Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thursday roundup

Turkey's PM is apparently reaping the justice system that he sowed.

I wish that blatant victim-blaming were shocking but it's sadly business as usual. That doesn't make it any less f*ed up, especially in this egregiously f*ed up case.

A baby had a tumor with teeth removed from his brain.

Gail Collins explains why Arizona was extraordinary but there's more detail here. And I call on marrying straight couples to request penis cakes made there.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Not-so-quick ramble: "uncultured bitches"

"Uncultured bitches!" was how Jay described the friends with whom he watched the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics. I didn't see the ceremonies, so I can't speak specifically to those, but that description has emerged as a refrain for me as I've come across Russia coverage over the last few weeks especially.  I recently called out a Washington Post writer's coverage of Russian food  (along the lines of, ew, none of these foods look like breakfast), but I'll do it again here: look, sparky, there's no such thing as a universal concept of breakfast. What you think of as breakfast may well be confounding to other countries (see Exhibit A). If you can't handle the concept of breakfast being different in other places, don't leave the country. I'm not saying you can't notice or describe what's different; I'm saying, try not to be a dipshit about it. See how Julia Ioffe wrote about Russian food.  

It's not just food; there's a right way and a wrong way to write about other countries--even about the things that are very different in other countries. The right way is to approach cultural diffences with open-mindedness, fascination, and curiosity; the wrong way is to approach them with condescension and bewilderment that anyone would do things differently.

And a very common theme for American condescension toward Russian culture is... beauty. Remember that recent Times article about Gorky Park?
Asked why they were taking pictures, the two young women hesitated as if the question were so dumb it might be a trick.
“We are pretty,” Ms. Ignatova said.
Isn't that... refreshing? Considering the hang-ups that plague American women around admitting the same? It came up again week or so ago, on the topic of the lingerie modeling: Russian women just don't see what all the fuss is about. I've written about beauty (as a sociocultural phenomenon) a lot, and there are multiple links embedded in the above links.

I guess I wouldn't take issue with Americans' horror at the exploitation of those poor, lingeried athletes if our own relationship with beauty (and nudity) weren't so f*ed up. But as it were, I do see the Russian version as an improvement: there, women are allowed to own their beauty. It's not something they have to be ashamed of until it's officially bestowed upon them externally. It's like, "I look good, so either join me in revelling in my beauty or eat it, bitch," rather than, "oh, really? you think I may not be hideous? you're so kind to say that." And then, there's the pervasive "idea" that women can't be attractive and smart and competent (and the associated idea that a woman who dares to be attractive is looking for attention). In one of those inner-linked posts, I talked about the backlash against Kate Upton, who somehow thought she'd get to maintain her humanity even as she worked as a model.

There are lots of things about Russian culture I don't care to defend--and I'm not even talking about foreign and domestic policy, which is a distinct thing; even just culture. But I will defend the culture, as a whole, against uncultured bitches.

Wednesday roundup and quick ramble

Ukraine hasn't stopped functioning, but keeping it together is going to be complicated.

So you don't care about pigs; fair enough. Do you care about water?

More science about how men needn't be smug about aging, with regard to parenting.

Jezebel's guide to writing about females (summary: it's not rocket science (but if it's about rocket science, focus on the rocket science, not on the shoes)).

I'd blogged earlier about expensive, status-seeking behavior; it turns out that David Ramsey sums it up: "We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

Among the things you don't need for money you don't have: butt implants. Take it from someone with a formidable backside: it's not that hard to make your own.

I was not previously aware that Mark Twain had thoughts (or writings) on this matter.

I've been thinking, lately, about how the internet is just so f*ing vapid. A very original thought, I know... so I should specify that I mean the part of the internet that used to be at least mostly substantive. Exhibit A has been the Huffington Post--never entirely hard-hitting, but once more so than the fluff-and-spin site that it is now. It's just a contentless mass of bull$hit. And then there was the Slate Double XX piece on tights, which rivals the Jezebel series on Foods That Should Not Exist. I'm not asking these sites to be all seriousness, all the time, but is there anything to be gained by engaging in pissing fights about things that don't matter? Some people love tights; some people don;'t get tights; who the f* cares?? Is it even worth addressing? Some people love tofu; other people love Twinkies. That's certainly worth addressing, but not in a culture-war way. This type of coverage is a microcosm of idiotic internet discourse that dumbs us all down and wastes our time. F*ing hell, stop writing about tights, especially with regard to other people's preferences. Who. The. F*. Cares??

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday roundup

I'm telling you guys now, if I ever change careers to be a kleptocrat, the last thing I'm going to buy for the palace is a pirate ship.

As with any such study, take with a massive grain of salt (and keep in mind that surnames signify the lineage of only one parent) but check out this interesting take on social mobility through the generations.

Some very wealthy people help speed along the downfall of their offspring by eschewing vaccines.

Smart, informed people can nonetheless disagree.

Amazing, creative medical miracles.

Here's some more stuff, like banana peels, you can clean with.

