Stuff that I think about. Mostly books.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dennis Raphael on Health Reporting (and Why It Sucks)

Dennis Raphael wrote, edited, or co-edited six (including second editions) books for my company. I have to disclose that he is thus responsible for a pretty significant chunk of my paycheque. That said, his recent blog post on health reporting is knocking me out with its awesomeness. It's no surprise that I'm generally dubious about the way health is talked about in the media, but Dr. Raphael has managed to say what I've been thinking for a long time, with half the words and twice the ire.

Raphael's work is focused on the social determinants of health - those non-genetic factors that are beyond our control but still impact our health in multiple significant ways. The idea that any part of health is beyond our control is one that the media consistently refuses to acknowledge. Mainstream media seems hellbent on perpetuating the lie that good health is a direct result of good behaviour, and that bad health is a result - and proof - of bad hehaviour. Magazines tell us to eat more vegetables and get more sleep; they don't tell us to address social and economic inequalities that lead to alarming gaps in general health and wellbeing amongst the Canadian population. Raphael does a pretty good job of hypothesizing why this might be so:

[W]hat are the implications for reporters – and their editors and publishers — suddenly pointing out that their last 1000 stories about fruits and vegetables, exercise, and tobacco use as the primary determinants of health were misguided at best and patently wrong at worst[?]

But if I may be so bold as to criticize the man who keeps me in tofu and gym memberships, I think he also could have addressed what seems to me to be a simple and obvious reason to keep up the lie: It means we wouldn't get to make fun of fat people anymore.

I'm exaggerating, but I'm also serious. If fat is considered to be the primary external indicator of poor health - and it is, erroneously - and if health is considered to be almost 100% under our own personal control - and it is, erroneously - then the despicable way people of size are treated by society, the media, and health care professionals is justified. And the way we treat fat people isn't just gross, it's a marketing tool. The diet and exercise industries take in billions and billions of dollars by telling us a) that it's bad to be fat, and b) that fat people could be Not Fat if they just Tried Hard Enough. Of course, Trying Hard Enough means investing time and money that many people don't have - not to mention the fact that weight loss has a success rate of under 10%. So we're trapped in an endless hamster wheel of body shame, unattainable goals, weight loss, weight gain, more body shame, and everybody makes a pretty penny.

I'm not sure what Dennis Raphael's views are on fat acceptance, but I think he'd agree that the almost one-track focus on weight as a determinant of health is not only misguided but dangerous. Maybe it would make a good book? Just saying.

By the way, if you just HAPPEN to find this interesting, you MIGHT just mosey on over to the CSPI website and MAYBE you'll pick up one or two of Dennis Raphael's books. I mean, if you want. Oh, and here's a picture.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Online Dating, Controlvees, and Street Harassment: A Musing

For better or for worse, and possibly against my better judgment, I've recently re-entered the fray of online dating. I make no defense, except to say that I meet people almost exclusively through book publishing these days, and straight single dudes are somewhat hard to find in that context. It's lost its stigma, ok? Digital Age! Social Media! Leave Me Alone!

Anyway, if you're a straight single woman of moderate attractiveness who has ever tried online dating, you know that you basically get two types of messages. The first type is from a guy who has read (or at least skimmed) what you've posted in your profile, found something interesting, and struck up a conversation about it. They might not do it very well, and their motives might not always be sincere, but they're at least trying to engage you and learn about you and get you talking.

The second type is from a different kind of man altogether, whom I like to call the Controlvee, based on his method of message-composing: Ctrl+C + Ctrl+V. The Controlvee sends exactly the same message, perhaps with some small variations, to every woman he thinks is likely to give him a boner. The Controlvees can themselves be broken into two separate categories. The Clueless Controlvee is probably a perfectly nice man in real life, but simply doesn't get it. His message usually goes something like this:

"Hey! I had a look at your profile and you seem like a really cool girl. I'm a confident 25-year-old who loves to get outside and enjoy everything this city has to offer! I'm looking for someone I can take out for romantic dinners, spend weekends on camping trips, and just relax and enjoy life. Write me back if you like what you see!"
While the Clueless Controlvee isn't trying to be offensive, he still is. Because nothing in that message translates into "I am interested in you as a human being, and would like to talk to you about things that you are passionate about, because we share common interests." It just translates into "I'm bored and lonely and I saw your photo and you appear not to be disfigured so I'm going to shotgun this form letter out to you in the hopes that you'll care enough to reply in a way that I didn't." Or, in other words: "I want you to make all the effort, because I'm lazy."

