Monthly Archives: February 2020

An Evening with Marcia Chatelain, Author of Franchise

Debbie says:

photo of Marcia Chatelain

Earlier this week, a friend and I went to hear Dr. Marcia Chatelain live at the JCCSF in San Francisco. Dr. Chatelain was there to talk about her new book … but that’s not why I wanted to hear her. I’m a regular listener to Undisclosed, a podcast about wrongful convictions. About two years ago, they did a very deep dive into the story of Freddie Gray, a young Black man who died in police custody in Baltimore in 2015.  I admired everything about this series, and came away wanting to know more about just about all of the people who created it: and Dr. Chatelain provided the historian’s perspective, offering much-needed context.

So when I saw she was speaking in San Francisco, I was delighted. But I didn’t think I was going to be especially interested in her topic, which was described loosely as something like “fast food in the Black community.”

When we got there, we saw the book–Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black Americawhich already sounded more interesting. When Dr. Chatelain took the stage, accompanied by her friend and interviewer Dr. Brandi Thompson Summers, we soon learned that she specifically didn’t frame the book around fast food, but around the history of McDonald’s in the Black communities. I haven’t yet read the book, but here’s some of what I took away. Most of the rest of this is me paraphrasing some high points from the evening:

As Naomi Klein examines in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, large corporations are extremely adept at making money out of social chaos. In the wake of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, McDonald’s found its way into Black communities across America, offering franchise-owner opportunities to community members. While this was certainly a way out of poverty for some, Dr. Chatelain sees it also as a push away from beloved community, and toward individual entrepreneurship. One way you can tell that it worked is that McDonald’s franchise owners make up the single biggest group of Black millionaires in the United States.

Franchising is neither easy nor inexpensive. Franchise owners are responsible for most if not all of the costs of the franchise, plus fees to McDonald’s over and above the cost of the franchise itself. One audience member asked why these people didn’t quit and start their own franchising companies: because without the corporate name behind them, they can’t get the loans they need, or break the megacorp’s market share. As Dr. Chatelain said several times, McDonald’s is a real estate company–burgers and fries are a secondary income source. (Apparently, they are also the largest toy distributor in the world, because of Happy Meal prizes.)  And — no surprise here — somehow when the Black franchise owners wanted to add stores in White neighborhoods, somehow none were available, or affordable, or whatever the excuse was.

It’s the same old story: in an attempt to milk everything it could out of the Black community, McDonald’s positioned itself as a friend to that community: a job creator, an opportunity-builder, with well-tuned advertising and some sensitivity to the “market segment,” if none to the beloved community.

In the 21st century, business is rougher and times are hard for franchisees, who have higher costs and fewer options. Dr. Chatelain was a powerful voice first for the ability of people (especially Black people) to take creative paths through hardship, and second for a return to valuing community, family, activism, and resilience at least as highly as monetary reward for a few: not transmuting civil rights into “silver rights.”

The interview will air sometime in the future on Binah at radio station KALW in San Francisco, Thursdays at noon. Watch for it. Follow me on Twitter.

Human Body Temperature Varies: Historically, by Age, and Individually

a thermometer for measuring body temperature

Debbie says:

“Normal” is a word that always makes me skeptical: “not normal” so often means “within the range of human variation” or “not like people I know” or “not like adult white men.” I’ve known for a long time that different individuals have different “normal” body temperatures, and there’s nothing magic about 98.6 (or 37 if you use the much more comprehensible Celsius scale).

I didn’t know that the 98.6 number is from the 1850s, and is based on a study of 25,000 people in Leipzig, Germany.

Brian Resnick, writing at Vox last month, reviewed new findings which say that 98.6 is no longer “normal.” Instead,

In a new paper in the journal eLife, from a group of scientists at Stanford University, researchers analyzed three different databases of human body temperature readings, starting with a cohort of Civil War veterans, then to temperatures taken in the 1970s, and ending with data collected between 2007 and 2017.

Overall, the researchers found that men born in the early 1800s had average body temperatures 1.06°F higher than men today. Women born in the 19th century were, on average, 0.57°F warmer than women today.

Data analysis rules out the possibility that it’s just better thermometers. And while there are some theories about what might be causing the change, none have really caught on more than any other.

Resnick uses this study as a jumping-off point to examine variations in body temperature other than the historical:

As it stands, comparing an individual’s body temperature to a single number doesn’t make much sense.

“You can’t say there is a temperature you should be at, because it depends on who you are,” [Stanford researcher Catherine] Ley says.

Women tend to run a little hotter than men, and their body temperature can fluctuate with the menstrual cycle. Age matters too. The older we get, generally, the colder we are.

A 2017 study in BMJ of 35,500 patients found that our average body temperature declines around 0.03°F every decade (maybe due to the loss of fatty tissue under the skin). So it makes sense if Grandpa complains about being cold over time. People with a higher body mass index tend to run hotter than thinner people (as people with a higher body mass are more insulated). Overall, some people may run half a degree hotter or colder than “average” and that’s fine for them.

However, neither Resnick the journalist, nor Ley the researcher, go far enough. Here’s Ley again:

Instead of a set number like 98.6, Ley says it would be better if there were a sliding temperature scale for individuals to figure out what’s normal for their demographic group.

“If I go into the doctor and I’m 30 years old, and I have a BMI of 20, and it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon, there will be a normal for that series of characteristics,” she says. “It would be so nice if we could boil health down to simple rules, but biology is more complex.

Wrong! Leaving aside all of the problems with BMI, that’s still an attempt to define “normal” in a way that makes simple individual variations abnormal. There might be a mean, or a median, for that group, but the only possible “normal” of any value would have to be a range — and that range probably wouldn’t look very different from a general human variation range.

Even though this conversation is taking us further away from “one true number,” the article still doesn’t mention that having a fever (i.e., running hot enough for it to be a problem), or having a troublingly low temperature, is very likely to be coupled with other symptoms: am I shivering? am I sweating?

Based on this article, Ley still wants to rely on numbers provided by instruments, sliding scale or not. She wants to be able to say that if you’re not in the center of your group’s statistics you’re not “normal.” While I am interested in these variations over personal time and historical time, I still want to land on a place where “is this temperature abnormal for you at this time in your life?” is the question the doctor wants to answer.