Sunday, November 29, 2009




Today’s Word Watch is a response to the following suggestions levied (largely) at women regarding the health of their bodies, starting with their breasts:

The USPSTF (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) recommends against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years.

The USPSTF recommends against teaching breast self-examination (BSE).

If this doesn’t shock you, then let me remind you what the word AGAINST means:


- in opposition to; contrary to; adverse or hostile to.

Not only do I find the language of these recommendations bizarre (in addition to what they actually say), I find them combative. I mean we’re not talking about pregnant women smoking or people who have bad hearts riding roller coasters. We’re talking

about women (for the most part) who are trying to keep themselves alive by taking preventative measures against the development of breast cancer. Maybe in the next Word Watch, I’ll examine the words MISOGYNY. MALFEASANCE, and NEGLIGENCE. The recommendations put out by the USPSTF actively petition women to be ADVERSE to or HOSTILE towards those preventative actions that have already saved hundreds of thousands of women the world over, myself included.

This reminds me of that study that was done all those years ago where it was determined that mother’s milk was bad for babies. The very first time I heard that, I thought, “How clever are those guys who make formula, to start this kind of smear campaign against the breast.” Clever, but my God. Is there nothing off limits?



- a list, plan, outline, or the like, of things to be done, matters to be acted or voted upon, etc.: The chairman says we have a lengthy agenda this afternoon.


I’ve been killing myself trying to figure out why in the world any organization would tell women to not take proactive measures that might save them from cancer, and I just can’t figure it out. I imagine we’ll all be seeing the tender shoots of this thing in the weeks or months to come - the stalks that will lead us back to the roots of this campaign. And I charge each and every one of you to keep your critical thinking skills honed as more comes to light on this caustic bunch of hooey. I’m hoping some other, pissed off people begin to do some digging. Maybe then we’ll figure out why women have been advised to avoid even the most simple and (most bizarrely) FREE test of a self-breast exam. Until then, I’m posting below a letter I wrote this week to the National Breast Cancer Coalition. It pains me greatly that this organization has chosen to side with these ludicrous recommendations.

Dear NBCC,

I am shocked and appalled that the NBCC is wiling to side with any measure that would save even one life. Last year, solely because I'd turned 40 (we have no family history, there was no palpable lump), I got my first 'annual mammogram' and found out I didn't just have breast cancer, but in that cancerous growth, there was an aggressive component. Had I waited until I was fifty...well, who knows if I would have have made it that far. Women are scared to death to go in and have mammograms and I suspect this endorsement is going to cause many women who would have been saved by early detection to not make it to their first annual, age-fifty mammogram. What you recommend does matter because some women consider you a good place to go for sage advice on this topic, and because others, quite frankly, will want something with which to push away examinations that might reveal a lump. A tumor. Cancer of whatever sort.

So has the idea that early detection saves lives gone out the window? Or is it just that NOT ENOUGH WOMEN ARE SAVED by the practices of self-exams and mammograms starting a DECADE earlier than the fifty-year mark? I've heard those words, by the way. NOT ENOUGH WOMEN SAVED. Over and over again, from sources that crush me.

I am hurt to the core that your organization has chosen this path. Citing too much pain and confusion to warrant the efforts, too many false positives, too much expense. Too many women who won't benefit from early detection. Too few who will die as a result of waiting an extra ten years, of not doing those self-breast exams.

By siding with these suggestions, you've lost much of the battle you've spent so much time fighting. Have you never heard of 'precedent'? I've heard multiple commentators remarking on your (and others') response to this. I've heard how 'insignificant' a problem this breast cancer issue must be if those who are fighting FOR this cause concede that all those early mammograms, all those self-exams were not necessary; I've heard that this has given huge advantage to insurance companies clamoring for a way to deny mammograms to women who don't have a family history (like 75% of those who will get breast cancer); I've even heard insinuations as to where else this might lead. What other early prevention methodologies are bogus? What other loopholes might there be through which can be thrown other costly early prevention tests? And most of all, I believe that you've just lost your fight to get legislation passed that will help determine WHY so many women in America are getting breast cancer, and why three-quarters of all new cases have no family history. I can tell you what they'll say next time you bring it to congress: Why would we divert funds to find a cause when it doesn't seem like even you folks think it's worth doing self-breast exams or earlier mammograms?

