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Monday, November 26, 2007

Enabling and Apologetics

I urge everyone to read this great post by Gil, where he respectfully takes apart some statements made by by Agudah spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran on the subject of child molestation. I agree with Gil's overall point. In my opinion, Rabbi Shafran is spending too much time explaining and obsessing on how Orthodox Jews are the victims of the media, and how our culture is under siege by people hell-bent on proving that the molestation issue is as prevalent in the Orthodox community as it is in society at large - and in doing so, Rabbi Shafran is completely dodging the issue here, an issue which sorely needs addressing. The issue that child molestation does exist in our schools, in our camps, in our neighborhoods. The issue that every single allegation of child molestation needs to be fully and thoroughly investigated. The issue that there are too many instances coming to light of people in our community turning a blind eye - whether out of ignorance or out of willful denial - to the cases of abuse that have seemingly occurred.

Is Rabbi Shafran correct that every allegation cannot automatically be treated as fact, and that there needs to be a some sort of balance to the wholesale panic and hysteria that can ruin lives if left unchecked? Yes. Is that the point that needs to be driven home? Perhaps - but it is certainly not the most important point to be made on this subject, and certainly not the point that needs to be made every single time Rabbi Shafran addresses the topic. It's almost as if Rabbi Shafran would have us believe that the fear of the community losing face over these allegations is somehow anywhere near as disturbing as the allegations themselves. The allegations, some quite credible, of children being abused in the most heinous manner by those who we entrust to care for them, to educate them. If Rabbi Shafran were to put out just one statement that would lead me to to believe that he is chagrined, devastated, completely emotionally wrought by the allegations of abuse and cover-up that have rocked the Orthodox world, then maybe I would feel more comfortable with the apologetics and attempts to paint the community at large as the actual victims of unfair media attention here. But the bottom line is that the victimhood is getting old. The victim here is not the Orthodox community, at the hands of a sensationalist press - or at least they are not the most pitiable victims. The victims, that just once, Rabbi Shafran might consider showing at least as much compassion for as he does for the reputation of our entire community, are...well, the actual victims of these heinous crimes.

Is Rabbi Shafran trying to enable child molesters? Is he truly looking to be complicit in the culture of cover-up that permeates our community when it comes to this subject? I don't believe he is. But I think his apologetics and his tone-deaf approach to the topic are misfiring, again and again.

Update to Board Boycott

Yeshiva World posts a welcome update to this post:
Last week, Yeshivaworld posted an article from the Times Herald Record regarding members of the Monticello School Board who decided to boycott a School Board Event which was scheduled for the first night of Chanukah.

Well now, the Record is reporting that the meeting has been cancelled after receiving “feedback” from other schools

One board member told the Record that “it was inappropriate to hold a meeting during the family-rich first night”.

BOCES Superintendent Martin Handler said that this was a scheduling mistake, and that it didn’t occur to anybody that the evening of December 4th was significant.

The meeting will be held sometime in January.
I'm pleased to see that the district took into account the sensitivities of the board members who felt they were being unduly inconvenienced by the scheduling conflict.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Go Directly to IVF - Do Not Pass Go?

