Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Book Review: The White Man's Burden

If you are interested in development in any way (including in an armchair fashion), you must read this book. Snarky fun mixed with depressing stats to give an accurate and overall negative view of the traditional development industry.

Especially good is the chapter "Invading the Poor". Most of the foreign aid in the US is military; Easterly shows that such military aid is useless to harmful. Also good are the 'snapshots' beginning each chapter, showing real life issues -- anecdotal, but they put things in perspective.

The book is summed up in a paragraph close to the end:
Aid won't make poverty history, which Western aid efforts cannot possibly do. Only the self-reliant efforts of poor people and poor societies themselves can end poverty, borrowing ideas and institutions from the West when it suits them to do so. But aid that concentrates on feasible tasks will alleviate the sufferings of many desparate people in the meantime. Isn't that enough?
It's enough for me.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Once again

Yes, we know -- women in the sciences have to be twice as good to do the same job. They have to worry about things men don't.

Read it. I don't have much to add.

Who are these people?

Why are we talking about small farmers resisting the national animal ID system (NAIDS)? How about because the majority of cow-calf farms (80%) in the US have fewer than 50 animals? Because more than half of those farms don't use any form of individual animal identification? Because those animals travel hundreds of miles and mix with animals from a wide area before slaughter? Because those are your hamburgers and steaks?

Why are we talking to hobby farmers? Because we (and by 'we' I mean the NYT) are a city paper with no connection to the livestock industry.

NAIDS is in no way an invasion of privacy. If you are selling animals for public consumption, you cannot claim that identifying them as having come from you is invading your privacy. If that was true, factories would never be responsible for replacing faulty products and the recall would disappear. I know you don't want to think that your animal might start a pandemic, but it could!!! No matter how safe your farm management is. No matter how libertarian your views are. NAIDS is a public safety measure. Accept it.

And then the editorials!

In the same vein as the last post, but a bit sideways: people seem to think the process of protecting their food supply doesn't move quickly enough. This editorial suggests that more funding will speed up the investigations into deadly outbreaks.

While I'm never going to be against more funding for my field (that would be like asking to not be given a raise), I don't think that's the answer. In fact, I dare say there is no answer. Do you think the FDA is reckless with your food safety? Do you believe in the 5 second rule? Do you eat at notoriously unsafe fast food restaurants? Do you eat bagged spinach without washing it? Do you blame the FDA for that.

Of course you do. We don't believe in personal responsibility anymore, only corporate faults and legislation to punish them.

As to the issue of speed . . . we're limited, but it's not usually by funds. We're limited by the speed (or lack thereof) of the diagnosing physicians, laboratories, and state health departments. We're limited by the helpfulness (or lack thereof) of the people involved in the outbreak in answering questionnaires. We're limited by political wrangling in the main offices, deciding the economic cost/benefit ratio of the possible moves. We're limited by the fact that there are a lot of people out there eating a lot of food.

Lesson to take home (this may sound familiar if you've been reading a while): you're responsible in large part for your own food safety. We can do our best to keep your food free of pathogens and pollutants, but you're going to have to accept some of the onus of food safety.

Shoeleather Epidemiology

You cannot do epidemiology in a bubble. Or (entirely) in a lab. It is applied or it is nothing.

When the NYT lauds the detective work of the epidemiologists who traced down the Taco Bell E coli outbreak, are they praising the field or misunderstanding it? Yes, it was necessary to ask around to find the link between these cases. Yes it was well done. But how else were they supposed to do it? I can't see that the researchers did anything remarkable in this case. They followed the time-honored tradition of John Snow (review of The Ghost Map to come when I finish reading it). They weren't breaking ground.

And yet. They did a good job. They found the culprit. They got it shut down. Good for them. They deserve an article in their praise. Maybe such articles will lead more people to understand what it is we do!

After a long pause

Fueled by sugar/chocolate/cocktail wieners from the Dean's Office Holiday Party, I return to write all those posts I've been meaning to. The last week and a half have reminded me why research never appealed to me before I learned about epi -- who wants to spend 5 hours a day with a micropipetter? Give me a laptop any day . . .

Monday, November 27, 2006

And now for something completely better

Isn't it wonderful? Public health money doing its job; I saw this at the gym this morning and had to share. Watch the video -- it's worth it!

Never underestimate the power of bureaucracy

Yes, we need to worry about bioterrorism threats (or, if not we, the CDC does). What's the best bioterrorism threat we've given ourselves? Decrease funding for basic disease control! Make public health political! Hire more administrators than scientists to run our disease labs! Sometimes I despair of these people.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hunger vs. Food security

From (members-only):

USDA: You're not hungry, you just have very low food security

by Pete Hisey on 11/17/2006 for

According to USDA's newly published report, "Household Food Security in the United States, 2005," hunger in the United States has declined slightly since 2004.

According to the report, about 11 percent of the U.S. population is classified as "food insecure," with about one-third of those classified as having "very low food security." That means that members of these 3.9 million households and 35 million people experience varying levels of hunger during the year, ranging from skipping meals or eating smaller portions to losing weight due to lack of food. The number of households experiencing hunger remains unchanged from 2004, but overall the number of Americans with "very low food security" has risen over the past five years.

However, the word hunger does not appear in the report, which Democrats charge was held back until after the mid-term elections, a charge called "ridiculous" by USDA.

Instead, hungry people are described as suffering from "disruptions in eating patterns and food intake." Mark Nord, the USDA sociologist responsible for the report along with co-authors Margaret Andrews and Steven Carlson, defends dropping the terms hunger and hungry to describe the phenomenon of not having enough food by saying the terms are not scientific. "We don't have a measure of that condition," he said.

Consumer and poverty groups are up in arms about the abrupt change in terminology, but USDA says that the change was part of an overhaul of the entire report process to ensure that language used in the report is "conceptually and operationally sound." Three years ago, USDA asked for recommendations from the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies to suggest more scientifically rigid terminology.

The committee, among other suggestions, recommended that the word hunger be dropped, since it could describe anything from a mildly uncomfortable feeling familiar to everyone prior to mealtime to "discomfort, illness, weakness or pain."

"Hunger is clearly an important issue," said Nord, but since there is no consensus about what exactly it refers to, it's not particularly meaningful as it relates to the economic research that backs the report.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How does this apply to your life . . .

. . . or how doesn't it?

People really have trouble with math instruction. They think that there is no in-between, that it must be rote memorization or free-form. Really, whose idea was this -- students don't learn long division because it stifles creativity?!?! We don't insist on allowing creativity with grammar. We don't allow creativity with basic rules. We don't creatively mix chemicals in our school labs (research labs are another story, of course). Why does division have to be creative?

The result is people who are either afraid of math or don't understand it. If you don't think that's a problem, think about how many people have a hand in giving you medicine in the hospital: the doctor writes the Rx, the pharmacy fills it, and the nurse gives it, all using math along the way.

See, I presented my research to a room full of clinicians, interns, and residents today. The talk relied heavily on understanding probability, so I did a fairly thorough review. I didn't get into the math involved on the disease model, though, and I assumed more statistical knowledge than most of them probably had. After, a surgeon thanked me, but said I should have covered the math more. I told him I didn't want to go over the heads of the interns and residents. His response: well, they need to learn it sometime. One of my epi-leaning colleagues joked that it is now my job to teach them. Sorry for the coming rant, but really! I have 25 minutes to present my research; do I need to spend half of it teaching basic statistics to my peers?

The truth, of course, is that epidemiologists do become the de facto sources of statistical knowledge in veterinary medicine. Rather than study it themselves, other vets hand us the math. We do our own research, but we also have to analyze other people's data. How does this relate to math teaching? Most of them were convinced early on that 1) they weren't good at math and 2) they wouldn't need to be.

And the exceptions (like my colleagues and me) get to pick up the pieces.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Is hot air measured in square feet our hours?

I went to a talk yesterday by Donald Rumsfield.

Well, mostly by him. First we had to sit through a rambling introduction by General Myers. That man can blather with the best of them.

The amazing thing was that, after an hour of talking, nothing was said. Not nothing important; nothing. Ah, politics.

Some phrases/concepts that might be interesting to those without access to such things:
  • communists are totalitarian, just like non-centralized terrorists
  • "The enemy has brains. They do things."
  • We are fighting a war against people with no home state to defend; this is why we invaded 2 countries
  • we should study history to avoid repeating mistakes
Aren't we glad that was cleared up!

Stool essentials

Yes, I know, bad pun.

Really, sanitation is essential. We pay so much attention in this country to manure management in our CAFO's, but we ignore the fact that much of the world doesn't have toilets. Including, and this is important, the source of much of our fresh supermarket produce. It is important, even if you're not a bleeding-heart.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Are we getting too obsessed by killing germs? Read this and tell me what you think. By asking the question, I guess I've told you my answer . . .

Friday, November 03, 2006

What does it say about America when . . .

I received two offers to join a book club in today's mail. One was mostly Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama, while the other was along the lines of James Patterson and Rachel Ray. Still, both sold Dr. Phil, Danielle Steel, and an entire page full of books on making sex better. There's a great story to draw out of this, but I'm not sure I want to go there.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Striking a blow for food security

This is just wonderful: hunting down wild boars and selling them to Europe. Get rid of a great source of swine viruses (these guys are responsible for PRRS outbreaks, among other things) and make a profit while controlling an invasive species. And they do it for fun!

I don't know why this wasn't posted before, but here it is.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It's the economics, stupid!

Why are stores, restaurants, and farms stressing humane animal conditions? Because doing so will get them more business and a little bit more per unit product. In an industry with miniscule profit margins, customer loyalty and quality bonuses make the difference between making it and making good. In a hard year, they might mean the difference between bankruptcy and paying your creditors.

Yes, I'm sure some of these producers (especially) and executives are doing it to feel good about themselves and their product (I mean animals, whoops!). Good feelings don't pay the mortgage and warm hearts don't heat the offices. Call me a cynic, but they're in it for the money.

Not that that's a bad thing. It allows consumers the choice to be warm and fuzzy about their animal products. I like that. If the results are good, who are we to complain about the motive? (Until, that is, it stops being profitable to be humane . . . good thing the effects of cortisol force a baseline.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

At long last

I meant to write this about 2 weeks ago, when the linked NYT article was fresh and free. Oops.

Fascinating thought: is math gender neutral? According to many men, apparently, it isn't. They seem to think that men are naturally better with numbers than women (in general; of course there are exceptions).

This is important to me because a good deal of epidemiology is numbers and number-crunching. While the pure mathematicians may compare our work to actuarial science, it has its own beauty of formulas, proofs, etc. The beautiful, however, is rarely as useful as the ugly day-to-day applied work; hence, the insulting reference to cubicle mice and their charts. Yes, we do a lot of statistics. We also model.

Digression aside, is mathematics inherently male? I can't really agree with that assessment, but I have no proof. Neither do they, though, and it hasn't stopped them from acting on their belief. Women in the hard sciences do have a harder time than men, and I don't think its just ability. There is bias against the feminine viewpoint, most likely historical in origin. Modern science grew from a source that was even more predominantly male, so it took on male characteristics: single-mindedness, straightforwardness, a boys-club camraderie in conferences and collaborations. Does that mean that science itself, or the math behind it, must be male? Regardless of the answer to the previous question, does that give adequate support for a field producing male PhDs and female lab techs?

Women are discouraged from entering hard science (medicine doesn't count; maternal instincts are in our favor there now). Women are certainly rare in high-level science and mathematics, in comparison to men. Even in my generation, graduate groups are overwhelmingly male on the scientific side. This goes back quite a while; I recently learned (and not from the wiki, don't worry) that Florence Nightingale was rebuffed in an attempt to fund a chair in applied statistics at Oxford, despite being a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. She was a pioneer of epidemiology whose mother didn't want her to study math. Are we producing even more short-sighted mothers and fathers these days, or have we changed the persona of math and science? I'm not optimistic.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Buy shares in Radsafe, now!

This article posted today makes a good case for a number of things I believe in: eating local, food safety being to some extent the job of the eater, the undue burden scale-neutral government regulations put on small processors. Not perfect (irradiation is not currently a large-scale option because of unneccesary public fears), but good. Read it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The beauty of oddity

Writing a paper while at my favorite cafe, I just saw a businessman walk by with a butterfly happily sitting on his lapel, flapping its wings slowly. He watched it bemusedly. His companion, another suit, talked blithely on his cell phone.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I'm worried about that avian bird flu, myself

NPR is actually worried about the lack of vets in the US. At least, they made a report about it; they even mentioned that the biggest worry is the lack of large animal and public health/government vets. They explained that private practice is more lucrative than the latter.

