Monday, September 30, 2013

Sunday roundup

A more in-depth view from Kenya.

The Sudanese government tries to block its people-hunting from the media.

Romania takes steps toward making peace with its past.

Don't let your kids play with friends who live with guns.

Don't let your kids go to school in Texas.

Pete Earley suggests a "need for treatment" standard for managing mental illness.

A man who didn't save enough for retirement makes the very best out of very tough circumstances.

Gene Weingarten brilliantly calls Ag lobbyists on their Orwellian bull$hit.
Your thoughts are pretty powerful.

Carolyn captures a universe of truth in one sentence: "I don’t care about “normal,” I care about healthy."

Sorry! I thought I published that yesterday. Here's Monday's roundup, too.

Sewing factories here, faced with increased demand, are training immigrants, in part because there aren't a lot of skilled people to go around.

Marcella Hazan would have had you keep it simple (it being your cooking).

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday roundup and protracted rambles

NBC sports reporter shoots an elephant dead and says some nasty things about you if you don't like it.

One of Carolyn's letter writers hasn't learned to stand up to her parents and another is concerned about a granddaughter's eschewing of frilly dresses.

Two movies (and a few articles in Elle and Marie Claire, most of which are not yet available online) have me rambling about expectations and happiness. In someways, it's an extension of yesterday's ramble, which addressed, among other things, the fraught territory of assigning severity ratings to people's problems. I've touched on this issue in my guide to first-world problems, and probably elsewhere on this blog. Part of what I wanted to get across in yesterday's post was that, notwithstanding the gynormous substantive extremes of the problems that upset people--from 'I have so many houses, I can never remember where I left my book' to losing one's entire family to the Indian Ocean tsunami--one has some choice about one's response to events.

The woman in the latter case-- Sonali Deraniyagala--saw a psychiatrist called Mark Epstein, who wrote "The Trauma of Everyday Life." In which, apparently (I haven't read the book myself), he writes of trauma as a continuum; minor events can hit you just as strongly as very significant ones, or at least hit you in similar ways. In other words--and these are my words now--your brain knows that, say, losing your wallet or losing a budding romance is not a tragedy of epic proportions, but your soul may process it that way nonetheless. Just as your stress response to being late for work is biologically identical to your hypothetical stress response to being chased by a lion--handed down to you by your ancestors--your grief response to small losses isn't all that different, biologically, from your grief response to big losses. Big losses hit in other ways: for example, they may be sustained--a person, or an animal, that you'll never get back--and so they come with natural reminders; but on the level of a one-time response, the feeling is similar in nature if not in intensity. With stress and anxiety, it behooves our brains to talk to our souls: "calm the f* down, there is no lion chasing you; if you're late for work, you're late for work." That goes even for people for whom "late for work" spells more serious danger: leverage the stress response only insofar as it gets you to work in time; if it doesn't help, it's just optional stress. Grief is a little different, and Mark Epstein makes the point that we should just let ourselves feel it. And we needn't feel bad about grieving about things that are lesser in proportion (although--and this is just me again--we should be self-aware about sharing our grief with people to whom that sharing may be triggering). Laurie Abraham has every right to grieve the relationship that didn't work out after two days; the fact that she has regular access to clean drinking water, among other things, doesn't alleviate that loss. In fact, the "other people have bigger problems" retort just makes you a bad listener.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thursday roundup and ramble

Look who's happy to not be dinner.

How much do GMOs actually help the farmers who use them?

Quit giving people shit about what they eat or don't eat; it's none of your business. Also, quit calling all thin people anorexic.

Here's another, rarely discussed way in which science fiction (among other things) neglects physics.

If you've been wondering about ancient bear sex, science has delivered.

Sigh. This is going to be a difficult thing to discuss, so please hear me out and appreciate the nuances that I'm going for here (for the most part). First, let me tell you how I came across this: I searched on "Miss Manners" and "ask if pregnant," or some such, because my teammate at work was very upset that another colleague had asked her if she was pregnant (and then proceeded to say that she looked it, judging from her belly fat). I tried to assuage the teammate, told her I never would have thought her pregnant, but more importantly, thought that the asker was a horrible, tactless person. If you're wondering whether it's okay to ask someone if she's pregnant, the answer is almost never. If it's obvious, you don't need to ask; if it's not obvious, you really shouldn't ask. Either way, it's none of your business. I was sure that Miss Manners had an appropriate retort for such an impertinent question, so I searched for one. And came across the afore-linked disappointed response to a Miss Manners' response.

