these companies that spend millions of dollars selling us a problem in our childhoods, when we can’t really hope to defend ourselves, just so that they will be able to sell us the solution once we reach our teens (and keep selling them to us over and over again as we age) that makes me want to rebel. From the day we are born we are taught to judge each other based on our looks, to compete with each other, and to feel that we have to strive for some unattainable ideal so that when the time comes we will buy the clothes, cream, makeup and eventually the plastic surgery that will supposedly get us there… and to make matters worse we are also taught to force each other to comply. If we decide not to play that game, well, then we are judged too.

It’s like that old reality show ‘What Not to Wear’, a show that had as its sole purpose to humiliate, belittle  and ‘reform’ those who refused to fall in line when it came to those expected standards.

I guess that’s why the story of that blogger, a woman I don’t know and I will never meet, bugged me so much. Yes, she was the victim of a facial gone seriously wrong, but what she doesn’t seem to realize is that long before that she was a victim of a culture that sold her an ideal she had to aspire to… and then she went on to become an enforcer for that culture, one for whom the very idea that she might be effectively out of the running when it came to attaining that particular ideal was completely unbearable.

I wonder what THEY think

I was reading a story about a woman who found herself on the receiving end of a visit by the spook brigade because she was looking for a way to cook some lentils… okay so maybe it was a little more complicated than that, and there are some questions about the details, but basically what happened was that a series of innocent searches by different members of a household led someone to put two and two together and come up with twenty-two. That got me thinking: in a world in which our every search is logged, monitored and aggregated to create a ‘profile’, what would my search pattern say about me? The answer is that I suspect that my profile is likely to come up as puzzling to say the least. Why?

Well, as you know I am a writer. I may not be a great writer, or a successful one, but I am a writer. That means that some of my search terms are bound to be on the unsavory end of the spectrum. I can’t help it. If I want to write a less than pleasant character, and I want that character to come across as believable, then I have to try to understand that character’s world… and that is precisely where my research comes in. After all, the characters I have something in common with are easy, it’s the characters that are totally alien to me that require me to look things up to try to figure out just where it is that they are coming from, and at times that research can be pretty extensive. Oh, it’s not just the unsavory characters that lead me to Google’s door (the professional ones too tend to require their fair share of research), but those are the ones that are most likely to raise some eyebrows.

The thing is that doing that research can be an eyeopening experience. It can also be a puzzling one, or it can leave me feeling almost sick, but at the end of the day what I have is a situation in which what I search for says very little about who I am, what I think, or what I care about.

In defense of porn

I can’t believe I’m writing this. No, I don’t like porn, and I agree that it is too easily available (in fact at times it seems to be all but inescapable), but at the same time I am fed up with moralists who want to restrict what others see and do in the privacy of their own homes to protect their children’s innocence, or some such nonsense. Let me be clear about it: they are your children, and while I applaud your determination to shield them from the big, bad world, that doesn’t give you the right to restrict what other adults see and do. Your job -a job you signed up for- is to world-proof your child, not to child-proof the world.

What got me thinking about this is the push by the British government to force ISPs to put content filters in place, and to have them turned on by default. If you want to turn them off you have to notify your ISP, and by extension the government, of your desire to do so. I don’t know how things work over there, but in most places you have to be an adult (or have parental consent) to sign a contract… so why shouldn’t the people who sign up for a service be treated as adults by default?

The thing is that while trying to argue against protecting the children feels wrong, I can’t forget that the crew that wants to shield the children’s eyes is mostly the same crew that -using what is basically the same argument- opposes marriage equality. It is also akin to the crew that not too long ago passed a law in Russia outlawing ‘gay propaganda’… and please don’t even get me started on how wide ranging, inaccurate and unreliable those filters happen to be.

These filters have never really worked, not like they were supposed to anyway, and requiring people to opt-out of a government mandated filter in order to access a certain kind of content is, to put it bluntly, nothing but an intimidation tactic.

