Duly Noted

Wednesday, Aug 14, 2013, 3:05 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Breaking Bad Recap, Season 5, Episode 9: Blood Money

A still from 'Blood Money,' episode 9 of Breaking Bad's fifth and final season. (Ursula Coyote/AMC)  

The final half-season of Breaking Bad begins with one of the show’s trademark flash-forwards. As usual, the viewer’s task anticipate the circumstances that brought about the scene. Walt returns to his now-abandoned house to retrieve the ricin cigarette he stashed behind the switchplate. The house has obviously been vacant for some time. Walt has to cut the lock on the cyclone fence that has been erected to cordon off the decrepit structure from the rest of the neighborhood. The state of the house can’t be a surprise to Walt, after all, he came with bolt cutters. Neighborhood kids have turned the empty pool into a skatepark. When Walt’s neighbor Carol sees him getting out of his car, she drops her groceries in horror. Clearly, something terrible has happened. In previous seasons, the house has been a family oasis, even as Walt has gone off to do desperate and dangerous things. The trashed house hints that whatever horror Carol is re-living was visited upon Skyler and the kids.

Interestingly, Future Walt is sporting Sasquatch-grade hair and a beard to match. Has he finally beaten the cancer, or simply given up on chemo?


Friday, Aug 9, 2013, 4:49 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

The Butt Injection Black Market

Orange Is The New Black has recently drawn attention to the struggle trans women face when they're denied the medical treatment they need.   (Netflix)

This week, the Associated Press ran a very sad story about women who are being maimed and killed by black market buttocks injections. The story portrayed these tragedies as byproducts of female vanity and ambition. The real story is probably much more complicated:

JACKSON, Miss. — Women across the U.S. are risking their lives for black market procedures to make their buttocks bigger, often involving home-improvement materials such as silicone injected by people with no medical training.

Some want to fill out a bikini or a pair of jeans. Others believe a bigger bottom will bring them work as music video models or adult entertainers. Whatever the reason, they are seeking cheaper alternatives to plastic surgery — sometimes with deadly or disfiguring results

Whoever else is getting butt injections, these treatments have long been popular with trans women seeking a more feminine appearance. Two years ago, Laura Rena Murray had a brilliant piece in the New York Times documenting the struggles of trans women in New York who turn to the black market, at great cost to their health, because they can’t afford proper medical assistance for gender transition. Maybe the AP reporter has uncovered a silicone injection subculture populated exclusively by cisgender women, but I have my doubts.


Monday, Aug 5, 2013, 12:30 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Why ‘Fetal Pain’ Is Hogwash

Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that the state may ban an abortion procedure in the name of preserving respect for human life.   (The Oyez Project / Wikimedia Commons)

The New York Times reported Friday that anti-choice activists were using “disputed scientific theories” about fetal pain in a bid to overturn 40 years of settled law and ban abortion at 20 weeks. As bad as that sounds, it’s actually far too generous: Anti-abortion activists are using pseudoscience and denialism in their bid to radically redefine the constitutional basis of a woman’s right to choose. Roe v. Wade established that a woman’s right to control her body overrides the state’s interest in protecting a fetus until the fetus becomes viable, at roughly 24 weeks’ gestation.

Anti-choicers are trying to manufacture a non-existent controversy over fetal pain at 20 weeks to undergird a tendentious legal strategy. In voting to uphold a ban so-called “partial birth abortions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy, the critical abortion swing vote on the Supreme Court, argued that the state may ban a particular abortion procedure in the name of preserving respect for human life, without violating a woman’s right to choose, as long as there are other abortion procedures available to her. This is part of a post-Roe trend in which the Supreme Court has allowed states to place an endless array of obstacles in a woman’s path to an abortion--from mandatory waiting periods to medically unnecessary transvaginal probes--as long as they stop short of banning abortion itself. It’s not clear why the anti-choicers think that their 20-week abortion bans will get a sympathetic hearing from Kennedy, given that a 20-week ban would prohibit abortion by any method.

