All posts filed under: Health

Anthony Bourdain vs. the Tyranny of Wellness

In Kitchen Confidential Anthony Bourdain wrote: “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” Bourdain encouraged us to travel to far-flung regions to experience other cultures through the communal act of eating. In Bourdain’s philosophy, food brings strangers together, so eating unfamiliar foods is a way to embrace other peoples and cultures and to welcome the unknown. Food—like life—is adventure and risk. Eating with others is choosing to live while we can. Bourdain was at the height of popularity in an age defined by the sometimes perverse pursuit of health and longevity. Modern diet and health culture has become exactly what Roland Barthes predicted in a 1980 Playboy piece: its own religion and mythology. For perhaps the first time in history, fasting is more readily associated with the concept of “intermittent fasting” (which promotes autophagy, or cellular cleansing to increase lifespan) than with the idea of prayer. Put another way: we fast to cleanse our cells, not our souls.  Bourdain, on the other hand, represented a refreshing escape from the religiosity of the wellness movement, and …

Exterminate Mosquitoes for the Sake of Humanity

A Plea to President Trump:  Save Millions of People by Exterminating Some Annoying Bugs A hundred species of beetles will go extinct unless we eliminate 830,000 people each year to protect the insects’ habitat.  Tiny poison-filled drones can do the killing.  The drones’ automation will free us from any moral burden arising from their actions.  Fortunately, since the threatened beetles live in impoverished areas, most of the dead will be poor people in poor countries whose demise will attract little media attention.  Yes, all human life is in theory precious but to preserve a few species of insects on our sacred mother earth shouldn’t we be willing to sacrifice a mere 0.01 percent of us each year? Okay, I made up the parts about the beetles and drones, but mankind really does face a similarly weighted tradeoff between insects and humans.  Mosquitoes kill around 830,000 people each year mostly by spreading malaria in underdeveloped nations.  Mosquitoes sicken and cause lifelong debilitation in many who don’t die.  By decimating human capital, mosquitoes do much to keep …

Why Trans Kids Need Gatekeepers

I’m a transsexual woman in my thirties who transitioned in my early twenties, and I wish I could have done so earlier. Even so, I am wary of today’s Brave New World of transgender activism in which important safeguards of transition are under attack and any counter opinion, even if made by a trans woman such as myself, are labelled as an attack on trans rights. At first it was easier for me to not ruffle the trans activists’ feathers, but my conscience got the better of me, and now I am continuing to speak up in order to help those who deserve better in their own journey of transition. Through talking to other trans people in my life, it has become apparent to me that transition surgeries are an answer but not the answer to the long-term health and well-being of gender dysphoria patients. Unfortunately, many trans people get so fixated on surgery for so long, that they may forget that there is more to life and transitioning than just surgery and other medical …

Trans Activism’s Dangerous Myth of Parental Rejection

When children and adolescents experience gender dysphoria, our aim should be to provide them with treatment of the highest standard of care. We should be attempting to provide assistance that will result in the best outcomes—in the short-term, as well as the long-term. Unfortunately, treatment of childhood dysphoria is an area not yet well understood. The extreme contentiousness around the topic means that research can be difficult to conduct and is often hampered by ideological agendas. (For example, see here.) Without a clear consensus among researchers about the best way to treat gender dysphoric children and teens, input from parents increases in importance when determining course of treatment, since it can be assumed that most parents know their children well and have their best interests at heart. However, narratives promoted by activists and the media currently undermine the crucial parental role in diagnosing dysphoria and helping to determine the most appropriate treatment. Amid glowing media discussions of brave trans kids and their heroic, supportive parents hangs an ominous specter of ignorant, bigoted parents who coldly …

Transgenderism and the Social Construction of Diagnosis

Last week saw another attempt to silence debate and research whose findings diverge from an accepted orthodoxy. In the Advocate, transgender activist Brynn Tannehill decried a 2017 abstract that appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health, stating that the research into rapid onset gender dysphoria or ROGD was “biased junk science.” The research that Tannehill so strongly objected to was undertaken by Lisa Littman, MD, MPH. Littman surveyed parents about their teen and young adult children who became gender dysphoric and transgender-identified in the context of belonging to a peer group where one, multiple, or even all the friends in a pre-existing peer group became transgender-identified in a similar time frame, an increase in social media use, or both. The findings of the research support the plausibility of social influences contributing to the development of gender dysphoria. The full research paper has not yet been published. Tannehill subsequently posted the article to the Facebook page of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). A discussion ensued in which some commentators asked WPATH leadership to request that the journal …

