One Smoot Short of a Blimp



This was taken on July 31, 2007, through the windshield of a vehicle while traveling east on Mass Ave between Cambridge and Boston.


Netflix has awesome customer service

In June, I participated in a focus group for Netflix, which is supposed to get me six months of free service. A week after I participated, they billed me, which seemed fine, since there hadn't been a whole billing cycle. But then today, I see that they debited my checking account for July. So I called the number on the site to ask about this.

Representative: Yep, it shows that you're getting six free months.

Me: Was I supposed to have been billed for July though? That makes two charges now since I attended the focus group.

Representative: Oh, no, that shouldn't have happened. Here, I've extended your free period another month.

Me: Thanks. Is there any way you can credit me back the amount for this month? I'm not worried about whether I get five months or six months free, but this just happens to be a week I'm kind of short on cash...*

Representative: Oh, no problem then. OK, I just credited the amount back into your bank account.

Me: Wow, thanks!

Seriously, I don't think I've ever had a customer service person (well, at a company with more than a couple employees) handle a request so quickly and bullshitlessly. The phone call lasted 37 seconds. Very impressive.

*I'm refinancing my mortgage next week to get a way better rate, woohoo!, but need money for closing costs.


Looks like I need to start reading faster in order to get to 100 books in a year

Well, maybe not that much, actually, because I have six books in progress at the moment.

33. Driven To Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey

34. Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers by Bernadette Barton

35. It's So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success by Richard Lavoie, Mel Levine, Michele Reiner, and Rob Reiner

36. Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol

37. 100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life by Laura Lee

38. Foundations of Social Work Practice With Lesbian and Gay Persons by Gerald P. Mallon

39. Human Services for Gay People: Clinical and Community Practice by Michael Shernoff

And just so no one thinks I would voluntarily read books such as 38 and 39, I was reading them for a literature review I'm doing as part of a project I'm working on. The basic gist of the project is to demonstrate how there's little to no overlap in services for GLBT folks and services for folks with major mental illness. In other words, I can find tons of books and community programs with a focus on GLBT mental health, but these resources barely touch on persisent major mental illness. The two aforementioned books dealt only with "typical" mental health concerns (in other words, your regular old folks who have a job and family and friends who might be dealing with depression or life changes, but who haven't been institutionalized or spent a lot of time receiving disability benefits.) And of course, the field of persistent major mental illness is years behind the rest of the healthcare field in terms of cultural sensitivity in any form.

Also, how funny is the use of "GAY PEOPLE" in that title? Though I suppose "lesbian and gay persons" isn't a whole lot better. You never say "persons" unless you're specimenizing someone. No one says that they had three persons over for dinner last night.


An exercise in transgender sensitivity, suitable for workplace and classroom trainings

I just posted to a mailing list to someone who was looking for resources for "Trans 101" trainings to do with a synagogue group. This exercise is something that I've come up with and used with various groups, and I thought I'd share it here. As far as I know, I came up with it on my own, but if there's something similar in a published resource, please let me know, and I'll credit the original author appropriately. Please feel free to use this exercise anywhere and everywhere.

The idea of this training is to teach people that they need to respect someone's presenting gender without thinking it's their business what chromosomes the person has. Depending on the type of group and their knowledge base, I may do this alone, or I may do it before or after presenting basic information on terminology and resources pertaining to transpeople.

To start, I usually give a very basic two-minute explanation of the difference between sex and gender, then a very basic explanation of how transfolks might be pre-op, post-op, no-op, genderqueer, etc. I then point out that it's no one's place other than the person's to apply these terms. I emphasize the point that someone's birth sex or legal sex is not appropriate for us to define them by (i.e., totally inappropriate to do the "but she's really a he!" stuff), and that we need to treat everyone the same by perceiving them only as presenting gender (and asking for their clarification if necessary).

I don't usually get too far into genderqueer and ambiguous identities at this point, but I do a very brief mention of these identities, how they deserve our respect like any identity, and how it helps everyone to just be less reliant on binary constructs of gender in general.

So, what I do next is I ask the group, "what is my gender?" (I was born female and present as pretty clearly female). They all say "female." I ask them how they know this. They say that I use a female name, people refer to me as "she," I wear fairly normative female clothing, etc. So I tell them that they're correct, and it's therefore appropriate to assume female, unless I were to correct them.

