Senator Rob Portman: Bald-faced liar. (an open letter)

Dear Rob Portman,

As you know, I wrote you with my concerns about health insurance recently. As you are no doubt aware, you replied with a form letter full of vile lies that insult my intelligence. Let’s go through them, shall we?

The first thing you told me, after the opening pleasantries, was the following:

Before diving into the specifics of what I expect to see in law’s replacement, please know that I support a transition period that would maintain premium subsidies and Medicaid coverage through at least 2017 in order to ensure that all affected individuals will have due time to adjust to the new system and that no one loses coverage unexpectedly.

This is technically true; you supported an amendment that would offer more time to decide on the replacement measures. But you didn’t stand by the values you supposedly hold; you rescinded the amendment without much fanfare or argument.

The third paragraph of your email is the point where you become a liar. You write:

With the intention to better serve the people who have been disadvantaged by the President’s poorly conceived law, I have assembled a few key ideas that would be central to a new and improved healthcare system.

I was eagerly awaiting your contribution. And yet, this was all you had to offer me:

Most importantly, we need reforms that will make healthcare in the U.S. more patient-centered and consumer-driven. Such reforms could include enacting important consumer protections in the insurance market, like prohibiting lifetime limits on coverage and requiring insurance companies to cover dependent children up to age 26. A consumer-driven healthcare system would also include protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions so that they may not be denied coverage as well as a refundable tax credit targeted to certain individuals solely for the purchase of health coverage.

Look at what you offered me. You said that you wanted to prohibit lifetime limits on coverage. This is already in effect: as part of the ACA you voted to repeal. You are the one endangering me by introducing lifetime limits, not Obama.

You said that you wanted to require insurance companies to cover children up to age 26. Again, this was part and parcel of the Affordable Care Act that Obama signed, that you voted to repeal. You offer protection for people like me, living with pre-existing, chronic, incurable conditions — and a mere two days later, you voted to remove those protections.

You wrote:

After six years of the status quo, it is clear now that health care costs have grown out of control for many Ohioans

The thing that’s “quite clear” to me is that you are a two-faced liar, willing to sacrifice your constituents on the altar of party ideology. You should be ashamed of yourself, Senator Rob Portman.

By now you might be wondering why I’m calling you out by name, over and over, in this blog post. It’s simple. I intend to share this post as far and wide as possible so that everyone knows what your true colors are.

Who is willing to help me?

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Other: Please Specify

I changed the name of my blog. I never much liked “Raven Wings”, but I didn’t have anything better; it’s not like my posts are all on a theme or anything.

But my life kind of has a theme, if I squint real hard. I don’t quite fit into the neat boxes they put on forms for any of the standard questions: race, gender, sexuality. So I named my blog after the option I always end up checking: Other (please specify).

This blog is kind of my attempt to specify.

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On Wellness

The early Victorians had it all figured out. The science was clear; new research was being done all the time, refining and furthering the work that had begun in China. New institutions and societies were popping up everywhere to reform London. No longer did the poor have to waste away, shielded by nothing but superstition; the cause of disease was finally known, and simple, effective steps could be put in place to protect the populace. It was finally possible to separate good advice from bad: the bad advice was no more than superstition, while the good advice was consistent with the research. Truly, the 1850s were a glorious age, based on reason and science, unlike any before it.

Yes, the sanitary reformers of the time had the right idea: disease was caused by miasma, a sort of fog that emerges from decaying matter along with the smell. This miasma would seep into the body through the pores, wreaking havoc with the body’s systems and causing all sorts of disease. A miasma that caused Cholera in one man could cause a flu in another; it was all down to the individual’s constitution. The best way to fight miasma in a rapidly-overcrowded region was through sanitation systems: if waste products were kept covered, either by night soil or in water-driven sewer systems, nobody would take ill from them.

The research was abundantly clear: the London Statistical Society showed that urbanization lead to a dramatic increase in both morbidity and mortality rates. People were dying much faster in the nineteenth century than they had in the eighteenth, and it was no coincidence: they were exposed to far more miasma in London since the industrial revolution. The miasma had even become visible: thick, foul-smelling fogs were common, and the Thames was choked with nasty-smelling sludge. Edwin Chadwick’s research clearly proved that sanitation was the answer: putting in place a sewer system, avoiding places that smelled foul, avoiding the practice of using human waste as fertilizer, and covering the nose and mouth all helped keep the populace healthier. Submersion in water was written off as dangerous; to clean themselves, Victorians would uncover one small area at a time and sponge-bathe, being careful to dry the area before moving on. It was dangerous to go too long without washing, as the pores might become blocked and prevent the skin from breathing, but to go out in the miasma-choked air of London uncovered was virtually suicide. Surely, people would live longer and be healthier than ever before now that this was known.

Today, we know they were incorrect. Disease is not caused by miasma, but by germs, which often happen to live in places that are foul-smelling and filthy. But the research seemed to clearly support the theory, despite actually supporting germ theory; the two were similar enough that the results could be misinterpreted. It’s true that sanitation reforms saved lives, but further improvements, such as hand sanitizer, had to wait until the theory was corrected.

We like to think of ourselves much as the Victorians think of themselves: as advanced people, living in a society based on logic and reason alone, free of the superstitions of the past. While we have certainly come a long way since the Victorian era, it’s pure hubris to assume we’re now free of bias. We’re just as likely to make mistakes in medical theory as the Victorians were; we simply have more research in the past to base our findings on. Humans have not changed significantly, after all.

What if you lived in the Victorian age and you considered the idea that miasma theory was wrong? That it was, at best, imperfect? All around you, the advice you saw was based on avoiding miasmas. Nobody considered, say, avoiding someone with a bit of a cough as long as they didn’t smell “sick”. Nobody considered hand-washing to be of vital importance. Whole areas of research were neglected because they didn’t fit with the prevailing theory.

Look around you. What if being fat doesn’t cause illness? What if fat is fat and sick is sick, and while the two are sometimes correlated, there’s a confirmation bias in play convincing us the one leads to the other? What if the things that go along with being fat, like not exercising enough, binge dieting, and social anxiety cause illness? Can you find anyone, any single program, any single institute talking about “wellness” that doesn’t couch it in terms of weight loss?

These are the emails I’ve gotten from my workplace “wellness” program over the past few months.

This week:

Can one diet really lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, prevent type 2 diabetes, and help you lose weight?! The DASH Diet makes the grade and is backed by a wealth of research. Read this week’s blog to learn what’s in the DASH Diet and get a sample meal plan.

Last week’s seems better on the surface:

It’s such a fun time of year! Delicious food, family and friends, and many festivities fill up our calendar for the next month. But, it can be a bit overwhelming when your health in on your mind. In this week’s blog we’re giving you our top tips for enjoying all this season has to offer, without going overboard.  

But the blog post was mostly around eating: what foods to avoid, what practices to follow to avoid “binging”, et cetera.

We’ve had a “steps challenge”, urging me to be more active so I can lose more weight. We’ have recipes posted in the breakroom, the bathroom, and on the blog. Front and center when I log in I a profile overview widget, proudly proclaiming my BMI, my weight, my weight change (apparently I’ve gained some weight), and my “wellness score”. If I click on the risk advisor, I get this lovely notice:


The “health assessment” says I’m at high risk for BMI, Cholesterol, and Emotional Health.

This is my favorite item:

While your diet is on the right track, you could use improvement. Try a few more fruits and vegetables every week, and a few less snacks.

The answers I gave in the quiz to determine how well I eat: I eat breakfast every day, I eat snacks a few times per week, I add salt to some meals (but not most meals), I eat mostly low-fat foods, I eat mostly refined grains, I eat four servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and I eat two servings of sugar a day (one sugary snack, and my morning tea involves sugar). And yet for that reasonable amount of moderation, I get smarmy messages about eating more fruits and less snacks, and a “moderate risk”.