The other kind of Controlvee is a different breed altogether, and I have termed him Controlvee McDouche. Controlvee McDouche is, not to put too fine a point on it, an asshole. Like the Clueless Controlvee, he copies-and-pastes the exact same message to every woman within a 100-mile radius who doesn't look like she lives in a swamp. If you're lucky, his message will look like this:

"wow what a beatuful smile!!! do u have msn? check out my profile n let me know if u want 2 chat ;) xo mike"

It's always Mike.

If you're not lucky, it looks like this:

"dayaaam girl u gotta nice pair!!! lol jus playin' whut u doin this weekend? hit me up"

I'm not sure what Controlvee McDouche is thinking, but I can be sure of this: Controlvee McDouche is not at all interested in me. He's interested in what he can get out of me. To Controlvee McDouche, I am not a human being with experiences, interests, and values, some of which do not involve his penis. I am something he can use to accomplish what he wants. To put it another way, I am an object.

I've been reading The Sexist a lot recently, and Amanda Hess strikes up a lot interesting discussions about street harassment. What's been fascinating to me, as I navigate this nebulous world, is how similar the Controlvee is to a street harasser. His approach is the same as those guys who honk their car horn at you when you're walking down the street, or the guy you pass by who demands that you stop and chat with him for a while. The street harasser doesn't care about you; he cares about what you can provide him.

And just like the street harasser, Controlvees really, really hate being called out on their obvious misogyny and objectification. Some men get pretty peeved when they're told that telling a woman they don't know to "give us a smile" is offensive; they think us wimminz, being immediately wooed by compliments, ought to be flattered. Similarly, Controlvees see nothing wrong with their approach, and think that you're the one at fault because you didn't respond. What, you don't like hearing that you have a beautiful smile? What's wrong with you? Don't you like flattery? Everyone likes being told that they're cute! You're just stuck-up! Your standards are way too high!

I don't think my standards are too high, really. I just would like my opinions, activities, and interests to be acknowledged, even in a small way. I have a whole big list right there on my profile of things I like to do, stuff I like to listen to, what I do for a living, opinions I have. None of that matters to Controlvees. Because the only thing that matters to a Controlvee is the Controlvee.

Sigh. I wish I could go back to college. Life was much simpler back then.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obesity Crisis Media Hypery

Via my good friend Katie - who is a rarity amongst health writers, in that she actually employs critical thinking skills on a regular basis - comes this article from Reuters about an impressive study on weight gain and age. Researchers followed the exercise and eating habits of 34,000 American women over the course of 15 years. When I say "impressive," I mean in terms of the sample size and length of the study, because the results were decidedly unimpressive: The average woman can expect to gain 5.7 pounds over 15 years.

I don't know about you, but the fact that I will be slightly heavier when I'm 38 than I am now is far less concerning to me than the fact that this apparently qualifies as news. I'm no scientist, but isn't it pretty much common sense that metabolism decreases with age, which leads to weight gain? Or maybe it's that people, especially women, tend to take on more responsibilities as they age (children, housework, increased career responsibility, finances), which translates into less time for exercise and dieting? Well, whatever the reason, I and, I would hope, most reasonable thinking people are decidedly "meh" about these findings.

But of course, this is the media, where any excuse to rant about teh fatties is a good one. So let's count all the ways in which this article corresponds exactly to Obesity Crisis Media Hypery, shall we?

Obesity Crisis Media Hypery Method #1: Combine relatively unremarkable data with ridiculously hyperbolic reporting.

As I've already mentioned, the fact that 40-year-olds tend to weigh more than 25-year-olds is neither breaking nor news. But according to Reuters, a 5.7-pound weight gain is incentive to war. No, I'm not exaggerating:

Winning that war will require individuals to make changes in their daily routines -- like walking or biking to work -- but it may also take a shift in policy to make it easier for people in fit exercise into their lives, researchers said. (emphasis mine)

You heard it here first, folks. Those six pounds are the enemy; your (necessarily female) body is the battleground. Which makes you a soldier, and a patriot. You're not just trying to stay skinny enough for your skinny jeans; you're serving your country. (The fact that the United States is currently at war - an actual war, in which people are getting killed - is apparently lost on Reuters.)

Obesity Crisis Media Hypery Method #2: Accompany article with unflattering photo of morbidly obese woman or women, with face(s) obscured in some way.

It is apparently the law that any article that mentions weight in any way must be accompanied by a Headless Fatty photo. To Reuters' credit, they seem to have removed the photo that originally headed the article, but rest assured that they stayed well within the parameters of that unbreakable law. The photo was of two very large women in bathing suits at the pool, their backs turned.

Not only is the Headless Fatty photo dehumanizing and offensive - click the link for more on that - but it's also total bullshit. The ubiquitous Headless Fatty, first of all, is a human being, who in all likelihood did not ask or intend to represent a public health crisis, and who, without her consent, now finds herself the subject of disgust and ridicule in international news. That's the important thing. But also? Most overweight and obese people do not look like the Headless Fatty. The Headless Fatty is much, much fatter than the vast majority of overweight and obese Americans, which makes the use of her photo to accompany these types of news stories completely inaccurate and misleading. It's like if you wrote an article about how it's been raining a little more this year than it did last year, and then you illustrated it with a picture of a hurricane. (I struggled for a while with that analogy, and I'm still not happy with it, because it seems to imply that hurricanes and morbidly obese people have similarly devastating effects. If you have a better suggestion, feel free to leave it below.)

Obesity Crisis Media Hypery Method #3: Dole out completely unrealistic "advice" that will solve this public health crisis.

Still worried about being slightly fatter in 15 years than you are now? Don't worry; there's a solution. Just spend seven hours a week exercising.

Ok, on its face, I guess that doesn't seem like that much. An hour a day? Ok. But let's break this down. Compared to a lot of people, I am really not that busy. I work, but only about 44 hours a week; I go to school, but only part-time; I don't have kids; and my social calendar is relatively sparse on account of my being a prematurely elderly lady who doesn't like to go to bed past 11. But even I would have trouble meeting this goal. Why? Partly it's because I'm as lazy as a housecat, but mostly, it's because I have other shit I like to do.

Here's what the researchers suggest:

"I think the easiest thing is actually commuting," she said, suggesting people walk or bike to work, and if they drive, to park farther away from the office.
It takes an astonishing amount of privilege to say this kind of thing with a straight face. First of all, ok, there's the assumption that everyone everywhere works in an office. Second, walking to work is really not an option if you work long hours and live far away, because, see, it gets dark out. And while women are told that we have to walk around all the time because otherwise we'll be fat, we're also told that walking around all the time will get us raped and we should never do it. See how that's confusing? And I would imagine that, for people who don't live in biker-friendly cities, "biking to work" is actually not the easiest thing because it could get you killed. Way quicker and probably more painfully than the deathfats.

But sure. Commuting to your plushy 9-to-5 office job is the easiest thing. Obvs. Can't do it? Too bad. BOOTSTRAPS!
If seven hours a week are just too hard to fit in, Lee said people might want to consider vigorous exercise such as jogging, which can cut the weekly time requirement in half.
Consider this, Lee: To jog, you either need a gym membership, which most people can't afford, or you need access to safe pathways, which most people don't live close to. You also need running shoes and appropriate clothes, and you need to not have joint problems. But ok. Thanks, tips! Apparently exercise is good for you, and this I never knew.


Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses, and adding about $150 billion a year to U.S. healthcare costs.

[citation needed]

Full disclosure: If I fulfill my genetic destiny and gain 5.7 pounds by the time I'm 38, I will have officially crossed the threshold from cushy, privileged, unremarkable "normal" into the public health crisis zone that is "overweight." The fact that a gain of six pounds will suddenly mean I'm costing everybody billions of dollars in health care costs is total unmitigated bullshit. I'm too tired and angry to get into exactly why right now, but check out this post and the rest of the excellent Obesity Paradox series.

