Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Friday, June 17, 2005
Friday cat blogging
Posted by Lis Riba at 11:35 PM

Now here's a product every cat owner needs!

'Caution: cat vomit' sign; copyright 2004 by Ellen Gibbs
          Copyright 2004 by Ellen Gibbs

When you can't clean up after kitty immediately, just put up this little warning sign. Maybe it just says bad things about our housekeeping (or about our cat's health), but I feel the need...


Also, I've heard about women acting catty but this is ridiculous.

As Majikthise has found this article from the UK:

[S]tudies into toxoplasma gondii [...] show that half of Britain's human population carry the parasite in their brains, and that infected people may undergo slow but crucial changes in their behaviour.
[Professor Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague found the women infected with toxoplasma spent more money on clothes and were consistently rated as more attractive. "We found they were more easy-going, more warm-hearted, had more friends and cared more about how they looked," he said. "However, they were also less trustworthy and had more relationships with men.

Mixing Memory has found other studies, which, if anything, get even stranger.

A few other tidbits that have come up in recent conversations:

• From 2002, Project Flo Control: an automated cat door that uses image recognition to prevent the cats from bringing "presents" in the house. Be sure to take a look at the Flo Watch for a voyeuristic look at the comings and goings (and lockouts) of their cats.

James Nicoll has some of the most interesting cat stories. Most recently, he's written about feline hypergravity, tool using among cats and a possible new arrival (get a load of the general reaction among commenters). His cats also seem to take an unhealthy interest in his CPAP machine. He's described the entire cast of nine cats in these posts.


Finally, on a more personal front, good news! We're bringing Boopsie back home again tomorrow! Yaay!
[Any bets on how long it takes before she first pukes, pisses or craps someplace inappropriate?]

History and science
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:35 PM

People seem to be greeting my earlier post with a lot of skepticism. It was only a limited study. Many women do take the Pill without experiencing such problems. And there are so many loons out there funding phony studies and telling lies to discredit contraception, that disbelief is a natural reaction.

I wish it weren't true, because I know it will give ammo to those I oppose. But we're supposed to be part of the reality-based community and not ignore research that contradicts our biases.

Via e-mail, somebody asked me what my doctor had to say about the study.

Well, one of the study authors is my doctor.

I've been a patient of Dr. Goldstein at the Instute for Sexual Medicine for about four years.

I wasn't part of this study and haven't spoken to him since seeing this in the news, but it certainly fits with my history:

When my relationship with my husband got serious enough, I decided to go on the Pill so we could stop using barrier protection. Within a few months, intercourse became increasingly unsatisfying and then excruciatingly painful. My primary care physician was no help; she said she couldn't diagnose the pain unless I came in while hurting, and the idea of purposely inflicting injury on myself for the doctor's convenience really didn't appeal.

I remember asking her whether the Pill could have had any effect, given the correlation in timing. But she dismissed that notion. After doing a lot of reading on my own, I pressed her for a hormone test, which she performed and told me everything was in normal range -- without further elaboration of what any of the numbers meant. I remember that my testosterone was low-normal, and noticing that two hormones were actually so low as to be out of range. I wound up going to the library to look up what those hormones did, and eventually found out that they were the ones the birth control pills suppressed... and that the birth control pill could reduce women's sex drive. Now mind you, given the timing, I had been looking for any evidence of that in other literature: the BCP inserts and Our Bodies Ourselves, and neither of those saw fit to mention this little fact. [It was shortly after this, btw, that I found myself a new primary care physician.]

That was nearly ten years ago. By the time I went off the Pill, the damage was done. My sex drive has never bounced back.

We tried couples therapy, which determined my husband and I had a perfectly healthy relationship EXCEPT for our sex life. I went to group therapy with a sex therapist (the author of A Woman's Guide to Overcoming Sexual Fear & Pain), and then saw her privately (and with my husband). She couldn't find anything wrong. She even (with our permission) described our situation to a sex therapy conference, and we stumped the best minds in the field. My PCP was also trying other avenues, tinkering with psychopharmeceuticals and pursuing other avenues, including Viagra. None of it resolved the problem.

