My re-introduction and “viral mothers”

Greetings all.

Yep. I know. Awful. So much for “I’m really going to do this every week now…” — 6 months later….

But here I am.

And I’ve missed this. So I’m taking a chunk out of my stupid busy life to make it a point to write an entry today. Yes, I’m writing this entry at 7:30am. Never fear…I have coffee in hand…so the plan is that it won’t be complete nonsense.

I’ve had a bit of an epiphany concerning the kind of writing I would want to do if I intend to actually do something with this crazy degree I’m getting.

It’s Paula Treichler’s idea that “cultural interpretations of biomedical phenomena and biological catastrophes are important to the understanding of disease in a social world” – and this is truly the knot of my various strands of study. It’s where the vampires and zombies can roam freely with Foucault and Haraway living dis-harmoniously, wreaking havoc in society’s imagined boundaries of disease. It’s my job to blur those boundaries, to help raise the questions about hard science and disease and disaster that don’t get asked enough in scientific contexts. I’m taking my cue from Paula Treichler, Brad Lewis and Bernice Hausman, (my adviser, his friend who teaches at Virginia Tech, who is also my friend’s teacher–small world), Donna Haraway, Sandra Harding, etc.

So for my “re-introduction” into the blogsphere, I decided to read an article passed off to be by Brad Lewis…oh….close to a year ago. Good for me that I’ve now read it. (This article is like 10 pages long and the matter of a subway ride if you want a clue into the massive business that has been my life). The article by Virginia Tech professor Bernice Hausman is entitled “Contamination and Contagion: Environmental Toxins, HIV/AIDS, and the Problem of the Maternal Body.”

Hausman addresses a recent (and by recent I’m being broad…like a decade kind of broad) hot button topic in public health, the risks and benefits of breastfeeding. Stick with me here. (More after the fold…)

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“What goes on in a body?”

Okay, friends. As blog authors go I am wretchedly inconsistent. And while this might not be my longest entry or even the most relevant…I thought I should write something. And I wanted that something to incorporate anything I have picked up in one of my classes…

Am I learning anything? I have no idea….

My class on Art and Catastrophe surprisingly doesn’t touch on epidemic at all…but I am still pulling out quite a few useful threads. I intend to document them and write about them in more detail here eventually…but it will have to wait.

For now:
We recently read Yvette Christianse’s novel Unconfessed about slavery in South Africa in the 18th century. The tale follows a portion of the slave woman Sila, who narrates. The narrative begins somewhat chronologically and then quickly begins to distentigrate into a disjointed mess. Sila begins talking nonsense to her dead son, and the audience is forced to very carefully piece together the threads of Sila’s history.

Sila gives birth to eight children over the course of her enslavement. At one point she says that, “life is a disease women get from men” and she asks “do I want my body to become my enemy? Because that is all that can happen.”

I’m reminded a bit of the Volkswagen commericials, and our debates over what is an epidemic…

[Volkswagen Part I] and this one [Volkswagen Part II]

While I can sort of see Sila’s statement…I try to remember that it takes two people to create life. However, in this context…in Sila’s life of slavery…it is not a choice. Sila is continuously raped, almost nightly–pregnancy isn’t her choice. So to her…life is a disease that she gets from men. The child inside of her is an infection…she can’t spread it to anyone…but men can.

So where does this get us?


Later in the novel Sila discusses her owners and masters. She is discussing names…and how her owners have never named her properly, never used her real name…and the importance of what a name is…and how the owners try to make the slaves’ lives read like a book, only including the facts, histories, names, and parts that they want. Sila says that they forget about the other parts of their lives…and “forgetting is their contagion”–so if forgetting is a contagion, and the act of enslaving people is what causes one to forget or is anyway related to that forgetting, then the ability to enslave, hurt, and kill people is a disease, a contagion, an epidemic.

In Vokswagen Part II I ponder what qualifies as an epidemic, and if the popularity of something at a given time could qualify it as an epidemic…then the condoning and acceptance of slavery throughout the world over varying periods of time could indeed qualify as an epidemic.

The epidemic of slavery, the contagion of forgetting–forgetting the importance of human life, forgetting that the color of one’s skin is not a viable judgement of their humanity.

