Smile, everything is all right

14 01 2015

Are you afraid of pit bulls?

I’m a little afraid of pit bulls.

(Have I ever been bitten by a pit bull? I have not.)

(I’ve been bitten twice by dogs: one was a Doberman, and the other, a German Shepherd.)

(I am afraid of neither Dobermans nor German Shepherds.)

I’ve been trying to get over my fear by asking to pet any nearby pit bulls—their people almost always say yes—and that’s been working pretty well.

But this?

Adam Rifkin.

How could I even think to be afraid of this pup?


h/t Cute Overload


24 10 2014

As is not-unexpected, New York has its first case of Ebola.

Am I worried? Nope, not even a little—at least, not for myself. For the doc who got it, on the other hand. . . .

My students have asked me, a not-MD, about Ebola, and I have been vigilant in cutting down any fears about the disease. I even went after a colleague who said she was hesitant to fly due to Ebola.

It’s not airborne! I barked at her. You’re not going to get it.

And that is the crucial piece for those of us who a) do not live in Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone, and b) are neither health care nor mortuary workers—i.e., those of us who are unlikely to come into contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons.

Those who are likely to so come into contact are at great risk: the virus is highly infectious, so tremendous caution must be taken to avoid contact with any fluid. But, again, for the rest of us—something else will get us before Ebola does.

Laurie Garrett introduced me (personally!) to Ebola in her terrific book, The Coming Plague. The cases she discussed had a very high kill rate—over 90 percent—which was both terrifying and, oddly, a kind of insurance against its spread: it killed people so quickly it could sweep through an isolated population before anyone had a chance to travel and transmit it elsewhere.

That kind of virulence-insurance would crumble once it reached more densely populated areas, which of course, it has. The death rate in some cases has fallen to “only” 50-60 percent, which is still appallingly high, and this microbe will kill thousands more people before health officials get ahead of it. That these outbreaks have occurred, and that the world health community (WHO, CDC, pharma, health ministries & depts, etc.)—with the exception of MSF—have, shall we say, underperformed in response to initial reports of its spread, is appalling in its own way, but there does seem to be a fair amount of confidence that the spread can be halted.

Or, to put it another way, Ebola may terrify us for its fast-moving virulence, but those old standbys HIV and malariaand flu—will likely kill far more people this year and next than Ebola.

This could change, of course: as Ebola spreads, it’s changing (as infectious microbes are wont to do), and epidemiologist Michael Osterholm has written of his fears that, via combination with other microbes, it could—could—become airborne.

Now, it’s possible that any mutations which lead to Ebola becoming a respiratory illness might also mean it becomes less virulent, but it’s also possible that it could join its mighty virulence to easy transmissibility to become a super-bug, much like the (misnamed) Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

If that happens, then, yep, I’ll be afraid.

But until then, I’ll be more worried that the kid sitting next to me or the guy standing in front of me on train will give me the regular old flu (due to my egg allergy, my doc advises against a flu shot) than a deadly hemorrhagic fever.

Hold on loosely

9 12 2013

I’d have a lot more respect for this petition if the signers weren’t themselves sucking so hard on the juicy fruits of information on the internet that their cheeks are caved in.

Oh, and the fact they waited until this all became public knowledge—that is, when their customers found out—makes me think this is less a righteous stand for an open and free society than profit-saving CYA.

Still, message/messenger and all that: they ain’t wrong.


And I think Brendan Kiley (riffing off David Schmader) pretty much nails it: It is funny—the people who hold the power in any given situation tend to be the ones who behave the most fearfully.

See: Wall Street & its critics; Christians in the US & non-Christians (swap out Islam/Judaism/Hinduism as befits the particular society); MRAs and feminists; ad infinitum.

My only amendment to his statement would be that the people who believe only they should hold the power in any given situation. . . : in a decent political situation, it would be understood that one’s hold on power is of necessity temporary, and thus must be held lightly and confidently, not fearfully.


Ever since Bones killed off Pelant and Booth & Brennan got married, every fucking episode includes some sort of paean to their love/relationship/perfection for each other.


Bones has become McMillan & Wife.

I’m gonna set your flag on fire

19 08 2013

Quick follow-up to yesterday’s post:

I wasn’t clear in defining “punishment”, nor in distinguishing that undefined punishment from a beat-down from one’s political opponents.

The ultimate punishment (for an incumbent) is, of course, to be tossed from office, and is the standard for any other concerns about punishment. For example, falling poll numbers might invite either a primary challenge or a better-quality challenger from the other party, which could result in losing one’s seat. Similarly, a beat-down from a political adversary could lead to softening poll numbers, which, in turn, lead challengers to believe the incumbent is vulnerable.

I also wasn’t clear in distinguishing between fear of losing one’s seat from fear of being hammered for an allegedly weak response. As with the issue of punishment, the fear of hammering is a second-order fear linked to the primary fear of election loss.

The difficulty for the incumbent representative or senator, or for either the incumbent or possible presidential candidate, is discerning whether one will be considered weak if one counsels a less-aggressive stance as well as whether one would be able to fend off any attacks in ways that, if they do not strengthen one’s candidacy, do not appreciably weaken it. In the United States, DO SOMETHING!!! is the default mode in response to provocation, so in the absence of other cues, taking a highly aggressive stance is likely the safest tactic.

There are other factors, of course. Pressure from party leaders and threats to withhold campaign funds or boot a member off a favorable committee can steer a wavering politician toward aggression. A sustained media assault can also erode one’s resistance.

Finally, the politician might truly believe that the most aggressive response is, in fact, the correct one, and as such, acts in accordance with his or her principles in voting for aggression.

Now, as to my hypothesis that the supposed problem with a softer response is actually a problem with an unclear response, well, because elections are rarely about one thing and one thing only, this is tough to test.