Listen up, guys: bodies change as they age. The hard facts of living mean that you will sag in some places and wrinkle in others. Your hair might get grey, your back might get sore whenever it's humid. And yes, you might gain a little bit of weight. But frankly, by the time I'm 38, I'll be way too busy editing the next Joseph Boyden novel and planning my wedding to Sam Worthington (on whom I will, of course, be cheating with Joseph Boyden) to give even one tiny rat's ass about the fact that when I was 23, I weighed six pounds less. It just isn't worth going to war.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Subway Sexual Har(ass)ment: Or, Why I Should Flush My Metropass Down the Toilet

A few minutes ago, I posted this as my Facebook status:

Jessie Hale Reason #3,423 to hate the subway: unable to tell difference between lack of personal space due to overcrowding, and legitimate sexual harassment.

But I feel that this story really requires further explanation, or at least, vigorous use of slant text, which Facebook cannot at this time accommodate. I need italics to deal with this situation, people. It is italic worthy.

So this morning I got down to Eglinton Station at my usual start time of 8:30, which incidentally is the same time that every single person in the entire city gets there too. It's always busy, and today was no exception, but it was compounded today by the fact that the TTC seemed to be running even less efficiently than usual. So, while more and more people kept showing up, the appearance of subway cars was less frequent. I think the scientific term is "clusterfuck."

A side story: I've been working more or less 9-5 in Toronto for about ten months. Accounting for a two-month period where my schedule essentially consisted of me showing up at the Tightrope office whenever the hell I felt like it and leaving two hours later, along with the usual holidays and weekends, I estimate that I have boarded the subway at 8:30 a.m. at Eglinton Station about 180 times. Now, on very busy mornings, the TTC will occasionally shake itself awake for long enough to send an empty car to high-profile stations, rather than just letting everybody board at Finch and hoping for the best. I was once waiting at Eglinton Station when one such empty subway car ambled along. And stopped. I got a seat on the subway, y'all. It was probably one of the best moments of my entire life (which is a sad situation that might require another, less entertaining blog post). It happened AN single time (HT, out of 180 times, giving it an experiential probability of 0.006, and yet, every single morning, I hope that it will happen again.

Needless to say, it didn't. An empty car actually did amble along, but it just hooted in a surly sort of manner and kept going towards Bloor or wherever the hell the important people were waiting. So, when a subway car finally did allow us to board, it was, of course, packed. I didn't so much get on voluntarily as I was carried along on a sea of sleepy bank-worker people, but I did actually manage to get a spot away from the door and close to a communal pole. I think my gym bag was wedged between someone else's knees, but nonetheless, I was fairly satisfied with the hand (ha) fate had dealt me.


Ok. Now, I understand that when the subway is crowded, you really don't have much of a choice about where your body goes or which of its parts touch which of other passengers' parts. It's not like I'm going to ask anybody to respect my bubble on the TTC at 8:30 a.m. And I also understand that my ass, being not exactly diminutive, is fairly difficult to avoid even at the best of times. In polite circles, you might refer to it as a round thing in yo' face. But let's just say that whatever was touching my ass this morning felt an awful lot like a hand, with five separate and very active fingers. And let's also just say that that hand felt like it was moving with purpose. I was willing to give the pervert behind me the benefit of the doubt while we were actually moving - maybe s/he was just succumbing to the normal inertia experienced by all physical matter, and certainly the two very short women in front of me who were unlucky enough not to be able to reach the overhead pole were having no small trouble keeping themselves out of other people's bizz - but when we were stopped for a few moments at St. Clair, the damn thing was still moving very actively and very much with purpose.

Trouble is, not only could I not move away from The Thing (appropriate, no?), I also couldn't turn my body around to a sufficient degree to determine whether or not what I suspected was happening was actually happening. I couldn't even see who was behind me! It could have been a completely normal nine-to-fiver like myself whose purse was comprised of unfortunate dangling zippers and knobs that just happened to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or it could have been a sketchy weirdo who gets off on the idea of fondling innocent women who convince themselves that it's probably just somebody's purse! I'll never know. And that terrifies me, you guys. It was a traumatizing incident made all the more traumatizing by the fact that I don't even know if it was traumatizing or not!

