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.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
An interview with the Associated Press shows President Trump slowly coming to terms with the size of the government he now runs, and the challenges he must tackle.
Every president faces a steep learning curve when he enters the presidency. There is, as John F. Kennedy, wrote, no school for commanders in chief. Yet even by that standard, recent interviews show a Donald Trump who is genuinely surprised by the size of his duties, the interests he must balance, and the methods required to get that done.
On Sunday, the Associated Press released a transcript of an interview with the president last week. It deserves to be read in full: It captures his constant evasiveness on facts, preferring hyperbole, for example, and his detachment from reality—when asked about a “contract with the American voter” on what he’d achieve in 100 days, Trump dismisses it, saying, “Somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan.”
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
The early results out of a Boston nonprofit are positive.
You saw the pictures in science class—a profile view of the human brain, sectioned by function. The piece at the very front, right behind where a forehead would be if the brain were actually in someone’s head, is the pre-frontal cortex. It handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task execution. And it works with the limbic system, which is connected and sits closer to the center of the brain. The limbic system processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.
With Benoît Hamon’s defeat, his Socialist Party may be obsolete.
In the first round of a French presidential election, there will, naturally, always be more losers than winners. But until Sunday, the Socialist Party had lost in the initial round only once before: In 2002, when incumbent Prime Minister Lionel Jospin unexpectedly finished a close third, behind a surprise surge from the National Front’s leader (FN), Jean-Marie Le Pen.
This year, independent-centrist Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Marie’s daughter, Marine, now leader of the FN herself, will move on to the final round on May 7. The Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, finished an unprecedented fifth. His loss feels very different from Jospin’s of 15 years ago, and not only because his paltry share of the vote was so much lower—just over 6 percent compared to Jospin’s 16.
A machine mapped the most frequently used emotional trajectories in fiction, and compared them with the ones readers like best.
“My prettiest contribution to my culture,” the writer Kurt Vonnegut mused in his 1981 autobiography Palm Sunday, “was a master’s thesis in anthropology which was rejected by the University of Chicago a long time ago.”
By then, he said, the thesis had long since vanished. (“It was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun,” Vonnegut explained.) But he continued to carry the idea with him for many years after that, and spoke publicly about it more than once. It was, essentially, this: “There is no reason why the simple shapes of stories can’t be fed into computers. They are beautiful shapes.”
That explanation comes from a lecture he gave, and which you can still watch on YouTube, that involves Vonnegut mapping the narrative arc of popular storylines along a simple graph. The X-axis represents the chronology of the story, from beginning to end, while the Y-axis represents the experience of the protagonist, on a spectrum of ill fortune to good fortune. “This is an exercise in relativity, really,” Vonnegut explains. “The shape of the curve is what matters.”
An exploration of syndromes that are unique to particular cultures.
You can’t get your genitals stolen in America.
At least, not while they’re attached to your body. But people can in Nigeria, Benin, China, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In all of these places, there have been cases of koro (also called suo yang in some places), “a cultural syndrome where people feel like their genitals are being sucked into their body,” says Frank Bures. “And there’s a fear of death.” It’s often thought to be caused by some kind of curse, or spell, or spirit—something otherworldly.
This is the condition that sparked Bures’s interest and led to his new book The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes.In it, he investigates mostly penis theft, but also other examples of what are called “cultural syndromes” or “culture-bound syndromes”—conditions that only exist in, and seem to stem from, particular cultures. Other examples include “frigophobia” in China, “a fear of cold which has its roots in traditional Chinese cosmology of balancing between hot and cold”; running “amok” in Malaysia, when people go on a killing spree they can’t remember later; and “hikikomori,” in Japan, when people socially withdraw to the point where they never leave home.
By antagonizing the U.S.’s neighbor to the south, Donald Trump has made the classic bully’s error: He has underestimated his victim.
When Donald Trump first made sport of thumping Mexico—when he accused America’s neighbor of exporting rapists and “bad hombres,” when he deemed the country such a threat that it should be contained by a wall and so clueless that it could be suckered into paying for its own encasement—its president responded with strange equilibrium. Enrique Peña Nieto treated the humiliation like a meteorological disturbance. Relations with the United States would soon return to normal, if only he grinned his way through the painful episode.
In August, Peña Nieto invited Trump to Mexico City, based on the then-contrarian notion that Trump might actually become president. Instead of branding Trump a toxic threat to Mexico’s well-being, he lavished the Republican nominee with legitimacy. Peña Nieto paid a severe, perhaps mortal, reputational cost for his magnanimity. Before the meeting, former President Vicente Fox had warned Peña Nieto that if he went soft on Trump, history would remember him as a “traitor.” In the months following the meeting, his approval rating plummeted, falling as low as 12 percent in one poll—which put his popularity on par with Trump’s own popularity among Mexicans. The political lesson was clear enough: No Mexican leader could abide Trump’s imprecations and hope to thrive. Since then, the Mexican political elite has begun to ponder retaliatory measures that would reassert the country’s dignity, and perhaps even cause the Trump administration to reverse its hostile course. With a presidential election in just over a year—and Peña Nieto prevented by term limits from running again—vehement responses to Trump are considered an electoral necessity. Memos outlining policies that could wound the United States have begun flying around Mexico City. These show that Trump has committed the bully’s error of underestimating the target of his gibes. As it turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly.
Plant proteins called lectins are an emerging source of confusion and fear.
Two weeks ago, a publicist sent me an early copy of a book that claimed it would change everything I thought I knew about food.
That happens a lot. This one caught my eye because it warned of the “hidden dangers lurking in my salad bowl,” and I was eating a salad.
The book, The Plant Paradox, has an image of an artfully smashed tomato on the cover, and it tells readers that eating tomatoes is “inciting a kind of chemical warfare in our bodies, causing inflammatory reactions that can lead to weight gain and serious health conditions.”
Tomatoes and ill-timed references to chemical warfare are, apparently, only a small part of the problem. The Plant Paradox urgently warns against eating wheat, beans, and peanuts, among other plants.
The organization has a flair for attracting media attention, but lacks a mass membership or scholarly expertise—and its connection to its famed namesake isn’t what it claims.
Sean Spicer was in trouble. In a press conference addressing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, the White House press secretary had fallen into one of his signature slow-moving train-wrecks of an analogy: “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” he said, later clarifying that he understood Hitler did use them in “the Holocaust centers” but didn’t use them “on his own people.” The claims were wrong in just about every way: Adolf Hitler used gas chambers to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps across Europe, including German citizens.
“BREAKING NEWS: SEAN SPICER DENIES HITLER GASSED JEWS DURING THE HOLOCAUST,” the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect wrote in all-caps on Facebook. “MR. PRESIDENT, FIRE SEAN SPICER NOW.” Weeks earlier, the center had slammed Donald Trump for being slow to condemn a recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers—“a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” it said—and the White House’s failure to mention Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dozens of news outlets picked up the statements, and the group’s executive director, Steven Goldstein, was all over television. After all, this was the American organization that speaks for Anne Frank, the teenaged author of the world-famous diary about her life in hiding in Amsterdam before she was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp.