Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Don't Call Me 'Ma' in Front of My Mother

The following story from POZ magazine is pretty cool. I first heard reports about this in the same magazine maybe a year ago, when they were studying the procedure in Japanese labs or something.

Having felt the warm stirrings of a nascent paternal instinct in recent years (or is that just more gas from the Norvir?), I find this encouraging news.

I'm not sure how likely my own personal path to fatherhood might ever be (to paraphrase the words of a friend from not so, so long ago, "It would be good if you could take care of yourself first..."). Yeah, it might be nice to have a partner—or maybe even a pet—before having a child. Then, maybe a cooperative person of the female persuasion to perform the minor function of gestation. However, it's nice to see that even for those who can't afford to kick down $15K+ for in-vitro fertilization, there's the old-fashioned, bargain basement turkey baster "AI". Surely anyone can come up with the $700 for that, right?

Get ready, world: I may yet procreate.

From Here to Paternity
by Lucile Scott

More and more positive men want children—and are finding that they can make them using their own genetic goods

HIV-positive mothers have a less than2% chance of infecting babies during childbirth if they’re taking HIV meds. What about positive men? Can they produce negative babies too?

After Larry Madeiros responded well to HAART in 1996 and it looked like he might live a long, healthy life, he and his HIV-negative wife, Carol, decided to have children. Having convinced a physician to take their case, the couple became one of the first in the U.S. to try a procedure called sperm washing. It removes HIV from a semen sample, leaving almost no risk of infecting mother or child.

In May 1998, the Madeiroses welcomed Ashley, who was born HIV negative. “It gave us a new sense of hope,” says Carol. A year later brother Taylor, also negative, was born. Since then, more than 3,800 negative babies have been conceived in the U.S. using the method.

As of 2007, there are no known cases of a woman having been infected through washed sperm. “I had a better chance of being hit by a bus [than getting infected with HIV],” says Carol of the procedure. However, many fertility clinics still won’t work with positive men, fearing a lawsuit should something go awry. Those that do rarely advertise, fearing they may scare away negative patrons. The Centers for Disease Control says it needs more safety evidence before endorsing the procedure. Delaware and California, meanwhile, ban positive men from donating sperm, period (though at press time, the California legislature was considering a bill that would let positive prospective dads hand over their sperm to a lab for washing).

“What patients are trying to do is complicated and we go through all the complications with them,” says Ann Kiessling, Phd, founder of the Bedford Research Foundation, in Somerville, Massachusetts. The group helps positive and discordant couples, straight and gay, get pregnant. (Even if both man and woman are positive, the man must wash the HIV from sperm to reduce the risk of reinfection.) Bedford also ships washed sperm to clinics that wouldn’t have accepted the unwashed variety from a positive person.

A sperm-washing candidate must demonstrate good parenting capacity—including good general health—before donating semen. Then the sperm, which is not believed to house HIV, is separated out. The sperm and semen are both tested. If the virus turns up, the sample is discarded and the procedure repeated. Once a negative sample is secured, the woman can use either artificial insemination, where multiple sperm are placed in the uterus using a cervical cup and tube, or injection (both of which cost $300 to $700), or in vitro fertilization (IVF) to inject a single sperm directly into an egg (this costs up to $15,000). Most insurance companies don’t cover any of these methods. Because only one sperm is used in IVF, it involves less risk than does artificial insemination—though no women are known to have been infected either way—and often improves chances of conception. Happy Father’s Day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kalaallit Nancy

I found it curious that Pelosi and an entire delegation of representatives visited Greenland over the weekend to observe the effects of global warming. If you don't believe me, you can check out this here press clipping:

Nancy Pelosi: Kalaallit Nunaat takullugu misigisaq annertoqaaq.
USA-mi Repræsentanternes Hus-imi siulittaasoq Nancy Pelosi Ilulissanut ippassaq unnukkut tikippoq. Ilulissat timaani sermersuarmi ilisimatuut misissuiffiat ullumi ulloqeqqata siorna alakkarterniarlugu helikopterimik aallalersoq suleqatitta Janus Maqe-p apersorpaa.

Those folks really know how to cut loose and celebrate the Memorial Day holiday! When barbecued franks in the 8th District just won't do...

I did breathe a sigh of relief when I read the following at the website of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming:
Because of the significance of this trip, the air travel will be carbon offset through the Pacific Forest Trust - a forest conservation and stewardship project that will permanently reduce approximately 500,000 tons of CO2 emissions over a 100-year period. Speaker Pelosi will personally pay for this effort.
I believe carbon offset fees in the long run probably will rival aid to the Central African Empire for sheer well-meaning ineffectiveness.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

...Si vieillesse pouvait

One of the things I was thinking about when I posted that bunch of photo self-portraits a couple weeks ago is an idea I sometimes ponder:
No matter how old I think I'm getting, some day I will look at these photos and perhaps be amazed that that was me.

To put it more directly: on any given day, I generally think we obviously look younger (I wanted to say "better", but who knows if that's really true) than we will ever again in the future—or at least several years hence. That's not about being youth fixated... it's about it being in our nature to not realize how great things are now, and the fact that someday we may be longing for where we are this very minute.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Si jeunesse savait...

"Some people find the teachings I offer helpful because I encourage them to be kind to themselves, but this does not mean pampering our neurosis. The kindness that I learned from my teachers, and that I wish so much to convey to other people, is kindness toward all qualities of our being. The qualities that are the toughest to be kind to are the painful parts, where we feel ashamed, as if we don't belong, as if we've just blown it, when things are falling apart for us. Maitri means sticking with ourselves when we don't have anything, when we feel like a loser. And it becomes the basis for extending the same unconditional friendliness to others."
~ Pema Chödrön

Monday, May 21, 2007

Nach Westwood zum Haarschneiden

I don't know why I'm so intrigued by certain topics (they say "it's a good thing everybody likes something different"), but maybe I should be embarrassed to admit that I practically get sexually aroused when I see books published with titles like the following: Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism.

However, here's the really embarrassing part of it all: How likely am I to actually ever read, or even attempt to read, this book? Not very. And that's being generously optimistic.

I really do get off on reading book reviews and newspaper or magazine articles that reference a great deal of interesting work that I could probably research further or read firsthand. But the review or article is where my interest and enthusiam end probably more than nine times out of ten. And somehow, that makes me feel a little bit like a lazy slob.

If I happen in the near future to be chatting with a professor of German at a cocktail party (which, really, happens more often that you could ever imagine), I'd be proud to be able to bring up Bahr's book, but any real knowledge of the subject matter would be based merely on the LA Times book review and is that really any kind of "adequate" knowledge at all? Am I a freak for even worrying about things like this? How likely is it that I'll ever have an opportunity to discuss this book with another person anyway? Thus, why don't I just accept that my dilletante-level knowledge of a variety of topics is good enough? ("Good enough" for what? is the next question. Yes, I know no one is keeping tabs, ok?) I guess that's the point of this: the issue of having stored a trove of relatively shallow information about thousands of subjects in my arcana-addicted brain.

The alternative is actually reading this book and wading through what the LA Times calls "two dense chapters" on "the theoretical and critical writings of" someone I, ever the philistine, have never heard of named Theodor W. Adorno "and his collaborator, Max Horkheimer." Whatever. As if I'd put up with that! If I bought this book, I could already see it on my "Started, Never Finished" list.

I find so much information packed into the review that the text almost seems to me (again, I'm embarrassed) irrelevant at this point. It's interesting to find out via the review alone that Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s was a crucible of art and thought churned out by giants of the German-speaking diaspora, including Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht, who is quoted as stating, "emigration is the best school of dialectics." (The title of this post, by the way, is one of Mann's Los Angeles journal notations, which sounds both mundane and — from a figure like Mann — bizarre due to its geographic setting: "Gone to Westwood for a haircut.")

In the end, I'll stop worrying. Some knowledge is better than none (it is, right?), and even though I really am intellectually lazy in a lot of ways, I'm content with the idea of being what Huntington and I have always referred to as being "well-browsed."

Are we just kidding ourselves?

Apricot Saturday: May 19

Cherimoyas, Epiphytes, & Alligator Pears

A couple of weeks ago I went with B to a dinner at his friend J's place. J happens to be the daughter of a deceased actress whose name I think wouldn't be recognizable to most people born after 1945 (I had no clue who she was), but who was pretty major in her time. That kind of connection — however far removed — to "fame and glamor" is something one gets the sense might exist quite a bit here in Southern California, but my brushes with it have been pretty much nonexistent, which essentially suits me just fine.

In any case, you'd have no reason to guess at first glance that her mother was once nominated for an Academy Award, but J is an amazingly down-to-earth artist and craftsperson who's a part-time manager at a local chain of really popular "natural foods" restaurants (more of the turkey burger variety than the flavor-free-bulgur-with-raw-pea-sprouts variety). Which is to say that J is in many ways very much a "California type," but definitely the 'California type" I enjoy spending time with.