Next, I ask them "what is my sex?" A lot of times, people will answer "female." I ask them how they know this. Some of the more savvy people might say that they've heard me talk about childhood or whatever, or heard me mention that I'm not trans. But usually, someone will say the same "your clothing, your name..." So I'll explain to them that the ONLY way they would know my sex is to look at my chromosomes. I explain that even looking at genitals isn't always accurate (and refer them back to the overview of intersex conditions and genital surgery). I remind them that there's no reason they'd have seen my genitals or chromosomes as my colleague or neighbor or whatever, so the ONLY way they have to assess my gender is based on my name, pronouns, clothing, etc. I explain to them that I was assigned "female" at birth and have never identified any differently, but again, they'd have no way of knowing this unless I told them.

Next, I'll go around the room and quickly ask the group to identify each person as "male" or "female" out loud. After we do this, I tell them that, statistically speaking, there's likely at least one person in the room who wasn't born with the gender we just stated for them. I again emphasize that it DOESN'T MATTER which person this may or may not be, because we all deserve the respect of being viewed and treated as how we're presenting today. I'll explain that there are some people who are out as trans, and want people to honor their current identity as well as their trans identity, but that this is something they'll choose to share with us. I emphasize that unless someone shares this kind of dual identity with us, we need to respect a person as how they present today and nothing more or less.

This exercise especially helps people keep track of the whole "wait, I forget, are we supposed to call trans people by their birth gender or current gender?" idea. It also normalizes the idea that transpeople are everywhere and you won't necessarily know. I tend to find that even the most well-meaning people, if they've only encountered "that one transperson on that video we saw," will tend to confuse what they're "supposed to" call that person. It seems to make it a lot easier if we go around and identify everyone as their presenting gender, instead of only doing this for the people who we know to be trans. People usually learn better if they can relate something to their own experience, and most people don't get confused about which gender label they themselves prefer.

It's pretty easy figure out what to "call" someone if I'm thinking "hmm, what gender label would seem most appropriate for someone in a skirt and high heels named Susan?"

It's so much more complicated (and dehumanizing and offensive) if I'm stuck in the less enlightened type of thought: "hmm, this person started as a guy, but now has girl clothes and a girl name, but I don't know what genitals this person has -- maybe I should ask? but you can't ask people about their genitals, can you? but you can if they're trans, right, because you need to know?"


Yahoo! News top story: George W. Bush got buttsnaked

I think this might be the most straightforward and informative coverage of any event involving this president since he took office. Also, all five of the most-read stories presently showing up on Yahoo! News involve the president's ass.

Anyway, why on earth is there a protocol for transferring his powers to the vice president while he's having his pooper checked out? Couldn't he just plan to not have any official duties scheduled during those couple hours? It's not like the president spends 24 hours per day actively presidenting. Does he also transfer powers any time he sleeps or takes a shower? And here I had been all proud of myself for those few times I'd actually remembered to change my voicemail and e-mail to let people know I was out of the office for a few days


My trip to the doctor, by eeka

I think this might be a first. I actually had a doctor's visit that I found interesting. I do mean that I found it "interesting" as in "humorous, intriguing, educational," not that I found it "interesting" as in "how the fuck do these people have medical licenses and who thought this sofa was attractive?"

2:30 After an afternoon several days of bouncing off the walls and freaking out about said doctor's visit, I realize I forgot the little blue embossed card thingy that Brigham and Women's Hospital kindly sent me after I called and made the appointment. I send an IM to Adam, who always has a good answer to every question, even if not necessarily a correct answer, and ask him if he is aware of the procedures involving these blue cardsOMG HOLY SHIT I FORGOT THE BLUE CARD ARE THEY GOING TO REFUSE TO SEE ME OR FLOG ME OR SUBJECT ME TO UNNECESSARY MEDICAL PROCEDURES INVOLVING LUBE. He informed me that, no, they wouldn't flog me, but the "woman with glasses hanging around her neck on a chain will look at you as if you've committed a series of murders, then will politely and patiently explain to you the alternative procedure for registering for your appointment."

3:15 I step off the train, laugh at "Peter Bent Brigham" sign, find the correct building, find my way to the office.

3:20 I walk into the office, walk up to the check-in desk, notice that the woman has glasses hanging around her neck on a chain.

Me: Hima'amIhaveanappointmentwithgastroenterologyat3:30
pleasedon'thurtme

Her: Can I have your blue card?

Me: OhI'mterriblysorryImusthavemisplacedit
I'mtooyoungtodienoyoudon'twanttoreachforthosescissorsjustnow

Her: *looks at me as if I've committed a series of murders*

Me: *scans around to see what other weapons are within her reach*

Her: All right, I'll need your name and date of birth, and I can get you another blue card just this once. But I do want you to remember that you need to think of your blue card as your American Express to The Brigham. You need to keep it in a safe place.