These are the kinds of catastrophe we discuss in my class. Slavery, genocide, terrorism. And I am constantly surprised that while we never go near the subject of epidemic (something I consider to be massively catastrophic, specifically in works such as “The Plague” “Journal of the Plague Year” or “28 Days Later”/”I Am Legend”)–while we never go near it, we are constantly talking about it.

Can’t escape it. It’s all interrelated. All catastrophe is not just easily grouped into a specific “sub-genre” of catastrophe. I recently read an article that broke down Albert Camus’s “The Plague” as a retelling of The Holocaust. It’s never just one thing…slavery and epidemic…epidemic and genocide…genocide is people killing people which is the rage epidemic and so much more.

Some food for thought. I am gonna try, try, try to do this more often. 😛 Keep reading and keep discussing!

“Diseases desperate”

“———–diseases desperate grown

By desperate appliance are relieved,

Or not at all.”

Hamlet, Act IV, Scene III

Thanks to Pamela for sending this along and keeping me in line. I have good intentions with this silly thing, but of course we all know where that road leads. I’m going to take a bit of advice from my Violence and Metaphor professor and just start writing and see if any ideas actually come out….because right now I must admit I am a bit stumped. 😦

The proverb is found in many variant forms. Cf. L. extremis malis extrema remedia, extreme remedies for extreme ills.

“A stronge disease requyreth a stronge medicine.
[1539 R. Taverner tr. Erasmus’ Adages 4]

Diseases desperate grown By desperate appliance are reliev’d, Or not at all.
[1600-1 Shakespeare Hamlet iv. iii. 9]

Desperate cuts must have desperate cures.
[1639 J. Clarke Parœmiologia Anglo-Latina 200]

According to the usual Proverb, A desperate disease must have a desperate remedy.
[1659 J. Rushworth Hist. Collections I. 120]

I must‥have an interview with the charmer of my Soul: For desperate diseases must have desperate remedies.
[1748 Richardson Clarissa VI. 292]

These circumstances are wholly exceptional. Desperate diseases, they say, call for desperate remedies.
[1935 ‘A. Wynne’ Toll House Murder ix.]

She’d have sold the roof over her head sooner than have you know. Desperate situations require desperate remedies.
[1961 ‘A. Gilbert’ She shall Die xi.]

Desperate times call for desperate measures, which are often sensible when you consider the bleak alternative.
[2001 W. Northcutt Darwin Awards II 2]”

Just a little list of the variations of this proverb. For fun.

Let me break this down a little bit, and see if that helps.

“diseases” I probably don’t need to get into too much here. We can quibble all day about this one, whether within the context of Hamlet or without… (is he crazy? is he not crazy? are WE crazy? are we a blight upon the earth? are we a plague to nature?)

Yes. All of that. So let’s skip over that for the time being and move onto desperate. The OED lists its numero uno definition as “having lost or abandoned hope” — which in Act IV is where we find our “hero” — it is the King who speaks these lines and is speaking to his attendants telling them that he’s sent Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to find Hamlet and Polonius’ body. Later in this scene is the famous line (and maybe my favorite part) about Polonius being at a supper “not where he eats, but where he is eaten”….(which calls to my mind that idea of blood and flesh being consumed, though here in death, the only life Polonius provides is to the worms….not to an infected human–though Hamlet as a zombie tale should totally happen…) I’m getting side-tracked…

Though now, if we want to pull this out and apply it to our disease ridden humanity…one might call us desperate. Despairing, hopeless, in an impossible situation. But really, “desperate” is not meant to describe us, or Hamlet…it’s meant to describe the disease. Our diseases are hopeless….or possibly incurable. Now I would go as far to say that WE are the incurable disease to the earth….but I really think an apocalypse would take care of us…(“What is amiss, plague and infection mend” Timon of Athens, Act V, Scene I)

–so let’s say that it is OUR diseases, the ones we carry with us every day that are incurable. Rage, people killing people, this drive for self-preservation, insanity….perhaps an individual could overcome one of these afflictions, but as a global society…?? I don’t know…I’d like to think so….but–thinking back over history…has there ever not been rageful, bloody war and murder? If I really need to go biblical here…wasn’t one of the first acts of humanity one brother murdering another?

