Please take a moment to merge your miscarriage series with the religious corporations thread, because science: Plan B does not cause abortion because it does not prevent implantation. Plan B is progesterone. It does absolutely nothing if you have already ovulated and had the misfortune of having conceived the night before. In fact, as every woman who has had trouble staying pregnant knows, progesterone is what they prescribe, after a few miscarriages, to help a fertilized egg implant and “stick” in the uterus. So it actually HELPS pregnancies become more viable.
But if you already conceived, you are screwed; Plan B actually ups the chances that you will end up with a baby. Plan B only works if you had sex and have not yet ovulated, in which case the hormone surge will push your ovulation a couple weeks into the future, preventing you from releasing that egg down into the fallopian pool of waiting sperm. It in no way whatsoever interrupts an actual pregnancy after the moment of conception. It does not harm a single hair on a blastocyst’s one-celled head.
Indeed, an overwhelming number of studies in the past decade back up the reader’s point that Plan B does not prevent implantation. Last year the NYT did an extensive investigation that showed how all the ambiguity around the issue is traced to the FDA’s dubious labeling of Plan B back in 1999:
Labels inside every box of morning-after pills, drugs widely used to prevent pregnancy after sex, say they may work by blocking fertilized eggs from implanting in a woman’s uterus. Respected medical authorities, including the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic, have said the same thing on their Web sites. … But an examination by The New York Times has found that the federally approved labels and medical Web sites do not reflect what the science shows. Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, leading scientists say. Rather, the pills delay ovulation, the release of eggs from ovaries that occurs before eggs are fertilized, and some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming.
It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion, a divisive issue in this election year, is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work.
I wanted to echo the reader whose colitis went into remission after beginning to smoke. I spent my high school and college years attacked by reoccurring flares of colitis. There were days where I had to crawl to the bathroom because I was so weak. On a day I was bloated, in pain, and in bed, an episode of House MD came on where he recommended smoking to a patient with colitis. Unfortunately in my condition I had no access to cigarettes, but I had a friend who smoked weed endlessly. As an evangelical Christian who didn’t drink, smoke, or even go to R-rated movies, the idea of “smoking” was sacrilege – but that was nothing compared to my physical torment, so on the advice of a doctor on TV, I inhaled. It went into remission almost the next day, and I haven’t had a flare since.
Another makes an important distinction:
Your reader with ulcerative colitis tells only half of this mysterious story. Crohn’s disease, the other major type of inflammatory bowel disease – which has very similar symptoms and can be equally debilitating – is exacerbated by smoking. Nobody knows why nicotine affects UC positively and Crohn’s negatively, but it’s being intensively investigated. (For that matter, nobody knows for sure what causes either form of IBD to begin with.)
Note: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is not to be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a much less serious condition medically but with similar negative effects on quality-of-life. Smoking exacerbates IBS because anything that irritates the bowel can make IBS symptoms worse. Bowel irritation per se does not seem to be involved where IBD is concerned, or it would have a negative effect on both UC and Crohn’s.
The above video of Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens cracking a joke at the expense of sick people makes Kilgore, well, sick:
The robust laughs of Hudgen’s audience when he compared pre-existing condition coverage to an ex post facto request for auto insurance collision coverage after a motorist causes a wreck is about as disgusting as the stupid analogy itself.
This might sound unusually callous, even for a Georgia Republican — or like typical reactionary anti-Obamacare horseshit taken just a bit too far. But it’s actually worse. It’s a symptom of how deep the rot of 47 percenter thinking has crept in the conservative movement.
About fifteen years after most gay men figured it out, Mark Joseph Stern stumbles onto the truth that, with HIV no longer a death sentence in developed countries, the era of simply scaring gay men away from unprotected sex is over. And, unlike so many well-meant public health campaigns, he is prepared to tell the obvious truth:
Bareback sex feels better for both partners. At some point, almost every gay man will learn this fact—so why lie about it?
Indeed. That one fact combined with one other – that middle-class gay men can suppress the virus indefinitely with the cocktail – has to be integrated into a sane, safer sex message. I’ve been banging on about this for years, of course, and there have been initiatives, in San Francisco particularly, where these insights have indeed been integrated into public health campaigns. And they’ve been among the most successful in restraining infection. But Stern goes one step further:
If we don’t give gay men the promise of the reward, a foreseeable end to the hassles of condoms, they’re bound to get frustrated and either slip up or give up. Giving men the goal of a committed relationship—and with it, the perk of unprotected sex—might convert barebacking from a forbidden fruit to a reward worth working toward.