You've opened a door here. I believe you will find that most of your credibility has walked right through it.

Maybe the truth of what you're doing, consciously nor no, would be brought home to you if you were to have to explain to your daughters, your mothers, your sisters, your friends why you'd suggest to them to wait a decade to get a mammogram. When one in eight women in America will be diagnosed with breast cancer, when 75% of new cases have no family history - maybe you will see the truth reflected in their eyes when you tell them, "Remember all that we said yesterday about early detection, well forget all that. It's not such a big deal. Turns out, those measures don't save enough lives." So what if it saves just one life? That life could be your mother, your daughter, your sister, your friend.

Not enough women saved. Unreal. I'm one of those women who was saved. And, in part, it was by you. But by the old version of you - the one that said, start annual mammograms at age forty. Do breast exams at home.

Sometimes issues have to be more about people and less about numbers. But I shouldn't have to tell you that.

Very truly saddened,

Laura Bynum

Sunday, November 15, 2009



I recorded the film Disclosure last night on my Tivo machine and thought a particular word used in the description was a little odd, given the film’s premise. Tivo’s description: “A computer-firm boss seduces her married co-worker...” and so on and so forth. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, you may have to skip the Weird Word this week. But for those of you who are savvy about this film, seduce doesn’t seem like quite the right term. Here’s a line from Wikipedia’s description of Disclosure: “The film invites viewers to critically examine topics such as the ease with which allegations of sexual harassment can destroy one's career and whether a double standard exists when such allegations are levied by men or women.”

Sexual harassment. Now that’s heavy stuff. And what did Tivo’s description refer to it as?...Seduction?

Maybe the Tivo descriptor was written up by somebody who just hadn’t seen the film. Or maybe the writer didn’t believe a man could actually be sexually harassed by a female. Or maybe they just didn’t really give a damn. It’s a Tivo description, something I’m happy to have on hand so as not to fill my Tivo inbox with a lot of junk I don’t care about, so I’m not really griped too much by the gaffe here. But there is such a thing as a cumulative effect. Maybe little missteps like this one aren’t such big deals when they occur sporadically, and probably, without malice. But they’re still good to notice along the way, and certainly if they start popping up en masse. And, really, sexual harassment is a big, important deal and should never be referred to as seduction. Even when we’re talking about Demi Moore.


Function: verb
1 a : to meditate on or ponder a subject; b : to review something idly or casually and often inconclusively
2 : to assume a business risk in hope of gain; to buy or sell in expectation of profiting from market fluctuations
Function: transitive verb
1 : to take to be true on the basis of insufficient evidence : theorize
2 : to be curious or doubtful about : wonder

Function: noun plural but singular in construction
1 a : a report of recent events b : previously unknown information c :
something having a specified influence or effect
2 a : material reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast b : matter that is newsworthy
3: newscast


I believe that most of what we’re consuming as news nowadays is actually Speculative Entertainment, also referred to as opinion-oriented programming. I prefer the term Speculative Entertainment and would like to offer it up as a labeling suggestion. That way, when we’re watching these kinds of news-ish programs, we know it and can go out and get our bona fide news elsewhere.

According to Bill Carter, (CNN Drops to Last Place Among Cable News Networks, Media Decoder), real news is becoming old hat. Strictly the facts has given way to speculation, exaltation, evisceration - whatever get the juices flowing. Here’s what Carter says of the October 2009 viewer polls: “The results demonstrate once more the apparent preference of viewers for opinion-oriented shows from the news networks in prime time.” And, “ ...CNN executives acknowledge, viewers seem to be looking for partisan views more than objective coverage.” Scary when one considers that Speculative Entertainment, or opinion-oriented programming, is not subject to regulation research or truth in reporting. Scarier still when one considers what this says about the American public: we’re becoming hate-aholics. Junkies looking for our next hit of outrage. An Us Versus Them brigade where Them is identified ad hoc and according to the will of whatever media mogul or producer stands to benefit.

I’m pro-voice, so don’t believe Speculative Entertainment needs to be stopped. Hey, everybody’s got to make a living somehow. But we’ve got to become more discriminating about what we put in our heads. We need to recognize hate when we see it and leave it on the plate. We need to develop a taste for the mild-mannered and the polite. For that which hath no agenda, no shouting and no prejudice. For that which leaves no bitter aftertaste.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


fact \ˈfakt\

Function: noun

A thing done.

