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April 16, 2008

Newsweek invents an alarming trend
Posted by Teresa at 06:01 PM * 250 comments

It’s much easier to make news sound exciting if you leave the facts out, as witness a recent story by Karen Springen in Newsweek about a children’s picture book about plastic surgery:

Mommy 2.0:

A new picture book about plastic surgery aims to explain why mom is getting a flatter tummy and a ‘prettier’ nose.

When she was pregnant with her son Junior, who turns nine this month, Gabriela Acosta ballooned from 115 pounds to 196. Acosta lost the weight but wound up with stretched, saggy skin. Even her son noticed it. He told her that her stomach looked “pruney,” the result, he thought, of staying in the shower too long. So the 29-year-old stay-at-home mom scheduled a consultation with Dr. Michael Salzhauer, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Bal Harbour, Fla.

Acosta told Salzhauer that she wasn’t sure how to talk to her son about the procedures she was considering. That’s when he showed her the manuscript for his children’s picture book, My Beautiful Mommy (Big Tent Books), out this Mother’s Day. It features a perky mother explaining to her child why she’s having cosmetic surgery (a nose job and tummy tuck). Naturally, it has a happy ending: mommy winds up “even more” beautiful than before, and her daughter is thrilled.

The article’s a major thumbsucker. It’s three pages long, with quotes from a concerned child psychiatrist, opposed opinions from some random person who thinks the book is a good idea (to give the article that balanced effect), and four full-sized colored panels reproduced from the book. I’ve seen a lot of trade publishing sell pieces that did a worse job of promoting a book.

Naturally, it’s stirring up all kinds of fuss and feathers and disgusted indignation—vide Icerocket, Google Blog Search, Blogpulse, and Technorati—in the traditional style of these things: aieeee, eheu, what kind of values are we going to be teaching our children, O the well-intentioned squawk and kerfluffle of it all.

Not that I blame the people who are getting worked up over this. No. I blame Newsweek for yanking our chains. This story is equal parts hokum and hot air. You’d think that somewhere in those three pages of titillating handwringing, Springen would have gotten round to mentioning that My Beautiful Mommy is a self-published vanity-press book available only from its “publisher”—or, presumably, from Dr. Michael Salzhauer.

Big Tent Books (not to be confused with Big Tent Entertainment) is a vanity press and marketing and fulfillment operation. It pretends it’s separate from another company called Dragonpencil—in theory, Big Tent is a marketing and distribution firm, and Dragonpencil is a publisher—but they’re really a single organization run by Jerry and Samantha Setzer. The two companies have the same address and phone number. Big Tent’s award-winning books get all their awards from Dragonpencil. Dragonpencil’s deluxe publishing package includes marketing and distribution by Big Tent. And if you poke around their sites long enough, you can find the page where they admit it.

Big Tent/Dragonpencil has the usual problem of vanity presses: zero to lousy sales and distribution. They’re a lot better at making books than they are at promoting them. Only a few of their titles are even listed at Amazon, and those are listed badly—half the normal publisher-furnished information is missing. Sales are minimal.

My Beautiful Mommy is not one of the books Big Tent lists on Amazon. It has no ISBN that I can detect—and this close to its publication date, I should be able to detect one. Clearly, this book is not destined to make its way to the shelves of your local bookstore.

It’s equally clear that the existence of My Beautiful Mommy says nothing about the state of the nation. It’s not going to corrupt the values of the youth of America, because they’re never going to see a copy. If it weren’t for Karen Springen’s article, the book would have no more significance, and get no more notice, than a xeroxed handout from your local GP.

So: Newsweek manufactured this alarming story out of medium-thin air. It’s one more thing to think about when the conventional media make snotty remarks about the journalistic standards of weblogs.

Update: Jill of Writes Like She Talks has followed up with her own research. She tracked down the author’s blog and his book’s ISBN (978-1-60131-032-3), and has left a message on his phone asking how Newsweek got his book. I’ll be watching for further developments.

Comments on Newsweek invents an alarming trend:
#1 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 10:38 PM:

Kind of makes me wonder how Newsweek got hold of a copy, presuming they did in order to present some of the color panels. I'm guessing the book is available in a doctor's office. If so, then it's understandable that it's vanity produced. Just too bad that Newsweek didn't delve any farther than skin deep.

#2 ::: Jim ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 10:40 PM:

Oh, for Pete's sake...

Whatever happened to journalistic rigor? Whatever happened to plain old honesty?

It's sickening that the "news" has gotten so obsessed with alarmist claptrap that they've lost all sense of meaning; to the extent that real problems are being ignored.

Is there any reputable source of real news in the US?

#3 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 10:59 PM:

Yes, Jim, there is... Me.

Believe everything I tell you, do everything I say. I will take care of your every information need, and make all of your decisions for you. I am Rupert, and you are my slave.

#4 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:02 PM:

Kind of makes me wonder how Newsweek got hold of a copy, presuming they did in order to present some of the color panels.

Me too, Dave. How'd they even hear about the book in the first place?

Maybe one of the usually ineffective press releases sent out by the authors and, sometimes, the vanity presses, slipped into the hands of someone with an ax to grind?

(And hundreds of PublishAmerica authors perk their ears and photocopy their press releases--someone at Newsweek is listening!)

#5 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:12 PM:

The article says it's a "web exclusive," for what that's worth.

#6 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:14 PM:

You know, I cancelled my subscription to Newsweek (which I believe I'd bought as part of a "buy magazines and support your child's school" event) after the Oklahoma City bombing. They had that photo that was everywhere--of the fireman carrying the burned body of a pre-schooler out of the wreckage--on their cover. That was icky, but what infuriated me was the sidebar article within the magazine about how to protect your children from the trauma of news like this.

Make up your mind, guys: View With Alarm or Pander to Prurient Curiosity. I'm at the point where I almost prefer Pandering to Prurient Curiosity to another damned View With Alarm.

#7 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:29 PM:

I don't remember when I canceled my Newsweek subscription. I'd had it for ages, and then at some point or other I realized I was skipping over half the articles -- everything felt superficial and condescending, like they thought I'd suddenly gotten stupider. (What took me so long, you ask? Maybe I had gotten stupider.) I used to get The Washington Post Weekly edition, too, but I gave that up when I realized they were not going to stop shilling for Bush.

Journalistic standards? What journalistic standards?

#8 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:43 PM:

Oooh, I think I'm going to write "Mommy, you look scary now"

or "Mommy, what's a cooter lift?"

or "Mommy, why don't you smile anymore?"

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:47 PM:

I'm not sure whether anyone I know still reads Newsweek.

#10 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:49 PM:

Or "All I want for Christmas is a Mommy with soft boobs"

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 12:02 AM:

Mad, that's just the tone: prurient curiosity plus a wispy g-string of viewing with alarm.

Dave, Nicole, that's a good question. I googled on Karen Springen, and it appears her normal gig is the feature-length thumbsucker book review. My Beautiful Mommy isn't out yet, so someone must have sent Newsweek an advance copy, or an advance excerpt. However it happened, I'm still fairly stunned that she or the reviews editor didn't check on the book's status and publisher.

#12 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 12:14 AM:

I read Newsweek... my subscription doesn't expire until June.

#13 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 12:37 AM:

Teresa, would you expect a plastic surgeon to publish in anything *but* a vanity press?

::where's Serge when we need him?::

#14 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 12:38 AM:

Newsweek may just have given Big Tent Books its first marketing success.

#15 ::: Backpacking Dad ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 01:06 AM:

Thank You Teresa!

I picked up this story at Boing Boing this morning and wrote a post that got the reactions you would expect. I am so happy it turned out to be mostly bogus.

I'm glad I have you on my Reader.

But where were you this morning when Boing Boing and Daddytypes were sending this one out? :}

#16 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 01:07 AM:

I read Newsweek. I enjoy reading Newsweek. Reading Newsweek makes me a better informed and more interesting person. I read and reread each issue of Newsweek. I do not trust people who do not read Newsweek. The terrorists want to take Newsweek away from me. Reading Newsweek is better than Cats.

#17 ::: VictorS ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 01:13 AM:

I laughed. I cried. I wish I were more shocked. Seriously -- I try to avoid even seeing the cover of Newsweek. When I was growing up, it was the family news weekly. Sometime in my college years, I realized that every week I would pick up the magazine, get disgusted with some article, and throw it across the room. In particular, I got impossibly vexed with what I called the 'disease of the month' issues. You know: the cover with "ACNE -- The New Menace?". Next month, it will be something else, but every four weeks or so it's a new health menace, in full color but with no statistics or evidence. So I switched to The Economist -- at least they write in full sentences.

#18 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 01:17 AM:

If you suspect the newsweeklies are stupider than they were twenty years ago, you're not wrong. Think it through. Stipulating that their audience in 1988 (or 1968, or 1948) entailed a range of people running from "pretty smart" to "extremely stupid," the fact is that in 2008, most of the "pretty smart" members of that audience have defected because they don't need Time or Newsweek to summarize and digest the news for them, they have Google Reader or Pageflakes or their carefully-cultivated habits of leaping about from the BBC to the Guardian to the less-insane bylines of the New York Times all set up to do that job for them.

So the new audience for the newsweeklies is the same as the old, except with the smartest people removed.

So the content follows.

Lather, rinse, repeat. (Also known as "How The Programmer Died In the Shower." But that's a different blog discussion.)

#19 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 01:58 AM:

I recall when I gave up on Time, that was about 17 years ago. Newsweek lasted for another couple of years, or so. US News and World Reports to about 10 years ago.

These days, I don't need them.

#20 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:14 AM:

I started reading Newsweek when I was in high school and one of our teachers recommended that we read at least one of the major newsweekly magazines regularly to keep up with current events.

I quit reading both Time and Newsweek regularly sometime in the early part of the Clinton administration, when it seemed that they were too eager to investigate all the nasty rumors about Bill and/or Hillary and *not* in a way that might be inclined to disprove such rumors. Not all the "vast right-wing conspiracy" was from the lunatic fringe far right.

Most of the time if I read any newsweeklies at all it's U.S. News and World Report -- traditionally the most conservative of the three major U.S. weeklies, but much less interested in The Scandal of the Week and in the latest show-biz hype. If they plug a self-published book it's probably one of their college ranking lists.

And Maclean's, which comes to our library (in West Virginia) a week or so late in the mail compared to when it's on the newsstands in Toronto, as I finally determined for sure when I went to Torcon3. But it has interesting slants on U.S. and world news, being foreign and all, even if I'm not all that interested in some of the Canadian stuff. (Which is not to say that I'm not interested in any of the Canadian stuff. The cover article a couple of weeks ago, "Why the Leafs Stink" was very educational for me as a sports fan. [Go Penguins!])

#21 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:24 AM:

Patrick, 18 - you've got my current new-and-information-gathering cycle down exactly - BBC, Guardian, various bits of elsewhere, frequently via non-tradional-media blogs.

All delivered in something approximating realtime via RSS & my Bloglines account. Who needs dead trees for news?

#22 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:28 AM:

Jim at #2 writes:

> Is there any reputable source of real news in the US?

Apart from The Onion, that is.

On the worthlessness of Newsweek: I agree, but I remember liking it as a kid, because the articles were more solid and intelligent than... Time. Not a very high standard to judge it against, I know.

#23 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:43 AM:

I read Newsweek. I enjoy the reprinted cartoons and the letters to the editor. Some of the sidebar columnists are interesting, sometimes.

I don't get my news from Newsweek, or even my commentary on the news, usually, but I find it entertaining. People magazine for those who don't follow the entertainment industry, maybe?

#24 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:48 AM:

I wouldn't trust the Newsweek description and reaction. The book might be a fair explanation, which doesn't present cosmetic surgery as an easy option or the first resort. I'm not sure I'd bet that way, but look at the fuss some people make about "mummy is having a baby" books.

With one huge mistake in the reporting, is the rest any more reliable?

#25 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 03:08 AM:

Gave up on Newsweek about two years ago when I read an op-ed by Rabbi Marc Gellman, excoriating me and the rest of my Tribe for not unthinkingly supporting Joe Lieberman (and President Bush too). The article's been scrubbed from the site, but here's a cache of the first page of the article. It got even stupider and whinier on page 2, if that can be believed.

#26 ::: Martin Sutherland ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 04:02 AM:

When I first saw the plastic surgery book I thought it was a a parody, because it looked so much like Microsoft's recent effort, "Mommy, why is there a server in the house?" Although the latter is clearly marketing material, at least it has the benefit of being tongue in cheek.

#27 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 04:19 AM:

Martin @26:

at least it has the benefit of being tongue in cheek

That can be surgically corrected, you know.

