Thursday, December 31, 2009

The summer of my medical tourism, Part III

There's a big topic looming for this blog.  "Is going overseas for egg donation -- some could call it fertility tourism -- something leftists do?"  
I've put off this topic for months now, given that H and I returned from Cyprus, pregnant, in late August 2009.  
I've felt compelled, all this time, to address this topic because this blog isn't just "All About Moi" or "Procrastination for writing a journal article" or  "My Pregnancy Journal" or "Yet another psychology professor's blog."  I choose the quirky name "I married a communist" for some kind of purpose, so from time to time there should be something about how being associated with the political far left influences one's daily life or at least internal monologues.  
H already had this discussion with one of his communist friends, a sometimes reader of this blog.  I hear they mused about the topic but didn't come to a conclusion.   
But I've come to some tentative conclusions, after conversations with friends, on two topics:  Is it okay to be the wealthy foreigner throwing money around in a less-developed country?  Did I exploit a woman from an under-developed country by purchasing a part of her body?  
Is it okay to be the wealthy foreigner? Yes: I have a choice where to spend my money -- why not spend it in a developing country?  
In the world I want to live in, disparities in wealth would be sufficiently small that there would be no economic motivation for anyone to build a hospital in poor country X with the hope of bringing in overseas clients from wealthy country Y.   Am I acting to continue global wealth inequalities by participating in fertility tourism?  I'd enjoy hearing comments from globalization experts, but here's what I've gleaned from some diverse readings:  Many experts are saying we need less *aid* and more *trade.*  When wealthy countries directly give money/resources to poor countries, it breeds corruption.  'Free' money incites competition to confiscate the give-away.    
Regular tourism isn't an ideal wealth-creating  industry because it can sequester locals in dead-end jobs of being maids and gardeners.  Medical tourism is hard work.  Yes, there may be a rich capitalist in Turkey who is making extra money off of his investment in Istanbul's Jinemed hospital, but Jinemed doesn't just serve rich tourists -- it's a vibrant city clinic.  Medical tourism has the advantage of training locals for the whole necessary panoply of medical professionals, doctors, nurses, technicians etc.   The prenatal/fertility clinic in Cyprus that  did my invitro sees several infertile foreign couples per day, but still most of their work is with Cyprus locals.  The day of my embryo transfer we waited while a dozen or more Cypriots gathered to attend/celebrate a birth, as my doctor was also their obstetrician.  So locals benefit from the presence of the expertise that was partially funded by the wealthy tourists.  
The feminist angle: Poor women's bodies have always been exploited -- by man and by wealthier women.   Did my action of buying a woman's eggs contribute to that?  
There are certainly some delicate issues here.  
In the realm of buying a piece of someone's body, egg donation seems to me to be on the more benign side, for the following reasons:  
Because women produce about 400 eggs in a life-time,  I bought a replaceable piece of a woman's body.  Not as benign as purchasing blood, but no where near as drastic or life-influencing as buying a kidney.  
Side-effects are rare (between 1 in 500 and 1 in 1,000), but span the spectrum from an easily-cured infection to infertility.  Because of the rare chance of an extreme negative outcome like infertility, in Cyprus, women are encouraged to be egg donors only if they have already had all of the children they want.  I was told my donor was married, 25 and already had the 3 children she desired (3 children is the average for Turkey/Cyprus).    
One reason I choose Turkey/Cyprus as the place for egg donation was that I had read some exploitative stories about Eastern Europe, where young women are drawn in from the country side to the supposedly glamourous, fast-paced cities, housed in dormitories, given little compensation, treated like egg-donation machines, and thrown aside when they had a negative outcome. In contrast, Cyprus is a small island that doesn't leave room for the phenomena of women leaving rural areas to go to the big city where bereft of family support they can be exploited by ruthless organ middle-men.    (But see this story about eggs of Eastern European women being sent to Cyprus.) 
An angle I know less about is the Islamic side.  Under Islam, egg and sperm donation are not permitted, being t is tantamount to adultery. For historical reasons including influence from Greece, Cyprus has never been as Islamic as Turkey (it takes work and locomotion to hear a call to prayer).  Still, because the citizenry is Islamic, egg donation is not something to openly discuss.  Women do it privately.   In order to continue to be allowed to legally provide egg/sperm donation,  the clinics have to be careful to avoid scandals,  and thus need to be scrupulous about medical care and treatment of their egg donors.  
Finally, the communist/internalist perspective.  Classically, communists are opposed to nation states  (the communist anthem is the "International").   Even in a utopian, egalitarian society, there will be infertile women who want the chance to become pregnant via egg donation, and there will be fertile women who don't mind being a donor, either for some extra cash or for just for the secret joy that they gave an infertile woman the gift of pregnancy.    

I think often of the "Cypriot Beauty."  Did my clinic (a Cyprus clinic, not run by overseas organizations) tell her that implantation worked, in my case? Will she wonder about the twin boys that are her genetic offspring, growing up half-way around the world?  I imagine that in the future we'll visit Cyprus as a family, and my sons may feel their Eastern Mediterranean roots.   Comrade, thank you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama, controlled by aliens...

Like many ever hopeful reformists , last January I liked Obama.

But during his televised address about sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan last night,  I had the sinking impression that he was being controlled by aliens.

What a capitalist tool, I thought, in horror.

I'll use this space to let a better writer, and more politically expert commentator, put my feelings into words.

December 1, 2009 The Obama Puppet -- The world's least powerful man    Paul Craig Roberts 
[Paul Craig Roberts, a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal]

It didn't take the Israel Lobby very long to bring President Obama to heel regarding his prohibition against further illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Obama discovered that a mere American president is powerless when confronted by the Israel Lobby and that the United States simply is not allowed a Middle East policy separate from Israel's.

Obama also found out that he cannot change anything else either, if he ever intended to do so. The military/security lobby has war and a domestic police state on its agenda, and a mere American president can't do anything about it.

President Obama can order the Guantanamo torture chamber closed and kidnapping and rendition and torture to be halted, but no one carries out the order. 

Essentially, Obama is irrelevant.

President Obama can promise that he is going to bring the troops home, and the military lobby says, “No, you are going to send them to Afghanistan, and in the meantime start a war in Pakistan and maneuver Iran into a position that will provide an excuse for a war there, too. Wars are too profitable for us to let you stop them.” And the mere president has to say, “Yes, Sir!”

Obama can promise health care to 50 million uninsured Americans, but he can't override the veto of the war lobby and the insurance lobby. The war lobby says its war profits are more important than health care and that the country can't afford both the “war on terror” and “socialized medicine.”

The insurance lobby says health care has to be provided by private health insurance; otherwise, we can't afford it. 

The war and insurance lobbies rattled their campaign contribution pocketbooks and quickly convinced Congress and the White House that the real purpose of the health care bill is to save money by cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits, thereby “getting entitlements under control.”

Entitlements is a right-wing word used to cast aspersion on the few things that the government did, in the distant past, for citizens. Social Security and Medicare, for example, are denigrated as “entitlements.” The right-wing goes on endlessly about Social Security and Medicare as if they were welfare give-aways to shiftless people who refuse to look after themselves, whereas in actual fact citizens are vastly overcharged for the meager benefits with a 15% tax on their wages and salaries.

Indeed, for decades now the federal government has been funding its wars and military budgets with the surplus revenues collected by the Social Security tax on labor.