A new study seems to suggest that couples suffering from infertility should not waste their time or money on less invasive fertility treatments, but instead should con sider going straight to in-vitro fertilization:
So it makes sense that some researchers are pushing to skip the middle step and go straight to IVF when the first-round effort fails. In a study presented last month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, doctors from Dartmouth Medical School and Boston IVF concluded that women who were fast-tracked to IVF got pregnant three months faster on average, and spent $10,000 less than those who went through the usual preliminaries.
Considering how many couples I know who tried most or all of the less invasive treatments before finally being successful with IVF, this study would seem to be recommending the exact opposite approach. What's particularly interesting is that I had a conversation with a close friend regarding the halachic parameters of fertility treatments, and her halachic authority was definitely recommending that she and her husband try other treatments before approaching IVF, and seemed to treat IVF as pretty much a last resort (short of treatments such as surrogacy and sperm/egg donors, which can raise more complicated halachic questions). One of the reasons seemed to be a psychological - that the couple should not pull out all the stops treatment-wise, and then be dejected if the holy grail of fertility treatments doesn't show immediate results. While I can understand the motivations behind that, this study would seem to show that such waiting, considering the lower rate of success from the less involved treatments, might be more of a cruel and unusual psychological punishment in and of itself, as the article notes:
Shorter waits bring welcome psychological relief. One study claimed that women going through infertility treatment were as distressed as women diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, or HIV. Fast-tracking can mean fewer episodes of dashed hopes. That could lead to less depression, anxiety, and stress, which hurts marriages and, some claim, may lower one's chances of conceiving.
Another reason seemed to be because her Rav was concerned about the supposed higher rates of multiple births with IVF, and the fact that such multiple pregnancies entail a higher risk for both mother and children - however, that IVF does have a higher propensity for multiple births seems to be disproved from the study noted above.
The first is the potential to prevent higher-order multiple births—triplets, quadruplets, and beyond, which carry a greater risk to the mother's and babies' health. Women who get pregnant from injections with insemination face a 10 percent to 15 percent chance of carrying litters because the drugs can make them release six or more eggs. There's no way to control how many get fertilized. With IVF, by contrast, doctors create embryos in a lab and choose how many to transfer back to the womb, bringing the risk of triplets and beyond down to 2 percent to 4 percent. (The odds of conceiving triplets naturally are between 1 in 6,000 and 1 in 8,100.) That IVF figure is likely to decline further as doctors increasingly transfer fewer embryos.
So the question is, will the halachic recommendations change as a result of these findings, as the medical recommendation is hopefully going to - if they haven't already? Feel free to chime in with your experience as to whether halachic guidance given to infertile couples jibes with this medical recommendation to fast-track IVF. Though I know a few people who received halachic guidance to wait on IVF until other treatments have been tried, I know of at least one friend, living in Israel, who received a psak to go straight to IVF - but that obviously might have been complicated by her specific situation. So I'd love to hear some weighing in - anecdotal though it might be - on what seems to be the halachic consensus at this moment.

More on halacha and infertility here, from the indefatigable Chana's excellent notes from a medical ethics conference she attended at YU.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Heroine of the Day

It has been 62 years since deaf and mute Irena Walulewicz risked her life to save a Jewish neighbor from the Nazis, but her heroism was never forgotten.

"I've thought about her so much," Golda Bushkanietz said tearfully as she hugged her savior for the first time since 1945 at Kennedy Airport Friday.

"I'm 94. I never thought I would see her again. I cannot fully express how grateful I am."

Desperate and terrified, Bushkanietz staggered into the Walulewicz household in Swieciany, Poland, after escaping a ghetto whose population the Nazis were preparing to kill.

"I knocked on a window and they let me in," said Bushkanietz.

"I thought there was an angel in the house."

For six months, the Catholic Walulewicz and her mother, Zofia, hid and fed Bushkanietz in their attic.

"I still remember lying under Irena's bed, trying to keep quiet because the family had friends in their house," said Bushkanietz.

"They opened their home and their hearts to me, risking their own lives in order to save me. Their altruism and bravery is what has allowed me to live and build a wonderful family of my own."

"I knew it was dangerous. I knew I could be killed at any time," Walulewicz, 82, said through a translator yesterday.

"I'm so happy to see her again. I didn't know she was still alive."

The reunion was planned by The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

After the war, Bushkanietz reunited with her husband, who had fled the ghetto with her and had been fighting with partisans.

The couple moved to Israel. They have two children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

"It's difficult for me to travel to the U.S. at my age, but to see Irena was a special treat," she said.

Walulewicz, who still lives in Poland, kissed Bushkanietz's son and grandson, who were with her yesterday.

"None of us, the whole of our family, could be here without Irena's heroic acts," said Jonathan More, 26, Bushkanietz's grandson.

"It's hard to put into words."

Plea for Help

I was asked to post about this urgent call for help:
Dear Friend:

My, neighbor, Zev Wolff, a 5-year-old boy, needs your help now.

This beautiful and bright child has been battling a rare form of pediatric cancer known as Neuroblastoma since he was 3. Following nine months of intensive treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital (MSKH), Zev was in remission. Fourteen months later, he relapsed. Zev has had to undergo major surgery, chemotherapy and radiation; nearly a year later, Zev's scans look good.