Oh, WashPo, maybe next time leave your uncultured rednecks stateside? Do you not know that it's idiotic when "journalists" go abroad and write about how what they see for breakfast, doesn't strike them as breakfast? Also, for the record (since you don't fact-check): kasha is any kind of porridge, not specifically buckwheat; pelmyeni--along those same lines--are any kind of savory dumplings, not, specifically, those with meat in them; and tvorog is basically cottage cheese.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday roundup

Oh, Texas!
I haven't read "Lean In" and I can't speak to whether Rosa Brooks interpreted the right message, but I wanted to link to her column together with this one, which I also only partially agree with. The shared topic is, what really makes someone a foreign policy expert? I don't know that the more you know, the less you talk, but I'd say that there's not a direct correlation: some very vocal people know a lot and other very vocal people are full of $hit. So then--back to Rosa Brooks--do you have to be out there all the time to maintain your go-to-expert status?

There are real issues with Common Core, but I don't think the use of letters in math is one of them.
As I keep telling you guys, these straight-talking columns to women are actually pretty insulting to men.
 Carolyn points out that anyone can have issues, so don't dismiss someone who's coming to terms with her past.

Pictures of (people in) Russia.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Mom thinks my hairline is receding

Mom: are you staring to lose your hair?
A.: no, why?
Mom: your forehead looks really big.
A.: what?
Mom: your forehead is huge. Are you sure your hairline isn't receding?
A.: yup.
Mom: huh.

Friday roundup

The shadiest Ukranian protesters are causing trouble for the rest.

Egypt persecutes journalists.

Solitary confinement serves no one.

It's true: Washington doesn't quite have the philanthropic culture of more affluent, money-status cities, and that's sort of a good thing. But so is David Rubenstein's paradigm-shifting generosity.

Old news--and even old op-ed--but caring about food isn't an evil-elitist thing.

I've gotta ask--and the Hot Pockets made of unsound and diseased animals is the tip of the iceberg these days--why eat meat??

That you can and should be polite without being "chivalrous" is a worthwhile observation; same with not judging people because you don't know what invisible disabilities or other challenges they do have. But hell yes I will judge able-bodied people who don't give up their seats on public transportation. And I won't judge anyone for being obese, but I will absolutely resent you for invading my personal space.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Yawny Thursday evening roundup

Most people  in Phnom Penh aren't sure what to do with buses.

If you need additional motivation to put down the pork...

Beware of "science" journalism that's not.

More than half of the products at Walmart is banned from the shelves of Whole Foods.

Whales (seen) from space!

Virginia is apparently for lovers with ADD.

If you're looking for signs of the apocalypse, ladies from all over the world are  seeking my views on whether to call that guy (spoiler alert: no).

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tuesday roundup

California police outdo Florida police in clueless brutality.

Steven Strogatz's tips for writing about math are pretty applicable to teaching anything new and scary on the surface.

Ugh, that reminds me, I'm still only a few chapters into the delightfully written "Americanah."

We need to get to the point where food makers are catering to vegans the way they are to the gluten-free. And, tee hee, yellowcake was a challenge.

Um, it's amazing that some people think that vacation is a frivolous luxury expense (as opposed to a new car).

So stop telling me—"family values" traditionalists, shitty rom-coms, and Zales commercials—that it is my biological imperative to trap a complete stranger into a lifelong contract based entirely on how many diamonds he's willing to buy me with. Stop telling me that when you're choosing someone to sleep next to every single fucking day until you die, your personalities and goals and aspirations are irrelevant. Stop telling me that my lived experience is "nothing" compared to some numbers cooked up by a repressed bigot with an agenda.
 and yup
I reject all of this stupid, boring, outdated shit. I reject your numbers. I reject the idea that my personality is a negligible variable in the equation of my happiness. I reject the implication that you understand my relationship better than I do. Do not insult my intelligence by telling me that the best way to avoid divorce is to marry a stranger when you're too young to even know yourself. Don't try to bluff me into swallowing your lie that a world with more marriages is objectively a better world. You cannot trick me into believing that divorce is a failure of society and not a grand fucking triumph, and you will not drag me and the rest of society into the past with you.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hippie guide to value-setting

I may or may not be wearing a diamond ring on my (middle) finger. I mean, I'm wearing a ring on my middle finger--that's just the finger it fits best; read into that what you will--and the stone in it may or may not be a real diamond. It's pretty convincing, but there are as many reasons to think it's not a diamond as there are to think it is. My mother gave it to me over the summer, and she'd kept it in the safe deposit box (where she also keeps a bunch of costume jewelry). She'd always kept it alongside my grandmother's (and great-grandmother's) earrings, which are studded with real (albeit smaller) diamonds. Those are the earrings that were returned to my grandmother when her mother passed away in hospice, even as the half-loaf of bread that my grandmother had brought her mother the day before was not returned, because such were the times. I've heard [Nina's dad] yell at my mom, more than once, for taking the great risk of smuggling the jewelry out of the Soviet Union. I'm just not sure--and neither are my parents, at this point--whether the ring, or even the stone, was part of the storied jewelry. Nobody seems to remember where the ring came from (insert your own Hobbit joke); it must have been in the family, because it's not like my mother made a habit of buying anything other than costume jewelry with new-agy stones, but it doesn't look heirloomy (the earrings definitely do).

Monday evening roundup

There may yet be accountability for North Korea's crimes against humanity (that second link is not for the weak-hearted/stomached).  

Montana is not unlike DC in harassing rape victims.