And they spent as much time talking about a newly dead racehorse.

Interesting stats, like the fact that, for the same number of people, Canada has 4 (soon to be 5) vet schools to California's 2. Mostly, though, a fluff piece of interviewing an overworked small town vet.

Yes, this is a problem. I'm glad they did a piece on it. I wish we could get someone to seriously discuss our options and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Open some new schools. Expand existing ones. Recruit farm kids and public health-minded students. Change the bias in our profession.

Yes, there is a bias. In the last issue of JAVMA, there was a good article about addressing that bias and getting (and keeping) more food animal-oriented students. It was followed by an article about disaster recovery and the importance of the human-animal bond for Katrina evacuees. 1 sentence about 'oh yes, some large animals were affected too'. The irony was a bit much for me. We're not going to fix this gap without fixing that attitude.

One more attitude adjustment that seems to be required: we need funding for more vet schools (or more capacity at existing ones). There are more applicants who would qualify, I'm sure, than we are admitting. Let's find a place for them. Let's recruit the ones with skills we need (math, agriculture, economics). Let's plug the hole.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

And they actually use it? Amazing

Submitted for your approval. I've already approved.

Really, the questions on the importance on not being a handout, on dealing with feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, on the importance of fresh air and exercise, they all coalesce into the answer of this program. People get healthier food for lower cost while working for themselves and others. What's not to love?

Recently, a member of my Sunday School class gave us a plea: the church food bank was getting bare and needed to be filled with basics. She provided a list of the top 10 items needed, all non-perishable; peanut butter and jelly, tuna, canned fruit, dry cereal, shelf-stable juice, boxed meals, all of the items were processed, involved a fair amount of packaging (in a town with minimal recycling), and did not involve much by way of cooking or flavor. I brought in a bag from my weekly shopping, although many things I couldn't get because I shop at the local co-op.

[Expensive, yes; I could have brought more if I spent the same amount of money at Wal-Mart. I have one issue there, though: is it right to supply people with food that was low cost when the cost was kept low by denying those people the wages and benefits necessary to afford their own food? I think not, so I bought at my locally-run store that stresses sustainable production practices.]

Look at that list. High fructose corn syrup is a major ingredient. So are preservatives and oils. The keys to good nutrition are not so much. Cheap and shelf-stable is the object. Obesity and diabetes in the poor, meet your maker.

I know that there are sources of fresh things for these programs. I heard somewhere that excess produce from the community garden (where I have a plot) is donated to the FlintHills Breadbasket, the master organization that in turn supplies the pantries in all the churches around town. I also know that the community garden provides free plots, seeds, and help to people with incomes below a certain level depending on their family size; as a graduate student alone, by the way, I was in the highest income bracket! Still, with the pantries empty, there were unused plots in our garden this year. The space is available, so where are the people? They probably didn't know about it, with the low-key advertising they do (I found it by searching for it online, hoping it existed). It needs a program, like the one above, to reach out specifically to those lacking food security.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get a program like this set up in communities around the US? The implications for public health are astounding.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A thousand monkeys . . .

I had a thought today, after watching the trailer for Eragon. I enjoyed the first book, but I have a feeling that anything on paper with a decent storyline and acceptable grammar would be enjoyable to me. Part of being a bibliophile and voracious reader.

Anyways, although I am enjoying the series and will most likely buy the third in hardcover, there's something . . . lacking. It's not as satisfying as a new Jordan or Martin or even Eddings. Roxann and I discussed it and decided that it seemed almost to be like fan-fic, Mary-Sue's and all.

And today, the epiphany: this is a case of the elephant painting phenomenon. Someone decided to teach elephants to paint. The elephants turn out decent, but not spectacular, modern-style paintings that sell for large amounts of money because, of course, they were painted by elephants, which is cool, right?

I'm not saying Paolini is an elephant or anything of the kind, just that he's become very popular, with a book and movie deal, in large part because, wow, a teenager writing fantasy novels! Novelty, if you'll excuse the pun. There's better writing, better stories being passed over because they don't have a hook like the 16-year-old author.

I'll still read the series. I'll watch the movie. But now, when I do, elephants are going to be dancing in my head.

From today's news trawl

Two items from the news today:

First, Walmart's decision to offer low-cost generic drugs in its pharmacy. I still don't like Walmart. I think it has damaged the American economy. What I find here is that 1) people are having to choose between food and drugs (which don't really work well in the undernourished) and 2) if drugs can be sold at $4/30-day supply for a profit, the fact that they are currently selling for $10-30/30-day supply is a travesty. The lesson in my opinions on this case: rational thinking by corporations is not always good thinking for the public.

Second, a commentary on the spinach contamination raised some interesting issues. Yes, cattle on feed are likely our biggest source of 0157:H7. Yes, hay feeding before slaughter is a good idea (currently in use, if I'm not mistaken). No, no, no we can't blame cattle farms for the entire problem! If these produce farms are using untreated manure for fertilizer, they are the problem. Even if the source of the manure was living as if in the wild (making, of course, collection a problem), there would be pathogens in the manure. I think this is similar to the solution to global warming of removing those horrible methane-producing cows; we want to blame the other, and, with the consolidation of the American livestock industry, cattle farmers make a pretty small other most people don't know personally. Frankly, people, you want safe food, stop eating anything that hasn't been boiled. You want fresh produce, there will be some risk involved.

Friday, September 15, 2006

In news today

A sampling:
1) Listened to the Bush press conference. When he was asked about his relationship with the UN, he brought up Darfur as an example of problems with the UN. You see, the UN refuses to send troops in without Sudan's approval. Bush actually said "You know, there's another way (heh heh heh)". My blood chilled.

2) The E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach. Any food safety expert could tell you that bagged, pre-washed greens are probably not the safest way of getting your greens. Finding out that companies providing this spinach (enough that they haven't traced it back yet) are using untreated manure as fertilizer just reinforces this. Buy local, people. Know your farmers.

3) DDT use in malaria control in Africa. Will the bio-accumulation not happen because we're only suggesting spraying inside the house? You've got to be kidding me; bugs are not limited to in-house and outdoors. There are other issues here, though: who's paying for it? Who's controlling it? I'm not convinced.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Are pheremones transferred that easily?

