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31 Jan 02:08

How an Amish missionary caused 2014's massive measles outbreak - Vox

by hodad


Last year was terrible for measles in the United States: there were 644 cases — the highest annual caseload in two decades. Granola-crunching Californians, wealthy Oregonians, and Jenny McCarthy anti-vaccine acolytes have taken much of the blame for this spike. The Washington Post even pointed to Orange County — the location of the current Disneyland outbreak — as "Ground Zero in our current epidemic of anti-vaccine hysteria."

But that's wrong. The real story behind the 2014 outbreak isn't on the West Coast. It's in Ohio Amish country, where a missionary returning from the Philippines turned an otherwise unremarkable year for this virus into one of the worst in recent history.

measles ohio chart

<img alt="measles ohio chart" src="">

That's where Jacqueline Fletcher, the public health nursing director for Ohio's Knox County, got a terrible call from a pay phone last April.

A member of the local Amish community was on the line. There was a potential measles outbreak in the town, the woman said, and the public health department should know.

Fletcher's first thought was, "Oh, shit." For a health worker, this was a nightmare scenario. She couldn't just call the woman back or ring up other potential victims; they didn't have phone numbers. This Amish community, like others in the United States, eschews the conveniences of modern technology.

"We don't have any internet or computer. We don't have a car," Ivan Miller, an Amish furniture store owner in the community struck by measles, explained. "It's not that we feel a car is wrong. It's our choice because we feel if we had a car, it would bring us to a lot more temptations in the world."


<img alt="vaccine" src="">

Read more:

9 things everyone should know about measles

The scariest fact about the Disneyland measles outbreak

Everything you need to know about vaccines

At the time, this Amish population was generally against vaccination. This, however, wasn't a matter of religious principle but one of health concerns.

In the 1990s, Miller explained, two Ohio kids allegedly got sick after they took the MMR shot, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Rumors about vaccine safety spread through the Amish community like a virus. "That put a scare in us and we quit," Miller says. This made it incredibly easy for measles — the most contagious virus known to man — to move through this cluster of unvaccinated individuals.

Fletcher had been with the Knox health department for 29 years. And she'd never seen anything like what she found in some of the Amish households she visited, trying to get a sense of the outbreak's size — and stop its spread. "There was a household that had six adolescent teenage children with measles, all sitting in the dark," she says. They were covered in the spotty rash that's characteristic of the virus, miserable, and sick. It was a scene from the last century.

The outbreak that Fletcher spent months working to contain ultimately infected 382 Amish Ohioans by the time it was declared over in August of last year. Nobody died, but nine wound up in the hospital with more serious symptoms.

"We had never seen a case of measles before this," Fletcher says. "I just remember a man from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] saying to me, 'You have got to get ahead of this.'"

Unvaccinated travelers drive measles outbreaks

Last summer, a team of researchers got together to try and understand an alarming trend: why had so many measles cases popped up recently?

In 2000, the federal government declared that the United States had eliminated the disease: enough people were immunized that outbreaks were uncommon, and deaths from measles were scarcely heard of.

But in the first half of 2014 alone, there were 288 cases. And nearly all of them, the CDC researchers wrote in findings published last June, stemmed from Americans traveling abroad and returning with the disease.

"Of the 288 cases, 280 (97 percent) were associated with importations from at least 18 countries," they wrote. Many of these travelers were coming back from the Philippines, which has been dealing with a massive outbreak since fall 2013.

"What we've seen — since the epidemic of measles was interrupted in 2000 — is that we are continually getting measles coming in from overseas," says Jane Seward, deputy director of the viral diseases division at the CDC. "More often than not, it's US residents who go overseas for a trip — to say, Europe, where they don't think they need to be vaccinated. They bring measles back."

"A perfect storm" in Ohio

Measles cases in Ohio Counties <img alt="Measles cases in Ohio Counties" src="">

In the Ohio case, "patient zero" had traveled to the Philippines on a missionary trip. (In case you were wondering, he took a plane. Miller explained, "Some Amish fly. Some don't.") At the time, the Philippines happened to be facing a massive measles outbreak, with tens of thousands of cases.

When he returned to Ohio, and fell ill, a doctor misdiagnosed him with Dengue fever, so he continued to pass his disease along to friends and neighbors, many of whom had refused the vaccine out of those concerns over adverse effects.

Fletcher describes it as a "perfect storm:" an unimmunized traveler going to a place with an outbreak and bringing an infectious disease back to an unprotected community.

Measles is one of the most contagious viruses ever discovered. In most cases, it's not deadly, but it's almost always debilitating, bringing on a weeks-long fever, rash, and painful, watery eyes. Up to forty percent of people experience serious complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis (or swelling of the brain). One or two children in 1,000 die.

The most remarkable thing about the virus, however, is that it's incredibly indestructible. A person with measles can cough in a room, leave, and — if you were unvaccinated — hours later, you can catch the virus from the droplets in the air that they left behind. No other virus can do that. It also lives on surfaces for hours, finding new hosts in the unimmunized.

"Measles is very contagious, so once [the Ohio missionary] felt better, he went to church, and the church was in somebody's house," Fletcher says. "The majority of those first cases, we linked back to him. They had all attended church in that house."

"There was a household with six adolescent teenagers with measles, all sitting in the dark."

Then, there were obstacles specific to tracing a disease through an Amish community. Trying to reach everyone who might have been exposed to the disease and get them into quarantine so they couldn't spread the infection further required a level of gumshoeing nearly reminiscent of searching out Ebola victims in rural West Africa.

"Because the Amish don't have phones, we had to go out to their homes," she says. "We're a small health department in a rural area. It was a lot of work."

Fletcher and her team patiently went door to door, collecting specimens, educating people about vaccines, making sure the vulnerable — pregnant women and small babies too young to get vaccinated — were safe from harm. CDC officials even flew in to support the effort.

An Amish man travels to the Philippines...

The actual story of the 2014 outbreak complicates the narrative that has developed in the wake of the new outbreak of measles at Disneyland in early 2015: that a growing number of parents, led by Jenny McCarthy, have begun to opt their kids out of vaccinations, letting the disease spread easily.

Federal data shows no drop off in vaccination rates over the past decade

In fact, it's only about two percent of the population that refuses vaccines outright. All 50 states have had school immunization requirements since the early 1980s, though some now allow medical and philosophical exemptions. Even so, there hasn't been a drop off in vaccination rates in the past decade, the National Immunization Survey shows. Coverage for the MMR vaccine stands at 92 percent.

It's not actually a rising anti-vaxx tide or naturopathic, private school mothers driving a return of vaccine-preventable disease here. It's not even low-income folks who wind up getting sick, and it's especially not undocumented migrants bringing in viruses, the CDC's Seward says: "The people getting measles are those that travel abroad, come back, and live in a community among people who weren't vaccinated."

Some years, we get 40 "importations." Last year, there were about 65. "This is more than normal," she added, "and it reflects travel patterns and where measles is active globally."

The travelers spark outbreaks when they hit geographic clusters of unvaccinated people, like the one in Ohio. These infectious disease powder kegs exist all across the US, waiting to be sparked. Their low rates of vaccine coverage are hidden in the statistics about national averages, and they are by no means guided by a singular ideology. They may be the hesitant Amish of Ohio, vaccine-opposing Christian Scientists, or simply worried parents who delay immunizing their kids.

Last year, the Amish outbreak in the United States mirrored an uptick in Canadian cases. A population of Christian Dutch Reformers in British Columbia, which had refused vaccines out of concerns over safety, drove an outbreak of more than 400 measles cases. According to the World Health Organization, there were only 512 cases in Canada in total last year.

Miller, the Ohio furniture-store owner, says the measles episode in Knox changed his mind about the MMR vaccine. His wife got a bad case, and so did his son-in-law. "On their worst days, we were wondering if they're going to make it," he says.

"We all took the vaccine after that. I had one shot, and I still took the other one and we had all our kids vaccinated, too. After people saw how sick people got, they changed their minds."

Original Source

06 Feb 14:51

The Pre-Emptive Strike

by Christopher Wright
06 Feb 04:20

A Healthful Release of Bad Humors


Yes it does.

sleep is dumb
05 Feb 08:00

The Inevitable Result

by Christopher Wright
05 Feb 04:54

No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons (Re-reloaded)


Peter Watts is the grimmest optimist I am aware of.

The Slippery Step-Function: Or, Reasons to be Cheerful.

Really, not so much.

Really, not so much.

