Friday, August 9, 2013

My Line in the Sand against Fat Shaming

"Smoking is ALWAYS unhealthy and it involves a substance that theoretically could be completely removed from the person's life. It also harms other people besides the person doing the activity.

Eating is something that EVERYONE must do in order to survive and doing so harms no one except for potentially the person doing the eating."

I started writing this response to a Facebook friend who had posted a picture with the following words:

"Tell a smoker that smoking is unhealthy and no one bats an eye. Tell a fat person that being fat is unhealthy and everybody loses their minds."

It seemed to me that I was not losing my mind, but rather that I was thinking remarkably clearly and synthesizing much of the information that I have gained in my life. It seemed like now was the time to bring it all together into a post that would articulate all my ideas on the matter. It came out better than I expected so I decided to make it a writing project, clean it up, and post it here.

Physical manifestation of weight is not always an indicator of health, though it is one indicator for medical professionals to look at. Average people think they know what is going on by looking at a person but in reality they have no idea unless they are close with the person or have studied it for a decade.

Many people would think that my partner is obese. The truth is that the way he carries his muscles makes him look that way. You wouldn't want to get in a fight with him however. It would feel like fighting a bear. I know about him because I am close. I see what he eats, I see the workouts he does, and I've seen the raw power. That wouldn't stop people from judging him for eating a doughnut in public. That doesn't stop him from getting a complex thinking that anything that Americans eat too much of in general are issues he has himself. He has made himself unwell before by inadvertently cutting too much salt or too much cholesterol.
Bodies are diverse, why can't we accept that?

In some industries and contexts the person on the far right would be seen as overweight. In most contexts the person on the far left would get comments or glares for what she eats in public.

Evidence is still out on the harms of fat. It is a question for scientific debate and research it is not a topic for hounding average citizens that aren't harming anyone besides maybe themselves.   

"Relative to normal weight, both obesity (all grades) and grades 2 and 3 obesity were associated with significantly higher all-cause mortality. Grade 1 obesity overall was not associated with higher mortality, and overweight was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality. The use of predefined standard BMI groupings can facilitate between-study comparisons."

As a translation, this means that people who are "overweight" are actually more likely to survive. People who are "grade 1 obese" are equally likely to survive. The only people who have statistically increased chance of mortality are those in grade 2 and 3 obesity.

Additionally, in the cases where being obese is to an extent and style that does cause health problems, there also needs to be psychological research work done to figure out how to best help these people. Like I said it is different from smoking because a person who smokes could just stop the activity altogether and not die. I believe this difference is the cause of the phenomenon discussed in this article on the effects of fat shaming.

In the society we live in right now most of us have big problems that are too big to face alone. In order to feel good about ourselves we judge others and this needs to stop. We need to start seeing everyone's struggles as interconnected. In a country with insufficient health care, combined with increased economic stress, commuting stress, and demands on our time in a go-go-go world, it is no surprise that our population is not healthy in a large variety of ways. The thing is that people who have a problem tend to know they have a problem. They tend to know how much it is hurting them. Pointing this out does no one any good.

Solutions would be helpful if we had them. The truth is though that we don't have them for many of these issues. Obesity for instance. We can't even agree on what health is, much less talk about healthy sustainable ways to approach it. Many of the ideas that people have had in this regard end up being harmful and I think that obese people have a right to seem skeptical when your plan seems either to be quackery, unbalanced, or not accessible to the necessities of our modern life. That skepticism can actually be good for them as many have been harmed by these methods or inconsistent pursuit of tactics that are inconsistent with their required lived experience. 

At the end of the day, unless you are the person's doctor and are willing to put in the time to get the background of their lifestyle and set up something that will work for them, you are not doing anyone any favors. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

It seems pretty logical to me: if you don't pay for things, you can't have them.  If you don't pay for your bridges to be maintained, they eventually fall apart.  If you vote for lower taxes every time the opportunity comes up, the amount of money that your community has to provide critical infrastructure decreases.

If you vote against all your transportation levies, your area will no longer be able to provide good support for transportation.  The number of bus routes that your community can feasibly support goes down and your service will degrade.

If you vote against all your educational levies, your area will not be able to provide materials that schools require, such as new textbooks, technical equipment, or pay for additional teachers when there is growth in the area.  Your extra-curricular programs such as music and art will get cut because they aren't central to the mission of teaching math and english.  Maybe you have enough money to provide support for these extra items for your children but the quality of your community as a whole will degrade because the children on average will lose opportunities to learn and grow.  It is not financially prudent to do these items individually, as they are more economical to provide in appropriately subdivided groups.  It is simple economics that you spend less raw money as a community if you take care of your children in groups together.

You can complain that the government is not using your tax money efficiently.  Please, do.  Help them find ways to use it more efficiently.  I'm sure that they would welcome any input you have on using the funds more effectively if it actually results in better service on less funds. But complaining about corruption and fixing the corruption are two different things. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem, after all.

Members of the transportation department have a pretty good incentive to use your tax money wisely.  While some parts of the government may indeed be unlikely to get seriously cut for mismanagement, transportation departments that don't provide service that their communities value will lose funding. These people have plenty of motivation to use your money wisely, to keep the bus drivers and maintainers and road workers from getting laid off.  If you as a community decide not to fund public transportation or reduce funding, all these people lose their jobs.  So questioning their capitalist motivations and accusing them of relying on cushy government jobs is not going to get you very far.