Yes, and no. First off, can we retire the term “barebacking” and simply refer to it as sex without condoms, i.e. the activity formerly known as sex? Stigmatizing latex-free sex as “barebacking” may have had some logic in the plague years, but it can be psychologically toxic today. It renders the most intimate of sexual interactions a pathology, and that can’t be right.
Second, the prize of non-rubbered sex in a monogamous relationship is a little more fraught than Stern makes it out to be. It makes huge sense if both men are HIV-positive. In that case, there is no danger that sex outside the marriage – sometimes lied about, or hidden, or unspoken – can lead to indirect infection, because both men are infected already. But if both men are negative, it puts much more pressure on monogamy and on a marriage than might be wise. One slip and you’re not only betraying your partner, you could also be deeply damaging his health. Although it’s noble as an ideal, the standard here may be simply practically too high, certainly over a lifetime, for most men to achieve. And the consequences of failure can be terrible for a relationship.
I think we should leave it to married couples or committed lovers to figure their way through this – and avoid harshness and easy judgment. We’re all human and in sexual desire, more human and flawed than in most other areas. But, as a practical matter, you don’t have to restrict non-rubbered sex solely to monogamous married couples to have an impact on infection rates.
On December 4th, the lower house of parliament voted [268 to 138] to make prostitution a crime for those who pay for sex, subject to a fine of €1,500 ($2,030) for a first offense and €3,750 thereafter. “I don’t want a society in which women have a price,” said Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the women’s minister. She wants nothing less than to “abolish” prostitution in France. With Germany having second thoughts about its decision over a decade ago to liberalize the world’s oldest profession, the French have decided to follow Sweden, Finland and Norway in restricting prostitution. Paying for sex is not now illegal, although brothels, soliciting and pimping are.
The bill must still pass the Senate and be signed by the president before it becomes law, a process that could take several months. Christopher Dickey calls the debate “ferociously ideological in ways that are very French indeed”:
While just about everyone denounces the trafficking of women and men treated as virtual slaves, much of the most passionate debate has focused on the cases of independent sex workers, a relatively small minority, and whether they have the right to use their bodies – and sell their services – as they see fit. The free-wheeling publication Causeur provoked sensational headlines when it issued a manifesto signed by hundreds of self-proclaimed “bastards” – all men – warning the government, “hands off my whore.” “We love liberty, literature and intimacy,” it claimed, “and when the state concerns itself with our asses, all three are in danger. … Against the ‘sexually correct,’ we intend to live like adults.”
But the most intense debate is not so much with or against macho posturing, it is among France’s feminists. The daily Le Monde discerned four or five distinct currents:
Subscriber here, in South Africa for an AIDS conference. It was quiet late last night as Cape Town was soaking in the news of Mandela’s death. I snapped this pic of Greenmarket Square and Table Mountain from my hotel room at 5:40am – the first dawn in South Africa without Nelson Mandela in 95 years.
I want to give more money, but I can’t. I e-mailed a few months back that I want to give more money on a bi-monthly basis or so, but that your current configuration won’t let me, since I’m already a subscriber. You have been on fire lately, so I was ready to slap down another $150, but I can’t. CAN YOU HELP ME GIVE YOU MORE MONEY?
You bet we can. Our core plea to readers like you is to renew your subscription next year at a higher level. What we need is a stable source of income – and the best way to support us structurally is to subscribe as generously as possible. Remember that you can set your own price – and if you want to say thanks for a year of hard work and innovation, just give us more when renewal comes due. The more you give, the more we can do. We have no venture capital, except our readers. And that’s good enough for us. But if you’re as eager as the reader above, an option to help us right now is to purchase a Christmas gift subscription for a friend, a family member or a colleague – for any amount, $19.99 or above. (And remember, gift subs will not auto-renew, so don’t worry about getting charged again next year.) We suggested that option last month and the response was overwhelming:
In fact, that spike was our biggest one since early February, when we rolled out the new site. So a huge thanks to all our gift-giving readers. (And drop us an email if you end up following suit, so we can thank you individually.) Another reader on yesterday’s update:
Reading your end-of-the-year discussion of how the business model has been going, and then getting to the figure of 41,000 of us who have exhausted all of the free reads, I am SO busted. I can say for certain that I look in here many times a day. And true confession, I’ve run out of free on my laptop, iPad, Kindle and phone. I thank you and your staff for the fabulous energy I get here, for the intellectual thoughts, for helping me to broaden myself. I owe more than the money I kicked in.