An overseas pixel-pal sent me a link to a Daily Mail (UK) piece on the Davos Forum a few days back. I think he expected me to be tickled by the second half of the headline:

Harvard professors warn ‘privacy is dead’ and predict mosquito-sized robots that steal samples of your DNA

—but predictably, it was the front end of that sentence that got under my skin. And on the off chance that the headline hadn’t hammered the point home with sufficient force, the bullet points beneath beat the horse to death:

  • Researchers told Davos that privacy is already non existent
  • Say technology will allow governments and insurance firms to steal DNA
  • Also claims the same technology could help eradicate disease

It’s a tired old story— or at least it seems old, possibly because we’ve heard it so many times. Hell, you’ve heard it repeatedly even here: about that story in Wired, the self-proclaimed cutting-edge voice of the tech-savvy, offering up a token lament for the Cloud’s lack of security before telling us all that there’s no going back so we might as well just get used to it. Robert Sawyer debating at the Gallen Symposium, leading off with Scott McNealy’s infamous claim that “You already have zero privacy: get over it”, and proceeding to claim that this was a good thing, something that would make the world a better place.   (And let’s not forget our old buddy David Brin.)  But the Daily Mail’s bullet points— and the story that followed— show pretty much the textbook talking points you’ll find in all such arguments:

  1. You have no privacy;
  2. There’s no way to regain your privacy;
  3. But hey, that’s actually a good thing! Think of all the great travel recommendations Google will be able to serve up, once it can read your mind! Think of all the diseases we can cure and contain, now that everyone is being tracked! Think of all the lost puppies we can find!
Third one from the left, actually.

Third one from the left, actually.

It’s especially easy, these days, to believe the first two points at least. Over in the UK, after the overwhelming rejection of the so-called “Snooper’s Charter”— a law that would have forced ISPs to monitor their customers’ online activity and turn it over to pretty much anyone who dressed up like one of the Village People— politicians are still trying to sneak the same damn provisions into different pieces of legislation, hoping that one of these days no one will notice. Here in Canada, the Harper Administration has just tabled a new Bill to Keep Us Safe From Jihadists by, among other things, expanding the surveillance state, reducing civil rights protections, and making it illegal to “promote terrorism” online (which is especially troubling when you remember that “terrorists” include everyone from Hamas to animal-rights activists, depending on which politician you ask). I was chuffed, earlier this week, to see Techdirt harken back to the fears I posted last October on this very ‘crawl. I only wish it had been under happier circumstances.

Naturally, all this extra power comes 100% Oversight-free!, which should be a surprise to no one. What’s more interesting, perhaps, is that CSIS (Canada’s spy agency) is not getting any extra money to go along with the bigger club. They’ve already admitted that they don’t have anywhere near the budget to deal with their current watchlist; there’d seem little point in giving them even more tewwowists to spy on when they can’t handle those already on their plate. This has led some to suggest that the bill is more about electioneering than security, that its purpose is to make anyone who opposes it look “weak on terror” in an election year. It’s not really meant to work.

Perhaps. But that presupposes that Islamic extremists are actually the target of the legislation, and not just the pretext. You don’t need a greatly expanded budget if you’re going after, oh, for example, Amnesty International volunteers, or environmental activists.

Plenty of people have called Harper evil. I don’t know of anyone who ever called him stupid.

Meanwhile, down in the US— the country that started it all, with its pervasive and mind-boggling surveillance of friend and foe alike— those in power are finally talking about passing laws to rein in unchecked— well, encryption, actually. Because they don’t like it when they can’t spy on us, and they especially don’t like it when companies like Apple and Google— late to the party as they may be— finally wake up to the fact that there are better ways to attract customers than selling them out to every Sheriff Bubba who knocks at the door without a warrant. They don’t like the fact that end-to-end encryption is catching on, that the system is reconfiguring itself so that admins won’t be physically able to comply with Bubba even if they want to. The FBI wants to ban encryption, at least the gummint-proof kind. The Justice Department fears that giving citizens too much privacy will result in a “zone of lawlessness” in which bogeymen might flourish. “Tor obviously was created with good intentions,” admits Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general, “but it’s a huge problem for law enforcement. There are a lot of online supermarkets where you can do anything from purchase heroin to buy guns to hire somebody to kill somebody, there are murder for hire sites.”

It’s the go-to rationale for every peeping tom without a warrant: what if terrorists are planning their next daycare-center bombing on bittorrent? What if the plans for the next Parliament shoot-up are right there in someone’s iPhone and we can’t see them? Don’t you know that TOR is 80% pedophiles?

Won’t someone think of the children?

You have to admit: as hypothetical arguments go, it’s pretty much unassailable. If we can’t unlock all the doors, how do we stop evildoers from plotting behind them? The problem is that this argument applies as much to literal doors as to metaphoric ones. There’s no difference in logical structure between Tewwowists might be plotting via encrypted emails and Tewwowists might be plotting in your kitchen. If you agree that the spectre of potential evildoing is sufficient cause to let the government go through your mail without a warrant, how can you then deny them the right to check out your basement on a whim? Are evil deeds are any less nefarious when plotted offline?

It’s worse than a slippery slope. It’s a slippery step-function; the first concession gives everything away.

Which leads to a simple metric I use to assess the claims put forth by wannabe surveillers: simply relocate the argument from cyber- to meatspace, and see how it holds up. For example, Leslie Caldwell’s forebodings about online “zones of lawlessness” would be rendered thusly:

Caldwell also raised fresh alarms about curtains on windows and locks on bathroom doors, both of which officials say make it easier for criminals to hide their activity. “Bathroom doors obviously were created with good intentions, but are a huge problem for law enforcement. There are a lot of windowless basements and bathrooms where you can do anything from purchase heroin to buy guns to hire somebody to kill somebody”

If you remain comfortable with such arguments even when brought down to earth— well, enjoy the Panopticon. I know a few SF writers whose work you might like.

And yet, oddly, I take heart from these things.

I take heart from the fact that the the Free World is trying to curtail freedom at every turn. I take heart from the endless attempts of the UK, the US, and Canada to pry into our private lives and put webcams in our toilets (because you never know when someone might try to avoid prosecution by flushing a bag of coke down the john, you know). I take heart from PRISM and the Snooper’s Charter and Bill-C-whatever-number-they’re-up-to-this-week— because they put the lie to those stories in Wired and the Daily Mail and the New York Times, they put the lie to all those journos and pundits who would tell us that privacy is dead. It gives me hope.

Because if privacy really was dead, why would so many be trying so hard to kill it?

05 Feb 03:42

China’s Pearl River Delta Overtakes Tokyo as World’s Largest Urban Area

The Pearl River Delta’s urban growth in 1973 and 2003. Image © Flicker CC user NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

China’s Pearl River Delta has surpassed Tokyo in both size and population, making it the largest urban area in the world, according to the World Bank. The colossal megapolis – a conglomerate of several cities, including Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Foshan and Dongguan – is a central component to China’s manufacturing and trade industries.

It is now home to 42 million – more people than the countries of Canada, Argentina or Australia. And, considering nearly two-thirds of the East Asia region’s population (64%) is still “non-urban,” the area is expected to grow exponentially.

Warning of the potential consequences of unplanned growth, the report made a case for affordable housing and efficient public transport as a way to avoid the increase of inequality, stating: “While this transformation is going on, there is still an opportunity to set the course of urbanization on a more sustainable and equitable path… Within a few decades, this window of opportunity will close, and future generations will be left to deal with the consequences of how we urbanize today.”

Pearl River Delta is one of eight megacities in the region of more than 10 million people: the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai and Beijing in China; Tokyo and Osaka in Japan; and Jakarta, Seoul and Manila. Several hundred million will be relocating to cities within the region over the next 20 years.

Read the complete report, here.

04 Feb 16:25

HBO May Do a Napoleon Miniseries

by Delia Paunescu

Minor moment of triumph. via Coop.

Expanding on the tried-and-true historical miniseries that makes premium cable subscribers swoon, Variety reports that HBO is in talks to take on the story of Napoleon's life (not to be confused with a film on the same topic that's also in the works right now). Since this isn't just any ... More »

04 Feb 08:00

Pro and Con

by Christopher Wright
04 Feb 05:41

A Critique, Not a Program: For a Non-Primitivist Anti-Civilization Critique


Indulging my anti-civilization bent.

So the anarchist individualist as I mean it has nothing to wait for [...] I already considered myself an anarchist and could not wait for the collective revolution to rebel myself or for communism to obtain my freedom.

— Renzo Novatore

I conceive of anarchism from the side of destruction. This is what its aristocratic logic consists of. Destruction! here is the real beauty of anarchism. I want to destroy all the things that enslave me, enervate me, and repress my desires, I want to leave them all behind me as corpses. Remorse, scruples, conscience are things that my iconoclastic spirit destroyed [...] Yes, iconoclastic negation is most practical.

— Armando Diluvi

First of all, there is nothing inherently primitivist about a critique of civilization, particularly if that critique is anarchist and revolutionary. Such critiques have existed nearly as long as a self-aware anarchist movement has existed — and not always even connected to a critique of technology or progress (Dejacque felt that certain technological developments would allow human beings to more easily get beyond civilization; on the other hand, Enrico Arrigoni, alias Frank Brand, saw civilization and industrial technology as blocks hindering real human progress). The real question, in my opinion, is whether primitivism is any help at all to an anarchist and revolutionary critique of civilization.