Let’s get one thing straight: 20-week fetuses do not feel pain. As the New York Times makes clear, the National Right to Life Committee settled on its legal strategy first and canvassed for fringe experts later.


Friday, Jul 26, 2013, 5:08 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

‘Legitimate Rape Myth’ Rooted in Fictional Nazi Experiments

A Planned Parenthood advocate demonstrates against Todd Akin, a major proponent of 'rape cannot cause pregnancy' pseudoscience.   (KOMU News / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Last year, Republican senate candidate Todd Akin gained instant nationwide notoriety with his assertion that “legitimate rape” doesn’t cause pregnancy. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said.

Akin’s opinion was so wildly implausible to anyone with a third-grade understanding of human reproduction that it seemed as if he must have been voicing a wholly original crackpot theory. As it turned out Akin, was parroting a view widely held by anti-choice extremists. In an attempt to excuse the lack of rape exemptions in their proposed abortion bans, extreme anti-choicers have seized on the convenient fiction that rape never causes pregnancy anyway. 

The notion that pregnancy is somehow incompatible with rape has cropped up repeatedly in Western medicine and law over the centuries. An early version on the myth posited that pregnancy from rape was impossible because female orgasm was essential to conception. The assumption was that if a woman turns up pregnant, she must have had an orgasm, and therefore she couldn’t have been raped because rapes never cause orgasms. We now know that female orgasm is not necessary for conception and that orgasms during rape are relatively common.


Friday, Jul 19, 2013, 10:20 am  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Rolling Stone’s Jahar Tsarnaev Cover Is Perfect

The magazine's August cover has stirred up a firestorm of controversy.   (Rolling Stone)

Rolling Stone put a selfie of Jahar Tsarnaev on the cover of its August 1 issue, and all hell broke loose. The headline for Janet Reitman's cover story reads: "The Bomber: How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam, and became a monster." CVS is refusing to sell it, Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston called the cover a disgrace, and people I'm 99 percent sure have never read Rolling Stone are loudly threatening to cancel their subscriptions.

Their complaint is that Rolling Stone has glamorized terrorism.

Rolling Stone's art directors didn't make this image, Tsarnaev did. It was culled from one of his social media accounts and published in the Washington Post and the New York Times. It's a self-portrait of Tsarnaev doing his best impersonation of a sensitive, moody rock star, presumably taken around the time he was planning to blow up the Boston Marathon. You can tell it's a selfshot because Tsarnaev's right arm is outstretched inside his baggy Armani Exchange t-shirt in the universal symbol for "selfie." It's like a million teenage selfshots in which the photographer strains to project an idealized image.


Tuesday, Jul 16, 2013, 4:53 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

McDonald’s Workers Need a Raise, Not a Fantasy Budget

McDonald's prescribes pennypinching, not raises, for McDonald's workers struggling to make ends meet. (Joylene Wong/Flickr/Creative Commons)  

McDonald’s and Visa are being widely mocked for issuing a sample budget for their low-wage employees that fudges basic living expenses like heat and health care in order to make their meager wages seem livable. 

In a post entitled, “That McDonald’s budget people are making fun of isn’t cruel. It’s realistic,” Timothy B. Lee of the Washington Post argues that many minimum wage workers really do live on $2,060 after-tax dollars a month and chides McDonald’s critics for being out-of-touch with how real Americans live. Way to miss the point.


Monday, Jul 15, 2013, 11:58 am  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

Sexism Matters, That Equinox Ad Doesn’t

An Equinox gym in California displays the disputed billboard image along with other advertisements (Clotee Allochuku / Flickr / Creative Commons).  

A group of mothers in Bethesda is taking the mantle of feminism to advance the cause of prudery. The moms are up in arms about a local billboard for Equinox Gym and they are gathering signatures to get it taken down.


Saturday, Jul 6, 2013, 12:50 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

It’s a TRAP

Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth) stages a 13-hour filibuster on June 25, 2013 to block the anti-abortion bill SB5, which includes such severe "TRAP" restrictions that the majority of abortion clinics in the state would be forced to close. (Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)  

On Friday afternoon, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that could shutter two of the state’s four remaining abortion clinics. The law, which goes into effect on July 8, will require all abortion providers to have admitting privileges a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic where they provide abortions—a provisions that will force clinics in Milwaukee and Appleton to close, if the law survives a pending pro-choice court challenge.

Wisconsin is the latest of eight states to require admitting privileges for abortion providers. Texas' SB 5, now under debate in a second special Senate session, includes such stipulations and would force an estimated 42 out of 47 abortion clinics in the state to close. Alabama and Mississippi are blocked from enforcing their versions of the law while challenges work their way through the courts.

So-called Targeted Restriction of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws impose medically unnecessary but financially and logistically onerous restrictions on abortion clinics in the hopes of driving them out of business. Currently, over 90 percent of abortions in the U.S. are performed in outpatient facilities, including clinics and doctors’ offices.

Common TRAP tactics include requiring abortion clinics to upgrade their facilities to the level of ambulatory surgical centers. These laws force clinics to waste medical resources. Money that could have gone to free care for poor women is now being wasted widening hallways and installing special ventilation systems. These high-tech amenities may be necessary for performing an out-of-hospital gastric bypass or knee replacement, but they are completely unnecessary for a 5-minute suction abortion under local anesthesia.


Friday, Jun 28, 2013, 1:09 pm  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

The Latest Crazy Republican Arguments About Reproduction

Last summer, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin explained that according to 'doctors,' women's bodies can 'shut down' conception--in cases of 'legitimate rape,' that is.  

People hate and fear what they don't understand. There is no more vivid illustration of this truism than the pronouncements of the religious right on sex and reproduction. 

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) set the gold standard for medical inaccuracy when he dragged the "legitimate rape" canard onto the national stage during his senate race, leaving a perplexed nation wondering what the hell he meant. "If it's legitimate rape," Akin opined, "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

The notion that rape never results in conception was used to unfairly discredit rape allegations for hundreds of years before science discredited the idea, but the modern anti-choice movement revived this dud in a disingenuous bid to convince the public that abortion bans don't need rape exemptions. One paper in particular, contained in a 1972 volume funded by Americans United for Life, has been, uh, seminal in reviving the myth in anti-choice circles. The author's evidence for this claim ranges from a pseudoscientific "experiment" from a Nazi concentration camp to his assertion that rapists masturbate too much to get their victims pregnant. The backlash against Akin's "legitimate rape" probably cost him the senate race. Akin's claim became the best known of a series of ignorant and condescending remarks about women's health by Republican candidates in 2012 that helped discredit Republicans in the eyes of women voters. 

This month, as Texas debated an anti-abortion bill, anti-choice Republicans have been spouting misinformation so fast and so furiously that it's difficult to keep all the myths straight. For your reference, I offer this handy crib sheet of the latest Republican reproduction howlers. 


Wednesday, Jun 19, 2013, 11:14 am  ·  By Lindsay Beyerstein

The Problem with ‘Paper Abortions’

A Planned Parenthood Clinic in St. Paul, Minnesota. When it comes to pregnancies, those carrying the child have the final say. (Fibonacci Blue / Flickr / Creative Commons)  

Last week, the New York Times published an op-ed titled, “Is Forced Fatherhood Fair?” The author, Laurie Shrage, argued that, since a woman has the right to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, men should have the right to unilaterally opt out of fatherhood (which some proponents call a "paper abortion.") Fair’s fair, right?

Not so fast. Since a woman is carrying the pregnancy in her body, she gets to decide whether or not it results in a child. Since men can only cause pregnancies in other people’s bodies, they cede control over whether sex will ultimately result in a baby. The only alternative would be to give biological fathers the right to force the women carrying their babies to have abortions or give birth, which is clearly unacceptable.