So, yanno. If you're in the market for a Metropass, let me know.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Slushlet: Ampersand from Alas, A Blog on Lowering Abortion Rates

Sometimes, I see things on the Internet that make me say "Yes! Yes! Yes!" And sometimes, those things are not porn.

If the primary purpose of the pro-life movement is to make sure women who have sex have to “face the consequences,” then the pro-life strategy we’ve seen in this country makes sense. But if the primary purpose is to make the US abortion rate as low as possible, then it would make a lot more sense to look instead at strategies that have actually produced low abortion rates in the real world. And pro-lifers, by and large, have shown no interest in that.

Go read the whole thing here. (I realize it's from a pretty old post, but the points made bear re-hashing.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bookinism at the Apocalypse: When the Four Horsemen Arrive, What Will You Be Reading?

I had an extremely pretentious dream last night.

Apparently, when you add NyQuil to the fact that I spend over half my waking hours thinking about books, you end up with nocturnal visions of futuristic dystopia in which the question on everyone's mind is "On my last day on Earth, what will I read?"

Explanation (and bear in mind, I'm not making a single part of this up): In my dream, we've all learned that the world is going to end on January 31, and that on that final day, we will all be struck with a frantic and uncontrollable desire to read a book. We will have no control over that desire; we will become book zombies and grab whatever book is closest to us and read the entire thing. (Seriously. Not making this up.) The news is therefore advising us to pick a very special book and to keep it close to us on January 31, so that, on our last day on Earth, we can all enjoy an excellent read before we are all blowed up or something (my subconscious was vague on the scientific details).

As a book nerd even in sleep, this was a very troubling scenario for me. Obviously, the choices are endless, but I had to start with a deceptively simple choice: Should I pick a book that I've always wanted to read but never got around to, or a book that I've loved since childhood and could read over and over?

In my dream, I opted for Joseph Boyden's Born with a Tooth. (Again, seriously. Not a single part.) I told others that this was because I really liked his two novels, and I didn't want to die without seeing what his short fiction was like, but I suspect I just wanted something pretty to think about before I died.

Wouldn't you?

Anyway, Chapters (DAMN THEIR CORPROATE HIDES) was out of the book, so I was back to square one. Unfortunately, I woke up before my dream self could make the final decision.

So it got me thinking. We've all thought about (or been forced to think about by way of desert island scenario questions) what book we would choose to read if we could only read one book over and over until we die. But what if you had one more day to read one more book? What would you choose? Would you finally read War and Peace, like you've been resolving to do every New Year since 2002? Would you pick up Shopaholic, again, just because if you're going to face the threat of impending doom, goddammit, you're going to laugh your way into the afterlife? Or would you pick up the beloved classic your mom used to read to you as a kid, because it's comforting, and also because you've got kind of an Oedipal thing going on?

Although my dream self was floundering, it didn't take my awake self long to decide. You'll find out what I picked...IN AN EXTRA SPECIAL GOOD BOOK O' THE WEEK FEATURE! Coming soon!!!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Slushlet: Catholic Church Lukewarm On Prospect of Killing People For Whom They Love

In case you needed more proof that Catholics are crazy:

On behalf of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Cyprian K. Lwanga of Kampala writes that they support the government in its effort to uphold the natural family and traditional values, but they oppose certain of the harsher provisions in the bill, and believe that the current law against homosexuality is adequate.

Just so we're clear, by "certain of the harsher provisions," they mean execution.

If you hear about a country that wants to kill people for being gay, and you have to preface your response with "Well, I see where they're coming from," you are officially out of touch.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why the Pro-Life Movement Is So Very, Very Full of Fail

I was recently involved in a Facebook debate (I believe that link will be viewable to anyone with Facebook, but let me know if not) with a young activist over the abortion/breast cancer link. Spurred by the whole "let's talk about my hot lingerie to raise awareness about breasts, I mean, breast cancer!" meme that swung around FB over the past few days, she had posted a website arguing that having an abortion raises the risk of breast cancer.

Let's just put this to rest immediately: the largest and most reliable studies ever conducted on this subject make it very clear that there is no reason to believe a link exists between abortion and breast cancer. As puts it: "The newer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk." (Store away that whole "spontaneous abortion" thing for future reference.) The evidence that there is a link, meanwhile, is pretty lame: Eight medical organizations (at least five of which are obviously and admittedly pro-life-slanted) recognize the link as part of their platforms. Eight, of course, is not that many, and it bears mentioning that most of those eight also believe that the world is 6,000 years old; so you'll forgive me if I don't take their scientific know-how too seriously.

There is no link between abortion and breast cancer. Should that have any bearing on the strength of the pro-life argument? No. Of course not. They already have one solid fact on their side - abortion ends a life - and that they consistently feel the need to supplement that fact with bullshit (PAS, breast cancer, the whole "God" thing) makes me wonder how seriously they even take themselves.

I pointed out to this young PLer that she was, in fact, full of grade A horseshit. Naturally, when presented with objective evidence that she is wrong, a pro-lifer's first reaction is to declare a conspiracy. The reason it's so easy to find large, reliable studies debunking the abortion/breast cancer link is that the medical system doesn't want you to know about it. So all those studies and doctors saying in no uncertain terms that abortion does not increase your risk of breast cancer? They're lying to us. Because abortion is a huge fucking cash cow.

It probably goes without saying that this is pure lunacy. Remember that episode of the Simpsons, where Homer saves Lenny's life by throwing his egg sandwich on the floor?

Homer: Saved your life! That egg sandwich would have killed you by cholesterol!
Lenny: Pfft, forget it, Homer. While it has been established that eggs contain cholesterol, it has not yet been proven conclusively that they actually raise the level of serum cholesterol in the human blood stream.
Homer: So one of those Egg Council creeps got to you too, huh?
Lenny: Aw, you've got it all wrong, Homer. It's not like that.
[a man in an egg costume creeps, then runs, away]
Homer: You'd better run, egg!

This is also the same tactic 9/11 conspirators use. It's easy for crazy people to ignore evidence, because to them, the whole world profits off of making them look crazy. This strategy, while insane, also has the advantage of making it impossible to win an argument with them.

Let's look at the facts here. No one is getting rich off of providing abortions. If anything, it's exactly the opposite: there are enormous industries supported entirely by pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. That a simple, safe, legal medical procedure that takes less than an hour and costs less than $600 could possibly make anyone more money than nine months of pregnancy and 18 years of raising a child makes no fucking sense. The PLer cited Planned Parenthood as bringing in $1 billion last year; while this may be true, only around 2% of that money came from abortion. PP provides tons of medical services in addition to abortion, as well as education and outreach to underprivileged members of the community.

Those monsters!

If the medical industry was heavily invested in women having abortions, you'd think they would be less dedicated to education about birth control. For reasons unrelated to abortion, I had to go to my local 'hood last week. You know what they have all over the damn place? Condoms. WTF? If they want people to keep having abortions, why do they give out free pregnancy prevention?

But instead, it's the pro-lifers who are discouraging people from using birth control, even though that's the only thing that's ever been empirically proven to reduce abortion rates. (Then again, empirical proof? Not their fave.)

The scientific theory behind the breast cancer/abortion link has something to do with cells; apparently when you get up the sprog, your breasts produce more cells, but they don't become cancer-resistant until the third trimester. So take the baby away, and all these cells are just waiting to become tumorous.

Makes a lot of sense, in theory. The problem, which becomes evident if you think about it for more than five minutes, is that if this theory is true, there should be no difference in risk between induced abortions and spontaneous abortions (aka miscarriages). But the medical establishment shouldn't have any reason to keep the risk of miscarriage under wraps; they're certainly not making any money off of it. What's the deal?

Finally, the theory here is that if women knew about this risk of abortion, they would have less abortions. That's a pretty shaky theory. Exposing the risks of cigarette smoking helped reduce smoking, but abortion isn't like smoking. There are no negative consequences to not smoking. There are lots of negative consequences to being pregnant, at least if you're a woman who doesn't want to be pregnant. And for a woman who doesn't want to be pregnant, I doubt the threat of a slightly increased risk of breast cancer is going to erase her concerns. Even if there is a link between abortion and breast cancer (which there isn't); and even if there are lots of people making lots of money from abortions (which there aren't); it still does not follow that there's any advantage in keeping this information quiet. For the conspiracy theory to make sense, you first have to prove that there'd be a significant decrease in abortions if people knew it might cause breast cancer. And you can't do that, because the only thing that's been shown to decrease abortion rates is birth control. Well, that, and legalized abortion.