The word primitivism can mean two rather different things. First of all, it can simply mean making use of what we know about “primitive” societies[1] to critique civilization. This form of primitivism appears relatively harmless. But is it? Leaving aside the obvious criticism of the dependence on those experts called anthropologists for information about “primitive” societies, there is another problem here. The actual societies that we call “primitive” were and, where they still exist, are living relationships between real, living, breathing human beings, individuals developing their interactions with the world around them. The capacity to conceive of them as a model for comparison already involves a reification of these lived relationships, transforming them into an abstract thing — the “primitive” — an idealized image of “primitiveness”. Thus, the use of this method of critiquing civilization dehumanizes and deindividualizes the real people who live or have lived these relationships. In addition, this sort of critique offers us no real tool for figuring out how to battle against civilization here and now. At most, the reified, abstract conception of the “primitive” becomes a model, a program for a possible future society.

This brings me to the second meaning of primitivism — the idea that “primitive” societies offer a model for future society. The adherents to this form of primitivism can themselves rightly be called primitivists, because, however much they may deny it, they are promoting a program and an ideology. In this form, I actually consider primitivism to be in conflict with anarchic thought and practice. The reason can be found in the Novatore quote above. Simply replace “communism” with “primitivism” and “collective revolution” with “industrial collapse” and everything should be pretty clear. As I see it, one of the most important differences between marxism and anarchism is that the latter is not essentially an eschatological vision of a future for which we wait, but a way of confronting the world here and now. Thus, revolution for the anarchist is also not something historical processes guarantees for the future, but something for us to live and create here and now. Primitivism is no more livable now than the marxist’s communism. It too is a program for the future, and one that depends on contingencies that are beyond our control to bring about. Thus, it has no more to do with anarchist practice than Marx’s eschatology.

I have already pointed out how the very concept of the “primitive” reifies the real lives and relationships of those given this label. This manifests among primitivists who seek to practice their ideology now in the way this practice ends up being defined. In a way far too reminiscent of marxism, “primitive” life gets reduced to economic necessity, to a set of skills — making fire with a bow drill, hunting with an atlatl, learning wild edible and medicinal plants, making a bow, making simple shelters, etc., etc. — to be learned in order to survive. This might then be spiced up a bit with some concept of nature spirituality learned from a book or borrowed from new age bullshit perhaps referring to a return to a “natural oneness”. But the latter is not considered necessary. The totality of the life of the people labeled “primitive” is ignored, because it is largely unknown and completely inaccessible to those who were born and raised in the industrial capitalist civilization that now dominates the world — and that includes all of us who have been involved in the development of an anarchist critique of civilization. But even if we only consider mere survival skills, the fact is that even in the United States and Canada, where real, fairly extensive (though quite damaged) wilderness exists, very few people could sustain themselves in this way. So those who learn these skills with the idea of actually living as “primitives” in their own lifetime are not thinking of the destruction of civilization (except possibly as an inevitable future circumstance for which they believe they will be prepared), but of escape from it. I won’t begrudge them this, but it has nothing to do with anarchy or a critique of civilization. On a practical level, it is much more like a more advanced form of “playing Indian” as most of us here in the US did as children, and, in reality, it is taken about that seriously. Nearly all of the people I know who have taken up the development of “primitive” skills in the name of “anarcho-primitivism” show how ready they are for such a life by the amount of time they spend on computers setting up websites, taking part in internet discussion boards, building blogs, etc., etc. Frequently, they come across to me as hyper-civilized kids playing role games in the woods, rather than as anarchists in the process of decivilizing.

An anarchist and revolutionary critique of civilization does not begin from any comparison to other societies or to any future ideal. It begins from my confrontation, from your confrontation, with the immediate reality of civilization in our lives here and now. It is the recognition that the totality of social relationships that we call civilization can only exist by stealing our lives from us and breaking them down into bits that the ruling order can use in its own reproduction. This is not a process accomplished once and for all in the distant past, but one that goes on perpetually in each moment. This is where the anarchist way of conceiving life comes in. In each moment, we need to try to determine how to grasp back the totality of our own life to use against the totality of civilization. Thus, as Armando Diluvi said, our anarchism is essentially destructive. As such it needs no models or programs including those of primitivism. As an old, dead, bearded classicist of anarchism said “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge”. And one that can be put into practice immediately. (Another dead anti-authoritarian revolutionary of a generation or two later called passionate destruction “a way to grasp joy immediately”).

Having said this, I am not against playfully imagining possible decivilized worlds. But for such imaginings to be truly playful and to have experimental potential, they cannot be models worked out from abstracted conceptions of either past or future societies. In fact, in my opinion, it is best to leave the concept of “society” itself behind, and rather think in terms of perpetually changing, interweaving relationships between unique, desiring individuals. That said, we can only play and experiment now, where our desire for the apparently “impossible” meets the reality that surrounds us. If civilization were to be dismantled in our lifetime, we would not confront a world of lush forests and plains and healthy deserts teeming with an abundance of wildlife. We would instead confront a world full of the detritus of civilization — abandoned buildings, tools, scrap, etc., etc.[2] Imaginations that are not chained either to realism or to a primitivist moral ideology could find many ways to use, explore and play with all of this — the possibilities are nearly infinite. More significantly, this is an immediate possibility, and one that can be explicitly connected with a destructive attack against civilization. And this immediacy is utterly essential, because I am living now, you are living now, not several hundred years from now, when an enforced program aimed toward a primitivist ideal might be able to create a world in which this ideal could be realized globally — if primitivists have their revolution now and enforce their program. Fortunately, no primitivist seems willing to aim for such authoritarian revolutionary measures, preferring to rely on some sort of quasi-mystical transformation to bring about their dream (perhaps like the vision of the Native American ghost dance religion, where the landscape built by the European invaders was supposed to be peeled away leaving a pristine, wild landscape full of abundant life).

For this reason, it might be a bit unfair to call the primitivist vision a program (though, since I have no use for bourgeois values, I don’t give a shit about being unfair...). Perhaps it is more like a longing. When I bring up some of these questions with primitivists I know, they often say that the primitivist vision reflects their “desires”. Well, I have a different concept of desire than they do. “Desires” based on abstract and reified images — in this case the image of the “primitive” — are those ghosts of desire[3] that drive commodity consumption. This manifests explicitly among some primitivists, not just in the consumption of books by the various theorists of primitivism, but in the money and/or labor-time spent to purchase so-called “primitive” skills at schools that specialize in this.[4] But this ghost of desire, this longing for an image that has no connection to reality, is not true desire, because the object of true desire is not an abstract image upon which one becomes focused — an image that one can purchase. It is discovered through activity and relationship within the world here and now. Desire, as I conceive it, is in fact the drive to act, to relate, to create. In this sense, its object only comes to exist in the fulfillment of desire, in its realization. This again points to the necessity of immediacy. And it is only in this sense that desire becomes the enemy of the civilization in which we live, the civilization whose existence is based on the attempt to reify all relationships and activities, to transform them into things that stand above us and define us, to identify, institutionalize and commodify them. Thus, desire, as a drive rather than a longing, acts immediately to attack all that prevents it from forcefully moving. It discovers its objects in the world around it, not as abstract thing, but as active relationships. This is why it has to attack the institutionalized relationships that freeze activity into routine, protocol, custom and habit — into things to be done to order. Consider this in terms of what such activities as squatting, expropriation, using one’s work-time for oneself, graffiti, etc., etc. could mean, and how they relate to more explicitly destructive activity.

Ultimately, if we imagine dismantling civilization, actively and consciously destroying it, not in order to institute a program or realize a specific vision, but in order to open and endlessly expand the possibilities for realizing ourselves and exploring our capacities and desires, then we can begin to do it as the way we live here and now against the existing order. If, instead of hoping for a paradise, we grasp life, joy and wonder now, we will be living a truly anarchic critique of civilization that has nothing to do with any image of the “primitive”, but rather with our immediate need to no longer be domesticated, with our need to be unique, not tamed, controlled, defined identities. Then, we will find ways to grasp all that we can make our own and to destroy all that seeks to conquer us.

Wolfi Landstreicher

[1] The use of the term “primitive” — which means “first” or “early” — for societies that have existed into modern times without developing civilization carries some questionable assumptions. How can societies that exist now be “first” or “early”? Did they just now appear? In a living world that is in constant flux, have they somehow remained static and unchanging? Can human development only happen one way — as the development of civilization? Besides, which of these societies is the genuine “primitive” one? They are certainly not all alike, or even all that similar. Homogeneity is a trait of civilization, not of these other social realities. So to put a single label on all of them is ridiculous... So I choose to put the word “primitive” in quotes.

[2] I am speaking here specifically of a conscious, revolutionary, anarchist dismantling of civilization, and not its collapse. A collapse would not be an immediate, once-and-for-all event. In the process of a collapse, we would not just encounter the detritus of civilization. We would also confront its still living human trash in the form of politicians turned warlords in order to maintain their power, possessing extremely dangerous weapons — the so-called “weapons of mass destruction” — that they would most likely use viciously. The effects of the process of collapse would be devastating beyond anything we have yet seen.

[3] The poet, William Blake talked about them in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

[4] These high-priced schools will let those who lack money attend in exchange for unpaid labor, a form of exploitation euphemistically referred to as “work exchange”, a term invented by the left-wing of new ageism — and so, inevitably, a load of bullshit designed to cover up the exploitative relationship.

13 Jan 04:33

Free Community College is Nothing to Celebrate, or What Piketty Means for Education

by Ann

Don't agree entirely with this, but it's an interesting critique.

Last week Obama announced a proposal to make community college free (the Federal government would pay 75% and each state would pick up the rest of the cost). Adapted from a program that is already in place in Tennessee, the President described the initiative using free-market language, arguing that such a plan would help “train our work force so that we can compete with anybody in the world.”

I’m on the record supporting free tuition at public colleges. It would be absurdly cheap to fully fund higher education, and Obama’s plan presents an opportunity to expand the discussion to include all 2- and 4-year institutions and to push for a system that provides a quality education to everyone. Beyond the unlikely prospect of success on that front, there is not much to celebrate in this proposal. Early indications are that in order to qualify for the program, community college students would have to major in so-called “high-demand” fields that can be proven to “lead to jobs,” a vocational orientation towards teaching and learning that deserves a serious critique from the left.

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of uncritical praise from journalists and Progressives. The Chronicle of Higher Education called the proposal “historic.” Richard D. Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation called it “genius” and said that such a program could make community colleges “engines of social mobility.” Mike Konzcal wrote in The Nation that the plan would turn two-year colleges into an “egalitarian machine.”

All of these positive feelings are seriously misplaced. The truth is that education can’t fix inequality. I feel compelled to say this because I value teaching and learning so much. The freedom to think, read, write, and discuss ideas with others is so crucial to life that I insist on being scrupulously honest about what education can do and what it can’t.

To understand the limits of education, Thomas Piketty’s work is a good place to start. Capital in the 21st Century was a surprise bestseller last year. It got everyone talking about inequality, even economists who (surprisingly to a layperson like myself) don’t like to talk about such things.

The crux of Piketty’s argument is that the 20th century was an aberration in world economic history. “The reduction of inequality that took place in most developed countries between 1910 and 1950,” he writes, “was above all a consequence of war and of policies adopted to cope with the shocks of war.” Apart from those global events which produced taxation and financial policies that resulted in broadly distributed prosperity (relatively speaking), the history of capitalism shows a clear trendline towards increasing inequality. That is the path that we’re almost certainly back on. In Piketty’s words, the “unprecedented situation” of the 20th century “is about to end.”

Assuming Piketty has a point (and judging from the critical reception of his book, many people think he does), then the next question is: What is the role of education in solving inequality?

Piketty’s answer is clear: education didn’t create 20th century prosperity by itself, and more college degrees can’t reduce inequality or provide mass social mobility.

We can best understand the implications of Piketty’s research for national educational policy by examining the roots of the proposed plan for free community college. The New York Times explained that the basis for the idea

can be found in a 2008 book by the [Harvard] economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz called ‘The Race Between Education and Technology’ … which tells the story of how the United States built the world’s most successful economy by building its most successful education system. At the heart of that system was the universal high school movement of the early 20th century, which turned the United States into the world’s most educated country. These educated high school graduates — white-collar and blue-collar alike — powered the prosperity of the 20th century.

Goldin and Katz argue that post-war prosperity (that mostly benefitted white men) was a product of universal education. But Piketty pretty much destroys this thesis in Capital. Their argument, he says, is largely based on the theory of marginal productivity, the “idea that a worker’s wage is always perfectly determined…by skill.” This model is simplistic because it doesn’t explain why the rich have gotten much richer, especially in the United States, since 1980. People in the top 9% of the income scale, Piketty explains,

 have progressed more rapidly than the average worker but not nearly at the same rate as ‘the 1 percent.’ Concretely, those making more than $500,000 a year have seen their remuneration literally explode (and those above $1 million a year have risen even more rapidly).

This extreme divergence at the top cannot be explained by the theory of marginal productivity. There is no evidence that those with the highest incomes are more productive than everyone else, including other very rich people just below them on the scale. Furthermore, there is no difference between the 9% and the 1% in terms of education or skill. And yet it is undeniable that the topmost group saw their income and wealth skyrocket in the last three decades.

Piketty’s analysis is devastating for the theory of skills- and technology-based economic change espoused by Goldin and Katz and many of the proponents of free (vocational) college courses. The idea that reducing inequality is a matter of people’s skills catching up to technology (a problem education can solve, at least in the short term) doesn’t explain the widening gap between the 9% and the 1%, just as it doesn’t explain the gap between the rich and poor or the hollowing out of the middle class. In a further rebuke to Goldin and Katz, Piketty argues that neoclassical economists treat the economy as a “mathematical abstraction” rather than what it actually is: a system of rewards and punishments that reflects the values and compromises of society and the power arrangements in place at any given time.

Considering the popularity of Obama’s free college proposal and Piketty’s critique of its theoretical basis, how should the left respond? It is beyond the scope of this post to fully answer that question. However, one way to think about the problem is by sticking with Piketty for a bit longer.

Education, Piketty writes, “has an intrinsic value.” In Capital, he makes several original connections between history, literature, and economics. The book itself is a demonstration of the rich interdisciplinarity of his method, which tells us a lot about the kind of education that prepares people to think creatively and rigorously about the world and the problems we face.

Piketty uses this method to counteract the lazy assumption that education acts as a kind of free market lever that can radically change how wealth is distributed and to whom. “Make no mistake,” he writes,

I am not denying the decisive importance of the investments in higher education … Policies to encourage broader access to universities are indispensable and crucial in the long run, in the United States and elsewhere. As desirable as such policies are, however, they seem to have had limited impact on the explosion of the topmost incomes observed in the United States since 1980.

Universal access to education is part of a social commitment to democracy, “indispensable” to civilization “in the long run.” But it can’t autonomously change very much about the distribution of wealth or the basic fact of who makes the rules in the present.

This is the context that Obama’s proposal for “free” community college leaves out. This gap is not surprising when we consider that the Lumina Foundation provided research funding to support the development of the proposal. Lumina is partially funded by the Gates Foundation. Another Gates-funded non-profit, Complete College America, promoted the idea at its annual conference. (One of CCA’s primary policy initiatives is to “encourage performance-based financing” of higher education.) It’s important that we ask why the same organizations that are pushing for the privatization of education are suddenly interested in free community college.

Furthermore, Obama and Secretary Duncan have spent 6 years supporting efforts to de-fund and privatize education at every level. Through programs like Race to the Top, they’ve sought to tie education funding to test scores and distribute public money to charter schools. We should be asking why they are now proposing a substantial investment in community colleges.

It seems that Progressives and the education privatization movement are working from the same flawed script. The New York Times is also a culprit: “Both history and economics,” David Leonhardt wrote in an article on the Obama proposal, “suggest that nothing may have a greater effect on the future of living standards than education policy.” This is simply not true. In capitalism the major factor involved in determining “living standards” is capital, not education. If we want to reduce inequality, we should distribute social resources like wealth and income more equally. Assuming that education can serve as a substitute for that essential work is, in Piketty’s words, “out of touch with reality.”








21 Dec 15:49

Caught Soju-Handed

by Black Out Korea


"This was taken in the other side of the street of Octagon Club, outside of the MiniStop, in Gangnam."

Photo: Lore R.

25 Jan 16:07

January, 25th


Let the right one in.

January, 25th

28 Jan 19:57

The Scarlet Letter “Z” for “Zen”

by Brad

Good perspective on teachers, and the requirement that we be our own shepherds in life.

Ryushin Sensei

Ryushin Sensei

I find it odd that I am sitting here at my kitchen table on a sunny Wednesday morning in Los Angeles working very hard to compose a response to something that, to me, hardly even merits a casual glance.

A guy who calls himself Ryushin Sensei has stepped down as abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery because he was having an extra-marital affair. The news is on the Lion’s Roar website if you want to read it. My initial response to this story, when people started forwarding it to me on Facebook and what-not was, fine, whatever. I don’t know this Ryushin Sensei fellow or his wife and I don’t know whoever he was having an affair with. I’m not part of their sangha. It’s really none of my business.

Then I started seeing this news get shared and commented on and shared again and commented on some more… That’s when I started trying to figure out if I could understand what the fuss was about.

We have a statement by someone who calls him or herself Shugen Sensei, who carries the title “head of the Mountains and Rivers Order” who says, “Ryushin’s infidelity – his betrayal of… his intimate partner, and thus his marriage and monastic vows – is a most serious breach for a person in a position of spiritual and ethical authority and leadership.”

And we have a statement by Ryushin Sensei in which he says, “Over the last six months, I formed an intimate relationship with someone outside our sangha, betraying Hojin [Ryushin Sensei's partner], not being honest and forthright with her, and breaking our spiritual union vows and ending our marriage… These actions are also a betrayal of your trust in me.”

Maybe I’m the weirdo here. Maybe I’m just wired differently from nearly everybody else. I will accept that as a possibility.