I was reading through the archives of Rob and Elliot today and ran across this. It got me thinking: why are female vets considered (in the comics world) to be desirable, usually along the lines of booth babes et. al. Is it a holdover from the Garfield days? Is it a combination of animal taming and nurse fantasies? Do the nerdboys sense that we are all nerd girls at heart? Why?

And why is it only in comics?

Friday, September 08, 2006

The current earworm

This Is My Song
words by Lloyd Stone
to the tune of Finlandia by Jean Sibelius

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A sore subject

NPR talking about a subject that few will care about or even know about. I'm proud. Yes, horses are regularly harmed by their owners, out of "love" (at least of winning). Saddlebred riders break some horses' tails to set them into what they think is a pleasing shape. Many people in Saddlebred, Arab, and Morgan circles stick a paste of ginger up the horse's anus to force a similar look. I've heard of Quarter Horse owners tying their horses' heads to cement blocks to force their heads down (I can't confirm this; Morgan and Quarter Horse people didn't really work together where I come from). For somebody to actually do something about the most obvious of the illegal practices (the tail set is actually legal) is impressive. For national news to report on it is even better. Bravo!

Viral annoyance

I have a cold.

2 days ago, it was a basic runny nose, slightly sore throat sort of thing. In fact, contra dancing made it feel better. No big deal.

Yesterday, I woke up unable to sing any interval above a mid G without cracking. My choir was singing the 8:30 service at my church, so I joined the baritones. I didn't have to reach for a low C. In case you're wondering why this is shocking, my normal comfort range is low F to high B. I sing tenor on occasion, but I can never use full voice on the low parts the way I was yesterday. By the end of the day yesterday, I couldn't sing at all. I was a little stuffy, but mostly it was a slightly sore/mucousy throat.

This morning, I woke up to the full-blown cold. I'm going through about 6-10 tissues an hour. I would say that sneezing hurts my throat, but really, doing nothing hurts my throat. Sneezing just makes the pain briefly agonizing. No fever, no chills, nothing serious -- just highly annoying coldish existence.

This is highly annoying to me. Yes, this would be annoying to anyone. The thing bothering me is that I'm pretty sure how I got it (spending the weekend before last with my sister (who works in a hospital as a juvenile psychologist), her husband (a high school teacher), and their son (in the hospital daycare). I spent 4 days with the ultimate virus-sharing family. I got a cold virus.

The other thing bothering me is that I'm doing everything right (well, not everything -- staying out until 1:30 for dancing wasn't smart) and it's not going away. I've doubled my vitamin B/C intake. I've been drinking cold care tea. I slept in this morning (Labor Day closing the gym helps in forcing this). I've eaten well and drunk lots of water. I'm in good shape and generally healthy. And it's not going away! It's getting worse!

Yes, I understand how this happens. I know that my immune system is picking up and will clear it out in its own time. I even know that yesterday afternoon was the beginning of the secondary bacterial infection in the nasal mucosa. Yet, knowing all this, there's nothing I can do.

It's highly annoying to know that nothing you know is going to help.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A depressing exercise

1. Read the chapter on the Mayans in Collapse
2. 3 hours later, read this article on sustainable agriculture (or the lack thereof) in the contemporary US system
3. Draw parallels
4. Weep for the inability of our species to actually learn anything

Thursday, August 24, 2006

My garden likes yogurt

You must read this. If you are a layman, read it for the perfect explanation of commensal bacteria and how not to screw them up. If you are a colleague, read it for the above to share with laymen. Read it. And take responsibility for your personal not-contributing-to-antimicrobial-resistance.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The doors (or gates) of the AIDS fight

Surprisingly, some people have realized that fighting AIDS is not just fighting disease. We can have the best medicine available to us, but people have to take it. People can take their medicine, but they also have to eat. They have to be able to walk safely to the clinic for their checkups. They have to be able to receive treatment for other illnesses. They have to be free to live, work, and be people. We can't just give them some drugs and hope the problem will go away.

Is that what the Gates Foundation is doing, though? Yes, their AIDS efforts are focusing on antiretroviral therapy. They also fund education programs. And nutrition efforts. Community-based programs. People like to describe them as a giant band-aid, throwing money at a problem that money can't fix. Well, I'm reminded of the bumper sticker: 'Money can't buy happiness, but neither can poverty.' Money can't fix the AIDS pandemic. Drugs can't fix it. Politically charged statements by ex-presidents can't fix it. Devout reliance on either abstinence training or condoms can't fix it. But ignoring the problem can't, either, nor can fighting about it. If we all take a step in the same direction from our different starting points, maybe we'll end up at the finish line together.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Good idea, Luke

I wasn't tagged but I felt like doing this. (Ditto)

1. Grab the nearest book

2. Open the book to page 123

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions

5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.

6. Tag three people.

The appropriate measure of association depends on the study design and its corresponding measure of disease frequency.
From Veterinary Epidemiologic Research by Dohoo et. al.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A little evolution lesson

All Things Considered this afternoon had a brief story about MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staph aureus), so here's a brief response:

The story discussed the fact that MRSA seems to be present in community-acquired skin infections on a more regular basis. Rather than sticking to ICU's and drug-using groups, it's been diagnosed in suburbia. However, while the strain in the hospitals is famously pan-resistant, the community-acquired strain is susceptible to the old drugs that are hardly ever useful anymore.

The narrator seemed suprised by this. I am not.

If you hit a group of bacteria with 3rd and 4th generation antimicrobials, the resistance to those drugs will become predominant thanks to selection pressure. If you don't challenge them with the old stuff (penicillin et. al.), that selection pressure is not there; hence, resistance to those strains (if it is independent of other resistance factors) gives no special advantage and may very well go away.

How many suburban kids are getting straight penicillin these days?

Submitted without comment

I couldn't help it.

The Onion usually makes me laugh, but this is too true to be funny. Or not. Okay, it's hilarious.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Je prefiere

My sister sent me to this site, after reading Blink. It's supposed to identify your initial prejudices. Yep, probably works. There were some surprises for me, but mostly it was my complete failure to line up with most of the automatic preferences they were obviously expecting. A few came out (I seem to associate African Americans with weapons and careers with men), but mostly I was neutral and in a few I broke the expected paradigm (a preference for Judaism over other religions, for example, and an association between Native Americans and American things). Or was I?

