succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, July 01, 2006

I have a face I cannot show
I make the rules up as I go
It’s try and love me if you can
Are you strong enough to be my man?

When I’ve shown you that I just don’t care
When I’m throwing punches in the air
When I’m broken down and I can’t stand
Will you be strong enough to be my man?

Lie to me
I promise I’ll believe
Lie to me
But please don’t leave

Did you know when you go
It's the perfect ending
To the bad day I was just beginning
When you go all I know is
You're my favorite mistake

Your friends are sorry for me
They watch you pretend to adore me
But I'm no fool to this game

Those always were my favorite Sheryl Crow songs. (SNL rerun with her as musical guest, so not a total non-sequitur).

Guess I'm just feeling lonely tonight. At the conclusion of ladies night Ethel went home to Frank, Janette to Reese, Mike picked up Corrine, and Anna went to Lindsey's. There's a chorus here with which I'm familiar.

This passage from an editorial in the NY Times about public harrassment/molestation

I once saw two men arguing on an Athens street; when one raised his hand to strike, he was immediately restrained by a passer-by.

This incident may help explain another Greek woman's account of a strange man who followed her and then approached with unwanted advances. She told me: "I yelled and I gave him a strong smack. He had become so enraged that he jumped at me and he wanted to hit me," but a man who happened to be standing close by "intervened and cursed him and he left." Would she have risked enraging a stranger if she were less confident that another stranger would leap to her aid?

coupled with this first-person story about stalking and an abusive relationship and Dr. B's reaction to said story about the lack of intervention on the part of strangers, has me thinking about the Bystander Effect. The stalking story takes place in Paris, and on at least two occasions the woman shouts for help in a public place, and at least the second time she witnesses people look right at her and her situation and do nothing (the first time she's yelling from within an apartment, so although she suspects that the neighbors can hear her and do nothing, she has no evidence). How is this possible? We learned about the Bystander Effect in psych 101 (the standard example is a stabbing victim in the 60s, whose assault lasted for 30 minutes, well within the view of numerous witnesses, none of whom did anything, not even call the police) but the psychology behind it still eludes me. They say that knowing about this effect makes you less likely to fall prey to it, so maybe my early awareness shapes my reaction, but I just can't imagine witnessing any sort of public attack and failing to act in even the tiniest of ways. Sure, no one wants to be a 'bother,' but does this seriously outweigh the possibility that a fellow person is being harmed? And sure, there's the possibility of misinterpreting a situation, but aren't the consequences of that much less severe than of inaction if the situation really is dangerous? And yes, there's the self-preservation instinct, but ducking out of site and calling 911 is hardly risky behavior. I just don't get it.

Friday, June 30, 2006

And because I need something light after all the SCOTUS reading and posting (this is mostly for Sid, but I figure others will enjoy too):

"Yeah, I wear it sometimes. You gotta keep your life spiced up. "Storm never has sex in the movies - but Storm has a lotta sex at my house."

Better bloggers than I have already tackled this, but of course, why would that stop me from throwing in my two cents? If you haven't already heard/read about the SCOTUS decision re: Hamdan, well, crawl out from under your rock. While by and large this is a good thing, I can't help but focus on the three dissenters (Thomas, Scalia, and Alito; Roberts abstained). What kills me is that the key finding hinged on the President's failure to obtain Congressional authorization for his actions. The court didn't come out and say you can't detain potential terrorists, you can't investigate potential acts of terrorism, you have to immediately release these people or anything even remotely drastic (and obviously unreasonable) like that. They said a) follow US laws and let Congress do its oversite thing and b) follow US laws and give these people a fair trial. I mean, really, how dare the Supreme Court put forth the crazy idea that the president is not above the law!? And yet three justices still found fault with this line of reasoning. As a commenter over at unfogged puts it, "Personally, I don't know whether to be elated that the Constitution survived the day or deeply depressed that four members of the Supreme Court were willing to throw it away. And the Scalia and Thomas concurrences (at least; I didn't get very far with Alito's) appear to be not just wrong but profoundly dishonest pieces of work."

