I Can Relate

I now live in a country with much shorter summers and generally colder weather than where I grew up. Because of this, when we do have the occasional unseasonably warm day, I am happy in a tentative way. Actually, this comic perfectly summarizes my reaction on these days.

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The “I Don’t Judge” Cop Out

For those of you who are not up to date with Christian traditions, today is the last day of Carnival, and tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, i.e. the first day of Lent. Different Christian sects do Lent in different ways. The Orthodox, for example, go vegan for Lent, while the Catholics are supposed to not eat meat on Fridays and give up something else, usually sweets and fatty foods, until Easter arrives.

I mention this because this is how I came to discover the existence of “Father Mike”. An old friend of mine seems to have gone Catholic, as she posted a video by this Father Mike character on her Facebook page talking about what Lent is and what you are supposed to do as a Catholic.

Seeing a handsome man in a collar, I clicked on it hoping that it was going to be an ironic parody of some sort. But no, he is apparently a real priest, chosen to make online videos because of his 1980s-style good looks and friendly manner, who also happens to talk like he’s on speed, and the whole thing was rather boring. What caught my attention, however, were the other videos by Father Mike that popped up as soon as I had clicked play, one being entitled “Father Mike and Transgenderism”.

Oh dear. Oh boy. This seems to be the running theme of the Catholic Church these days, doesn’t it? Don’t change the message, don’t be more accepting, but just keep saying awful things about “the other” with a handsome toothy smile, assuring everyone that it’s not judgement, just love!

Maybe I’m being unfair. I clicked on the video, and forced myself to watch the whole thing this time.

Content note: get ready for some serious transphobia, willful ignorance, all served up smothered to death in condescension.

 

That. Was. Torture.

I knew my suspicions were going to be proven correct from the very first line, when he introduced the video with an anecdote about his nephew pretending to be a puppy, even though some part of me was shocked that he would be so blatant in his putting down of transgendered individuals. No, I thought, he wont, he wont go there….

But he did. He actually equated being transgendered to being a child playing and pretending to be a puppy. He then decided to get a little more “scientific”, and equated being transgendered to being anorexic and having Body Integrity Identity Disorder, which is when healthy people are convinced that they are disabled.

I can’t believe I actually managed to watch the entire thing without barfing, though I came very close indeed. If there is one thing in this world that can really get under my skin, it is condescension. I hated it as a child when people talked down to me, and I care for it no more as an adult. I can handle the scientific ignorance, and the blatant disregard for human decency stemming from that ignorance, because ignorance is something that can be dissipated with education. But this guy is either a smarmy patronizing asshole by default, and therefore cannot help coming off as one when talking about a topic of which he is completely ignorant, or he is pushing his staggering ignorance on his fans knowing full well that he is doing so.

This video is so childishly ridiculous that I don’t want to do it justice by going through it point by point and explaining why being transgendered is not like pretending to be a puppy, or not liking how your genitals look, if anything such an explanation will wind up being condescending in itself. If you want a better understanding of gender identity, how transgenderism is not a mental disease, and the complexity of what the transition entails, there are a number of transgendered bloggers, many of whom are on this network, who discuss the topic in detail and far better than I ever could.

What I am going to say is that this is exactly the kind of thing that I was talking about when I claimed that I want Ratzinger back. This phoney liberal facade is driving me up the wall. That cranky ex-Nazi SOB was honest in his discrimination, and he put the ugly face on hate that hate so justly deserves. The world is changing and society is progressing, and more and more people are recoiling in the face of vehemence and violent, unadulterated hatred. So, of course, hate has to adapt, or risk being lost altogether, and what will an institution like the Vatican be if it can’t other people anymore?

So, everybody! Do you want to still discriminate against people without looking like a tool? Just smile, and say things like love the sinner, hate the sin! Remind everyone that you’re not judging them, you’re just smothering them in your love for them while telling them they are diseased! Talk down to them, and no one will notice, because we all know that SJWs have the intellectual capacity of a toddler. Let’s not ensure the survival of our religion by actually progressing with society, but rather by changing the way we spew our disgusting ideas.