“This is in thee a nature but infected.”

Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene III

But I digress… we can’t look at either of those words without the context of the word “grown” — (increased in size, arrived at maturity) — “grown” to me implies a certain amount of self-inflicted, self-perpetuated “despair” and “disease” — our incurable afflictions are created, perpetuated, and spread by our own bodies. (“breath infect breath” Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene I).

In the following line, “By desperate appliance are relieved” — “appliance” is a word which should have some consideration. It calls to mind more than just a mode or a plan of action in relieving disease. It represents a physical tool. What appliance would we use to physically remove disease from our bodies? –there is also “medicines applied to a disease” –but what medicine cures our contagion? And in Hamlet’s case, what kind of medicine is the act of sending him away? It’s more of a type of quarantine…in the hope that his insanity does not spread?

And then of course there is the bleak final line…”Or not at all” –which in true apocalyptic, gloom and doom style, leaves us with that warm, fuzzy feeling that we might destroy the earth before it destroys us. Or that no amount of medicine, counseling, working, lobbying, yelling, murdering, or action in general will cure what we have.

Is that dark enough, Jettboy?

Okay Pamela…your turn! I bet you will spin this thing around and bust it wide open. 🙂

Rob, I’d love your thoughts as well.

It’s the season!

It seems to me that far more zombie/disease related films come out during the fall/winter than do in the spring/summer. I’m not exactly sure why, but I would speculate it has something to do with zombie films not being able to stand up to huge summer blockbusters like “The Dark Knight” or other superhero movies or action films that inevitably pour into theaters each summer.

So it’s the season for zombie/vampire/disease films. And there is a gem circulating in theaters now that anyone with an interest in disease would be a fool to miss.

This is not because it is a terribly well made movie, or even with good acting or writing. But the film successfully nails EVERY major theme I highlighted in my thesis as the main components of a disease film.

The film is Quarantine. It has no one recognizable, with the exception of “The Vet” who is played by that guy who was on Ally McBeal and some other shit. *Shrugs* The characters are mostly forgettable, some of the dialogue is right down terrible and acting is enough to make you cringe.

And while some viewers get irritated/headaches/motion sickness from the handheld Blair Witch style camera movement (which is having a hell of a comeback) — I think it highlights the most important theme of the film (the tight close ups and personal interviews highlight the claustrophobia the characters feel from the…ahem…Quarantine…)

But the concept is brilliant.


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That time of year…

Yes, that’s right. As I write this in the part of September that is edgeing into “late” we can already see the Halloween costumes lining the walls of shops, bags of candy corn piled high, stacks of pumpkins outside of the market.

I enjoy Halloween, I do. I see no reason in beginning festivities a month and a half early, but I digress.

When Halloween comes about, all the shops do SOMETHING. So this is when all of the book/video shops lay out in plain sight on a big table the material I usually have to go hunting for. This is why I got all giddy in Barnes and Noble yesterday when I ran across these two books:

[Read full post below the fold]

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Teen Suicide: The Epidemic of Stupidity

I just saw a news story with some horrifying stats.

Teen suicide is through the roof! Yikes.

Some scary thoughts:

–60% increase in suicide in 45 years

–Suicide is in the top three leading causes of death for people ages 15-44

–In 2005, more than 32,000 people committed suicide in the U.S. (there are 1 million suicides a year globally)

Now to these freakish like statistics I have to say: WHAT THE FUCK?

I don’t want anyone to look at the title of this entry and think that I am in any way diminishing the seriousness of depression.

Trust me–I understand depression. I spent way too much of my life suffering from depression without understanding what it was. But I also know that suicide is an act of selfishness and stupidity.

As an atheist, I believe that this life is the only one I get. And even if I’m unsure (maybe there is a heaven or hell) — I’m not going to take any chances.

And this is where I really do believe that religion is harmful.

(I’m sure there is a more recent study…but this is what I found) 77% percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian. That is Christianity alone. It does not include Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, or the various other religions which make up much smaller proportions of the United States.