Roger Angell reflects, beautifully, on life in his nineties.

Monday morning roundup

The world has gotten better for more people since I last saw graphics like these, at least in the way of access to food, water, and electricity. The one on language (at the full site) is interesting, too.
A new book on Alzheimer's caregivers.

Marion Cory's column on her self-defined androgyny makes me crazy. She defines vulnerability and manners (saying "please" and "excuse me") as feminine, and strength as masculine, and then goes on about how she chooses strength, and therefore doesn't feel at home in the women's locker room. Mind you, she's not actually transsexual; just nonconforming to her own constructs of gender traits. Does she not realize that she's just confining other, less original (in her view) people to gender stereotypes?

Krugman, writing about Comcast, reminds us that monopoly rarely breeds innovation and service.

Reading about (declining) British pub culture brings back surprisingly strong memories.

I will never look at corkscrews the same way again.

Really, guys? (I'm, not for the first time, reminded of why I'm not on Facebook).

Francine Prose on why she is back to writing bad reviews
It depresses me to see talented writers figuring out they can phone it in, and that no one will know the difference. I’m annoyed by gossip masquerading as biography, by egomaniacal boasting and name-dropping passing as memoir. It irks me to see characters who are compendiums of clich├ęs. I can’t explain precisely why a sentence like “His eyes were as black as night” should feel like an insult, but it does. It’s almost like being lied to.
With that, I'm glad to be advised not to read Mitchell Stephens' new book on atheism, even though the advising column itself is ever so tiresome (I expect no less from Adam Gopnik, who has been guilty of sentences far worse than "his eyes were as black as night." He doesn't do that in this review, but he does drown a few interesting ideas in his pompous, self-indulgent, wordy style.

But let's end on a positive note, or a book that one would want to read: Nancy Ectoff's "Survival of the Prettiest." There was little new information in the excerpts here, but old news is still interesting from a different angle. We've long known--or we've long had reason to know--that no one else (except our mothers, if yours is anything like mine) notices the minor flaws and fluctuations in our appearance that can obsess us. It is interesting that the writer makes a distinction between beauty--the raw, human experience--and "fashion," or the "manufactured stand-ins" for beauty that the "beauty" industry uses to get people to buy things. I'd heard before about Eleanor Roosevelt; this is not in that column but maybe there's more about it in the book--my understanding is that her parents, who were both known as beautiful people, relentlessly mocked her for her perceived lack of beauty--so I wonder how much of her regrets have to do with her upbringing about beauty rather than the thing itself. But it does go to show that no amount of substance--we're talking about the woman who pioneered international human rights law--will displace the very human compulsion for beauty. It reminds me of two other distinguished regretters: Nora Ephron, who suggested she'd have been a different person had she been well-endowed (PDF) and Serge Gainsburg, who apparently said, among other things on the matter fo beauty, that he has too great an appreciation for beauty to not be bothered by his own appearance.

And yes, Russian women just don't see what all the fuss is about.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday afternoon roundup

Yeah, it's not like we couldn't see the limits of Dayton coming.

Hong Kong's indentured servitude problem.

As goes Lviv... ?

Coal--the gift that keeps on giving--keeps on giving.

Missouri tells the haters to f* off.

People incriminate themselves by social media but also sometimes also draw suspicion even when they've done nothing wrong.

FFS, why reproduce if you're going to give your kids names like these?

Bad things happen when we overpoliticize things better addressed through reasonable, intelligent discourse.

Lori Gottlieb should really shut up, says science:
The average marriage today is weaker than the average marriage of yore, in terms of both satisfaction and divorce rate, but the best marriages today are much stronger, in terms of both satisfaction and personal well-being, than the best marriages of yore.
East and West in simple graphics.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Yawny Friday morning roundup

Well, Tetley tea never tasted good, but let's hope better tea (Ahmad, for example) also employs better human rights practices.

Unvaccinated student disease agent exposes thousands to measles

The supermassive black hole in the middle of our galaxy is not unlike the Cookie Monster.

Guys, some asshole at Jezebel thinks antivalentine's days is lame. That's that, then... all parties are off. Actually, I don't know what exactly her problem is because the post was too tiresome to read. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the site, another writer sites wearing fur as a sign of magnificence.

Yes, I know there's a delay, but I actually have to be at work earlier than usual.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snowy Thursday afternoon roundup

Of course I only discipline other people's kids when there's no other adult supervision (even when there is parental presence). A snow day ago I told off a small child for telling me that I'd used a lot of toilet paper (she used the stall after I did, and caught me on my way out after I washed my hands). I told her that, actually, the toilet paper had been accumulating rather than flushing, but that it was none of her business and that what she said wasn't very polite, but that she wasn't my problem. If your kids are in the business of disciplining other people's adults, those adults automatically have the right to discipline those kids right back.

For all we know, Karlie Kloss could be naturally emaciated, but the point remains that the extreme thinness valued in the fashion industry comes at an aesthetic cost as well as a social one.

I didn't love the dress, but that's because FLOTUS was drowning in it, not because I was hoping she'd dress for People of Walmart.

Snowy Thursday morning roundup

Theodore R. Johnson suggests that Black History Month would be more beneficial were it less history-oriented.

