The controversy reveals that we wrongly assume, with dangerous implications for public health, that women who get breast implants must be rich.
A Venezuelan woman sits next to the two PIP breast implants that she had removed. The yellow implant at left, made by Poly Implant Prothese, had broken. / AP
the past few months, the leak-prone breast
implants of French company Poly Implant Prothese has turned into an international furor. At issue
is the company's use of non-medical-grade silicone, which has an
increased risk of rupture. The gel inside the implant, once released,
can inflame the surrounding tissue. Though there's limited evidence for this, fears
persist about the irritation leading to an increased risk for
cancer. The scope of the potential impact is tremendous. As of last
week, the estimate cited by
the BBC was that "up to 400,000 women in 65 countries are believed to
have been given implants" from the company. PIP founder Jean-Claude Mas is now facing
charges of involuntary injury, while policy professionals, journalists,
and the public are asking how the implants could have made it past
safety inspectors to have reached so many women.
there were ever a time to move beyond our dangerously facile debate about
cosmetic surgery, it's now. European media have been hammering the point that it's time to take implant safety as seriously as
drug safety, and take cosmetic procedures as seriously as any other operations, which is what they
To answer the question of how the
implants could have made it to so many women, though, one has to ask how
and it is that so many women are getting breast implants at all. Paris-based plastic surgery and dermatologist
organization IMCAS recently released some new numbers that help explain. Cosmetic surgeries not only rose by 10.1 percent in 2011 but are expected to
rise by another 11.12 percent in 2012, despite the scare.
A significant portion of the debate touches on a longstanding theme of how people think about cosmetic surgery: who, if anyone, should help cover the costs for removing and replacing defective implants? Though insurance policies and national
governments have already declared themselves willing to foot the bill for the
faulty implants' removal, that doesn't come without caveats. The implicit moral question the responsible officials seem to be asking themselves is, Should governments compensate for losses in botched vanity
projects? And herein lies the need
for a more careful look at the phenomenon of plastic surgery.
France, the government will only pay for new implants if the originals
were for reconstructive surgery. Politicians in Germany have been urging
similar policies. Elizabeth Niejahr neatly summarized this thinking in Die Zeit as "one
shouldn't make cosmetic surgeries even more popular. ... Those who, out
of vanity, decide to undergo the knife, should be aware of the
consequences." SPD Carola Reimann, Niejahr pointed out, has also argued
that "It's about the beauty ideal and the pressure to conform."
These politicians have a point, namely about moral hazard. But behind these sentiments lies a deep confusion about plastic surgery that's worth
surfacing. The idea that implants are for "vanity" seems to imply selfishness and, with it, an exercise
of will. But the charge that implants are about a "pressure to conform" implies the opposite. Which is driving
the trend towards plastic surgery? A projected growth in surgeries,
despite the dire stories of the past year, begins to look like a
pathology not just in individual women and men, but in society itself;
if that's the case, how helpful is it to blame individuals for
succumbing to what appears to be a mass psychosis?
criticizing the French and potential German positions, makes an
important related point: many politicians are assuming that the women
paying for non-reconstructive implants must be rich, and are adjusting
their rhetoric accordingly. But a glance merely at "trash talk shows,"
Niejahr notes, suggests this is "a false picture." How? "There may be many
women who save for new breasts or with what little credit they have
choose a larger chest over a new car."
just an inaccurate image: the suggestion that women who get breast
implants must be rich is a dangerous misconception with real implications. The enormous black market in cosmetic surgery, as
well as the apparently flourishing cosmetic surgery tourism trade -- with
terrifying stories of incompetently executed, dangerous procedures -- should be
evidence enough, even without Niejahr's trashy TV.
This isn't to say that governments should pay
for implant replacements (though Niejahr does make that argument): it's
questionable fiscal policy to pay for implant replacements in the
current European economic climate, even before you get to the possible
moral hazard argument. But in the debate over the appropriate policy
position, European politicians do need to be careful about the
assumptions they convey in their rhetoric.
these few critics in the current Continental debate show, this may be the
perfect time to probe the dark undercurrents of plastic surgery trends.
Tighter regulations may reduce dangers within the European Union, but they don't
change the fact that these surgeries still carry risks -- and they're
definitely not going to help the women who head to Mexico. Double-D
millionaires aren't a public health problem -- but they are a disturbingly convenient fiction.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
As the public’s fear and loathing surge, the frontrunner’s durable candidacy has taken a dark turn.
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina—All politicians, if they are any good at their craft, know the truth about human nature.
Donald Trump is very good, and he knows it better than most.
Trump stands alone on a long platform, surrounded by a rapturous throng. Below and behind him—sitting on bleachers and standing on the floor—they fill this city’s cavernous, yellow-beige convention center by the thousands. As Trump will shortly point out, there are a lot of other Republican presidential candidates, but none of them get crowds anything like this.