Oh, I’m not that naive. I know that, filters or no filters, internet activity is monitored. I know there are very powerful interests that seek to control what I see and do while online. I know that the advent of mobile platforms built with the internet in mind, ridiculously restrictive app stores you can’t bypass (at least not legally), large social networks and walled gardens has effectively enabled the corporate world to set itself as a gatekeeper to the internet, and I know that even now efforts are underway to restrict my access even further by pushing the app store model onto the desktop. In that regard a government mandated filter that denies me access to a specific kind of content in order to ‘protect the children’ is just a small step. Other kinds of content are sure to follow. The wild, untamed internet poses a threat that makes both governments and corporations uncomfortable, and they are desperate to get a hold of it.

Yes, there is plenty of content out there that I find objectionable, but as long as the content doesn’t cross a legal boundary, I acknowledge that it has a right to exist. I realize that I don’t have a right to shove my opinion down other people’s throats… and, for better or for worse, that means that porn is one of those things I have no choice but to live with.

As I said, I’m not in the UK, the proposed law does not affect me, not directly, but I fear that these laws will spread, that sooner or later they will be adopted by other countries, and once porn is gone, what will the next target be?

Training the dog is easy…

As I mentioned a while ago, I recently adopted a new dog. We are still working out the kinks in our relationship, but so far things seem to be coming along nicely… as long as it’s just the two of us. The problem is that while training the dog is not that hard, that training has to take place within the context of the real world, and that real world is not always as accommodating as I’d like it to be. I mean, I love my dog, but let’s face it: the world does not revolve around him, and that in turn means that I can’t rearrange everyone’s life around his training. If I have someone over, I have to be able to interact with that someone. I can’t exactly afford to spend most of my time instructing my guests on how to act around the dog -that’s not what they are here for- but at the same time I am all too aware that one well intended guest that doesn’t understand that feeding the dog at the table is most definitely not allowed can do away with weeks, if not months, of training. In fact that was pretty much what happened with my first dog (though to be fair I’m not sure if that one was the guests’ fault). She was a former stray, and as such she was used to begging. It was a skill she had relied on for her life, so breaking her out of that particular habit wasn’t easy. Eventually I managed to do it… or so I thought until I had some people over and I realized that what she had learned was that while I wasn’t going to give her anything, everyone else was fair game (what can I say, she wasn’t dumb).

Anyway, back to my current situation. When it comes to my new dog my main headache has been the whole door etiquette thing. I mean, if someone knocks on the door I can’t exactly leave them standing there for five minutes while I try to ensure that the little rascal doesn’t get a chance to dash out the door, and don’t even get me started on what happens when I come back carrying some packages. That situation is compounded by the fact that the dog is still a little shaky when it comes to recognizing his new name (especially when he gets excited), that he is still in the process of getting settled, and that he still doesn’t quite recognize my house like ‘his home’. Yes, I know, he will  get the hang of all of those things eventually, but eventually isn’t now, and the bottom line is that for the time being I can’t even open the door without breaking into a cold sweat.

Trying to address this issue I did what most of us do these days: I turned to the web for help. Unfortunately that research wasn’t particularly successful. The problem is that while there are plenty of articles on how to keep a dog from dashing out the door, finding one that deals with the specific challenges posed by a rescue dog in a realistic way has turned out to be all but impossible (in fact you can probably scratch that ‘all but’ from that statement because I’m still looking). Simply put, the situation most of those articles seem to describe is not the one I am dealing with, nowhere near it. They seem to treat door etiquette as something that should be addressed after basic obedience is in place, they assume that the dog has already mastered other basic commands, that he knows his name, and so on. This is often not the case with a rescue dog, where door etiquette is one of the first things that must be tackled for the dog’s own safety, and where the dog in question is used to being able to roam the streets on his own.

That in itself is a pretty major problem, but in addition to that there is also the fact that most of the articles I have come across seem to have beer written by dog trainers. That is understandable given the subject matter, but unfortunately it also means that, while they are great for training, they don’t seem to take into account such trifles as real life. Oh, it would be great if I could simply park my dog in an isolated pocket out of the time/space continuum until the whole training thing is conveniently out of the way and he can be let out safely, but that’s not the way the world works. Regardless of my dog’s training status I still have to be able to interact with other people, open the door, go to the grocery store and so on… unfortunately according to most of the articles I have come across whenever I do that I am undermining my own efforts because ensuring that the dog behaves as he should is not my only (in fact it’s not even my primary) concern.