I am so sick of it. If you’re going to be an intolerant douchebag, just be upfront about it. That way, I can at least give you 1 point for honesty, which will bring your entire score to 1, I suppose. Still, there is integrity in honesty, and everyone can see your message for what it is, and dismiss it. Or, at least, Catholics will know exactly what it is they’re signing up for.

Healthy Sunday Cooking With Crys: Brazilian Bean Salad

Beans, beans, good for the heart

The more you eat them the more you fart

The more you fart the better you feel

So eat your beans for every meal!

Perhaps that was a touch childish, even for me, but that schoolyard rhyme is actually quite accurate. Apart from the fact that beans make you fart, which is a given, they actually are quite good for your heart as well, though indirectly.

Beans are full of dietary fiber, and eating plenty of it is associated with lower body weight and less cardiovascular disease, as it can lower blood cholesterol levels, hence being indirectly “good for the heart”. Beans also contain complex carbs and protein, and taken together these things help feeling fuller for longer. As to why beans also make you fart, I’ll leave that fun fact at the end, which will also include the reason why adding fiber to your diet by buying those powdery products to dissolve in your water is not really the best thing for you.

So, for this week’s healthy recipe, I’ll be making a very easy recipe that I learned when visiting my father in Bahia, a fresh and delicious salad made with black-eyed peas.

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Sunday Cooking With Crys: Italian Apple Crumble

I found myself with some leftover apples in my house. For my taste they were too soft to eat, but they were still in excellent condition and I thought it was a pity to throw them out. So, I decided to leaf through my books, notes and fridge to see what else I had lying around that could be thrown together with the apples to bake something. After all, soft apples are perfectly fine for cooking.

Some rummaging in my fridge yielded some extra sour cream that I had bought for another recipe and didn’t use. In that case, I’m going to make myself the Italian version of apple crumble.

If you already like apple crumble the way it is, you will find this version to be the poor man’s crumble so best save yourself the trouble. If, on the other hand, you sort of like apple crumble but find it to be too sweet and/or too buttery for your taste, then this is the recipe for you. It’s lower in fat, it’s not sweet, but it’s still very nice warmed with some whipped cream or ice cream next to it.

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Cultural Differences: Beware Friday the 17th!

“Um… Crys… I think you mean Friday the 13th” I can already hear many of you whispering under your breath. Funnily enough no, I don’t mean Friday the 13th. I am aware that in the vast majority of Western countries 13 is the unlucky number, and Friday the 13th is an “unlucky” day. In a bizarre twist on the usual superstition, however, Italians believe that 17 is an unlucky number, and therefore Friday the 17th is the day to watch out for. It is also the 17th row that is missing from old Alitalia planes, the number 17 that no one will have on their jerseys, and the number 17 that was retired from Formula 1 after Jules Bianchi crashed his number 17 car and died on… Friday the 17th of July 2015.

Last Friday was a Friday the 17th, and the various Italians I work with mentioned it in some passing, humorous way. This made me think about why, exactly, 17 is “unlucky” in Italian culture. Why 13 is supposedly unlucky is relatively easy, as it stems from Christian mythology. The story goes that there were 13 people at the last supper, and the “13th” person was Judas, who went on to betray Christ. It is also supposed that Jesus died on a Friday, and so Friday the 13th is an especially unlucky day.

Given the origin of this superstition you would think that Italy, a deeply Catholic country and home of the Vatican, would also hold to a superstition of Christian origin. So, I asked myself, is it a Mediterranean thing that predates Christianity? A few questions to my Greek and Spanish colleagues revealed that their cultures too have 13 as the unlucky number. As far as I can tell, Italy is the only country in which 17 takes this special position. So, why is that?

Google here I come.