Unfortunately, Neuroblastoma has an extremely high rate of relapse.

Zev needs another drug to stay in complete remission. His little body is fighting the drug 3F8 with which he's currently being treated. Currently, a new is being developed. The improved drug could help cure Zev and 300 other children with this disease. But the new drug needs to be manufactured, at a cost of almost five million dollars.

Researchers have developed techniques that can be used to make antibodies like 3F8 more human-like which will be more effective and better tolerated by patients. A portion of the work will be carried out at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital Cancer Center, and part contracted to a small pharmaceutical company

Large pharmaceutical companies do not see the profit in healing only a few hundred children annually. We are appealing to you to leverage your influence, relationships and support to drive the humanization of 3F8 to benefit the several hundred children, like Zev, who fall victim to Neuroblastoma every year. When this antibody is better tolerated and more effective, and when it can be manufactured on a scale that is economical, the lives of more children will be saved from this deadly cancer.

Helen and Ranan Wolff, Zev’s parents are grateful to be a part of this community. Time and time again you have shown your generosity to the Wolff family. The meals, babysitting, blood donations, words of support.

Now I am asking for your generosity again.

Please, open your hearts to Zev Wolff. Zev has come so far, he's been so brave and so strong.

Please contact Dr. Asher Mansdorf at amansdorf@aol.com for more information on how you can help.
Please do anything you can to help.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Scientists to New Moms: Get Your Beauty Sleep (Yeah, right!)

On the heels of a study that shows that kids who do not get enough sleep have higher obesity rates, comes this:
Researchers presented a conundrum to new mothers on Monday, saying that women who want to lose the extra weight gained in pregnancy should try to get more sleep.

They found that mothers who slept five hours or less a day when their babies were six months old were three times more likely than more rested mothers to have kept on the extra weight at one year.

"We've known for some time that sleep deprivation is associated with weight gain and obesity in the general population, but this study shows that getting enough sleep — even just two hours more — may be as important as a healthy diet and exercise for new mothers to return to their pre-pregnancy weight," said Erica Gunderson of Kaiser Permanente, which runs hospitals and clinics in California.

Gunderson and colleagues studied 940 women taking part in a study of prenatal and postnatal health at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

The women who slept five hours or less a night when their babies were six months old were more likely to have kept on 11 pounds of weight one year after giving birth, they found.

Women who slept seven hours a night or more lost more weight, they reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers acknowledged this may pose a dilemma to new mothers, given that infants sleep so fitfully.

"With the results of this study, new mothers must be wondering, 'How can I get more sleep for both me and my baby?' Our team is working on new studies to answer this important question," said Dr. Matthew Gillman of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
Uh. great. I am SO glad that now that we know being up ALL NIGHT with a screaming baby might be keeping new moms from losing that baby weight may finally have scientists "working on new studies" to get babies and their mothers to sleep more. I mean, it was no problem at all for me to spend the wee hours of countless nights walking back and forth trying to comfort an alternately whimpering and howling baby in my arms - that is, until I found out that this was what might be keeping those pesky pounds from coming off. Because until now, it was perfectly bearable - even enjoyable, right? Thanks for the handy tip, Harvard geniuses! I wonder why getting more sleep didn't occur to me when I was a new mom? Us mothers will be sure to mention it to our colicky babies so that they can take their moms' weight loss needs into account before they make their evening plans!

Board Boycott

From Yeshiva World:
Given the option of spending the first night of Chanukah with family and friends, or going to a meeting, Monticello school board officials didn’t have to think twice - reports the Record Online.

They are reportedly boycotting a Sullivan County School Board Association dinner meeting that was curiously scheduled for the night of Dec. 4, which has been on the calender for a year as the first night of Chanukah.

Monticello Superintendent Pat Michel said he contacted the organizers, including BOCES Superintendent Martin Handler, asking them to reschedule.

“They mulled it over,” Michel told the Record.

“They said that is the night.”

