September 2009 Archives

As a follow-up to our enjoyable visit to the Pompeii exhibit (written about here), the Cute-Little-Red-Headed Girlfriend and I decided to take a trip to the Getty Villa.

Representing one half of the Getty Institute--the other half being the Getty Center in Los Angeles--the Getty Villa is a museum dedicated to the "arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria." But really, mostly Rome. Greece and Etruria are more like side dishes.

The Getty Villa is itself a loose recreation of a specific first-century Roman structure, the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. We learned this during a short introductory film about the Villa and its benefactor, J. Paul Getty. The original Villa dei Papiri was destroyed in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

The lush interior garden of the VillaThe Girlfriend was most interested in seeing the architecture of the Villas, and I the gardens. As it turned out, we were both easily satisfied. As we strolled the Villa, we moved seamlessly from one indoor/outdoor space to another. I was impressed with the variety of textures in the square garden we saw as we walked along the inner peristyle--an open, columned walkway interior to the villa. A picture of it is to the left.

We enjoyed the art in this way, winding into a small room with a cluster of art objects, then out again for the view. The art was arranged thematically, around topics such as the theater, animals, and the legend of Heracles.

A bather looking put outWe then walked the long exterior peristyle that runs along a large and impressive pool. I was much taken with the expression on a statue of a bather in the pool, as seen in the photo here. I feel like that all the time. We paused to view the Pacific ocean at the end of the peristyle and then finished our tour with a leisurely walk through the Getty Villa's abundant herb garden.

After our visit, the Girlfriend and I felt an overwhelming desire for red wine, cheese and bread--all items eaten by the Romans. Fortunately, we had all these things at home, and it was almost lunch.

In the book Fires of Vesuvius, which I mentioned in my earlier post about the Pompeii exhibit, I read about some of the typical dishes eaten by Pompeiians. Stuffed dormice were considered a delicacy. I have no desire to try this dish, though the author's description of how the dormice were caught, kept, fattened, and prepared was fascinating.

I found the description of ancient eating habits so interesting that when I read in the "Further Reading" section at the back of the book that "Plutarch's Table Talk is a mine of curious information on Greek and Roman dining customs," I immediately stepped to my computer to see if I could find it online. I struck out at Project Gutenberg and likewise at the Perseus Digital Library.

I was finally able to track down the text at the University of Adelaide Library in Australia. They don't offer downloads, however, so I contented myself with reading the work online.

Our trip to the Getty Villa only fueled my interest in Pompeii further, so I went in search of documentaries on the subject. My favorite so far is the BBC's dramatic recreation, Pompeii: The Last Day. I also enjoyed a more science-y program on volcanos, which demonstrated how a pyroclastic surge works. I thought about it a lot during the recent Los Angeles wildfires, when a large scaryass pyrocumulus cloud formed over the city.

If you like, you can see more photos from my trip to the Getty Villa by viewing my flickr page.

In light of the current debate going on over the $80 billion pharmaceutical deal, I am posting the text of an email I sent earlier this year to my two Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and to President Obama.

I wrote these emails to ask that my representative leaders and the President address the unbelievably high price of prescription drugs in the U.S. Several friends who I showed these emails to suggested I post them on my blog. I have chosen to edit out the names of the prescription drugs mentioned in order to protect some of my privacy but they are otherwise intact.

If you are from the U.S. and haven't contacted your representative to demand health care reform that provides for every American--instead of every health insurance and pharmaceutical executive--I hope reading this email will prompt you to do so.

FDA label attached to package

Dear [Senator, President Obama],

I am a 44-year-old native Los Angeleno and one of your California constituents. I am writing to you about rising prescription drug costs and about an incident where the FDA detained prescription drugs I imported from Canada for personal use for two months.

I am currently self-employed and unable to obtain health insurance at any price because I have been deemed medically uninsurable in the state of California by underwriters. As a result, I have no prescription drug coverage.

I have two common, chronic medical conditions that I have managed with prescriptions since my teen years. Over the decades, I have endured financial hardships to pay for my prescriptions, and I am used to planning my finances around my prescriptions needs. However, in the past few years price increases have outstripped my ability to stay a step ahead of costs.

Taking the advice of one of my specialist physicians, I began to import my prescriptions from Canada to save money. I was hesitant to do so because of the unpredictability of shipping times. If a shipment did not come in time, I would have to scramble to obtain the drugs quickly from a different source, since very serious side effects could result from a missed dosage.

Nonetheless, with some advanced planning, I began importing my prescriptions from Canada. I was aware through reading "Consumer Reports" that the FDA's policy is not to pursue individuals who are importing prescriptions for personal use. So I was very distressed when my early October 2008 prescription order went missing, only to turn up in late December 2008 with an FDA action sticker on the package.