The first thing I'll say is, how was the first commenter helpful? By calling Miss Manners names and neglecting to address anything on substance, what did she accomplish, apart from perhaps further convincing everyone that rudeness accomplishes nothing. The next thing I'll say is, that comment--and the very basis of the thread--is misguided; Miss Manners is an etiquette columnist, not a therapist. She answered the question that was addressed to her, "with the greatest sympathy" for the letter writer. And that answer was, essentially, that there is no etiquette-appropriate way of telling people not to send their good news because it reminds you of your bad--even devastating--news. And that is true.

I also express the greatest sympathy for the letter writer, and I don't think her question was off-base. In fact, I've been in the position of the friends in her situation, and I've wondered about the best approach to similar, though less fraught, situations. For example, I hesitated before sending the invitation to my "anti-mother's day party," knowing that a good five people on the receiving end didn't have living mothers to speak of. One of those people lost her mother quite recently. In the end, I went ahead and titled the party in that way--and it was a joke (the Sunday after my birthday happened to fall on mother's day; my mother wasn't speaking to me at the time; and I have anti-Valentine's Day parties every year, so the name was a play on that theme)--and later, almost incidentally, checked in with each of the people who might have been offended, and none was. I know it's not the same, but the point I would like to make is, that woman probably has friends who are thinking, "should I go ahead and send this to her, too?" And so I do wish that Miss Manners might have addressed that: what would be a good system to communicate the letter-writer's sensitivities to people who are wondering? Another example--and again, I know it's not the same--I remember when an unemployed friend was offended that a mutual friend who had just been offered a job, didn't share the job news with her, even out of sensitivity.

I'm not sure how to say what I want to say while side-stepping a debate over where infertility and miscarriage fit in things that suck but still happen to good people. Definitely worse than unemployment, but also not definitively the most tragic life events out there. We don't need to rate the tragedies that may befall people, but it's hard to go further in this discussion without using other life events (or circumstances) as analogies. I think I would rather side-step the whole thing, which means not using examples. But we do need to establish that there are lots of things in life, some devastating, that people have to deal with. What I am not saying is, "most people in the world don't have access to clean water, so stop whining about everything else." What I'm saying is, there are always going to be things that some people have and others don't, and oftentimes the people who have, take those things for granted, and sometimes those that have piss off those that don't. And 'have' needn't be a material thing; it could be an opportunity (like that of conceiving a child), or the lack of a tragedy or loss or other traumatic event. And to what extent must the haves (of whatever) mind the sensitivities of the have-nots? Even if it's reasonable, is it possible? I'm also, emphatically, not saying go dump out a gallon of spring water in front of someone who hasn't had water of any kind for years. I'm saying, how should those who have, behave? If I've climbed a mountain and want to send some pictures, do I exclude any friends who are in a wheelchair (not that people without limbs can't climb mountains; they can, but not as easily)? Can I kvetch about my mom's antics to friends who no longer have a mom to speak of?

Sensitivity to something as ubiquitous as other people having children is an unsustainable state; eventually, the letter writer is going to want to move on. Not because she should, but because it will serve her more than the other way. I'm in no position to tell her that she should learn to be happy for other people, including those who want what she most wants and can't have, but I can only argue that being happy for those people is a better place to be, for her.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday roundup

Science has long been on the side of girls playing sports (self-esteem, resisting addiction, etc.) but now there's more science and it makes the case for more than one sport.

Cycling was never really just something "white people liked," but black women in DC are making it official.

You can't just redact women.

Reductress on Fashion Week. Also: most ironic Tumblr ever?

Ladies, this guy's quite the catch. Please read the whole thing, or, if nothing else, scroll to the end to read about why he's not interested in women who have had children. It's amazing.

Check out some cool-looking sea creatures.

Really, we needn't be outraged by weightlifting while pregnant; if you must hold on to the outrage, maybe channel it toward people who endanger themselves and their babies by not exercising. But best just mind your own business and let people make their own choices.