“I don’t think they would schedule the event on Christmas Eve,” said Monticello school board member Jacob Billig, noting that the consensus of his board is to not attend. “To me it is very insensitive.”
Totally agreed. I think it is terribly insensitive to schedule a board meeting for the first night of Chanukah, and I completely support the Jewish board members in their plan to boycott the meeting. Christian members of the school board would never allow a meeting to be scheduled for Christmas or Easter, so it is unreasonable to expect board members of a different religious denomination to show up on a holiday that is as important to them. And for the record, I would feel exactly the same way if members of the Hindu religion were being asked to show up to a meeting scheduled for Diwali, or Muslims on Eid. This is America, and we all need to be respectful of each other's religious differences and boundaries, even if that happens to entail rescheduling a board meeting.

Shabbat Gadgets

I thought this was interesting:
Observing Shabbat but have to call your grandmother? Have to have a cup of coffee when you come back from weekend services? The halachic institute for science and technology has just the thing for you.

A group of engineers at the halachic institute, which specializes in Halacha-friendly technological developments, has come up with several new technological breakthroughs designed to ease the religious public's life, while keeping with all Shabbat-related mitzvahs.

The gadgets include, among others, a Shabbat air-conditioner, a Shabbat phone and a kosher, Shabbat espresso machine.

Many of the institute's developments are already in production, both in Israel and abroad, and several have been introduced to the public at a special show arranged by the Manufacturers Association of Israel.

These devices, said the MAI, have a potential $10 million a year market."We have gadgets that are meant to make life easier, such as the coffee machine and on the other hand, we have things like the Shabbat phone, that could help people in medical need," said Dov Zioni of the halachic institute.

One of the show's biggest hits was the Shabbat pen, which uses self-dissolving ink that disappears 24 hours after writing. "We're not talking about life and death situations here, when one's need to desecrate Shabbat to save a life goes without saying," added Zioni, "but for all those little grey areas we all encounter in our day-to-day lives."

"The industry finally realized the financial potential of developing products specifically for the ultra-Orthodox public," Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, who visited the show and was visibly pleased, told Ynet.

"We get to develop different technologies, create jobs and observe Shabbat. It's a win-win situation," he added.
I can't imagine that these products are going to gain much popularity in the ultra-orthodox community, as trade minister Yishai suggests in the article. I just don't see invisible ink pens or Shabbat phones making their way into Charedi homes for regular use on Shabbat and Yom Tov. That said, the gadgets would probably prove very useful in the army, or for hospital or Hatzalah use. Even though, as the article notes, using a phone or a pen isn't an issue in Pikuach Nefesh (life-saving) situations, it would be interesting to see these products in use for situations that are not clearly life-or-death. The products might also hold interest for those who are less observant, and would consider using a non-Shabbat phone or pen on Shabbat. In a case such as that, why not use one specially made to skirt the prohibitions of Shabbat?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Blogger Lawsuit Threat of the Day

So apparently, XGH has joined the elite little club of bloggers being threatened with legal action. As the story goes, Webads placed an ad on his blog, among others, for a book written by Rabbi Eliyahu Safran on the topic of Tzniut (modesty). XGH, upon perusing the book's website, noticed that in his bio, Rabbi Safran mentioned his wife's profession as a purveyor of fine custom wigs . XGH, on further investigation, noticed that said wig company sells some wig styles that he apparently feels are not in keeping with the spirit of Tzniut, and expressed as much in a satirical post. Evidently Rabbi Safran did not appreciate the joke, and threatened both Webads and XGH with a lawsuit unless the offending post was removed. XGH refused, at which point he and Webads severed their business relationship. Should be end of the story, except that according to this comment, Rabbi Safran is apparently still threatening both Webads and GH with legal action unless the offending post is removed.

A few points:
A. What does Webads have to do with this anymore? It seems to me that Rabbi Safran should have no further beef with them now that their relationship with GH has been severed. And even when their relationship was intact, it isn't as if there is any understanding that Webads has any control whatsoever of the content that goes up on the blogs on which they sell ad space. They placed an ad on GH's site, he posted something Rabbi Safran did not like, Rabbi Safran informed Webads, they severed the business relationship. Sounds like the Webads chapter is closed, and that they did everything they could to deal with the issue properly. The Webads chapter of this saga should be closed. They seem to be an innocent victim in all this, and I would hate to see Rabbi Safran bully them over this when it is clear they have no further control over the situation.

B. This is the reality of the blogworld, for better or for worse. Blogs are a little bit like the Wild West of the Jewish community. Just about anything goes - certainly more than what goes in the mainstream Jewish media or press. When that goes well for an advertiser, they can get a tremendous boost from a viral marketing campaign on a popular blog, or from a positive review or plug from a revered blogger. But when an anonymous blogger chooses to criticize, such is life. It's a bit naive to expect take the good without accepting the possibility of getting criticized. When you put yourself out there in an ad, expect to get the attention you are seeking. The fact is, attention is not always positive. Such is life. Which brings me to...

C. Was GH's criticism fair game? Some might say it was over the line, as it isn't as if his criticism was based on the content of the book. That said, whether or not I would have chosen to poke fun at the situation as GH did does not mean that his post topic was not fair game. Rabbi Safran did choose to put the information about his wife in his bio, and it isn't as if he mentioned that she was a seminary teacher. She deals in headcoverings, and the book is about Tzniut. Sounds like a reasonable topic to discuss, regardless of whether one agrees with GH's tone. I myself admit to being curious whether the author of a highly touted book on Tzniut endorses the wearing of glamorous sheitels named after movie actresses. Does anyone know if Rabbi Safran takes a position in his book on the propriety of various types of head coverings? I'd be interested in knowing.

D. As often happens when people make a big deal of a little thing, things tend to get magnified. I highly doubt many people would have cared what Rabbi Safran's wife does for a living, and had this not become an issue, XGH's post would have been pushed down by his usual busy posting schedule, and probably quickly forgotten. Instead, this issue has been dredged up in numerous posts at XGH's, and I'm sure will be picked up by many other bloggers. Sometimes it's better to simply let well enough alone. Trust me. I know this from personal experience. I got more traffic as a result of the Greenbaum lawsuit than I had ever gotten, and all Ms. Greenbaum et al succeeded in gaining was a larger audience for my views - the very views they found so offensive and hurtful in the first place. Probably not what they were looking for.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Book Review

I just finished a quick but well-written book over the weekend that I thought I would recommend to my readers. The title is Not Me by Michael Lavigne. The story is told from the vantage point of Michael, a middle-aged Jewish comedian, separated from his wife and son, and tending to his dying father. His father, who has always presented himself as a Holocaust survivor, hands Michael a box of journals which contain some writings with some pretty stunning clues as to the man's wartime activities, which leaves Michael struggling to connect the dots as to the truth about his father's past. The journals recount the story of a Nazi accountant who worked in a concentration camp, and then manages to escape the Allies at the end of the war by impersonating a Jewish Holocaust survivor and emigrating to what was then Palestine. The narrative is complicated by the question of whether the journals are works of fiction, or his father's actual memoirs of his experiences during the wartime years, and the story works through the confusion from the son's perspective nicely. What's interesting is how the author, in telling the story, seems to blur the line between victim and perpetrator until the reader's sympathies become a bit mixed up - and I am quite sure that that is not entirely a good thing when it comes to the subject matter at hand. Though one certainly feels some sympathies toward the father in the novel, and the author certainly works hard to make the point that there is a large gray area between what's "right" and what's "wrong", as well as how subjective the concept of identity can be, it was hard for me to see the father as having been an altruistic character, despite him being portrayed as being a devout Jew and having been involved in many Jewish causes in later life. That said, I would obviously never suggest that every literary work has to have some sort of moral message - so the book is still worth a read even if I can't empathize with some of the characters as the author seems to expect us to. The book also includes some interesting tensions between three generations' worth of father-son relationships.

The book actually reminded me of a different book I had recently read, Those Who Save Us, which tells a similar story of a grown child uncovering some long-buried secrets regarding a parent's wartime activities - in this case, a daughter about a mother. In terms of the actual secrets being uncovered, the author of this book does not have to work as hard to blur the line between victim and perpetrator - the mother of the main character is clearly a victim, despite her wartime activities in which she has an affair with a Nazi officer out of self-preservation - as well as a hero - in her own right, as compared to the father in Not Me, who I cannot characterize as showing any heroism throughout the book. Also, in Those Who Save Us, though the mother is portrayed as a sympathetic character, there is no attempt whatsoever to mitigate the evil in the portrayal of any Nazi sympathizers or Nazis proper, as there is in the pages of Not Me.