That is 77% of people believing in Heaven and Hell. And while many people believe that taking your own life is a sin great enough to get you a one way ticket to hell, I am going to go out on a limb and say there must be some who are willing to take the risk (because it sure as hell cannot be that Atheists are the only people to commit suicide).

In fact, though I would imagine stats on religious affiliation of people who commit suicide would be incredibly hard if not impossible to find, I am willing to bet that the number of atheists who commit suicide would be very small. They don’t believe in the after life…they aren’t going to throw this one away.

But what Howard Ditkoff of SystemsThinker has pointed out to me in our here and there conversation about BPD and the word epidemic is that especially epidemics, but even the word contagion, can be applied to things that do not necessarily spread biologically. Ditkoff pointed to a book titled Emotional Contagion.

I think the combination of depression having the ability to become an emotional contagion, religion spreading the idea that there is an afterlife that is better than this one, and peer pressure making teens feel like suicide is a way to be noticed is what has our nation with thousands of teens killing themselves.

This goes way beyond people killing people.

This is rage, contagion, and hatred for yourself. You are your own disease.

This is why every day I become less and less of an atheist, and actually become anti-theist. I am not really content sitting by and saying “religion is okay for them as long as they don’t try to force it on me” — I am pissed. I am angry that the ideas religion puts into the minds of teenagers may eventually lead them to believe they will “be alright” in some other life, so it’s okay to end this one.

It’s stupidity, and yet…it’s not entirely their fault. Religious indoctrination has probably destroyed them.

Okay, wow. That was quite a rant, and I am sure I have pissed more than a few people off and maybe lost myself a couple of readers. But that’s how I feel about it.

I’m also posting this over at Homosecular Gaytheist so you if you want to follow the discussion, their may be more than one to follow.

Volkswagen, Part II

Despite the title, this doesn’t have anything to do with the commercial again, other than that and a post over at has me thinking about what actually qualifies as epidemic. His really excellent discussion of Borderline Personality Disorder was at one point deemed an epidemic. I found this really interesting mostly because it reminded me that an epidemic can apply to widespread ANYTHING, not just disease that is transmitted or contagious.

Specifically, the OED defines it as, “Of a disease: ‘Prevalent among a people or a community at a special time, and produced by some special causes not generally present in the affected locality’” – Oxford English Dictionary Online. Well that’s an interesting definition anyway.

Well, so this has me thinking about people killing people and my thought that all epidemic has some root in this. In my thesis I discuss how disease is, at the root of it, people killing people. Whether you intend to infect others or not, you have. But with something like BPD which is still considered an epidemic because it is widespread, I don’t believe one person’s struggle with BPD is the result of their best friend’s BPD. It’s not contagious.

So there is a fundamental difference between epidemic and contagion.

This relates back to the Volkswagen commercial in that pregnancy (technically the result of TWO people) is contagious. Duh. Just because Sarah Palin’s daughter is pregnant, doesn’t mean I will become pregnant.

And so I guess where I am struggling is…well…is there anything that CAN’T be classified as an epidemic?

It’s a little overwhelming to think that anything that is really popular at one time can be considered an epidemic.

When Hanson was popular in the 90’s…was their music of epidemic quality?

I just don’t know.

And for those of you who have read my thesis, maybe you are thinking that BPD and pregnancy are more legitimate examples of an epidemic than zombies or vampires…

but at least I can connect the dots there. Something makes the zombies…we don’t know why, but for some reason (let’s say there is something in the water), when you die you now come back as a zombie. That first zombie bites a human. That human is infected, dies their human death…and comes back as a zombie–then they go out and bite more people. People killing people. Got it. Same for vampires, except slower (if we’re going traditional…but I do like me some Buffy), and with that whole blood versus flesh issue (all of this is explained at length in my thesis).

That I understand.

Hanson, pregnancy, BPD…I’m having trouble. It’s the difference between being infectious and not, but not being infectious doesn’t necessarily stop something from being an epidemic.

So I guess that’s it then.

Almost anything can be considered an epidemic…it’s a little scary to think about all of the things in our culture that aren’t labeled as such…but should be.

I think that’s plenty for a morning’s jumbled thought process. Help me untangle!