Saturday, May 26, 2007

Does Uttering the Word "Uterus" Really Clear a Room?

I typically don't like to follow blog squabbles too much but Eugene Volokh, who usually keeps his head above such things, Ann Althouse, and Ann Bartow, a "feminist law professor," have a rather heated discussion of women's menstrual periods. I won't go into the specifics (I am not entirely sure what they are--if you want to know, follow the links) but the patronizing and sexist statements from Ann Bartow regarding Eugene asking women how they felt about menstruation caught my eye. Eugene mentions the statements and seems puzzled as to what he did wrong:

Oh, and then there's this from Prof. Bartow: "One thing I've learned is that if you want all the men to leave a room at breakneck speak, just uttering the word 'uterus' will sometimes do the trick" (my emphasis). And Eugene's response: "Huh, never seen that happen, but maybe I just hang out with the wrong crowd."

And apparently if anyone wants to know how women feel about their periods, they better do a full research project, including asking women in the Women's Studies Department to help according to Bartow's advice in response to a commenter at Is That Legal?:

Well here's the thing, Patrick: There is a whole lot of diverse and interesting literature that has been *already written* that could bring Eugene up to speed a whole lot more effectively than the commenters at the Volokh conspiracy, if he was actually sincere about educating himself about menstruation. And I'm pretty sure UCLA has at least one library. It even has a Women's Studies Department, not that I would ever expect Eugene to think he could learn anything from the faculty there.

Wow, so now for a lousy blog post, you are supposed to do a lit review and gather data from others in the field rather than just ask blog readers what they think? Sounds a little overboard, but I'll play your silly game. I happened to have done this exact research when I talked with and evaluated 137 women and their instructors at the College of Liberal Arts and Human Ecology for my PHD dissertation entitled, "Angry Temperament and Locus of Control in Young Women with and without Prementrual Syndrome."

And what did I find? That a vast number of the men were sensitive and supportive to the women in their lives who had PMS symptoms. Rather than clearing the room when their significant other talked about PMS or menstruation, in my study, a full 42% of the women with PMS felt men were sensitive to their PMS. Even 29% of the women without PMS saw men as supportive during their menstrual period but many (38%) did not discuss it at all compared with 85% of the PMS group sharing their symptoms and concerns with men in their lives. So, to sum it up, even if a woman has severe PMS, 42% of the men in this study were supportive and helpful. Hardly evidence of men "clearing the room when the word uterus was uttered."

Maybe Ms. Bartow should take her own advice and do a literature review and talk with experts on men's responses to women's menstrual periods before she makes such sexist statements like she did about men clearing a room when the word uterus is used. But then, that would probably be too much to ask of a "feminist law professor" who probably thinks her "feelings" make her an expert on every subject.

I will leave the last word to this insightful commenter-- Jim Hu at the VC who echoes my sentiments exactly in this quip: "Maybe it's just me, but I'm guessing that saying 'Feminist Law Professor' is more likely to clear a room of men than 'uterus'."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Doing the Right Thing

Last year, I had a short post about the death of David Sharp who died on Mount Everest while an estimated 40 climbers went by without stopping to help. However, in the news today, it appears that at least some climbers are willing to lend a helping hand and even risk their own lives to help someone else (thanks to the reader who emailed me this story):

A stricken climber left to die on Mount Everest was saved by an American guide and a sherpa who found her by accident as they returned from the summit....

Usha, like Sharp, was apparently on the sort of barebones expedition that charges clients typically as little as $8,933 and provides them with only basic equipment.

It seems like one should steer clear of these "barebones expeditions" unless they are extremely experienced and maybe even then. I imagine that the thrill for some of climbing Mount Everest is worth the risk but if something goes wrong, one is putting others in a postion to risk their lives also. But luckily, for the stricken climber, the American and his sherpa did the right thing. I wonder if the controversy over the Sharp case made them decide to do so or if they were just more altruistic than other climbers?

Are Federal "Advocates" Standing in the Way of Sane Mental Health Laws?

Psychiatrist Sally Satel has a thought provoking piece in The Weekly Standard entitled, "Sane Mental Health Laws?" Thanks to Bugs for pointing out the article:

The Virginia Tech massacre last month will surely prompt changes in commitment laws too. Virginia governor Timothy M. Kaine has created a panel to review events and issue recommendations. The governor's panel will join several other Virginia bodies already reviewing the state's mental health laws.