The FDA action sticker is marked "Refused - Return to Sender." Somehow the package managed to get to me, but I have not used the drugs inside because the package was clearly opened. In addition, the FDA Action Sticker includes this message:

FDA REVIEWED THE LABEL(S) OF THE DRUGS CONTAINED WITHIN THIS PACKAGE AND CONCLUDED THEY ARE UNAPPROVED PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS. SINCE THESE PHARMACEUTICALS ARE FROM AN UNAPPROVED FOREIGN SOURCE, WE CANNOT GUARANTEE THEIR SAFETY, DOSAGE STRENGTH, AND PURITY. HOWEVER, UNDER FDA'S ENFORCEMENT DISCRETION, WE HAVE PERMITTED DELIVERY OF THESE UNAPPROVED MEDICATIONS TO YOU. DESPITE YOUR RECEIPT OF THIS SHIPMENT, FURTHER IMPORTATIONS OF UNAPPROVED PRESCRIPTION PHARMACEUTICALS MAY BE REFUSED ADMISSION INTO THE USA.

As a result of this incident, I resumed buying my prescriptions in the United States at the end of last year, at the lowest price I could find. But with the new year, I was distressed to discover that prices on my prescriptions went up considerably. Here is a current cost comparison of my prescriptions at Costco, where I now buy my medications, versus my Canadian provider:

[Prescription name edited]: Costco, $269; Canada Pharmacy, $149
[Prescription name edited]: Costco, $189.93; Canada Pharmacy, $31
[Prescription name edited]: Costco, $94.43; Canada Pharmacy, $34

Yearly supply: Costco: $6640.32, Canada Pharmacy, $2568.00
Yearly cost savings using the Canadian Pharmacy: $4072.32

I would like to point out that that the prescriptions I have cited are not "cutting edge" and are in routine use for common conditions. The pricing of these drugs is outrageous, even more so when one takes into consideration the profit margins of the major pharmaceutical makers.

One of the medications cited above is not even the best available for my condition, according to my specialist physician. The best available drug is sold in France and England for under $10 but is unavailable in the United States because it doesn't offer the kind of profit margins the pharmaceutical companies seek.

I am further scandalized that the FDA can take the time to stop my prescription packages at the border but can't protect the American population from contaminated Chinese food imports, or even contaminated food produced domestically. The FDA says they are concerned for my safety, but their track record says otherwise.

I urge you to take strong action now to control the costs of U.S. pharmaceuticals and to make them affordable to all Americans.

Sincerely,

Teresa Ortega

The other day The Boston Globe reported on a new project coming out of MIT that uses social networking data to predict whether a male Facebook user is gay or not. The experiment has been given the not terribly original name Project Gaydar.

Part of a new field of study called social network analysis, Project Gaydar examines a a male Facebook user's public connections or "Friends" on Facebook in order to determine the likelihood that he is gay or not. Other analyses have attempted to predict a person's political affiliation or drawn conclusions based on favorited books and movies.

Gays and lesbians have had particular concerns about privacy rights due to the history of criminalization and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the U.S. Even gays who are largely "out" may prefer to keep their sexual preference private in select circumstances, such as applying for a job or while searching for housing.

Facebook, Twitter and other social networks do offer privacy settings that allow users some control over what other people can see. So there are some means available to protect information one wants kept private, including choosing not to post about certain subjects at all.

Several studies have shown that not posting about certain subjects--such as politics, sex, drinking, and your employer--is exactly what human resources departments in the U.S. expect from potential employees. According to a recent survey of human resources professionals, nearly half used social networking sites to help them screen candidates.

If you're gay or lesbian and looking for a job, you probably already know that you don't have much legal protection against discrimination in hiring or in the workplace. And if you're not gay or lesbian, you're pretty much shit out of luck, too. Any number of behaviors or lifestyle factors could place you on the "do not hire" list, including being overweight or smoking.

According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, potential employers can use investigative consumer reports to find out about a candidate's "mode of living." However, under the federal Fair Credit and Reporting Act, employers must notify job seekers of such background checks and some states place additional restrictions on such reports.

Now, with social networking background checks, no notice need be given. Human resources managers can log on to Facebook, Twitter, or any number of other sites and draw whatever conclusions they like about prospective employees (including wrong ones) based on friends, favorites, posts or casual comments.

In other words, your future livelihood may depend on whether you've declared yourself a fan of The Simpsons or once retweeted Pee-wee Herman. And yet, the online reaction to intrusive practices like Facebook background checks is mostly defensive advice like "don't post publicly," or "clean up your digital profile."

Freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech are rights provided for in the Constitution to all Americans. As part of those freedoms, we must demand the right to Friend and to favorite, to gather and to chat, to poll and to post without the threat of corporate surveillance restricting our ability to make a living or to participate fully in our digital public sphere.

Recent Comments

  • Joe G.: I wonder if one option for e-books is to create read more
  • thecutelittleredheadedgrrlfriend: Well, I am blind as a bat, so it is read more
  • thecutelittleredheadedgrrlfriend: This is an excellent post. It was like reading a read more
  • Joe G.: Why you're not reviewing films, comic books, and literature and read more
  • thecutelittleredheadedgrrlfriend: I imagine if they did exist, it was during the read more
  • Teresa: Hi Rose, Thanks for the comment! Interesting to hear you read more
  • Rose: Thank you for an intelligent article. I, too, took Jodie read more
  • thecutelittleredheadedgrrlfriend: I thought what you had to say was brilliant. I read more
  • Teresa: Hi Fran, She did not use the word lesbian, which read more
  • frankie: Hi T- I listened to her speech, and I wonder read more