And this is what disturbs me most of all in a broader sense about this administration and its supporters. While they wrap themselves in the cloak of false patriotism they seem to have so little faith in the actual functioning of the republic. They are so unwilling to allow and fearful of the balance between branches of government and the participation of the masses. It blows my mind that they are able to simultaneously blather on about the flag and its sacred representation of freedom and the American way and then act in support of a dictatorship. How they are able to hold two such contradictory notions at the same time I may never understand.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


AWB has started an interesting conversation about work and research and personal and professional ethics, and I wanted to take the luxury of my own blog to expand a little on something I said in comments over there. (so go on over and get caught up. we'll wait. back? Ok, good.) One of the things I love about my profession is our set of professional ethical guidelines. (that's a reference to the American Statistical Association; although public health has its own professional society, they have no official ethical guidelines, which I find weird and troubling and is the topic for a whole 'nother post) And right there in section II.A.2. (" Guard against the possibility that a predisposition by investigators or data providers might predetermine the analytic result.") is the reason I take it so personally when someone jokes about 'lies, damned lies, and statistics.' Yes, as another commenter pointed out, this is a crazy ideal to aspire to (I kept trying to re-write that in my head as to which to aspire but it just sounds weird) but for me it's this great black and white rule to fall back on when reporting results to superiors. Some MD asks me to go back and try something else, look at the analyses this way, tweak the data that way (sometimes in ways that feel obviously manipulative, sometimes in more nefarious ways that just seem like legitimate data digging) and I can play the sorry-m'am-just-following-orders card. Numbers are numbers and they either say something or they don't. Yes, they can be interpreted five gazillion different ways, but the numbers themselves never lie, only people do. The Truth of the numbers sets the perfect bar for me to reach for in my interpretations. When I am being the best statistician that I can be I am presenting my analyses and my results and my interpretations in such a transparent way as to be both repeatable by any other researcher and essentially without fault. This especially means avoiding the impression of causality when discussing results when association is all that's present. (this is, of course, easier said than done, especially when the statistician is not the PI and does not have the authority to control all the text of a paper) Sure, my colleagues may question why I chose to categorize a variable a certain way or why I'm using a significance level of 0.1 rather than 0.05, but these are matters of professional opinion. If I find a difference in the average length of hospital stay for black patients versus white patients after comparable illnesses, my goal is for that conclusion to be uncontestable. Certainly, one could suggest controlling for other variables or using a larger dataset, but as far as my specific data shows, that relationship is The Truth. And this is where reporting statistics gets so frustrating. Of course we want to generalize our findings and apply them to other problems. But the only things we can really know about are the things about which we have tangible data. Anything, and I mean anything, beyond that is guesswork. It may be educated guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. And hence the infuriating hems and haws you get from scientists and the sense the general public often gets that we're never in agreement and we're just making shit up. In reality we're (most of the time, I hope) just trying to be true to our ethics.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ain't Nothing But a Family Thing

It's not just about the not knowing. Of course it's also about the money. But it's not about the reality of the money situation. Of course it's all tied up in my family issues and my perfection issues and my constant fear of being (gasp) irresponsible! Good grief, it's like the same cardinal sin as weakness and vulnerability. Of course it stems from the endless financial lectures from Dad, of course it comes from my family where we have repeated explicit conversations about financial equality but rarely discuss emotions, of course it fits right in with feeling like I don't deserve to spend money, or, heaven forbid, take up any sort of space, in any sort of capacity. Of course I would spend 6 months beating myself up over spending money, then beating myself up for bitching about it when in fact, I'm not poor, I'm nowhere near poor. Of course it would trigger astronomical levels of stress for me, and of course I would hate myself more for that. Gah. I fucking hate money. Thank god for therapy.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Timing is everything