The most prominent is the Task Force on Civil Commitment. It was established six months ago by the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court to scrutinize the state's unusually narrow standard for committing someone to a psychiatric facility against their wishes. (A patient must be "imminently" dangerous--in short, clearly ready to kill himself or someone else--before a judge can mandate treatment.)

The task force proceedings are bitterly contentious. On one side are civil liberties lawyers and disgruntled patients who insist that lowering the "imminent" danger threshold would threaten individual rights. On the other side are psychiatrists caring for people with schizophrenia and bipolar illness and their relatives who have lived through the nightmare of not being able to get timely treatment for desperately ill loved ones.

The article tells about a case where a son is released from a mental hospital because of a patient advocacy group even though he had already assaulted his father but he was released anyway only to kill his mother with a hatchet two months later. Many of the readers here and others in society want to believe that oodles of slightly eccentric people are being rounded up in straitjackets to be warehoused at a hospital. This is so far from the truth, it is actually laughable. I have never met a patient who told me he or she was unfairly kept in a hospital but I have met and worked with many who cannot get the help they need or who have been released from treatment way too early. And what about the families of those mentally ill individuals who have been assaulted and are in fear for their lives or the lives of other family members. Do they have no rights at all? Apparently not.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Body farms are springing up all over..."

It appears that Texas residents are upset about the prospect of a body farm popping up in their backyards (Hat tip: Michael W.):

The CSI TV shows are among the most watched in the world. But forensic science is hitting a little close to home for some Texas property owners, who oppose plans for a nearby "body farm," where decomposing bodies will be studied in the wild.

In this real-life episode of CSI: Nimby— not in my backyard — residents of a rural area near the San Marcos Airport, 30 miles south of Austin, have objected to plans by Texas State University to build a 17-acre body farm nearby. With three acres designated for research and surrounded by a wide fenced boundary, plus cages over the exposed bodies, university officials assured residents there would no problems....

The first facility at the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility, was opened on a three-acre site in Knoxville in 1971 by noted anthropologist William Bass. Prolific crime writer Patricia Cornwell popularly dubbed it a "body farm" in her novel of the same name. Bass himself has co-written a series of best-selling novels set on the farm; the first, Carved in Bone, was described as "southern-fried forensics" by Kirkus Reviews....

Jason Byrd, a well-known forensic entomologist, says that body farms are becoming more important as stranger-on-stranger crime is on the increase. In cases where the victim is related to the murderer by family, financial or social bonds, police often use these connections to help solve cases. "Now there are more random acts of violence and we have less and less avenues to turn to," says Byrd. Body farms cannot be set up to mimic every kind of environment, of course, but already they have given southern criminologists vital research — for example, bodies decompose in Florida in three days, compared with 30 days in the mountains of Tennessee.

I find it troubling that body farms are "springing up all over" as a result of stranger-on-stranger crime becoming more prevalent. "Current statistics show that only 45 percent of murder victims actually knew their killers. During the 1960's, 71 percent of murder victims knew who their killers were." Perhaps this increase in stranger killings is why people feel more fearful of being the victim of a random violent act now more than ever before and why shows like CSI are so popular. It is harder to find an unknown killer and advanced forensics can make the difference in whether or not the killer is caught. So CSI may act as a therapeutic measure for some people albeit a false one since many times, CSI has advanced techniques that the police and experts are not equipped to carry out.

We recently interviewed Bill Bass--the forensic anthropologist for a podcast that you can check out here if you want to know more about forensic anthropology and the work being done at the Body Farm.

Is Drinking at a Prom Party Really News-Worthy?

The editor of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, our local news paper, is getting constructive feedback from blog commenters on a ridiculous article that was given prominent coverage entitled, "When little prom party blew up." The article was about a prom party that got "out of hand" with (gasp) drinking at a private residence:

A West Knox County businessman, whose karate training touts building character in children, and his wife face charges they provided beer and liquor to 20 underage people at their daughter's after-prom party.

Jack and Katharine Butturini were charged May 6 with contributing to the delinquency of a minor after authorities broke up a party at the couple's waterfront Loudon County home.

"It was one of the largest parties I've ever seen," said Loudon County Sheriff's Office Deputy T.J. Scarbrough.

Court records show deputies cited seven people under the age of 18 on charges of underage consumption. The identities of the juveniles scheduled to appear May 22 in Loudon County Juvenile Court are not public record.

