Random (but not really)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Continued Injustuce for Coal Miners

I posted this on Facebook, but I’d really like to address it more thoroughly.

I heard about this initially on the WV Public Radio, which addressed a slightly different issue, “lawyers with the Jackson Kelly law firm submitted only favorable evidence in court.

But this article, on the doctors used most frequently by coal companies to deny claims, is completely heart-breaking.

Johns Hopkins medical unit rarely finds black lung, helping coal industry defeat miners’ claims

The article is long, but well worth reading. However, if you don’t want to read it, take note of this:

“It breaks my heart,” he said. “This man has been victimized twice — once by the conditions that allowed him to get this disease and again by a benefits system that failed him.”

For 40 years, doctors from Johns Hopkins have been reading x-rays of coal miners lungs. And instead of finding evidence of black lung, they note other causes.

Where other doctors saw black lung, Wheeler often saw evidence of another disease, most commonly tuberculosis or histoplasmosis — an illness caused by a fungus in bird and bat droppings. This was particularly true in cases involving the most serious form of the disease. In two-thirds of cases in which other doctors found complicated black lung, Wheeler attributed the masses in miners’ lungs to TB, the fungal infection or a similar disease.

You read that correctly. When looking at films of the lungs of coal miners, this doctor sees a fungal infection caused by bat droppings.

That in and of itself is horrifying, but even worse is this:

(T)issue samples from miners’ lungs have proven Wheeler wrong again and again.

When they do tissue samples (which can be dangerous to the patient, which is why radiology is the preferred method of diagnosis) the cause of the disease is usually determined to be black lung.

But as I said, these biopsies are not the recommend method of diagnosis, so what happens is this:

Sometimes miners had to die to prove they had black lung.

Then the widow or other family members receive death benefits.

Cold comfort for those who watched their loved ones slowly suffocate, and were told despite years in the mines, the cause of the disease wasn’t black lung, and they didn’t deserve support and benefits from the coal companies.

But here’s what royally pissed me off.

This man, sitting in his clean office, miles from the mines, far removed from these men struggling with every breath, believes the incidence and prevalence of black lung should be low, solely because he believes the law put an end to coal dust in mines.

A pair of assumptions shapes Wheeler’s views in ways that some judges and government officials have found troubling.

In reaching his conclusions about the cause of the large masses in Stacy’s lungs, Wheeler drew upon beliefs that pervade his opinions: Improved conditions in mines should make complicated black lung rare; whereas, histoplasmosis is endemic in coal mining areas.

In case after case, Wheeler has said complicated black lung was found primarily in “drillers working unprotected during and prior to World War II.”

This is the part where anyone who grew up in West Virginia is completely incredulous.

A law was put in place to regulate coal dust, ipso facto miners don’t have black lung.

If you think that’s ridiculous, let me tell you, it’s far worse than you think.

You see, coal companies regular falsify the dust readings in their mines.

(C)heating on dust tests is common, and… many miners help operators falsify the tests to protect their jobs.

Two dozen former mine owners or managers acknowledged that they had falsified tests.

Despite laws, hundreds are killed by black lung

[An important aside: “Dust tests tend to be taken more accurately at union mines than at non-union mines.”]

(The Labor Department) received 4,710 faked samples from 847 coal mines across the country, or 40 percent of the mines that the Government is charged with sampling.

U.S. Fines 500 Mine Companies for False Air Tests

Let me sum it up like this: the doctor the coal companies turn to because he provides diagnoses that allow them to deny black-lung claims believes that mines are dust free.

Yet for decades, coal companies have been falsifying the dust test that are supposed to show they are keeping the amount of dust in the air at legal limits.

Right now, I want more than anything else, for this doctor to work at coal mines, breathing the air miners have to breathe. Knowing supervisors are falsifying dust tests, but knowing he can’t say anything about it, or he’ll lose his job. And for him to know he can’t lose his job, because there are no other decent jobs to be had.

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Politics,West Virginia  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wednesday Word Association: Halloween Edition

That’s right! It’s almost Halloween! Which means it’s also almost Dia de los Muertos. So today’s word is: skulls

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (3)  Permalink
Categories: Fun & Games  

Friday, October 25, 2013

What Was Interesting This Week

I wrote about kid’s books, as you probably noted in my earlier posts.

Kids Books Part I: Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers
Kids Books Part II: Pre-Schoolers and Middle Grade Readers
Kids Books Part III: Middle Grade and Older Readers

(Those posts are on my book blog–if you click through to Amazon and then buy a book, I get a penny or two.)