None of us could get to work the jobs we do without some sort of transportion department.  It isn't reasonable to expect a modern society to provide the quality of life we enjoy without the ability to deliver goods and people beyond walking distance. Mass transportation is required to allow us to have all the things we take for granted every day, such as toilet paper and cereal and shoes.  We have to pay for road building and maintenance in order to make our society run.

So before you complain about your taxes, please consider that you wouldn't even have your job to pay your taxes without the society you live in providing the critical infrastructure necessary for your job to even exist.  And if this isn't true for you because you live in a commune and make your own shoes and milk and card sheep for wool and so forth - if you're reading this article on the internet, the internet itself wouldn't exist without community infrastructure.

Perhaps some day communities will be able to be truly self-sufficient with solar power and we can all move to a futuristic Star Trek world where things just work and everyone can survive without paying in to a central organization to manage infrastructure for the whole society, but we're not there yet and pretending we are because we want to believe that is the way it ought to be isn't going to keep our schools funded and our bridges from crashing down around us.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Vaccination is NOT Eugenics

I saw a post on the internet today that left me completely incensed.

Here it is.

Bill Gates is not in favor of eugenics, and his efforts to promote vaccine use also have nothing to do with eugenics. This is tin hat talk initiated by people who are either afraid of things they don't understand, or want to blame for the problems of the world on people who have the wealth and power to make vaccines possible.

Vaccines save lives and have improved the quality of life in the US over the last century by massive amounts, which is why Gates promotes them to 3rd world countries. Improving the quality of people's lives has a direct effect on the happiness and stability of citizen's lives, which in turn leads to better and more responsible family planning, which leads to an end result of less population growth. That is what he is going for with this statement, and interpreting it as anything else is purely malicious. Five minutes of research are sufficient to debunk this notion.

Here is some explanation of how he feels about vaccines.

It is wrong-headed to claim that people who promote vaccines are trying to _kill_ people, and it is maliciously incorrect. Vaccines have nothing to do with eugenics. They directly correlate with improved quality of life for children and adults around the globe.

If we truly are concerned about the safety of vaccines, we should be fully funding the FDA and sending in oversight teams to promote the safe development of all vaccines. Instead, we waste our time spitting on the morality of people who invest in the development of a technology whose sole point is to make lives better. I'm ashamed of the internet today.

The end result of a WAR ON VACCINES is NO VACCINES. Is that really what anyone wants? A return to a time when diseases rampaged because we had no defenses? Where your innate genetic defenses, or the fact that you happened to live with COWS leads to your survival, and people around you dying?

So stop the war on vaccines. If you don't think that our current vaccines are safe, clamor loudly to your senators and representatives for safe research! But you don't get to say (or imply) "ALL VACCINES ARE EVIL" or "PEOPLE WHO FUND VACCINATION HAVE EVIL MOTIVES" if the end result of "NO VACCINES" is a result you aren't willing to live with.

As far as I can tell, the anti-vaccination crowd has put scientific researchers into an impossible situation. Anti-vaccination literature says that vaccines cause all sorts of harms that there is absolutely no scientific research to support. All the positive research done by scientists is thrown out the window because of anecdotal evidence that is completely unverifiable. No court of law would grant a conviction on the kind of evidence that these people are putting out. If you don't like vaccination, put your science on, and do some quantitative research. Numbers or GTFO.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What I am, and What I'm Not

I have a confession to make.

I'm an atheist. And yes, I suppose that some people might say that by the way they define god, there is no way that I could make the determination that there certainly wasn't one, logically speaking. And that argument has some weight, but I also can't, for example, tell for absolutely certain that there is no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. So I'm pretty much fine with the label "Atheist".

But you know what labels I'm not fine with? Morally bankrupt, or unprincipled, or one who believes in nothing. Religion does not have the market cornered on ethical behaviors. People in the USA, especially fundamental religious people, are so fond of saying that America is morally bankrupt because of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Well, I have nothing to say about sex or rock and roll, and I'm not even certain that I entirely agree that America is all that immoral, but if we are?

You want to know why I think America could be considered morally bankrupt? We have outsourced our values to Christian radio talk show hosts and politicians. For thousands of years societies have been in a constant state of re-evaluation about what it means to be alive, and to live a good, moral, ethical life. We have the writings of so many different people across nations and millennia to learn from, to learn how to behave ethically, and we revert to having morality spoon-fed to us by someone else rather than thinking for ourselves. Shame on us for being so inordinately lazy.

We stand on the shoulders of giants scientifically but from an ethical standpoint we define ourselves by the cultural values held by one set of peoples from two thousand years ago. People who question whether those values might be right are ridiculed. People who question whether the beliefs of those people are right are shamed. People who suggest that other such beliefs be part of a public school education so that students understand other cultures end up regretting it six ways from Sunday.

I refused to be shamed anymore. I refuse to be forced to be lazy. I refuse to let one religion, even if it is the dominant religion in my culture, define my entire viewpoint and morals and what I consider to be ethical behavior. It is my right, my privilege, and my duty to question and learn and change.

What about you?

Now, I'm not suggesting that this is true of every religious person. And I think Rose can come and defend the good people who believe in our dominant religion and not being put into a mold. But I think it is true enough of enough people that it is time I come out and explain why I won't be ridiculed for my beliefs.