Deputies cited 13 others between 18 and the legal age of 21 to Loudon County General Sessions Court. When they appear May 23 in court, they also will be fingerprinted and photographed, Loudon County Sheriff Tim Guider said.

Tam, a gunblogger in Knoxville, poked a bit of fun on her blog at the editor of the News-Sentinel for running the story:

Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store last Saturday, I glanced down at the Knoxville News Sentinel in the rack by the register and was struck dumb. There at the top of the front page, above the fold, in the place usually reserved for things like War Was Declared!, Man Lands On Moon!, or Dewey Defeats Truman!, was something very much along the lines of Drunken Teen Prom Party In Suburbia. As news, this has to rate up there with Sun Rises In East. Yet somehow this shindig, and the criminal charges surrounding it, have been all over the local paper for the better part of the week.

I'm trying to figure out why this deserves so much ink. Maybe the accused suburbanite, Mr. Butturini, beat up the newspaper editor in the third grade or something.

I have to agree with Tam who goes on to say this about this little shindig:

Part of the thing that made me a bit incredulous at the whole Prom Party Shenanigans Scandal was the fact that there were criminal charges at all. I was unaware that it was against the law to allow a minor to drink at a private residence. Does this mean that if you allow your kid to have a glass of wine with dinner on special occasions, you're a bona fide criminal? Unreal (and also uncool.)

Very uncool, and BTW Tam, I highly doubt that Jack Butturini beat up the newspaper editor in the third grade. I went to school with Jack and he was as kind-hearted and as honest as they come. I never saw him hurt anyone or say a cross word--my guess is that his version of the story is the correct one and the Sherriff's office overstepped their bounds with him, at least, in my opinion.

Are PHD's and MD's Worth the Sacrifice?

I have read a number of articles lately about the falling birth rate among educated women in the United States and Europe; many of these lower rates are blamed on sexual diseases, later age of marriage and women waiting too long to have kids. It's great that women are so into their careers but some of these careers take a lifetime to prepare for. I wish someone had told me years ago at 18 that I would be spending another 14 years in school training to be a psychologist. I even made it through undergrad in three years but little did I know that it would be years of work before I finished two masters, a postmasters, a PHD and a post-doc--11 more to be exact. I have almost no regrets about my life, save for one, that I spent my youth in graduate school when it was unnecessary, unfullfilling and not very lucrative.

Lest you think I am just an anomaly who doddered through school, I read recently that the average PHD in psychology takes over 7 years to complete after a BA and many schools have their students take even longer. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, a PHD in School Psych takes a median average of 7.75 years after a master's degree. If you go directly in with a BA, it will take a median average of 8.75 years. And then there is the one year Post-doc that many states require in order to get licensed and the licensing exams themselves (usually written and oral). By this time, a woman is often close to thirty or more--meaning that if she wants kids, there is not much time. I knew several colleagues who had families and kids during one of my PHD programs and some of them dropped out or their marriage ended. I imagine that medical school and other PHD programs also pose hardships on women who want to have children but of course, it is doable.

This post is not to discourage women or men for that matter from going to time-consuming graduate programs, it is simply to remind people that in life there are trade-offs and it is important to remember that while a PHD or MD is quite an accomplishment, it can also be quite a hindrance. Only the person getting the degree can decide if it is worth the sacrifice.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Where are the Interest Groups for Boys?

Blogger Bob Krumm went to a recent high school graduation and noticed that men (boys) were in short supply (Hat tip: Instapundit). He noted that most of the academic honors also went to the women (girls). The possible reason for the lack of success for the boys? No special interest groups:

Much like our misguided welfare systems still focuses on the prevention of starvation when it is obesity that is the greater nutritional problem associated with poverty, our gender-based education programs now target the wrong sex for academic improvement. That puts boys at an even greater disadvantage since, unlike as for girls, there aren’t well-organized and powerful “male special interest groups” that will fight to give boys the boost they need.

I used to think that special interest groups were silly and a waste of time--thinking they emphasized victimhood at the expense of autonomy, but I am beginning to think I was wrong. Perhaps boys need a special interest group to stand behind them and see that their needs are presented equally. Because so far, the lack of one doesn't seem to be doing boys any good in regards to education.