As I took these tests, I would routinely catch myself. I had a lot of the preferences they expected to see. I was just fast enough to hide them. That is far more disturbing to me than the results they gave me. I was proud to score such that I was unprejudiced and open-minded, but I know at some level that those scores are false. I am prejudiced. Maybe it's buried deeper in me than in other people, maybe I hide it better, but the prejudice is there. And that hurts.

Friday, August 11, 2006

How I spend the first hour at work every day

This is really just to get them all in one place away from my laptop, but here's my morning 'trawl', to use snark-speak (updated 1/11/08, and I've discovered Foxmarks, but people ask):
Sluggy Freelance - mad science and relationships
Irregular Webcomic! - spoofs and creative Lego use
Get Fuzzy - like Garfield crossed with Boondocks
PvPonline - geek culture and daily funny
Doonesbury - call me a political geek
Evil Inc. - superhero Dilbert
Schlock Mercenary - sci fi
Arthur, King of Time and Space - yeah, I was really into Arthuriana for a while
Narbonic - mad science at its best (over, but in re-runs with director's commentary)
Skin Horse - new from the author of Narbonic
Bunny the Book of Random - really, just randomness with bunnies
Political comics from NYT
Anywhere But Here - relationships (or lack thereof) with bizarrity
Questionable Content - relationships with sarcasm and indie rock
Ozy and Millie - grade school, multiculturalism, political sarcasm, hard to describe
Count Your Sheep - sweet and silly
XKCD - science humor, always ROFL
The Order of the Stick - fantasy/geek culture
Girl Genius Online Comics! - fantasy/mad science at its best (new)
Looking For Group - fantasy, but heading for "you lost me status"
Gunnerkrigg Court - fantasy without the funny
Full Frontal Nerdity - geek culture
The Non-Adventures of Wonderella - very wicked superhero
Piled Higher and Deeper - I am a grad student
Home Star Runner - my first love (webcomics-wise)
Todd and Penguin - Hobbes without the introspection
chopping block - sick and wrong, but funny
Crap I Drew on My Lunch Break - funny slice-of-life/autobiographical
Platinum Grit - Australian mad science
The Broken Mirror - hasn't updated enough times to know
You had me and you lost me (more snark-speak)
Dominic Deegan: Oracle For Hire - fantasy
Shortpacked! - geek culture
Defunct/not updating
Home on the Strange - relationships (now over)
Casey and Andy - mad science
Gossamer Commons - fantasy
The Pet Professional - strange taste for a vet, but really . . .
girl/robot - sci fi and cynicism

What’s going to kill us all next?

Final paper for my class on emerging diseases:

The longer I spend studying emerging diseases, officially or recreationally, the more I am convinced that hype will be the death of us. Forget bird flu, mad cow, super bugs, frankenfoods, or whatever clever nickname the media comes up with next. We’re actually all going to drown in a sea of clever nicknames.

In all seriousness, science is in more peril of death through over-hyped politicians than the average American is through disease emergence. Fear-mongering among infectious disease researchers, each looking for more government grants and pharmaceutical studies, is an emerging threat. As the case of Thomas Butler forebodes, infectious disease research is becoming both more lucrative and more fraught with danger. (Disclaimer: my MS is being funded by a USDA grant thanks to the surge in funding available in biosecurity.)

For US science, the only real solution is science education. If politicians were not scientifically illiterate (to a great degree), scare tactics would be useless. If federal officials understood the process of scientific research, they would be able to create meaningful and useful processes for control. If the public was familiar with basic scientific concepts, the media would not be able to (or have to) dumb down infectious disease news to Chicken Little and See No Evil.

That is the American (and, to some extent, European) reality. The situation in the developing world is much closer to horror than hype. With the near complete lack of diagnostic capabilities, government interest, control or surveillance, the majority of the global population is living in a time bomb waiting to explode. If the developed world is at risk, it is from the incubation potential in the developing world.

Where are we going? If things continue as they do, with funding pledged but not delivered, with isolationism and protectionism, with ignorance and complacency, the future does not look bright. The systems we are building with social, economic, and technological inequity will not protect us; they will eventually be broken down by the transboundary nature of the most serious infectious diseases. Unless changes are made, pandemics will become a regular but unpredictable reality.

What changes could protect us? Giving teeth to the only organizations with a presence in international disease control (WHO, OIE, FAO) would be a good start; the voluntary nature of the current system is unsupportable when diseases are mandatory. Fully funding even a tenth of the surveillance programs in existence would also be a strong step forward; the protections we have in place won’t work without supplies and staff. The most important move we could make, though, is to encourage education. Strong scientific education in the developed world would most likely result in a public that cares about funding disease research and control. Health education in the developing world could make a dent in the behaviors that breed epidemics. As the world understands infectious diseases better, infectious diseases have fewer chances to emerge and spread.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Emergence of Mycobacterium bovis and its Effect on Human Health

A summary I wrote up for my class on emerging diseases:

The Pathogen

Mycobacterium bovis is the member of the Tuberculosis complex most removed, evolutionarily, from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is considered to be close to the ancestor organism1. It is a slow-growing bacteria that causes caseous abscesses, primarily in lungs and secondarily in lymph nodes, liver, spleen, and mammary glands2.


M. bovis is primarily transmitted by aerosol droplets, but can also be present in milk, urine, feces, and, rarely, reproductive fluids3. Pasteurization is sufficient to kill the organism, as is prolonged exposure to the elements3. Human to human transmission is possible, but less efficient than animal to animal and animal to human transmission4. Risks for infection are family cattle ownership, work with animals, and consumption of raw milk and raw or poorly-cooked meat4.

Host Species

Unlike M. tuberculosis, M. bovis is a pathogen of a variety of species. Besides humans, it can be identified in cattle, badgers, bison, buffalo, and deer, among others3. The pathogen is endemic in a variety of areas, including the wild cervids of Minnesota5 and Michigan6, badgers in the UK7, and possums in New Zealand8.


Primary diagnosis of TB in cattle and deer is through intradermal testing, which has the advantage of being cheap, easy, and laboratory-free9. This does not identify the strain of Mycobacterium involved and it is time-intensive. Other methods, including immunologic assays, are able to diagnose species, but they are more expensive and require laboratory capabilities beyond the ability of many developing countries. Because of these problems, the prevalence of M. bovis in most of the world is unknown.