Yet I am not  certain I can understand what a “position of spiritual and ethical authority and leadership” actually is. Why is it we need to be lead by people in positions of authority when it comes to spirituality and ethics? Why is this stated in such a way that it appears to be beyond questioning?

I’ll see if I can explain a little of my own reaction. To pick just one item, even in spite of Ryushin’s comments, I don’t see any reason to be completely certain this wasn’t a case in which he and his partner had an open relationship which was discovered by the members of the community and found to be unacceptable to them. It would not be the first time someone has lied about the nature of their sexual relationships in order to save the myth of the heteronormative monogamy. For that reason among many others, I don’t feel any need to rush to conclusions.

I do see a few things going on here that I’m not sure too many others are seeing. For one thing, demanding Ryushin Sensei to step down from his position is a very Christian and very American response. It is impossible for me to imagine a married Japanese temple abbot being asked to step down from his post following the discovery of an extra-marital affair.

I am not saying the Japanese are right and the Americans are wrong. But to me, it’s sort of like when there was all that furor over Bill Clinton getting a blow job from his intern. Everyone in the United States was ripping their own hair out. I was in Japan when that was going on and my friends over there found the American reaction mostly weird and funny. Like that, this is also a culturally based reaction. I think it’s useful to understand that.

I get that it’s probably best for Mr. Ryushin to step down from his post. It’s probably even best for this Shugen person to demand he do that. However, this is not because of some Universal Truth out there somewhere in the vastness of space that says that someone who commits adultery cannot be trusted to teach people how to sit and stare at walls or to handle the administrative duties necessary to keep a Zen center running. Nor is it best because someone who has committed adultery can never counsel people about the difficulties that occur in their practice. That would be absurd.

It’s best because so many people are freaking the fuck out and it’s good to try to get people to stop freaking the fuck out — although clearly people are still freaking the fuck out anyway. Personally, if you want me to freak out over something, you’re gonna have to give me a more compelling reason than this.

If I had found out one of my teachers had had an extra-marital affair I can’t imagine it would bother me even a tenth as much as this news seems to be bothering people who didn’t even know anyone involved. It would be like finding out my guitar teacher had an affair. Fine. Now show me how to do that thing Jimi Hendrix does with the wah-wah pedal in the middle of Voodoo Child (Slight Return). It’s difficult for me to see the relevance.

I guess maybe the problem is ethics. A Zen teacher is supposed to be someone who has taken a vow to uphold a certain ethical code. This same set of vows is generally also taken by that teacher’s students as well. In fact, it is a common practice at Zen temples for everyone to gather once a month and publicly re-take those vows as a group — teachers and students all chant them in unison.

My best guess is that people are looking for someone to follow. They want to be lead. They want to be sheep following a shepherd, just like it says in the New Testament. A shepherd leadeth his sheep to lie down in green pastures. He scares away the wolves. He shows the sheep where the food and the water is and keeps them from going into dangerous places.

More importantly, the shepherd is a different kind of animal from the sheep. You wouldn’t want a fellow sheep to be your shepherd. And we certainly don’t want to have to be our own shepherds!

Perhaps my difficulty is that I have never seen things this way. I never saw my Zen teachers as shepherds whose duty it was to provide an example of moral perfection and to protect me from harm. I always saw them as fellow travelers on what was a difficult and dangerous journey. I figured they had just a little bit more understanding of the terrain than I did. But I never demanded that they be free of error or unable to make mistakes. Expecting anyone to be like that would be to believe in a kind of person that clearly does not exist. It would be stupid.

I get that a teacher is different from a student. But I tend to look at this from the literal meaning of that much beloved Japanese word sensei. The two Chinese characters used to spell that word are 先生. The character 先 means “previous” or “before.” The character 生 means “born” or “alive.” A sensei is not a different sort of creature from you, she is a creature like you who has had more experience at whatever it is you’re trying to learn from her.

If you want to get your undergarments in a knot about things like this story, there’s not much I can do to stop you. I just thought I’d take a moment to express that there may be a different way to respond.


Someone sent me a link to the article upon which the Lion’s Roar pieced was based. It is here. Interestingly, there’s a lot in the original article about Ryushin Sensei’s introduction of shamanic practice and philosophy into his Zen activities and all the confusion and objections that brought about. Lion’s Roar completely omitted this aspect as if it was entirely irrelevant. Fascinating.

*   *   *

Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,

*   *   *

This blog is supported by your kind donations. Every little bit helps. Thank you!




02 Feb 13:53

The Endurance of the Artist

by ateliersisk

My friend Amanda knows a thing or two about a thing or two, I reckon.

The best signpost I can offer to others attempting to survive as artists – or in general – is Hafiz’s We Have Not Come To Take Prisoners. Statistically, most artists give up, and it wounds me to see beginning artists, friends, colleagues, and strangers walk away from their gifts for a range of understandable reasons, not least of all a culture that clings to damaging stereotypes and falsehoods about the artist and often does not support creative avenues as valid vocations. On an individual level, there is much the artist can do to keep his or her head above the water.  Someone ought to write a survival manual.

1. A Gathering of Elephants

When a little elephant is in danger, the others will surround it in a circle, sometimes a few layers deep. It is vital to find your own circle of elephants – the individuals who outright understand and support you on your path, or those who may not understand but nonetheless see clearly that you are most alive when your hands are in your work, and will protect and increase that sacred joy. As the nerve-endings of a society, artists are quite often highly sensitive individuals to begin with – this is not weakness – and may need that extra wall of protection. We are told that we must develop “a thick skin” in this life and this field. Consider doing that not by abandoning your beautiful sensitivities, but by calling upon the elephants, who may also be your trusted Advisors, as they are one step removed from the center of an experience of fear/pain and therefore better able to offer a neutral perspective. Listen carefully to the individual(s) suggesting that you are at fault, weak, or somehow lacking if you recoil from that which is unhealthy, negative, abusive and cruel for your creativity: are they jaded or cynical, angry or mocking, manipulative? Unmoved or amused by harsher words and realities? Is there anything at all of constructive criticism or compassion in their speech? Make it a lifelong undertaking to grow gracefully in strength, confidence, and assertiveness – yes. But become desensitized to or accept abuse?  No.

2. Know Thy Self & Know Thy Enemy

While experiencing art school and during various life challenges, my grandfather (a reluctant but Great Elephant…he knew his twin granddaughters were choosing unconventional, and thus potentially uncomfortable, paths in life) would set a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War at the breakfast table, with my other books, or smack-dab in the middle of whatever I was creating. Ignorance and envy are two common threats. Here we must choose our battles: do not waste your precious time and energy addressing these every time they are encountered. Instead, consider leading by example, as your actions may speak louder than your words. Go about your work in peace and, if you can allow yourself to reflect without harm, summon compassion for the other party. The presence of abuse is far more problematic and can be seen to result in a few different outcomes. It may shut down the creative completely. Depending upon variables in the environment, it may do the opposite and lead to art as the only remaining voice. One may vacillate between these two. The greatest gift you can give to yourself or another in this scenario is a creative space that is an absolute refuge. It locks to the outside world or opens to it at the discretion of the individual and his or her creative safety and well-being.

03 Feb 08:00

Two Cakes

by Christopher Wright

On current events.
Viktor is the Boss's lawyer, and also a vampire.
The Boss is a transdimensional being bent on inflicting massive suffering on humanity, which is why he owns Ubersoft.

02 Feb 07:11

Internet of Things

by Christopher Wright
30 Jan 17:49

A Simple Way to Make Doughnut-Waffle Hybrid Krispy Kreme Waffles

by Rebecca Escamilla

There are times I really miss wheat. via A. Kachmar

Krispy Kreme Waffles

Amy Erickson of Oh Bite It came up with an incredibly simple way to unite doughnuts and waffles into a stack of a sweet, sweet excess in her recipe for Krisy Kreme waffles. The waffles are made by gently placing glazed doughnuts from popular doughnut chain Krispy Kreme in a standard waffle iron, removing them when warm and toasted, then topping with butter and syrup.

The stack of four pictured above packs a whopping 760 calories according to Krispy Kreme’s nutritional data–or a little over 800 calories when adding a pat of butter and a tablespoon of maple syrup. For more efficient doughnut-waffle hybrids, the syrup step can be skipped by swapping Krispy Kreme maple-glazed doughnuts for the plain-glazed variety.

Krispy Kreme Waffles

Krispy Kreme Waffles

Krispy Kreme Waffles

Krispy Kreme Waffles

images via Oh Bite It

via Foodiggety

02 Feb 05:01

conjure drink

by Ian

Ah, good ol' temporary liquor.

conjure drink

29 Jan 22:00

Jack Storms, the Crystal Machinist


Holy fuckballs.


For butterfingered woodworkers, dropping a project on the shop floor can be bad. But just imagine if your materials of choice were crystal and glass.


Since 2004, California-based artist Jack Storms has been producing these rare "optic sculptures." Created by precision-machining lead crystal and dichroic glass, a single piece can take up to 18 weeks to produce.


While Storms has advanced the art by inventing a lathe that allows him to turn glass like wood, he first learned the "cold-glass" process of joining lead crystal and dichroic glass from a glass artist in New Hampshire. "Working side by side with the artisan for over a year, Jack learned every component and facet of this incredibly challenging and rare art form and eventually was a strong enough sculptor to branch out on his own in 2004 and open StormWorks Studio," reads the bio on his website.

23 Jan 22:00

Material Matters: A Handy Wood Durability Chart


For Capt. Bunker.


Our entries on the types of wood used for boardwalks might have you wondering: What types of wood are more durable than others?

You may recall that in our wood series, we went over the Janka hardness ratings of wood. But when it comes to durability, Janka numbers only tell part of the tale; the hardness rating of a wood has to do with its ability to resist nicks and scratches, and gives you a heads-up on what types of blades you'll need to machine it.

Outdoor durability, on the other hand, has a slightly different scope. Even though wood used in building boardwalks or houses is almost always elevated off of wet soil on concrete pilings, there are other environmental factors the material has to deal with. For one thing, moisture—whether from rain or in the case of boardwalks, sea spray—and the fungi this can bring. On top of that you've got UV rays, temperature changes and pesky insects. Working in concert, this group of difficulties can impact how long a piece of wood can last and continue to serve its function.


While you can find tons of Janka breakdowns online, we couldn't find many charts that specifically linked wood types with durability. So here's one from Woodworkers UK, a Welsh outfit that makes wooden gates and garage doors—items that are meant to withstand the elements for as long as possible. (Graphically speaking, the layout of the chart is a bit confusing, particularly since we had to edit the image to fit our format, but at least all of the info's there.)

01 Feb 01:43

There Are Vast Gaps Between Scientists and the General Public on GMOs, Climate Change


In the world of news that isn't news.

By now, there's a general agreement that science has been good for humanity, and a shared concern about the future of science education. Still, scientists' and the public's views often differ on specific scientific issues, according to a new joint study from the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Researchers surveyed 3,748 AAAS member scientists and 2,002 adults living in the United States, asking their views and beliefs on a range of scientific topics.

"The public overall tends to see positive benefits of science" on society, says Pew associate director for research Cary Funk. People generally agreed with scientists that K-12 science education lagged behind other nations.

Scientists may view GMOs as safer, Leshner says, because they are more familiar with the process of creating them. Issues like evolution, meanwhile, may just be at odds with core values.

"Despite those commonalities, we are also seeing large differences between the public and scientists on a range of science topics," Funk says, particularly on issues such as genetically modified foods, climate change, evolution, and, to a lesser extent, measles vaccination. The overwhelming majority of AAAS scientists surveyed—88 percent—thought GMOs were generally safe, compared to just 37 percent of the general public. A similarly large gap existed on the question of climate change: 87 percent of scientists said climate change was largely driven by human activity; only half of the public blamed human activity. There were smaller, but still substantial, gaps on human evolution and whether the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine ought to be required.

Though the sorry state of K-12 science education is among the major reasons for the gaps, "the individual issues differ a bit in the reasons for the disparity," says AAAS chief executive officer Alan Leshner. Scientists may view GMOs as safer, he says, because they are more familiar with the process of creating them. Issues like evolution, meanwhile, may just be at odds with core values. "Sometimes it is simply a lack of understanding. Sometimes it is an economic or political issue. And sometimes it is a conflict" between science and core religious beliefs or values. A follow-up report due later this year will analyze how religious and political beliefs, among other things, may shape the public's views.

To counter this observed disparity, scientists will need to up their outreach. To do that, Leshner says, scientists must focus on smaller, more localized sessions with the public, instead of big town-hall-style meetings. "There is a science of science communication to the public," he says, that shows small-group interactions are more effective than massive, lecture-style approaches. 

Leshner acknowledges that scientists have been "arrogant" in the past about communicating with the public and says the discussion should focus on facts—and not with proving the intelligence of the scientist at hand. "I think the scientific community is hoping to be able to engage more fully with the public in a dialogue," Leshner adds, "as opposed to the traditional monologue."

01 Feb 01:38

Female Circumcision as Sexual Therapy: The Past and Future of Plastic Surgery?


Nuance: Still important!

In Chicago, a physician with offices on Michigan Avenue offers clitoral unhooding today for $1,000 (plus operating room fees). His intention? To more easily enable a woman to reach orgasm. Clitoral unhooding falls under the larger category of female genital cosmetic surgeries (FGCS), surgeries that are reportedly becoming more popular among women and physicians. Some physicians, even those who don’t perform FGCS, see them as part of the future of plastic surgery.

The assumption is that these surgeries don’t have much of a past. In fact, there is a long history of surgeries on female genitals—especially on the clitoris—as “sexual enhancement” for women, designed to help them achieve their “proper role” as sexual partners. Over a century ago, another Chicago physician also removed clitoral hoods of women, also as therapy to enable them easier orgasms. The use of female circumcision since the late 1800s to treat a woman’s lack of orgasm reveals a medical understanding of the function of the clitoris as sexual­—an understanding held decades prior to the physiological evidence supplied by William Masters and Virginia Johnson.

Understanding the sexual nature of the clitoris and its importance to female sexual pleasure, some physicians have, for well over a century, diagnosed a condition of the clitoris as the physiological cause for a woman’s failure to have an orgasm with her husband. These physicians thus treated the lack of an orgasm in the marital bed as a sexual disorder treatable through surgery.

In the U.S., the first documented use of female circumcision as a sexual enhancement therapy appeared at a time when the espousal of female orgasm during marital sex was increasingly seen as an important component for a healthy marriage.

By removing the clitoral foreskin, some physicians (as well as non-physicians) thought the clitoris would be more exposed to the penis during penetrative intercourse, and would thus receive direct stimulation from the penis. Physicians performed—and some women or their spouses sought out—female circumcision in order to maintain (or conform to) the sexual behavior deemed culturally appropriate for white, U.S.-born, middle- to upper-class women: orgasm with their husbands.

In the United States, the first documented use of female circumcision as a sexual enhancement therapy occurred in the late 19th century, appearing at a time when the espousal of female orgasm during marital sex was increasingly seen as an important component for a healthy marriage. Physicians performed female circumcision to help married women who wanted—or whose husbands wanted their wives to have—orgasms during martial sex.

Practitioners who removed clitoral hoods to enable female orgasm included Chicago gynecologist Denslow Lewis, who presented evidence for the benefits of female circumcision at a meeting of the American Medical Association in 1899. In “a large percentage” of women who failed to find marital passion “there is a preputial adhesion, and a judicious circumcision, together with consistent advice, will often be successful,” according to Lewis. Lewis had treated 38 women with circumcision, and had “reasonably satisfactory results in each instance.”

This procedure continued to be used to treat women for their inability to orgasm throughout the 20th century. In 1900, Chicago gynecologist A.S. Waiss wrote about removing the clitoral hood of Mrs. R., a 27-year-old woman who had been married for seven years and who was “absolutely passionless,” something that greatly upset her. Her unresponsiveness troubled her, or her husband, enough for her to seek a medical remedy. The doctor found Mrs. R.’s clitoris “entirely covered” by its hood. He circumcised the clitoris and the patient “became a different woman”—she was, the doctor wrote, “lively, contented,” and “happy,” and sex now brought her satisfaction.

In 1912, Douglas H. Stewart in New York City saw a “fairly robust woman” who, though desirous for sexual intercourse, when the act was attempted found “there ‘was nothing in it.’” Upon examination, Stewart found the clitoris of the patient to be “buried” and preceded to circumcise the woman to reveal the organ.

Charles Lane, a physician in Poughkeepsie, New York, believed the clitoris “a very important organ to the health and happiness of the female,” and performed circumcision on women who were unable to reach orgasm. In a 1940 article concerning his use of circumcision on a patient—Mrs. W., a 22-year-old woman who had recently married but had yet to experience an orgasm—Lane noted “that little trick did it all right.”

And C.F. McDonald, a physician in Milwaukee, noted in a 1958 article that women who complained to him of difficult or painful intercourse often had a clitoris hidden by foreskin. To reveal the organ, he removed the foreskin, with “very thankful patients” as the reward. McDonald operated in the 1950s—during the height of the Freudian vaginal orgasm theory, a theory that held healthy and mature adult women had vaginal, not clitoral, orgasms—suggesting clitoral circumcision as sexual therapy did not stop; indeed, by some accounts, more women underwent circumcision at mid-century to surgically increase the potential for orgasm than at any earlier time.

Physicians, both in print and at medical society meetings, discussed that “little trick” for decades. By the 1970s, information about the usefulness of female circumcision to enable female orgasm during penetrative, heterosexual sex began to appear with more regularity in popular publications as well, with information about the surgery as a sexual enhancement appearing in books such as The Consumer’s Guide to Successful Surgery.

Magazines, too, including Playgirl and Playboy, ran stories about female circumcision. Playgirl carried two stories by Catherine Kellison, who wrote about her circumcision and how orgasms were easier for her to attain after the surgery. The gynecologist who removed her clitoral hood told Kellison that an estimated three-fourths of women did not reach orgasm because of a hooded clitoris, and that circumcision was the surgical solution to this condition. The doctor told Kellison that she would likely benefit from having her clitoral hood removed, and, after undergoing the procedure, Kellison wrote that she did find orgasms easier to attain following the surgery.

While estimating how many American women underwent female circumcision since the late 19th century is not possible—it was a quick procedure, most often performed by physicians in their clinics—evidence of its use can be found indirectly through insurance reimbursement for it.

In May 1977 the insurance company Blue Shield Association recommended that its individual plans stop routine payments for 28 surgical and diagnostic procedures considered outmoded or unnecessary. Of the 28, one was removing the hood of the clitoris. While this information is not translatable into an actual estimate of how many women elected to have their clitorises circumcised, it suggests the procedure was at least popular enough to warrant the discontinuation of paying for it by an insurance company.

In addition to Blue Shield Association, others have labeled the procedure as not medically indicated, with some being even more critical of the assumptions underlying the use of it as therapy to treat a lack of female orgasm. Feminists interested in women’s health began questioning female circumcision as a surgery for purported sexual enhancement in the 1970s as part of their larger critique of the medicalization of the female body and the feminist embrace of the clitoris as an important sexual organ for women.

More recently, women’s health activists with the New View Campaign in the United States protested practitioners of FGCS and launched a website to educate the public about the diversity of female genitals.

Similar to the New View Campaign, both the popular media and academics have weighed in on what the apparent “rise” in these surgeries means about the female body, female sexuality, and the role of medicine. Some academics have further challenged these procedures for the lack of evidence that such surgeries increase female sexual capacity and that women should feel the need to correct their bodies in order to enjoy sex rather than to, for example, change sexual positions or techniques.

In addition to academics and feminist activists questioning the procedures, medical practitioners have also raised concerns about the lack of established medical need for clitoral unhooding and that there is no evidence that female circumcision, along with the other procedures comprising FGCS, are safe. Indeed, in 2007, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommended practitioners not perform female circumcision or other FGCS, since the promotion of FGCS as sexually enhancing was not based on empirical evidence, nor were the surgeries medically indicated.

But while feminists and some medical practitioners since the 1970s have been publicly questioning the physiological basis for female circumcision as a sexual enhancement surgery, the surgery today, like a century ago, continues to be performed as an effort to enable women to have a clitoral orgasm during penetrative sex.

31 Jan 08:27

lotsalipstick:kreeturefeature:the6thsiren:50 Shades of...




50 Shades of Attempting to Pass Abuse Off as Romance

It really upsets me that people will think that this is what a true BDSM relationship is about.

my god, reading the quotes are fucking scary!

Fifty Shades of Nope.

27 Jan 22:00

Gergely Boganyi's Concert Piano Redesign


Also it flies.


If you hear voices in your head, that's bad. If you hear piano music in your head, that's not so bad, particularly if you're a professional pianist. Yet Gergely Bogányi still found it disturbing, because the sonorous quality of the music in his brain exceeded the sound a piano can actually produce. "[I] was intrigued to find out how I could make a difference," Bogányi writes. "How could I bridge the gap between the 'miraculous' sound in my head and that of the sound I was hearing?"

If it was a question of tuning, we can assume his long-suffering piano tuner might've found the solution. "[I] spent countless hours with my professional piano tuner, who travelled the world with me. Trying to find that consistent, quality sound in every piano. It was always so difficult with each concert hall having such different conditions that affected the piano. Dryness, dust, humidity were always a factor. Could we find a way to keep this quality consistent?"

Bogányi decided he'd have to custom design a piano, both inside and out, to get the sound he wanted. He assembled a team of designers, engineers, craftsmen and music technicians, and ten years and 8,000 team-hours later, they'd produced the Bogányi Piano you see here, which the pianist claims can produce "the clearest, boldest, [most] premium sound quality possible."




While it contains the wood and iron you'd find in an ordinary piano, the Bogányi has a proprietary carbon fiber soundboard design that is reportedly weatherproof, i.e. remains unaffected by humidity or dryness. The exterior is unusual in that it stands on just two legs, "to allow an additional bottom passage for the sound to reach the audience." (I'm not much of a classical music lover, but to you concerto-goers, does that third leg in the back really muck up the sound that much?

21 Jan 21:30

What, Wood Filler? No no, WOOL Filler...


This is fascinating, but the colors do not match my aesthetic at all.


Having witnessed a few of my nearest and dearest succumb to the mediative delights of knitting, I'm beginning to cultivate an appreciation—for the materiality and intricate skills of the art—that I might have normally reserved for wood or metal work. As with any craft, there are whole supporting industries attached that often remain hidden to the unindoctrinated—and any number of innovators tinkering on the peripheries—that can often be fascinating upon first exposure.

One such novelty that an education in needle work has revealed is the remarkable (if incredibly simple) textile innovation that is Woolfiller—the invention of Netherlands product designer Heleen Klopper, who was inspired after developing a fascination for wool and felt. In a similar vein to Sugru in the world of hard materials, Woolfiller is a product dedicated to fixing and repairing in the world of knitting and woolwear.


26 Jan 13:00

3D Printing Medical Tools in Haiti and Beyond


A fine idea.


A 3D printed umbilical cord clamp, co-created with medical workers in Haiti

By Danielle Perretty

Haiti is both a land of beauty and a land of suffering. Among the awe-inspiring mountain views and coastal areas, eroded lands and deforestation are abundant. Five years after the devastating earthquake, a slow reconstruction continues. The capital, Port-au-Prince, is a city pulsing with a lively energy but the citizens there also face difficult barriers for improvement. The World Bank estimates that 59% live under the national poverty line of just $2.44 per day and 24% under $1.24 dollar per day. The majority of people lack adequate shelter, clean water and access to health care.

Recently, I witnessed some of these contrasts while collaborating with the nonprofit, Field Ready. They provide humanitarian aid by using technology and education as a vehicle to transform logistical supply chains. The team of aid workers, designers and technologists are bringing 3D printing to the healthcare space for developing countries. Eric James, a co-founder of Field Ready, explains "3D printing offers a lot of flexibility and this will only improve in the future. And the future is what we're working on now."

As the cost of 3D printing continues to go down and usage goes up, collaborative design initiatives are empowering people to overcome low socio-economic environments and also enabling new ways to provide humanitarian aid. The growth in 3D printing has also encouraged an exploration of new materials and applications. This inspired Field Ready to begin recycling ABS and to investigate how to recycle other polymers with the goal of turning plastic waste into filament.

Mark Mellors shows a UPMini Printer to Johnson and Willio of iLab Haiti in Port-Au-Prince

By co-creating with medical workers in Haiti, Field Ready identified medical tools and parts that could be 3D printed to meet localized demand. One example is the umbilical cord clamp. Many traditional birthing attendants are women living in villages without easy access to healthcare and medical supplies. Given the lack of sterile tools and training, newborns may suffer from a high rate of infections or postnatal umbilical sepsis. Typically, birthing attendants will use what is available to them—ranging from shoelaces to the improper use of a sterile string. Even when using a hygienic cord, the risks are high from improper use—either tying too tight and severing the cord, or tying too loose and causing hemorrhaging. Clamps, on the other hand, have a precision grip and clamp, leaving no guesswork for birthing attendants.

22 Jan 14:19

Japan’s savile row…..

by Tom Mahon

Apparently Tom is getting the English Cut MTM made in Japan! That hardly seems less expensive than doing it in the UK.


yours truly, nearly a snowman

Tailoring hand made Savile Row suits has taken me all over the world. It’s the nature of the business that something so special is thankfully in great demand.

Obviously we make a very exclusive product and I only have 24 hrs in a day like everyone else. So it’s been wonderful for us to offer our new MTM service which will give people the chance to own the very best suit at an affordable price.


Paul and I examining a proper waistcoat

The full service will be available online later this year. However, we recently launched the service to a small group of people at various events in London, New York with our final events in San Francisco and Washington DC this February.

As you may know our initial orders were released at a very subsidised price and I’m involved with them from the measuring to the final shipping. It takes longer but it’s been wonderful for me to be so involved with these initial orders. Paul and I have just returned from another visit to very snowy northern Japan where we’ve been delighted to see the orders of our new service being skilfully cut and made. We’re delighted how they’re coming along and we’re so looking forward to delivering them to their proud owners.

29 Jan 22:49

Is it Modern Literary Fiction?

by Christopher Wright

I'm not sure what prompted him to make this, but I'm glad he did.

28 Jan 19:56

Tiny watercolors of Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway from Star...

Tiny watercolors of Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. Each is just 2.5”x3.5”! 

28 Jan 07:39

The Man and me


This is one of Tim Kreider's best essays, and one which I agree with rather strongly.