I find myself in the fortunate position of having a few too many opportunities this fall. I notoriously over-schedule myself and am overly optimistic about just how much time I'll have to accomplish everything that interests me. So here's the list and coinciding dilemma - my friend Paul needs me to TA for his sampling class (I'm pretty much already committed to this one, probably about 8-10 hours a week, on average), the intro classes also need a grader for all the labs (I'm pretty much already committed to this one too, though it's a big question mark as to how time consuming it will be - at first glance it's a big job (a couple hundred homeworks a week) but they're changing things up this year and doing some fancy-schmancy online grading thing and my job will actually be to create answer keys and post them to blackboard and make the online technology do the grading. not really sure how it's supposed to work yet, could easily become a technological nightmare and time suckage. on the plus side, I don't have to hold office hours. on the minus side, I'll be the one everyone hates.). Ok, so those are the commitments. Well, plus I'll probably (almost certainly) be taking one class (to wrap up my human rights certificate, so no math, but heavy on the reading and writing) and then there's that whole dissertation thing. Then there's the gymnastics thing - Karen definitely wants me to keep coaching in the fall, and given how much fun I'm having right now, I'd really like to too. Then there are the endless other varying TA jobs that need to be covered and random consulting projects, big and small...currently my funding is still up in the air (eek!) so my impulse is to make sure I have enough hourly wage jobs lined up to piece together at least as much money as my stipend currently pays (which runs out in either August or September, I forget). But I'm afraid of getting myself into the same position as last year when I really felt like I was so tied up in teaching and coursework that I wasn't spending nearly enough time doing research. And although I'd like to be more laid back about my timeline to graduation, I know that if I look back and feel like I 'used up' a lot of research time doing random odd jobs (most of which will, admittedly, hopefully, help me to get employed, someday) I'm going to regret that. I also know that no matter how much I'd like to believe that having less money to go out means that I will spend more time doing research, all it really means is that I spend more time being stressed out and trying to come up with ways to make more money. Sigh. In reality I know that I do not yet have enough information to make any decisions, but having just come out of a meeting with my advisor during which we were discussing all these things I needed to get them out of my head and onto the page. Now if only I could convince myself not to think about them until a few more things get nailed down...


So, back in the day, I was sort of accustomed to/blase about the kind of idolization that happened between younger gymnasts and older team girls. Sure, I can remember when I was the younger gymnast part of that equation, but when you start competing just shy of your ninth birthday, hit nationals at 11, and start coaching at 14, well, let's just say you're not all that emotionally mature and prepared to appreciate the sort of relationships happening in the gym around you.

Which is different from, say, now. Even though Karen, the woman who started the program where I am now coaching once a week, is a former gymnast herself, she's a lot farther from her competitive days than I am and can't do many skills anymore. So when I hang around after class and play, for most of the 'mini-team' girls, it's their first up close glance at someone really doing gymnastics. I sort of forgot about this, and the fact that they were all watching, until they broke out in spontaneous applause! Which was pretty embarrassing, but also pretty fun. And I am officially head over heels about this six year old named Hildy. She's pretty terrified of the balance beam, walks across it very slowly and hesitantly and always asks that I stand Right Here and points to the spot on the floor exactly next to her, just in case she falls. Last week (two weeks ago?) I started teaching her forward rolls on the beam and this week she spontaneously asked of we could do cartwheels on the beam! (this is a big deal) After I said yes and spotted her on one Hildy was so excited she flung her arms around me in a full-body hug. I also got her to intentionally fall off the beam, so I could catch her, and show her it isn't so scary to fall. And after class? She climbed up on the high beam, all by herself, and walked back and forth and kept asking for more stuff to do, while I stood nowhere near her. I was so proud. And Karen just e-mailed to tell me that Hildy's Mom reports that she cannot stop talking about me! I had forgotten just how quickly they get attached to you. Which means a lot of responsibility, but a lot of reward too.