J and her Chilean-born husband still spend a few months a year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where they lived for many years, and for the past couple of years have been living in one of a few rental cottages on an avocado and cherimoya ranch several miles north of Santa Barbara. It's a bit removed, but a really sweet semi-rural setting.

On this visit, J took us on a walk around the ranch perimeter road and neighboring ranch property which had been mostly unused for many years, save for a couple of rental properties on it as well. Apparently, the old ranch was one of the first orchid growing operations in the area (orchids and cut flowers now comprise a moderate amount of business on this area of the coast, with several operations on the approximately 25-mile stretch from Carpinteria north through Summerland and Santa Barbara to Goleta).

The orchid nurseries and greenhouses had apparently been defunct for decades, and it evoked that slightly melancholy feeling I always get in the presence of abandoned buildings. However, I really love greenhouses, and these were the old-fashioned variety made completely of glass panes, most of which were suprisingly intact. B even discovered that the door to one of the larger greenhouses could be slid open, and we entered what was obviously the main showcase for the former orchid operation, replete with rock formation in the shape of an ersatz waterfall — and everything long-since dried up or overgrown.

The circa 1950s signage was pretty cool as well, and underneath were mud nests of swallows, which we saw flying all around with the approach of dusk.

As we made our way back to J's house for dinner, we passed the main house of the ranch she lives on. The house is apparently now only rented out for functions; any ranch operations are carried out by caretakers. The back veranda of the house looked down a long arcade of enormous fig trees that were originally planted to lead to a view of the ocean (now just barely visible).

Part of the cherimoya orchard; avocado trees on the far hill.

View of vineyards and mustard-covered foothills across US-101.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pansy Tuesday

I wake up grudgingly, roll over, peer through the blinds, see the splashes of yellow, and it makes getting out of bed a little bit easier even on a gray, darkish, overcast Tuesday morning.

About gray, darkish, overcast mornings: Summer on the Central Coast has arrived.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Den Hungriga Katten: May 2

So much for timeliness.

Supped with B. on burgers (which should have fulfilled my monthly quota of saturated fats) two weeks ago at the very new Hungry Cat. The Craftsman Brewing Company's 1903 Lager was pretty good, but my mind keeps obsessing about the Pimlico (Early Times bourbon, fresh orange juice, fresh lime juice, and mint) for my next visit.

It's a place that almost makes me believe that I'm living in, you know, a real city.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Men Are, In Fact, Dogs

One of the reasons that an ex and I used to affectionately call each other "Doggie" grew out of a joke that each of us were often "on the prowl" (in our thoughts if not in our actions). This is not to minimize the roles of ethics, responsibility, and logical thought in sexual behavior and decisions, but I learned long ago that you really can't underestimate the particulars of people's "secret" or "not-so-secret" extracurricular sex lives.

Which is not to say that no one is trustworthy or faithful (I wouldn't stoop to being quite that cynical), but I honestly think that you just never know what anyone might be doing in his or her "secret life." Your mother might be getting her dominatrix on with your dad, or the plumber, or both. Your brother might like to wear stockings, garters, and platform shoes while being violated by the retired nurse from down the block. Your college-aged daughter (or son) might be making extra money by selling blowjobs to potbellied insurance salesmen in Binghamton or Amherst. Really. You might titter with nervous laughter at the images these hypothetical scenarios evoke, but woe unto anyone who thinks, "Oh no, not in my family or circle of friends."

Sadly, this disconnect between public personae and private sex lives can play out in devastating ways, and not just in divorce courts and lovers' spats, as a new study makes even clearer:

For a growing number of women in rural Mexico—and around the world—marital sex represents their single greatest risk for HIV infection. According to a new Mailman School of Public Health Study, because marital infidelity by men is so deeply ingrained across many cultures, existing HIV prevention programs are putting a growing number of women at risk of developing the HIV virus.

The article's lead author, Jennifer S. Hirsch, PhD, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, is principal investigator on a large comparative study showing that the inevitability of men's infidelity in marriage is true across cultures. This was borne out in the research conducted in rural Mexico as well as in similar studies she is overseeing in rural New Guinea and southeastern Nigeria, which are published in the same issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Of course, nothing about this should be shocking to anyone who lives in the real world, which is why it's infuriating to me that we persist with the "A-B-C" anti-HIV measures (about as juvenile as the "A-B-C" name sounds) that are so beloved by the Bush administration (even while his erstwhile "AIDS Czar" recently had to resign in embarrassment over revelations that he patronized a high-class "massage service".)