The quality of being actual; something that has actual existence.

A piece of information presented as having objective reality.

opin·ion \ə-ˈpin-yən\

Function: noun

A view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter: a generally held view.

ob·jec·tive \əb-ˈjek-tiv, äb-\

Function: adjective

Expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.

My name is Laura Bynum. I’m a writer. I have a couple of degrees in Communications, try to listen to the BBC News or NPR at least three times a week. I love Guinness, watching inappropriately scary movies every Sunday morning with my children, and authenticity. I’m getting the definitions I will list at the beginning of each Word Watch primarily from or and will do my damnedest to be objective and keep my personal opinions and political leanings out of things. That’s all you really need to know about me, and not much of it’s pertinent. But now, for what is - the purpose of this weekly blog.

I created Word Watch because we need to get educated about our language diet. Like reading the ingredients list on a package of junk food, we need to know what we’re consuming. How much invective are we getting with each bite? How much news? How many attempts at persuasion are packed into each delicious morsel? Conversely, we need to know what we’re trying to feed others.

Helping to boost awareness is my intention. Raising the flag for the active ingestion of truth. I invite you to follow me as I search out opinions masquerading as facts and words that have been used not because of what they actually mean but because of how they make us feel, need, hate, crave, and the list goes on. There is a brave new world out there, one in which you, the word eater, can have a say in that which you ingest. Below are a few tools that have helped me down this lesser trod path.

Truth. We take in the world in a linear, time-delimited fashion so the question arises: is truth really an instantly observable thing? Something you can consume all at once? One example is how we consume story. With a book, we have to sit down and begin at page one, then go to page two, and so on. We’re not really, one-hundred percent ready to give a full review of that book until we’re at The End. There have been novels I’ve HATED and then on page 474, some mind-altering, revelatory thing happens and it becomes one of my favorites. Same goes for movies.

Then there are perception issues to consider. We might be three dimensional characters, but we see only in two and let our brains make up the difference. For example, here’s a made-up woman named Judy sitting in front of me. I can’t see the back of Judy’s head but I know it’s there because she’s still breathing and has not gone limp. But ask me what the back of Judy’s head looks like and I’m at a loss.

Opinion. A couple of decades ago, I nearly failed an assignment in a journalism class for using too many adjectives. Terrible, leading adjectives like blonde and wavering. I wonder what that professor must think of news as it’s delivered today.

The insertion of opinion into some of our modern news blows my mind. It’s become the rule instead of the exception - something we’ve allowed to happen. Maybe it’s because we got too lazy to demand a more sober and honorable form of journalism. Or maybe it’s because we’d prefer to cherry-pick truth, honing in on whatever keeps us in our comfort zone.

(Though we really shouldn’t need them...) Here are a few questions to consider while consuming news. 1) Are the commentators rolling their eyes? Crying? Screaming? Generally acting enraged? 2) Have they assigned sides, for example, those who are with them and those who are against them? 3) Is what’s being covered really news?

Objective. Right after I had my twin daughters, I decided I needed to know more about what I espoused myself to be. So I read the tomes that defined these descriptors, including The Idiot’s Guide to the American Government and The Bible. Then I went one step further and did research into world religions and political issues. For the first time in my life, I felt able to have an objective discussion about my religious preferences and at least a few political issues. If something smelled of hate or tasted like agenda, I got online and did some research. If I realized I was needing to hear good or bad about some person, place, or thing, I realized I’d fallen off the wagon. Remaining objective, for me, is a constant but important battle.

To sum, complex situations and events can never be fully or rationally described in a ten-second sound bite or a byline but these are the byproducts of living in such a fast-paced, globalized world. Very rarely are we word eaters ever getting the whole enchilada. Opinions are being formed from other opinions. Facts are the products of long observation and voluminous research and, frankly, take a long damned time to get to. So can they ever be communicated effectively or objectively? Probably not. And, even if we decided to put more money into the research components of news organizations, would we take the time to appreciate it? I don’t know. Some day, I like to think so. Until then, what do we do?

I say go ahead and commit to the idea that, yes, Judy does indeed have a back part of her head. But if people start telling you she’s shaved a gang sign into her bob, get up out of your chair and go see for yourself.