Sorry it took so long, this is why I finally subscribed: You pay your interns.
Another new subscriber:
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The feeling is mutual. One of the wonderful things about this blog is how much the readers teach us every day about the world. That kind of constant, immediate interaction is unique to the web, and we’re really proud to have found a way to harness it to curate an informed, quirky and human conversation. We try to explore topics sometimes a little too controversial for other sites dependent on corporate advertizing – rape, pot, miscarriage, abortion, circumcision, race, sex and religion. We aim to be as honest and as balanced as we can, while still having a distinctive point of view.
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My guilt about not subscribing finally overwhelmed me. I have been reading your site nearly every day since 2005 (I think I found you through the once great Oxblog) and I’ve never once emailed you, which makes this “relationship” a bit fraught as I’ve been looking through a one-way mirror in a creepy voyeuristic manner. I feel as though I know so much about you and you’ve never heard of me. I’ve always enjoyed reading your long-form work and I admire your team’s ability to aggregate, two skills that I don’t often find to be symbiotic, but it works with the Dish. In working through my guilt (I was brought up a Catholic) about not subscribing after you’ve given so much to me, I was thinking about the early 2000s when I graduated from college and your blog was a big part of my life.
Okay, okay, for fuck’s sake, I finally subscribed. Happy to do it, too – I enjoy your virtual voice, whether or not I agree with you (I’m a screaming liberal, and remarkably, I usually do agree with you. That’s more a comment on the state of “conservatism” than much else, but still). Cheers. And here’s to a great new year with The Dish.
Rick Doblin, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He received his doctorate in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he wrote his dissertation on the regulation of the medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana and his Master’s thesis on a survey of oncologists about smoked marijuana vs. the oral THC pill in nausea control for cancer patients. His undergraduate thesis at New College of Florida was a 25-year follow-up to the classic Good Friday Experiment, which evaluated the potential of psychedelic drugs to catalyze religious experiences.
His professional goal is to help develop legal contexts for the beneficial uses of psychedelics and marijuana, primarily as prescription medicines but also for personal growth for otherwise healthy people, and eventually to become a legally licensed psychedelic therapist. He founded MAPS in 1986, and currently resides in Boston with his wife and three children.
Our extensive coverage of the spiritual and therapeutic benefits of psychedelics is here (or, in chronological order, here).
The part of Healthcare.gov that pays insurers won’t be built by January:
The administration is planning a “workaround” for payments, said Daniel Durham, vice president for policy and regulatory affairs at America’s Health Insurance Plans. Health plans will estimate how much they are owed, and submit that estimate to the government. Once the system is built, the government and insurers can reconcile the payments made with the plan data to “true up” payments, he said ”The intent is to make sure plans get paid on time, which is a good thing,” Durham told Reuters.
The fix puts an additional “burden” on insurance companies, already taxed by having to double-check faulty enrollment data from the HealthCare.gov system. Now, companies need to quickly put together financial management systems to make the payment estimates, so they can be paid beginning in January, he said. ”They have to recognize that plans are already quite stressed and introducing this at the last minute just adds substantial burden for plans to deal with,” Durham said.
We lapse into cynicism all too easily and sometimes cynicism is an appropriate response to the daily degradations of ordinary politics. But there are other times – and this is one – in which cynicism is best put aside. If we can – and we do – recognise greatness in other fields of human endeavour we should be prepared to countenance the idea it can exist in politics too. Few may be admitted to the pantheon but the pantheon exists.
Nelson Mandela was a great man. The greatest man of my lifetime. No-one else these past forty years has had such an impact. There were many heroes who helped tear down the Berlin Wall but none of them as individuals played as decisive or transformational role as Mandela did in South Africa.
The words “Nelson Mandela is dead” feel strange in the mouth today, almost impossible to say, given the unique way he was both martyred and canonised during his lifetime. He embodies a paradox: on the one hand we love him for his humanity; on the other, he already passed long ago from the world of the flesh. He is a peak of moral authority, rising above the soulless wasteland of the 20th century; he is a universal symbol for goodness and wisdom, for the ability to change, and the power of reconciliation.