I read a lot about the continued issues women are having, as well as their hidden roles in history

A chance to discuss sexism & misogyny in science communication: DNLee, Bora, & the SciAm fiasco
Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy
‘We Have Always Fought’
Proud Dad Of Two Geek Girls Talks Superheroes, Disney Princesses, And Barbie


I discovered new blogs:
Women You Should Know
The History Girls

And you MUST see this blog post on Daddy’s Little Prop: The Littlest Turtle


I also came across a fascinating study about aging.

Here is the press release: Scientist Uncovers Internal Clock Able to Measure Age of Most Human Tissues
Here is the article: DNA methylation age of human tissues and cell types (Not sure if you’ll be able to read that or not.)

The whole concept is fascinating, but the discoveries relating to the rates at which tissue around tumors “age” compared to normal healthy tissue seems like it would have to many amazing applications. (It also logically makes sense that tumors would be “older” than healthy tissues, since they are unregulated growth.)

The other thing I would love to see is more study on the discovery that women’s breasts age faster than the rest of their bodies.

Studies have pointed to an earlier onset of puberty in girls over the last century. I’m very curious as to whether that has any relation to this differential in breast age.

Absolutely fascinating discovery.


And I ordered some fun stuff from Etsy.

Speaking of fun…

Skull Earrings

Written by Michelle at 7:05 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Non-Sequiturs  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Books for Kids: Part III

This last post (for now) has some of my favorite middle grade and older reader books. Books I generally discovered and read on my own, and then gave to kids as they come of age for them.

Part III – Older Kids
Part II – Pre-Schoolers and Middle Grade readers
Part I – Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers

Written by Michelle at 7:36 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading  

Books for Kids: Part II

Books for Kids: Part II these are books for pre-schoolers and middle grade readers.

Part I – Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers

Written by Michelle at 6:53 pm      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading  

Books for Kids

I realized that what I really needed on my book blog were some posts about books for kids.

Here’s Part I.

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wednesday Word Association: Bridge Day Edition

This week’s word is: base

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (6)  Permalink
Categories: Fun & Games  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Women in History & Fantasy

Being a woman, I have always been aware of sexism and misogyny, and how they shape the roles women take in the world. I’ve thought less, however, of the roles women played historical, assuming (from everything I’ve read and what little I remember of history from school) that female leaders and warriors are rare exceptions.

Although I haven’t recently written as much about it here (with the exceptions here and http://klishis.com/notreally/archives/10970), I’ve been reading a lot about it on Twitter and various blogs. (A good roundup of the science bits can be found here.)

What I can’t decide if whether things are still bad, or whether things are actually getting better, but as things improve more women are willing to step up and relate their stories and name the names of their harassers. My hope is that the incident rate of sexism and harassment is decreasing, but the rate of doing something about it is going up.

With that background, this post was was sparked by a couple things. I read two fantastic online articles: Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy and We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative.

Additionally, I recently read two books about women in history. The first, She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth was very good, and the second, The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West, while interesting, was less well-written.

Both books raise interesting points about the various roles women played in society and how those roles were portrayed by historians, but I think She-Wolves does a much better job pointing this out.

She-Wolves emphasizes time and again how scarce the materials we have about these women—these female leaders and rulers of England—are, and how the views of these women are colored by the agendas of the (male) historians and chronicles who wrote about them.

For instance,

Matilda inherited her father’s commanding temperament, his ability to inspire loyalty, and his political intelligence—but the role she played and the qualities she possessed have been much obscured, then and now, by the preconceptions of the lords she sought to lead and the clerics who wrote her story. “Haughty” and “intolerably proud” are the adjectives indelibly associated with her name, phrases coined in those few months of her life when she tried to exercise power as a monarch in her own right, and repeated by historians ever since. Strikingly, they were never used to describe any male member of her fearsomely domineering family; and they do not fit well with what we know of Matilda in the decades before and after.

(T)he writer is troubled by the very idea of a woman holding power in her own right. Matilda was facing the challenge of becoming Queen of England … not in the conventional sense of a king’s partner, but in the unprecedented form of a female king. And kings did not deport themselves with a “modest gait and bearing.” Instead, they were—and were required to be—supremely commanding and authoritative.

So our opinions of these women are often formed from historical revisionism—histories written by men (of course) with a point to make (or an axe to grind). After all, most of these women lost their bids for power, so they weren’t the ones writing the history.