To claim, as the right-wing does, that we can't afford the only thing in the entire budget that has consistently produced a revenue surplus indicates that the real agenda is to drive the mere citizen into the ground.

The real entitlements are never mentioned. The “defense” budget is an entitlement for the military/security complex about which President Eisenhower warned us 50 years ago. A person has to be crazy to believe that the United States, “the world's only superpower,” protected by oceans on its East and West and by puppet states on its North and South, needs a “defense” budget larger than the military spending of the rest of the world combined.

The military budget is nothing but an entitlement for the military/security complex. To hide this fact, the entitlement is disguised as protection against “enemies” and passed through the Pentagon. 

I say cut out the middleman and simply allocate a percentage of the federal budget to the military/security complex. This way we won't have to concoct reasons for invading other countries and go to war in order for the military/security complex to get its entitlement. It would be a lot cheaper just to give them the money outright, and it would save a lot of lives and grief at home and abroad.

The US invasion of Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with American national interests. It had to do with armaments profits and with eliminating an obstacle to Israeli territorial expansion. The cost of the war, aside from the $3 trillion, was over 4,000 dead Americans, over 30,000 wounded and maimed Americans, tens of thousands of broken American marriages and lost careers, one million dead Iraqis, four million displaced Iraqis, and a destroyed country.

All of this was done for the profits of the military/security complex and to make paranoid Israel, armed with 200 nuclear weapons, feel “secure.”

My proposal would make the military/security complex even more wealthy as the companies would get the money without having to produce the weapons. Instead, all the money could go for multi-million dollar bonuses and dividend payouts to shareholders. No one, at home or abroad, would have to be killed, and the taxpayer would be better off.

No American national interest is served by the war in Afghanistan. As the former UK Ambassador Craig Murray disclosed, the purpose of the war is to protect Unocal's interest in the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline. The cost of the war is many times greater than Unocal's investment in the pipeline. The obvious solution is to buy out Unocal and give the pipeline to the Afghans as partial compensation for the destruction we have inflicted on that country and its population, and bring the troops home.

The reason my sensible solutions cannot be effected is that the lobbies think that their entitlements would not survive if they were made obvious. They think that if the American people knew that the wars were being fought to enrich the armaments and oil industries, the people would put a halt to the wars.

In actual fact, the American people have no say about what “their” government does. Polls of the public show that half or more of the American people do not support the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and do not support President Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Yet, the occupations and wars continue. According to General Stanley McChrystal, the additional 40,000 troops are enough to stalemate the war, that is, to keep in going forever, the ideal situation for the armaments lobby.

The people want health care, but the government does not listen.

The people want jobs, but Wall Street wants higher priced stocks and forces American firms to offshore the jobs to countries where labor is cheaper.

The American people have no effect on anything. They can affect nothing. They have become irrelevant like Obama. And they will remain irrelevant as long as organized interest groups can purchase the US government. 

The inability of the American democracy to produce any results that the voters want is a demonstrated fact. The total unresponsiveness of government to the people is conservatism's contribution to American democracy. Some years ago there was an effort to put government back into the hands of the people by constraining the ability of organized interest groups to pour enormous amounts of money into political campaigns and, thus, obligate the elected official to those whose money elected him. Conservatives said that any restraints would be a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. 

The same “protectors” of “free speech” had no objection to the Israel Lobby's passage of the “hate speech” bill, which has criminalized criticism of Israel's genocidal treatment of the Palestinians and continuing theft of their lands.

In less than one year, President Obama has betrayed all of his supporters and broken all of his promises. He is the total captive of the oligarchy of the ruling interest groups.Unless he is saved by an orchestrated 9/11-type event, Obama is a one-term president.Indeed, the collapsing economy will doom him regardless of a “terrorist event.”

The Republicans are grooming Palin. Our first female president, following our first black president, will complete the transition to an American police state by arresting critics and protesters of Washington's immoral foreign and domestic policies, and she will complete the destruction of America's reputation abroad. 

Russia's Putin has already compared the US to Nazi Germany, and the Chinese premier has likened the US to an irresponsible, profligate debtor. 

Increasingly the rest of the world sees the US as the sole source of all of its problems. Germany has lost the chief of its armed forces and its defense minister, because the US convinced or pressured, by hook or crook, the German government to violate its Constitution and to send troops to fight for Unocal's interest in Afghanistan. The Germans had pretended that their troops were not really fighting, but were were engaged in a “peace-keeping operation.” This more or less worked until the Germans called in an air strike that murdered 100 women and children lined up for a fuel allotment. 

The British are investigating their leading criminal, former prime minister Tony Blair, and his deception of his own cabinet in order to do Bush's bidding and provide some cover for Bush's illegal invasion of Iraq. The UK investigators have been denied the ability to bring criminal charges, but the issue of war based entirely on orchestrated deception and lies is getting a hearing. It will reverberate throughout the world, and the world will note that there is no corresponding investigation in the US, the country that originated the False War.

Meanwhile, the US investment banks, which have wrecked the financial stability of many governments, including that of the US, continue to control, as they have done since the Clinton administration, US economic and financial policy. The world has suffered terribly from the Wall Street gangsters, and now looks upon America with a
critical eye. 

The United States no longer commands the respect it enjoyed under President Ronald Reagan or President George Herbert Walker Bush. World polls show that the US and its puppet master are regarded as the two greatest threats to peace. Washington and Israel outrank on the most dangerous list the crazy regime in North Korea. 

The world is beginning to see America as a country that needs to go away. When the dollar is over-inflated by a Washington unable to pay its bills, will the world be motivated by greed and try to save us in order to save its investments, or will it say, thank God, good riddance.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Engrossing, stimulating Mad Men

One of my extended family members who enjoys Mad Men, a favorite show chez nous, wrote me:
I watched the DVD's special features Part 1 on the 2nd wave of feminism or "humanism" as Gloria Stein aptly puts it. The last point that is made by a California professor (forget name) she says that women need to support each others' choices, a philosophy I've always loved being a mostly "stay at home." Here's the thing that's sticking in my craw, literally everyone interviewed speaks as if current commercial advertising is any different. On commercial TV today do you ever see a guy doing laundry? The man is only viewed as a landscaper, SUV driver, beer drinker or a buyer of jewelry. For sure business women are included, but they're still shopping for mops on the weekends. Look at all the male cooking shows on the Food Network, yet you never see a man cooking on a commercial unless he's barbecuing. They only man who cleans up on TV is the Sham-Wow guy.
This email made me realize: Yes, social roles and gender customs have changed immensely; and the content of TV shows has changed also; but ads have changed less than has society -- why?

Back in the mid-90s my psych undergrads did a content analysis (for a course project) of ads shown during a prime-time TV show (Beverly Hils 90210). They documented with precise counts that ads depicted  women house cleaning and grooming, and almost never showed women in a traditionally male occupations. Ads for men were more career-related (the one grooming product for men concerned grey hair and balding).