Russ Feingold was the only senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act and laid out his reasons for doing so, and he lost his re-election; however, he had always had tough races, and lost his bid in the 2010 Tea Party surge. Rep. Ron Paul counseled and Senator Rand Paul counsel non-intervention; the father repeatedly won re-election and the son is popular enough with the base of the Kentucky Republican Party that Mitch McConnell is looking to him in his tough re-election bid. Yet it’s also clear that Rand Paul’s non-interventionism runs into strong opposition within his own party, and while he might be able to ensconce himself in his senate seat for decades to come, it might limit his appeal as a presidential candidate in the Republican primaries.

So, no clear lesson.

Except: to the extent that there is no clear lesson regarding the necessity of the most aggressive response, it is just possible that a sitting politician or a presidential candidate who strongly believes in a less-aggressive/non-interventionist approach could effectively inoculate him or herself against charges of being “soft on terrorism/crime” by crafting a strong and clear alternative and selling it as the most effective way of dealing with the problem.

Come out, come out wherever you are

26 07 2012

I’m half-out as a bisexual.

Andrew Sullivan has been banging away at the fact that the late Sally Ride chose not to come out as a lesbian while she lived, and getting a fair amount of push-back from readers; he’s holding firm.

My first reaction to his original column was What a dick.

I read his column every day and link to it with some regularity, so I’m not unfamiliar with his habit of making everything about him. (It’s annoying, but it’s his blog, and, frankly, I’m probably even more guilty of the Me! Me! M-Fucking-E ME! approach to blogging. So.)

Anyway, that initial reaction was along the lines of He really doesn’t get how hard it is for women in male-dominated fields; sexism piled with homophobia might have been too much. I modified that reaction somewhat as I considered that she could have come out after she left the space program, could have come out in the past few years, and that maybe it would have been better had she been as out to the general public as she apparently was with intimates.

Still, I think Sullivan does discount both the dynamics of sexism and temperamental differences regarding revelations about one’s private life. He implies that she labored in the closet, and that now we know that her real lesson to young lesbans was and is: duck and cover.

But we don’t, in fact, know that this was her lesson. Just because she wasn’t out in a dramatically public way doesn’t have to mean that her “real” lesson was “hide away”. There is, after all, a difference between discretion and shame.

As unfair as I think Sullivan is in his autopsy of Ride’s relationship to her public persona—he didn’t know her, didn’t know her motives—I do nonetheless have to wonder about my own half-outing.

I could be cute, I suppose, and say that as a bisexual I could only be half-out, but what I really mean is that I’m out to some (all of my friends in New York & some of my colleagues, some of my non-New York friends), not to others (family, students), generally ambiguous in reference to any (hypothetical, sigh) partners, and will answer truthfully if asked directly by someone who I don’t think is crossing any lines in the query.

Who I don’t think is crossing any lines: This is the kicker, isn’t it? What if a student would ask? A boss? Would that person be crossing a line?

Or should I be the one who crosses the line by coming out to, say, my students and everyone I work with? I have no fear of discrimination at work, and no great worries of adverse reactions from my students, but I haven’t come out fully at the office or in the classroom* in part because I don’t think it’s any of their business. I like my privacy, and I don’t think openness in some areas of my life requires me to display every aspect of my life.

(*There’s also the matter of the appropriateness of revealing personal information in the classroom. I do offer bits from my life if they’re relevant to the subject at hand, so it’s not out of the question that my own sexuality would be relevant in some discussions; just coming out a propos of nothing—Hi, I’m your professor and I’m bisexual!—would manifestly not be the way to go.)

But—and here is where Sullivan and everyone else who argues for the urgency of coming out makes sense to me—by not saying anything, I allow others to draw false inferences of my sexuality, a falseness under which I may duck and cover and which has social implications. I am uneasy, still, with the inferences others may draw if I come out as bisexual, even as I am also uneasy with the assumption by others that I’m straight.

My reasons for not slamming that closet door behind me, then, has less to do with social opprobrium than my own fear of the personal reactions to a personal revelation. I don’t think anyone in my family would really care all that much, or, to be honest, really be surprised—any surprise might be that I’m bisexual and not a lesbian—nor do I think that the few friends who I haven’t told would care much, either; if they would, their distress would likely center on how long it took me to tell them, not what I told them.

And, of course, that it’s been a number of years since I’ve become bisexual only makes the conversation now even more awkward: Why didn’t you say something earlier?


I struggle with what to reveal and what to tuck away in so many things; unlike almost every other of those things, however, this one is not just about me.

Let it be

25 01 2012

Try to be less afraid.

That was one of my not-great-at-resolutions resolution, and so far, in 2012, it’s 20 percent working.

The trying part—one of the five words—that I’m, well, trying.

The fear is still there, the thrum and tightening and clench, and in some cases the attempt to release it has only resulted in more fear.

Still, I am remembering one of my old mantras—No way out but through—which, along with Breathe, might just, eventually, lead to a lessening, a loosening.

It can be a hard thing to hang on and let go at the same time.

We’ll take a cup o’ kindess, yet

31 12 2011

I think I say every year that I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, after which I, well, I go ahead and resolve.

That’s not much of a tradition, but why not go with it?

So, I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing to be less afraid.

Fear as fog—yes, that sounds about right. I like fog, like how it makes things both close and far away, intimate and alienated all at the same time, but I’d rather keep it off my mind.

Less fear, then. And more kindness.

I wrestle with the whole sharp edges/soft hands approach to life and have tended to valorize critique over gentleness, but there are moments in which it is less important to be right than to be there.

There is more work, of course, but perhaps I should start with these two, and see how it goes.

Have a peaceful New Year, whether and whatever you resolve.

(Video: Albert Brooks and Rip Torn, Defending Your Life)


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