But the two articles, especially We Have Always Fought, point out that a lot of what women did simply wasn’t written down, and what was written was deemed unimportant solely because it was done by women.

In the US, primary school education is dominated by women. It’s also seriously devalued by almost everyone except teachers and their families—people who know how much hard work goes into being a teacher.

The other field that comes to mind when I think of a job that is seen as primarily female is nursing. Nurses are overwhelmingly female, and from what I can tell (I help in our school of nursing orientations, and so actually see each incoming class) the students getting degrees in nursing remain predominantly female. Spent any time in a hospital recently? If so, you know that the vast majority of your care will be performed by nurses.

Yet nurses are valued far less than doctors.

In the very early 90s, I was reading a lot of epic fantasy, and most of it had female protagonists. And time and again, when we were introduced to these women fighters or mages or wizards, we were always given a justification why they had taken that path. Not just a backstory, but the reason why they would follow a masculine path.

So, we were expected to be okay with gods and magic and mythical creatures, but a female fighter had to be justified or we might find her beyond belief.

I don’t read science fiction, but I do know what it wasn’t until 1995 that we had a female captain in Star Trek, and that was two years after we had our first black captain. (Says the rabid Deep Space Nine fan who could never stand Voyager.)

How is it that we were able to accept aliens and elves but couldn’t accept female fighters or women in command?

And then I come across things like this article, Invasion of the Viking women unearthed.

(T)he study looked at 14 Viking burials from the era, definable by the Norse grave goods found with them and isotopes found in their bones that reveal their birthplace. The bones were sorted for telltale osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male burial.

Think about that for a second.

Because the women were buried with swords and knives and shield, it was automatically assumed they were male. Even though half the bones were later determined to be that of women.

[Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 ad
Shane McLeod “Early Medieval Europe” 2011 19(3) 332–353]

It’s amazing just where casual sexism appears, and just how much it reinforces itself.

ADDENDUM the First:

There is a segment of the geek community that is actively hostile towards women. Lonely men who – because of their own socialization issues – have an emotionally regressed idea of who women are as people. While they believe in dragons and superheroes, a woman who is also into comics or games with her own point of view and interests is unimaginable to them — so they believe such women must be frauds.

Proud Dad Of Two Geek Girls Talks Superheroes, Disney Princesses, And Barbie

Written by Michelle at 3:04 pm      Comments (1)  Permalink
Categories: Books & Reading,History  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Weekend Ramblings: Babcock State Park

After leaving the New River Gorge Bridge, we stopped by Babcock State Park, because despite the overcast day, I figured it would be gorgeous.

It was.

I’ve heard this is the most photographed spot in the state. I find that kinda depressing, since, although the area is gorgeous, the gristmill isn’t original, but was instead reassembled from others that were taken down.

Plus, there’s so much non-man-made gorgeous scenery. But, here’s an obligatory picture of the grist mill, and you can see how gorgeous the area was yesterday.



We saw, in the short time we were there, two separate wedding shoots.


Here’s the stream above the mill:


We decided to take the Island in the Sky Trail.


Climb to an elevation of 2546 feet, and you’ll find this.


It was far less surprising, when we discovered there was a road that could bring you to this height, instead of climbing things like this:


Regardless of the shortcut, it was a gorgeous hike up. (Starting elevation was 2260 feet. We made the climb in about half an hour.)

Written by Michelle at 7:00 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,Travel,West Virginia  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekend Ramblings: Summersville Lake

Summersville Lake is quite interesting. It was built to control flooding of the Gauley River, and has a huge dam.

Normally, when I think of dams, I think of the giant cement structure that villains threaten to destroy in movies, to wreak destruction upon an unsuspecting populace.

Summersville dam is different.

Here a picture of the dam, looking up from the Gauley River. If you look closely, you can see cars driving across the dam.


Try this link to see the satellite view of the dam.

Summersville Lake is seasonal: in April it starts to fill, and in early autumn, the water is carefully released, allowing for some of the best white water rafting in the country.

So when we see the lake in October, the water levels are low, so you can see the underlying rock formations, exposed by the water.


Here’s the full moon over the lake.


And here’s the Gauley River. It was quite lovely, and I would have enjoyed spending more time hiking around there. Sadly for me, we casually strolled down, and I’d not bothered to put on my boots or carry my hiking stick. This is important because without those two items, walking on rocks quickly puts a major strain on my bad ankle.

But it was totally worth it.



Written by Michelle at 11:27 am      Comments (0)  Permalink
Categories: Photos,Travel,West Virginia  
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