succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Books completed - The Alchemist by Roberto Coelho. A quickie read long past due back to my friend Sameera. Largely symbolic, I'm pretty sure I liked it, but I think I need to read it again and/or ponder it some more before I really decide.

Books started - The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (soon to be a major motion picture!). A pallate cleanser, on loan from Mom, C finally motivated me to read it so we can go see the movie together. Enjoyable so far, though already I'm being stodgy and judgemental about the main character (seriously? who is surprised by the tinyness of NYC apartments and fails to measure the size of a room before ordering way too many pieces of furniture?).

See how much I can get done while avoiding putting the finishing touches on this paper? I really only need to buckle down for a few more hours and the damn thing will be complete, yet am totally incapable of doing so.

Friday, May 05, 2006

It's time to start teaching again. I recently applied for a job coaching gymnastics one or two days a week for part of the summer, and I realized that while working out this afternoon I was thinking how nice it would be to get my excercise running after little kids and acting like a big dork entertaining them and tossing them around. Then I caught myself composing the introductory lecture to a class...and last week I was hatching a plan to make students give short presentations, as the antidote to the unacceptably long student presentation I was suffering through (33 slides and 17 minutes for what was supposed to be a five minute presentation!). I'm glad to see last semester's burnout and bitterness was temporary.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

More from Three Cups of Tea

In August 2003, when the Shariat Court issued its final ruling, it sided firmly with Medhi Ali and Mortenson. The court declared Agha Mubarek's fatwa illegitimate and ordered him to pay for the eight hundred bricks his men destroyed.
"It was a very humbling victory," Mortenson says. "Here you have this Islamic court in conservative Shia Pakistan offering protection for an American, at a time when America is holding Muslims withought charges in Guantanamo, Cuba, for years, under our so-called system of justice."

As he studied the screen, Bashir's bullish shoulders slumped. "People like me are America's best friends in the region," Bashir said at last, shaking his head ruefully. "I'm a moderate Muslim, an educated man. But watching this, even I could become a jihadi. How can Americans say they are making themselves safer?" Bashir asked, struggling not to direct his anger toward the large American target on the other side of his desk. "Your President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against America for the next two hundred years."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Books Completed: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Relin. Go read this book.

One of the reasons I was smitten from the beginning is because Relin's introduction concludes thusly:

Though he would never say so himself, he has single-handedly changed the lives of tens of thousands of children, and independently won more hearts and minds than all the official American propaganda flooding the region.
So this is a confession: Rather than simply reporting on his progress, I want to see Greg Mortenson succeed. I wish him success because he is fighting the war on terror the way I think it should be conducted. Slamming over the so-called Karakoram "Highway" in his old Land Cruiser, taking great personal risks to seed the region that gave birth to the Taliban with schools, Mortenson goes to war with the root causes of terror every time he offers a student a chance to receive a balanced education, rather than attend an extremist madrassa.
If we Americans are to learn from our mistakes, from the flailing, ineffective way we, as a nation, conducted the war on terror after the attacks of 9/11, and from the way we have failed to make our case to the great moderate mass of peace-loving people at the heart of the Muslim world, we need to listen to Greg Mortenson. I did, and it has beeen one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Later, describing Faisal Baig, Mortenson's friend and body guard:

It would take months and millions of dollars poured into the flailing serpentine arms of the U.S. Intelligence apparatus to untangle for certain what this illiterate man who lived in the last village at the end of a dirt road, without an Internet connection or even a phone, knew instinctively.
"Your problem in New York village comes from there," he said, snarling at the border. "From this Al Qaeda shetan," he said, spitting toward Afghanistan, "Osama."

And in reply to a congressman's question:
"I do it because I care about kids. Fighting terror is maybe seventh or eighth on my list of priorities. But working over there, I've learned a few things. I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have reason to choose life over death."

And after a visit to the Pentagon:

"And I remember thinking I was in the army once, but this didn't have anything to do with the military I knew. This was a laptop army."