In the developed world, human outbreaks of M. bovis occur primarily through raw-milk products such as soft cheeses10. At risk, however, are the immunosuppressed, especially from multi-drug resistant strains2. Epizootics have the potential to spread to humans, especially in animal keepers and meat industry workers2. In the developing world, especially Africa, food hygiene and close animal contact are the primary risk factors for infection4.


The main problem in the developed world is due to latency. TB can be overlooked early in infections, due to the slow growth of the organism, and can be reactivated years after apparent clearance11. In the developing world, the problems are legion: cultural attitudes and habits that maximize pathogen spread, immunosuppression from HIV infection, lack of diagnostic capabilities, and overall complacency towards what is considered a livestock disease12.

Reference List

1. Hewinson RG, Vordermeier HM, Smith NH, et al. Recent advances in our knowledge of Mycobacterium bovis: A feeling for the organism. Vet Microbiol 2006;112:127-139.

2. Thoen CO, LoBue P, de Kantor I. The importance of Mycobacterium bovis as a zoonosis. Vet Microbiol 2006;112:339-345.

3. Neill SD, Skuce RA, Pollock JM. Tuberculosis--new light from an old window. J Appl Microbiol 2005;98(6):1261-1269.

4. Ayele WY, Neill SD, Zinsstag J, et al. Bovine tuberculosis: an old disease but a new threat to Africa. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis 2004;8(8):924-937.

5. Bovine Tuberculosis Surveillance. Available at:

6. About Bovine Tuberculosis. Available at:,1607,7-186-25804---,00.html.

7. Bovine TB-What is bovine tuberculosis? Available at:

8. Lake R, Hudson A, Cressey P. Risk Profile: Mycobacterium bovis in milk. In: Anonymous. Christchurch, NZ: Institute of Environmental Science & Research Limited, Christchurch Science Centre, 2002;1-31.

9. Palmer MV, Waters WR. Advances in bovine tuberculosis diagnosis and pathogenesis: what policy makers need to know. Vet Microbiol 2006;112(2-4):181-190.

10. Anonymous. Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Disseminated Mycobacterium bovis Infection from BCG Vaccination of a Patient with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. 1985;34(16):227-228.

11. Hancox M. Latency and the control of bovine TB in man and other animals. Respir Med 2003;97(9):1075-1077.

12. Cosivi O, Grange JM, Daborn CJ, et al. Zoonotic Tuberculosis due to Mycobacterium bovis in Developing Countries. Emerg Infect Dis 1998;4(1):59-71.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I don't want to think about it

A few things lately have brought the concept of complacency to the forefront of my mind:

The first is work-related. I'm taking my required summer-full-time-student class right now, Emerging Diseases. One of the factors for emergence, and especially re-emergence, of diseases is complacency towards the risk. For example, the first deaths thought to be due to West Nile Virus in New York City were birds noticed by a vet at the Brooklyn Zoo, but the officials pretty much patted her on the head and told her to go back to the fuzzy animals where she belonged. If you were in the US in the last 5 years, you probably know how that ended.

Today we were discussing the (lack of) government response to Hurricaine Katrina and its cause, which was a combination of complacency and politics as usual. There are myriad examples in public health (interesting fact from today: 1 in 4 middle-class suburbanites has genital herpes) of a disease or issue being ignored because, well, we can't be bothered to change. Grr.

And then there's the opposite of complacency towards disease. After hiding SARS and H5N1 infections from the world, allowing dangerous spread of dangerous diseases to avoid losing face, China has decided to fight back. Is beating 50,000 dogs to death going to stop rabies? Maybe. Is it the way to go? NOOOOO! Bad China! Bad! My instructor (a rabies control expert) mentioned that there was talk of trying to eradicate rabies in a developing country. China was an option, but she didn't think it was a good idea (I think in part because, as she said, she'd rather go to Tanzania). Are they trying to show their fitness for an eradication campaign? 'Cause if they are, don't suggest eradicating AIDS to the Chinese government.

The second thing that got me thinking about complacency was a weekly email devotion that arrived today. At first I was a little wary of the opening citation, Lebanon weeping etc., but the commentary was amazing. Really, part of the problem in the Middle East is complacency in the citizens, a refusal to step up and say that they want peace, a self-denial of the extremism that is running their respective countries. If the people who are being bombed etc. were to raise their hands and say they want peace, would terrorism go away? Of course not. Would it lose its mandate in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Iran, or any country being ruled by violence? Maybe. Would something change? Definitely.

Complacency extends far beyond war and disease. In a fair amount of cases of poverty and dispossession, the poor are complacent because 'what can they do?' while the non-poor are complacent because they're not struggling. In those cases, development workers need to educate the poor and non-poor alike if they hope to effect change.

The third thing to get me on the issue of complacency is my mother having breast cancer. She was diagnosed yesterday, after a routine mammogram sent her to biopsy-world. No, she wasn't complacent. I want to be. Really, I want to be able to ignore how serious this whole situation is. I want to pretend a double mastectomy is a minor procedure with no risks. I want to believe her prognosis is excellent. I want to go on trusting my mom to be there. I want to be complacent. I can't be. Curse you, medical training!

I deplore complacency that allows disease and war and poverty to spread, but I think I'm starting to understand it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Logical thinking on Sunday?

No, this isn't a religious post.

Yesterday, I decided to make fudgy brownies. I checked a few of the most promising among my cookbooks (since checking them all is pointless and would take far too long). Two recipes were almost identical. One used twice as much butter. The other used half again as much flour. I decided to combine the two for fudgier brownies.

It never occurred to me that the two ingredients might be related.

I have very fudgy, rather greasy brownies that are hard to remove in pretty squares. Thank goodness I made them for myself!

Monday, July 24, 2006

. . . and don't even get me started on Europe

I wrote this earlier, but the site froze up on me. So this will be different.

The Doha round collapsed today.

The point was to encourage free trade. All sides involved want free trade. What differs is their definitions of free.

The talks fell apart over the issue of agricultural subsidies. See, 'developed' countries pay their farmers to produce food. They don't want to stop doing that. More importantly, the farmers that elect certain politicians don't want those subsidies to stop.

The U.S., though, produces a food surplus. We (the taxpayers) are paying farmers to produce more food than we (the citizens) can eat. Is that food given at low or no cost to poor at home and abroad? No; it is thrown away, added to the middle-class waistline, and (most often) sold for a profit overseas. Not a profit for the government or the taxpayers, but a profit for the multinational corporations responsible for distribution of agricultural products in most of the world.