My brain: It's in a safe place...the safe place just happens to be on top of my desk. Which I didn't bring.

My mouth: UmyesIwillma'amthankyousomuch

3:30 I get called into exam room, where my blood pressure is approximately 400 over 399. The doctor comes in, talks to me, gets particular points for not mentioning the blood pressure, thus requiring me to explain that, yes, I'm neurotic everywhere, but I'm only neurotic enough to risk bursting my aorta while in doctor's offices. She answers questions, explains things, is a generally helpful and thorough and considerate doctor. She writes me a prescription and a labwork slip and I'm on my way.

4:30 I stop by the reception desk to ask for directions to the lab.

American Express To The Brigham Agent: Hi, can I help you?

Me: Yes, could you tell me how I get to the lab?

AETTBA: Wait wait wait. First we need to get a few things straight here.

She grabs my lab slip from one hand, my blue card from the other, efficiently flattens the paper out, and paperclips the card to the paper. She gives me a look that doesn't seem to involve any accusations of murder this time, but rather conveys that she only helped me arrange the documents correctly out of pure compassion and understanding, because she just couldn't bear to have sent me on my way with the documents all unfastened as I had had them, which would have caused all kinds of trouble in the lab and would have prevented me from receiving any sort of healthcare. She pulls out a map of the hospital and draws an arrow showing me where the lab is.

AETTBA: There you are now.

Me: Thanks

I bolt out of there as fast as I can to the lab.

4:45 They take my blue card. I sit there with a tourniquet on my arm, worrying about the fate of My American Express To The Brigham and hoping no one is making any unauthorized charges. I think back to the canary and goldenrod papers I signed back in the appointment suite and try to remember if I decided on the optional protection plan on the--OW! Jeez.

The vampire phlebotomist tapes a piece of cotton to my arm, because apparently phlebotomy school doesn't teach people about the existence of bandaids. Blood is sent off to wherever it is that blood is sent. I am handed my blue card. I step out into the lobby and walk off on a little detour to snap some photos of a few signs that I noticed early and found to have particular artistic and cultural merit hilarious because I really am a 12-year-old boy.

Peter Bent Centro Weiner

5:15 A security guard stops me in the hall.

Him: Is there something I can help you with?

Me: No, sir. I was just leaving.

Him: See that you do.

I head out of there, realizing that it had actually been more than two years since the last time I got kicked out of somewhere.

I really accomplished quite a lot during one short visit.


DMH is not oriented x3

We just got a fax from DMH that says "page 4 of 3."


Attorney General Coakley wins lawsuit against Fung Wah bus company for refusing to sell tickets to blind couple

Read the whole article; this wasn't just a case of someone at the bus company not knowing the law regarding service animals. The couple called the police, who told the bus company they had to permit the service animal, and the bus company continued to refuse.


They don't need science or competence -- they're the government

Dr. James Holsinger co-founded a church in Kentucky that specializes in "conversion" therapy for gays and lesbians. He also authored an extensive paper attempting to make a medical argument that homosexuality is unnatural and unhealthy.

Which is all fine, except that he's been nominated as the U.S. Surgeon General. Because, you know, the surgeon general doesn't need to have any knowledge of standard medical views or anything. Go here to urge your senator and representative to oppose the nomination. This is especially important for people in Massachusetts, because Ted Kennedy is on the committee that will hold the hearings on the nomination. Yes, we have every reason to believe that Ted Kennedy will oppose such ridiculousness, but it can help him to make his case if he can report that 90% of his constituents asked him to oppose the nomination. Wouldn't that be fabulous? So go click now.



Does Google mail checks from a distant planet or something?

From the Google AdSense help pages:

Standard delivery AdSense checks are mailed via first class US mail. We anticipate that publishers will receive their checks approximately 2-4 weeks after the mailing date; however, it may take longer depending on the postal service in your location.

From the USPS customer's guide to mailing:

The chart shows that first-class mail typically arrives in 1-3 days. This has generally been my experience, which is why I looked it up in the first place. I clicked around on the USPS site, and I can't even figure out how to get mail to take more than three days within the U.S.

For what it's worth, the checks from Google are presorted, thus don't contain a postmark. But still, this should make them arrive faster, not slower. Is Google being deceptive about when they mail out the checks? What would be the point in this? Why not just be honest about there being considerable processing time between "issuing" and "mailing"?


This just in from the Metro: drugs are bad

As with a lot of things in the Metro, this article (click for larger) has me wondering several things. First of all, there's the usual generic wondering: who exactly runs this paper, why is it free, why does it seem to have no editorial consistency, and just...why?