Eventually, after the sex therapist said there was nothing more she could do for me, I found out about Dr. Goldstein and made an appointment with him.

The initial session intake appointment involved a half-day-long battery of tests -- questionaire, bloodwork, ultrasound, session with a therapist... the whole nine yards. And about halfway through the day, he told me I appeared to be a textbook case of hormone deficiency. He'd have to wait for the lab results to be certain, but he'd seen enough other women like me --women whose problems couldn't be helped by their primary care physicians, specialists in existing fields or therapy. And sure enough, the blood tests confirmed it.

And that's my story.

Some people may not experience any problems on the Pill. Some women with high testosterone levels may actually benefit.

But, it's tough to be sanguine after a decade of fruitless treatments. Though I've been following the research, I'm really despairing of ever having an enjoyable sex life, much less an orgasm.

It's not a pleasant experience, especially when even the helpful advice smacks of blame (you're too tired, you're too stressed, or it's your partner's fault).

If I can prevent other women from suffering as I have, well, maybe something positive can come out of all this.

I suppose my points are that:

  • This may not happen to everyone, but it happens in enough cases that women should at least be aware of it and monitor themselves (maybe self-observation is sufficient if women know what to look for).
  • But there needs to be better education for patients and doctors. Physicians Desk Reference mentions vague "sex drive changes" in a laundry list of other side-effects. Medline doesn't even include that much.
  • Some people blame the drug companies for trying to manufacture insecurities where they don't exist. But the best therapy in the world won't cure a physical problem. [I speak from experience here.] So why are people so resistant to include "have a hormone test" in advice for women who do have complaints? I mean, whether it's normal or low, at least it provides a little more concrete evidence for narrowing down the cause...
  • There need to be more studies. Medical science barely understands the physiology of healthy female sexuality, much less the pathology.

Does that make more sense?

Given my history (and what I know anecdotally about Dr. Goldstein's patient population) I suspect further research will confirm this problem does exist. And when that happens, the abstinence-only advocates will latch onto it as a club to bash contraceptives.

Consider this our opportunity to frame the discussion and get the word out in ways that will mitigate the harmful rhetoric (while protecting women's health). Self-awareness and hormone testing can catch complications early and may be sufficient. Who knows, maybe reformulating the Pill with supplemental testosterone would be sufficient for those at risk. But I don't think it's healthy to bury our heads in the sand and hope it goes away.

Any further questions?

Thursday, June 16, 2005
Women's Health Warning
Posted by Lis Riba at 11:35 PM

If you are female and have ever taken or are considering Birth Control Pills, read this!
[If you know somebody in the above categories, please pass it along.]

I don't want to be writing this. I wish this weren't true. But it is, and you have to take care of yourself, because the research is so new, it probably hasn't trickled down to your physician.1

Taking oral contraceptives may result in permanent loss of libido even after a woman stops taking the pill, according to research at a US sexual dysfunction clinic.

It has long been known that most women suffer a reduction in libido while taking the pill, but the study published in New Scientist is the first to suggest the effect could be permanent.

[The] survey produced such dramatic results that lead researcher Dr Irwin Goldstein advised any woman on the Pill who has sexual problems to stop taking it and try another method of birth control.

"There is a possibility it is imprinting a woman for the rest of her life," he said.

[Doctors] Claudia Panzer and Irwin Goldstein tested 124 women being treated for sexual dysfunction. Half used the pill regularly, 39 had just come off the pill and 23 had never used oral contraceptives.

The scientists analysed blood samples from all the women for traces of a substance called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). The pill makes the body over-produce SHBG, which mops up testosterone, the hormone that drives sexual desire.

The blood tests showed that women who regularly used the pill had very low levels of testosterone, but four times as much SHBG than women who had never been on the pill.

Further blood samples from the women who had come off the pill revealed that four months later, levels of SHBG had dropped but were still nearly double that found in women who had never taken oral contraceptives.

"What concerns us most is that the levels of SHBG show no sign of dropping any further in those who came off the pill," said Dr Panzer.

"You would expect levels to drop back to normal after about six weeks, but the worry is that these women will always have more. That means they will have very low testosterone, which has huge implications for their sexual function."

The researchers fear that levels of SHBG, which is produced by the liver, might be permanently raised in women who go on the pill, regardless of whether they later stop.

Few people (aside from the anti-sex fundies pushing abstinence-only lies on teenagers) will want to hear this. Most news articles include quotes from local doctors expressing disbelief.

Believe it.

For over ten years now, I have suffered from permanent physiological sexual dysfunction.2 Based on my personal history and the timing of when things went sour, I've long hypothesized that it was caused by the Pill.

The research above was reported to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Here's the press release and you can find more of the report within the conference abstracts. The study was titled "Androgen Insufficiency and Oral Contraceptives: A Pathophysiologic Mechanism."

I haven't heard whether this research also applies to other hormonal contraceptives, such as injections or Depa Provera, but since they act in a similar manner with only a different delivery system, I would suspect so. Obviously, further studies are needed.

So, does this mean goodbye to the Pill? Not necessarily.

I am not a doctor, but based on my experiences here's what I'd recommend:

Have a blood test to check your hormone levels before you start the Pill to get a baseline of what's normal for you.3 Be sure they examine both total testosterone and free testosterone levels. They're both necessary to evaluate what's going on.

Once you're on the Pill, if you start to notice a loss of libido, lubrication problems, increased difficulty achieving arousal or orgasm, pain, or any other sign of sexual dysfunction, don't hesitate!!!4 Talk to your doctor and either switch to another formulation of the Pill or get off the Pill entirely. Dr. Goldstein used to prescribe supplemental testosterone to patients on the Pill to replace the lost hormones. I'm not sure whether the quote above indicates a change of opinion.

Even if you don't notice any signs, have a hormone test every three months to check whether your testosterone levels are dropping. If so, again consult with your doctor to stem the loss before it's too late.

I haven't seen any recommendations from Dr. Goldstein and the other researchers yet, but for now that's my advice.

You have to be proactive on this, because this is cutting-edge research and most doctors are not up on it.5

For further reading on female sexual dysfunctions:

  • The Women's Sexual Health Foundation was started by other patients with sexual dysfunctions to provide the information that they wished they had. It has articles geared towards patients and towards doctors so even if you're healthy, you may want to print some of this out for your physician. Wouldn't it be nice to indirectly help other patients suffering in ignorance?
  • Dr. Goldstein really has been at the forefront of this research. Some of his stuff is a bit technical, but I always learn something new.
  • Back in 2003, I explained how the Pill acts upon testosterone, well before this study but as the links were coming to light. In the following post I summed up a full-day seminar on FSDs.

So how am I reacting to the news? Feeling vindicated that my assumptions are being proved correct. Concerned how this will play politically: hoping the people who need the information will get it in time, and worried how advocates with agendas will distort the findings. And I can't help wondering how much of this the drug companies knew or suspected or were covering up, and whether there's grounds for (or interest among other patients in) a class action suit.

Any questions?

Note: If you came directly to this entry from an external site, please take a look at my my next post which provides some additional context. Thanks.


Footnotes:

1 Disturbingly enough, aside from a few minor local papers, all the press coverage in Google News is from the foreign press. Even though it involves American doctors reporting research at a conference in the US, the American papers appear to have ignored this so far.

2 I have a medical diagnosis supported by physical evidence. It most certainly is not caused by psychological problems, stress, insufficient sleep nor side-effects of other medications. And don't you dare even hint that my partner might be at fault for any of this.

3 If you're already on the Pill, you should still have the bloodwork done.

4 That was a judgment error I made when my problems first began. Thought it was just a natural ebb and flow, and waited for it to return. It never did.