#28 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 05:32 AM:

Now wait for the next stage: this story, having appeared in a "legitimate" news source, can now be repeated in all other media without any further fact-checking or analysis. It's what Nick Davies calls "churnalism".

#29 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 05:57 AM:

@26: Martin, I can't believe I didn't previously know about "Mommy, why is there a server in the house". It's the sort of children's book that the Plokta children would need, if having a server were unusual or if we were in the habit of installing ugly black computers in the house.

#30 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 06:08 AM:

if my self-published epic poem dedicated to the joys of unicorn/centaur sadomasochistic sex can become a bestseller and destroy the moral foundations of American youth surely this much less interesting work can as well.

#31 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 07:06 AM:

I had a subscription, for about one week, which is what led me to find out that Newsweek doesn't let you cancel gift subscriptions. But they do let you change your name. And your address. And, in fact, both of those things at the same time, so you can pass that "gift" right along to another of your "friends".

Er, not that I've ever done this. That you can prove, anyway.

#32 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 07:11 AM:

Patrick, 18 -- When I came to Europe about 20 years ago, I had been a fairly regular Newsweek reader. Over here, my husband had access to the international edition. Of course this was pre-Internet, but I found out that the stories posted on the int'l edition varied -- in some cases drastically and disturbingly -- from what was published in the US edition. Actually, I think the US public would have benefited greatly from the news they did not get to see. I haven't taken Newsweek seriously since.

#33 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:06 AM:

I wonder how much money (and from who) was paid to Newsweek to run this bit of book promotion. It is certainly an effective way to get this book "out there" to more readers than to just hide it in some publisher's list of newly released books.

#34 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:27 AM:

In #28, Iain Coleman writes:

Now wait for the next stage: this story, having appeared in a "legitimate" news source, can now be repeated in all other media without any further fact-checking or analysis. It's what Nick Davies calls "churnalism".

This also appears to be happening with the "Schoolboy corrects NASA 'killer asteroid' maths" story.

Nico Marquardt used telescopic findings from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam (AIP) to calculate that there was a one in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth, the Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported.

NASA had previously estimated the chances at only one in 45,000 but told its sister organisation, the European Space Agency (ESA), that the young whizzkid had got it right.

Meanwhile, the truth is still getting its boots on.

#35 ::: Jim ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:27 AM:

Debbie @32,

for an interesting addition to that, please see this.

As an aside, Robert Newman terrifies me. Not that he's such a scary fellow, but he carries something that I would almost call...truth. And it's not a very nice truth.

#36 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:29 AM:

abi #27: Mommy, What's the Ellen James Society and Why Are You Joining It?

#37 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:44 AM:

Bill Higgins @ 34... there was a one in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth

Or, as Col. O'Neill once said..

"That scum-sucking snake-assed Apophis!"

#38 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:44 AM:

Jim @35 -- Yep, that's exactly what I meant.

Interesting that they're still doing it, even in these days of internet access.

#39 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 09:08 AM:

Newsweek is the least offensive of the three major US news weeklies, which is a sad thing to say. For all its faults and for all that it's been regularly trashed here, I much prefer The Economist to any of them.

#40 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 09:19 AM:

#13: Teresa, would you expect a plastic surgeon to publish in anything *but* a vanity press?

Ha. Good point.

I think I might set up a variant on the vanity press. I call it a schadenfreude press. You pay them to print thousands of copies of a book written by someone you don't like very much, and then they PULP THEM IN FRONT OF HIS TEAR-FILLED EYES. Every so often they print another copy (and send it to you to burn), so they keep hold of the rights and he can't just go elsewhere.

Or you could have a self-pity press. You send them your manuscript and they send it back again two weeks later with a note saying "the world is too stupid to understand this masterpiece, so we're not going to print it".

#41 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 09:23 AM:

#34 - Well I know we can believe the Guardian story - Alok was in my Physics class at university.

(Yes, he's a science correspondent with a science degree. Who would have thought?)

#42 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 09:42 AM:


Newsweek is kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful magazine I've ever known in my life.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 09:52 AM:

Dena Shunra, I'll answer reflexively that it depends on how good his book is. (I do get the joke, though.)

Backpacking Dad, I was in the midst of the thrash about evangelistic atheists, where (among other things) Takuan had taken an extreme position and was defending it against all comers.

The Boingers don't run their entries past me before they post them. What brought me back to the "My Beautiful Mommy" thread was that a commenter had posted the author's personal information and home address, and suggested that people put up "not recommended" reviews of him on the appropriate consumer-guidance websites. The address was arguable. The rest wasn't a good idea.

It was only after that that I took a close look at the Newsweek story. I'm trying to remember now what tipped me off about the book. Did I go to Amazon first, or Big Tent? I'd have done either so automatically that I wouldn't remember deciding; but I think I must have gone to Big Tent first, because my tabs for Big Tent and Dragonpencil were all to the left of my tabs for Amazon. That would have been the logical first step. You can tell a lot about a book by the way its publisher presents it.

I knew Big Tent was a vanity publisher as soon as I saw the words "Publish a children's book" on the main page. When I clicked on that link and found they automatically steered all their would-be authors to Dragonpencil, I knew Big Tent and Dragonpencil had to be the same operation. Further nosing-around brought additional confirmation, like Big Tent's page of "award winners" that mentions the category in which a book won, but not the name of the award itself -- a big flashing red light, that one -- and then later finding that every one of Big Tent's award-winning books had gotten its award from Dragonpencil. Discovering that the two operations use the same address and phone number just made the relationship easy to demonstrate.

If you know it's a vanity press book, you also know it's not going to get bookstore distribution.

I don't expect a reviewer writing for Newsweek to know much about spotting vanity publishers -- though really, how hard is it? -- but I can't believe she didn't try to look the book up on Amazon. I'm using a different sense of "I can't believe it" when I say I can't believe didn't do further research when she discovered the book wasn't listed.

#44 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 10:11 AM:

Teresa #43:

I just want to reassure you that, just because the MSM gets all the details wrong when reporting about stuff you know a lot about doesn't mean they really are incompetent and careless.

After all, when they're reporting on computer security, computer science, electronic voting machines, or evolution, they check, recheck, and check again. They certainly never credulously parrot back the words of the press release with no understanding of what the words mean, or spin a complicated and subtle result into some eye-grabbing headline that just happens to be completely misleading.

Hey, why doesn't the irony tag work on this site?

#45 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 10:24 AM:

ajay @40, this would seem to be a good place to insert two links to Clive James' most celebrated peom — it"s even referenced at Whatever.

Curiously, <ahem> the NYT version has what appears to be the same typo in the third stanza as the one in geoff johnston's poetry section. I'm assuming that the correct word is 'scrapyard'.

#46 ::: Jill ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 10:43 AM:

I've corresponded with the author and will keep updates about it on my blog. Thank you so much for this post and research - I linked to it twice in my post here as the source of info re: vanity publication.

(I first got to your post from BlogHer but had read about the book yesterday on

#47 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 10:53 AM:

Terry Karney @ 19:

I recall when I gave up on Time, that was about 17 years ago. Newsweek lasted for another couple of years, or so. US News and World Reports to about 10 years ago.

Curiously, what I remember is giving up on Newsweek first, back in the late 80s; Time seemed to slide downhill a bit more slowly.

While I agree with Patrick (@ 18) that being able to collect one's news from a platter of online sources reduces the need (and thus the audience) for something like Newsweek, I think they started dumbing down significantly before that became a real factor.

#48 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 11:00 AM:

45: exactly what I had in mind. Thanks for posting the link which I was too lazy to post myself, Epacris.

#49 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 11:04 AM:

Peter Erwin: I agree, it wasn't until after I'd given up on them that I no longer needed paper to keep up.

#50 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 11:17 AM:

I still read Newsweek, mostly for the cartoons.* Their news coverage is getting worse, and I'm thinking of letting my subscription lapse. About the only good thing I can think to say regarding Newsweek is that Time is even lower down the evolutionary scale.

* Since the best cartoons are those by Mike Luckovich, there's a certain redundancy involved.

#51 ::: Backpacking Dad ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 11:57 AM:

We have an ISBN from the author, apparently:

13: 978-1-60131-032-3

That's from Jill at Writes Like She Talks

#52 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 11:59 AM:

I end up reading Newsweek at doctors' offices, which means that I'm usually looking at an issue from a couple of months ago. It's amazing how often they're just completely wrong. "Gas prices are going to go down again this winter!" "Success in Iraq is just around the corner!" It's about as reliable as the Weekly World News.

#53 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 12:26 PM:

Thank you, Backpacking Dad and Jill. I've added an update to the main post with the ISBN, a description of Jill's research, and the pertinent links.

BD, go ahead and link to your own post. This isn't Boing Boing.

#55 ::: Noodles ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:30 PM:

I don't understand. Teresa says here "It has no ISBN that I can detect—and this close to its publication date, I should be able to detect one." But then Jill found one. Why couldn't Teresa detect the ISBN number?

#56 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:41 PM:

Noodles (55): Jill found one by contacting the author. Not quite the same as seeing it in the wild.

#57 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 03:06 PM:

Next week's lead story in NEWSWEEK.

(NB: the timing -- coinciding with a Papal visit -- cannot possibly be an accident. Someone is definitely trying to keep NEWSWEEK in credit at the Outrage bank ...)

#58 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 03:37 PM:

Charlie, that's a stunner. I am completely creeped out. Are we sure this isn't a hoax?

#59 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 03:49 PM:

Don't know whether it's a hoax or not, but it's certainly the most arresting artistic debut I've seen since Damien Hirst.

#60 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 03:54 PM:

Indeed, that's so appalling, my first thought was that it had to be a hoax, like a more tasteless version of this Onion piece.

But the Yale Daily News issue that ran this story doesn't appear to have any other obvious hoax stories that day. (Penn's campus newspaper does do a joke issue around this time of year, for Spring Fling, but this one seems to be straight.) The person involved appears to be real (I found a 2004 newspaper article saying she was going to Yale in the fall.) The adviser appears to be a real person too.

And, sad to say, this isn't a vanity-degree university, but my alma mater.

(If the, um, project is as described, the timing may actually be coincidental. This is about the time of year that senior projects wrap up at Yale, and I don't recall the Pope's visit announced before November, which is less than 9 months ago.)

#61 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 03:54 PM:

Charlie Stross #57: Looks too much like a hoax to me. It just trips too many wires (abortion, misogyny, anti-Semitism, the papal visit).

#62 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 04:06 PM:

(It may, of course, still be a hoax on the senior's part, but it doesn't appear to be one on the Yale Daily News' part, or at least doesn't have the tells I'd expect from them.)

#63 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 04:17 PM:


I still have a Newsweek subscription, which keeps getting cheaper and cheaper every year. That should probably be a quality warning; nothing else in my life is getting cheaper. The news is mostly a rehash of the stuff I get on a daily basis, so I don't read it very consistently anymore, except for the cartoons - it sits around the house for a few weeks and then gets recycled.

#64 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 05:56 PM:

#57: Has to be a hoax. What the "artist" is claiming (in nine months?) doesn't seem physiologically possible.

#65 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 07:30 PM:

@57: I don't believe a word of it.

College students (and their student newspapers) are probably a pretty credulous audience when it comes to claims about pregnancy and miscarriage. It's an area about which the vast majority of them will have very little experience, plus a great deal of fear.

But from the standpoint of experience, I question the plausibility of what she claims to have accomplished. How many times is it possible to conceive, miscarry, and conceive again in a nine-month period?

The article says she "inseminated herself as often as possible." How nice. But regardless of how often she inseminated herself, there was only a 24-48 hour window per month that she was actually fertile. A healthy couple has about a 20% chance per cycle of conceiving during that window. Let's be generous and give Shvarts another 5% chance because, as a college student, she's pretty much at the peak of her fertility. We're still talking about only a 58% chance of conceiving at all within a given three-month period.

And then "miscarrying," which seems to be the word she's using for induced abortion. After a miscarriage, it takes time for the pregnancy hormones to subside to zero, and then for the reproductive system to reboot itself and for ovulation to resume. Yet we're to believe that she went through this conception-miscarriage-conception process repeatedly.

But even putting all that aside, and crediting Shvarts with some kind of super-fertility, it comes down to this: If it were easy to produce a "natural," "herbal" miscarriage using legally obtainable over-the-counter products, there wouldn't be an abortion issue for shocking college students to make art about. It isn't. (Yes, I know that there are herbal products pregnant women can't use because they are classified as abortifacients. That doesn't make them reliable abortifacients.) Procuring a home-brewed abortion is difficult, unreliable, and dangerous. If it weren't, there would be no need for abortion clinics.

If it's not a total hoax from beginning to end, then I suspect that what happened is that Shvarts "artificially inseminated" herself periodically without particular attention to fertility (or the viability of the donor sperm - which also takes some finicky care). Then, at about the time her period was expected, she took herbs that are known to sometimes be abortifacients and collected her menstrual blood in a jar. "Edgy" and "daring," without, you know, necessarily involving any inconveniences of reproductive biology.

#66 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 07:34 PM:

Also, as someone who recently experienced a devastating miscarriage and is now desperately worried that I won't be able to conceive again, let me just say this: lz Shvrts cn g fck hrslf wth rsty cthngr, th slf-drmtzng, nsnstv btch.

#67 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 07:35 PM:

Susan #63: I'm now stuck for what I can find that's good reading-in-the-evening material that will give me some good, in-depth coverage of political issues around the world and won't be as asinine as either Newsweek or the Economist (which is fast becoming nothing more than a cheerleader for globalization).

#68 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 07:56 PM:

Bill@34 I'm sure you're right about "the truth", and the kid's wrong...but this line in the Guardian article doesn't exactly inspire faith:

A spokesperson for Nasa told the Guardian that, though no one at the agency had seen Marquardt's calculations, scientists there were confident of their figures. "We have some of the brightest and best minds to calculate these things, they make careers out of this - I don't see how they could make a big mistake like that."

I'm sure the NASA guys who made the feet / meters mistake on the Mars Climate Orbiter could have been described the same way.

#69 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 07:57 PM:

And yes, it's a hoax:

#70 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:18 PM:

I gave up on TIME back in the 1980's, when I saw them buy the journalism of a colleague of mine at the El Paso Times, and had it rewritten by someone who transparently knew nothing about either El Paso or Ciudad Juarez, starting with their respective sizes.

#71 ::: Alyssa ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:21 PM:

Self-published vanity project aside... it still exists. Ha no well, now that the publicity is out there there is sure to be some knock offs, and otherly horribly thoughtless book concepts. Like so:

#72 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:37 PM:

Glad to hear confirmation that it was a hoax by the student. Though as a hoax, it still raises ethical red flags (although not as severe as those that would be raised if it were real).

Judging from the number of classes that screened and discussed the Milgrim "electric shock" films at Yale when I was there, I suspect most Yale students and faculty are familiar with ethical problems involved in academic projects based on deception.

#73 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 08:59 PM:


yeah, the "herbal abortion" aspect seemed the most fishy to me. & "this is a video of me miscarrying in a bathtub," & "this blood is the result of a miscarriage" are both trivially easy to fake.

at least when chris burden crucified himself on a running volkwagen, you knew he was crucifying himself on a running volkswagen.

#74 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 09:02 PM:

Someone on a Marginal Revolution made a comment awhile back about a sort of principle of conservation of outrage, in which a prominent TV or newspaper story has a more-or-less constant required level of outrage, and the emotional buttons in the story will be pushed as much as necessary to get to that level. Both the Newsweek hoax story and the Yale hoax show the related thing, where outrage drives the selection of the stories.

Reporters seem to need a certain amount of outrage to sell the story. If that requires looping an out of context quote by a political candidate fifty times[1], or accepting a really outrage-inducing story without checking it at all, or digging under rocks till they find some nut to give them an outrage-inducing quote, they'll do it. It sells papers and attracts eyeballs.

And the internet makes this *way* more efficient. Somewhere on the internet, not only is someone wrong, but someone is batsh-t crazy in pretty much any direction you care to name--crazy racists, crazy antisemites, crazy Islamic fundamentalists, crazy Christian fundamentalists, crazy environmentalists, crazy vegetarians, crazy capitalists, crazy techies. There are pretty much no limits. So a reporter, or for that matter a blogger, who wants outrage and a two minutes' hate can have one every single day. They will never run out of crazies.

And this maximizes the distorting filter of the news, which amplifies low-probability man-bites-dog events to the point that they seem way more likely and scary than they really are. And *that* overlaps in a nasty way with our apparently evolved-in risk-evaluation mechanisms.

[1] I am bitter about this.

#75 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 09:16 PM:

Rivka 66: shr yr sntmnts, thgh nt yr rcnt hrrbl xprnc.

#76 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 09:26 PM:

how to protect your children from the trauma of news like this.

I seem to recall, during my childhood, hiding newspapers from my mother, trying to protect her from trauma.

#77 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 10:08 PM:

Rivka @ 66: I'm sorry to hear of your loss. There's not much anyone can say or do in this situation, except offer sympathy.

#78 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 10:14 PM:

Crossthreading this:

re SPE: I think it would be hard to duplicate without having people who have zero understanding of what it was. I do know that several iterations of symbolic class have led to examples of strong dicotomy, including degrading behaviors and abuse; with the "upper" class dominating the "lower" class, even outside of the schoolhouse and those who weren't taking part cluing in that the "lower" class were fair game.

This was in high schools, as I recall.

I do know that the temptation to give in and lord it over someone is strong, and I've almost succumbed more than once, and it didn't take a week.

#79 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 11:01 PM:

Rivka #66: Oh, how terrible...hugs for you.

#80 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 11:12 PM:

Rivka: What the others said. I know there's nothing to say that will make it better. But I'm sorry you have to go through it.

#81 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 11:26 PM:

The hoax status is still a little unclear. The artist now insists that that she did syringe semen into herself and did take abortifacents just before her period. She just doesn't know if she was ever actually pregnant. Of course, given that a large element of her performance art piece includes lying like a rug to the media, it's hard to know how seriously to take any of her statements. Followup story in the YDN here.

While I'm not really shocked by the ability of undergraduates to come up with idiotic and insensitive ways épater le bourgeois, I'm astonished that this was actually approved as an acceptable senior project. Her advisor is a "Lecturer" (read: a temp, not a Yale professor) from Finland, now New York-based, whose work explores "how our bodies become the loci of interaction between private and public", so this seems up her general alley. But she doesn't generally seem to step over the line to nasty hoaxes.

#82 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 12:17 AM:

of course, lying to your audience has a tradition in performance art almost as old as performance art: cf. duchamp's "cancelled." (the best link i could find is this, where the story is related in the small text to the right of the photo.)

huh. i guess i don't like whole swathes of performance & conceptual art, for the same reason i don't like april fool's jokes.

#83 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 12:59 AM:

A few years back David Bowie said that most of what his fans have always paid him to do was lie to them, which I (being one of those fans) found to be simultaneously hilarious and extremely true. Of course, his lies tend to be a bit more innocuous than those made by a certain Ms. Shvarts.

#84 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 01:02 AM:

I must say that this is the best "you damn kids get off my lawn/you brats have it easy, not like in the good old days" comment I've seen in ages.

#85 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 03:03 AM:

Rivka @66:

I miscarried a few years ago now, and the pain (emotional and physical) is still vivid in my memory. And I remember the black despair I felt when I did manage to get pregnant again, and started bleeding again*.

Either this girl† is very, very stupid, or she's lying when she says she didn't intend to scandalize anyone. Since she's a senior at a highly selective university, I'm afraid I tend toward the latter.

I shall note her name so that I can avoid her work in the future.


* That turned out to be "implantation bleeding", and that baby just turned 7. May your luck turn as mine did.

† I can't call her a woman, sorry.

#86 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 05:13 AM:

Abi @85: given that she timed her art happening to coincide with a Papal visit, I have to conclude that of course she's lying when she said she didn't intend to scandalize anyone.

It's also precisely the kind of dumb stunt you'd expect of someone who is highly intelligent but isn't old enough to have acquired enough life experience to recognize the potential for unintended consequences, such as Rivka's reaction: let's hope she learns better.

(I'm in the business of Telling Lies For Money. And one of the things you have to wrap your head around in this business is that there is a profound difference between the consequences of telling Lies That Entertain, and Lies That Cause Suffering -- and sometimes it's hard to tell what the outcome of telling a specific lie will be. In which case, it's best to keep quiet until you can come up with a different lie ...)

Albatross @74: yes, exactly. That's why I pin-pointed this as being next week's NEWSWEEK shock-horror human interest/scandal story. It pushes our buttons in a newsworthy way. The real news is all in the back page graphs in The Economist (subject to using "How to Lie with Statistics" as a guide book), but that doesn't jibe with the story-telling narrative of our times that present-day news coverage has largely degenerated into.

#87 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 06:08 AM:

67: Prospect or the New Yorker? I read Prospect myself and I would read the New Yorker if I had the time...

#88 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 07:11 AM:

Rivka #66: You have my sympathy. I'd say you were putting things mildly.

#89 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 07:23 AM:

Rivka, abi, I'm very sorry for both of you.

#90 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 07:45 AM:

Charlie @ #86:

given that she timed her art happening to coincide with a Papal visit,

Can we give this a rest? Senior projects run from April 22-May 1. All the art majors are doing their projects right now. All the undergraduates in all the departments are currently in the midst of some sort of project or thesis. The schedule is set by the department months in advance, and generally by the university about two years in advance, long before the Pope decided to visit the U.S. It would make more sense to claim that the Pope deliberately scheduled his visit in order to maximize the effect of her project, but I expect he's as indifferent to her as she is to him. I presume the Catholic community in New Haven and at Yale is excited over the papal visit (though you'd never know from my Catholic boss), but for the rest of the city and the overwhelming majority of Yale, it's a subject of utter indifference. No one actually here is talking about it or has brought it up in relation to this "project". The YDN reported the visit on page 11 of Wednesday's paper, right next to the sports results. They dedicated approximately eight times as much space to the sports results.

The idea that this has some relevance to the Pope strikes me as a far too close to the nasty subtext about Shvarts' Jewishness that is starting to creep into the discussion. Given the timing, I have to wonder if the blood libel will be up next.

I have to conclude that of course she's lying when she said she didn't intend to scandalize anyone.

I do think that's right on target. I just don't think the Pope is on the list.

#91 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 07:45 AM:

Thanks for the sympathy, everyone. I'm okay.

On the one hand, I can sort of see the argument that she might have been focusing on shocking the control-women's-bodies crowd, and completely missed the idea that her project might inflict pain on women who are infertile or have suffered pregnancy loss. That's a pretty distant or theoretical pain for a 22-year-old to understand.

I can sort of see it. Except for this: there's a perfectly good word for what she claims to have done, and it is abortion. When you deliberately end a pregnancy, you are having an induced abortion. That word would seem ideal for her shock-the-patriarchy purposes, but she didn't use it. She chose to use the word "miscarriage," which aligns her with desperately grieving couples experiencing accidental loss.

You can't even casually Google "miscarriage" (much less do the kind of research into the symptoms and course of miscarriage which one imagines would've been called for by faking one) without getting a pretty good idea of how badly it hurts and how intense and prolonged the emotional aftermath can be. She had that information available to her. She would've had to work very very hard not to see it. And she still chose to call what she did "miscarriage" (the technically incorrect term) instead of "abortion" (the technically correct one).

So, no. I can't really credit her with ignorance.

#92 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 08:29 AM:

Susan @ 90... I just don't think the Pope is on the list.

Cue in Father Guido Sarducci and his "Find the Pope in the pizza" game.

#93 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 09:49 AM:

Fragano @ #67:

Let me know if you find something!

#94 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 09:53 AM:


she still chose to call what she did "miscarriage" (the technically incorrect term) instead of "abortion" (the technically correct one).

Yes, that bothers me a lot. I can't believe that it's accidental, but I can't figure out any reason to do it deliberately either. I don't see how it furthers any point she might be trying to make.

#95 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 10:13 AM:

sherrold @ 68:

I'm sure the NASA guys who made the feet / meters mistake on the Mars Climate Orbiter could have been described the same way.

"NASA guys" didn't make the mistake -- subcontractors at Lockheed Martin did. More precisely, the LM engineers wrote software which calculated thrust corrections in English units and passed these on to the navigational team at NASA, apparently unaware that the software specifications called for metric units. (See here, for example, or here [PDF].)

#96 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 10:42 AM:

Susan @ 94: If I had to guess, I'd say Shvarts was trying to have her cake and eat it too, using "miscarriage" as a mealy-mouthed substitute for "abortion," without the real-world experience to understand that both words carry huge weights of emotional experience.

I'm more curious as to what emotion this "art" was supposed to evoke: for me, it's distaste and a certain stunned astonishment that anyone would think this was a good idea. It does not evoke in me any sort of rumination on reproductive rights--if that was her goal--only a certain amount of relief that I'm not that age. It just seems like a kind of navel-gazing college-student stunt; what was her instructor thinking?

#97 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 11:06 AM:


I'm not sure mealy-mouthed is the term I'd use for her, and I really can't picture her as someone who shrinks from controversy.