I'm not sure which point this writer is making, but I agree that you have to talk about bodies when you talk about fashion, and I agree--with whomever--that that doesn't mean we have to pass judgment on size or shape.

Another post where the comments are as awesome as the content. The first video is pretty cool; the second lost me, but begged the question--especially together with this--why are physicists so obsessed with cats? Seriously: what is it about cats?

Chipotle takes bacon out of its pinto beans, loses nothing.

Nothing wrong with fried food (depending on what it's fried in, anyway).

Everybody wins doesn't translate to everybody winning.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday evening roundup

A local perspective on the massacre in Nairobi.

High-speed rail is revolutionizing China.

Revenge posts are perpetrated by serious douche bags.

Carolyn's beautiful, remarkably reasoned response to very difficult situation.

Wild animals are adapting to cities.

A libertarian makes the case for embracing evidence over ideology.

Wow, Sunday Times!
This is a much better response to the Thought Catalogue privilege cluelessness than the one I linked to yesterday. In fact, it's an excellent discussion of privilege as a concept. On that topic, this--while a very valid discussion of the racist aspects of MC's twerking--is not a pretty offensive and silly discussion of privilege. Let's start with the statement, "Being suitably marriageable privileges white women’s relation to white male wealth and power." Huh? If she made, rather than assumed, a connection between the "normative cultural beauty ideal" and marriageability, I missed it.

On the topic of overreacting or not, I agree that the Vows column in question is annoying in and of itself, but I can't take issue with the blogger's condemnation of the bride or her technique for dealing with a very difficult event in her life, which, from as far as we can tell, was not her fault even if she wasn't the center of the resulting tragedy. It's not about whom to blame, but you can't blame someone driving down a highway for not being able to brake in time or swerve effectively. She found a healthy way to cope with a devastating situation that clearly affected her; what's so wrong about that? Her not coping healthily wouldn't have brought the child back. Perhaps it's insensitive to showcase her being at peace with herself in a Vows column, but that's an issue for the publication, not for her.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday evening roundup

Imprisoning Nadezhda Tolokonnikova only serves to publicize Russian prison bullshit.

Sleep helps you process life.

A writer for The Root suggests that white men can't appreciate the significance of a Hillary presidency.

A white man is really confused about inclusion, crashes conference website with obnoxious FAQ response.

Our bodies are not yours. Our weight gain (baby-related or otherwise) is none of your business. And you (that goes for women, too) can also stop shaming women for wanting to stay strong during pregnancy.

I would almost side with the writer over the response if there weren't a twinge of judgment in the original column. It's one thing to admit that you're not struggling financially and not apologize for it, but the line is at "because my parents cared enough to make that possible." You can be at peace with being comfortable; you just needn't delude yourself into thinking you've earned that comfort over everyone who hasn't been so fortunate.

Gummy bears are not "better" than chocolate, but the Good Guide won't tell me anything about Trader Joe's pound plus bars.

The state and impact of pesticides

We've talked about how you probably don't need to watch your sodium intake, right? Let me caveat that with a very good point: do watch your potassium intake.

The sun's awfully quiet.

I, too, would be annoyed about excessive laundry privileges, but more for environmental reasons. A friend of mine who does not hate her in-laws has nonetheless complained about their wasteful laundering habits. But I don't think it's an etiquette issue, and this letter is hilarious.

Here's when not to expect people to entertain your eating habits.

Another household use for vodka: keeping flowers fresh.

We learn happiness as we age.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday afternoon roundup

Surprise! Russians being obnoxious, even to their own disadvantage. Well, it worked on Armenia.

Does the rest of the country not care about the Navy Yard shootings because Washingtonians have become faceless to them?

The late Thomas Hutchinson came up with eye-gaze technology, helping the severely disabled find their voice.

Ha ha! The-Jews-killed-Jesus (and by the way, they're also cheap) jokes are hilarious and totally appropriate for the campaign trail.

Obese pets are apparently stress-eating.

Sunday morning roundup

Migrants are going to Mexico, from all over.

Oh, I've been meaning to direct you the the energy issue of Americas Quarterly.

Herbicides (including roundup) aren't great for soil.