So why are ads behind-the-times? Why aren't ads keeping up with dynamically changing gender roles? It seems that advertising is inherently "conservative" in the sense of needing to uphold the values of a prior generation, but why? I've read or thought about two explanations:

1. When ads try something more socially progressive, they don't appeal to as large a percentage of the population, because they strongly turn off whatever segment is actually socially conservative (say 20%).  When socially conservative ads are aired, there are fewer negative responses to the ads, because these ads showing older social roles are at least familiar to the rest of the population. So pushing the progressive message is a larger net cost. The example of this that I've read is a somewhat distinct issue, but let me refer to it:  Mainstream magazines,  such as Cosmopolitan, have specific monetary concerns about featuring an African American woman on the cover. Supposedly, these covers lead to a drop in magazine purchases for that issue.   One analysis of this drop is that a cover model of the dominant ethnicity stands for all women, but a cover model of a minority ethnicity is understood (by everyone) as primarily referencing the minority ethnicity.  The analogy I'm making is:  an ad which incorporates traditional gender roles can be understood as applying to everyone (even those who embrace modern gender roles), but an add for contemporary gender roles only applies to the population subset who embrace the contemporary roles.

2. Displaying traditional gender roles creates more anxiety and feelings of low self-worth in viewers, and these feelings drive viewers to buy the advertised products to remediate anxiety about dirty houses, wrinkles, not keeping up with the Jones, owning low-status products, etc. Displaying progressive role models in non-gender stereotypical activities sgnals "I'm okay you're okay" and reduces the need to buy products.

Other ideas?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What goes through your head when you're 4 months pregnant but not the genetic mother of your child?

Conversations go through your head.
Well-meaning friend
: So have you had your amnio?
me: No, the doctors don't recommend it.
WMF: But -- you're so old --?
me: (smugly) But my eggs aren't.

OR: conversations I imagine might happen but don't.
Doctors: You're beyond the normal child-bearing age and we just don't know how your body will respond to pregnancy.
But: Didn't happen. Not a hint of any message of that kind. Instead, just cheery, upbeat, professional attitude and compliments on my "good" (low) blood pressure and overall health.
(These imagining probably reflect my underlying fear: I put career before motherhood for two decades, shouldn't I pay the penalty of childlessness? Or at least, shouldn't others expect me to? I'm upsurping male privlege. Got married at 42 and had my first child at 47.)

OR: conversations between me and H:
Me: I didn't recognize that the black guy was Lightman's longtime FBI protector. I'm so glad our daugher won't inherit my prosopagnosia.
H: But I'm sad she won't inherit your genius brain.
Me: She'll have your genious brain. And she'll have my nurture.

OR: conversations between me and myself:
Me: You've got uneven cognitive profile. Sure, you have some wonderful itellectual strengths, but you're half-way to Aspergers. Do you really want to risk on your child an unhappy roll of the genetic dice?
Myself: No, I don't. This is the best thing. The eastern mediteranean beauty with H's 1/4 German Jew and 3/4 Anglo Saxon brit. What will she look like...?
Me: Merely 5 years ago you wanted to be the genetic mother. Now you don't care. Now you even say its better this way. What changed?
Myself: As the years go by you focus on what you really want given what is possible. I've always thought environment was more important than genes. I'm now living my intellectual commitments.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Hyatt Regency Cambridge.... A really beautiful hotel...

I've loved the view of you across the river from where I work. You're lovely. But not lovable.

Dear Hyatt Regency Cambridge,

In the past, my University, Boston University, has used the Hyatt Hotel for the year-end party for the psychology dept, for several years in a row. I'm hoping BU will join Governor Patrick in boycotting the Hyatt over its firing of housekeepers when they protested working conditions.

I have written Boston University to ask them to join the boycott.

Background for readers:

start with:

WBUR story


Hotel workers' website

And when you're driving down Memorial Drive, give a honk and thumbs up to the women now jobless after 20 years.

Their replacements are being paid minimum wage. I guess they thought these deserved more than that.

What's the solution? Pay more for hotel rooms so that workers can earn a living wage? Or: what if hotels didn't have to make a profit? Imagine.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Game Theory -- best strategy for Prisoner's Dilemma used in advice column for real life situation

According to a science writer interviewed on NPR a few weeks ago, one of the few members of Congress who is also a scientist had to step into a heated battle with his fellow lawmakers who wanted to gut approved funding for research on "Game Theory" -- because those congressmen thought the government was being asked to fund a project on sports.

But game theory isn't that obscure. When responding to a blog item about how to deal with a roommate who reneged on a deal regarding who gets to keep the living room futon, the poster bah humbug cited lessons from the Prisoners' Dilemma and described "Tit-for-Tat", the strategy that beat out competitors, as described in Axelrod's Tit-for-Tat and Generous Tit-for-Tat.

Should we classic cooperators read about game theory to learn how to deal with classic defectors?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The dream of socialized medicine

One of my few commenters wrote:

"OMG. next you're going to say you're in favor of SOCIALIST medicine!"

Yes. I'm also a utopian dreamer.

One of my fantasies is that the U.S. would adopt some type of public health care system. I urge policy makers to draw on the last decades of ideas about health care that have been worked out in the other advanced democracies -- Canada, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, Israel and and so on. (this wikipedia article has a good overview of the publically-funded health care systems in developed countries).

Socialized medicine typically means that "the government owns the means of providing medicine" as in the VA hospitals in the U.S. Rather than focusing on the definition of "government ownership" I focus on the idea that we the people own the government and thus we the people own the means of providing medicine. The VA and other publicly owned health care systems such as the UK system have many flaws, and these need to be worked on.

In my view, the health care system should be a non-profit organization supported by taxes. We need more preventative medicine, which is neglected in fee-for-service programs, but could be a big part of a health care system which is like public education -- free for all.

Health care should not be a for-profit business, because the profit motive is incompatible with caring about people's well-being. Two exceptions to this statement:

1. In the immediate future, I do accept that elective medicine, like lasik surgery and in vitro fertilisation, can be run on a pay-for-service model, such as what I purchased in Turkey this last August 2009.

2. In the far future, I dream of a society in which working for financial profit has diminished or disappeared for most people. People will work for intellectual and social rewards, as do many people in creative endeavours (bloggers, writers, artists, poets) and in fields like education.

I would also be in favor, as a good starting point, of Obama's initial plan that the same health care system that currently provides for congressman and senators be available to all Americans.

Even some non-advanced countries and non-democracies have free for all medical systems. I was very impressed by my experience with walk-in health care in Beijing in spring 2008: no appt necessary, no waiting. I walked in and saw a doctor after a 5 wait, and paid nothing for what was essentially an emergency room visit (I did pay for pharmceuticals needed to treat a rapidly worsening staph infection). Free, even though I was a foreigner. I marveled.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Are young people today angry about being handed a despoiled planet?

According to "Power Shift O9" they are, as in this quote from Power Shift:

Thousands of young people will rally across the United States this Fall for the Power Shift '09 Regional Summits: 11 massive gatherings to exercise the political power of young voters and ask President Obama and Congress to pass a clean energy jobs plan by December to rebuild our economy, end our dependence on dirty energy, and bring America lasting security.

It's a wonderful image...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Boston has the best fertility centers in the world -- why go to Turkey and Cyprus?

The summer of my medical tourism, Part II

In discussing the book and film Money Driven Medicine, Bill Moyers put it this way: America excels at rescue medicine, but it it not clear it if does more standard care as well as other countries.

Agreed. If I was in a near-fatal accident or developed an unknown form of cancer or a puzzling disease, yes, I want Dr. Gregory House's cutting-edge innovation to save me. Sure, I'd want to benefit all the high technology the richest country on earth can buy.

