Pensioner dies after care agency shut down

It’s difficult to know where to start with this. The bare facts, as reported by the BBC website, are that an eighty-year old woman was left without food, water, or medication for nine days after the company responsible for her care was raided and shut down by the UK Border Agency. Sadly, she later died in hospital. The agency, it seems, had been illegally employing folks without papers, although I don’t think that much has been officially confirmed. There are so many things about this tragedy that make me angry. First off, care work is one of the most poorly paid jobs going. A 2010 report by the Low Pay Commission found that 9% of care workers were paid less than the minimum wage. Many were not being reimbursed for their travel costs. No surprise there, as caring has been – and still is – associated with women, and what has traditionally been considered ‘women’s work’ is always more poorly paid than traditionally masculine roles, no matter how important it may be. In addition, few care workers are union members, and as private companies have taken over – and made to compete for – the provision of care, this has led to reduced pay and poorer working conditions. Second, migrants without papers are one of the most easily exploited groups of people – lacking any official means to support themselves, they have to take any work they are offered, and their illegal status means that they have no power over their pay or working conditions. They cannot join a union to fight for a better deal, and they cannot complain if their jobs fail to meet the legally required standards. Third, the existence of such a vulnerable group of people, living in the shadows of our society, makes it harder for those with papers. Their pay and working conditions are driven down by the exploitation of illegal migrants, and they must now compete for work with people who can be paid less, made to work longer hours, and so on – people whom, from a certain perspective, it makes more sense to employ. And there we have it: a matrix of oppression, which leads to the various sufferings of care workers, folks without papers, and those who require care.

So you found the magic pill…

Let’s suppose you were given a prescription for a pill that will mean you lose 2-3 lbs a week, while you eat as much as you want of anything you want.

But it has some side effects.  One is getting seized by itching, which seems to move around your body at random.  (Cortisone cream helps.)  Another is that you can get tense and a bit bad tempered; your partner’s new and strange desire to help with dinner is irritating you a lot.  Digestion is not as simple as before, there may be mild hair loss(temporary), sleep can be disturbed easily and you have quite dry mouth.  And even with insurance, it is $10 a pill, one pill daily.

Of course, you strongly disapprove of the cultural obsession about women’s weight that is all around you.  But then you remember the recent remark on this blog that if you lose 20 lbs, your course evaluations will go up.  So it isn’t that you are endorsing these norms; you are trying to survive them.

Not everyone gets all the side effects.  How much would you tolerate to lose 15 lbs in 5 weeks?  Without ever being hungry, eating what you want, etc.


By the way, there really is such a pill.  Do you know which it is?


Seventeen is a magazine that tries to cater for late teen tastes.  I used to look at it occasionally when I was a teen, and so when I was trapped waiting for 45 min for a friend, I decided to take a look at its prom issue.  I could divide the comments in my head into two types:

From long ago:  1.  Some of these dresses look like night gowns; do you want to go to the prom in your underwear?

( a bit of a non-sequitur, but you get the idea)

2.  Thank goodness some of them are not strapless.

(the nuns would roam around with muslim muslin and safety pins to cover up an immodest girl.)

And then voices from the present century:

1.  Some of the dresses are sized 2-18 and others go as large as 24.  Fabulous.

2.  Big bottoms are clearly allowed and maybe even enouraged.  Yea!  (When I was buying Seventeen, we – already poorly endowed white women/girls – all wore girdles.)

3.  No more photoshopping of bodies, Seventeen says, and that’s actually likely.   Plus-size models are genuinely plus.  Hooray!

The down side:  the burning questions of today look awfully like those of the 50’s and 60′, which means way too many of them are about how he will react to you/her.   Gay couples don’t have any  problems??  There are no important problems that don’t have to do with sex?

O, Tra-la-la.  Life is deliciously trivial

Would you have expected this?

I was surprised by an incident – involving me – on my campus. I would not have expected this, and in fact I’ve embarrassingly agreed in print with Hume about our having a natural tendency to care about others, at least those in our community who are like us.

I had been at a large and fairly formal lunch. No alcohol, but I was in my best daytime attire. Shortly after I left the hotel on campus where the event was, I stumbled and fell. Fortunately, my left hand and arm got most of the damage; my head didn’t touch the ground and nothing was broken. But I was very shaken up. So I decided not to move for a while.

So picture this: definitely older woman, black silk trousers, quite nice red top, a rope of pearls, sitting on a campus sidewalk, her back against a wall, and her legs straight out onto the pavement. A few possessions scattered by her side. A university name tag still on her top.

I think something like 20-25 students passed me. No one stopped and asked if I needed help.

Of course, I could have asked for help, but decided not to when no one seemed the least bit concerned. But I hardly looked to be just enjoying myself; I hope I would have stopped if it were someone else.

Fat police refuted?

Our posts on accepting women’s bodies of all shapes and sizes will sometimes inspire the fat police to appear to denounce any acceptance of being overweight. So I’m very happy to say that the idea that being overweight is unhealthy now has a huge question mark against it. Though we’ve heard this before, the idea is getting new attention from an August finding that even with diabetes II, being overweight can be a protection. From the NY Times:

In study after study, overweight and moderately obese patients with certain chronic diseases often live longer and fare better than normal-weight patients with the same ailments. The accumulation of evidence is inspiring some experts to re-examine long-held assumptions about the association between body fat and disease…

…. there were hints everywhere. One study found that heavier dialysis patients had a lower chance of dying than those whose were of normal weight or underweight. Overweight patients with coronary disease fared better than those who were thinner in another study; mild to severe obesity posed no additional mortality risks.

In 2007, a study of 11,000 Canadians over more than a decade found that those who were overweight had the lowest chance of dying from any cause.

To date, scientists have documented these findings in patients with heart failure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, high blood pressure — and now diabetes.

There are many possible explanations. One is that being overweight is often not studied independently of fitness:

The link between obesity and health derives in part from research like the Framingham Heart Study, which has followed thousands of men and women since the 1940s. But Paul McAuley, a professor of health education at Winston-Salem State University, has noted that Framingham and other longitudinal studies often fail to take into account physical activity and fitness.

Research that does tease apart weight and fitness — like a series of studies conducted by Steven Blair at the Cooper Institute in Dallas — shows that being fat and fit is better, healthwise, than being thin and unfit. Regular aerobic exercise may not lead to weight loss, but it does reduce fat in the liver, where it may do the most metabolic damage, according to a recent study at the University of Sydney.

The bottom line? This may be it:

In 2005, an epidemiologist, Katherine Flegal, analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that the biggest risks of death were associated with being at either end of the spectrum — underweight or severely obese. The lowest mortality risks were among those in the overweight category (B.M.I.s of 25 to 30), while moderate obesity (30 to 35) offered no more risk than being in the normal-weight category.

The article is interesting in another respect, as a comment on what happens to opinions that go against very established beliefs. An early article ran up against the critical review, “This cannot be true.” And as they say, it will take some time before you can expect an internist/general practitioner to accept it. It goes against the “paradigm”.

Someone has actually studied stereotypes about philosophy!

How have we all missed this? Just came across this paper, which (at a quick skim) seems to show that people judge an older man to be more likely to be a philosopher than a young woman, and that they are likely to rate the same piece of writing more highly if they think it’s written by an older man than by a younger woman.

(Updated with new link, sadly just to abstract, unless your university subscribes.)

Alarming health news

Studies about diet are always somewhat questionable, an article in the NYTimes says, when they rely on self-reports. Still, the possibility raised by a new report is just scary:

The latest study, published online in the journal Heart, was the largest and most detailed to date on calcium intake and disease, involving more than 24,000 people who were taking part in a large continuing analysis called the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition. The subjects, ages 35 to 64 at the start of the research, were followed for 11 years and questioned about things like their health, their food intake and their supplement use.

In an attempt to rule out or minimize the effects of other factors that contribute to heart disease and could complicate the results, the authors took into account age, physical activity, body mass index, diet, and alcohol and cigarette use …

But looking specifically at supplements presented a more alarming picture. People who got their calcium almost exclusively from supplements were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with those who took no supplements. The researchers speculated that taking calcium in supplement form causes blood levels of the mineral to quickly spike to harmful levels, whereas getting it from food may be less dangerous because the calcium is absorbed in smaller amounts at various points throughout the day.

This is round three on calcium supplements. We’ve also looked at round 1,“no, you almost certainly  don’t need extra calcium, ” and round 2, “yes, you probably do need extra calcium”.

What’s wrong with dying?

Shelly Kagan has a new book out on the topic and an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I don’t think it is behind any wall or requirement, and it is interesting to read. And quite puzzling.