LEGO ads didn't used to be detrimental to creativity:
What’s the problem with girl LEGOs? Why is everyone against pink?, ask many parents. I’ll let Rachel Giordano answer that question: “Because gender segmenting toys interferes with a child’s own creative expression. I know that how I played as a girl shaped who I am today. It contributed to me becoming a physician and inspired me to want to help others achieve health and wellness. I co-own two medical centers in Seattle. Doctor kits used to be for all children, but now they are on the boys’ aisle. I simply believe that they should be marketed to all children again, and the same with LEGOs and other toys.”
Side boob is in (and there are plenty of cosmetic surgeons out there, now legally permitted to implant the perfect shape).

The value of diamonds is all in your mind, but there are plenty of marketers out there convincing you to drop tons of money on them.

All I can say is NSFW.

Lotus flower for my first world problem: this is the least work-disruptive snow day we've had so far, but still. I'm going to try to pry open the trunk of my car so I can get the shovel out, then engage in lots of quality shoveling time, and then, probably, work from home.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday evening roundup

Is anyone surprised that a health study sponsored by an entity with a financial stake in the results, turned out to be really wrong?

Yeah, I guess, but is there ever a "humane" way to raise chickens for slaughter? I wish meat eaters would stop kidding themselves. I mean, keep eating meat if that's your thing, but stop trying to convince yourself or anyone else that it's humane.

Parents: keep being self-righteous if that's your thing, but don't be shocked when people tell you to STFU.

The Toast's take on online discourse regarding ladyscaping is priceless.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tuesday roundup

F* it: you don't undertake military humanitarian intervention lightly, but it really does look like the time has come for use of force in Syria. Oh, there's also a massive food security crisis, among other things, in Central African Republic.

Of course addiction mangles families. And the tragic case in the article started, unsurprisingly, with a prescription painkiller.

Two new books about the real cost of cheap meat:
In other words, we’re all subsidizing a churning rotation of bankruptcies that keeps companies like Tyson supplied with the newest infrastructure and a desperate labor force.
American meat eaters live, for the most part, in happy ignorance of the system that grows animals for slaughter. When that ignorance is interrupted with a bit of information about the meat industry, we typically respond with outrage.
At the same time, because urban meat eaters live far from the farms, we see nothing in a piece of meat but the price, and we reward those businesses who can provide it most cheaply. This has led to true outrages: environmental degradation, Tyson-style exploitation, and the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These, Ogle points out, are the tradeoffs we’ve chosen as eaters who overwhelmingly opt for the cheapest meat.
In other words, when our ignorance is interrupted by outrage, sometimes it’s justified, sometimes it’s not — but either way, it’s our own damn fault.
Manure spills, dead hogs, and bacteria-tainted meat highlighted Americans’ contradictory relationships with their food and their values: They wanted cheap, low-fat meat, and they wanted it from a drive-up window, but satisfying those desires carried costs in the form of environmental damage and real threats to health.
Ogle has a point here: We shouldn’t complain about the hidden costs of industrial meat if we’re not prepared to cover those costs at the butcher counter.
As for cheap wine, how can one tell? What are the indicators besides price?
If you take nothing else away from anything I've ever posted, heed these words from Carolyn: "the inability to say no leaves you vulnerable to controlling people."

Alexandra Petri makes some reasonable points about Woody Allen but girlfriend really needs to learn to self-edit.

I disagree with Gary Taubes on many things, but his piece on why nutrition is confusing, is spot-on.

Allow extra time for any kind of transaction when you share a name with someone on a watchlist.

I know some people say "strong is the new skinny" is just another shade of patriarchy, and that's largely true, but strong has its own advantages, and also tells the patriarchy to f* off:
There is something profoundly upsetting about a proud, confident, unrepentantly muscular woman. She risks being seen by her viewers as dangerous, alluring, odd, beautiful or, at worst, a sort of raree show. She is, in fact, a smorgasbord of mixed messages. This inability to come to grips with a strong, heavily muscled woman accounts for much of the confusion and downright hostility that often greets her.” ~ David L. Chapman

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday evening ramble Part II

I'm not going to rehash my recent or less recent bouts of militant boundary enforcement; they're well documented on this blog. But I do want to say that boundaries are not the only concept that drive my impulse to tell people to f* off; credibility is another.

Let me back up to say, I very much believe in checking oneself when someone makes you bristle. When another person's behavior makes you indignant, defensive, or threatened, the first thing to do is get away from that person as needed. Once you're in a safe space (emotionally as well as physically), ask yourself, "what does my reaction say about me?" Understand why what the other person's behavior was as threatening (or merely inappropriate) as it was.

Another angle: when you're tempted to demonize or dismiss someone, ask yourself whether that's fair. (Sometimes it is.) But there's the idea--was it Mark Twain--who said that he'd never met someone so dumb that he couldn't learn from him? (No; it was apparently Galileo, but I was close.)

But let's start with the cases where your gut reaction is entirely reasonable, i.e., where the behavior in and of itself is threatening and inappropriate; in the case of the two boundary-crashers I alluded to above, the very acts of--say, giving me advice--were offensive because of what they represented, i.e., random dudes giving me unsolicited advice because they had positioned themselves as father/brother figure in my life, even though I'd never invited them into my life in that capacity. That's a boundary issue.

Furthermore, their advice was often misguided, insulting, and potentially dangerous (remember when RM argued that I needn't practice changing my bicycle tube, because I could just call him or 911 if I needed to? and I missed the opportunity to say, "do you give that kind of idiotic advice to your daughter?" And remember when BE suggested I stay out of homeless shelters? I did, in that case, react with disgust on the spot). That's a credibility issue.

You can't give someone meaningful advice without credibility, even when you're in an appropriate position. Nothing you say counts for anything when you have no credibility. BE could, would never understand that because everything was so personal to him: I like this person, so I'm going to hire her; I don't like this person, so he's not talented; you're my friend, so you're going to appreciate what I have to say about this issue I don't understand at all.

The credibility issue comes up a lot when people give me (unsolicited) advice about how to deal with my family. I was going to tie this into a recent conversation with a family friend, who suggested that maybe dad was having cognitive issues as well because he wasn't good about cleaning when mom broke a rib, because how could he not understand that dust is unhealthy. Now, I have expressed plenty of frustration--most of it to dad, directly--about his really annoying, stubborn habits (the dust was an issue; not knowing what to refrigerate is another; leaving the fridge door open because it's fine is yet another). And yes, it's one thing that he doesn't have a natural appreciation for these things because he grew up somewhere where you could just leave stuff out and it would be fine, but I've talked to him about all this stuff over and over and he just won't listen. Instead, he'll stubbornly restate his position (without citing any explanation behind it). It's infuriating, but it's not a sign of cognitive decline.

But why was I so frustrated when the friend brought this up? Was it because she had no credibility to bring it up, not knowing my dad that well, even though she had the position, as a close friend? Or was it because the thought of dad not being all there was scary to think about? I had to at least entertain that possibility, and I did. And I concluded that, no, I didn't bristle out of fear--out of the friend having hit a nerve. I bristled because she was completely off-base, and I didn't appreciate getting insights from someone who didn't have the requisite credibility for them to be of any use.

Monday evening ramble Part I

First of all: f*, I hate the groundhog, and f* I hate the cold (apologies to the Cowboy Junkies). Now that we've got that out of the way...

So, my dad is adorable. I told you guys about how he's really excited about talking to me about electricity, and I'm doing my best to keep up (rather than letting him know that he'd just as soon have the same conversations with the squirrel on the other side of the window). So I sent him this article about how Australia is teaching electricity all wrong (synopsis: batteries: bad, electromagnetic fields: good), and he was super-excited about it and whole-heartedly agreed.

But he has another source of educational fun, now that I have an iPad: correcting my horrendous Russian spelling. Here's how it works: I send him a picture of Gracie, with an inevitably mispelled subject-heading in Russia. He responds by correcting the spelling in transliterated (romanized) Russian. I respond by transliterating the transliteration back into cyrillic. Maybe I add something (for example, about electricity), also in Russian, because I'm just not a fan of transliteration when I have a cyrillic keyboard right there in front of me. And then dad writes back to correct the spelling of whatever I've written about electricity. You may be tempted to read sarcasim into this, but it really is fun for the whole family.

Monday roundup

Did you know that up to know, there was very little accountability for violence against women on Native American lands?

The French have actually been quite active militarily.

Old, preventable diseases are back, thanks to anti-vaxxers.
Lots of interesting ideas here about heteronormative feminism, patriarchy, and concepts of beauty.

I can't speak for my fellow "macrobiotic marxists," but my macrobiotic marxism paradoxically starts with cutting subsidies.

Gary Younge nails it:
The last thing we need is diversity being defined by Coca-Cola – a multinational corporation that has been accused of human rights, labour and environmental abuses on several continents (allegations the company denies).

Interesting distinction between narcissism and solipsism

Self-forgiveness is good for your relationship

The history of stars.

I actually saw pre-printed, varied "you parked badly" stickers at Crate & Barrel, but none matched this:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday roundup

Dangerous, violent far-right parties are seeing a resurgence throughout parts of Europe.

Totalitarianism is seeing a resurgence in Egypt.

The late Anne Heyman did some amazing things, with lasting impact.

Tom Philpott on the alarming rate of erosion and soil degradation in Iowa.

Heroin is one thing, but addictive prescription painkillers are another, much bigger thing.

With addiction, as with anything else, acknowledging autonomy and power isn't the same as assigning blame.
The "Alexandria shooter" is making Alexandria paranoid.

I skipped the original Times article because Lori Gottlieb is insufferable and misguided, but you can read Jezebel's takedown. Speaking of misguided, read Kathleen Parker (the Post's answer to David Brooks); she adds a small disclaimer to claim that she's not comparing reproductive rights to violence against religious minorities, but I don't think she means it.

It's no longer a man's world in the dating world (so some guys ought to up their game), and it's less and less of a man's world in the workplace (so some guys ought to clean up their act).

We don't take advice because that's not how advice works.

Need a place to sit? Find yourself a capybara.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Saturday roundup

If you want to depoliticize the Nobel Peace Prize and make it mean something, roll your eyes at Snowden and look over at what Dr. Hamlin is doing.

McFaul packs up... yeah, it's too bad, but it was also a no-win situation. So is this absurd kerfuffle.

Russians don't f* around when it comes to irony (or wooden phalluses). Then again, Ukraine goes, among other things, all Zoolander: unidentified men in track suits started beating pro-Europe demonstrator.

James Mollison's snapshot of the world, by way of where children sleep.

Let's talk about... civil, constructive internet discourse! But first, may I humbly suggest to the Times that it's time for David Brooks to retire, because what the f* is this? I didn't always agree with him in the past, but he was at least coherent and insightful; that last column resembled the musings of naive eighth grader. In terms of content, the column fundamentally confounded two basic concepts: manners (which you honor out of consideration for others) and appearances (which you keep up because you care what other people think of you). Two very different motivations, albeit sometimes people who don't give a s&it about anyone else will be polite out of social order, but Mr. Brooks is waxing (pseudo-)philosophical about how one should be.

But let's talk about internet discourse, harassment, and shutting people up. Perhaps you've continued to follow the conversation about the toxicity of the conversation about feminism, with some of the comments being along the lines of, "I'm not going to shut up because what I have to say makes you uncomfortable." I can't speak for every other white feminist on the internet about that or anything else, but I don't recall--by virtue of agreeing with The Nation article or anything else--ever suggesting that anyone shut up, much less to make me comfortable. I'm only expressing a preference that people frame what they have to say in a constructive way that foments dialog rather than division.

And I'm a big believer in depesonalizing these conversations. Take this really low personal attack on Amy Wallace. I don't know anything about Amy Wallace and I don't have a dog in the apparently toxic autism conversation, but I can't help but take AW's side based on the article. First of all--and I've addressed this in more depth on these pages--"other people have bigger problems" is not a valid point in response to anything other than "no one else has bigger problems." It doesn't challenge the validity of what the other person is saying. (See also Richard Dawkins telling first-world women to shut up about sexual harassment because women in certain countries have it a lot worse). So, on the topic of shutting people up--which, again, I don't encourage for whatever reason--"others have it worse" is a juvenile, amateurish way to do it.

And, in the way of another conversation we've had before about internet discourse--accepting (genuine) apologies and moving on--Erin Gloria Ryan's comment says it very well with regard to Stephen King's clarification:
What's the point in anyone even attempting to understand why they were wrong and move on if we're going to punitively insist on people who mess up "living with the consequences"? Christ. People fuck up. It would be better if they hadn't, but apologizing is better than not apologizing. 
My sentiments exactly. And it speaks to the bigger issue: is your goal to demonize the person, or to open people's minds? Even when it's someone easy to demonize, like Mr. "distressed babies," although apparently his 401(k) tactics are not unique.

Moving on to more noble thoughts, I love Eleanor Catton's meditation on art and consumerism:
At its best, literature is pure encounter: it resists consumption because it cannot be used up and it cannot expire. The bonds that are formed between readers and writers, between readers and characters, and between readers and ideas, are meaningful in a way that the bonds formed between consumers and products can never be. Literature demands curiosity, empathy, wonder, imagination, trust, the suspension of cynicism, and the eradication of prejudice; in return, it affords the reader curiosity, empathy, wonder, imagination, trust, the suspension of cynicism, and the eradication of prejudice.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wednesday evening ramble: to thine own self be true

I read "Reviving Ophelia" back in college, but the irony of the inspiration behind the title and one of the most famous quotes of the namesake play only hit me a few days ago. Mary Pipher titled her book about the crisis facing adolescent girls after the ultimate crisised girl: she who, having no north star of her own, lost herself in the struggle of trying to choose between her father and her paramour. Not to put too fine a point on it: Ophelia might have overcome her teen angst had she had a stronger sense of self, had she had an internal driving force to help her navigate the mutually exclusive demands of the people in her life. How extra tragic, then, that it was to his son and not to his daughter did Ophelia's father say,
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man. 
Just sayin'.

There's another, less famous but wonderful written work-- J. Nozipo Maraire's "Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter"--in which the mother shares with her daughter a fable with the opposite message: never go against what you know is right, to accommodate someone else, for you'll lose the thing, and the someone else is never worth it. (In case you're keeping track, I read that within a year of graduating from college).

And last weekend, I read "A Bad Case of the Stripes" by David Shannon. Yes, I know it's a children's book; I read it to a small child. But it's an important children's book with an ever-important message: you only lose yourself by trying to conform to what everyone else wants of you. (Michelle Singletary points out that you'll not only lose yourself, but go broke in the process). I keep all that in mind, on a personal level, when my mother or anyone else tells me that veganism is man-repellent; I have not found that to be the case, but even if it were, what kind of person would I be if I went against my ethical beliefs to attract someone? I wouldn't want to date that person, and I wouldn't date the person who would want to date that person. But this post isn't about me; it's about how detrimental the barrage of "you're never good enough" messaging is to women. Jean Kilbourne lays it out here:

And I wonder whether Karen Salmansohn makes a similar point here by way of another famous heroine, Scheherezade--and whether we can leave aside that there's an implication that you still have to please a dude to survive, albeit by appealing to the dude's higher sensibilities--because in that given situation, that was sort of the case.
Scheherazade loved to read books and had lots of fascinating ideas and interests to share. Wisely educated in morality and kindness, she had a passion for poetry, philosophy, sciences and arts. She kept the king on the edge of his bed—not with mere alluring sexual positions—but with alluring stories to be told, each more exciting than the next.
Because it's Laurie Penny who really brings the argument home, and I have to add a disclaimer to her brilliant words, too: I keep my hair long because it suits me and is less bother; my natural hair is thick and unmanageable, and becomes only more manageable with length. So it's not about the situation or the look; it's about the message, which remains, "to thine own self, be true," but before I get to the excerpt on that, let me get to the excerpt on how it--the posturing--is BS:

The point is to look like the performance of femininity matters enough to you that you’re prepared to work at it. I know a good few women who do all this every day and nonetheless manage to hold down jobs, raise families and write books, and I remain impressed, but I’ve never had that sort of patience. 
Still, none of the women I know with long, pretty hair is anything like the “ideal woman” who’s spoken of in breathless terms on Men’s Rights Activism sites, Pickup Artist forums and in great canonical works of literature written and revered by men, because none of them are fictional. The “ideal woman”,  who wakes up looking like an underwear model, who is satisfied with her role as housewife and helpmeet but remains passionate enough to hold a man’s interest, who looks “bangable” but never actually bangs, because that would make her a slut, is almost entirely fictional. She exists mainly as a standard against which every real women can be held and found wanting. She exists to justify some men’s incoherent rage at being denied the ideal woman they were promised as a reward for being the hero of their own story... seems to get at the crux of the problem that non-fictional women seem to present for a certain kind of man: we just aren't paying enough attention to their boners.
Tuthmosis is right, for all the wrong reasons. Wearing your hair short, or making any other personal life choice that works against the imperative to be as conventionally attractive and appealing to patriarchy as possible, is a political statement. And the threat that if we don’t behave, if we don’t play the game, we will end up alone and unloved is still a strategy of control.

The idea that women might not place pleasing men at the centre of our politics, consciously or unconsciously, makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Sometimes it makes them angry. I am regularly asked whether I think that feminism ought to be “rebranded” in order to threaten men less, because anything a woman does, even attempt to chip away at a massive, slow-gringing superstructure of sexism, must appeal to men first, or it is meaningless. 
If making your life mean more than pleasing men is “deranged”, it's not just short-haired girls who are crazy.
An infinite number of trolls with an infinite number of typewriters will occasionally produce truths, and on this point, yes, Tuthmosis is right. Chopping your hair off is “a political statement”. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made bigger ones in my life. But choosing to behave consciously as if the sexual attention and comfort of men is not my top priority has made more of a difference to how my life has turned out than I ever imagined. And that sort of choice still worries a great many women and girls, who learn from an early age to fear what Roosh V, well-known pick-up-artist and Tuthmosis’ editor, warns all “sick women” seeking to “punish” men by cutting their hair: “being lonely and having to settle for a brood of cats is not a good life for a woman, but that’s what will happen if you keep your hair short.”
Which brings us back to the benefits of being oneself, of having one's own north star, and of drowing out the message that we'll never adhere to the BS ideal:
Neo-misogynists tend not to want to sleep with me, date me or wife me up however I wear my hair, because after five minutes of conversation it tends to transpire that I’m precisely the sort of mouthy, ambitious, slutty feminist banshee who haunts their nightmares, but if I keep my hair short we tend to waste less of each other’s time. If you've a ladyboner for sexist schmuckweasels, short hair isn't going to help, although they might let you administer a disappointing hand-job. 
But if you want to meet men as equals, if you want to fill your life with amazing men and boys as lovers, as life-partners, as friends and colleagues who treat women and girls as human beings rather than a walking assemblage of “signs of fertility” – believe me, they are out there – then I wouldn’t start by changing your hair. I’d start by changing your politics, and surrounding yourself with people who want to change theirs, too.

Wednesday roundup

Friedman delineates the strategy of the third, unofficial intifadah: Lessen doubts about strategic security, raise doubts about moral security.

A Times Magazine piece on Turkey.

Sigh. I want to agree with the Civil Eats critique of the Slate piece on pesticides, but the critique overlooks the message of the original, which is that there are lots of reasons to eat organic, but you needn't sweat conventional produce nonetheless.

Jezebel writer is horrified about kids being exposed to truth and reality, but not by horrific reality. And this is the awesomest comment ever. For more interesting comments on an entirely different topic--what is a healthy weight and does Jezebel have double standards for under- vs. overweight--see this. Seriously: why is a few pounds "underweight" unhealthier than 150 pounds overweight?

Blah, blah, blah I still hate physics.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tuesday roundup

An earlier (but still worthwhile) and a more recent article on the franchising of Al Qaida.

The Ukrainian leadership's troubles are very much self-inflicted.

The NATO security proposal.

Europe's economy loses much to corruption.
Factory farms are cruel as hell.

Mistakes get made but I save my outrage about government for deliberate, abject mistreatment of human beings.

You're setting yourself up for frustration if you're expecting another person to react exactly according to your plan.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday roundup

Can so much of China's cultural heritage that has been concentrated in villages, survive urbanization? 