But if I need a procedure that takes less than 10 minutes of operating room time and no anesthesia AND is labor intensive in terms of doctor visits and monitoring AND is expensive because its elective and still relatively new -- like IVF with egg donation -- America medicine has only the following to recommend it:

Three weeks to get an appointment

Waits of 15 minutes to 2 hours to see your doctor

Huge amounts of paper work, dozens of required tests that are not actually necessary for your procedure but are there because of over-regulation and because hospitals/doctors get paid per procedure they perform.

What about costs?

The financial consideration can't be ignored: IVF with egg donation top out at $30,000 for everything, and includes me doing the hard work of finding a donor (at least for the clinics I contacted). In Turkey, they find the donor for you, and the whole thing is $10,000.

$30,000 and hours waiting to see your doctor, vs. $10,000, and you call and chat with your doctor any time, same-day appts...? Its not a hard decision.

I wrote the following to a friend who couldn't understand why I would voluntarily travel to what he considers a third-world country for a medical procedure.

Dear W,

My experience with the hospital in Istanbul and Cyprus was very positive. The treatment is *better* here than in the U.S. In the U.S., they don't want you as a patient. They are too busy and to concerned with making a profit. To make a profit, they have to keep patient volume high and minimize labor costs, meaning minimize time customers spend with medical personnel. It took me 4 days and 4 messages left at Boston IVF for them to finally call me when I was at home. Why? They refused to answer their phone because that is too costly. Their operating procedure is that they only call you, so you have to be at home or by your cell phone when they call. Would you voluntarily opt for that treatment if there was something better around?

In the U.S. hospitals, each hospital visit is many hours because you can wait 2 hours to see your doctor. Doctors in the U.S. use psychological propaganda to convince US consumers to expect this. I was so used to this treatment that I was shocked to get to Jinemed and our doctor met with us at exactly the appointed time. I wondered, why bother to haul books to read in the waiting room if they meet with you right away?

Whenever I had a question about what I was going thru, my Turkish friend would say, just call Munip, and she'd bring out her cell phone to call him on his cell phone. She would actually have a conversation with him right then! I was shocked. You can't call your doctor in the U.S. and expect to get him/her on the phone.

The day after my transplant treatment, I was obsessed by finding all the web pages I could to compare what I went through for the prior two weeks and what the best practices are at the leading medical fertility centers in the U.S. My doctors did everything that the U.S. centers brag that the do. Except one thing -- at Chicago Advanced Fertility center, they require that you rest on your back for 1 hour after transplantation so that eggs are not dislodged. In Cyprus, they made me not move for 3 hours, and gave me and H our private recovery room.

Question for readers: Why does Chicago Advanced Fertility allow/require women to vacate after 1 hour of bed rest?

The transplant itself is very simple. They only have to do a few things: grade the embryos, pick the best ones, and deposit them under ultrasound guidance in the uterus. Skill is required to know how to do this, but the Cyprus and Istanbul doctors may do this several times a day for a decade. If they make a mistake, no pregnancy. That is the worse that can happen.

[I wrote this last sentence to W because one of his concerns was: in a foreign country, what if they "mess you up" -- how could you sue and expect compensation?]

The procedure is as easy for the woman as an examination of the uterus with ultrasound. I was not given any anesthetic because it is uncomfortable, not painful. It is barely more complicated than a pap smear.

Final reason to go overseas: Its just easier. Here's how easy: I got a next-day appt. at Jinemed for my first consultation.

July 20 -- first consultation at Jinemed August 4 -- H gives sperm and they mix it up with the Cypriot Beauty August 7 -- embryo transfer August 8 -- I'm free to fly home or do whatever

Length of entire process: 20 days

What about payment? There was no 30 minute consultation with a finance officer. I began taking medicine and had 3 doctor visits before I ever paid a penny (via wire transfer from the U.S.). I never showed a single piece of identification, not a passport, nothing. I never filled out a single form until I signed a consent form for the transplant 5 minutes before the transplant.

During the 2 weeks before the transfer while my doctor was monitoring me with ultrasound every 4 days for the thickness of the edometrial lining, my Turkish friend wanted me and H to go sight-seeing with her in Didem, a 10-hour bus ride from Istanbul. My doctor said we could go for 5 days and I could be checked by his doctor in near-by Izmir! Amazing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bill Maher gets it right

"… over the last 30-odd years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital. So what we have is one perfectly good party for hedge-fund managers, credit-card companies, banks, defence contractors, big agriculture and the pharmaceutical lobby - that’s the Democrats. And they sit across the aisle from a small group of religious lunatics, flat earthers and Civil War re-enactors … who actually worry that Obama is a socialist. Socialist! He’s not even a liberal! ... Democrats are the new Republicans” (Real time with Bill Maher June 19).

Yeah, if only. If only Obama all along had been a closet socialist and when he won election in November 2009, stripped off capitalist lackey covering and showed his true colors, to govern for 4 years implementing a program of reform the likes of which this country hasn't seen since, say, the Nixon era.

Its amusing... how did socialism get to be a bad word? I understand how communism became loaded with negative imagery because of 1950s-70s cold war rhetoric, and because of the authoritarian policies of the governments in Eastern Europe; but socialist? The socialists made Europe the relatively benign place to live that it is today (see this book).

Monday, August 10, 2009

The summer of my medical tourism

Can a communist and his wife go overseas as medical tourists? Part 1.

I didn't actually feel that I was a medical tourist until the day after my procedure. After a week in Cyprus, H and I returned to Istanbul, with me carrying 5 creatures inside me.

H: "They're not really creatures, are they?"

me: "Okay. They're developing organisms."

Our dear Turkish friend Y met us at the airport to ferry us back to her apt where we would spend another two weeks before my return to my teaching semester in the U.S.

Y: "All my friends are calling me about the procedure, it will be illegal in Cyprus now, tomorrow, any day now, I was worried you didn't get it. They say it must be controlled, it's not right to have it different in Turkey and Cyprus."

Egg and sperm donation are illegal in Turkey like other predominantly Moslem countries. But it is illegal because the egg and sperm are not married to each other. In vitro fertilization with one's own eggs and one's husband's sperm is legal.

But I'd gotten it -- or *them*. My team in the operating room had been ebullient during the 10 minute transfer, no hint of any dawning regulation dimming their light bulbs. The energy was crackling in that room of vaguely glimpsed hospital equipment, an incubator pushed to the side, green walls. The young doctors and nurses under the guidance of their sage, Dr. S., were on a medical high. In these 10 minutes with my legs spread and all eyes on the ultrasound image, they were reaping the rewards of their years of studying, the privations of their family to send them to school, the hard work to build this clinic and make Cyprus and egg donation a top Google hit -- it was all coming to fruition as they reveled in the chance to create life.

Dr. S. normally speaks through a translator, but because of the importance of the moment he gave me some of his English. Full-five fingered palm spread, his eyes were black with glee: "Five embryos!" He exclaimed. And then he was down to business with the goop on my belly and wand (or whatever?) inside me, checking out the blastocyst landing zone: "çuk guzell!"

That's what he'd said 4 days before when before when the 4 estrogen patches on my ass had pumped my endometrial lining up to a young woman's 10 mm (from my old lady's starting place of less than 4).

çuk guzelle, what you say when the food is delicious. Güzelleme is a beauty parlor.

