succumbing to peer pressure

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Geeky Mom's post from yesterday sounds a lot like the one I've been meaning to get around to (ok, less kid and travel stuff for me, but the whole exhausting-but-rewarding-and-exciting part sounds right):

In so many ways, I'm energized by all of this and every day, every week, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, I get to go to sleep or watch bad tv or take a bath and I really appreciate those moments even more now since they come after hard work.

Everyday this week has been super long and tiring and full of nerdy goodness.

"There are ways to change the world."
That's a direct quote from the dean of my school (Jim Curran), and he said it in a completely serious, this is attainable and I know because I've been there, sort of way. He said it during a talk about the AIDS crisis (which officially turns 25 on June 5, the anniversary of the first publication of AIDS cases). Approximately 300 people attended his talk, and I sat with a friend and his girlfriend, and turned to notice that my roommate was there too, and a little later I saw another friend, and, I don't know, it just warmed my little heart to be a part of this community*. Curran also said that "HIV prevention is far too important to be alphabetized." (in reference to ABC - Abstinence, Be faithful, and correct and consistent Condom use, the official HIV prevention policy exported by the U.S., which also happens to be mostly a load of crap in terms of effectiveness) Also, the very first AIDS cases in Japan were in hemophiliacs who received American blood. The fact that we'll probably catch bird flu from Asia seems a little like karma.

Sitting there listening to him I couldn't help but be a little terrified about what may be to come. Because aside from operating in a resource depleted environment (there was practically no funding for AIDS research at the beginning and no one wanted to talk about it), they did everything right. They had good surveillance in place, they had a strict case definition, and they were out there tracking people down. And AIDS is (relatively) hard to transmit. I mean, there has to be an exchange of bodily fliuds. That makes it way harder to catch than, say, something that's airborne. And still 250,000 Americans were infected before the first case was diagnosed.

"Policy makers and talking heads are not just planning for disaster - they are actually causing it."
That's a quote from the following night's lecture, by Michael Hopmeier (from Unconventional Concepts, a most interesting-sounding company). He was talking about non-medical responses to public health emergencies and dropped this little bomb - last week Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt suggested that Americans prepare for the inevitable arrival of bird flu by storing canned tuna and powdered milk under their beds. What. the. Fuck. I don't know how I missed this one, but way to incite panic you motherfucker.

Hopmeier had all sorts of other interesting factoids, like a hospital in Singapore discovered that you could reduce the transmission of SARS by half simply by lowering the humidity (lower humidity meant fewer particles in the air for a shorter period of time, hence, less transmission). Following the Olympics and the park bombing he was asked how he would evacuate Atlanta and his suggestion was to immediately take every sanitation truck in the city and use them to close off entrances and exits to all parking lots and parking structures. Then start rotating cabs, buses, and marta trains through prescribed evacuation routes, picking people up. I can see how this might still take a long time, but I wonder if it would be any slower than everyone sitting in their own cars in gridlock for hours? Another great quote by the organizer of the lecture was that Katrina showed just how much local politicians matter, and that mediocre leaders must not be tolerated at any level. Course, I'd rather start at the top, but I'll take what I can get...

Today's nerdiness was a panel discussion about celebrity advocacy - helpful? hurtful? both? neither? We didn't really reach any conclusions, but it was interesting.

*this came up in therapy the next morning too - I mostly try to keep it to myself, because I know how lucky I am and how rare it can be, but I really love what I'm doing. Even when it sucks. And a moderate amount of it sucked this week. I had a homework assignment that I couldn't figure out and I'm pretty burned out on classes in general. But at the end of the day, more often than not, even when working on that crappy assignment, I feel pretty satisfied. This was brought home during a conversation with Kathy too - one of our friends is leaving a different program with her masters (rather than PhD) because she's a chemist and has developed allergies to the substances in her lab. I said how awful it would be, for your work to physically harm you like that...Kathy just looks at me. Waits a minute. Says, Megan, for the past 9 months or so (albeit off and on), your work has been physically harming you! Oh yeah. Sort of forgot about that whole thing. I guess others may disagree, but I think it's a good thing that throughout this ordeal, I've never considered not being a statistician. I've never thought that this level of anxiety was reason enough to do something else. (to be fair, it's also because it seems pretty reasonable that I'd have this whole anxiety thing as a result of whatever I'm doing) I guess because for me there is no plan B. Sure, there are lots of other things I dig, and I have a zillion and one 'retirement fantasies.' But no plan B. This is it.


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