Yeah, right, welcome to the real world.

As I said above, I know this is just a minor bump in the road. I know we will overcome this, that my dog will get the hang of it eventually, and I will be able to go back to opening the door without giving it a second thought, but for the time being things are a little complicated, and I’d love to be able to find some help that is actually helpful. Unfortunately most of the information I have been able to find so far seems to be built around one very basic premise: training the dog is easy… all you have to do is get rid of the rest of the world.

Blurring the lines

I saw an ad today, I don’t really remember what it was for, but it was one of those futuristic ones with a world dominated by touch-screen interfaces, gleaming surfaces and the like. The thing is that while those ads are supposed to represent a sort of utopia, they chill me to the bone. Yes, we live in a world that is increasingly interconnected, but at the same time I would like to keep some boundaries, thank you oh so very much. I would also like to retain the right to just be me… or at least I would like to retain some semblance of control. No, I’m not a technophobe, but I see no need to rush in just because some marketing guy (or gal) somewhere has new gadget to sell. I want to be able to adopt only those technologies I believe benefit me, and I want to be able to adopt them when I want to and in my own terms, but at times I feel like I can’t. One very simple example: there are a growing  number of services online that either require that you provide them with your mobile phone number outright, or that keep nagging you to supply that information every time you log in, where you don’t even have a ‘don’t ask me again’ box you can tick. Yes, I realize that an SMS message can help keep your account safe, and because of that giving your service provider your mobile phone number can be a good idea, but the thing is that I don’t know of any law that requires people to have a mobile phone (yet), and none of these companies list having a mobile phone as a basic requirement in their TOS, so why do they demand that you provide them with the mobile number you are not required to have in order to take advantage of their services?

Sure, I know this example applies only to a small fringe group. I know most people have a mobile phone (if not a smartphone) and don’t see such a requirement as a burden, but while having a mobile phone has a number of undeniable benefits, I am also aware that there are some who have chosen to opt out of that particular bandwagon, and I can most definitely appreciate their reasoning. Let’s face it, there are some distinct advantages to not being available 24/7, and to not being expected to be available 24/7. It’s called retaining the ability to set some basic boundaries because, let’s face it, just owning a mobile phone  is enough to create certain expectations that all but impossible to overcome (family time? What family time? Your boss has a right to call you whenever he/she wants, he/she expects you to pick up the phone and, seeing how you know it is your boss that’s calling you, you know you better take that call).

Anyway, I am wondering why that add bothered me so much. I guess it was because in light of what we have learned in the past couple of months about electronic surveillance I have come to distrust mobile phones more and more (not that I was ever too keen of the blasted things to begin with). I see them as intrusive, as tools that can all too easily be turned against us, and I also see the way in which they have become a de facto requirement. No they haven’t passed a law that says we have to carry a GPS tracking device with us at all times just yet, but almost.

Who is to blame?

Let’s tackle a little scenario: a man has an affair, it is not a one time thing, and after a number of years someone finally clues his wife in to what is going on. The woman is understandably angry, but instead of apologizing the man reacts violently, blaming the one who told her of the affair for all his troubles. After all, as far as he is concerned the problem is not so much the fact that he was cheating on his wife all along, but rather the fact that someone had the nerve to  fill her in. Up to that point his life was going great, and if only that no-good busybody had kept his/her mouth shut the good times would have rolled on.

I think we can all agree that, in spite of what the guy in this particular scenario may think, the fault belongs not so much on the shoulders of the one who clued his wife in, but rather on his own. He was the one who chose to have an affair, that’s what caused the problem, and therefore he is responsible for the consequences of his actions, end of story.

This is the scenario that comes to my mind when I hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff moaning about the fact that Snowden’s revelations have damaged the relations between the US and other countries, or that he has affected the importance of trust, or some other such nonsense.

Just as in the case of the cheating husband that was mentioned above, the damage was not done by Snowden, the damage was done by the existence of the programs he revealed in the first place. No programs, no problem.

Of course, leaving it at that would make it to easy for all other governments, it would let them off the hook, and the truth is that they are most definitely not the innocent victims they claim to be. In fact chances are that most of them have engaged in similar acts within the limitations of their own technical capabilities, that at least some of them  had an understanding with the US when it came to the programs that have been revealed, and that some of them may even have benefited from some sort of unofficial cooperation agreement… not that they want their own citizens to know about that. In that regard their ‘outrage’ is nothing but posturing, and it is precisely because that outrage is nothing but posturing that, in spite of all the moaning about the lasting damage that was done by Snowden’s revelations, at least at the government level life will (unfortunately) soon go back to normal.

Selling an end to privacy

Earlier today I was thinking about a conversation I had with one of my best friends on the issue of privacy long before the subject became a fashionable one. She had a new baby, I had just microchipped one of my pets for the first time a couple of days prior (yes, it was that long ago), there was a kidnapping that was making headlines, and we were talking about safety. I remember asking her what would she do if someone were to come to her and tell her that there was a new GPS chip that could be implanted under her baby’s skin, one that would ensure that, no matter what happened, the child’s location could be pinpointed in a matter of seconds anywhere in the world. The trade off was that such an implant would be permanent, her child would be tracked for life… and that since she was the one who would making that call, her baby would have no say on the matter.

To me the idea of being tracked 24/7 was horrifying, and she was not too keen on it herself, but at the same time when she weighed her distaste for the thing against her own fears –even if those fears revolved around a very remote possibility– she hesitated. No, she didn’t want to be tracked herself, but the possibility of allaying what were some of her worst fears, fears that were actually being fanned by a media machine, was obviously alluring to her. Continue reading Selling an end to privacy

How to put an end to a stubborn cough

As you may remember, I’ve been pretty sick these past couple of weeks, and even though I’m doing better, I’m still not at a 100%. Anyway, a few days ago I had a coughing fit that had me basically puking all over myself (someone was burning leaves, and seeing how there’s no escaping the air you breathe, well, let’s just say that it got pretty scary). Needless to say that that was not an experience I wanted to repeat. In fact it was so bad that it had me googling the subject to see if a) I had to get myself to a doctor ASAP, and b) what I could do to avoid a repeat performance… especially the latter.

What I found when it came to the first one was that the cough sometimes sticks around for as long as eight weeks after the infection itself has cleared out, and that if the cough was the only problem I was dealing with, then going to the doctor was probably not the brightest of  ideas (something about the fact that a doctor’s office is  not a place you want to be in when your system is already somewhat compromised because it is a place where the bugs of all the different patients get to meet and greet). Okay, that made sense, and at least I knew that chances were that the problem wasn’t all that serious, that was definitely good news. Unfortunately when it came to the second one of my questions the answer was less than encouraging: the cough was likely to be a persistent one and it was unlikely to respond to treatment, thanks for playing. Needless to say that I was not what I wanted to hear. Still, I figured that maybe this was one instance in which maybe I could try a few home remedies combined with a bit of common sense. Continue reading How to put an end to a stubborn cough

An obit for the living

On June 28, the opinion page of Yahoo news ran an editorial by Cynthia Tucker with the title MANDELA’S LEGACY OF FORGIVENESS AND HOPE. It begins as follows:

EDITORS: This is a bonus column to be run in the event of Nelson Mandela’s death.

Um… okay… except for the fact that as of this writing (July 2, 2013) the man is not dead.

Now, I realize that for the most part the obits have already been written (maybe leaving a blank for the date), it’s just that most editors have had the common sense not to publish them. And I also suspect that, with the 4th of July coming up some people may have filed their obits before going away. The thing is that I would also expect someone to be paying attention, especially at a major site such as Yahoo, but this article has been there for five days by now. It is unseemly.

Of course, considering the even more unseemly spectacle of the struggle among Mandela’s future heirs as they jockey for position to inherit what is bound to be a very lucrative empire (going so far as to steal some of their own relatives bones), Yahoo’s little faux pas seems incredibly minor.