Gevisser considers how his halo affected South Africa:
Mandela’s perceived sanctity has had a powerful effect, not always positive, on the growth of the democracy he played so great a role in nurturing. Certainly, it has conferred on South Africa a moral heft that has enabled the country to punch significantly above its weight in the global arena, and it has accorded us South Africans an internal moral voice, even if we have not always heeded it: “What would Madiba do?”
But the Mandela legacy has also given South Africa a distorted sense of exceptionalism. We were, the world had us believe, the “world’s greatest fairy tale.” We were, our own beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu told us, “the rainbow children of God.” How could we ever live up to such hype? How could we be as good—as forgiving or as a noble—as Mandela? And how could we ever deliver to the expectations of a global community that used Mandela as its measure? With every massacre, every national strike, every corruption scandal, we were found wanting, not least by ourselves.
Richard Stengel compares the man Mandela was before prison to the one he was after:
“Like many other anti-Communists and Cold Warriors, I feared that releasing Nelson Mandela from jail, especially amid the collapse of South Africa’s apartheid government, would create a Cuba on the Cape of Good Hope at best and an African Cambodia at worst … Far, far, far from any of that, Nelson Mandela turned out to be one of the 20th Century’s great moral leaders, right up there with Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. … So, I was dead wrong about Nelson Mandela, a great man and fine example to others, not least the current occupant of the White House. After 95 momentous years on Earth, may Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela rest in peace,” – Deroy Murdock, National Review.
German police have developed a smartphone app that allows them to identify far-right rock songs by playing just a brief sample. … The interior ministers of the country’s 16 regional states will meet this week to discuss a new method dubbed “Nazi Shazam,” in reference to the mobile phone-based music identification service Shazam, which can identify music bands and song titles from a short sample picked up via the phone’s microphone. The new software would let police quickly identify neo-Nazi rock music.
“The whole situation sounds pretty insane to an outsider,” Victoria Turk says, “but apparently far-right music is a big problem in Germany, where it’s considered a ‘gateway drug’ into the neo-Nazi scene”:
The Guardian reported that in 2004, far-right groups even tried to recruit young members by handing out CD compilations in schools. That sort of action is illegal in Germany, where neo-Nazi groups are outlawed and the Federal Review Board for Media Harmful to Minors is tasked with examining and indexing media – including films, games, music, and websites – that may be harmful to young people. Just last year, the board indexed 79 songs for being too racist or neo-Nazi-ish, which means that under-18s can’t buy them. It’s also illegal to make those songs accessible to under-18s, hence the need to track music being played where young people might be present. With the app, a police officer’s smartphone microphone could detect the illegal track and help launch a quick investigation.
Alex Madrigal worries how similar technologies could be used in the US:
“While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.
A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule,” – Pope Francis.
Rick Santorum, a Catholic fighting against universal healthcare, compares the Affordable Care Act with … apartheid:
[Mandela] was fighting against some great injustice, and I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives — and Obamacare is front and center in that.
I just don’t know what to say about that. I really don’t. Except that Santorum’s mind is simply unhinged, and that the reflexive need to describe anything that this president has done as pure evil has become a kind of sickness of the mind and soul on the right. It has abandoned any connection to the real world. It lives in a narcissistic, warped, ideological echo-chamber of victimhood and utter obliviousness to the real tragedies of human history.
(Photo: Former US Republican Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 15, 2013. By Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.)
David Kenner contends that the president’s foreign policy is best understood as a drive toward nonproliferation:
Obama’s non-proliferation agenda got off to a fast start in its first year, as the administration negotiated the New START treaty; held the Nuclear Security Summit, which included delegations from 47 countries across the world; and released a new Nuclear Posture Review, which called for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy. In some of the global hotspots that concerned the United States, the focus on nuclear non-proliferation also took precedence over concerns about human rights or democracy promotion.
In Russia, Obama prioritized non-proliferation over concerns about Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on his domestic political opponents. “The nuclear issue is really important to his background,” Michael McFaul, the current U.S. ambassador to Moscow, told Mann for The Obamians. “He thinks you need a New START treaty, no matter whether the Russians are a democracy or an autocracy, because these are dangerous weapons and we’ve got to control them-and in a way, that’s a legacy from this 1980s era.” …
With the wind at the back of the president’s nuclear agenda, the stakes could extend far beyond Damascus or Tehran. The one notable exception to Obama’s non-proliferation agenda — so far – has been Israel, where this administration’s refusal to push for nuclear disarmament has led to charges of hypocrisy among both Arabs and Iranians.