Well, kale is curly, headless cabbage and the French do have a way with convoluted terminology. Have I ever shared my favorite example of that? "Clockwise" is "in the direction of the needle of a clock." But I digress; I know I have shared my thoughts about kale: great, but not greater than any other leafy green. And the French already love their leafy greens, so what's the big deal? SanaĆ« Lemoine captures it brillaintly: “They don’t need magical vegetables or superfoods. They already have a tradition of eating balanced meals.”

On that note, I unintentionally impressed a bunch of people at work by making guacamole for an event. All I did was mash up some avocados and add a pinch of salt and the juice of half a lemon (all this for eight small avocados) and people were in awe. I was in awe at their awe. But when the norm is "processed" guac--sometimes with gelatin, sometimes with dairy powder to make it creamier--real, simple guac is even more awesome.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The moon on Wednesday

I took some pictures of the moon with various camera settings. "Candlelight" worked best.

Saturday roundup

Senator McCain's awesome op-ed in what's left of Pravda.

The media moved on from the Navy Yard shootings instantly.

How are organics not an issue when you look at what pesticides can do to people?

Why, with a few exceptions, we needn't fear soy.

What methane on Mars (or lack thereof) can tell us.

Superstition serves us.

Social science says you and your spouse probably want to pool your bank accounts.

You know I like to laugh when dudes damage their $hit, but there must be mental illness or addiction here rather than sheer stupidity, which dampens the comedy value. Not a bad opportunity, however, to say, "stay off the meth, kids."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday morning roundup

Kenya has newly discovered aquifers.

Venezuela--hardly the land of Monty Python--has its own "I'm not quite dead yet" stories. But it's hardly alone in terms of those kinds of place-naming conventions (see: my Nicaragua travel notes).

The Pope calls for perspective.
 Candace Pert reconciled science and spirituality, mind and body.

Carolyn explains it all... in terms of being responsible for our own well-being while still holding others responsible for their behavior toward us. Of course, that scenario is one of the easier ones: you can (and should) leave an abusive spouse; your choices are less stark when it's about an abusive parent. But even then, it's about setting and enforcing boundaries (see: a lot of this blog).

Women are generally regarded as more considerate, but I'll tell you that I'm pretty aggressive/retaliative when someone gets in my space on the Metro. I am not above elbowing them. What else do you do when dealing with these guys?

A friend of mine summed up this J. Bryan Lowder's ridiculous column best: "If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was reading the Onion." I thought of that friend even before I sent her the column, as I was formulating my own response, which is almost unnecessary because the comments say it all, and the comments are excellent (from the simplest, like "Funny, I always thought hosting others was about making your guests feel welcome and comfortable in your home, not to mention safe," to the more detailed, which I'll let you see for yourself. But the reason I thought of this friend is that she has been in a situation where she once chose to eat meat against her wishes to be polite to a hostess (and avoid an international incident), and became violently ill afterward. I know of other vegetarians who have found themselves in similar positions (usually in developing countries, where the host has really put themselves out for the meal with whatever they had), and I've written about how I pick my battles and make choices when I travel. But those are my choices to make (our choices to make). It shouldn't be some self-important yuppie lying to us because he doesn't think a little animal product is a big deal (much less doesn't think that vegetarian food is real). So, yeah, I'll compromise... by sparing you the trouble of cooking for me if you can't be bothered to respect my values. Oh, but as a longtime vegetarian, I must just not appreciate how amazing this guy's food is (just as, to reference his own analogy, I don't really see the point of driving a Ferrari). If vegetarians are so annoying, please take your culinary talents elsewhere. Your labors and refined tastes are clearly lost on us. If we’re tiresome and insufferable, leave us the f* alone. Quit inviting us to dinner. We’re so pathetic that we’d rather enjoy a lesser quality meal that is still vegetarian than the one you’ve made so superior with half a teaspoon of chicken stock. And we’d rather be in the company of people who don’t lie to us or take it upon themselves to make our ethical decisions for us.It is true that a small amount of chicken broth would not kill me (though, yes, it does make some vegetarians sick). For that matter, nor would a larger amount. Nor would chicken flesh. That’s not the point. The point isn’t even that it does kill the chicken, even though that point is more pertinent. There are two different issues here: is it meat (yes; it comes from an animal) and if it’s so little meat to make an ethical/environmental difference, who decides whether people who choose not to eat meat for ethical reasons consume it?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday roundup and ramble

Africa is sick of China's $hit.

