Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Stuff Ma Ingalls never had to worry about - Please Comment!

So, I have this love-hate relationship with Ma Ingalls. Many will recognize her as the mom from Little House on the Prairie on TV, some will know her from the series of books written by her daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder. They are great books - both entertaining and educational.

Now, I love Ma because she seems to exemplify a lot of qualities I'd like to cultivate. She was loving, protective, artistic, thrifty, and a good cook. But I hate Ma because she makes me feel monumentally inadequate. I mean, as a modern woman with tons of technology at my fingertips, only one child to mind, and a plethora of convenience items, I should be able to keep things in order, right? I don't have to cook in a woodstove, try to keep a dirt floor swept, or make my own butter and cheese. I have not only a vacuum, but a robot vacuum, for Chrissakes! So why is my floor covered in crumbs? If Ma could do it all, why on Earth can't I?

So I've been re-reading the books, and I'm starting to realize that perhaps my job is not so terribly easier than hers. So I'm starting a list of things Ma didn't have to worry about. First, let's look at a typical day, reconstructed from my reading so far.

Wake up. Take off nightgown, put on dress and shoes, make bed (sans decorative pillows, chenille throws, etc.). Most likely Pa built the fire, so next step is to make breakfast, probably biscuits, molasses, tea, and maybe some salt pork. Wash dishes (no need to sanitize). Daily work probably included gardening, sweeping (a very small house), and possibly taking care of animals, though Pa would probably do that. If there was a baby, I'm guessing diapers needed washing daily. Dinner was the main meal, in the middle of the day - meat, cornbread, molasses or fruit/preserves, vegetables if they were in season. Clean up dishes again. Each day of the week had its own chore as follows:
Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday.
Washing was probably the biggest chore, being done by hand, and presumably including all clothing and linens. But again, "all clothing" was a few items per person. Supper was small - basically starch with flavorings: bread with molasses, cornmeal mush with pumpkin puree, that kind of thing. After cleaning supper dishes, Ma would do handicrafts like knitting or quilting. There does not seem to be a separate "child care" category - either the kids were entertaining themselves in the attic or outdoors, or they were working with Ma, from making their bed in the morning to helping churn the butter or washing dishes.

So, OK, Ma was definitely no slouch. There's a lot of hard work in there, much of it hard physical labor.

But let's think of all the crap we deal with that Ma never had to concern herself with:

Bathing daily - baths were on Saturday night only
Armpit sweat, "feminine odor," bad breath, shaving
Going to the gym because exercise is lacking from daily work
Maintaining a wardrobe - everything from dresses to underwear were changed/washed less often
Fashion sure, there were trends, but it's not like now when each season changes radically
Hairstyling - brush and braid, that's pretty much it
Grocery shopping
Driving to and fro generally - some modern mothers practically live in the car
Car maintenance
Home maintenance
Outside employment
Getting the kids to school
Kids' extracurricular activities
Paying bills
Getting the mail
Sorting through the junk mail
Filing and other paperwork
Answering the phone
Checkups at the doctor
Vaccinations (I'm grateful mind you, but it is another thing to deal with)
Entertaining children who have no siblings close in age
Stimulating kids' minds so they can be supergeniuses and get into the good preschool
College loans
Updating her blog ;)

OK, that's a good start. Tell me if you come up with some others. Gotta go entertain the child . . .

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A little example of faith versus science - in an unexpected place

This is not a post about religion at all. It is about warring approaches within the field of medicine. Specifically, how we in the U.S. deal with birth.

There are two layers of faith involved. First, and more obviously, is the faith people have in doctors. Sure, one should "have faith" in one's doctor in the sense of feeling trust and believing that the doctor knows what they're doing - the sense of "having faith" that refers to trust or dependability based on prior observation and evidence. However, (and yes, it was the homeopathy discussion that prompted this) many people seem to "have faith" in a more religious sense, i.e., they believe doctors are infallible authority figures, and promptly turn their critical thinking and confidence off when in one's presence.

The second layer is even more disturbing, especially combined with the first. In the field of obstetrics at least, doctors practice medicine by faith. And I mean "faith" in the full-on "believing things contrary to evidence, and stopping your ears and singing 'lalalaIcan'thearyou' when presented with such evidence" way. It all starts out very reasonably - giving birth is an uncomfortable, sometimes painful experience. It would be nice to alleviate the discomfort. Also, sometimes moms and/or babies are injured or even die during the process. It would be terrific if we could prevent that.

To this situation, add new technology. For instance, electronic fetal monitoring. It makes perfect, rational sense that EFM, which allows doctors to constantly monitor fetal heart rate during labor, would improve outcomes for babies. Babies that might have suffered hypoxia and brain damage or even death during labor could be identified and quickly rescued via c-section. All of this is perfectly reasonable, and I agree with the reasons EFM came into use. Of course at that time, there was no research available on actual outcomes with EFM - doctors went on logical deduction that it would be helpful.

Except, once research was done, it became clear that EFM is associated with poorer outcomes for mother and baby. The main reasons seem to be twofold - first, having constant information on heart rate means a very high "false positive" incidence for fetal distress. Scientific study indicates that intermittent readings with a hand-held doppler device actually result in more healthy moms and babies, perhaps because troubling trends that can be identified with this method are much more likely to be indicative of real trouble, versus isolated decelerations that are picked up by the always-vigilant EFM.

The other big factor is that EFM requires the mother to be lying in bed, stationary, so she can be strapped to the machine. As far as I know, every single study of labor and delivery has found better outcomes when mothers can stand, squat, walk, and otherwise remain upright and move around. Looking at the mechanics of birth, this makes perfect sense.