Zachary Keck adds that it looks as though, despite some scary cases, nukes are not spreading very quickly:
[T]here has been an undeniable decline in the number of states interested in acquiring nuclear weapons.
Planet Money had t-shirts made so they could better understand where such clothing comes from:
The Planet Money men’s T-shirt was made in Bangladesh, by workers who make about $3 a day, with overtime. The Planet Money women’s T-shirt was made in Colombia, by workers who make roughly $13 a day, without overtime… With a long tradition of apparel manufacturing and better technology, the Colombians can make T-shirts much, much faster than the Bangladeshis can. In Bangladesh, on one sewing line for our T-shirt, 32 people can make about 80 shirts per hour. One sewing line in Colombia has eight people and can make about 140 T-shirts per hour. The two lines aren’t perfectly parallel — the Bangladeshi workers are completing a few more details of the shirt than the Colombians are. But the difference is striking nevertheless.
Yet Colombian manufacturers are losing business. Why? Labor costs, mainly:
Colombia’s economy has been growing like crazy for the past decade, and wages have been rising. That’s good for the country as a whole, but it may wind up driving away the T-shirt industry. ”There is a saying that is going to sound horrible,” Crystal’s CEO, Luis Restrepo, told me. “Our industry follows poverty.” It’s an industry “on roller skates,” he said, rolling from Latin America to China, to Bangladesh — wherever costs are lowest.
Haley Bobseine documents their plight, which includes horrific threats from both sides of the civil war:
As the violence in Syria continues unabated, many have retreated into their ethnic and religious communities for protection. Unlike other minority groups — such as Christians, Kurds, and Alawites — sexual minorities, notably gay men, do not enjoy the protection of any political, ethnic, or religious institutions. For gay Syrians, nowhere is safe: Across the country, they have been the target of attack by pro-regime militants and armed Islamist militias alike — at times because of their sexual preference; at other times simply because they are perceived as weak and easy to extort in the midst of a chaotic war …
Brad Plumer provides more details by digging into the new climate change report from the National Research Council:
The upshot? Earth is already seeing some abrupt changes, like the fast retreat of summer Arctic sea ice. There’s also a real risk that other rapid and drastic shifts could soon follow if the Earth keeps warming — including widespread plant and animal extinctions and the creation of large “dead zones” in the ocean. But other apocalyptic scenarios once thought plausible “are now considered unlikely to occur this century.” That includes shifts in Atlantic ocean circulation patterns that could radically alter Europe’s climate, as hyped in the disaster flick “The Day After Tomorrow.” Also unlikely this century: Collapsing ice sheets in West Antarctica that would push sea levels up very quickly, as well as sudden methane eruptions from the Arctic that could heat the planet drastically. Those problems are left to future generations.
As the tug of war over Ukraine continues to unfold, Raymond Sontag wonders why Western leaders were so surprised that a country decided to balk at EU membership:
The problem is that many in the West see “balance of power” and “spheres of influence” as antiquated and less-than-legitimate concepts and therefore largely ignore them. Rather than viewing international politics as driven by competing interests, they see it as driven by the process of ever more countries adopting Western-style democracy. Accordingly Western leaders assume that East European states integrating with the West is a natural process in the post-Cold War world and that anything running counter to this integration is a perversion of that process. This disregard for traditional power politics and the assumption that European integration is a natural development are significant blind spots for Western leaders. And these blind spots hamper their ability to realize the very worthy goals of European integration and democratization.
Larison argues that Western analysts have the opposite problem:
This may apply in some cases, but my impression is that American and European advocates for the eastward expansion of Western institutions and alliances are only too happy to see everything in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in terms of balance of power and spheres of influence. Many Westerners may ridicule the concepts by name, but they think in these terms just as much as anyone else. If that were not the case, there would not have been so many overwrought Western reactions to Ukraine’s decision.
If Ukraine turns down a deal with the EU that wouldn’t have given it very much in the near term, many Westerners treat this as an extremely meaningful event rather than the perpetuation of the status quo that it actually is. As Western institutions seek to expand their sphere of influence, Westerners are annoyed that there is any resistance to this, and they complain about Russian efforts to retain influence with lectures about the obsolescence of spheres of influence.
Tim Snyder zooms out and suggests that “the desire of so many to be able to have normal lives in a normal country is opposed by two fantasies, one of them now exhausted and the other extremely dangerous”: