An OB/GYN’s opinion on the Supreme Court, Hobby Lobby, and contraception

I think my blog could be enhanced by the occasional reblog of things that I find well-written, interesting or humorous. Plus, it saves me from having to do the writing myself!

Today we have an article about the US Supreme Court ruling that has all my liberal friends up in arms. I find this article presents a clear and easy-to-understand defense of the liberal position. I have been reading from the opposition as well, although I haven’t gotten around to the judgment itself.

Dr. Jen Gunter

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, sided with Hobby Lobby (and much of the religious right in the United States) and ruled that a closely held private corporation does not have to provide insurance coverage for certain birth control methods. Justice Alito, speaking for the majority wrote:

“The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions…It is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.”

As an OB/GYN I see six disastrous consequences of this decision:

1) The idea that religious beliefs of some are more important that the religious beliefs of others. Any woman wanting to use one of the 4 methods of contraception listed obviously doesn’t share the same beliefs…

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Germans and their pedestrian crossings

Nearly every English-speaking German expat writes, with much glee, about how Germans will patiently wait 15 minutes for the walk signal to come on even if there have been no cars on the road for the past hour.

Note: I’m posting out of chronological order, because if I don’t, this blog will not be updated until climate change kills us all.

English:
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly every English-speaking German expat writes, with much glee, about how Germans will patiently wait 15 minutes for the walk signal to come on even if there have been no cars on the road for the past hour, and about how the easiest way to upset a German pedestrian’s travel plans is to tell them to take a route that does not involve clearly delineated road crossings, maybe throw in a war joke about how the Allies should have set up zebra crossings and red men. I suspect this is a Germany blogger initiation ritual of some kind; I’ll update you if I receive a membership card in the mail a few weeks after publishing this post.

Despite this, I have found in my 2.5 weeks here so far that the “Germans never jaywalk” stereotype is nowhere as extreme as most make it out to be. It’s been a little disappointing, to be honest, as I was looking forward to finally feeling comfortable about waiting for the walk signal to come on surrounded by my non-jaywalking brethren. Being at university has diluted it a great deal, but it still pleases my law-abiding Singaporean heart to only cross the road when the green man comes on.

Among the few other places in this country I’ve been to, the truth of the stereotype fluctuates quite drastically with how dense and urban the area is. It makes sense, I suppose – you should be the most careful in places where you think you’re the least likely to get hit by a car. Hence, mostly deserted suburban street in Mainz: traffic signals are the word of God. Quiet downtown Berlin: most people wait if there are cars in sight, but some do cross the road if it seems empty. Busy downtown Berlin: more jaywalkers than – I would say Elm Street*, but I don’t think anything in the Western world surpasses that, so let’s just say those parts of Berlin have lots of jaywalkers.

Central downtown Mannheim is the same as the last, although I think the jaywalkers here do not do it out of spite for rules, nor for convenience, really. I don’t even know if it counts as jaywalking if you have no other way of crossing the road: the urban planners in this city at some point thought to themselves “pah, who will ever need to cross Kurpfalzstrasse (for instance)? Anyone can get all they require in their half of the Quadrate!”. The section of Kurpfalzstrasse that I cross daily is just so blatantly unfriendly to foot traffic, with odd turns for traffic and several foot-snagging tram tracks laid on the already-uneven cobblestone (and no road crossings of course), that they couldn’t have been thinking anything else. More about Mannheim’s sometimes bizarre city layout later.

I think, though, that Germany bloggers shouldn’t make fun of traffic-light obedience so mercilessly. You do see flickers of irritation and self-doubt on people’s faces when they stand waiting by a road that has but one car in the far distance, happily and harmlessly trundling on at 5km/h…towards the collision that can only be averted if the pedestrians do not so much as take one foot off the sidewalk. They fiddle with shopping bags. There are anxious glances to the car and back to the traffic lights. People standing across each other on either side of the crossing avoid each other’s gazes, both knowing they seem a little foolish, and that in no way would their lives be endangered if they crossed the road, but yet…something compels them to remain waiting. Should I go or should I stay? Imagine having to enter this world of inner strife several times a day, every day. Have some sympathy.


 

*Actually, the section of Elm Street in New Haven that runs between two sides of the Yale campus must surely be one of the most jaywalked roads in North America, or at least New England.

Related reading: The Red Dictator: Crossing the Strasse

Thumbnails for the Yale Record Nautical Issue

I’ve got a new phone, the Motorola Moto X. If anything about it particularly strikes me, I will write a short review after a few more days/weeks with it.

image

I have finally, finally taken a first step towards working on one of the projects I had for the summer (other than German). Above you can see some thumbnails for a magazine cover illustration I need to submit a first draft of by June 10th.

This is one of those things I just find ridiculously difficult – drawing scenes and placing people in them. The only good compositions I have are ones that draw heavily from existing Golden Age illustration. I know that developing the mental camera takes a ton of time and practice, but continually running into this wall is disheartening.

I’m looking forward to starting this one my AD approves it though! I’ll most likely be doing that in Germany since I want to use the time I have left in New Haven for work that requires uninterrupted focus.

Prawn (shrimp) and cucumber in soy sauce

A super-simple prawn dish and a little rant about overcooked prawn.

I can feel this turning into a recipe blog. I promise that the post after next will be a progress update on teaching myself German. For now, today’s recipe is a simple dish featuring prawn/shrimp and cucumbers – any hard vegetable will do, though, and there are some asparagus pieces in the photo below.

Awesome cucumbers and prawn
Unlike the previous two recipe images, this actually looks good!

Prawn, shrimp – I can’t tell the difference between the two, and Wikipedia says there isn’t any real difference – tends to be far overcooked in our school dining halls, probably due to liability minimization reasons. This is probably the worst thing you can intentionally do to a prawn that you’re going to eat. The whole point of prawn is its springiness, juiciness and sweetness: overcooking not only turns it tough and dry but also robs it of all flavor.

Repeat after me: I will not be afraid of undercooking prawn. Prawn cooks extremely quickly and undercooking is pretty much impossible if you can clearly see what you’re doing. The danger lies in using prawn that has gone bad. In fact, I just tossed $8 of prawn – it was in the fridge, I’d forgotten about it for 4 days, and some of it was starting to turn orange. Most of it still seemed okay, and it smelled fine actually, but I’d rather lose $8 than get food poisoning from being inexperienced with seafood. And now that the lesson’s been seared into my head with a loss, I’ll remember to cook prawn quickly after buying it in the future.

I would also taste the soy sauce you have on hand first just to check its saltiness. The soy sauce I have with me right now was donated by a friend and different from the lower-sodium ‘light’ kind I have at home. Unfortunately I did not realize this (well that and it was my first time cooking with soy sauce) and added too much. Thankfully, cucumber, like potato, will suck saltiness right up, and the slices saved the prawn from being too salty. We then treated the cucumber slices as though they were pickled and just paired them with a lot of rice – not bad at all, actually.

Prawn and cucumber in soy sauce

Ingredients

  • prawn/shrimp, raw – make sure it’s safe first!
  • cucumber, cut into strips
  • soy sauce
  • water
  • garlic, finely chopped
  • vegetable oil
  • black pepper (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat up a frying pan/wok and add a small amount of oil when hot.
  2. Add garlic (adjust amount depending on personal preference) and quickly stir-fry until you can smell it.
  3. Add cucumber and cook till a little soft.
  4. Add prawn; add a splash of soy sauce and some black pepper if desired. The black pepper is going to be discarded when you peel the prawns anyway, but I think it does help the flavor.
  5. Wait until prawns are cooked. Flip to make sure they’re done evenly. In theory prawns are cooked when they change color completely and the flesh is all opaque white – leave them on for a minute and a half afterwards if you’re uncertain, as I did. But no more!
  6. Add a very small amount of water to dilute the soy sauce. Remove from heat.

Previous recipe: Simple black pepper teriyaki pork stir-fry

Black pepper pork stir-fry

An easy recipe for pork in a teriyaki sauce marinade made more interesting with black pepper.

Today’s dinner dish was based off this Onion Black Pepper Pork Neck recipe found on a Chinese recipe website – it was one of the first recipes to show up when I searched for ‘pork neck meat’. I’ve modified the ingredients a little and have added some elaboration to the somewhat handwavey steps in the original. Serve this with rice or toss it with noodles; it’s too flavorful (in my opinion) to be eaten alone.

Black pepper pork stir fry
It looks kind of slimy, but it tastes fantastic.

I bought two pounds of pork neck bones/meat on my first-ever grocery shopping trip today. It may sound strange, and this cut tends to have a bit more fat, but the meat is ridiculously tender, akin to the best parts of pork rib – if you haven’t tried neck meat before, I’d definitely recommend doing it. Pork neck is one of the least expensive cuts of meat because most Americans prefer lean meat and don’t like to eat ‘weird’ parts of animals – all the better for me.

pork-neck

Obviously, any other cut is fine, I just refer to pork neck here because that’s what I used. I’m not sure if this would taste good with either chicken or beef. I imagine you’d tone down the amount of seasoning with beef, and marinade for longer + cook for shorter with chicken.

Getting the meat off the bones was surprisingly tricky. Muscle sticks to bone more strongly than one imagines, and I had to do a bit of sawing with my knife-that-is-dull-because-I-can’t-find-a-whetstone-in-this-apartment. I also forgot to trim the larger pieces of fat off…but it made it taste really good.

Before starting, I was uncertain that this would taste like anything because pork on its own just tastes like…pork. Well, I’m now very impressed by what a teriyaki sauce bath can do. Unfortunately, the store-bought kind is usually very high in sodium. I fumbled the sauce-to-water ratio for the marinade (thanks, vague recipe) and it probably would have been less salty if I had used more water, but in the future/once this bottle runs out I’m going to attempt this mix:

Most Japanese just mix soy sauce (2TBS), rice vinegar (2TBS), sugar/honey (1tsp) and salt (to taste) instead of buying teriyaki sause. — Seen on this forum discussion about teriyaki sauce substitutes.

With the preamble out of the way, let’s get to the food!

Black Pepper Teriyaki Pork Stir-fry

This took me a while because it’s probably the most complex thing I’ve made so far, and I was stopping to wash dishes in the sink in between. If you know what you’re doing, I think 25 minutes would be enough, including 15 minutes of marinading. Enough time to cook a pot of rice and some vegetables for the rest of your meal!

Ingredients (this made enough to accompany two solo meals)

  • 200-300g pork neck bones (remove as much meat as you can from the bones, and don’t throw them away – you can use them for broth/soup if you want, although some say you should only use bones from high-quality organic meat for this)
  • 1.5 to 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 70ml teriyaki sauce (original recipe calls for 90ml, which I found excessive)
  • half an onion
  • a generous amount of ground black pepper
  • some vegetable oil for the frying
  • (optional) finely chopped green onion/spring onion/scallion (confused? here’s a picture)

Directions

  1. Cut the pork into chunks – if needed. When I removed the meat from the bones it sort of had no choice but to turn into 1 inch/2.5cm-long pieces. Not too thick, as that will slow cooking: about half inch/1cm is great.
  2. In a bowl, pour in teriyaki sauce and half as much water (more water or less sauce if you want it to be less salty).
  3. Add pork to this, making sure the sauce can reach all the meat, and let marinade (sit) for 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, peel and cut half an onion into large pieces (I cried). Set this aside for now.
  5. Add cornstarch to the pork marinade – just sprinkle it in – and mix well to coat the meat. Marinade for 10 more minutes. The cornstarch helps thicken the gravy/sauce you get at the end, and more importantly, keeps the meat tender and juicy when cooked.
  6. Heat up a wok or frying pan, then pour in a little oil. A circle with around 1-inch diameter is fine. Excessive, even? I’m not sure – I haven’t done this enough yet.
  7. Wait for the oil to get really hot – apparently sticking a wooden implement in and watching for bubbles fizzing up will tell you if it’s ready; I just winged it. Add the pork and stir-fry (chao, sort of like sautéing but with more flipping). If there’s marinade left in the bowl, add it to the pan, because why not.
  8. Set the cooked pork aside and add a little bit more oil to the pan if needed.
  9. Put the onions in and push them around until they’re a little softer.
  10. Add the pork back into the pan, and as much black pepper as needed to make it smell good, then stir-fry for a few more minutes. If you have green onions, toss them in. (The original recipe calls for adding a pinch of salt here, but I wouldn’t – the marinade packs enough sodium and you can always add more later if it’s not enough.)
  11. Done!

I am worried about cooking in Germany because I will have to use a hot-plate type of stove, or an induction cooker. According to a friend originally from Stuttgart, open-flame stovetops haven’t been in common use for at least the past 30 years. I made spaghetti at her place a few days ago, and it was awful trying to understand how much heat was getting through to my food through numbers and dials. What does a setting of ‘5’ even mean? How much heat is there in the maximum setting? I can’t find out by touching the pan, so what else can I do? Grr.

Easy improvements on spaghetti with store-bought sauce

This is the recipe for the spaghetti I made when cooking for the first time. This easy improvement on the sad pasta-with-butter student staple involves store-bought tomato sauce and simple dorm-room ingredients (it was very much a ‘what do I have in this fridge’ job) but tastes really good! The cheese means that there’s some substance to it despite the absence of meat; the butter makes it taste richer than it actually is, and a bit of sugar brings out the sweetness of real tomatoes and balances the overwhelming tartness of store-bought tomato sauce. There aren’t any quantities in the instructions below, but trust your eye. It knows what food should look like.

My first spaghetti
It actually tastes rather good.

Easy Better Spaghetti

Sans cooking time for the spaghetti, this should take 10 minutes at the very most.

Ingredients

  • spaghetti, cooked (how to cook spaghetti)
  • store-bought spaghetti sauce
  • cheese (I used mozzarella designed for pizza)
  • tomato(es)
  • butter
  • garlic, chopped
  • rosemary (I used coarsely chopped needles, but flakes or anything should be fine)
  • sugar

Directions

  1. In a shallow pan, sauté garlic in butter. (This is the most complicated-sounding step. It really just involves greasing a hot pan with some butter, adding the garlic, and pushing it around until it looks very slightly brown and starts to smell good.)
  2. Add as much spaghetti sauce as needed, then add pasta and stir well.
  3. Add lots of cheese – try to sprinkle it where the heat can get to it faster – wait for it to melt a little, and mix into the pasta. At this point you can also add some rosemary so you don’t end up with it all concentrated on top afterwards.
  4. Transfer this to a plate.
  5. Chop a tomato any way you want, and add it to the pan; press on it a little with the spatula to get some juice out.
  6. Add a pinch of sugar and mix until the sugar seems integrated into the tomatoes/juice.
  7. Put the pasta back in and mix well with this.
  8. Remove and sprinkle some rosemary on top.
  9. Be proud of yourself.

I feel like this is so simple that giving it a blog post is way over the top and will make me a laughingstock – but I am posting it anyway because think it will actually be useful to people who have no clue how to feed themselves other than instant ramen and microwaveable instant oatmeal (see: me before today). If it is of help to you, please let me know in the comments so I can feel less silly!

First attempts at packing for Mannheim

My first attempts at packing for a summer in Europe.

My apologies for the month-long delay between Beginnings and this post. It’s been a wearying end of the semester. The past five days have been a frantic rush consisting of a final examination, rushing a web app (note: it’s not entirely functional yet), packing into the wee hours of the morning, sleeping for a few hours, then packing the rest, pushing 40kg boxes down three flights of stairs, almost missing the deadline for summer storage in the school buildings, doing the final presentation for aforementioned web app – and then, and then – sneaking back into the dorms to clean up my old suite. I’m grateful to have had help from my friends – I don’t know how I’d have managed otherwise.

Packing went slower than it normally would have because I had trouble deciding on what I needed for the summer. This problem shouldn’t even exist, because if you can pack for a week, you can pack for three months. But still…although my internship isn’t going to require any special equipment, and the dress code is university lab casual, I feel a little anxiety about wanting to not look like a slob. Because, you know, ‘Europe’. As much as I feel stupid for over-romanticizing the continent, I can’t help but feel like the average level of street style is much closer to Yale than Singapore. Reading about how Europeans apparently don’t wear shorts was in particular very alarming. (I also think this is not true, at least, not for where I’ll be going.)

Singapore doesn’t really have seasons to speak of, and I haven’t been in New England long enough to grow fond of the dry air, eternally chapped lips, static and other assorted nuisances of winter…but the sartorial variety that cooler weather affords can’t be denied. Wear as much as you want! Soft, baggy, form-hiding knits! Interesting textures! Boots! Scarves! Tights! Pea coats! Pea coats! It’s much easier to be well-dressed when you don’t have to worry about overheating and perspiration-drenched shirts that stick to your back and vast expanses of skin. Dressing for summer requires effort. Researching the climate, for instance. The Weather Underground says that for the same period as my trip last year, the mean maximum, average and minimum temperature in Mannheim were 28, 21 and 12°C respectively: warm days, cool nights. Nice, but hard to dress for. Layers work best for this kind of weather, but since I don’t own that many layer-able clothes, I have to make do with being a little colder in the evenings, or bringing a cardigan and a fleece/blazer wherever I go.

Picking bottoms was easy, and jeans are wonderful. But most of my tops are T-shirts: not the fashionable clingy kind that articles about styling T-shirts talk about, but the unisex graphic-print kind that the same articles urge you to throw away. I had to find a few favorites that were muted enough to be suitable for pairing with various items for maximum versatility. Here is what’s in my suitcase so far.

no-style european summer

I haven’t got a scale, but I’d put the current weight of my suitcase at 15-20kg, including all my stuff, and the concert dress and scores I’m leaving behind. Far too heavy for my taste, but it will be easy to throw out two or three pieces, and the oxford heels can go if they must.

I hadn’t realized just how many clothes my style-anxiousness had made me pack until I created this graphic: there are 30 items in it. Thirty! I’m definitely going to have to rethink the bottoms, settle on a pair of shorts; the jean shorts are more comfy, but the dressy ones are…dressier. I actually do use belts for their original purpose, and am bringing two to have two ways of keeping my pants up, plus a skinny orange waist-belt to add a little interest to an otherwise plain blue dress (it’s not as fancy as the one pictured here.) The internet also tells me that scarves in summer are apparently a thing in Europe. I may toss a cheap lightweight crepe scarf into my luggage, just because it weighs next to nothing. Lastly, I packed two pairs of black tights to cover my legs in case I start feeling awkward about not being skinny.

Honestly, I could fit everything for the summer into my trusty hand-me-down carry-on if I wanted. If you haven’t ever done this, you should try it: travelling with just one piece of hand-carried luggage is incredibly liberating – I did it for the first time when I went to Cuba earlier this year and it just feels so great to know that you have all your stuff with you. The worry that your checked luggage will get lost is a subtle weight that you don’t really notice until it’s gone. Alas, since summer 2014 involves meeting up with family, it’s also my only chance to replenish my stock of Singapore food, and we’ll probably be doing some shopping – so I’ll be using my ridiculously huge Samsonite to be able to haul everything back. It gives me trouble on trains, and I don’t have enough to fill it up so my stuff moves around even with the straps fastened…but until I get a mid-size suitcase this will have to do.

Beginnings

From June till August 2014, I will be in Mannheim, Germany, birthplace of such glorious inventions as the bicycle. In this post I outline what I’d like to achieve with this blog.

From June till August 2014, I will be in Mannheim, Germany, birthplace of such glorious inventions as the bicycle. I will be working at the Central Institute of Mental Health, assisting with research on social cognition in borderline personality disorder. I have my own thoughts on mental health and overpathologization, but all the same I’d definitely like to learn more about social cognition and the world of clinical psychology. Plus, I’ll be living in a really different country (the US wasn’t that much of a culture shock) for two months! It’s going to be terrifying and hopefully lots of fun.

Friedrichsplatz Mannheim
Friedrichsplatz Mannheim (Photo credit: Chingon76)

I’m starting this blog to keep track of, and keep myself accountable regarding, a few things:

  • I had/have many feelings about my summer not being anywhere close to the tech industry ideal, or not as cool/lucrative as what many of my friends are doing, or – I’ll stop now, but I know that I am totally mentally exaggerating how bad it is. Summer 2014 is definitely going to be cooler than I think it will be. I want to keep a record of that.
  • The details of navigating Grownup Things like housing and cooking.
  • My attempts at teaching myself German, and then forcing myself to use what little I know in an industrial/university town where almost everyone speaks English.
  • Mannheim! Most people outside Germany haven’t heard of it – I certainly hadn’t – and I’d like to contribute to the content available on the English-speaking internet about Mannheim.
  • Work! I hope it will be interesting, that my colleagues will be nice, and that I will be able to make a contribution given how little I know about psychology (read: almost nothing)
  • Continuing my aikido training over the summer under a different teacher/style, as a beginner with only a few months of experience.
  • Experiencing part of Europe for the first time, as a Singaporean with close ties to China living in the US for college. I think there will be lots of interesting little cultural details to write about.

That’s not all. Before leaving, I’m also going to have a few weeks of downtime to relax, prepare for my trip, and also:

  • Refresh my knowledge and skill in graphic design.
  • Make a new personal website (if all goes well, this blog will be migrated to that site)
  • Create (or start on, at least) a new artwork that I’d be proud to show others – for the first time in ages
  • Work on one small user experience design project and document the results
  • Make a simple web app?

It’s a lot to accomplish in three weeks, so this blog will be even more important in keeping me motivated. If I can’t finish these in the three weeks, that’s all right, but I want to have these done by the time I’m back in school.

I hope that this project will help me get back into blogging again. I have a regular blog and experience on several others, but despite several attempts I’ve always felt a little strange about making it part of my public identity again – it was started 7 years ago and abandoned for five of those years, and picking it up again would be like trying to add to a piece of old clay that has already dried out. I am very apprehensive about posting in my existing blogs because of a mixture of perfectionism and fear and personal stuff – but hopefully I can try to push those feelings to the back of my mind with this fresh start.

A final side purpose of this blog is to work on the wordiness problem that has plagued my writing for many years. I’m aiming to keep every post here under 1000 words, and to get comfortable with the fact that writing doesn’t have to be over 500 words long to be worth something.

picture of people cheering

I made a post! I made a post after almost a year of not blogging! It’s only 600ish words long!

(P.S. It would be really helpful, motivation-wise, to know that friends are reading this. There is a comment form below! And if you hit Follow on the sidebar, you can get updates in your email or WordPress.com reader.)