Food "use by" dates are pretty meaningless and lead to food waste

Blackheads are perfectly normal and anyone telling you otherwise is just trying to sell you $hit by convincing you that there's something wrong with you.

(Jennifer) Weiner on Franzen. And while we're (kind-of) on the topic of women and literature, this take-down of Bustle is possibly the best thing Alexandra Petri has ever written (then again, I'm not a consistent enough reader to judge). A choice excerpt:
“How do you spend 30 years on the earth without realizing that women are, for lack of a better word, people?”
Well, the answer is pretty simple: you don’t read.
Reading is one of the few sure-fire ways to become better at being human.
IKTINTPB (I know this is not the point, but...) Smith better not let that idiot graduate until she unlearns to use "haha" in such a tacky way. Otherwise she'd only lower the value of our collective degrees.

Now, onto some truly valuable wisdom for single people:
Seriously, people said the most offensive shit to me — from commenting about how embarrassed I must be to attend my brother’s wedding alone to how I might have better luck if I straightened my hair on first dates. 
Yeah, I've heard similar things. I  mean, I don't have a brother, but more than once someone expressed "sympathy" that I had to go to weddings by myself, when, really, I could not care less. And I've also gotten comments about straightening my hair (and getting highlights and wearing makeup, etc.). Someone even asked me if I felt strange watching the sun set on my own. Are you f*ing kidding me?? Let me throw that misplaced sympathy right back at those people: if you would have issues going to a wedding or watching the sun set on your own, you're in for a tough life.

The one I intellectually know is true but have trouble feeling is, "When something’s right, there’s nothing you can do to screw it up." Yes, I still think about what if I hadn't gone bat$hit on that one guy whom I really liked. But I know I've been more off with others who still asked me out again. I also feel like I didn't know it at the time, but I wasn't ready for a relationship then. In part because I was in such a bad place with mom, which mattered, and in part because, even though my ex was dead to me, I was still working through the damage of that relationship and breakup. I'm in a better place now.

On a quasi-related note, more people Google pick-up tips than cat videos. Just don't end up like the guy called out in this missed connection; take this wisdom:
Let me make this abundantly clear, to you and to the other men reading this: when you comment on a woman's appearance, you are not doing it for her. You are doing it for you. It's not some great way to make a woman feel sexy and appreciated. It's not flattery, even if you mean for it to be. The only thing it is is a great way for you to create a shitty power dynamic, by which you have announced yourself as the arbiter of her value, and you've deemed her fuckable, and she is supposed to be happy or impressed by that.
I would also argue, though, that we have a choice about whether to feel shitty and whether to accept the power dynamic that the guy is trying to impose. Just throw it right back at him: let him suffer.

OMG I love this quote (about Urban Outfitters' pending liquor license):
“We must ask ourselves, ‘Do we really want people drunk when they are buying their skinny jeans and ironic T-shirts?’”                                               --City Councilman Stephen Levin

Every time I go to Trader Joe’s, I think about how it sucks not to be me. I see people blocking the aisles with their carts and think, “patience: not everyone lives a ten-minute walk away; some people have to stock up all at once, especially if they have to deal with that horrendous parking lot.” I also magnanimously forgive those who must use carts because they don’t have strong arms like I do.

Sometimes when I think about how it sucks not to be me, I think, I should train people on being me; after all, I often think about how I need an intern. Perhaps I ought to issue a call for applications. While we’re on the topic of how it sucks not to be me: I had lots of fried root vegetables last week: tater tots at Bar Louie for lunch on Friday; sweet potato fries at T.J. Stone’s on Saturday; and home fries at Busboys & Poets for brunch on Sunday. Those home fries make the meal (the vegan sausage is also quite good); the tofu scramble itself is meh. I’ll have to make turnip fries tonight to keep the tradition alive (suck it, carb-haters). If only these carbs were at least helping me maintain my wait! All my size 2P suit jackets are starting to look ridiculous on me, and buying new ones (and hemming the sleeves) is not as much fun as buying new dresses. Though there was some of that this weekend, too.