Her explanation of the whole project is here. It's so jargon-laden I can barely make sense of it (at least in the time I'm willing to spend on this), but the goals appear to be: (1) to lure people into playing her Schrodinger's-pregnancy game and (2) to express that body part function is a floor, not a ceiling. The former strikes me as idiotic and the latter strikes me as obvious; most people past puberty have made the discovery that certain body parts are useful for something besides reproduction.

The annoying part is that we're all now part of her "art"; she claims the "public discourse" as part of the project.

Assuming her exhibition even goes up, I'm wondering if I should satisfy my curiosity by going to see it or avoid it because I don't want to support or encourage this sort of "art".

#98 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 11:10 AM:

The Boston Globe picked up the "My Beautiful Mommy" story today without a single word of skepticism, and gave it a half page of publicity.

#99 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 11:35 AM:

Madeline #96: I suggest a much simpler model, more consistent with Rivka's reaction and Google search: she pretty obviously wanted to hit peoples' emotional buttons. In much the same way as you increase the number of hits on your spam-advertising-website by sticking more likely search terms in, she understood that putting both terms in would increase the emotional impact and resulting outrage.

The sad part is, one day, she may be old enough to understand what a pile of reeking, hurtful garbage she produced. And it will be on the nets forever. The sadder part (contrast with Fragano talking about grading papers and occasionally finding students who want to learn) is that she was pretty obviously guided by her advisor to producing this. Ideally, you'd like the advisor to be the adult supervision that kept the students from doing something just like this.

#100 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 11:41 AM:

Charlie, #86, there are books which can trigger bad memories for me. They have some resonance with my life.

That doesn't make the books or authors evil.

What makes the difference, I reckon, is that the way this idiot from Yale trivialises the situation.

And no way, Charlie, are you in the business of telling lies for money. You're inventing things.

Just don't write Confessions of a Pharmacist, OK?

#101 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 11:44 AM:

Of course. Saying that the "public discourse" it generates is part of your "art" is the artsy-fartsy way of saying "Look at me, shocking the mundanes! Aren't I a special snowflake for being able to rise above their social norms?" It's about on an intellectual par with "two for flinching".

I can't help it. I nearly bled to death with my miscarriage about a month ago; I find myself wishing that she'd gotten to experience the same exciting journey. Perhaps it would give her a new perspective on the cleverness of her project.

#102 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 12:10 PM:

96: well, yes. Otherwise it might have sounded political. Use that word and someone might even mistake you for one of those dreadfully serious and untrendy feminists.

I can't imagine how awful this project would look to someone who has actually suffered this way.

#103 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 12:21 PM:

ajay @102:

I could tell you what I think of her and her project, but that would be feeding the troll.

I wouldn't want to be her flatmate, though, nor an unwarned guest opening the fridge over the last few months.

#104 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 12:26 PM:

Fragano @ 67: The Economist . . . is fast becoming nothing more than a cheerleader for globalization

You mean it used to be different? They make it sound as if "free trade" has been their mantra right from the beginning. (I read it for the international news, but I don't drink the Kool-aid.)

#105 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 12:35 PM:

Laurence #104: There was a time when The Economist did some real journalism as well as being the voice of free market dogma, but that does seem to be disappearing.

#106 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 12:40 PM:

My comment to Rivka, which was intended to express sympathy, now reads (at least to me) as inappropriately flip. I'm sorry, Rivka.

And I'm very sorry for your loss. All bright blessings for a healing mourning period and a speedy recovery.

#107 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 12:54 PM:

Susan 97: By going, you support her work. I'd stay away, but you and I are different people.

#108 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 01:34 PM:

Fragano @ 105: That's too bad. [redacted rant about all the things they say that drive me crazy.]

But it seems like every time I hear someone ask the question, "What can I read instead of The Economist?", no one ever has a satisfactory answer.

#109 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 02:21 PM:

Why is everybody assuming that little miss artiste is intelligent? Yes, I know that she got into Yale, but given what I know of college graduates from any school, that's no guarantee that she is anything much above average. She's certainly not wise, and a lot of not-wise people never do gain wisdom.

I've always had a skepticism of the quality of media reportage, and that was only reinforced when I switched my major to Broadcast Studies (long story short: I needed a major I could complete in two years and Oooh, cool equipment). Some of the classes I took showed me exactly why newspapers/newsmedia suck so badly.

For the most part, it's the limited space and limited airwaves that are the original cause of news being bad; the next component is how much "news" depends on advertising. Then there's other factors, such as the fact that the news has developed in such a way as to make jobs in it attractive to only a certain range of people. Singles instead of couples, mobile instead of rooted, etc. It's a very uncertain business and no basis on which to, say, raise a family and develop community ties. Over time this self-selection has narrowed more and more until now they estimate that journalists represent, for the most part, a viewpoint of about 2% of the population, which is why eveybody thinks they're so biased.

That wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that they largely seem incapable of stepping outside that percentage. Any time a journalist does a piece on your area of expertise, do you read it and think, "Well, they got that wrong"? It happens so much.

Anyway. I don't expect good reporting out of Newsweek. I expect good reporting on the Internet, of all places, at least when a researched, in-depth article appears with links and citations to original sources, and perhaps an explanation of the methodology involved. I expect good reporting from somebody like Michael Totten, who decided a couple of years back to find out what was really going on in the Middle East by going there on his own dime and writing about what he saw and experienced, not what some third-party analysis showed.

Of course, it's gotten to the point where chaff is pretty easy to recognize. Basic primer for those just starting out: Look for loaded adjectives and adverbs, or words such as "crisis." Then look to see if the writer makes his viewpoints clear (it's much more reliable if the author states right up front what he feels about an issue.) Then ask yourself if there's really a reason for alarm because in most cases, there isn't.

#110 ::: CC Rider ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 03:08 PM:

B Durbin wrote:

Yes, I know that she got into Yale, but given what I know of college graduates from any school, that's no guarantee that she is anything much above average.

George Bush went to Yale. Just sayin'.

#111 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 04:36 PM:

"Public discourse" as part of art is a present shibboleth of the cutting edge, so far as I can tell.

So is the idea that art much have some "meaning" (other than being pretty). I cna buy into the idea that great art has to be moving, and deeper meanings will attach to it, but that's a far cry from saying art (which is something people do, from the kid whoo sings as he walks to school, to the soprano singing Papgeno in Die Zauberflötte.

I don't know if I make great art, but I make art. I don't need "public discourse" to do it.

If it moves you, I've done better than I can hope. If it moves me, then I've done enough.

That's not a good metric for someone trying to make public art, but it's good enough for small purposes.

Is this project a good piece of public art? I don't know. I think it suffers from her youth. In other hands (able to better grasp the affect it's likely to have on people who've had to live with the subject matter as personal events) it might even have some "deep meaning".

But this one, as presented, not so much.

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 04:44 PM:

Clarifying my comment @103:

The troll in question is the student, not, as one possible reading might have it, ajay. I reckon she wants exactly the same kind of outraged attention that a troll does.


#113 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 05:34 PM:

I find the Christian Science Monitor a balance to the Economist; same reach, different bias, pretty clear about its bias, different errors of omission.

#114 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 06:18 PM:

Terry 111: Papageno is a baritone role. Papagena is a soprano.

#115 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 06:51 PM:

Xopher: Yep, you try typing one handed with a colicky baby in your lap.


I still should have better checked it before hitting the post button, perhaps esp. because there was a colicky baby in my lap.

#116 ::: Bill J. Dickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 08:21 PM:

I have to say I'm really disappointed in the negativity that is thrown out about such a "non-issue", "issue".

The people making such comments are apparently not familiar with Dr. Salzhauer's expertise, and devotion to his profession.

Being Acquainted with Dr. Salzhauer and his manor of attention to his patients; I can understand the thought behind the book because I know the nature of its author. He is an expert in his field that goes the extra mile to assist his patients in all aspects of their care. I am sure that this book was written for that reason.

Without fact but assumption I can almost imagine exactly how the concept of the book came to be.

Dr. Salzhauer being as attentive as he is, probably noticed the concern on children’s faces in his office and wanted to comfort and put them at ease.

What I have noticed is that no one seems to mention that Dr. Salzhauer is not only an expert in Cosmetic Surgery but also specializes in "Reconstructive" and "Aesthetic surgery".And my opinion is one of the best in his field.I personally know his results in skin graphs are far beyond expectation. I had the unfortunate experience of being in a fire which resulted having over 22% of my body with 3rd degree burns.

The procedures performed by Dr. Salzhauer produced such minimal scaring that friends and acquaintances are amazed at the outcome and are in disbelief of the severity of the burns. His caring and attentive mannerism before, during and after surgery diffused anxiety and resulted in an expedient recovery.

So before jumping on the bandwagon and making accusations of intent to desensitize children, maybe take a moment to consider maybe the book was written not for self proclamation, financial gain, vanity or a media enclave…, maybe it was simply written and illustrated for the concern of the children that wanted to know…,

”Is mommy sick and why does mommy have those bandages” and nothing more.

Plastic Surgery exists. It is on our televisions, in our newspapers, the topic of conversations and is constantly in the media frenzy. To think a child does not hear, listen or see it; or are at least awareof it is a denial that should be addressed. Our little darlings are much brighter than you are giving them credit for. Thank goodness an acclaimed Doctor in Plastic Surgery such as Dr. Salzhauer has taken the initiative to address such issue in a compliant manner out of concern for the children of his and his colleagues patients.

"Bravo" Dr. Salzhaure

#117 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 09:15 PM:

#116, Bill J. Dickerson -

I think the consensus here is that there's little chance that Dr. Salzhauer will desensitize children with his book.

#118 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 10:30 PM:

#8 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:43 PM:

...or "Mommy, why don't you smile anymore?"

Too many facelifts, and you can't do anything but smile.

#119 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 10:34 PM:

That should have been

..."anything but..."

#120 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 11:16 PM:

Susan@97: most people past puberty have made the discovery that certain body parts are useful for something besides reproduction.

I think that depends on your definition of "useful"; ISTM there is a substantial minority in this country that thinks that anything besides reproduction is at least immoral.

Durbin@109: Yale is not exactly an average college; getting in is \not/ easy. Mind you, the "intelligence" that they expect does not necessarily cover all the known/plausible intelligences, but it's not immaterial. You're right on about wisdom, of course, but there's a reason those two were separate attributes in the original D&D. (Not long after it came out, a friend got tired of startup mages point-swapping wisdom for intelligence because there was no effective way to penalize low wisdom; his solution was to scatter Scientologists around his dungeon.) and CCRider? Shrub was a legacy; I don't know whether he would have gotten in without that help.

clew: I gave up on the Monitor magazine many years ago, when they started cheering Iraq over Iran during their little spat. Is the daily really a balance, or just a few degrees around the circle?

#121 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 11:18 PM:

Abi, Rivka, Cat - me too (although mine were rather a long time ago).

In fact, I noticed that whenever the subject comes up in a physical setting, many of the women in any given room will share that they have experienced miscarriages. Perhaps I moved in odd circles, but I think it was even "most", not just "many".

There is nothing that dulls the pain of the lost expectation, other than huge gobs of time. And that only *dulls* it, not erases it.

Indeed, the emotional pain involved seems to come from the expectation that the path from the concept of conception ("let's have a baby!") to grandchildren born of a perfect healthy, happy, well-adjusted and constructive member of the community, someday, is assured.

It isn't.

It really, really isn't.

I remember reading that 10% of conceived pregnancies are miscarried in the first trimester. That sounds too round a number. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is also too low.

Years of experiencing watching such disappointments (at every stage, from the unconceived to health and mind issues that should be inconceivable) have led me to a sort of constructive pessimism - not at the prospects of any individual pregnancy, but rather, a sort of awe at all the bullets each pregnancy, child, adult has dodged. I find each child and person so rare and precious as to be a what's-a-scientific-word-for-miracle? A welcome event, improbable and wonderful. By getting as far as any of us has we have each defied so many odds!

That is not even scant comfort for the losses along the way. I find it a comfort, though, much in the way that a beautiful sunset or flowering tree is despite the knowledge of one's own mortality - a comfort while I pay attention to the bloom, not when I re-live, re-know the loss.

#122 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2008, 11:29 PM:

Carol @ 118 — wow, that picture looks like Princess Leia in Star Wars XV: The Succession

#123 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 12:13 AM:

Bill J. Dickerson: The Doctor may be swell, and great at what he does. I understand the urge to "aesthetic" surgery is strong. We all want to look as we did in our prime.

It ain't gonna happen, and chasing that particular rainbow is, if you ask me, a recipe for a harder time coming to grips with it when the money/ability to cheat time runs out.

And pushing it as a good thing, a positive one to be embraced, well let's just say that it strikes me as less than admirable.

Even if he's doing it from purely altruistic reasons, to reassure the children, I find it suspect.

#124 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 12:34 AM:

Terry Karney @ 123... We all want to look as we did in our prime

... and, as we grew up, some of us became odd, some became square.

#125 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 01:15 AM:

Serge, a few are cubed and some more closely aproximate a perfect shape.

Me, I just get wrinkles.

#126 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 04:01 AM:

Bill Dickerson @116:

I wish you'd read the blog post before commenting. It expresses two fairly separate concerns.

First, and possibly least important, there is disapproval of plastic surgery. It's one part of a culture that teaches us to be dissatisfied, that we're not good enough. Although that dissatisfaction can be a useful spur at times, it's also productive of much human misery.

Plastic surgery, though it is useful for many things, can also be a big part of this culture. Done purely for the sake of looking younger, it both monetizes beauty and reinforces the perception that changing over time is a problem. Both of these are, in my view, destructive of human happiness.

I'd be much more interested in a book with the same title which was about how, after surgery, Mommy looked as wonderful as she did before the accident. But that's not what we're discussing, so bringing reconstructive surgery into this discussion is moot.

The second point, which is actually the one of interest to this community, is that this is a self-published book being pitched as a phenomenon. There really is a difference between a book that a single person has decided to pay to get published and one that a business has decided is financially viable. Karen Springen conflated the two, turning a major news magazine into an advertizing venue. That's sloppy journalism, and we don't like that much.

#127 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 06:27 AM:

Terry Karney @ 123

I understand the urge to "aesthetic" surgery is strong.

Which begs the question about anesthetic surgery.

#128 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 06:50 AM:

Dena Shunra @ 121

Eva and I have some distance from the pain now, and 2 healthy adult children subsequent, but your words express our feelings beautifully (I'm not reluctant to use the word "miracle" since it can't have any religious meaning for me). I remember this subject coming up in a thread here at ML a year or so ago, and the consensus then was that miscarriages are seriously underreported, though perhaps less so than they used to be. My impression is that, while still emotionally overwhelming for a woman, it doesn't have the social stigma that it once did in American society at any rate, in that it signified a failure at a woman's primary purpose in life.

Terry Karney @ 111

"Public discourse" as part of art is a present shibboleth of the cutting edge, so far as I can tell.

The irony about it being "cutting edge" is that it's not at all new. Just that each generation of artists likes to think it's edgier than the last. Eva and I saw the movie "Art School Confidential" a couple of months ago, and were amused and bemused at how familiar it all was from the art school she went to in the '60s, where my cousin, the avante-garde sculptor was a teacher. Hmmm, that's right, my cousin taught at Yale for awhile, in the late '80s and '90s, I think, though I haven't seen her in quite awhile, and can't quickly find the dates on the web. Maybe that attitude towards art is infectious, and my cousin is a carrier.

#129 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 08:03 AM:

abi @ 126... this is a self-published book being pitched as a phenomenon. (...) That's sloppy journalism, and we don't like that much.

That of course begs the question as to whether or not this really was journalism, and not a cunning way of getting a lot of publicity at a low price and without its looking like that. Do you know what's the first thing I thought of when this started?

The Swift Boat liars of 2004.

#130 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 09:07 AM:

Serge #124: But only a very few became perfect.

abi #126: Yeah, I guess I'm of two minds about aesthetic plastic surgery. On one hand, it does seem to emphasize vanity in an unhealthy way. On the other hand, it really does seem to make some people very much happier. And on the gripping hand, there seems to me to be a continuum there between correcting flaws and feeding your own vanity. Is it vain having an ugly mole taken off your face? Or getting your teeth whitened, or an implant to get rid of a gap in your teeth, or braces so your teeth don't look all snarled together? When I start judging other people on their choices here, I find myself unable to figure out any kind of line to draw other than my own preferences, and saying "you don't live by my values" is a lot less satisfying than saying "you're unreasonably vain."

#131 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 09:14 AM:

In addition to the stigma surrounding miscarriage, that discourages people from talking about it, there seems to be some confusion and blurring of boundaries about what a miscarriage actually is. When an egg is fertilized, but never implants, there may be some kind of pregnancy loss, but most women who experience it are not aware they were pregnant in the first place. Whether or not the woman wants to be pregnant, losing the pregnancy in the first day or so is a very different thing than losing it 3 months later.

There is something pathological about the attempt to blur the difference between a fertilized egg failing to implant and a miscarriage 3 months later. I haven't seen any indication that it's Aliza Shvarts' pathology, particularly. (I can't tell if she's just gullible enough to fall for it or she was trying to say something about it in a really nasty way. I don't speak performance art.) People have been advocating against hormonal contraception for longer than Shvarts has been alive. They say the Pill sometimes prevents implantation, so it's abortion, so it's murder and justifies any extremes to prevent its use. The arguments have gone by thousands of times, and they're still disturbing in this new context.

#132 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 09:21 AM:

Now I'm trying to remember a novel I read (at least ten years ago) about a student who was encouraged to to a controversial project, and then was left to suffer the consequences by their teacher(s). Sorry, I don't remember any more details-- not even whether it was a visual art project, or if this was the primary plot, though it was important in the book.

Does this sound familiar at all?

#133 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 09:49 AM:

Adrian @131, the distinction I make is that fertilization is something that happens to gametes, and pregnancy is something that happens to a woman. A fertilized egg that doesn't implant passes out of the woman without ever affecting her, biologically or (because it can't be detected) emotionally.

Once a fertilized egg implants in the uterus, it stimulates all the massive hormonal changes of pregnancy, as well as the associated physical and emotional effects. Then the woman is pregnant, and it's possible for her to experience a miscarriage or have an abortion. But prevention of implantation is neither.

#134 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 09:57 AM:

Dena @121, Bruce @128: In fact, about 1 in 4 confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage. Given that most women who are interested in childbearing will be pregnant more than once, the number of women who have had a miscarriage is probably well over half. It's a crazy-high statistic given how rarely you hear miscarriage discussed.

I think there's somewhat of a taboo against discussing miscarriage with healthy women of childbearing age. When I allowed it to be known that I had one, I was amazed at the number of women who came out of the woodwork to tell me about theirs - other mothers, grandmothers, childless women. In most cases, I had no idea. I think that as long as I appeared to be on a happy maternal trajectory, they wanted to spare me the horror.

It's an enormous hidden sisterhood. At least, these days, it's likely that a woman who miscarries will be able to access that sisterhood for support. In my mother's generation, even that was taboo. She told me a story of encountering an 80-year-old woman who was finally able to tell about her miscarriage, and her grief, after 60 years of silence.

#135 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 10:20 AM:

Rivka @134:

It's an enormous hidden sisterhood. At least, these days, it's likely that a woman who miscarries will be able to access that sisterhood for support.

And that is why I jump in and mention my miscarriage whenever the topic comes up. I was very lonely afterward, and I'd not have that happen to anyone else.

#136 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 10:46 AM:

re aesthetic surgery: I am of at least three minds on the subject.

On the one hand, elective surgeries can be very therepeutic. Done well they can even be, largely, undetectable (I know a couple of women who had very well done breast modifications, they weren't visually detectable, one was an enlargement, two were reductions)

On the other hand, as a business, the urge (need) to do enough of them to pay the bills (in a market where there are more plastic surgeons than reconstructive/repair surgeries require) drives a slew of unhealthy advertising for elective surgeries.

On a different hand, some of the market is driven by pathologies in our culture (and most of them against women) to look "perfect" (for whatever value of perfect one ascribes to). The tummy tucks, and butt lifts are one thing. The breast enlargements another and the "we can make you a virgin again" quite something else.

If there were fewer aspects of the last sort of thing, I would have fewer problems with the first.

#137 ::: Chris J. ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 11:28 AM:

In my experience, earlier cohorts of plastic surgeons themselves had misgivings and rationalizations. I know some and have interacted a fair amount with plastic surgery trainees over the years. More than a few trotted out a variety of the notion that they're really doing this to help all those maimed and disfigured people, especially the children. The newer batch is much more brazen about why they went into plastics, but it appears a few are still uneasy in their career choice, in spite of all the money.

#138 ::: Flora Postes ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 11:57 AM:

#136 ::: Terry Karney

Of course one can get aesthetic surgery for intellectual reasons as well. That's why I had this third hand attached...

#139 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 02:01 PM:

Flora #138: Was this the result of studying economics, or reading _The Mote in God's Eye_?

Terry #136: I can see your point about pathologies of our culture, but I'll admit I can't justify why (say) getting implanted teeth to cover gaps is sensible, but getting breast enlargement surgery is vain. And while women are probably more affected by this than men, I'll point out that the baldness-cure industry is not obviously serving a less pathological desire than the facelift industry.

#140 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 02:14 PM:

albatross @ 139... the baldness-cure industry is not obviously serving a less pathological desire than the facelift industry

"I'm not only its president - I'm also a customer."

#141 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 02:37 PM:

albatross 139: I know a young gay man who was planning to get a butt-lift until I talked him out of it. His mother was going to pay for it to help his self-esteem. (Bad mother.)

Men are visual creatures. I think it's less that women are more susceptible than that those who want to attract men must pay attention to their appearance more than those who want to attract women.

#142 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 02:47 PM:

Hmm, albatross, I think I read you a little hastily. While my point still stands, it appears to be in violent agreement with yours.

#143 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 02:50 PM:

Rivka @134: the extent of that taboo was driven home to me by silence in my family about a baby that had died a few hours after birth - that baby wasn't counted among his mother's children. (She had 11 children, but was only given 'credit' for 10.)

Like Abi, I think that bringing this out in the open helps those who suffer alone.

And one in four - that is amazing. And consistent with the level of "me too"s that I hear when the subject is raised.

#144 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 03:31 PM:

Dena @ 143

It's consistent also with the number I saw in Science news years ago - it was actually in an item on DES children, where the miscarriage rate for first pregnancies of DES daughters was given as 40 percent, twice the normal rate. (Which is what made my then-doctor tell me that if was going to do that, I needed to talk to him first.)

#145 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 04:07 PM:

Dena #143: FWIW, we also went through a miscarriage, before having our two healthy boys. It's both horrible and pretty much invisible, for reasons I've never understood.

#146 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 04:32 PM:

@134: My mother had two miscarriages, one of them requiring a hospital stay. It wasn't a secret within the family, but I suppose that contributed to my parents' decision to stop at three children instead of the originally planned four.

@143: My cousins and I have been researching my grandmother's family, and in the process I was told that my father had a brother who died at age 1. The elder cousins had heard about that from their father. The younger ones were completely unaware. We've found other never-mentioned children in birth records, too.

#147 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 05:46 PM:

My mom had three miscarriages (and five kids). It wasn't hidden from us, but wasn't talked about much, either. I barely remember the last one, when I was four. It was disquieting, because Mom suddenly went to the hospital and Dad was uncharacteristically silent and serious. They told us what happened after Mom came home, but I didn't really understand it.

Anyway, because Mom had the acknowledged miscarriages, I grew up thinking it was normal, and am not surprised when they happen; but sometimes I'm surprised when people are shocked at hearing about another woman's miscarriage, as though they were rare.

#148 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 05:55 PM:

My mother had two miscaarriages, and four children born (none died post-partum). My mother was an unplanned for child; my grandmother didn't want another heartbreak as when her second child died of TB in the '30s. at the age of 3.

It's amazingly undereported and painfully pushed under the rug, so that women who have them feel drastically abnormal (unless it gets dragged out as a stat in an abortion debate, which seems less than cricket to me, because of all the traumas that go with it, and the way it's brushed aside in the culture).

albatross/Xopher: Yes, baldness is one of the few places where the pathology affects men (generally, there will be outliers for everything). But I don't see pectoral implants, tummy tucks, eyebrow lifts, face lifts, butt lifts, etc, being, agressively, marketed to men,

The "enlargement" snake oils might be in the same arc, but aren't anything like the same degree, as the labial trims and vaginal "restoration" surgeries.

And I can find ads for all of those, if not on television, then the radio and magazines and newspapers.

#149 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 06:04 PM:

Regarding the silly abortion "artist" -- Jack Womack predicted her more than twenty years ago in Ambient, although she doesn't seem to talk about deliberately mutilating her fetuses with drugs as Womack's artists did.

#150 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 07:03 PM:

Regarding that art project, as others have said upthread, what's with the unquestioning acceptance (in media stories) that she has easy access to effective herbs? Can the reporters name these herbs?

Silphium went extinct 2000 years ago: there hasn't been anything like that since.

(That'd make a item in an alt-history novel: what if knowledge of and access to a reliable contraceptive had never been lost?)

#151 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 07:59 PM:

I have a friend for whom successful pregnancies are, I think, sub 50%. (I say I think because I've forgotten how many miscarriages she's actually had.) She is in nurse training (with three young children, yet) and has never been shy about anything in regards to the human body, so even though I never thought about miscarriage when I was younger, I now know that it can be extremely common.

She doesn't smoke or drink to excess, and is very up on miscarriage risk factors, so there's also a strong implication that a miscarriage isn't the woman's fault, which I think is a large part of the emotional load of a miscarriage. Of course, knowing that and internalizing it are two different things.

albatross: On the subject of baldness, you know that women who might be pregnant aren't even supposed to touch Propecia? I found out why— it's because it contains chemicals that in minute amounts, such as the amount you can absorb through the skin, can induce a particular intersex condition where a genetic male doesn't get the right hormone mix in the womb, comes out female— and then develops male characteristics around puberty. It's usually a genetic condition and one Caribbean location has it is high enough proportion that they have a nickname for it: "eggs (testes) at twelve."

And it can induce gynecomastia in adult males. How's that for complications?

#152 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 08:54 PM:

There are plenty of herbs with reputed abortifacient properties -- pennyroyal, rue, tansy, mugwort, others -- and websites that will give suggested doses and instructions. I am not linking, because if you get it wrong, you're courting liver damage. A lot of the herbs contain thujone (yes, like the wormwood in absinthe). It's not hard to find out about them, and even if you can't always just walk into Whole Foods and buy them, they are easily ordered from suppliers like Frontier Herbs.

#153 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 09:07 PM:

Terry @ #136:

On the one hand, elective surgeries can be very therepeutic. Done well they can even be, largely, undetectable (I know a couple of women who had very well done breast modifications, they weren't visually detectable, one was an enlargement, two were reductions)

Lumping enlargements and reductions together is a little bit unfair. Sure, a reduction is an "elective" procedure, which mostly means insurance will try to avoid covering it, but among the indications for it are severe neck and back pain, damaged posture, permanent grooving of the shoulders, constant rashes and skin infections, "degradation of the skin" (pressure sores, erosion, and scarring), bruising and hematomas - not to mention near-constant pain from tight elastic - caused by the limitations of bra engineering and underwires digging into the skin, severe life limitations such as inability to run, jump, or easily go up and down stairs without additional breast support like crossing the arms tightly over the chest (which means difficulty exercising, which means weight control problems), inability to wear normal clothing (it's insane to have to budget $1000 a year for bras), etc.

While I expect all these little problems are trivial next to having a miscarriage, there's a certain similarity in the "enormous hidden sisterhood" aspect. You probably know a lot more people who've had breast reductions than you think and who aren't sharing this information because people make insensitive comments about "cosmetic" surgery and vanity and pathology.

#154 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 09:46 PM:

Susan: I included it becuause she wasn't so large as to be having secondary complications. She said she did it to stop men treating her like a moron, and start looking her in the face.

So I think it was in the scope of social pathologies. I probably should have made that clear from the outset.

I did find it interesting that she had two plastic surgeons refuse to do it, because it wasn't, "needful".

#155 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 10:04 PM:


As you wrote, there are plants with reputed abortifacient properties--but nothing like Silphium, where it appears that it was well-known and commonly used as a once-a-month drink to prevent pregnancy.

The way the press reported on the Yale woman's project though... seems like none of the reporters or their editors thought "huh? Citation needed." As if it's well-known that there are herbs one just takes. Gosh, what's all the debate about clinics and ru486 then, those reporters must be thinking.

#156 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 10:13 PM:

I've had more than one friend have breast reduction surgery. It was needful.

The change in life for those women when they no longer had to wear harnesses to hold their breasts, the breasts that got in the way of doing many of the most mundane of daily tasks, the relief from the misery of their back pain, not to mention the relief from the misery of the incredibly ugly stupid things that men would shout at them wherever they went -- that wasn't elective. It made their lives healthy lives.

Love, C.

#157 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 12:05 AM:

Rikibeth @152, the point is that none of those herbs can really be described as either "safe" or "a sure thing." They're in the "pregnant women should avoid these" category, not the "why bother going to Planned Parenthood?" category.

#158 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 09:36 AM:

Re: lack of knowledge of how common miscarriages are:

I definitely found that I had been assuming that each step in the conception --> pregnancy --> childbirth path was just a matter of course. And I *was* aware, though vaguely, of the miscarriage statistics. I think for me, that was at least partly because I had the impression that *childbirth* was so much safer for women today than in the past. (This being ML, I'm sure someone can identify that logical fallacy, attributing the part to the whole, without looking it up.)

When we went public with our pregnancy-related scare (details; all seems well now here at 26 weeks), all kinds of stories suddenly came out of the woodwork--false positives on the screening tests for genetic problems, *true* positives for ditto, miscarriages . . . The density of the stories was startling.

I think there is, as Rivka said, something about wanting to spare women the horror. Also people have different ideas about privacy for their pain. I was extremely grateful that I hadn't made a public announcement at work before our scare, for instance, because the idea of either constantly [*] lying to people or having to hear *sympathy* all the time--well, it made me want to crawl under my desk. Even more. Your reaction to sympathy MV.

[*] Etiquette tip. If you usually greet someone, say a coworker, with "How are you?", do not switch to "How are you feeling?" upon learning of her pregnancy (or, I imagine, any other major health-related change). It can make her feel that the only thing of interest about her any more is her body, which either is not or shouldn't be what you intended.

#159 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 10:07 AM:

Oh yes--and if someone would like to talk about instances in which childbirth *isn't* safe, I would appreciate it that comment is preceded by a warning. My imagination doesn't require additional fodder, thanks.

#160 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 11:44 AM:

Kate Nepveu

I have no idea why people relish horror stories of medical conditions so much, but when Eva was carrying our first child, the older women I worked with in the department staff took great glee in telling us all the nasty things that had gone wrong with their pregnancies, and how having children would destroy our marriage (they were all divorced). For quite awhile there I avoided saying more than "good morning" to them, and spent my time with the graduate students instead. Most of them were female (and that's a story for another time), but they were young, unmarried, and childless, with no immediate intention of starting families. so they were more fascinated than jaded about the pregnancy.

#161 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 12:55 PM:

Bruce: I also, during all 3 of my pregnancies, found myself a horror-story magnet. Also, complete strangers would come up to me without asking and put their hands on my abdomen. The memory of that behavior still triggers my WTF-fight-or-flight reaction these many years later. I don't like being touched by strangers under normal circumstances; it was far, far worse when I was pregnant.

#162 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 01:30 PM:

I don't know why that is, why women tell pregnant women all the pregnancy horror stories they know. Maybe to make their own experiences seem mild by comparison? Or just out of plain old rude stupidity?

I've only observed this phenomenon, of course, but I've always found it puzzling.

And I ALWAYS ask before putting my hand on a pregnant woman's belly. And I would never even ASK a stranger, let alone do it without permission. I think pregnant women should keep a plastic fork on hand to deal with anyone who does.

#163 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 01:50 PM:

Xopher #162: Why a plastic fork? If I were a pregnant woman, I'd carry around a variety of sharp and painful metal objects just for that eventuality.

#164 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 01:57 PM:

ethan 163: First, for immediate retribution that won't get you arrested; second, because if you're trying to stab the person in the hand and they pull it away quickly, a stab in the belly with a plastic fork hurts less; and third, because you might hesitate to use an actual sharp metal thing.

#165 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 02:11 PM:

Terry #148: In the real world, perhaps. If I judged from my pre-spam-filtered emails, though, I would estimate that at least half the world economy involved enlarging the genitalia of men. (The other half involves Nigerian widows and bank transfers.)

#166 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 02:21 PM:

albatross: I wasn't saying the enlargement scams aren't ubiquitous (and large scale, one of them just got slammed for fraud; not that they blew it on representation, but they had recurrent billing; and didn't ship subsequent orders... which says a lot about results. As Sipowicz said on an episode of NYPD Blue, "No one complains about dick cream").

But ordering a patent nostrum (at 30-60 bucks a pop) is a different class of solicitatoin from being told you need to have bits of yourself chopped off to make you attractive to your mate, usually to your mate of long standing.

#167 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 03:26 PM:

Terry, Susan et al. Re. breast reductions.

I was told about an interview with a plastic surgeon who said that of all the procedures, it was breast reduction that he had a 100% success rate with "success" being defined as "the person felt significantly better about themselves/felt their life was improved" after the op.

#168 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 03:46 PM:

dcb #167: That's surprising, because the four people I've known who've had reductions have all had their breasts grow back to the same size as (or larger than) they were pre-op, and I've been told that that's fairly common.

#169 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 04:13 PM:

ethan: Well, now you know five. :) I had it done about 15 years ago, and while they've certainly gotten slightly larger again, they're also far better shaped and don't cause the problems they did before the operation. I can still cross my arms over my chest, which I couldn't do before, and I am totally counting that as a win.

Besides, even if it's only helpful for five years or whatever, that's still five years. I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I thought it was necessary.

#170 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 04:27 PM:

Terry #166:

Yeah, some of that squicks me out, too. The virginity restoration surgery in particular seems squicky, though I gather it is sometimes a matter of being able to go home and marry someone from your own culture without risking death or dishonor. ISTM that the squicky thing there might be going back home to that culture to marry, rather than doing what you have to do to survive the experience, given that you've decided to do it. And I frankly suspect I don't understand nearly enough of what the world looks like to a woman who would get that surgery to make any kind of meaningful judgement about how healthy or sensible it is.

I suspect this applies very broadly. One of the wonderful things about living in a free society is that nobody has to justify this kind of decision--if Alice decides she wants breast implants, Bob decides he wants hair implantation, and Carol decides she wants Botox injections, they just find a willing doctor, arrange to pay him, and get those things done, without having to convince anyone they're doing them for the "right" reasons.

#171 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 04:41 PM:

dcb @ #167:

Yes, that's commonly said. It doesn't surprise me in the least. The patient is going against social "big boobs are best" pressure, so they're probably not doing it lightly or trivially, and getting rid of the physical problems would make up for even less-than-100%-perfect outcomes.

ethan @ #168:

That can happen if you have it before the breast tissue finishes growing, which can be as late as the mid-twenties. How old were they when they had the surgery? I do know one person who had it in her teens with an excellent outcome and no regrowth, but that seems like a bit of a gamble.

(And, of course, if you gain/lose large amounts of weight it's going to affect breast size as well.)

Medical horror stories: mention that you are thinking about breast reduction and the story that immediately comes up is about the friend, or friend of a friend, whose nipples dried up and fell off afterwards.

#172 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 05:13 PM:

albatross @ 170... And what does Ted want?

#173 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 06:07 PM:

Carrie S. #169: That's a good point. Any improvement, for any amount of time, is still an improvement.

Susan #171: Also a good point, which for some reason hadn't occurred to me--three of the four were under twenty-five.

#174 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 07:41 PM:

Terry 166: But ordering a patent nostrum (at 30-60 bucks a pop)

Wow, you're overpaying. They do that every Sunday at my church, for free.

Oh, wait, that's a pater noster. Never mind. :-)

#175 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 07:53 PM:

Bruce Cohen et al.: online people have been very good about respecting my self-declared status as a horror-story free zone (a little less good about the unsolicted-advice free zone, but very polite about it when reminded). So far work hasn't been a problem either, perhaps because at the least hint of something headed in that direction, I say--smiling--that I am an etc.

I'm not big enough yet that people have been accosting me. In anticipation of that day, I have a T-shirt . . .

(Chad bought it for me, and a couple other similar, after a frustrating first trip to buy maternity clothes. I'm actually not sure how much I'll wear it out, but it's a good thing to have. I am mentally practicing my stop-right-there! glare instead.)

#176 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 07:57 PM:

Oh, and the stories coming out of the woodwork were not what I'd categorize as horror stories, because they were offered as sympathy/been-there-done-that, and it was good to know about other people's experiences to calibrate. I realize that may not have been clear.

#177 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 08:07 PM:

Kate, good idea to wear the same shirt -- it gives a good comparison basis. I would have said people would see it by now, but maybe not if you wear looser clothes.

#178 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 08:59 PM:

Marilee, it's only recently been warm enough here that I haven't been wearing a coat out and about, and a long raincoat is a remarkably concealing thing.

#179 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 09:32 PM:

albatross: even granting that the story line recently finished in Doc Rat doesn't apply to humans, ISTR that there are mechanical reasons for wanting fully-opposed teeth; filling in gaps is not just cosmetic. OTOH, if you want to snark at cosmetic capping you'll get no disagreement from me.

#180 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2008, 11:25 PM:

"complete strangers would come up to me without asking and put their hands on my abdomen."

I know that one person whose blog I read had a shirt which said, "I am not Buddha. Do not rub my belly."

I have not had this problem at all. I don't know if it's finally permeated into the local culture that it's pretty rude to touch somebody without their permission or if it's the fact that I'm tall and can look scary at will. (Granny Weatherwax scary, not goth scary.) In fact, the only person who touched my belly without asking was the musical director of a show that I'm not involved with for the first time in years, who saw me at the first rehearsal*, put his hand on my belly, and said, "What's this?" in a tone that indicated that he'd wondered why I wasn't on the cast list.

The only other folk who've asked have been high schoolers (I photograph team sports sometimes for my job.) Thankfully, they've all been very curious because they've never known anyone pregnant before.

People haven't been telling me horror stories either. Some of my coworkers have been telling me pregnancy and birth stories, which are only horrifying if you think the experience is supposed to be pain-free. (The stories are well within normal guidelines, even the tiny coworker who had twelve pound babies.) But I think an effective means of controlling teen pregnancy is to bring in a pregnant lady to talk about the normal rigors of pregnancy to teenaged girls in an offhand manner, because every time I've done that the girls get this glazed look which seems to indicate, "I want to be a nun."

*I did tech. Graphic design, photography, set painting, you know. Good lord I'm crazy.

#181 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 12:02 AM:

A couple I know were attending a family get-together.

Aunt ___, who is of the old school, approaches her niece-in-law and puts her hand on her belly. "And what is this?" she asks, in a yenta-ish Oh, look who is finally getting around to starting a family for real way.

"I've put on weight," says ___ matter of factly.

#182 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 04:54 AM:

The Newsweek story has got legs; Zoe Williams, a regular Guardian columnist, has lapped it up and regurgitated it here.

#183 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 10:22 AM:

By the way, and for what it's worth, I have nothing against self-publishing, and nothing against self-publishers who successfully get their books covered in the media.

I think Newsweek deserves criticism for having built a gosh-how-shocking story around this book without mentioning that it was a vanity project. But I don't really have any strong views about the book itself.

#184 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 02:28 PM:

B. Durbin @ 180

"an effective means of controlling teen pregnancy is to bring in a pregnant lady to talk about the normal rigors of pregnancy to teenaged girls in an offhand manner."

As an alternative, I've heard it's pretty effective to get two or three recent-teen-mums to come back to school with their babies/toddlers of varying ages. First the girls coo over them. That lasts ten minutes or so. Over the next hour or two they discover just how little you can get on with what you want/intend to do when there's a baby or small child demanding attention, trying to eat its crayons, needing a nappy changed, needing feeding...

#185 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 03:19 PM:

CHip @ 179: Indeed yes. A lost tooth can mean that the teeth to either side of the gap might travel a bit to fill in the gap, which can cause present pain and future complications. A lost tooth makes chewing a bit harder, since there's nothing for the opposing tooth to grind against. Also, there's hyperextension. My dentist occasionally suggests I should have my top wisdom teeth out for that reason. I never got my bottom wizzies at all, and he's concerned that their absence will allow the top ones to keep growing down and down. And indeed the left-hand one is a bit longer than its neighboring molars. We're keeping an eye on 'em for now.

Some years ago I underwent a gum graft. The surgeon took tissue from the top of my mouth and sewed it onto my drastically receded gums. The process probably saved me from losing my bottom front teeth over the next 10 or 20 years. I was, afterwards, taken aback to hear her refer to the process as "plastic surgery." Common use of the phrase has loaded it with connotations of vain rich people and unhealthy beauty standards. It took me a blink or two to adjust my mental filters and think of the term "plastic surgery" as a non-judgmental description of a class of surgical procedure defined not by its intent but its mechanisms.

Social stigma: hard at work destroying the language!

#186 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 03:32 PM:

Nicole: I had a gum graft too, combined with a frenectomy. My periodontist is still bragging about it ten years later. That topped all other dental and orthodontic procedures I've ever undergone on the painful and messy list, but it certainly did the job.

#187 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 03:58 PM:

Nicole and Susan.. I went thru a gum graft too about 10 years ago. The worst part of it was after the procedure: I had to wear a thin plastic plate molded to fit my palate, to protect the area from which the graft had been taken. That made the experience of eating rather disgusting because no food was touching my palate anymore. I quickly decided screw-this and tossed the plate away.

#188 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 07:28 PM:

I would personally love to lose the weight I gained during pregnancy. And if I looked stretched and disgusting, I think I would look into getting rid of it too. But they don't need to write a book about it.

#189 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2008, 08:18 PM:

"Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" picked up on My Beautiful Mommy this past weekend, too, during the Listener Limerick Challenge. The panel had fun with it, of course.

I recently visited a plastic surgeon because I've got "cholesterol" deposits below my eyes. The blotches look like I did a bad job of applying my concealer. I'm sensitive about it, so I thought I'd get them removed. While I was at my initial consultation, I asked if it would also be possible to reduce the bags under my eyes as well - and yeah, that's because I think it will shave a few years off my looks.

After we spoke, I thought I'd go ahead with both procedures, but the doctor neglected to tell me a number of things which I had to find out at the final "pre-op" appointment from the consent/warnings paperwork - not a real person spoke to me, no, they just handed me a bundle of papers and said "sign these".

Now, why the doctor didn't volunteer those details in my initial consultation, has me curious as to his motives. Maybe he figured I'd decide against it right then and there if he told me, but if I'd committed to all the pre-op appointments, I'd go through with it anyway, or maybe nobody really reads those papers and it's easier on him not to have to deal with it in the consultation.

It's frustrating, since still want the surgery and now I have to find a new doctor. At least now that I know some of the issues I'll have to deal with, I can have a nice long conversation about them before I set up additional appointments.

#190 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2008, 09:26 PM:

Not being able to find this book on Amazon isn't as big a red flag as it would have been a month ago -- not with Amazon's recent insanity of requiring that any POD book that they sell be printed by their wholly-owned POD vanity press, BookSurge.

What's telling is that this book isn't available from either.

#191 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2008, 09:39 PM:

The WashPost Health section covered this today -- offering a doctor's opinion first and then the plastic surgeon's rebuttal.

#192 ::: Katsoulis ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2008, 10:42 PM:

This book smells of a need to justify his work to himself and to the four children he is theoretically helping to raise. Unfortunately, all this publicity is only likely to increase his workload.

I could not help but demonize him at my blog, but I can only hope it does not further the out of control train that is publicity for this idiotic endeavor.

#193 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 08:00 AM:

CHip @ 179: albatross: even granting that the story line recently finished in Doc Rat doesn't apply to humans, ISTR that there are mechanical reasons for wanting fully-opposed teeth; filling in gaps is not just cosmetic. OTOH, if you want to snark at cosmetic capping you'll get no disagreement from me.

Well, both of you guys can snark at me then.

Go on. I'm waiting.

(Upon rereading, it doesn't look like albatross was snarking. If snarking was intended, albatross does know where to find me in person, so that can be attempted efficiently. Juan would probably appreciate warning so that he can make popcorn.)

After you're done snarking, I can tell you about a completely unexpected result: how happy it made my grandmother, and NOT for any reason anybody is likely to guess, either.

OK, snark on, guys.

#194 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 09:09 AM:

elise #193: No snark intended, though if I know where to snark at you in person, I seem to have misplaced the knowledge. (Did we meet at RSA?) My point (I think you got it) was that there isn't an obvious line to me between unreasonable vanity and a sensible concern for your appearance. Getting cosmetic dental work is extremely common and doesn't seem to be seen by most people as out-of-control vanity, so it makes a nice example on one end of the spectrum (where the other end is Michael Jackson-esque serial reshapings of your body, say).

#195 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 09:31 AM:

Xopher 124: We all want to look as we did in our prime... and, as we grew up, some of us became odd, some became square.

And some just became... complex.

Well, I'd rather be square than irrational.

#196 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 09:34 AM:

Sorry, albatross; I thought you were the Minneapolis albatross, rather than a different bird. (Though perhaps we did meet at RSA, albeit it would have to have been the last one on Nob Hill, where I was a booth weasel for Bruce Schneier. There's something about the sight of a copy of Advanced Crypto in an NSA shopping bag* that still gives me the giggles.)

And I admit to palming a card there, a bit. The reason for going to caps was not entirely cosmetic. There were a number of fillings in my front teeth that were due for replacement (yes, it says something that I didn't know that fillings wear out eventually), and for the first time in my life, I was covered by dental insurance. My dentist and I discussed how many times it would be likely that those fillings would need replacing, based on assumptions about life span, and decided that capping the whole front range was worth considering. So we did.

(My grandmother, who died last year, used to ask me to come over by her at every family gathering, saying, "Smile for me! Isn't that something? You bought rich people's teeth!" It tickled her beyond words that somebody in her family had edited the family class marker, and gotten rid of the biggest clue, the one that is visible even before any words come out. She knew the value of "cleaning up good," and the uses of it.)

* We didn't have bags. If someone requested one, I apologized and pointed out that the NSA table next to ours had lovely ones.

#197 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 09:40 AM:

Another issue is to what degree cosmetic surgery is done purely for reasons of vanity or for calculated reasons of professional success. Look at Terry's example of a woman who had breast reduction so men would stop treating her like a moron. Makes perfect sense to me; I've spent my life dealing with men who are disturbingly obsessed with breasts, getting yelled at on the street, etc.

There's a trend of some size towards having "rejuvenating" procedures like face lifts in order to look younger because looking old is perceived as a professional handicap. Valid observation about how the world works or cover for vanity? Damned if I know. I expect it's a valid concern in Hollywood. But elsewhere as well wouldn't surprise me - look at the attention to Hillary Clinton's looks. And I know at least one man who's had a cosmetic procedure done for this reason. McCain is blessed in not really looking his age (as opposed to looking like he has body wear from war and his bout with cancer), but does anyone think Hillary at 80 would be a viable candidate? Or would she be dismissed as an "old bag"?

At what point is it fair to tell individuals they should resist this sort of pressure even if it makes it harder to get/hang on to a job?

This still doesn't make butt-lifts make sense to me. :)

#198 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 09:46 AM:

(following myself up after reading Elise's post)

Add "removing a negative class marker" to concerns which sit on the border between professional demands and social pathology. Should people judge someone negatively because of visibly bad teeth? No. Do they? Yeah, I bet many do, just as they do with a "hick" accent. Is it fair to tell people they should keep [age or class marker] as a point of principle to make a point about unfair judgmentalism in modern society? That's pretty rough on the individual.

#199 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 10:17 AM:

Our local same-100-pop-hits-ad-nauseam radio station broadcast the "My Beautiful Mommy" story yesterday, with "more stupid news from the outside world" spin (and without mentioning that the book is self-published).

#200 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 10:24 AM:

The story has travelled offshore, it should be noted.

#201 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 10:35 AM:

I'm not sure getting teeth capped is purely a matter of appearance, nor is orthodontia. Crooked teeth and teeth with fillings going bad are harder to take care of and more likely to result in really expensive work later, like gum surgery and dentures.

#202 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 12:59 PM:

re breast reductions: Susan pointed out (when citing my example) that I wasn't being fair to the person I referred to (or to the couple of women I've known who were thinking of it, for much the same reasons), because I wasn't really thinking it completely through.

No, she wasn't so overburdened that it was a health issue. But neither was it purely "cosmetic" as the size of her chest was affecting her quality of life. I know some women who've had elargements (or wear a padded bra at all times). One of them has, to quote her, "nothing but nipples under the padding", even after she had a child, and breast fed) because they felt it was needful to the way they saw themselves; which affected how they dealth with others, and led to some really unhappy-making feedback loops.

So no, it was a mistake to include that level of treatment in the vanity category (though I am not displeased that it ended up useful in other contexts).

#203 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 01:52 PM:

elise #196: Is a Minneapolis albatross more cold adapted than a Maryland albatross? I know Bruce pretty well, but I'm not anywhere close to Minnesota.

I assume you mean Applied Cryptography as the book--it's gotten pretty old, but I'm not sure when the last RSA on Nob Hill was--quite awhile ago, right? I have very fond memories of a bunch of the early ones at the Fairmont, back when the .com money was just beginning its flood into the computer security industry, and we started getting more and more opulent galas and such. Do you remember the gala (I think it was at an art museum) where they had the IBM logo ice sculpture?

As a current version of this, I'd love to see someone carrying around Beyond Fear in a DHS bag....

#204 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 01:57 PM:

On the original topic: today's Washington Post includes an article on "My Beautiful Mommy", with no explanation of vanity presses. I wrote a little email to the reporter; we'll see if I get any response.

#205 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 01:57 PM:

Today's Baby Blues seems to be riffing on this story.