I know Mandela is dying, in fact a part of me is surprised by the fact that he is still clinging to life as I write this. The man is 94 years old, and the outcome is inevitable, but he has fought enough, and done enough, to deserve one final bit of dignity: the right to die in peace, and to have his final wishes when it comes to his final resting place honored… that, and maybe that we should hold back with the actual obits for a little while longer.

UPDATE (July 5, 2013): okay, it looks like Yahoo has finally deleted that post.

In defense of Lance Armstrong

With the 100th edition of Tour de France underway Lance Armstrong is back in the news.

To begin with let me make a couple of things perfectly clear: the guy is a liar, a bully and a cheat, to say nothing of an arrogant SOB, and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away scot-free. Now that we have stated the obvious let’s see if we can dig a little deeper, because the truth is that things are rarely as simple as they seem.

First of all, to blame him for the culture of doping that is/was/whatever prevalent in cycling seems a little disingenuous as far as I am concerned. Yes, he was part of it, in fact he was a major player in it, and that is something I suspect everyone knew at some level all along… but the sad fact is that pretty much everyone that was ever in the podium with him has been suspended for a doping offense at one point or another. That is why, when he was disqualified, his former victories were declared vacant rather than being credited to the guy who had come in second as is usually the norm. In that regard he is not wrong when he says that at least in those days it would have been impossible to win the Tour without doping.

Second: yes he is an arrogant SOB, but then again that –along with a ruthlessly competitive spirit– is pretty much par for the course for most top tier athletes. No one can make it to the top in that fiercely competitive environment without being utterly convinced that s/he is unquestionably the best… and without them being determined to do whatever it takes to prove it.

The thing is that while I am not defending what Lance Armstrong did as an athlete –or what he did as a human being in his attempts to cover up for what he had done as an athlete– I think that the question of what he did with the bully pulpit his success granted him  is one that should also be taken into account, and the answer is that he was the impetus behind a multi-million dollar foundation that was dedicated to the fight against cancer. Let’s be clear about that: even with his personal history, he didn’t have to do that, and it was in his work with that foundation, not in the roads of France, that he earned my respect… and it is also here that the extent of his downfall bothers me.

That he should be disqualified is undeniable –that is a matter of fairness– and the same is true of his being deserted by his  sponsors. In fact I will even go so far as to agree that, as far as role models go, he makes for a pretty questionable one, but at the same time I can’t help but to feel that the extent to which he is being demonized is excessive and unlike anything we have ever seen before. As I said, most of the guys he ever shared the podium with were caught doping at one point or another, and none of them has been hounded to the extent that Lance Armstrong has been.

Now, I understand the principle of the higher they rise, the harder they fall, and I realize that few have risen as high as he did, but at the same time I feel that things got a little out of hand in that regard. I mean, to have sponsors demanding their money back ten years after the fact? Sorry but as far as I am concerned those sponsors got their money’s worth. They built successful marketing campaigns based on his image for well over a decade, those campaigns kept being produced because they basically paid for themselves, and if those sponsors were so blinded by their greed and the comeback kid narrative that the man seemed to embody that they chose to look the other way when it came to the widespread allegations of doping that have surrounded the guy all along, then they have no one to blame but themselves. The race organizers are well within their rights when they say that they want their prize money back, but as far as I am concerned they are the only ones… after all, I don’t see those sponsors rushing to offer a refund to those customers whose purchase choices may have been influenced by their campaigns (I mean, try to return a worn out pair of sneakers that you bought some ten years ago arguing that Lance Armstrong’s image influenced your purchase and see how fast you don’t get your money back).

As for where I stand on Lance Armstrong and this whole sordid mess as a whole, the truth is that I (and I suspect a good chunk of the population) care a lot more about the fight against cancer than I do about either cycling, the Tour de France or doping, and –like it or not– the man was one of the most visible champions of that fight. It is that champion that has been sacrificed in an attempt to clean up sport, and while I agree that putting an end to doping is a worthwhile goal, with millions of people dying of cancer every year I can’t help but to feel that Lance Armstrong’s downfall is something of a Pyrrhic victory.