You know Ezekiel Emmanuel’s op-ed the other day about house calls? I didn’t realize that I was in for one when I bought a groupon to get my air ducts cleaned, but Google Voice transcribed the message they left me as follows: "This is your doctor, we’re calling about their dick cleaning." I figured that even if they did a bad job, that was the best $40 ever spent. They didn’t even get to do a crappy job; they stood me up (I wasn’t the first). I got a refund, so the comedy was free. A more reputable company is coming clean my air ducts (not their own dicks) next week.

Why air ducts? I guess it’s not a bad thing to do in general, and mine have probably never been cleaned, given the state the rest of the house was in when I bought it. Also, Gracie has asthma, so I’m forever trying to get to the bottom of what causes or exacerbates her wheezing. Also, I’ve done sooooo much work on this house (“I’ve done”= I’ve done some + my friends and family have done a ton + I’ve also paid people to do a lot), that it just feels right to get it as clean as possible.

Now that the house looks good (and works well), maybe I need to have a party. On Halloween, it’ll be five years since I closed. Since then, I refinanced three times; paid off the second mortgage; had built two fences and a shed; replaced every appliance except for the oven (and furnace/AC), but I did get a tankless water heater; replaced the roof; fixed the outlets and rewired a bunch; refinished the tub; got rid of a bunch of crap; acquired a bunch of not-crap; and configured it smartly. Doesn't that call for a party? I'll even keep my appendages intact this time so no one else has to do all the work.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Monday roundup

Two responses to the Putin op-ed.

Egypt in flames even outside of Cairo (and Sinai).

Early childhood programs can make a huge difference for poor children and even very poor people are people too, i.e., have needs beyond subsistence.

You can appreciate math without necessarily getting it. You can appreciate language structure because it's there.

This whole Miss America "controversy" reminds me of what Kristy Yamaguchi went through decades ago (except that mattered because there were skills involved).

Keiko the Free-Willy whale: another cautionary tale about high-profile causes.

Food waste is a climate issue. Industrial ag is a public health issue.

Our ancestors didn't eat a lot of meat.

It doesn't matter how smart animals are; that shouldn't be a factor in preventing animal cruelty.

Molly Katzen (of Moosewood renown) talks labels:
I understand you're not a big fan of labels.
I don't love the word "vegetarian." I'm much more comfortable when that word is applied to the food and not the person. People have gotten so into defining themselves, and there are so many divisions in our culture already, and they're getting worse. I would love for food to not be adding to how separate we all feel from each other. I want it to be about vegetables for everybody.
It seems like there's a growing schism between people who label themselves vegetarian and vegan. What's your take on that?
I think the most-important thing for me to say at the outset is how much I appreciate everybody's good intentions, because I feel that people are just trying to do right and be healthy and respectful of the environment and the impact of their choices on the health of the planet. I know some vegans are annoyed that vegetarian food sometimes has eggs or cheese in it, and I know vegetarians sometimes feel like they are being judged by vegans. I'm so against people judging other people's food choices -- it just makes me crazy. I would never argue with anyone's reasons for wanting to do something, but food does exist on a continuum, and I hate to see it become just one more reason for people to feel divided against other people. I find that really sad.
Need some recipe ideas? The Times brings you some ideas for miso.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday morning roundup

Ignatieff on Responsibility to Protect. Kristof explains his positions on Syria.

Is the focus on a two-state solution holding back any potential for progress?

Apparently background checks are illegal in China.

Spain picks fight over Gibraltar; hurts locals.

In France, chefs struggle with fast food and everyone struggles with Mexican food.

People are still deluded about the liberal arts.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Monday vegan ramble

I agree with Erik Marcus about many things. For example:
But I disagree with him about Slate.
Slate should have published that column, in all its ridiculousness. Publishing it only exposed its ridiculousness and made room for some amazing comments. What is an online forum if not a vehicle for discussion?