All in all, both books are worth picking up, though I wouldn't recommend reading them back-to-back, as the similarity in themes might get a bit repetitive.

If anyone has read either/both of these books and would like to treat this thread as an impromptu book-club meeting, feel free. I would be happy to join in.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Alternate-Side-of-the-Street Amusements

Clyde Haberman amuses in tomorrow's NYT:
Today is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, celebrating the triumph of good, represented by Lord Rama, over the forces of evil. It is a holiday that thrills some of my friends. Not that they are Hindus themselves.

The three-day Islamic feasts of Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha thrill them, too. They aren’t Muslims, either.

They are, in the main, Christians and Jews. Most of them are not the sort to be found in church or synagogue every Sunday or Saturday morning. But they derive enormous satisfaction from holy days like the Feast of the Assumption or from a days-long Jewish festival like Passover.

That is because they answer to a separate authority. Their true devotion is to the Church of Internal Combustion. You probably know these people better as car owners.

Nothing delights them more than a religious holiday, any religious holiday — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, it really doesn’t matter — that liberates them from the city’s alternate-side parking rules.

In the New York diocese of the Church of Internal Combustion, the highest virtue is being able to leave one’s car parked on the street for days at a time. Church members reach this state of exaltation through a special dispensation granted by a nonecclesiastical synod, a body called the City Council. The Council is vested with the supreme authority to suspend alternate-side rules. This it does. Faithfully.

Diwali, celebrated by Sikhs and Jains as well as by Hindus, is the latest holiday to receive the sacrament of discarded parking regulations. By official count, there are 35 such holidays through the year, spread across 44 days. Council members love few things more than adding days to the list. They have done so with fair regularity.

Although some members of the Church of Internal Combustion may not believe it, alternate-side parking does not exist to torment them. The rules were created for the common weal: to make it possible for Sanitation Department sweepers to do their stuff.

Once upon a time, the main exceptions to the rules were legal holidays, when city employees are off, and certain days on which observant Jews are forbidden to drive: Yom Kippur, for example. There is no known Talmudic exception for alternate-side parking rules.

But any privilege for a particular ethnic or religious group is not allowed to exist in this city without others’ claiming it as well. And so, over the years, the Council has steadily expanded the exemption list to include all sorts of holidays with no inherent proscription against driving: Ash Wednesday, Purim, the Asian Lunar New Year and All Saints’ Day, to name a few.
I always think it's hilarious when I hear the radio announcer declaring that "alternate side of the street parking rules are suspended" due to some minor Jewish holiday or other - particularly because if I am listening to my radio, it follows that there is no religious reason I can't get into my car and move it. But hey, it's certainly nice to see NYC celebrate and give equal footing to the different religious groups that make the city the great place it is.

Guatemala Bans Drunken Voting

This is interesting:
In the interest of democracy, Guatemala strives for a sober electorate.

Like many Latin American countries, Guatemala bans the sale or consumption of alcohol around election time., reports National Public Radio’s Morning Edition (listen here). So in preparation for last Sunday’s presidential vote, the country went dry from noon on Saturday until 6 a.m. on Monday. Officials say cutting off alcohol reduces political violence and results in clearer-headed voters.
So Latin American countries don't want their citizens' judgment impaired at all when they enter their votes. Because we all know that voters' always show good judgment, and never vote with anything but a clear head. Riiiight.

Nursing News

Is there a mom on this earth who hasn't yet heard of the studies that suggest that those who were breastfed as infants show measurably higher IQ's than those who were not? I doubt it - and I'm sure there are guilt-ridden moms worldwide because of those studies. Well, now there actually seems to be some hard-to-refute proof that such a link exists. In the past, some have argued that the link between intelligence and breastfeeding was tenuous at best, as it's hard to exclude the importance of other intelligence-affecting factors that might go hand-in-hand with breastfeeding - higher economic status, for example. But this new study seems to have taken that into account, and the results do seem to point to a correlation between breastfeeding and higher IQ's - but the benefits only apply to those children with a certain genetic variant. Children who do not possess that genetic variant do not seem to get that intelligence boost from breastfeeding at all, according to the study.