5 Even my own primary care physician, an exemplar, sits back and lets me tell him about sexual medicine.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Promising news...
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:55 PM

I think I'm just going to quote TalkLeft directly:

House Votes to Restrict Patriot Act Use

In a rebuke to President Bush, with a nod to the First and Fourth Amendments, the House of Representatives today voted to ban the use of the Patriot Act for searches of library and book store records. Here's the roll call of the vote.

The House voted Wednesday to block the FBI and the Justice Department from using the anti-terror Patriot Act to search library and book store records, responding to complaints about potential invasion of privacy of innocent readers.

Despite a veto threat from President Bush, lawmakers voted 238-187 to block the part of the anti-terrorism law that allows the government to investigate the reading habits of terror suspects.

Supporters of rolling back the library and bookstore provision said that the law gives the FBI too much leeway to go on "fishing expeditions" on people's reading habits and that innocent people could get tagged as potential terrorists based on what they check out from a library.

"If the government suspects someone is looking up how to make atom bombs, go to a court and get a search warrant," said Jerold Nadler, D-N.Y.

However, records of internet usage at libraries will continue to be allowed.

Update: The ACLU applauds the House vote.

It still has to get through the Senate, but could our long national nightmare be nearing an end?

For a refresher course in the USA PATRIOT Act's provisions regarding library records, please see The USA PATRIOT Act: the response and responsibility of library management which I wrote for graduate school about nine months after the law was passed.

Two brevities:
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:56 AM

This fall, Diamond Select Toys will be releasing the Buffy Library Playset. I already have a Giles action figure, but I don't yet have my own Nancy Pearl nor Oracle/Batgirl, nor Evie (from The Mummy). Still, I want the playset as a place for all these action figures to hang out and argue about librarianship. [Added later: Of course, I suppose this plan would mean removing Giles from the packaging...]

In more practical news, the EFF has just released a Legal Guide for Bloggers. Their FAQ on Labor Law has yet to be written, but I expect this to be a good resource.

And that is all for now. Especially since I think I may be late to work...

Byeee!!!

[Added later: Nope, made it in exactly on time.]

My life is an open blog
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:35 AM

Another Wednesday, another Free Will Astrology horoscope:

Your assignment this week, should you choose to accept it, is to outdo the Dullest Blogger in the World. From a command post at www.wibsite.com/wiblog/dull, this mystery figure writes entries like the following: "I was sitting on one of the chairs in my house. My hand was resting on the arm of the chair. I drummed my fingers on the arm, thereby making a barely audible sound . . . I considered playing some music on the stereo system. I looked at some CDs for a while, but didn't put one on." And what, you may ask, is my reasoning for urging you to be more humdrum than this person who is renowned for provoking yawns? The astrological fact of the matter, Cancerian, is that you need to temporarily tone down your excitement levels--way down. Escape the entertaining melodramas for now, and take a rejuvenating excursion into lazy boredom.

It's funny, some others close to us are going through extreme drama. Ian and I were discussing how our teenage years were downright boring in comparison, although we hung out with people who underwent these kinds of melodrama. Ian asked me whether I wanted more drama in my life, and I replied that I've had quite enough in recent months, thank you very much. I was due for some dull. And now Rob Brezsny writes this...


As I've already blogged, Sunday afternoon Ian and I moved back into the house. We had told the contractor that we needed to move in this weekend because that's all the hotel the insurance would cover (okay, actually they would've covered thru Monday, but we wanted a little wiggle room in case things ran over -- which they did), and he said okay. Friday workers were painting our bedroom, saying it'd be dry Saturday night.

So imagine Ian's surprise Monday morning when two workers showed up to continue on our unit: second coat of paint, and I don't know what else since they weren't native English speakers. Ian told them to continue working on the downstairs and he put a call into the office. Ian has since met with the contractor and got everything straightened out. They're going to find the missing electrical outlet in our bedroom and after they cut that out will apply the second coat of paint to our walls.

