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December 22, 2009

In praise of Gaga: Who's your dada?

gaga.jpgAnyone who moves the idea that people should be happy with themselves as they are deserves to cart off as much win as she can. Frank talk with Lady Gaga -- latimes.com
Gaga doesn't care. She wants you to trace her references. "John Lennon talked about how with every song he wrote, he was thinking of another artist," she said, making a less expected connection to a pop deity. She's yet to attain the status of the Beatles, but in the ever-accelerating pop cycle, Gaga is a top sensation, and many people's vote for the most exciting artist of 2009. ... This is all happening not because Gaga is cute or takes off her clothes but because (to use one of her favorite words) she is a monster -- a monster talent, that is, with a serious brain. ...she not only reiterates her assertion of total originality but also finesses it until it's both a philosophical stance about how constructing a persona from pop-cultural sources can be an expression of a person's truth -- à la those drag queens Gaga sincerely admires -- and a bit of a feminist act. ... Her frank talk about how female artists aren't expected to write their own songs or about how young women are afraid to ask for what they need from their sexual partners inches her toward a new articulation of feminism. "If you ask somebody where you see sexism in your life, all they think of is the old stuff," said Nona Willis Aronowitz, co-author of the new book "Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism," by phone. "Equal pay, that's not really on their radar. Domestic violence and rape aren't necessarily in the forefront. But you ask about double standards or restrictive gender roles, they don't think of that as sexism; they think of that as the way it is. That's kind of like what Lady Gaga is talking about." ... She's tapped into one of the primary obsessions of our age -- the changing nature of the self in relation to technology, the ever-expanding media sphere, and that sense of always being in character and publicly visible that Gaga calls "the fame" -- and made it her own obsession, the subject of her songs and the basis of her persona. ... "The idea is, you are your image, you are who you see yourself to be," she said. "It's iconography. Warhol and I both went to church when we were younger. That's how I see things. I don't want anyone to feel trapped by their own lives. That to me is more dangerous than anything." ... She says she wants her fans to feel safe in expressing their imperfections. "I want women -- and men -- to feel empowered by a deeper and more psychotic part of themselves. The part they're always trying desperately to hide. I want that to become something that they cherish."

December 20, 2009

Mumps outbreak in Brooklyn linked to anti-vaccination crazies

Mumps outbreak in Brooklyn | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine
A similar outbreak occurred in a Jewish community in Antwerp, Belgium in 2007-2008. In that case, a large number of the parents of unvaccinated children all went to the same physician, who "was opposed to vaccination". Nice work, doc! A vaccination campaign was quickly set up to prevent the outbreak from spreading; together with a high overall rate of vaccination in Antwerp (94%!) this appears to have worked in stemming the tide of the outbreak there. Most vaccination rates need to be at 90% or higher to provide herd immunity — where enough people are vaccinated that the potentially infectious disease in question basically doesn’t have a place to live. Lower rates mean more people can host the bug, and an outbreak can occur. Worse, the mumps vaccine (usually given together with a measles and rubella vaccination, the so-called MMR shot) has a somewhat lower immunization rate of 80% effectiveness after one dose (that is, 80% of people receiving the shot develop immunity after that one dose — which is why two doses are recommended). That means herd rates must be higher to prevent outbreaks. The outbreak in NYC has been traced to an infected child who was visiting the area from the UK. Vaccination rates in the UK are lower, in large part due to the antivax scare started by Andrew Wakefield and his now-discredited study linking vaccines to other illnesses. There have been over 6000 cases of mumps in the UK this year so far (not even including the last quarter of 2009) — 6000, more than twenty times the cases we get in the US, and we have five times the population here.
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