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A Pleasant Reminder

After recent global political events, it is easy to lose heart at the direction the world is going in. Sometimes, it is important to remember that, while we do experience temporary setbacks, the overall trend of our global society is a positive one. This video summarizes this sentiment.

 

There is one slight mistake in the video. Unfortunately measles, thanks to the dangerous anti-vaxx movement, has actually made a comeback in the United States. This is discouraging and needs to be fought tooth and nail, but it still does not negate the entirety of the video’s message.

I often think of society’s upward progressive trend as one of those graphs that plot global surface temperatures over the decades. It is not a straight line up, but rather a jagged one with many small, localized peaks and valleys, as other factors play a role in global temperatures on a small scale. If you focus in on any one of those, you might think that the trend is spiking downward, but it is important to pull back and view the graph as a whole in order to understand the real trend.

It is quite ironic that I use a climate change graph as an analogy, as the upward trend of global temperatures is deeply troubling, while the upward trend of social progress is very encouraging, and climate change is perhaps the only major reason why 2017 is a worse year to live in than previous ones. I will however take a few moments to appreciate the positive message of this video before refocusing on the things we need to fix, change and fight for.

Being encouraged by our society’s successes is not a bad thing to keep in mind when you’re preparing for your next fight, after all.

When Catholic Fake Science Saved Lives

I think I’ve railed on bad science and woo enough on this blog to make my views on the matter perfectly clear. I think it is exploitative, dangerous, and contributes largely to the dumbing down of our society. However, in an almost “the exception that proves the rule” kind of way (though I never really understood why that phrase makes sense), I have come across an interesting story that I had never heard of before, despite the fact that it took place in my hometown of Rome. In this ironic twist fake science, perpetrated by Catholic doctors, actually saved a good many lives.

In the fall of 1943, German soldiers in Italy began rounding up Italian Jews and deporting them—10,000 people were sent to concentration camps during the nearly two-year Nazi occupation. Most never returned. But in Rome, a group of doctors saved at least 20 Jews from a similar fate, by diagnosing them with Syndrome K, a deadly, disfiguring, and “contagiosissima” disease.

You have probably never heard of this highly infectious and contagious disease. Don’t worry, it has been eradicated, by which I mean that it never actually existed.

The disease did not exist in any medical textbook or physician’s chart. In fact, it didn’t exist at all. It was a codename invented by doctor and anti-fascist activist Adriano Ossicini, to help distinguish between real patients and healthy hideaways. (Political dissidents and a revolutionary underground radio station were also sheltered there from Italy’s Fascist regime.)

The fake illness was vividly imagined: Rooms holding “Syndrome K” sufferers were designated as dangerously infectious—dissuading Nazi inspectors from entering—and Jewish children were instructed to cough, in imitation of tuberculosis, when soldiers passed through the hospital.

OK, so now you’re probably thinking wait, that doesn’t count! They didn’t really believe that there was such a thing as Syndrome K, that’s not fake science! And yes, you have a point there.

Still, they did manage to convince the Nazis of the existence of this deadly disease, contributing to and relying upon their ignorance of medicine and science. Furthermore, these were in fact Catholic doctors, working in a Catholic hospital, risking their lives to save these people not in order to convert them, or because of a Vatican mandate, but relying on their own sense of human decency. I shit on Catholicism a lot for what it has done around the world, but I will certainly acknowledge good Catholic people doing brave and heroic things when they do.

While the overall tally indicates that the world would be better off without both fake science and Catholicism, I still can’t help bringing this story up as the exception to the rule. It was a stroke of brilliance, and it really did work. While it is impossible to say exactly how many people were saved by a Syndrome K diagnosis, it is also true that 9,000 of the 10,000 Roman Jews managed to evade arrest, and the doctors at Fatebenefratelli definitely played their part in that.

Bad Science: Now That’s a Double Whammy!