Trump raises an orange-pink hand like a waiter holding a tray. “They are not coming in from Syria,” he says. “We’re sending them back!” The crowd surges, whistles, cheers. “So many bad things are happening—they have sections of Paris where the police are afraid to go,” he continues. “Look at Belgium, the whole place is closed down! We can’t let it happen here, folks.”
Retailers are experimenting with a bold new strategy for the commercial high holiday: boycotting themselves.
It starts with a scene of touch football in the yard. Next, a woman and a girl, cooking together in the kitchen. “Imagine a world,” a soothing voice intones, “where the only thing you have to wrestle for on Thanksgiving is the last piece of pumpkin pie, and the only place we camped out was in front of a fire, and not the parking lot of a store.” And, then, more scenes: a man, cuddling with kids on a couch. An older woman, rolling pie dough on the counter. A fire, crackling in the fireplace. Warmth. Wine. Togetherness. Laughter.
It’s an ad, unsurprisingly, but it’s an ad with a strange objective: to tell you not to buy stuff. Or, at least, to spend a day not buying stuff. “At T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods, we’re closed on Thanksgiving,” the spot’s velvet-voiced narrator informs us, “because family time comes first.” And then: more music. More scenes of familiar/familial delights. More laughter. More pie. The whole thing concludes: “Let’s put more value on what really matters. This season, bring back the holidays—with T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods.”
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
A yearlong investigation of Greek houses reveals their endemic, lurid, and sometimes tragic problems—and a sophisticated system for shifting the blame.
One warm spring night in 2011, a young man named Travis Hughes stood on the back deck of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Marshall University, in West Virginia, and was struck by what seemed to him—under the influence of powerful inebriants, not least among them the clear ether of youth itself—to be an excellent idea: he would shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air. And perhaps it was an excellent idea. What was not an excellent idea, however, was to misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
An entire industry has been built on the premise that creating gourmet meals at home is simple and effortless. But it isn’t true.
I write about food for a living. Because of this, I spend more time than the average American surrounded by cooking advice and recipes. I’m also a mother, which means more often than not, when I return from work 15 minutes before bedtime, I end up feeding my 1-year-old son squares of peanut-butter toast because there was nothing in the fridge capable of being transformed into a wholesome, homemade toddler meal in a matter of minutes. Every day, when I head to my office after a nourishing breakfast of smashed blueberries or oatmeal I found stuck to the pan, and open a glossy new cookbook, check my RSS feed, or page through a stack of magazines, I’m confronted by an impenetrable wall of unimaginable cooking projects, just sitting there pretending to be totally reasonable meals. Homemade beef barbacoa tacos. Short-rib potpie. “Weekday” French toast. Make-ahead coconut cake. They might as well be skyscraper blueprints, so improbable is the possibility that I will begin making my own nut butters, baking my own sandwich bread, or turning that fall farmer’s market bounty into jars of homemade applesauce.
Mary Beard’s sweeping history is a new read of citizenship in the ancient empire.
A british college student named Megan Beech recently published a poetry collection called When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard. Beech is not alone in her admiration for Beard, who was for a time the only female classics lecturer at Cambridge University and has since become the most prominent representative of a field once associated with dusty male privilege. In 2013, Beard was appointed to the Order of the British Empire for “services to Classical Scholarship.” A prolific authority on Roman culture, she construes those services broadly. Her academic work ranges from studies of Roman religion and Roman victory practices to reflections on Roman laughter, and she has written lively books about Pompeii and the Colosseum. As the erudite docent on a BBC series three years ago titled Meet the Romans, Beard introduced a bigger audience to a bigger Rome: a citizenry far beyond the handful of Latin-speaking men who populated the Senate, served as emperors, or wrote (often dictating to their slaves) the books that we call “Roman literature.” Whatever the context (she also writes a blog, “A Don’s Life,” for the Times Literary Supplement), Beard does precisely what few popularizers dare to try and plenty of dons can’t pull off: She conveys the thrill of puzzling over texts and events that are bound to be ambiguous, and she complicates received wisdom in the process.
America loves its freeways. After the 1956 Federal Highway Bill created the pathway for a41,000 mile interstate highway system, states and cities jockeyed for the funding to build ever-more extensive networks of pavement that could carry Americans quickly between cities. Sometimes, they built these highways right in the middle of cities, displacing communities and razing old buildings and homes.
“This was a program which the twenty-first century will almost certainly judge to have had more influence on the shape and development of American cities, the distribution of population within metropolitan areas and across the nation as a whole, the location of industry and various kinds of employment opportunities,”Daniel Moynihan wrote in 1970 about the federal program that built these thousands of miles of highways.