My mind was still reeling. Nurse A. has asked how many embryos we wanted transferred -- 3 or 4? Some couples only want 2, some only 1. If more than 2 embryos develop, embryo reduction is medically advised. Singleton births are the safest.

"I trust the doctor to decide," I'd said. Like the other egg donor recipients, I didn't want twins, but I didn't want another childless year. And whoa, he decided.

But even now I don't know for sure: Did he *transfer* 5 embryos, or had the petri dish *revealed 5 good embryos*? H would be happy, his sperm mixed well with the ova of the Cypriot beauty (as we called her).

A young doctor of the team appeared on my left to explain with his good medical school English, "It is very important for us now that you are relaxed." I relaxed as best as I could with the fullest bladder of my life (per Nurse A's instructions).

The team exhorted and exclaimed in Turkish the whole time and sooner even than I had imagined, those sweet words came from the buxom nurse who comforted/steadied me on my right side, "All finished now."

Climax over. The team was climbing down departing amidst their goodby's of "good luck" and "bon chance."

They got me onto the moving bed. Dr. S. himself joined the others to help roll me out of the operating room. His black eyes above his surgical mask bored deeply into mine for the 5 seconds before I was safely in the hallway. His final phrase: "12 days, blood test, every day same medication!" He may even have mimed 10 + 2 fingers for me, I can't remember, I just remember those black eyes, staring through the rims of my glasses, gleeful and triumphant, communicating something powerful and wordless to me or to something in me; high on life.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Every woman has a Daphne

Lucinda Rosenfeld asserts, "Every woman has a Daphne in her life—a so-called “best friend” whose seemingly effortless successes never fail to make her feel like a Huge Loser." (See book review on Jezebel)

I don't have a Daphne in my life.

No one makes me feel like a huge loser.

I realize that some women do have a Daphne. Has the author done something useful by asking women to talk about these dysfunctional "friendships?"

The larger question for us to ask is: what gender issues make these dysfunctional relationships more common for women than for men? Is this due to women's famous low self-esteem? Is it influenced by consumer culture? Do elite males (all males? elites in general?) encourage this, on the idea that having women fight each other detracts them from fighting for equality with men, or fighting against classism or fighting for a more just society? (This is on analogy to the Marxist analysis of why it is helpful for the ruling class to encourage racism: The bosses grin as low-income whites and blacks wrestle over crumbs rather than uniting to overthrow an unfair social structure.)

The overall strategy to figuring out why the Daphne-Wendy dilemma exists can be the lawyer's strategy: "cui bono" -- who benefits, or follow the money.

If you have a dysfunctional friendship, it must be benefiting you in some way. So ask: how is it benefiting you?

My worry is that women distract themselves from achieving goals and reaching fulfillment because of the competitive game with other women. Social relationships are important, but so is developing your own interests and goals. Books like Rosenfeld's "I'm so happy for you" send the message that intense preoccupation with social relationships is necessary and socially normative. [Women's social ability is indeed awesome -- decades preoccupied with anything leads to intense skill; see examples in Baron-Cohen's book.]

Give that dyad a rest and get a hobby or join a cause. When you have some status via your achievements, friends will come.

Monday, July 6, 2009

West meets East

These are called "The Boss" and "Contacts."

These icons were designed by Liu Young who was born in China and educated in Germany . Please click here for more visual jolts.

Blue --> Westerner
Red --> Asian/Chinese

Friday, July 3, 2009

No taxation without representation

In June 1992, as a young psychology professor, I participated in a home-stay in the Palestinian Town of Beit Sahour, along with American undergraduates from Occidental College.

I chatted at length with a local psychology professor who was studying teens' construction of sexuality. I read his technical reports and saw that Palestinian teens' knowledge was reminiscent of a 1970s America. The intro psych textbook used at Beit Sahour university was an Arabic translation of the classic American text by Atkinson and Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology. The textbook I saw seemed a home-made job, with printed Arabic, but the pictures had been pasted in without captions translated. I wondered if this literal translation of an American text was the best way to teach psychology. Wouldn't one want to construct a book grounded in themes and examples from Arab or Palestinian society?

We Americans stayed in the homes of the town's Christian Palestinian middle class. We spent hours talking with members of the families; our students did clean-up project with teens from a high school. The kitchens had modern appliances; "my" family was eager to show me the video of their eldest daughters' wedding. I walked the dusty streets, gazing at the beautiful countryside. This wouldn't be a bad life, I thought to myself.

But once you start talking about business and livelihoods, other perspectives appear. The father of "my" family took me to his shop. He ran a building/construction store, kind of home-depot packed into one storefront room. Tools, building materials filled every available space. Somehow we began talking about the tax revolt of 1986. Because my parents were Palestinian activists, I'd heard of this years before as a college student, but it was good to hear of it from someone who participated.

"You know we pay taxes to the Israelis" -- four syllables, "Iss-rah-eee-lees" -- pronounced as quickly as one. "We pay for our own occupation. So we said No." And I remember what my parents had said: a letter sent to every American senator and congressman declaring a refusal to pay taxes to an illegal occupation. How could taxes be levied on a people who had no rights of citizenship, no right to even build a home? And not a mention of the revolt in the American press. All those carefully mailed letters sunk without a sound.

"So what happened when you all refused to pay taxes? What did the Israelis do?"

"They came and took everything, it was an empty room." And he flung out his arms to encompass the room and conjure up images of bear metal shelves and a cracked dusty concrete floor.

With his lip curled and his angry face, it seemed that even 6 years later he keenly felt the pain of that lost merchandise, of rebuilding back his stores of building supplies while still paying taxes to the occupiers.

I wish non-violent resistance would work. I wish that every suicide bomber would imitate the Buddhist monks who protested the Viet Nam war, and just light himself on fire (or detonate his bomb) in an empty city square or farmer's field, rather than cause others' deaths along with his own on a crowded bus. But I'm not the one who had my store stripped or my father imprisoned or my sister forced to give birth at a checkpoint en route to the hospital. My house and my kids' school haven't been bulldozed. My students don't have to read hasty translations of another country's psychology textbooks.

I've been getting a lot of email about a "new" move to boycott Israeli products. But hasn't the idea of disinvestment been around for a long time? And it hasn't worked. But if something different is happening now -- if there can finally be nonviolent resistance, praise be to the Universe.

I found the statement by Radhika Sainath, of The Electronic Intifada, arguing for a boycott, particularly powerful.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Upgrading from boyfriend to Husband

Recently my friend A.K., an Israeli graduate student, forward me the the following geeky riff on the time-honored theme of men vs. women which appears to have made the rounds a year ago.

> Dear Tech Support,
> Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 and noticed a distinct slow down in overall system performance, particularly in the flower and jewelry applications, which operated flawlessly under Boyfriend 5.0.
> In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalled many other valuable programs...

Find the rest of the original post here.... with males in particular fighting back about the short-comings of the many gf models here.

But before I had even thought to google around, my own response typed itself out.

Dear A.,
I have never seen that particular letter to Tech Support, very funny, thanks for sending.