Two things about the Times profile of the tiger couple, specifically the male tiger, who (1) made an excellent point: (1) children in more permissive families aren't necessarily happier, and that there's a middle ground to be had between the extreme of making your kids so achievement-oriented that they're pulling out their arm-hair and that of raising slackers. And (2), "published a paper questioning the standard definition of rape as “unconsented-to sex,” suggesting the better analogy was slavery or torture." This is an especially valuable insight in light of Dylan Farrow's open letter, and the debate has been had over Roman Polanski, with the survivor herself making the opposite case--that it's possibly to separate the artist from the crime. And that may be true, but that's different from ignoring or denying or diminishing the crime. Hell, I recently, accidentally did something similar--in that I forgot/blanked on Mike Tyson's history as I praised some words of wisdom in his recent book. Mitigating factors there--he did jail time, and I'm not endorsing him or suggesting that his crime didn't matter; I'm merely agreeing with what he was saying about being a better person. and I haven't read his book, but those words would be more meaningful if he publicly atoned for his crime. I guess the issue is, given the victim-blaming in that case, do he and his book, which is about rehabilitation, atone or try to dismiss?

Since we've been talking about how to talk about race, the brilliant Henry David Hwang has some insights:
“It is not an easy issue,” he added. “Race, in our country, is not an easy issue. So whenever you deal with it, I think you have to deal with it honestly and openly and frankly, and also very intelligently.”
Hwang hopes that by writing a comic play in which “my character looked like an idiot,” he’s created a safe, humorous space to spark conversation about race, in casting and beyond.
“To make people laugh about race, I feel, is a pretty good achievement, because we’re often so uncomfortable and so tight around the subject,” he said. “So if we can laugh, that can be the beginning of a discussion.”
On a lighter note: it's hard being a pedestrian. I just had to flip off a driver yesterday for not yielding as I was crossing, in a crosswalk, with a walk sign. Which is, incidentally, what I was doing years ago when I was hit by a car.

Brazilians love giving their kids preposterous names.

I love that this tech enterpreneur talks about shifting to plant protein as the one thing we can do in our lifetimes to positively impact climate change, except let's just call it food. Focusing on protein is part of the problem.

There is more science here than I can handle, and even more here, although I am curious about the physics of curly hair.

Et tu, groundhog? It's been so toasty over the last few days, I could go for a swim.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Saturday roundup

If you're not loving what's going on in Egypt, I guess there's the Yemen model?

Lake Urnia has very sadly dried up.

Friedman explains the global economy by way of Turkey.

No, I don't think it should ever be illegal to raise a question, no matter how offensive, but I can tell you--coming from a family of Blockade survivors--that it's a really f*ing offensive question.

North Dakota is flaring--wait for it--a third of its natural gas.

Also needlessly wasteful: chicken wings.
Even those who are OK with eating some meat might want to pay attention to just how many dead animals Sunday’s wing binge requires: about 312.5 million dead chickens, if the NCC’s figures are correct.
Bad "facts" generally lead to bad policy, and the Superbowl human trafficking myth is no exception.

While we're clearing up misconceptions perpetuated by media cluelessness: Prof. Strassler on black holes.

I was about to go into fight mode but she's right: you don't need to worry about pesticides in your food for health reasons. You should, nonetheless, be mindful of pesticides in your food out of concern for the health of (1) the planet and (2) the people who grow and pick your food.

You probably also don't have to worry about parabens in your health and beauty products, but it would be nice if there were less of them.

The Times says ladyscaping is no longer cool, so make sure you adjust your lifestyle accordingly.

I don't disagree with this nuanced argument about Twitter being an equalizer and Jezebel being bestowed with some semblance of status as an institution, thus maybe having more responsibility for message than it would as an indie outlet. That piece also links to the haters, some of whom, predictably, seemed to have missed the point. And part of the point is that words do matter (and trolls are rampant) but we lose something by pouncing on every possible offense rather than finding common ground. And we especially need common ground when by the very definition of intersectionality, no one has a monopoly on being marginalized, and there's a lot at stake. Again, I'm not arguing for silencing anyone or drowning out anyone's voices; I'm merely making the case for more constructive dialogue.

Also not cool: pouncing on women for their appearance. I know it can be tempting--I've done it, too, because I couldn't help myself. 

See a Superbowl ad that's part of the problem? Let everyone know that you're #notbuyingit.

I don't need to add my two cents to the response to the "I saw a black woman at yoga" post but I will (1) link to this hilarious parody and (2) comment on the (non-racial) aspects of this response:
Yoga is/should be non-competitive; in any group exercise class, participants look at others for guidance (especially if you don't have a clear line of sight to the instructor), and the class should be challenging--if it's too easy, you're not getting enough out of it. As for skinny white girls like the one who wrote the original article--my friends and I were recently talking about this, and one friend recently described a group of them as a "gaggle"--we are so over twentysomethings. Grow the f* up.

We've been talking a lot about how marriage is not exactly a prize for women, in spite of society's best efforts to keep the myth alive because if women catch on and only start marrying for the right reasons (i.e., meeting someone compatible that they love), more and more dudes would have to fend for themselves and society may just collapse. Anyway, it's men who let themselves go after marriage.

Two thoughts, based on thoughts from Jennifer Ouellette's new book: shy is not the same as introverted and we are our stuff, but not in obvious ways, so be careful about your assumptions.

You can skip That Awkward Moment, says everyone and her grandmother.