For these corporations, free trade is simply lifting all import barriers. "Subsidies are not import barriers," they cry, "we're not stopping the sale of your products!" For them, nothing could be nicer than to have that form of free trade.

They sell their nice, cheap, overproduced American corn and wheat all over the world at a tidy profit.

Thanks to subsidies, their sources in the U.S. are much cheaper than local sources in the poorer countries that can't afford to subsidize.

Local farmers in the world's worst economies are undercut and driven out of business.

Without a livelihood, they are reliant on non-existent industries and deeply indebted governments for the necessities of life.

The economy of the poorer nations of the world collapses.

The multinationals (based in the U.S. and Europe) get very, very rich.

The politicians get campaign contributions.

Everyone's happy . . .

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Refrigerator Raid Dessert # 1

I may share these with you as they come out well or not. I wanted dessert after lunch. This is what I came up with 2 days before my bi-monthly shopping trip:
brown rice, cooked
cashew butter
plain yogurt
grated fresh ginger
Nice nutty, slightly spicy flavor. Very filling

That Hideous Separation

I've been re-reading That Hideous Strength. As a fan of science fiction/fantasy novels and C. S. Lewis, this is an old favorite. Amazingly enough, despite my bibliophilic tendencies, this is my third copy of the book, the first 2 having walked away. It is that good.

One of the concepts I had never really considered before jumped out at me this time. (This is why I re-read books). In a conversation, the idea of separations becoming more evident, more distinct over time is posited.
. . . at a given point in its history you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp; and that there's going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous.
And this has been recent news?!? The debate over the red/blue state divide is simply an extension of this concept, here mentioned in a novel copyright 1945. I guess this means that things are going to get worse, more divided, less co-operative. Hard thoughts for a fierce independent like myself to get a hold on. This indicates that my choices about who to vote for are 'more momentous' every year.

Then we come to my current workout book (being the book I read at the gym while on the machines). I picked it up at a used bookstore I like because the title looked to be on the lines of a current interest of mine, A Moral Mandate to Vote. I've been reading God's Politics with my Sunday School class, so I thought this would be a logical extension. A quick scan of the back seemed to concur: Social Security, war, helping the poor. I should have read more closely. As far as I can tell, the MD/author seems to think the only issue one should consider when voting is abortion. He spends the first 3-4 chapters (as far as I've gotten) explaining the dire importance of abortion being considered wrong. I can only suppose we'll go from there to the dire importance of something wrong being illegal, connecting us to the argument that abortion should be illegal. He hasn't sold me on that being the only platform that matters, though. Not yet. If he does, I'll be impressed.

I'm all for debate on abortion. I think it's a dangerous concept to have bouncing around in anybody's head, the idea that a fetus is basically a parasite. It resembles the (much less controversial or important) debate of what makes a flower a weed. (On this topic, by the way, Bush's veto of stem cell research funding is simply carrying his side of the argument to its logical conclusion, just like Singer's support of infanticide is on the other side. You can't fault them for that. Other things, maybe, but not their wholehearted support of one side of the debate. Which, I guess, is the point of this essay.)

But abortion being the only issue? The only issue? The author goes to great length to cite the number of Biblical references to God's care for life. I wonder if they outnumber the references to caring for the poor, or forgiving debts, or any number of possible criteria for choosing a candidate that he claims pale in comparison. Or even if we should rate the importance of an issue to God by the number of verses we can make relate to it.

I can't sharpen my political views to one talking point. I wouldn't want to. I have a mental list (abortion is on there, but so is war/peace, the poor, education, health care, international diplomacy, and any other number of things a politician might confront). I try to keep an open mind. I have voted both for and against candidates based on how they objectively measured up to that list. The 2-party system doesn't work for me. I don't want things to be divided more than they have to be.

But maybe that's Lewis' point. Maybe we've progressed to where this division has become essential. If that's the case, maybe I should move to England or Canada . . .

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


. . . a critic is really just anyone who thinks out loud about something he or she cares about, and gets into arguments with fellow enthusiasts. -A.O. Scott, NYT
I am new to the world of fandom, really. Or at least fairly green. While I was friends with a number of groups that are generally associated with fandoms (Anime Club, Gaming Society) in college, it was in the role (once on the web page for one of them, even) of official unofficial member. I enjoyed their offerings on occasion, but was never devoted enough to actually bother joining. Clubs without dues, so far as I know, so you see how non-intense my commitment was. I would happily discuss Sailor Moon and Gundam Wing, happily play Once Upon A Time or Settlers of Catan, but that was about as far as I went.

Then a certain boy introduced me to webcomics. And I was quickly indoctrinated to the ways of fandoms, both by observation and discussion. 'Cause I'm a sucker for plot lines and character development. (Yes, I'm one of those girls who fell in crush with characters in books. Still do, sometimes.) I don't join communities . . . yet . . . but I do read comments on occasion. And I read (and occasionally comment on) Websnark. Who was remarking today on the entitledness of fandom.

Then along comes the New York Times. Also the fault of said boy; before him, I was happily shallow with Time and CNN International. And today's article about whether movie critics are getting it wrong, because they aren't managing to second guess audiences. His conclusion was that no, they shouldn't be. But the comment above . . .

First, is argument a critical (pardon the pun) part of criticism? Can one be a critic by discussing something artistic or thought-provoking in a movie if no-one disagrees with you? Is it really possible, actually, to take a stand on any issue without finding disagreement somewhere? Only if your audience is really, really small, so no big deal there.

More important is the comment that to critique something, you have to care about it. Care. As in feel some emotion. So criticism cannot be detached? No, not really. When people tell you, giving your critique of something, that you're too emotional, you might want to ask why you'd be taking your time if you weren't emotional. The logical extension of this is that there may be a fallacy involved in our system of professional critics. They may be emotional about artistry, but not always the piece in question. Are they still critics if they write/talk/etc. about something that had no effect on them (be it revulsion or exultation)?

Something to remember when you read the movie/book/music reviews.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Vain to be an American

This is a problem. I can't really solve it, sorry. Much, much wiser people than I have fallen into it. It's a fairly common situation in the US. I am as guilty of it as any, although we all experience it in slightly different ways.