I didn't really take the debate very seriously, as should be clear from my use of phrases like "all about the Benjamins" and my mockery of her website's font choice (I don't care what you believe, typography is IMPORTANT), but arguing from a losing position is a difficult thing to do, and the anti-choice movement is nothing if not losing. So my pro-life friend closed by advising me to have the human life inside me ripped violently away, while she would have a baby, and then we'd see who had health problems down the road.

This delicious diatribe is pretty much exactly why the pro-life movement is full of fail. It's being represented by people who just plain don't know how to argue. Conspiracy theorists who end debates by saying "GO KILL YOUR BABY THEN, FINE, I DON'T CARE" don't exactly help discourage the belief that conservatives are wackos.

And it's a damn shame, because the pro-life movement doesn't have to be wacky. The fact that abortion ends a life is a powerful one to use, and while God knows I'm more pro-choice than the average pro-choicer, even I get a bit stumped when presented with that argument. But relying on easily discredited bullshit and Big Brother conspiracies doesn't make the pro-life movement look like a threat. It just makes it really, really easy to make fun of them.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take the $50 I just earned from the National Association of Abortions Are Awesome (NAAAA) and put it in my Baby Killin' Jar. You never know when I might need it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year's Resolutions, the TTC, and Why My Feet Hurt

My only real New Year's resolution was to complain less. While my complaining is sometimes just -, for example, deserves nothing if not my ire - I complain way too much about things that don't really matter. One subject on which I was particularly resolved not to whine is the subway. The TTC combines two of my most hated phenomenons: a method of transportation I have no control over, and other people. Many were the mornings I would rail against the lady who leaned her entire body against a communal pole as though unaware that other people might choose to hold onto it rather than faceplant into a hostile stranger's crotch, or the college kid whose enormous backpack took up the space that ought to have been occupied by at least two tiny Asian women. But no more! The subway might not be perfect, I reasoned, but it at least gets me where I need to go, and usually more or less on time. Complaining about it would only waste my negative energy, which I need to save in case I ever meet Peter Singer.

The TTC, apparently, took this as a challenge.

Owing to the always nebulous "signal problems," the Yonge-University-Spadina line was shut down between Bloor and Osgoode. When I got into the Yonge & Bloor subway and saw the kind of crowd that I thought was usually reserved for the Pope, I decided I could wait a half hour and hightailed it out of there for a slice of vegan pizza. Half an hour and a crispy crust later, I tried my luck again, only to find that the Northbound platform had become something of a mosh pit. Even the buskers looked slightly fearful for their lives.

Fortuitously, today was the first day all year that I'd worn my enormous boots.

As you can see, those things are nothing if not f'real.

So I walked.

Now, I suppose I should be mad that, despite a 9% fare increase, the TTC still cannot be relied upon to create a public transit system that will actually get me anywhere. And yes, on my long ramble I found many things worth complaining about. For instance, Torontonian business owners have apparently not grasped the incredibly high-tech procedure of dumping some salt on their sidewalks, resulting in what would be called a winter Slip 'n' Slide if Slip 'n' Slides were dirty and dangerous and...ok, it basically was a Slip 'n' Slide. And although my boots are basically foot-shaped tanks, my coat was $30 at Urban Planet and offers about as much protection from the cold as a pair of crossed fingers.

But really, it wasn't that bad. The babushka I improvised out of my scarf kept the snow off my face, and I was warmed by Lady Gaga's ambiguously gendered loins via my iPod. I got to see a lot of Yonge Street, which is actually quite pretty once you get north of the Brass Rail, and while my monthly Metropass is not inexpensive, it's definitely cheaper than a Metropass combined with a gym membership.

I was born in Toronto and I therefore have a right, if not a duty, to complain a damn lot about everything in this city, and twice as much about everything outside of it. But my resolution stands. My feet hurt and I think I have pneumonia, but I still say that any day ending with a fizzy bath bomb and a glass of red wine can't be all bad.