Still, I can't really relate to her complaints. For various reasons, for years I never had the resources or system configuration to purchase Husband 1.0. I thus spent many years using different versions of the boyfriend program. All of them ran the undesirable applications like the Beer and Sports apps that Desperate ran into with Husband 1.0. Excuse my language, but Boyfriend 5.0, 6.0, etc were shitty programs. They were buggy, crashed the system almost daily, and required constant maintenance. its true that they sometimes did run the flower and jewelry applications, but those just didn't compensate for the overall drain on system resources and my worry that because boyfriend programs are traded around so often, they would have viruses. I spent a lot of time talking with girl friends about patches and work-arounds. I surfed the internet for advice about how to get better performance, but information is just too conflicting. I wondered if my system was basically incompatible with the boyfriend program.

What a relief when I finally upgraded to Husband 1.0. It was a big risk because of the huge cost and the fact that once installed, the husband program can not be uninstalled without exorbitant fees and the possibility of permanent system damage. But right from the beginning, Husband 1.0 was a big improvement over the Boyfriend program. Especially in the first year of use, Husband 1.0 installed no undesirable programs. I know other users were having difficulty with NBA 5.0 and NFL 3.0, but my version never ran those. Then in years 3, I started seeing Baseball 2305 being run, and in year 4, Basketball 89. However, I consider that the hours spent with these apps running in the background is acceptable 'downtime' given Husband 1.0's generally stellar performance, lack of system crashes and low drain on system resources. Indeed, Conversation 8.0 runs perfectly, and Housecleaning 2.6 has always had adequate performance. As an unexpected bonus, Husband 1.0 recently acquired a grocery shopping module and has began to run Cooking 1.0, 2.3 and 4.4. I clearly will not need a Husband upgrade given the versatility of 1.0.

I definitely wish I'd upgraded from Boyfriend earlier. I wonder if the rumors about Husband 1.0's bad performance are just an attempt by satisfied users to keep demand from rising, given that only limited copies of Husband 1.0 are available, so much so that plenty of users are eager to use the uninstalled versions?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Today Obama characterized end of American slavery as occurring thru non-violent means

What about John Brown, famous abolitionist, freedom-fighter and terrorist? What about the Civil War?

Modern Day Slavery

A lot more needs to be done to stop sexual slavery of children and adult women. The following spam showed up in my inbox today; The people said to be '14-20' years are coerced. Abduction, forced labor and rape are against the law. How to end human trafficking should be one of the biggest topics of the modern day. See the blog at for more info. Can't a sting operation be planned, given that the slave owners promise to deliver slaves "at YOUR REGION" -- or maybe the Russian mafia is just too scary.

Hello user, are you horny already? Then check out all the horrors of children porn! Look virgin vaginas ripped apart by black monster cocks at: Real virginity loss with blood inside.

Tired of jerking and want to get laid? will deliver you any pleasures you want! 14-20 years bitches, waiting for your dick, register and meet them at YOUR REGION. Our young whores will do anything you wish, only sign up It's not cheap, but we guarantee, you will get your pleasure!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Difference between novelists (writing is object d'art) and scientists (information uptake is key)

Married to a former Eng prof who is now a novelist/playwright, I often get exposed to the contrast with two ways of thinking, which I end up trying to assimilate to some characterization as in my headline.

Here's a recent example.

The end-of-evening entertainment is whatever H has ordered from Netflix. This is a good thing for me as I lack H's encyclopedia knowledge of film running from popular to obscure. After a lot of Goddard movies (or "I am curious yellow" only dimly remembered because I fell asleep) last spring, we are into something more accessible: In Treatment.

I can have fun with this engaging shrink show just for Gabriel Byrne, but as one of my psychotherapist friends said, this is the best show about psychotherapy, so less energy wasted squirming and sighing over unrealistic popularizations a la Lie to me.

Whatever we're watching, whether it's the Goddard, Swedish foreign films, and even In Treatment, I often can't watch the whole thing because my sleep debt accumulated early in my professional career hasn't been paid off yet. So my plea is: let's stop watching now and watch the rest tomorrow. But this is uncomfortable for H.

H: "Let's not watch at all tonight, if you're going to fall asleep half way thru."

For a 2 hour movie, I say ahead of time, "Let's watch one hour tonite and one hour tomorrow."

H: "No, I prefer to watch the whole thing, so let's just do it when we have enough time."

I infer: for him, what's important is to get the whole experience, because that's the intention of the author/artist. For me, I'm okay with obtaining the information and the enjoyment while I'm watching.

Second example: reading printed matter.

H insists on "no skipping around" in a book and reading ahead is something decent people don't even joke about.

But most of my reading is journal articles. When I read a journal article, I'm in information-uptake mode, and often go straight to figures and tables after the abstract because I want to make up my own mind about the message. The author is providing information, not crafting an experience for me. I could skip around in the article; read one page now and take it up again next week.

So I propose:
The artistic/creative personality values the creation of an object d'art, with the aesthetic experience being diminished if it deviates from the intended form

For the scientist, information uptake is key, and the need to approximate the holistic experience designed by the author is less important.

What I do, as a scientist, is what I will call "transfer of a reading/watching habit" (borrowing from cognitive studies on transfer of information processing habits, such as the "script transfer hypothesis" which I'm working on with a grad student). I take my information-uptake habit from science reading, and transfer it to TV/films (and sometimes even novels).

Anyone else transfer their information uptake habits?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Women in tight dresses riding bikes in Amsterdam

Check out these photos of men in business suits with briefcases on bikes and every other possible type of attire simply because bikes are the way to get around in Amsterdam.

And note the bloggers' commentary on how anomalous these scenes would be in the U.S.

The obvious inference is: in the U.S., biking is for exercise or leisure, not work/commerce. But why? Cars are expensive and who wants to battle the parking?

Yesterday I rode up on a skirt to the building where I would be giving a presentation at a conference (on my campus). Conference attendees were outside smoking and talking in between sessions and watched as I locked my bike and helmet and put on my badge to get in to the building. Why a skirt? Combination of look passably nicely dressed for conference, AND enjoy nice weather (no nylons; flat sandals).

Yes, I knew I am an anomaly. But I had just had a lovely 20 min ride in our currently great Boston weather. To shake off the negative social evaluation of being non-normative, I browse the scenes from Amsterdam (or think back fondly on biking in Beijing as in my prior blog post).

But check out this photo from chic cyclist.

Still remember, a decade ago, one of my students returned from a summer school where some of the profs knew me from grad school. Those profs had one question about me, "Does she still rider her bike?" "Still --" because I'm no longer a grad student?

Why is biking an okay commuter option for students but not the over-40 crowd?

I came up with the following reason for why biking is leisure, not a commuting option in the US:

The profit margin from from promoting biking for commuting is smaller than the profit margin that can be derived form promoting biking for leisure.

Or are there just too many other factors in U.S. culture that together converge to produce the striking contrast documented in the Amsterdam bike pages?

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Office Burned Down

My office burned down. I was restless at home, unable to go to my familiar place. Limped around my husband's office. A day later mine was back, beautifully pristine, but every file drawer empty, desktop spotless.

Barely another blink. My office was crammed full again, but filled with old crap. I wandered around like a time traveler, picking up this or that item from 2006. Worse than the real thing, sea of silly notes, names that were once important, barely begun projects that I know are now beautiful, now finished.

But where is my real office? The one my father said was joined to my hip when I last traveled home. It's just in my brain, now, my brain that strikes, refuses to work without external memory. And that special kind of memory, long term.

I could try to reconstruct. Scattered CDs claim they have some of these projects in various stages. Collaborators and students can send me the manuscript drafts I once sent them. Unless its all returned intact from the magic of the clean room. I live in limbo.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pack of six lean black women just raced by my window!

Six Black Women in the lead -- one doesn't see that very often, tailed by a lone white woman. Then a long gap, and the other white women appeared.

Ok, why focus on their race? ha ha. No pun intended. I dunno... Not an everyday sight, that's all. And now the men are sweeping by.

Yeah, I've complained that H and I live in a student ghetto and major homelessness hangout with raucous partyers and drunks making noise all night long.

But once a year there's another kind of raucous yelling on our street -- The Boston Marathon!

Huge burst of cheers -- what could that be? Who'd get more cheers than the Ethiopian female frontrunners?

OMG -- a guy with amputated legs, running on steel limbs!!! I'll try to find pix.

Update. Couldn't fit a pic of the amputee running on steel legs, but this report about amputees in the wheelchair category is pretty chilling (*15*):

Minard is one of 15 Iraq war veterans - all double amputees - slated to compete tomorrow in the Boston Marathon. They are part of the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, run by the New York-based Achilles Track Club, which works to help disabled men and women compete in mainstream athletic events.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Should we expect more workplace shootings in today's economy?

One of the bloggers I frequently read (indeed, her blog is my home page -- great mix of psychological insight, wit and lighter fare) will be speaking on the Today Show about the important topic of "layoff etiquette." This involves things like:

What etiquette dilemmas do the unemployed and their still-employed friends face? What awkward situations have you encountered because of a friend's unemployment, or your own?

Discussion of the 10,000 laid-off per day are big in my household write (oops) now because H .... no he wasn't laid off or even threatened with such (H doesn't work outside the home) is writing a play which is set in 'The Present" against the back-drop of the current economic crisis. The play features a workplace shooting (or at least the threat of one, final act not completed yet).

So my brain has been spinning the etiquette question a couple different ways.

What should one do if a friend who lost their job confesses that they are so tired of the unfairness of our current economic system that they want to go postal -- the bosses need to pay too, etc, like the old rhyme from the rank and file in Vietnam, "Turn the guns around, shot the bosses down"... Advise them to work for change in a nonviolent manner? Why shoot yourself in the foot (head) just to have the satisfaction of killing your boss first?

There is a provocative book that says that workplace shootings are a way that frustrated workers vent their anger at an unjust social system,

from wikipedia:

Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond is the title of a book by Mark Ames, which examines the rise of office and school shootings in the wake of the Reagan Revolution, and compares the shootings to slave rebellions....Ames argues that "killing sprees" at U.S. workplace and schools are acts of political insurgency rather than ordinary crimes or the actions of disturbed individuals.

Indeed, Mark Ames also wrote a story on this last month: "Workplace Massacre in Alabama: Did Endless Downsizing and Slashed Benefits Cause the Rampage?"

Ames writes: "But of all the inexplicable circumstances surrounding the murder spree, one of the oddest has to be the way Alabama authorities went from focusing hard on solving the shooter's motive to suddenly dropping the issue like a hot potato and running away from the scene of the crime, as if they didn't like what their investigation produced..."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Product Placement -- in short stories??

I still vaguely remember the first time I heard about the nefarious, evil and disturbing practice of product placement. Was this 20 years ago? The prospect was being discussed that not only might we have ads at 10-minute breaks during TV shows, but the TV show producers would receive payment (or at least free products) if they positioned these products actually on their show. Wow. Like - someone drinks a coke, and that's an ad! But it still didn't seem possible. That stuff only happened in exaggerated scare-ya stories, like the book 1984. Then the idea loomed that it could even happen on movies, which were suppose to be ad-free, since we paid admission to see them. How dare they! And how manipulative!l

What a yawn those concerns seem today.

And how successful is that product-placement meme. There are always new boundaries to break. A tavern in Boston (and Harpoon Brewery?) is sponsoring a short-story contest for anyone who can incorporate the proper name Harpoon into their story (and the words pint, pen and Bukowksi, who was the most flagrantly alcoholic of the past centuries of alcoholic writers).

I do like the short-story contest idea, but not in order to sell products. There could be contests around things we care about -- recovery from alcoholism, for example. But could such stories increase any one's profit margin?

H said he couldn't submit to the contest. He wants to smash capitalism, not take his cut.

me: We must live in the world we want to change?

I suggested one could insert Harpoon as a character's name. Harpoon Bukowski, an acoholic's nickname, ha ha. Pint doesn't have to refer to a pint of beer. It's simply a unit of measurement -- you've eaten a pint of ice cream, right? Harpoon Bukowski could make a reference to his pint-sized daughter trying to write, barely bigger than her pen.

H: No, it's still product placement

It's interesting that all one's needs is $1,000 bucks (approx) and a website and one can sponsor a short-story contest. I've given away plenty more than a thou in charity of various forms. I've gotta tell my do-gooder parents about this idea...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Anger at management bubbling over -- Scenes from Goddard's Tout Va Bien

Some of you movie connoisseurs may know about  "Tout Va Bien," also known as "All Is Well." This is Jean-Luc Goddard's fictional account of the labor disputes and strikes by French workers in 1968.

The real-life version updated to 2009 is now appearing in towns across France...

Caterpillar bosses held hostage
Lizzy Davies in Paris
April 2, 2009
FRENCH bosses were given a fresh reminder of the dangers facing them during the economic downturn this week as angry factory workers in Grenoble barricaded their offices and took four managers hostage.

Protesting against job losses and meagre redundancy payouts, local employees of the US firm Caterpillar decided to take matters into their own hands and locked their superiors inside the plant's management headquarters.

The latest in a surge of "bossnappings" across the country, the incident aimed to bring a more satisfactory conclusion to the recently announced round of blood-letting in which more than 700 workers are to be laid off.

"We are holding them in the director's office," Benoit Nicolas, a union official, said during the stunt, or sequestration, as it is known in France. The hostages included Nicolas Polutnick, the factory director, the head of human resources, and the head of personnel. "They are a little shocked," Mr Nicolas said.

The bossnapping was a clear sign of France's reawakening industrial restlessness amid the financial crisis.

Far from a one-off, the Caterpillar crisis was the third since last month. Last week the head of a factory run by the US chemicals giant 3M was held for 24 hours in a meeting room.

The chief executive of Sony France, Serge Foucher, had to spend the night in a conference room as workers blocked exits with tree trunks, demanding improved redundancy packages.

Bossnapping is regarded as the ace card played by a workforce at the end of its tether.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama did something right -- may be serious about fighting slavery

Its been disappointing to hear that Obama is continuing the Bush administration's war plans, although they retired the phrase "War on Terror."    This raises the fear that there was no change to believe in.

But good news came in recently from combines social networking (complete with friend requests) with social activism of the typical liberal kind, for which I am a softie (even though my communist husband says they make things worse by supporting the current regime, ok....).  Anti-human-trafficking blogger Amanda Kloer, who works full time as an abolitionist, writes:   

This week President Obama nominated long-time, tenacious human trafficking prosecutor Lou de Baca to lead the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, a position sometimes called "America's Anti-Slavery Czar"..... de Baca's background is heavily focused on labor trafficking... I am thrilled that President Obama chose de Baca, demonstrating a strong commitment to making that office serious about fighting trafficking. He is an amazing prosecutor, a dedicated anti-trafficking professional..

I just taught a class on international sex trafficking to my developmental psychology class and may post more here shortly.  What are your questions?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Loss of a first language

For the last decade one of my research projects has been bilingualism.  A key question is  loss of fluency of the mother tongue for children of immigrants, and what family socialization and other practices lead to maintenance.  English almost always becomes rapidly the dominant language for children who arrive in the U.S. by age 9.   Mixed dominance occurs for arrivals between age 10 and 16, and first language superiority (and low acquisition of English) then is the most frequent (although not universal) fate of older immigrants.
I just stumbled across an interesting piece of short fiction which dramatizes in a couple handful of words events from age 5 to 25 and the disparate language learning trajectories of child and parents.  Enjoy! 

By Samuel Lee

my foreign mouth embarrassed the teachers. my jumbled words gave people sad faces. so wrong these words of mine. even the mentally retarded girl would not talk to me. just looking at my garbled mouth made her slap herself. and my writing. oh no. my writing made the teachers cry. shaking their heads. all the time.....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Communism: a viable alternative?

As the epoch of liberal capitalism and the free market falls apart, the question of an alternative must be re-opened
by Bernard Keenan

Let's get one thing out of the way to begin with: history is back in fashion. A generation on from Francis Fukuyama's claim that the fall of the Soviet Union marked the "end of history", the epoch of liberal capitalism and the free market fell apart in spectacular style during a few short months last autumn. As jobs disappear and anger rises, the bare bones of ideology that prop up the present system are exposed.

The speedy panic with which our governments agreed to throw billions of pounds away to restore "confidence" suggests that the dream is over and we are awakening to a strange new socialism, in which an increasingly authoritarian government has taken public control of financial capitalism in order to save it from itself. We read today that equal pay reviews no longer matter. Migrants are left to starve on the streets as the government heads off the far right by pandering to it. And so it's precisely now that the question of an alternative must be re-opened.

Against this backdrop, Birkbeck College this weekend hosted a symposium on the idea of communism. Originally planned as a meeting of philosophers and those who enjoy hearing their debates, the unexpected material circumstances of history instead gave the event a genuine sense of urgency. Even the BBC came to hear Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Jacques Ranciere, Michael Hardt, Toni Negri, and others speaking on the possibilities and challenges of reinventing the communist ideal today.

The conference was happily free of dogmatism. No one on the stage was there to represent a particular party or doctrine. There were disagreements, but at heart was a simple proposition. Communism is an idea that has been with us in different forms for thousands of years, as Terry Eagleton pointed out. The task is now to think what the concepts of egalitarian voluntarism, self-organisation, common ownership of common means of production, abolition of class-structured society, and freedom from state power can mean today.

It's a bold statement, declaring oneself a communist. The cultural revolutions of 1968 were the beginning of the end of the party-state, when programmatic communism was replaced by a more postmodern, abstract idea of "the left". Freedom of thought and nomadic thought undid the old certainties of Marxist political knowledge. No one has quite figured out how to replace them, and this perhaps more than anything else can account for the current weakness of the left, even as capitalism is in crisis: what is to be done?

First, the question of the role of the state and the economy remains open. While Judith Balso, Toni Negri and Alain Badiou insist on creating new political movements at a distance from the state, Zizek and Bruno Bosteels point to the experiences of Bolivia and Venezuela as contemporary proof that by taking power, a progressive radical movement can survive even against overwhelming reactionary forces. For Zizek, to reject the idea of a revolutionary state in the absence of a clear alternative is a cop-out.

However, such considerations all seem to beg the question of how to organise. It is difficult to imagine a new Communist party, but without one, the idea of communism remains just that: a quasi-religious article of faith. This was perhaps Eagleton's point when he observed that it is not so difficult to imagine a communism of scarcity, foisted upon us by disaster rather than rapture.

Perhaps the true question is: why communism? It does no harm to remember that for Marx, communism was not something anachronistic and programmatic. Marx insisted on the simple idea that we and no one else are responsible for remaking the world. Communism can only be enacted from what really exists. The party-states attempted to bend society to match some abstract idea. A true philosophy of communism cannot provide all the answers, because it has not yet encountered the problems.

Separating the promise of communism from the disasters of the 20th century is no easy task. But it feels necessary. Already we know that choices will have to be made and sides taken. Impending ecological disaster suggests that this could be our last chance to do so. If another world is possible, it will happen in action, not abstract theory. The first choice is very simple: to begin.

Letter from China; movie "Obama Deception"?

On one of my last evenings in China during my sabbatical in Spring 2008, I was collecting data on emotional expressions by sitting outside a small classroom as my participants filled out a survey (all in Mandarin; thank you my dear English major assistants), and on completion they gave me a shy thank you or tried out some English, and I handed over a 10 yuan note -- except one student stayed and sat on plastic chairs with me and talked for the remaining hours as my participants came and went. We later went to a restaurant and he helped me order and we talked for 2 more hours and 2 days later I was on a plane for Hong Kong...

Hi, Prof.
How are you going these days? Sorry for that long time we have not touch since I was always immersed in routines that I confronted. During the past half year, I fortunately involved in Olympic Games in Beijing 2008 and enjoyed nearly 2 month over there. Also, I as exempted into the Hong Kong Model United Nations 2009 in HK this year. All of the above I mentioned extremely enlarged my view of point on global business and borden my perspective of international politics. Here I have some experience to share with. Wish it would not bring extra burdens for your busy teaching calendar.

Congratulations for the world hero Barack Obama inaugurated as the US president this year. As most of friends, I was excited for the victory of democracy and free humanity. However, at the same time, I still remember the point you taught me that the corruptness really exists in great American. Your assertion, frankly speaking, shocked me and even influenced my sense of worth positively. Never had I expected the US---the dream land of freedom and equality in the world---has such a big problem in recent years.

After that moment, I had the desire to explore the truth. I talk to my foreign tutor in my university, who is also a good friend of mine, how you feel about China and why you leave your homeland at the age of 60. Unexpectly, he response with a negative voice that US is not a perfect place and he can felt the vigor emerging in China. Similarly, I felt the regret from the bottom of his heart and that impulse my curiosity toward the deeper research in the different and similarity between China and the US.

Under his guidance, I read some books and watched some movies. They are fantastic and you may never know how excited I am right now because I seem to find out something unbelievable and want to share my excitement with you. Money Master, a firm made for recovering the history of American real history that several American President were assassinated for their efforts to be against banking system. OBAMA DECEPTION, wrote by Webster Tarpley and directed by Alex Jones, also a film made recently and I just watched, reveal the secrets behind the executive operation in the US and how the Non-government organizations and off-shore banks control the policy maker. The film advocates the world citizens to stop the establishment of global rules and refuse the dictatorship. This assertion makes people upset, but maybe real. I wonder did you focus on these films and have the same feeling.

In this film, the author quotes what President Thomas Jefferson wrote to the secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin (1802), that “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the band] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” I hope it will never appear in US.

Here is my newly assumption. I consider you may be interested in this field and glad to share my points with you. Sincerely wish it would be disturbing. And you do not need to response if you were so busy over there.

Best regards

Readers --Have any of you seen these movies? Advice, comments?

P.S. When I spoke with this student, I talked about the US as a kleptocracy, especially the Bush administration, but I did not mean to convey that kleptocrats only came to power in "recent years."