Cultural elitism.

Remember (and I'm sure you do) the song 'God Bless America'? This song has been attacked by non-Christians, and I think they have a point. When we sing this song (as most churches do every year around the 4th of July), we are asking God to bless our country, and no other.

I'm not saying we shouldn't pray for blessings on our country, but we shouldn't do so to the exclusion of all others. I much prefer the less common 'This Is Our Song'. It is careful to point out that, yes, we have a beautiful country, and so do a lot of other people. Besides, Finlandia is a much prettier tune.

The problem of cultural chauvinism is especially prevalent in the development world, where I would like to spend the bulk of my career, so I've been giving it a bit of thought lately. I've always known that it existed, even within the different groups of the US. I have several good examples from my first working trip overseas, in Mongolia; not from the Mongolians, but from being the only Yankee on the American team. Also, the only member of a liturgical church. At times, I felt more accepted by the locals because they expected and embraced the differences.

That trip was the first time I witnessed the tying of the gospel to cultural norms. During our devotions on the 4th of July, we sang 'God Bless America' with a room full of Mongolians. I'm not kidding. It was considered an essential part of their English lessons. Even then, something about that grated on me.

The problem is that when we correlate universal truths, like the gospel or scientific advancements, with our societal understanding of them, rejection of any part of our culture results in rejection of the truths. We have irrevocably connected the baby to the bathwater, and both may get thrown out.

There's another side to cultural elitism. When we see people living more primatively, poorer, or with less education, we assume them to know, well, nothing. Rather than seeing them as people who have lived in their milieu for centuries or millenia, who may understand the environment and resources available to them better than any cursory survey, we consider them to be fully ignorant. Denying any gifts from their history, we forge ahead with our plans. This may be worse in the long run. As Bryant Myers writes in Walking With the Poor, the poor know how to live as poor. They've been doing it for a while.

One of the only solutions I've seen, and the only one I consider viable, is listening. To listen to people, rather than act on our understanding, is a rather humbling experience. As Americans, especially, we have trouble letting control out of our hands. If we don't, though, we may ruin a unique opportunity to serve.

You'll notice, perhaps, that I didn't bring political discussions to bear on this topic. I could, believe me. I'll choose not to in the interests of interesting more people and scaring away fewer. Nothing shuts some people down as much as the word politics . . .

Friday, July 07, 2006

I am a cold person

I just read a fantastic book, suggested by Christian Vet Missions for any short-term team leaders (which I am, at the moment). Foreign to Familiar is a very generalized guide to two types of cultures: hot and cold. New York, by the way, is cold (and yes, most of the time the heat is related to the climate as well as the culture; Kansas is rather luke-warm).

In reading, I realized why I was so often miserable when I worked in Senegal. It's a good country with nice people and an oppressively hot climate. It is also a very hot culture. This means that people consider relationships to be paramount. It means that their communication is very indirect, in order to avoid upsetting anyone. It means that they define themselves in groups more than as individuals. It means that their concept of event timing is looser.

As the title says, I'm a cold person. I come from a cold culture. I focus on results. I say what I mean and little else (if I know what I mean; otherwise I blabber). I consider myself to be an individual and act accordingly. I schedule.

In Senegal, I waited for people to invite me. That means I only visited with American missionaries. I never realized that the Senegalese were waiting for me to come visit. I could have sat down and chatted with any group I saw and been welcomed, but they would never actually tell me so. If I had been more proactive about meeting people, I would not have been so lonely. Instead, I was almost paralyzed by the treatment I got from some of the men, who very politely asked me if I would like to be their mistress. Since that came from almost every man I talked to, I assumed most of the men were like that. If only I had known -- those were the exceptions! The non-predatory men were assuming I would come talk to them if I wanted a conversation.

I did experience the indirect communication problem first-hand. The guest house where I lived was run by a man who only spoke Wolof. The cook, however, spoke French. The maid, when I spoke to her in French, smiled and responded to my greetings. She didn't talk much, but I assumed she was shy. She always smiled and nodded. Until the day I asked her a question that was not yes or no, when she smiled and nodded while I waited for an answer. She saw that she hadn't answered my question, so she led me over to the kitchen. The cook informed me that she didn't speak French, but he would translate for me. For 1 month I had chatted pleasantly at her and she hadn't understood most of it, but she wouldn't make me feel bad by letting me know! Imagine a New Yorker not telling someone if they didn't understand -- wouldn't happen.

The cultural differences also explain why I was joined at my table by a man I didn't know when eating at a restaurant once. I thought he was being pushy. He thought he was keeping both of us from being alone. As an introvert, I rarely have a problem with being alone. When I work in hot cultures, I'll need to be willing to give that up.

The biggest idea I need to remember and work on is the task-oriented mentality I bring to any project. I am an administrator at heart. I work in a detail- and results-focused industry. While I consider myself a big-picture person, the big picture I see is one that focuses on productivity and usefulness. This is all the result of being in a cold culture both personally and professionally. In hot cultures, though, the keystone of every interaction is the relationship. Especially going on a mission trip, but even just working, in those cultures I must spend more time on the people. I have known this cultural difference for a long time, after a Texan accused me of being rude because I cared more about not making people wait than taking more time with others. What I have to remember is that, when working in other cultures, I need to abide by the prevailing cultural values. I can't demand that my culture be accepted for me, because that is the kind of individualistic thinking that is also cultural. I need to let go.

Even in Kansas, I should remember this. As I said above, Kansas is luke-warm. In many ways, especially with people my age and younger, I can fit right in. With older people, though, and especially at church, I have to adapt to a warmer culture. People move a little slower, take a little more time with friendliness than I'm used to. In Kansas, though, the big cultural shock I have is the difference between high-context cultures (like the Northeast US) and low-context cultures (like the West and Mid-West, to varying degrees). Where I come from, there are protocols for communication. People dress up to show respect, for work or church. Basically, there are rules for human interactions. We're not as strict as Northern European cultures, but we follow a guidebook we've been studying since birth. In Kansas, there seem to be fewer rules about societal interactions. People are more casual, less formally respectful. They're not as easy-going as Californians, but they appear to be happy to let the rules be more lax. My cold, formal cultural background makes me a bit more likely to take offense. I need to learn to accept that difference.

The decisions I've come to are easier to say than to do, as they usually are. At least I have words for what's going on now.