Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Styling Secrets

I have had a number of compliments on my hair recently, so I thought I'd share my styling secrets with you:

1. Go to the gym and work out. Sweating primes the hair for its treatment.
2. Wash hair with the allover body wash that comes in the soap dispenser in the shower at the gym.
3. Comb.
4. Put bike helmet on wet hair and ride home.
5. Once home remove helmet and run a bit of curling mousse through damp hair, scrunching the end to encourage curl.
6. Brush lightly in about an hour's time.

A humid climate will do wonders for maintaining this look.

I know what you are thinking: That this is way too labor intensive and high maintenance, especially the part about going to the gym every day.

Plus I suppose that the kind of body wash that your gym provides in the shower soap dispenser might make a critical difference; I can't guarantee that your gym provides the same high quality product as the YMCA, but you'll just have to try it and see.

Invest a little effort girls, and I assure you that the results will be well worth it.

I am just about to hit the road for Toronto where I will be visiting with Cuchi Barbie to share tips on ladies' grooming and male maintenance and management.

We'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Barney's Version, Black Swan

Summer Cellar Cine Club

Barney's Version

I had read the book by Mordecai Richler a few years ago and hadn't really cared for it. On the written page Barney's character comes across as exceedingly curmudgeonly and jaded, and the whole pretext of finding the real love of his life on the day of his wedding to someone else was too forced. In the movie, however, Barney may be abrasive but he is also sincere and bumbling in a vulnerable way, which compensates for the fact that he could also be a real idiot. Paul Giamatti did a great job with his portrayal of the character. And Dustin Hoffman as his father was an absolute delight. I really enjoyed the film. It was very funny until the ending, which was quite sad. This is one of those rare cases where I would say that I enjoyed the movie more than the book.

Black Swan

This film is a very disturbing story about Nina (Natalie Portman) a young dancer who pushes herself to extremes in order to dance the role of the Queen Swan in Swan Lake. Nina and the director Thomas both know that she dances the part of the White Swan beautifully and with technical perfection, but she cannot step outside the self-restraint that keeps her from exploring the driven sensuality and passion of the Black Swan. Thomas challenges her sexually; not because he actually desires her but more as a "hands-on" technique aimed at teaching her to feel and experience her own passion. Nina finds the embodiment of her passion in Lily (Mila Kunis) a rival dancer and through fantasizing both about having sex with Lily and about murdering her, Nina is able to connect with the intense passion that she had previously not been able to feel. But the process of distancing herself from her own comfort zone causes stress. Other stresses include rehearsing to the point of physical exhaustion and the constant pressure to remain underweight. Jealousy and guilt are also constant factors in the life of the dancer. Nina admires the older dancer Beth, and even steals things from her dressing room as talismans, but she also wants to succeed her. The other girls in the corps du ballet are also always waiting for their chance to be in the spotlight. Nina's mother had given up the ballet after becoming pregnant. The mother both wants the daughter to succeed in order to enjoy her success vicariously, and also –perhaps-- wants her to fail so as not to acknowledge that she has been surpassed (for example, when Nina oversleeps on the day of the opening, her mother does not wake her, and instead calls the theatre to say that Nina will not make it) The end result of all this physical and emotion tension: Nina experiences hallucinations.

In one scene in the movie, Nina and Lily are explaining the ballet Swan Lake to a couple of guys in a bar: The ballet is about a girl who is trapped in a white swan's body and only her true love can release her from the spell. However, her evil twin the black swan seduces the prince, compromising his love for her. The white swan, knowing that she is lost, kills herself. The boys in the bar find the premise kind of lame. Nina finds it unbearably romantic.

On opening night she finds her passion and dances the role of the black swan to perfection… and then proceeds to take the role to its perfect artistic conclusion. I guess that is why we need the ballet: To portray the kind of passion can only be experienced in high art, because that kind of intensity could kill a person.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bad Science

Bad ScienceBad Science by Ben Goldacre

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The aim of this book is that the reader shall be future-proofed against new variants of bullshit (p.88). With sardonic wit, Goldacre takes aim at the pseudoscience touted in the media that backs up all sorts of farcical claims. From "detox" systems that have no effect on the body but assuage the guilty mind, to the breathtaking lack of substantiation for homeopathic medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in general, to high-end cosmetics that imply miracles and contain all sort of impressive sounding ingredients (but that don't truly claim to do anything, because legally these claims would be indefensible), to nutritionism, another field that is big on claims and short on evidence

He makes a rigorous defense of the scientific method because the method demands accountability and control of variables, in order to test what it purports to test. This is where most popular science and layman's science falls short. Quite frankly, we mere members of the public have little interest is carefully assessing testing methods, we want to know the results. It is precisely our lack of interest in the nuts and bolts and how the testing was put together that makes us vulnerable to false claims.

Goldacre wryly notes the religious overtones that accompany to many health claims. Some "detox" programs are basically purification "rituals" (with the emphasis on ritual, rather than purification). "In what we call the Developed Western World, we seek redemption and purification from the more extreme forms of our material indulgence: we fill our faces with drugs, drink, bad food, and other indulgences, we know it's wrong, and we crave ritualistic protection from the consequences…Like so much of the nonsense in bad science, "detox" pseudoscience isn't something done to us, by venal and exploitative outsiders; it is a cultural product, a recurring theme, and we do it to ourselves" (p.14).

Other cures are simply based on faith: "I believe that homeopathic medicine works, therefore it cures me." As with all instances of faith, "true believers" often become incensed when the grounds for their faith is challenged. Their objections are not limited to moral outrage, vitamin magnate Matthias Rath sued Goldacre for libel for challenging Rath's claims that vitamins can cue cancer, and that AIDS does not exist and that "Antiretroviral drugs were poisonous and a conspiracy to kill patients and make money" (p.133). Goldacre laments that this campaign of misinformation has cost so many lives.

This is not to say that the medical and pharmaceutical establishment does not make mistakes. In fact, he recounts in detail how pharmaceutical producers have gone to great lengths to play up the benefits of their products while withholding or distorting evidence about adverse outcomes (p.149). It is telling that drug companies spend 14% of their budget on R&D, and 31% on marketing and administration (p.150).

The final section on the book deals with "The Media's MMR Hoax" that arose based on a now-debunked 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield. Goldacre concludes that studies that have looked at the MMR vaccine and incidence of autism have not found any causal link. The scandal, however, was hugely successful because it used emotional engagement through first person testimonials. By suggesting that there might be a link between autism and the vaccine, it preyed on people's fear and guilt about potentially doing unintentional harm to their child.

One key piece of information that I will take away from this book is that the Cochrane Collaboration produces systematic summaries of the research literature on health care research (p. 57). Meaning that whenever the purveyor of some miracle cure is claiming that "no research has been done," Cochrane just might have compiled that research.


The site, however, is not exhaustive. For example, a friend recently sent me an email about DCA (dichloroacetate) as a cure for cancer. Cochrane does not address it.

These kinds of stories pop up in the media all the time and people get worked up about them. Often times the headlines are misleading when journalists go for impact over accuracy (by stating figures in terms of relative risk instead of giving natural frequencies, p. 187). Goldacre notes that science stories printed in the mainstream media are often not written by science journalists, thus increasing the risk of getting the information wrong.

Last week, for example, the media were all over the story about how cell phones increase risk for brain cancer. The fact that brain cancer rates have remained stable while cell phone use has increased exponentially, is somewhat of a mystery. Not being able to separate the fact from the fiction can be dangerous for your health.

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