Recently, I came across a story that might have just hit the bad science motherload. It refers to an Italian pharmacy, which is authorized by the Italian government to sell products online. One of these products is called Dr. Reckeweg R20, and its product description just about blew my mind. As the article is in Italian, I’ll translate it for you here.

For starters, it is a homeopathic remedy, claiming to contain a product called “Ovaria”. According to the website, this product is made from the extract of ovaries, and is used in the treatment of:

irregolarità mestruali, disturbi del climaterio, deficit di memoria, depressione, disturbi funzionali delle ghiandole, complesso di inferiorità, criptorchidismo, enuresi notturna, impotenza, frigidità femminile, tendenze lesbiche, oligo e azzoospermia, congestioni”

Translation: irregular menstrual cycle, hot flashes, memory deficits, depression, disrupted glandular function, inferiority complex, cryptochidism [a.k.a. the absence of one or both testes from the scrotum], involuntary urination, impotence, female frigidity, lesbian tendencies, oligo- and azoo-spermia, congestion”.

Ooh where to begin.

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You Are Not Alone

I mentioned that, recently, I was helping a friend of mine deal with a mental health crisis. As someone who deals with an anxiety disorder myself, I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, to see no way out, to feel ripped by remorse and worst of all, to feel completely and utterly alone in my suffering. Our society deems mental illness as something rare, secretive and uncommon. Unless you have a “real” mental illness, like schizophrenia, you feel like you are weak, plagued with #FirstWorldProblems, and that if you cannot function in your day to day privilege that the vast majority of the world only dreams of having, then you really should be embarrassed of your pain, and you should hide it from everyone.

Luckily, this antiquated mentality is being challenged, and it is important that as many people as possible know that these thoughts are complete and utter bullshit. A recent study conducted in New Zealand found that a whopping 83% of people experience at least one episode of mental illness from age 11 to 38. These could be either transient, recurring or long-lasting, were of varying severity, but it is becoming ever more clear that having these episodes is not only common, but rather should be dubbed “the new normal”.

Coinciding with ongoing studies, we see an ever increasing number of celebrities who have spoken openly and candidly about their struggles with mental illness. Most recently Wentworth Miller, most famously known for his role in Prison Break, gave a speech about his struggles with depression from childhood to the present day.

 

Given the stigma which is still associated with admitting to mental illness, I applaud Wentworth Miller and all of the public figures who have had the courage to speak openly of their struggles. I think that their honesty, combined with the medical research into this field, will be what finally condemns this stigma to the barrel of yet another embarrassment of our history. I think that these messages, from many different sources, will provide comfort to those who still think that they are weird, weak, abnormal or foolish for being depressed, or riddled with anxiety.

The sheer statistics dictate that many of you reading this have struggled or are currently struggling with a mental illness. I want to remind all of you, you are not alone. What you are feeling is both normal and not founded in reality. Seeking help is not an admission of weakness, it is not the ultimate sign of defeat, any more than seeking antibiotics for your sore throat is. It is simply seeking the help you need to get back to your day-to-day life as quickly, healthily and happily as possible. Don’t despair, don’t blame yourself, and don’t give up. You deserve support, and you deserve to be happy.

This Week In Zoology: Weirdo Caterpillars

When it comes to extremely odd looking creatures, marine life is usually our best source of inspiration, especially those found in the deep sea. This is partially because the support that water gives allows for more extravagant body plans than land does, and partially because we don’t see marine creatures every day, and so they have not had as much chance to become “normal” to our eyes.

When it comes to terrestrial creatures, however, I think that caterpillars are strong contenders for the “weirdest looking critters” award. This video gives some examples, and many of you might be asking yourselves, WTF are those, and WHY THOR WHYYY do they look like that?

 

 

Well, here goes. I’ll identify for you those caterpillars that I recognize from this video, and give you a short explanation as to why evolution allowed them to become the fuzzy little weirdos you see in this video today. Sorry Creationists, the answer is not “God predicted the existence of viral videos and wanted to have a laugh”.

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