Even more anger builds in me when I think back several months to last summer's South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, at which they were intransigent on the Church's view toward condom use. I am not a staunch anti-Catholic person, but this stance by the Church, and the Bishops in particular, is killing people. Period. And not just killing, but consigning them to long periods of inhumane suffering and illness, considering the level of health care most HIV-infected people receive in Africa.

The Columbia public health study sums this up best:

The findings, indicating that globally, prevention programs that take a “just say no” approach and encourage men to be monogamous are unlikely to be effective, underline the need for programs that make extramarital sex safer, rather than—unrealistically—trying to eradicate it.
As I shift from anger to sadness, I wonder how an African woman (or any woman for that matter) might possibly protect herself by trying to require her husband to wear a condom: a condom that costs probably one-eighth to one-quarter the average daily wage of a subsistence worker (the equivalent of maybe $5-$20 per condom in US terms).

Men certainly don't need to be "dogs" — and when the price is their own lives and the lives of their families, they should certainly have a good incentive not to be. The purpose of this rant is not to let them off the "personal responsibility" hook. But when a view of history and human behavior seem to fly in the face (which they so often do) of all rational analysis, the role of idealism and moralizing is, in my opinion, not only irrelevant from a practical standpoint, but also dangerous and especially cruel.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue...

Often I think I don't even know the extent to which -- subconsciously or consciously -- I feel tainted beyond redemption.

I feel like I never want sex to happen again -- or that I shouldn't want to have it happen again -- that I don't deserve to have it happen again -- unless I'm vacuum sealed in polythene. Mostly, though, the desire is just gone.

A recent discussion on another blog made me think about those ideas, and about responsibility, and about irresponsibility, and about desire, and honesty, and love, and intimacy, and companionship -- and about flat out carnal lust -- and about what these things mean to me. And about how they'll play out in my life. Forever.

And I try to decide if I should worry about that now, since the days have been so beautiful, and since it's been such a joy to wake up in the morning and smell the late spring air.

Tonight, I'll try not to worry about all that.

Unfortunately, It's Been Said Before...

[courtesy of Huntington]

You are The Devil
Materiality. Material Force. Material temptation; sometimes obsession

The Devil is often a great card for business success; hard work and ambition.

Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the major arcana, the Devil is not really "Satan" at all, but Pan the half-goat nature god and/or Dionysius. These are gods of pleasure and abandon, of wild behavior and unbridled desires. This is a card about ambitions; it is also synonymous with temptation and addiction. On the flip side, however, the card can be a warning to someone who is too restrained, someone who never allows themselves to get passionate or messy or wild - or ambitious. This, too, is a form of enslavement. As a person, the Devil can stand for a man of money or erotic power, aggressive, controlling, or just persuasive. This is not to say a bad man, but certainly a powerful man who is hard to resist. The important thing is to remember that any chain is freely worn. In most cases, you are enslaved only because you allow it.

What Tarot Card are You?: Take the Test to Find Out

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Floating City

Certain sights may be common for residents of places like Puerto Vallarta, San Diego, Santorini, or Lahaina. However, the image below is surreal to me because it's so unusual for the Santa Barbara Channel.

I think the city (or is it the Calif. Coastal Commission?) gives permission for cruise ships to call here maybe four or five times per year, maximum. I've witnessed aircraft carriers out there (our version of "Fleet Week"... but not that exciting, lemme tell ya), but never one of these behemoth luxury vessels (and I've still never seen one live; this pic is from one of our newspapers). Anyway, apparently this fine specimen was visiting on Monday and I didn't even notice, even though I probably could have seen a view similar to the one in this picture just by walking up the block from my apartment.

I know (believe me, I know) this is a small town, but I'm still kind of weirded out over this, and over the idea of spending a week or several days "vacationing" on something like that. That thing seems to be practically the length of our entire "Main Street" shopping district.

OK, I've become a smalltown, awestruck rube.

We'll Make Them Turn Their Heads Every Place We Go

Is it just me, or, with all that money, could Phil Spector find a better wig? (WARNING: NSF-after-meal-viewing.) It's like some kind of Carol Channing/Monkees mashup.

Seriously, though, I'm totally riveted by the coverage of his trial in the Los Angeles Times, and have been trying to not miss any of the accounts of all the witness-stand drama. I lap this stuff up as much as the average reader of People magazine. How sad is that?

Actually, I find "The Lana Clarkson Story" to be ripe for making into a Lifetime or Oxygen movie (does Oxygen produce its own movies? I've never watched it) after all this is over. It's a typical everybody-wants-to-be-a-star story of struggling actress being chewed up by the Hollywood machine and never making huge gains... ever living on the margins of celebrity... reduced to hostessing at the House of Blues. Except most struggling actresses don't end up with their molars scattered all over the foyer of an ageing record producer's Alhambra manse. It's so Sunset Boulevard.

I may someday need to rent Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Barbarian Queen, and Amazon Women on the Moon to check out some of the tragic Clarkson's oeuvre.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Old Pictures

Although its organization, layout, and navigation can be incredibly frustrating, is a pretty interesting site, with archives of historical photos covering a wide variety of subjects (the breadth of which I'm not sampling here, but you get the idea):

Thursday, May 03, 2007

How Am I Not Myself?

One Less Item to Worry About on a Long-Ass List?

Um. I think. Talk about mixed messages from medical research studies:

How should these findings be interpreted? Donald Kotler, MD, of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, a longtime researcher of lipid-related problems in HIV-positive patients, cautions that the seemingly high risk percentages are not necessarily what they appear to be.

“If the risk starts out low,” he says, “an extra 16% is not high. Even a doubling is not high. For example, if you are a young African-American woman, the risk of having a heart attack is on the order of 0.1% per year. According to DAD, this rises to 0.116% a year.”

Dr. Stein writes, “The increased cardiovascular risk observed with protease inhibitors is not high, especially as compared with the effect of other cardiovascular risk factors”—specifically, aging, being male, being a current smoker or having a history of heart disease.
To be as blunt as possible, to fugue on a theme of "Is there anything lacking," the phrase I tell myself usually goes something like this: "Without these meds, you'd most likely be dead by now."

It makes a whole lot of other worries go right in the dustbin.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

WTF is the tune to "To Anacreon in Heaven"?

Emily2 has posted a few kick-ass sample questions for an Alternative Naturalization Examination.

Go tell her how much you love it, right now.

Because this "blog" business is practically a joke...

... I might as well link to some sites with actual content worth reading. Thus, I've added a couple of links to my More-Than-Just-A "Blogroll" over on the right there. I did this primarily to remind myself to check the sites regularly, but for sheer entertainment value, I urge you to check them out as well, including their archives. In addition to being "merely" entertaining, I think they're supremely edifying:

First, Gustavo Arrellano's ¡Ask A Mexican! column from the Orange County Weekly. This column never fails to make me laugh, but I think Arrellano is also incredibly clever in the way he slyly deconstructs and subverts both racism and "political correctness" in the Alta California context. The column's title also reminds me of an anecdote from a former college roommate who, having moved to Kansas City to work for the Federal Reserve Bank upon graduation and finding it almost intolerably blanco, wrote to me saying that he thought of setting up a booth in the local shopping mall, with a sign saying, "See a Real-Live Mexican!"

My second new addition is Carolyn Hax's Tell Me About It, a no-nonsense, common sense, bitchslap-with-a-dollop-of-love advice colum that, in my opinion, should be required reading. To me, Hax is the unparalleled Dear Abby/Ann Landers of the Snark Generation. Dan Savage is up there in the pantheon with her, but Hax's topics tend to be broader than Savage's more sex-centric advice. Even though she peppers her answers with lots of sarcasm at times, it can never be too much for me, and I think the advice she dispenses is almost always spot-on.

Good stuff. Check them out.

Is There Anything Lacking?

Because I like to think I ascribe to various Buddhist-oriented mumbo-jumbo ideas and philosophies, I recently resubscribed to Tricycle magazine's "Daily Dharma" feature, whereby pearls of ancient Pali-based (and Nor-Cal granola) wisdom are imparted via a quotidien email. Sometimes I greet it with an ennui-laden, "Meh," but most of the time, I find something of value in these pearls of ancient Pali-based wisdom. Take, for example, today's pearl:
At this moment, is there anything lacking? —Hakuin

Now, I have no idea who the hell Hakuin is, but that maxim, ladies and gentlemen, often sums it up. Other than a couple (or scores) of thousand extra dollars in the bank account, I ask you, IS THERE ANYTHING LACKING?

"Well then," the Buddha might say, "sit down and shuddup." And if the Buddha wouldn't say that, then I will.