In theory, this should make some non-breastfeeding mothers feel less guilty, as the 7-digit IQ boost is far from a slam dunk, and out of their hands - who knows if their kid is one of the lucky group with the gene variant? But I see it instead as yet one more aspect of parenting to feel guilty about - not only do we have to worry about whether we are adequately nursing our children to pass along the benefits, we have to worry about whether we have even passed on the genetic capability for our children to gain in intelligence from breastfeeding.


Chicken or Egg?

In an interesting follow-up to the study that showed that children who don't get enough sleep have higher obesity rates, comes this study:
Eating just a few meals loaded with fat -- think holiday food -- could be enough to throw off the body's internal clock, starting a vicious cycle that could lead to obesity and diabetes, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

They found mice fed high-fat foods showed marked changes in their diet and sleep patterns, sleeping longer and eating when they should be sleeping.

"The effect can be seen quite rapidly -- within a matter of days," said Dr. Joe Bass of Northwestern University and Evanston Northwestern Healthcare in Illinois, whose study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

He said the study suggests overeating alters a core mechanism of the body clock, disrupting the timing of internal signals like appetite control.

"What we saw is that the ticking of the clock slowed down," Bass said in a telephone interview.

Known as the circadian clock, this internal time keeper manages the body's daily rhythms, regulating when to sleep, wake, eat and many other functions of the body.

Prior studies led by Bass found that a faulty body clock can raise the risk of obesity and diabetes. Bass' latest study shows that overeating can trigger this process.
So a lack of sleep can cause obesity - whether from a messed up body clock, or from just not getting yourself to sleep early enough. But the trigger to the faulty body clock could be the overeating. And to further confuse the matter, mice who overate were found not only to sleep poorly - but eat more and at inappropriate times:
"If you give a mouse a high-fat diet, they will eat excessive amounts," Bass said. "It is the same thing as human eating at McDonald's or eating too much at a Thanksgiving dinner."
So the question is, where does this vicious cycle of high fat diet/weight gain/sleep disruption/high fat diet/weight gain/sleep disruption start?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Today is election day, so as always, I hope everyone gets out there and votes in whichever elections your areas are having (despite what is shaping up here as some really lousy election-day weather.)

And while we're on the subject of elections, Mom in Israel has been chosen as a finalist in the 2007 Weblog awards, in the category Africa and the Middle East. Details are here. Please go over there and vote for her great blog.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Workplace Discrimination?

This story irks me:
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Choosing her religion over her work cost a Rossville woman her job.

At least that's what Loretta Sands contends in an employment-discrimination lawsuit that appears headed to trial.

Ms. Sands maintains she was fired from her position as a medical service coordinator at the Travis-based Community Resources because she took off two days in October 2005 to observe the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah.

Community Resources counters Ms. Sands, now 58, was fired for violating the company's attendance policy. Ms. Sands took off Oct. 4 and Oct. 5, 2005, despite receiving permission to be absent only one day.

Ms. Sands had been hired two weeks earlier and was on probation at the service provider for Staten Islanders with special needs, court papers said.

... According to court papers, Ms. Sands, who is Jewish, began working for Community Resources around Sept. 19, 2005. Shortly thereafter, she asked for two days off to observe Rosh Hashanah -- the beginning of the Jewish new year and one of the holiest times of the year.

After consulting her supervisor as well as Community Resources' director of human resources and chief operating officer, she received permission to take off one day. Because she was still on probation, Ms. Sands was technically not entitled to any time off, court papers said.

Despite those conversations, Ms. Sands took off both Oct. 4 and 5, 2005, and did not call in to work either day.

When she returned Oct. 6, 2005, she was fired, allegedly for violating Community Resources' attendance policy.

Ms. Sands subsequently filed a lawsuit, alleging she was discriminated against because of her creed.
I cannot see how the firing can be seen as anything but de facto discrimination - even if the company gives a legitimate, ostensibly non-discriminatory explanation for it. As I have said before, regarding similar situations, I am sure that Ms. Sands would have been willing to work out some sort of deal with her employers to work a different day that might not be as popular with her co-workers...like, say, Christmas? Bottom line? Until someone tells me that the company forces Christian employees who are on probation to come in on Christmas, this firing was just wrong.