In Memory of the Spanish Flu

A hundred years ago the First World War was lurching bloodily towards its squalid end. The Germans were planning their Spring Offensive: a desperate attempt to beat the Allies before the Americans could intervene. Its failure led grindingly to their defeat. An Allied counteroffensive smashed the Hindenberg Line, General Ludendorff endured something close to a breakdown and the Germans slowly, sullenly began to surrender. I would argue that the First World War was the most important episode of the 20th Century. The Tsar’s bad joke of a campaign fuelled the rise of communism. Germans, humiliated and impoverished at Versailles, were left to stew in the resentment that inspired Nazism. The British, who had lost almost three quarters of a million men in a war many had expected to be won in months, had been devastated militarily and psychologically. The French had lost a million men. Europe was not the same. Even as the war began to end, however, and as people might have been excused for breathing sighs of relief, the world was stumbling into …

Beaked Up Birds: A Review of Big Chicken

A Review of Big Chicken by Maryn McKenna. National Geographic (September 12, 2017) 400 pages.   People began cultivating plants and animals on a large scale about 10,000 years ago. Farming created a steady supply of nutrients, and acted as an insurance policy so that our ancestors weren’t constantly beholden to the whims of weather and the migration of animals. Of course, weather also affected crops, and farm animals sometimes escaped their pens or were killed by parasites. But settled agriculture allowed us to spread risk over longer periods of time and across more people. Agriculture brought with it enormous benefits, including a larger trading network, a greater division of labor, and even some genetic changes that we’re better off with than without. But it also exposed us to new risks, including a less diverse source of nutrients, and new pathogens (some of the genetic consequences of agriculture are a product of our new diet and new pathogens: those who didn’t adapt were culled by the invisible hand of natural selection). When we began to domesticate animals, …

Against the Demonization of Drugs

For most of us, the word ‘drugs’ comes burdened with negative associations. Run a quick mental check: how many positive associations come to mind when you think of the term ‘drugs’? However, a ‘drug’ is simply any substance other than food that causes a physiological change when introduced into the body (inhaled, injected, smoked, consumed, absorbed, etc). As such, the term ‘drugs’ is so broad that any sweeping generalization about them is likely to be false. Drugs include a whole spectrum of substances ranging from the highly addictive, such as crack cocaine, to the life saving and pain relieving, such as anaesthetics, to the mind enhancing, such as caffeine, to the purely recreational, such as alcohol. Yet public discourse on the subject is usually limited to the narrow mantra that “drugs are bad.” Where are the people reminding us that “drugs can be good”? There is no doubt that most anti-drug campaigns have good intentions (such as protecting people from addiction), but the simplistic picture they provide makes it difficult to make useful distinctions between …

What is Mindfulness? Nobody Really Knows, and That’s a Problem

You’ve probably heard of mindfulness. These days, it’s everywhere, like many ideas and practices drawn from Buddhist texts that have become part of mainstream Western culture. But a review published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science shows the hype is ahead of the evidence. Some reviews of studies on mindfulness suggest it may help with psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress. But it’s not clear what type of mindfulness or meditation we need and for what specific problem. The study, involving a large group of researchers, clinicians and meditators, found a clear-cut definition of mindfulness doesn’t exist. This has potentially serious implications. If vastly different treatments and practices are considered the same, then research evidence for one may be wrongly taken as support for another. At the same time, if we move the goalposts too far or in the wrong direction, we might lose the potential benefits of mindfulness altogether. So, what is mindfulness? Mindfulness receives a bewildering assortment of definitions. Psychologists measure the concept in differing combinations of acceptance, attentiveness, awareness, …

Traditionalists and Activists are Both Wrong About Sex and Gender

Note: I had almost completed writing this essay when I became aware of President Donald Trump’s action to bar transgender individuals from serving in the United States military. This is blatant discrimination against the transgender community. As Sen. John McCain wrote following Trump’s announcement, “Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military—regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so—and should be treated as the patriots they are.” Wading into the turbulent rapids of the politics of sex, gender, and gender identity requires a life vest. Inevitably, one is bound to upset one or another political current, be it transgender rights or support for traditional gender roles. If I cannot hope to achieve a rapprochement between the two sides, I can …