Oh, and about all that sugar? My fasting glucose is in the low risk category. It’s perfectly fine. But I don’t eat 100% according to the guidelines of the day, so I’m “at risk” anyway.

Can you find better? What does wellness and health even mean outside the context of weight? I literally don’t know anymore. I have a vague idea about not smoking and getting a checkup every year, but that’s about it. What does it mean to be healthy, if not “thin”?

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My Story: High School

So another blogger I follow recently released a five-part series detailing her relationship with an abusive friend, and how it started out well-meaning and went badly. At first I was wondering why she was posting that, what happened to the book reviews, et cetera. But then, at the end of it, she posted that she felt this strong feeling of catharsis. By writing it all down, by putting it out there in public, she was able to say, “this happened to me. I’m not crazy, I’m not making it up, I have valid reasons not to like this person.” And her fans responded, giving her a sense of validation she never got: “this happened and it was wrong and you should never have had to go through this.”

She took the posts down, having achieved what she wanted, which is entirely her decision. Today I read through some of the comments on the final “I took the posts down” post and I thought, I really should get back to blogging more. I miss that feeling.

I’m starting therapy. Maybe that’ll help, maybe not. But I miss you guys.

I went back and looked over the previous My Story posts, hoping to find some thread of narrative I could pick up and continue on with. But I never did post things in sequence, or in any semblance of a narrative. I just talked about my life.

I recovered the password to my old livejournal at work today, over lunch. The content filter blocked my posts from showing up. My profile says I was 16 when I started that journal. That would have been during the bad times, right smack dab in the middle.

I started going to a private high school in San Francisco. I was a straight-A student in middle school, and I hated my peers (the feeling was mostly mutual). The high schools in the district where both my parents lived (separately) were awful, so we decided to pay for private high school — it was that or homeschool, and while I was pushing for an “unschooling” system where I’d never have to talk to someone my age again, private school seemed acceptable enough.

For the first time in my life, I enjoyed school that year. We had great teachers who saw us as people. I had friends who didn’t know I was “weird”. I fit in, kind of. Well, there was one guy who made fun of my not having friends so I kicked him in the shins. But he was a dick. We were on-again off-again friends the whole year, with only a handful of incidents of violence. I learned to play Magic: The Gathering and breakdance and all about the cultural significance of graffiti. I had my first boyfriend, my first tongue kiss, my first amicable breakup, and my second boyfriend. Things at home with my mom sucked, but I could forget about it most of the time. I’d stay late after school because mom would be working anyway so I could just take a later train home. Things were pretty good, overall.

When my dad got married, my stepmom wanted a big wedding since she hadn’t gotten one the first time around. And then we had to remodel one of the houses, and since her lot was bigger (and in a very wealthy neighborhood) it made sense to do that one. And now there were four kids needing college savings funds instead of two. There wasn’t enough money left over to pay for private high school for me, but I now had the option of going to the public school the rich kids went to, where I’d be sure to get a decent education.

My mother was furious. She loved to rant about my father and money, how he was a lawyer so he should pay for everything, he was just being stingy, et cetera. I couldn’t stand that. Once, when she wouldn’t shut up, I hit her. We were in the car at the time. She pulled over and made me get out, and I was banned from the frontseat for months because she “didn’t feel safe” around me.

My mother. Didn’t feel safe around me.

She loved that sort of thing. Anything that could paint me as out of control, a devil child, sent to torment her. Anything that made her the victim. I was a child; I didn’t think so at the time, but I was. I was lonely, awkward, fat, ethnically different than my peers, and later suicidally depressed, but she was the real victim here.

I learned how to lie, to fake it. I got into theatre at my new school, and I would have evening rehearsals. She’d pick me up from my dad’s house and drive me to rehearsal, and we’d have a screaming fight that would leave me sobbing and panicky as we pulled into the parking lot. I had the span of the dark parking lot to pull myself together, dry my tears, plaster on a smile, and tell everyone I was fine, what scene were we doing today again?

To this day, I’m constantly worried people will catch me out in a lie. I also don’t lie; I hate lying. But I worry about it anyway. Any slight factual error I worry will be used against me, and I’ll be branded a liar and nobody will believe anything I say again.

I never know how to end these posts.

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A Tomboy’s Guide to: Curly Hair

So you’re a tomboy; you don’t care about stylish, you just toss your hair (uncolored, cut only when it gets long enough to bother you) into a ponytail and head out the door without a care in the world. Until one day you wake up and realize you’re an adult now and maybe you want to try a more professional look? But you don’t know how.

Well here’s what I’ve learned!


It all starts with shampoo

For curly hair, the manageability really comes down to what shampoo you use. You must use a sulfate-free shampoo. I know what you’re thinking: “oh great, some fancy-shmancy shampoo at like $50 for a tiny bottle”.  I thought the same thing when I first heard about sulfates, and almost quit right there. But I decided to look around first, and I’m glad I did. turns out, there are a lot of cheap drugstore shampoos that don’t have sulfates! Here’s two of them:

Burts Bees shampoos tend to be about $10 a bottle; they have a pomegranate shampoo that’s labelled as volumizing that smells heavenly. They used to have an avocado one that made me literally want to eat my hair, but I think it’s discontinued now? I’ve also seen a baobab and a mango one, each with supposedly different properties, but I’m not sure they really make a difference except for smell, so get whichever is handy. Burts is my go-to because they’re everywhere.

Alba Botanica shampoos, by contrast, are a brand I’d never heard of and have no loyalty to. I was out of Burt’s Bees shampoo and the store I was in had sold out, so I started browsing the aisles and found their Hawaiian shampoo. It turned out to be sulfate-free as well, and it’s working for me just fine 🙂

If you can’t find either brand, I’m sure you can find something; I’ve created a printable you can download that has a checklist you can bring to the drugstore when you go looking.

Now that you have a sulfate-free shampoo, you want to use it as little as possible; no more than once a week. You take a small amount on the tips of your fingers and rub vigorously into your scalp, trying to dislodge any dandruff or anything that might lurk there. You let the action of the water hitting your scalp rinse it into the length of your hair, where it will dislodge any trapped dirt and leave your hair clean. On days you’re not doing this, you can use conditioner to “co-wash” and achieve most of the same effect.

Onto conditioner!

Your conditioner you want to be free of sulfates as well, but conditioners don’t tend to have them to begin with. You also want to steer clear of alcohols that can dry your hair (some alcohols don’t, some do) and waxes that your sulfate-free shampoo will have a hard time getting out of your hair later. Generally speaking, the conditioners that go with the shampoo you picked out will be fine, but the printable has a more extensive list.

You’ll want to leave in the conditioner at the end of your shower; some people like to put in a bit, rinse it out, then put in fresh to leave in, but I just leave it all in. You’ll get a feel for how much to use; you don’t want it to be gloppy on your hair when you’re done, but you do want to use enough that you can feel a difference in the hair. If you overdo it, I like to run my hands over the hair, squeezing gently, so that it transfers to my hands where it can be washed off; repeat this until it’s no longer gloppy.


This is, unfortunately, where I had to spend more money. What you want is a styling gel you can work in after the shower that’s designed to make the most of your curls. I used to use Uncle Funky’s Daughter brand Curly Girl styling cream,  but now I use DevaCurl styling cream, which I like better. Ouidad is another brand that has some styling products as well, but not everything there is approved under the Curly Girl method I’m outlining.

Once you’re out of the shower, the general idea is to flip your hair over and scrunch upward with a microfiber cloth or a T-shirt to get most of the moisture out. You then apply styling cream, scrunching it through your hair, and then flip back up. Tousle a little, use clips to hold it back from your face so much, and voila, ready to walk out the door.

If you want to blow-dry, you’ll need a diffuser, which is an attachment that goes on your hair dryer to spread out and mellow the flow a bit. DevaCurls makes a weird one that cups your head, but you can use a cheap one from the drugstore if you prefer: just place your curls into the little bowl and blow upward until that section is dry-ish.

You can also just put the whole thing in a ponytail and not worry about it 🙂


If you’re brave enough, you can cut your own hair. It’s crucial to cut it while dry, so you can see how each curl wants to fall. If you look at a strand of hair, you can kind of see it in consecutive Cs (some of them backward); I’m told you want to cut at the top of a C, on the diagonal. If you see fraying ends, you’ll want to cut above the frayed bit; if you see knots, cut above them, since knots tend to be caused by fraying ends that get tangled together. You also want to get really sharp hairdressing scissors for best results.

I get my hair cut at a salon every quarter or so. It’s an hour out of my day (and a decent chunk out of my pocketbook), but since I found a good stylist its’s so worth it. My hair seems to want to be short, but she manages with layers to cut  it so I don’t look like a mushroom. Make sure you find someone who specialises in curly hair! A salon that advertises giving the “ouidad cut” probably knows their stuff enough to manage.

Go forth and be curly

Good luck! If you have more tips and tricks, please share in the comments.


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Why Pokemon Go is the best fitness app

Pokemon Go is the best fitness app I’ve ever seen on Android. Hands down.

At this point you’re thinking one of two things: either you’re nodding your head going “Yep, yep, preach it” or you’re thinking “Wait, isn’t that a game?”

Yeah, it’s a game. And that’s what makes it such a great fitness app. You see, Pokemon Go never shames you. You don’t have to enter your weight; it doesn’t care what you weigh, or if your weight is going up or down. It doesn’t care how much or how little you walk. It will reward you when you do well, but it never punishes you for inactivity; however long you’re able to use it, it’s happy to give you rewards.

What it does do is give you a reason to go out. I have Fibromyalgia, and my physical therapist keeps telling me to go and take walks, just short walks at various points in the day. I keep telling her she’s crazy. “Where would I go? What would be the point of these walks? How would I motivate myself to keep going when my legs hurt?” I have gone on a walk around lunchtime every day for the past four days, and every day I’ve gotten a foot cramp and sore muscles, and every day I’ve not cared. I had a goal in mind, I achieved it, and I got back to the office in time to finish my work. It gives me a little break midday (I don’t usually take a lunch break), I get some fresh air and sunshine, and I feel good about myself no matter what I achieved.

It also doesn’t discriminate by fitness ability. I can’t walk far, so I often go for a drive to tag pokespots and get to gyms I want to challenge. Once I’m in a park, if I feel up to it I can do laps on foot to hit the various spots in order, or I can sit by the car waiting for the first stop to reset (it takes about 5 minutes before you can tag a spot again). That gives me a chance to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. If you’re in a wheelchair, no problem; it counts your rolling as if it was walking, and you’re fully able to experience the gameplay

And the final factor, the one that keeps me hooked as the novelty is beginning to wear off: it has a great social aspect. Everyone is playing it, which means you probably know someone you can play with. If you join the same team, you can get together and compare notes on your pokemon, challenge gyms together to take them down easier, and commiserate about how all those red team jerks are probably teenagers with no lives and how did they get that level so fast? .If you don’t have friends who play, go to a park and drop a lure module. Bam! People will show up and be willing to talk to you, and you have a ready-made subject to talk about, so now you can meet people and get some social interaction outside your normal friend group.

In conclusion, Pokemon Go is an amazing fitness app, one I suspect will keep me active for a long while. And oh yeah, there’s also a game involved. Happy hunting!

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On a lighter note, I seem to have a problem. See, I had a hair appointment last night, and when it was done it looked pretty cute:



So I went to bed and I woke up and well….



So I did my best, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to tame the beast:



So I gave up.



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