What I learned today - the HPV/Cervical Cancer edition

50% of women contract an HPV infection within 36 months of their first intercourse

80% of women will be infected with HPV at some point in their liftetime

10 women develop cervical cancer every single day in the United States

the FDA has scheduled a review of Merck's HPV vaccine for May 18 with an 'Action Date' of June 8 (so look for an announcement sometime this summer!)

Just like a flu vaccine, the HPV vaccine includes several different viral strains, one of which is the primary cause of a specific type of lesion that develops in the throat and blocks the airway. Currently this condition requires an average of 4 surgeries a year to maintain a clear airway. The religious right may want to punish sexually active women, but maybe they'll be reasonable about the other possible effects of HPV infection.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

So I'm in this group, Active Minds, and several of us had dinner together tonight to wrap up the semester and say goodbye to our two graduating co-presidents. Charlotte, one of our founding members (college friend of Ali, the founder of the entire organization) and current med student, gave each of our graduating friends a copy of "Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor" by Paul Farmer. And she said, whenever I'm having a tough time, I read this book, or anything else by Farmer, and remember why I'm doing this and get all excited and motivated again about becoming a doctor. And you guys are leaving to go to medical school, and I want you to feel that way too - to know why you're putting yourself through this. And I thought a) hot damn, now that's the way and the reason to give someone a present! and b) hot damn! now that's how everyone should feel about their profession! I know I've said it before, I'm sure I'll say it again, and I know I'm lucky to feel this way about my work. But given that Charlotte is also author of the quote, "Med school is the nightmare from which I cannot wake," it was awesome on so many levels to hear her love and be excited about and inspired by her work.

Six questions to ask your elected public officials (as suggested by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association):

1. Do you believe that all Americans have the right to birth control, including access to a range of contraceptive choices, from condoms to emergency contraception?

2. Do you support insurance coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs and devices?

3. Do you support federal funding for local birth-control clinics?

4. Do you think a woman should be able to obtain emergency contraception at her local pharmacy without a prescription?

5. Do you think pharmacies should be required to fill all legal prescriptions, including birth control?

6. More than half of American teenagers have engaged in sex by the time they graduate from high school. Do you support comprehensive sex education in schools, including teaching about birth control and safe sex, as well as abstinence?

Sadly, my senators say yes to 1, maybe 2, and no to the rest. Not sure about my representative. My local senator is pretty awesome, and says yes to all 6, but is such a minority voice, he's typically on the losing end of these issues.

Monday, May 01, 2006

My pedometer says I've taken 2,541 steps today. That's just depressing. I've got to spend less time in front of the computer...and the tv. But I am digging that new mac vs. pc commercial.


I've been working on (read: currently avoiding) a paper for my public health law class for about a month or so. It's short, by most grad-level-academia standards - anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 words (I'm at around 4,000 now and expect to come in somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000). I've been working on it for about a month because I'm more than a little rusty and writing has become a bit like pulling teeth. I used to do this sort of thing a lot - I was an English minor once upon a time. But it's been years since I had to write more than a few pages without the assistance of tables and graphs and results to interpret and I'm finding that things like sentence structure and transitions and a narrative line are challenging. Mostly in a good way. It feels a little like yoga for the other side of my brain. I'm hoping that in the end this will better prepare me for the Real Thing (aka The Dissertation) but for now I'm just really tired of flailing around with a particularly horrible paragraph. It's got good facts in it, but man it's just painful to read. And I've been sitting here reading it over and over, trying to figure out how to fix it, taking a break, reading blogs, refilling on coffee, coming back and hoping fresh eyes will clue me in to some way to improve far, no luck. Sigh.

Oh Stephen Colbert! You just may deserve that post-Jon Stewart time slot:

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction.

It goes on and on and is great. Mind you, he said all these things at the White House Press Correspondents dinner. Standing at a podium mere feet away from the president and first lady. Nice to see some people still have cojones.