Beyond that, I'm wondering why they decided to run a story today about the prevalence of prescription medication abuse. Despite their "hardly talked about" angle, this isn't anything new, and it doesn't appear that it was prompted by any recent local tragedies or anything logical like that. Call me a skeptic ("hey eeka, you're a skeptic"), but this makes me wonder whether the article was paid for by a pharmaceutical company or an emergency room or a drug treatment center in order to give people ideas (see concern regarding "who exactly pays for this paper and why does it exist" above).

In terms of the actual story, I suppose it's good that they're looking to educate people about how prescription medication abuse is drug abuse, if that's in fact what they're looking to do. It's true that prescription medication abuse is less stigmatized than street drug use, and that many people aren't aware of what constitutes drug abuse. But it isn't like the Metro actually explained what constitutes drug abuse or gave examples of more subtle drug problems that the layperson might not recognize as problematic. Instead, they focused on people who have developed serious dependencies and experienced major health problems as a result of their use. If someone doesn't realize that these folks are abusing drugs, I doubt that a Metro article is going to help them.

Finally, in their effort to explain to everyone that drugs are bad, for whatever reason, they neglected to point out that prescription drug use is in fact safer than street drug use. Sure, prescription drugs and street drugs have about equal abuse potential, and both can cause health problems when used habitually and/or in large quantities. But since I'm all for a harm reduction approach in educating the public about most things, I'll pick up where they left off and point out how prescription drug use can be safer than street drug use in many instances. For example, if someone buys "speed" or "meth" or "crank" on the street, s/he has no idea what is in it. It could be 25 mg of amphetamine, or 250 mg, or it could be aspirin, or it could be an opiate, or it could be rat poison. While taking nonprescribed drugs does indeed cause problems, at least the ones from a pharmacy are clearly labeled with a dosage. Even if you intentionally choose to take a huge quantity, at least you can tell the emergency room how much you took and of what.

Disclaimer: this is of course not a recommendation to take drugs. This is merely for informational purposes. For a mind-altering experience, this author recommends attempting to navigate the Metro website rather than taking drugs.


Because placing blame solves societal problems

The only comment I really have on this story is that I sure hope all the sensationalists and right wingers who are so quick to blame DSS have also consistently voted and spent their money in ways that favor social services, public health, child care, and parenting support.


E-mail to PeopleLink

Hi, I see that your website states that host families must contain "two or more related people." I also saw recruitment information being distributed in Boston.

This policy violates Boston anti-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. As it's written, it discriminates against same-sex couples who can't marry (because of military enlistment, citizenship issues, pending international adoption, etc.)

I'd suggest you include what qualifies as "related," or just drop the word all together.

Edited to add: Here's their reply below. Awesome!

Thank you for your recent email regarding our program. We apologize if our wording that a host family must contain "two or more related" people appears to discriminate based on sexual orientation. This is certainly not our intent. We have had many same-sex couples host our students with wonderful experiences for all involved. We are currently in the process of redoing our website (scheduled to be completed sometime in the Fall) and will certainly look at making the qualifications for a family appear more clearly.

Again, thank you for bringing to our attention how this wording could be misconceived. Please feel free to contact me again should you have any further questions on this matter.


Observations of a FOX news crew outside my workplace: draw your own conclusions

A FOX news camera van is currently parked outside my workplace. About half of the van is in a restricted accessible parking spot (you know, with bigass blue signs saying it's restricted to vehicles displaying a valid plate or placard) and about half of the van is in an adjacent non-restricted parking spot. The van is occupied by one individual. I can't see any other people who appear to be affiliated with said van, nor can I tell what they're doing here. The van does not have a disability plate and no disability placard is visible. It is possible that one of the people working out of said van has a placard and forgot to display it, but this still doesn't explain the need for the two parking spaces.


What's up with Postsecret?

Postsecret didn't get updated yesterday. I hope nothing happened to Frank.

Also, I'm going to jump on the bandwagon with the folks who dislike that he started allowing comments last week. I liked it better when the secrets just stood alone without any judgments. The cards themselves are beautiful; part of what really appeals to me is that this is something someone took the time to express. The cards take time and energy to send. The ignorant and impulsive comments that people make about the cards really takes away from them. I can go to any unmoderated discussion forum to see judgmental comments from people with poor boundaries. Sometimes I choose to do just that, but I enjoyed having Postsecret on my list of sites where I could expect only to find intelligent and thoughtful material. If he keeps allowing comments, I'll just not read them, but I do really think the site was a lot better without them.