The Man and me

Tim Kreider
(Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
January 14, 2015

We tell children that the police are their friends — that if they're ever lost or scared they can always trust a man in blue. Like a lot of the things we tell kids, this is a truth edited for children, like the weaker-dosage, candy-flavored medicines we administer to them. We also tell children not to worry about death. We reassure them we're certainly not going to die anytime soon, and they aren't going to die for a very, very long time. But we know that infants die in their cribs, toddlers are hit by cars, kids get leukemia, and sometimes policemen kill 12-year-olds.

We're having a rare and uncharacteristic moment of anti-cop sentiment in America. As with the furious backlash against rape on college campuses, it seems as if after decades of indifference everyone has suddenly and simultaneously had enough of the police killing unarmed black men. Anyone who wants to can now watch videos of cops gunning down a shopper suspiciously holding a BB rifle in the BB-rifle aisle of a Walmart, blowing away a kid futzing around with a toy gun in a park, or idly suffocating a father of two on a sidewalk while he begs for his life. And ever since the televised police response to the Ferguson riots, which looked less like crowd control than the Soviets crushing the Prague uprising, a lot of Americans finally seem to have noticed that we appear to have been invaded by an occupying army, one that regards us not as a citizenry to protect but a hostile populace to suppress.

I still remember how dystopian it seemed the first time I saw police holding automatic weapons in the subway, as if America had become some banana republic or besieged Middle Eastern hellhole. In the institutional hysteria that followed 9/11, the feds started handing out pricey, hi-tech, semilethal Batgear to local podunk police forces. This country has become so weaponized and coked up on Fear that every responding officer now regards each call as the next Newtown or Boston Marathon bombing. It's enough to give anyone considering dialing 911 pause, since it now seems tantamount to calling in a hit on someone. The recent Amnesty International report on the Ferguson riots said: "Equipping officers in a manner more appropriate for a battlefield may put them in the mindset that confrontation and conflict is inevitable rather than possible, escalating tensions between protesters and police." Or, as the well-known adage has it: If your only tool is a gun, every problem starts to look like a corpse.

When I say "Americans" have suddenly noticed this, I'm using the same sort of historically disingenuous language as when we say Columbus "discovered" America What I really mean is that even some rich white people have begun to notice what black people and poor people of all colors have been aware of for a long time.

I've always secretly felt a little less white in this regard than most of my fellow Honky-Americans. Although I go about my day camouflaged as a law-abiding citizen, secure in the semiotic Kevlar of an English complexion and an Italian overcoat, I've always harbored a secret terror and loathing of the cops. Once when a blind date of mine became blacked-out drunk and could or would not tell me where she lived so I could take her home, I briefly considered turning her over to some police officers I saw nearby, but in the end I could not bring myself to violate the principle: Never turn anyone over to the cops. (Also, I feared that it would somehow result in me spending the night in jail.) On the most hypocritical day of my life so far, I 1.) reported some drug dealers outside my apartment (whose clients kept breaking in and taking my laptops) and 2.) bought drugs. I regret only one of these things.

My instinctive horror of authority dates back to my first trip to the vice principal's office in second grade, and since I spent my entire young adulthood in the commission of one continuous misdemeanor, it's instilled in me a certain reflexive wariness of The Man. Luckily I was able to careen around publicly intoxicated with pocketfuls of dangerous controlled substances under the indifferent gaze of campus security instead of the streetcorner surveillance cameras of the Baltimore City Police. If I were black I would've been shot to death countless times by now.

This no-goodnik attitude makes me an aberration among white people in this country. The United States is a reactionary nation at heart; I've always suspected Nixon was probably right when he invoked his Silent Majority, those loyal TV-watching Americans who figure that any longhaired college kid, commie agitator, gun-hoarding wacko, or ghetto gangbanger the cops execute probably had it coming. Anytime the police are publicly second-guessed or taken to task for having riddled another unarmed black kid with bullets, bludgeoned a senior citizen or a schizophrenic, tear-gassed some college kids, or tasered a dad in front of his screaming children, a certain genus of commenter always comes heroically to their rescue — protecting the powerful, defending the well-armed, speaking out on behalf of those who have only bullhorns.

These commenters always explain that the beaten/deceased was breaking the law — shoplifting cigarillos, selling illegal cigarettes, resisting arrest, acting suspicious — and there have to be consequences for lawbreakers. What about this, they wonder, do we not understand? They like to say things like "it's very simple," "case closed," and "end of story." (It's hard to imagine what convoluted excuses they'll devise to explain why Akai Gurley should've known better than to walk into a stairwell. But they will.)

It's easy to dismiss these apologists as the usual chronically aggrieved and frightened bigots who make up the audience for Limbaugh and Fox. But their labored reasoning to justify why the victims of police violence all ultimately had it coming reminds me of the way in which we all subtly blame people who die in accidents or distance ourselves from people with cancer, trying to convince ourselves that this could never happen to us. It reminds me, too, of the tortured arguments of theodicy, theologians' attempts to explain God's hands-off attitude to Evil. They are trying to prop up and plug a sagging, leaky worldview in which the status quo is just, because to accept that it isn't would mean that everything they believe is a lie, that the institutions in which they've invested their faith and lives, their sons and tithes and taxes, are scams, crimes in which they're complicit.

I have had some positive interactions with the police, though it's worth noting that most of these have involved the police electing to leave me alone. (I hereby thank and salute the Baltimore police officer who let a friend and me off with a stern verbal warning to "stop impersonating Jesus.") Doing nothing is the best option in a surprising number of situations, but it's one that all authorities are constitutionally disinclined to exercise, as it they fear it might expose their own superfluity. And people in power can seldom resist an opportunity to start pushing other people around.

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This is a temptation inherent in the position, not necessarily a flaw in the character of those who hold it. (Cf. the Stanford Prison Experiments in which subjects were arbitrarily divided into "jailers" and "prisoners," and within days the "jailers" had become sadistic martinets.) Although I regard the police as an institution with suspicion and resentment, I don't necessarily dislike them as people. Trudging up out of the guts of Grand Central's subway station in a Metropolis-like mob during one morning rush hour, I overheard a police officer say to his partner: "I love the faces in the mornings — they're almost just as good as the ones you see passed out on the subway." Which I guess evidences some casual contempt for the populace they're meant to Serve and Protect, but also a certain connoisseurship of the squalid human comedy that I cannot help but respect. I don't think the police are any worse, as individuals, than anyone else; I just find it prudent to bear in mind, at all times, that they can assault, abduct, or murder me without fear of any legal repercussion more serious than a lot of paperwork.

I think there must be some basic psychological divide between people who reflexively defer to authority and those of us whose impulse is to thwart and evade it. These two types have nothing but contempt for one another. Ultimately whether you instinctively identify with the police or the victims in these cases depends on your sense of whose side the police are on — on whether you feel invested in society's institutions or see them as aligned against you.

I don't believe the police are closet Klansmen or fascist lackeys; I also don't think they're heroes. They're people doing a job, and, like everyone else in the world, they do what the people who pay them tell them to do. The people who pay them are the government, and the government operates in the service of those who own it. In effect, the police are a heavily armed private security force to protect rich people against the poor — a role that became nakedly obvious to me the day our billionaire mayor ordered the NYPD to bulldoze the perfectly legal protest at Occupy Wall Street. 

Join me, for a moment, in a wistful daydream: Let us picture the NYPD battering in the office door of Goldman Sachs — or of Lehmann Brothers, or Bear Sterns, or Morgan Stanley. Imagine an officer barking at the CEO to get down on the floor — "NOW!" — planting a knee in the small of his back and cinching the plastic cuffs around his wrists so tight his hands turn purple, while a bored detective informs him he is under arrest for 2,317,000 counts of criminal fraud and recites the Miranda. Maybe the CEO mouths off to a cop who tasers him, or has a heart attack in custody, or lunges for his desk to call security or legal and gets shot.

Notice how patently ludicrous, how obviously implausible this mental image is. Reflect, for a moment, on why that should be, and what it tells us about the country we live in. 

Everyone who's paying attention — and I'm not talking about alarmist crackpots but the U.N., the Pentagon, the C.I.A. — agrees that the coming decades will see, to put it euphemistically, civil disturbances. The gap between the very rich and everyone else is only getting wider, meaning that more and more of us are finding ourselves on the wrong side of the police barricades. There will eventually be another financial crash, and sooner than we expect, because that's when they always happen. Climate change is predicted to cause famines, mass migrations, and wars. So bear in mind, as you watch the coverage of the next killing, the next grand jury decision, the next protests, and the next crackdowns: what the police are doing to black people now is what they may do to the rest of us next. Remember the images of the government abandoning the poor in New Orleans after Katrina, local police treating the citizenry like a turkey shoot. Remember the image of the National Guard massed in Ferguson with armored vehicles, tear gas grenades, and assault rifles, ready, if necessary, to quash an uprising of United States citizens. It probably won't be the last time we see it.

Last week, after the murder of two police officers, New York Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the NYPD's union, announced: "We have, for the first time in a number of years, become a 'wartime' police department. We will act accordingly." Leaving us all to wonder — some of us a lot more uneasily than others — a war against whom?