#206 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 02:07 PM:

Am I the only one when he reads the words "My Beautiful Mommy" thinks of that Sesame Street skit where a King sees a young boy who's crying because he doesn't know where his mom is? The King asks what his mother looks like, and the boy says she's the most beautiful woman in the world. Off they go all over the kingdom, coming across many very beautiful women, but none of them is the boy's mother. The King depairs of ever finding the boy's mother, until they come across a woman who's tired, bent forward by Life's worries, a woman who is anything but beautiful. Of course she is the boy's mother, and to him the most beautiful of women.

#207 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 02:12 PM:

Susan #198: One complicating factor here is that bad teeth are a lower class social marker only because of the existence of orthodontists and cosmetic dentistry. It's not like you could have told a lot about social class in 17th century England by teeth, other than maybe finding out which people were rich enough to be able to get a lot of refined sugar in their diets.

What's the healthy level for humans to value physical beauty and pursue it? I don't know, and I can't see how anyone else can, either--I doubt the question has a meaningful answer, though I suppose most people could recognize pathological examples of valuing physical beauty too highly. I strongly suspect that people are wired to respond to some kind of physical beauty, though it sure seems like the specific definition is very strongly socially influenced. And that people are also wired somehow to value beauty in surroundings and things, again with a lot of social influence.

I suspect parallel questions exist for all kinds of related things. Do you know that there are some people who take the beauty of a house and its surroundings so seriously, they're willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars extra for a house that just looks a little better and has a little nicer background? And that others spend a significant amount of their disposable income on laboriously hand-produced stuff they buy to hang on their walls? What a bunch of vain, shallow people, to be so concerned with appearances!

#208 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 03:03 PM:

ajay 195: Indeed! Of late I've been saying that my boyfriend is a complex person—in that he's partly imaginary.

#209 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2008, 05:44 PM:

albatross @ 203: I suspect the Minnesota albatross I know is pretty cold-adapted, so very likely. Your albatross may vary, of course.

Yup, that was the book. It was when the then-new edition came out in hardcover... dang. Can't remember, exactly. But yes, I think it was still at the Fairmont. And I did indeed go to an IBM gala, at that museum in Golden Gate Park or some such. I remember the joke associated with that. (Q: How can you tell this is an IBM function? A: Big dead dinosaur out front.) Dunno if it was the same one you recall; I didn't see an IBM ice logo. I did see eight rooms with different cuisines, some fire-eaters, a cigar bar that a bunch of us female types took over at one point, and several rooms with live music. And the inexhaustible towers of shrimp, which weren't as good as the room full of sushi, if I recall correctly. An ice sculpture could have been easily overlooked in all that.

If DHS has bags, I would carry Beyond Fear in one. I used to carry my embroidery project around in the NSA one until it tattered beyond use.

#210 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2008, 09:52 AM:

Xopher #208: Ob XKCD reference.

#211 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2008, 10:12 AM:

208: Of late I've been saying that my boyfriend is a complex person—in that he's partly imaginary.

So you're saying you have a complex conjugate? (chortles learnedly)

#212 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2008, 12:28 PM:

albatross 210: The bastard stole my joke.

ajay: Just so...sometimes I'm positive about him, and sometimes negative.

#213 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2008, 12:44 PM:

Fragano @ 200 pointed out:

> The story has travelled offshore, it should be noted.

...and it was in the "Metro" free newspaper in the UK this morning.

Cadbury (I only get it for the cartoons) Moose

#214 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 05:47 PM:

Via print on demand Newsweek has discovered the delights of the slush pile, formerly a private pleasure for those who work in publishing. This is the sort of material I remember seeing hung on the walls in publishing offices and on editors refrigerators. Now the public at large can enjoy it . . . or not.

#215 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 05:50 PM:

I suppose I should have said "book publishing".

#216 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2008, 11:15 PM:

Anybody taking bets on "Bill Dickerson" being either the doctor, the author, or someone related to the doctor or the author?

Xopher, #162: I recommend to my pregnant friends that they carry an old-fashioned wooden ruler for the smacking of impudent hands. The "misbehaving child" connotation seems to make it carry more weight. Some people have also reported success with a sharp, "Your mother would be ashamed!"

Stefan, #181: Yay for your friend! IME, nothing makes people more aware of how they might be putting their foot in it than actually having it pointed out that they've done so.

elise, #193: My now-ex had to have both his front incisors replaced as a youth, in the wake of a playground accident. The dentist did a terrible job, leaving him with "Chiclet teeth" and a horror of dental work in general. After we'd been married a few years, I finally talked him into going to my dentist for a consultation. The outcome was that he got those teeth redone, for a much more natural-looking result. He told me later that he'd always been somewhat self-conscious about those teeth, but had made the best of it because he hadn't thought anything could be done to correct the problem.

I know there are some people who would call that "vanity surgery", because the other teeth were still perfectly functional. But it made a significant difference in his quality of life, and I'll defend that any day.

#217 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 09:00 AM:

Lee #216:

My wife was pregnant during grad school. One effect she noticed was that younger women (early 20s, mostly unmarried, not tempted at all to have a baby right then) in her class were excited by the whole thing, wanted to talk about what it was like to be pregnant, etc. Older women (30s, married) seemed to regard her pregnancy as maybe slightly contagious, not want to talk about it, etc. She figured this was because the older women were actively deciding to put off children till they got out of grad school, whereas the younger women weren't even remotely tempted to have children as single 20-something grad students.

The other fun thing (actually a good thing as seen now, but not then) was my being out of work while she finished her masters degree. The result of that was that I was the main parent for our older son's first year of life, and got very comfortable dealing with babies. If we'd started out in our current situation (me working, her staying home and doing some freelance writing), I would probably never have become completely comfortable being the one taking care of the kids for long periods of time.

#218 ::: Ccnsul ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 11:44 AM:

nd t mk bk:

"Y dn't nd brcs my sn, y cn mv th K whr n thr kds wll mk fn f y fr hvng crkd tth"

Wht bnch f hypcrts. s f thr s n prsn n ths wrld wh wldn't njy bng "prtty" frvr.

Gt vr yrslvs. Srsly. VLV.

#219 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:20 PM:

Cocnsuelo @218:

When you discover the concepts of manners and interesting discourse, please do come back and try again.

Until then, you won't be needing these. So I removed them.


#220 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:32 PM:

abi @ 219... hypcrts

'y' is not a vowel?

#221 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:36 PM:

Serge, it depends on which language you're being disemvowelled in. Or by. Or maybe which safety setting the disemvoweller is on. (Possibly even the phase of the moon.)

#222 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:39 PM:

I wanted to leave it fairly readable, since I was disemvoweling someone on their first excursion out from under the bridge.

I'd have taken a stricter approach had it been in the heat of an argument.

#223 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:48 PM:

Thanks, abi and PJ... I wasn't sure if this was a difference between French and English that had eluded me after all these years.

"Mister Abi!"

"Yes, Captain!"

"Set Disenvoweller to momentary exothermic!"

#224 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:58 PM:

Technically, y is a semivowel. There were four in that comment that I considered removing, because they served as the vowels for their syllables:





Indeed, had it not been for the LOLcat feel of that last one, I would have cleaned them out. But I couldn't bear to. It was like a kitten, all big eyes and tiny inadequate claws.

Rly. Srsly.

#225 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:01 PM:

Now you've got me thinking how cute LOLtrolls would be, and that's just wrong.

#226 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:07 PM:

Kelly 225: cn hs flmwr?

#227 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:13 PM:

abi @ 224... It was like a kitten, all big eyes and tiny inadequate claws.


I really would rather not be reminded of that aspect of the 1960s.

#228 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:14 PM:


I can has livly diskusshun wiv diffrnt viewz? I haz support ov de lrkrs in teh emailz.

U peoplez needz sentz of humor.

I can has sensorship! Srsly!


#230 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:16 PM:

(Speaking as a moderator, I can assure you that vowels have a flavor.)

#231 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:37 PM:

Lurker cat loves LOLcatbuilders.

#232 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:42 PM:

Inflammatory rhetoric! DO NOT WANT!

#234 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 05:00 PM:

Hovercat hovers


#235 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 05:02 PM:

Serge @ 233: There seems to be a trend in all your photos of Agatha: she's always lying down. Is this the only time she slows down enough for you to capture her image?

My kitties know how to walk on the keyboard, and how to rub against the corner of the laptop. Well, that, and how to shed hair so it gets into the computer. And how to slide their heads under my elbow to get that cute face under the arm appearance.

They're pretty computer-savvy now that I think about it.

#236 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 05:10 PM:

Ginger @ 235... Is this the only time she slows down enough for you to capture her image?

Pretty much. She loves the desk lamps near either of our computers. Kind of reminds me of the ones that grocery stores use to keep roast chicken warm. The rest of the times, she's bouncing around, climbing all over the couches with her claws drawn out, which is when I bring out the rod&string and begin trolling for kitties.

As for her computer saviness, it luckily is limited to using the screen-print key. On the other hand... My wife can't find her ATM card anymore.

#237 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 05:32 PM:

Ginger, #235: That's fairly typical; at that age, they tend to have only 2 speeds -- Full Stop and Warp 9. Intermediate gears develop later.

#238 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 06:23 PM:

Lee @ 237: Oh, I know about kittens and their warp speeds (usually highest when the brain power is minimal, so they can quickly find themselves in the deepest possible trouble). I've been owned by cats for more than 30 years.

Serge @ Ah, a heat source! That's why she's so happy in the pictures. Some cats just love heat sources. I had one who would cuddle up against the floor register for heat in the winter and AC in the summer.

Now one of my cats seems to have outgrown his love of the heater, but we documented him sleeping in front of the little heater in the bathroom for hours one cold day. I'll have to send you that picture as I don't have a paid LJ anymore.

#239 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 06:43 PM:

Ginger @ 238... Do send me that photo. My LJ has a gallery I call "The Shoe Box", which is why I have a picture of Modesty Blaise next to Commander Codpiece (aka the Cheap Crook).

#240 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 07:32 PM:

abi #230: Ah, but do they have charm?

#241 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 07:43 PM:

Fragano @ 240: Well, that's certainly a quarky way of looking at it.

#242 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 07:54 PM:

This is getting strange. But maybe that's my spin on it.

#243 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 02:03 AM:

Ginger, #235, I took large globs of fur out of my trackball last night. I actually like taking things apart and cleaning them, so it was kind of fun, and the trackball works a lot better.

#244 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:36 AM:

Marilee @ 243...I took large globs of fur out of my trackball last night

This is starting to remind me of the movie cats and dogs, more specifically the scene where the cute little kitten turns out to be a Russian assassin who coughs up furballs in which are hidden dangerous weapons. Maybe his girlfriend is named Cata Hairy.

#245 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 05:26 AM:

223: "Mister Abi!"

"Yes, Captain!"

"Set Disenvoweller to momentary exothermic!"

by coincidence "IeeoaeaooouoeeaeoouaoeeUeeooeiiaeuoouoaiooeeeaau


is actually the words to the Star Trek original series theme tune.

#246 ::: B.Loppe ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2008, 12:30 AM:

The author was interviewed on CBC radio today, during the program Q. I was disappointed that the host, Jian Gomeshi, who usually does a fairly good job interviewing people, didn't make clear the vanity-publishing aspect. I've a good mind to call in and leave a response except that I sound like a 12-year-old on the phone most of the time.

#247 ::: [Would-be Spam deleted] ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 12:48 AM:

Ineptly posted from

#248 ::: Stefan Jones sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2010, 01:03 AM:

Inept spam, no linky, but away it must go.

#249 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2011, 10:35 PM:

Followup three years later.

Today, at Amazon, My Beautiful Mommy has a sales rank of 1.2 million.

The interesting things are the reviews. There are 12 5-star reviews. Of those, 10 have reviewed no other items, and the other two have reviewed one additional item each.

There are two 3-star reviews, one 2-star review, and three 1-star reviews.

The 5-star reviews are typically quite brief, a two or three lines to the effect that This Book is Wonderful. (E.G. Corinne Watkins, who has reviewed nothing else, is moved to say "This is a great book for mothers having medically necessary plastic surgery! It helps mothers relay the message to their children in an appropriate, child-friendly manner.")

The reviews with fewer stars are typically quite a bit longer. And the reviewers typically have read and reviewed other books.

Three star reviews:

One reviewer has reviewed ten other items; the other has reviewed over two hundred.

Two star review:

The reviewer has reviewed over two hundred other items.

One star reviews:

One reviewer has reviewed eight items.
The second has reviewed thirty-nine items.
The third has reviewed fifty-three items.

#250 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 08:32 PM:

Another invented trend is parents buying boob jobs for their daughters for graduation from high school (the heir to the traditional Jewish nose bob?), according to one of those "you should be horrified at what teenagers are doing these days" opinion columns . . . can't remember now where I saw it, but it made me laugh.

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