Update: There is a special interest group called The Boys Project that advocates for legislative change and education to benefit boys. You can see more about the project here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Interview with Kevin Pho, MD

There are few of us who are health service providers who are able to put our names and faces on our blogs, but Dr. Kevin Pho is one such physician and blogger who does so. Cary Byrd at interviewed Dr. Pho and I found it very interesting--particularly the part about medical docs who are being run out of blogging:

Dr. Kevin Pho is a hero to health and medical bloggers everywhere, because his blog, Kevin, M.D., has done so much to increase interest in our little corner of the blogosphere. Kevin offers a candid view of problems in the U.S. healthcare system from a doctor’s perspective — and unlike many medical bloggers who are rightly fearful of employer reprimand or legal reprisals, he is able to put his name and face by his opinions.

Go by and check out the interview and also take a look at the links such as this one that takes a look at the perils of blogging while a medical professional.

Update: And on a related note, Grand Rounds is up.

"I miss Lakeshore, I miss Lakeshore..."

There is a good article this week in the Metro Pulse, our weekly alternative newspaper here in Knoxville, on the plight of the homeless, 55 % of whom are mentally ill. The story discusses Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, a facility that has downsized from 2400 beds in 1970 to about 180 beds today. I had to laugh recently when I saw some administrator in a news interview talking about all of the beds available here for the mentally ill in Knoxville after the Virginia Tech massacre. 180 beds? That's nothing. What happened to the patients who were taking up the other 2220 beds in 1970? Did they all get better? No, in 2007, they and probably their descendents are being humanely discharged to the streets.

Some of them end up at the Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC) here where they at least get shelter for the night but according to the executive director, Jenny Weatherstone, at VMC, the mentally ill need an atmosphere that is fairly structured and calm. "And that does not describe any shelter, including ours, nor does it describe life on the streets, yet that's where so many people end up." "Weatherstone remembers one lady who came into VMC. She sat in the waiting room, pulled her legs up to her chest, and gently rocked herself in the fetal position. She chanted as if it were a mantra, 'I miss Lakeshore, I miss Lakeshore, I miss Lakeshore....' Over and over and over."

So many civil libertarians want to believe that it is a good thing that patients were "humanely" dumped out of the mental hospitals to live "free" in the society. But I bet if you asked the woman above chanting her mantra, she might feel differently. I remember Lakeshore in the 1980's when there were more beds than now; I volunteered several days a week on a woman's ward after college and watched the medical personnel care for the patients with medical care, occupational therapy, exercise and nutritional meals. One woman I met there had lived most of her life in Lakeshore and felt that the facility was her home. I can't see how the streets are better.

The city of Knoxville now owns 60 acres of Lakeshore's 300-acre farm, it is a public park with beautiful rock gardens and a walking trail. I always feel slightly gypped when I walk on the grounds there and notice that some of the buildings are sitting empty and others have been torn down. I think of all the patients I have seen over the course of my career that needed inpatient services that couldn't get them or got them for too short of a time to be of any use, and I realize that deep down, I miss Lakeshore too.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Power of Touch

The other day I went to get a massage and the regular female massage therapist I usually saw was out; I was presented with a male therapist which was fine. I have no qualms about the sex of the massage therapist as long as they are good. However, I did notice that although the massage was technically very good, it just did not feel "right" to me. Afterwards, I tried to think about what it was that bothered me and hoped that I was not some type of sexist who just didn't want a male therapist. But that wasn't it. I realized that it has more to do with the body type of the person and the kinesthetic feel of their hands and touch.

It reminded me of a guy I went out with in my twenties who just didn't feel right. He was really nice looking and a great guy, but he was very wiry and thin--and he just "felt" wrong to me. I talked to one of my male friends about the experience and told him that on paper, the guy was terrific, and there was chemistry, I liked him but his touch was just somehow wrong. My friend was involved with a woman who also should have been perfect for him but the first words out of his mouth as he listened to me was "She doesn't feel right. She should but she doesn't."

I wonder how important touch is in keeping people together--I am not necessarily talking about sex, for you can have great sex without great touch. I mean, the kinesthetic quality of someone's hands when they touch you or wrap your hand in theirs. I think that perhaps for each of us, there are certain body types and ways of touching that feel right to us and others that just don't. It would be interesting to do an experiment where couples were asked to honestly appraise their first experience holding hands and how they felt. I wonder if the divorce rate would be lower among those who felt that the experience was like coming home versus those who remember the experience as unremarkable.

What amazes me most, though, is that people will ignore this very primitive but useful information when deciding who to live with, or even who to marry. For when hard times come during a relationship, and they usually do, falling back on the kinesthetic qualities that brought you together in the first place is a good place to be.