Our apartment is still all plaster-dusty despite Ian's cleaning efforts. The contractor charges quite reasonable rates for cleaning and I think we're taking him up on that. [Hey, I've got an invention idea! Swiffer slippers! Special disposable sheets you can add to the bottom of slippers to pick up dust while you're walking around.] But the place still doesn't feel safe to bring Boopse into. I mean, before climbing into bed, we have to wipe our feet off with wet paper towels -- I don't want Boopsie ingesting any of that.

Still, it's so nice to be sleeping in our bed again. It's not perfect, but no hotel or guest bed has measured up.

Monday was our wedding anniversary and we spent it low-key, heading over to Arlington to visit Boopsie. Oh how I miss our kitty. [Did you know that the artwork on our ketubah includes a very small picture of her in the border?] We took the friend who was catsitting out to Sepal in Watertown, one of my favorite restaurants (news article). I ordered my usual, red lentil soup and lamb maklouba, which was large enough to provide me with lunches for yesterday and today.

Leftovers are good because we still don't have much in the way of food or groceries yet. Remember, we were forced out shortly before Passover! Have to clean out the fridge and pantry and rewash many of our dishes before we can really resume cooking for ourselves.

On our route to work, Ian and I pass a fairgrounds which hosted a circus for the last two days and Ian really wanted to go. I was tired and just wanted to get comfy at home, so Ian went by himself. He had fun. If it were another night I probably would've joined him.

What else...

Been looking through the DVDs of my old laptop data from the data recovery gods at Tech Fusion. They did get My Documents and Program Files, but not the Lotus program directory (including Notes databases). I think they may have gone looking thru the drive for known locations. I'm going to dig through last summer's backup to see if I notice any other major omissions to have them see if they can't extract. [They told me to make such requests if I had them, and then let them know when they could unhook my drive and return my old machine to me.]

One good piece of recovery: they did grab the portion of my Windows directory with the OCLC's old Dewey Decimal screensaver. Not this one, but an earlier more adult-oriented one (not in that sense!) counting through the hundreds each classification described multilingually against a cloudy sky backdrop. I found that when I first took Cataloging, and I just like it. With my new laptop I'm trying to decide whether or not to just completely reinstall the operating system from disks. Sure, I risk losing some of Dell's preinstalled software that's worth keeping, but I also lose all of Dell's preinstalled software which I don't want and which may slow the system down.

So, that's what's going on in my personal life. That, plus eight hours a day at work, which I'm not gonna talk about publically.

For what it's worth, here's Ian's horoscope for the week:

In my travels by car, I often see bumper stickers on which parents brag about their offspring. Today I spied both "My child is an honor student at Newbury Middle School" and "My kid beat up an honor student at Newbury Middle School." A new wrinkle also appeared on a third bumper: "I'm the proud parent of a rat terrier." It led me to muse on how everyone has a parental relationship with someone or something. The vulnerable little thing they care for might be a child or pet or houseplant or plot of land, or even a machine or other inanimate object. What about you, Pisces? Whatever it is you take care of, you should concentrate harder on being a good mom or dad in the coming week. Your ward or dependent or protégé needs you more than usual.

I think that partly means me...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Tales from the Crypt
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:45 PM

Been trying to catch up on my reading around the blogosphere. And it feels like a blast from the past.

Pandagon has had two posts in the last two days (Fly That Banner Proudly and I Am As Far Above You As You Are Above The Squirrel) in which Christians misuse the term "Judeo-Christian" when in truth they're only talking about Christianity.

Several years ago, I researched the origins of the term and wrote up my findings. What I wrote there still holds true.

So, the next time you see that term, ask yourself whether it applies equally to Jews and Christians, or if it's just an attempt at faux-inclusiveness.
If it does fit both religions, ask yourself if it doesn't also apply to Islam. If so, why aren't we/they talking about shared "Judeo-Christian-Islamic" whatever-it-is?

One of those posts even dredged up reminders of how Leon Kass, Bush's appointee to the President's Council on Bioethics, described eating ice cream cones in public as uncivilized, animalistic, offensive and shameful behavior and Miss Manners' opinion on such actions (it's entirely proper).


Also in the news has been school vouchers in Milwaukee. As religious schools have become an option, accountability and tracking has declined. So, more kids may be attending religious schools, but we have no idea what kind of education they're getting.

And this harkens back to an old Usenet post I wrote in 2000 about why private school vouchers were such a bad idea:

[P]roviding vouchers for private religious schools would be a first step in government intervention in religions.

You don't believe me?

Well, do you think that school vouchers should apply to ANYTHING that calls itself a school?

If so, an enterprising con artist could easily establish a "school" where he warehouses kids in front of a TV set for 8 hours a day, and splits the tuition money with the parents.
Would you want your tax money going to support such a scheme?

If not, then you need to establish some standards, setting guidelines that schools must follow to receive government money. These could include student-teacher ratios, curriculum standards, and so on...

This would quickly violate the establishment clause in many ways:
• Curriculum standards would force religious schools to teach subjects antithetical to their beliefs, such as evolution or the Big Bang.
• If we take steps to prevent cherry-picking in admissions, then schools could be forced to accept students who violate their beliefs, such as gay children, or children from interracial or gay families.
• Some states have minimum requirements on how many hours students spend in certain subjects, which would cause problems for schools with different time priorities. [Minimum requirements in math, science, English & history may not leave much time for Talmud & Hebrew.]

Get the picture? If the government doesn't establish standards, our tax money would go to warehouses, militias, cults, and other crackpot "schools." If the government does establish standards, then it's interfering with private religious practice. It's a no-win situation.

Incidentally, the start of the post makes a related but equally valid point about the societal value in paying for public education.

What you are paying for isn't for the education of your own children, but you're paying to ensure we have an EDUCATED SOCIETY.

It's our job to make sure ALL children have some base level of learning.
Having an educated populace:

  • reduces unemployment and welfare (not many jobs for illiterates who can't count; and the more education the better paying (and better) jobs)
  • reduces crime (I don't recall the statistics, but I thought that crime was partly related to economic status; if schooling yields better jobs, the higher pay will reduce the need for crime)
  • better elected officials (this may be wishful thinking, but an educated electorate theoretically would make better choices)

Something for libertarians and childfree advocates to think about...

And on that note, Republicans in the House are threatening to eliminate all public funding for NPR and PBS, starting with Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow and other commercial-free children's shows. I know these rumors have been going around for a while, but the New York Times and Washington Post confirm it:

[The House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education] acted to eliminate within two years all federal money for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- which passes federal funds to public broadcasters -- starting with a 25 percent reduction in CPB's budget for next year, from $400 million to $300 million.

If you support public broadcasting, MoveOn has a petition to sign.

Monday, June 13, 2005
A quick note to my husband
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:00 AM

Happy anniversary, love!

Sunday, June 12, 2005
Regaining some sense of normalcy
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:01 PM

Two important announcements for those who have been following our recent travails.

On Saturday, I got four DVDs of data from my former hard drive. I haven't had the chance to look at the contents yet. [It makes me nervous. As long as I don't actually know, I can pretend everything is there in 100% tip-top condition. But the quantity is promising.]

And as of this afternoon, we're back in our house.

The downstairs still needs lots of work, but our unit is ready for our return.

Plaster dust remains palpable in every taste and touch -- to such an extent that I don't feel it's safe to bring Boopsie home quite yet.

And to my surprise and dismay I discovered that the electrical outlet on my wall (the wall the firefighters had to rip into to make sure no sparks climbed up the structure) is missing. I'm plugging my alarm clock into a huge extension cord from the opposite corner of the room.

But I'm home, and I get to sleep in my own bed.

Thank heaven for small favors.

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