The story is similar for many other technological interventions - from epidurals to inductions to ultrasound estimates of size, it would seem that the innovation would improve birth outcomes, but they actually result in lots of pain, fear, and unnecessary surgery, injury and side effects to mothers and babies, and often disruption of breastfeeding, which has ill effects for both as well.

So it makes me cringe when I hear mothers blithely say, "Oh, my doctor said this is a big baby, so I have to be induced next week," or "Why wouldn't I get an epidural - the doctor says it's perfectly safe!" These people are handing over their intellect to a person who is a product of a system that rejects evidence-based practice in favor of authoritarian received wisdom and perceived infallibility.

Gee, that reminds me of something.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Harry Potter Sabbath

I'm gearing up today - getting the shopping done, cooking dinner for tonight and tomorrow, tidying the house, and so forth. I probably won't drive my car tomorrow. I won't be refraining from microwaving the pre-prepared dinner, nor agonizing over whether opening the fridge door (and thus turning on the light) is allowed, thank goodness. But truly, I'm trying to set things up so I don't have to do any work tomorrow. My husband (in respectful recognition of this holy day) will be taking our daughter out of the house to play, and I will be planting my rear on the couch until I find out if Snape is really evil, and whether Harry gets to talk to Dumbledore and Sirius one more time.

Happy reading!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nancy Leigh DeMoss embraces moral relativism - hurray!

Some days I really enjoy listening to Christian radio. Sometimes it's good for a laugh, sometimes it provides some cathartic recreational outrage, and sometimes it even reminds me that I'm not so terribly different from the people who listen in earnest.

Today was more of a laugh-providing day, as I heard a major figure in a literalist ministry explicitly advocate reading the Bible figuratively, in the context of a moral relativist philosophy.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss is evidently a very popular preacher among women, and it is clear why. In listening to her, I hear a great gentleness in her voice. She seems to have a lot of sympathy for the practical struggles women have in marriage and motherhood in particular. She mines the Bible for material which she weaves into inspirational, consoling messages about how to cope with stresses common to women in traditional roles. Note I said "mines" and "weaves." It seems apparent to me that she gets an idea for a nice message, then uses bits and pieces of scripture to support it. One wonders why this is necessary - presumably the omnipotent creator of the universe could have made the messages apparent on a simple reading of a single story, but even the hardcore Christians often have trouble with that approach.

Today's teaching was about the Book of Ruth. From listening, then doing a quick Wiki perusal, I gather that Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, they both became widowed, and they lost their family property and were pretty much destitute. DeMoss talks about how Ruth's request for protection from a strong family member mirrors the sinner's relationship with Jesus as savior. I guess that sounds nice enough, if you buy the premises. But here's where it gets interesting.

Before delving into further details, Nancy says,

As we enter into verse two, we’re going to see a scene that will sound a little strange to our modern ears, because it’s going to draw upon some ancient Jewish culture that is Jewish, and that is ancient culture that most of us are not familiar with.

If the things that took place in this chapter happened today, they might not be appropriate. They would be out of the realm of what would be right. But in this context they’re going to be absolutely appropriate.

Hmm, that sounds like moral relativism to me! Not to mention that it implies the Bible is not a clear catalog of directives for living a moral life, but at best some parts of it are literal directives, and others are merely educational or inspirational stories, not meant as instructions on how to live a moral life. And how one decides which is which? It's not mentioned, but it seems clear that modern secular moral thought is the guiding principle.

See, the reason she falls all over herself to exempt the story from literal moral education is that it basically involves a woman offering her daughter-in-law as a piece of chattel to a male relative, so that her husband's estate will remain in the family. Naomi directs Ruth to wash and perfume herself, and wear her best clothes, "to prepare herself as a bride prepares for marriage," in DeMoss's words, and to lie down at Boaz's feet in his sleeping place, and to do whatever he tells her when he wakes up. Yeah, I can see how you wouldn't want to model this behavior for modern women and their daughters. I guess in the end Boaz refrains from just screwing Ruth there on the threshing floor, but it seems motivated out of concern for another (male of course) relative's possible superior claim to her. In any case, it's clear what Naomi was setting Ruth up for, and it rightly makes DeMoss squeamish.

Don't get me wrong here - I'm always glad when modern religionists twist their teachings to conform to more enlightened morals. However, I can't help sniggering a bit when this teaching comes so overtly from the agent of an organization which states that
We believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is God's authoritative, inspired Word. It is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, its own origins, and salvation. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters of belief and conduct.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Homeopathy, a/k/a "Placebos"

I hate to impugn my sex and my job, but damn, hanging out with moms can be a skeptic's nightmare. Especially moms who are a little crunchy and into breastfeeding. For some reason, this set has a LOT of believers in homeopathy. Not to be confused with "holistic medicine," which may be associated with a lot of bunk, but not necessarily, as it can just mean treating the whole person, involving psychology in medical treatment and such.

No, homeopathy, is uniquely, demonstrably, bullshit. It is not based on any science, but on magical thinking. It is allowed by the FDA because a bigtime homeopathic practitioner was involved in the legislation founding the FDA, not because of scientific merit. The "remedies" have no active ingredients - and this is touted as making them especially effective! What happens when people get relief by taking them is so well-documented, it is accounted for in any reputable drug trial: the placebo effect. You take it (or give it to your kid), and your perception of the situation changes due to your expectations. It's like the Tinkerbell of the medical world - if you truly believe, and clap your hands, magic can be real!

And yet intelligent women, women who can rattle off the latest study on iron absorption in the newborn gut or the current research on the risks and benefits of continuous fetal monitoring, have somehow missed all the information on what utter tripe homeopathy is. It drives me so nuts, I want to stomp and scream!

Maybe it's a lost cause - a lot of them use chiropractors as their family "doctors" too. Sigh.