Kagan favors the deprivation view:

Maybe nonexistence is bad for me, not in an intrinsic way, like pain, and not in an instrumental way, like unemployment leading to poverty, which in turn leads to pain and suffering, but in a comparative way—what economists call opportunity costs. Death is bad for me in the comparative sense, because when I’m dead I lack life—more particularly, the good things in life. That explanation of death’s badness is known as the deprivation account.

Dying is bad for you, on this view, because you are deprived of the good things in life. But there is a huge problem right on the surface: If you are not around, then how can you be deprived? It seems you can’t.

Most of the article discusses this problem; Kagan concludes that not all the puzzles can be resolved.

Now, let me admit that I know there is a lot of writing on this that I haven’t read. So I mean be rushing in, etc, etc. Still, for various reasons I have recently read a great deal written by women with terminal illnesses, particularly stage 4 cancer (which I am not anywhere near having, in case you wonder). Any stage 4 cancer is terminal; it can’t be cured and it will kill you if nothing else does. In what I have read it is very clear what the women hate about the thought of dying. The awful thing about dying for most of these women is that they are integral parts of social groups, particularly families, that they care a great deal about, that they put a large amount of energy into, and that will be harmed by their death, or even destroyed.

Even women who lament that they will not see their youngest daughter graduate, or their son get married, are often not thinking, “O, that’s a good time I won’t have.” Rather, their thought is more about how their child will have a large gap in the normal social surrounding. Other grads get photographed with both parents; theirs will stand out as not having a mother.

Is this true for all of us? It might seem not. A young person might not give a fig about children, or her parents for that matter. What is most important is winning academic recognition, perhaps. Having the honor of receiving the Nobel Prize, or an Oscar. Such desires might be much more self-regarding than those of nurturing one’s family. Still, it may be that these desires are less about one’s own experience and more about the social world one is invested in.

For myself, the thought of death right now is most frightening because I will leave someone who does actually need me to be around, and who is helped a lot by my presence in the world. I expect we vary on this, but I’m pretty sure I’d be close to indifferent to survival if all my social world was somehow evaporated. Or so it seems right now.

I am saying this, I should say, after 4 weeks in Oxford where we’ve had, it seems, about 3 sunny days. Perhaps during a period of fine weather, I’d feel the emotional ebullience that leads to the thought: Not me! I can’t go! Take all my friends, but I must be left (along with enough good food, music, art, etc). Death is too awful.

I just don’t know that we should expect to find that rational. What do you think?

Or, to put the point simply: if we think of the goods that accrue individualistically, then death means one doesn’t get any more, but then one isn’t around to experience the lack. If, however, we think of the good socially, one’s death can be very destructive to things one has spent significant parts of one’s life on. One might not feel the destruction and loss, once dead, but it will be there unless, as many people do (I think) one goes to some lengths to see that such things will survive one’s death.

Health care cost skyrocket, recommendations for screening women reduced

From the NY Times:

For nearly three generations, women have been taught that annual Pap smears, mammograms and visits with their doctor were essential to good health.

Now all that is changing. National guidelines are urging less frequent screening for breast and cervical cancer. The declining use of menopause hormones means that older women no longer need to check in with their doctors to obtain annual refills. Women are delaying childbirth, and some birth control methods are effective for five years, giving women even less incentive to schedule a regular appointment.

I have very mised feelings about this.  I’d love to know what others think.

I do think that the early introduction to the gynocologist that so many young women experience can easily become part of the pathologizing of the female body.  There are so many bits, and they need constand vigilance because they can turn against you at any monent.  And that’s just day to day life; if you become pregnant, little choices you make can ruin two lives, or indeed more.

On the other hand, I do not really understand the argument that the yearly screening is bad because there are a number of false positives that cause a lot of stress.  Doesn’t a human life typically involve facing the possibility of really bad news?

For example, at the age of 16 children’s brains are  not yet developed enough to give their owners the self control that adults more typically have.  And that’s when they can get control of a car to drive around.  Now there’s stress.  Or how about the stress of having a mean boss or getting demoted, turned down or even ridiculed in a social context.  What’s worse:  getting a really nasty review or having to go back to have the mammo redone just in case?  Or even having a biopsy because there is a lump.

And then there’s the suspicion that the reductions are occurring just when health care costs are receiving so much attention.

So what do you think?  I’m really interested in hearing what people think about the early pathologization of the female body.  It would also be great to hear from people not from the medically self-conscious USA.

I do remember Michael Dummett claiming that American concerns with, e.g., smoking argued a national narcissism about perfecting the individual.

Please let us know your views.