By the way, I was at a party the other night... actually, let me back up: I was at a dinner a month or so ago where there was a lovely vegan option. It was consumed by two or three people. I kept thinking, everyone else is missing out; this is delicious, and no one's touching it because they reflexively prefer to eat meat. But I digress. I was at a party last night, and even though the hosts are, if anything, the opposite of vegan, there were many lovely vegan options. The hostess apologized that she didn't manage to procure the same vegan meatballs that flew at her last party; I told her that I appreciated her looking, and that the other food was lovely. There were some things I wasn't sure about (especially after she brought out a yogurt dip that someone had brought and told me it was vegan; I pointed out that it was yogurt-based), but I also didn't care. Id est, I didn't care if the amazing potato dish someone had brought had a little bit of butter in it (although I was delighted to find out that it didn't, that it was entirely vegan). I didn't care that much whether the crusts of the potato-onion tartelets that she also pointed out to me were entirely vegan. And I knew that the bakhlava that someone had brought had butter in it, but I tried a small triangle nonetheless, for social reasons more than anything else.

I relate all this in the context of the silly Slate piece, so as to say, "sure, sometimes I try things that may or even do have animal products in them, even though I generally prefer not to." But it comes down to my making the choice to try those things; it shouldn't come down to someone lying to me, intentionally,  about what is and isn't in the food.

You know how inane I think paleo is. If you don't, let me tell you: it's the stupidest f*ing way to eat beyond the standard American diet. The paleo delusion that grains and legumes have antinutrients? I think that's some of the biggest, most heaping bullshit in the universe of pseudo-nutritional bullshit. And there's no ethical component to paleo. All that said, I would never, ever, ever take it upon myself to feed a paleo-eater grains or legumes without their knowledge. That would just be obnoxious.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday ramble: gifts

I've thoroughly covered the topic of gifts on this blog. I've covered it in the context of my personal experience and that of some friends, and I've invoked studies and outside perspectives about gift-giving and receiving. Let me rehash all this, in reverse order (you can find the links somewhere on these pages):

Outside perspectives and studies:
  • Miss Manners generally writes that one should not ask for a gift or feel entitled to one, and that one should be gracious when receiving a gift. I say "generally" because I'm sure that Miss Manners has, or would, make exceptions for inappropriate gifts. In fact, she definitely has (see: bringing "gifts" to parties where "bring nothing" is requested). Also, gifts are "free," i.e., not given in the spirit of quid pro quo. Giving entitles you to nothing.
  • Carolyn Hax recently wrote that she generally agrees with the graciousness concept, times have changed and the act of receiving gifts is no longer free. The fact that material gifts take up space and come at an environmental cost calls for a reconsideration of the way we gift.
  • Time did a piece a few years ago on how gifts do not always have the effect intended by the recipient. People often don't like getting particularly grand gifts because they feel like it puts them at an obligation to the giver (see: Miss Manners' point about quid pro quo).
  • Yet, there is still a social value to gifts. Sometimes a gift, when done right, is better than a gift certificate.
My personal experience:
  • I've received more than my fair share of thoughtful, appropriate, and welcome gifts. These can take the form of a book I'd never have thought to read, but I'm glad someone drew my attention to it, or something someone brought me back from a trip as a sign s(he) was thinking of me. It could be something I didn't know I needed that I ended up using all the time.
  • I've clashed with mom over turning down her gifts. There was a disconnect between my circumstances (no basement) and priorities (less crap) and hers (who knows, you might need it some day).
  • I clashed with RM over many things, including turning down his gifts, particularly after I'd explicitly asked him not to give them. Even the gifts that were not inappropriate in and of themselves were inappropriate because I had drawn a boundary that included "no gifts."
  • I've received gifts that I didn't know what to do with, but weren't worth clashing over. Just like there's a spectrum of social situations where it makes sense to accommodate or compromise rather than clash--accommodating an aggressive talker on a very short flight when you don't have a book anyway is on the opposite end of that spectrum from accommodating an aggressive talker who is living in your house and claiming your time every evening--there's a spectrum that ranges from regular to one-off gift-givers. That said, I hate sending stuff to the landfill, so receiving a gift that I have no use for is almost an anti-gift. In cases where it's something for which I don't want to create more demand (eg, animal products) or that has more intense environmental consequences (toxic chemicals), it's really an anti-gift.
Why bring this all up now? The short answer is, I found myself thanking my coworker for not having gotten me a t-shirt. He'd been to a cat show over the weekend and saw a shirt that made him think of me, but he figured I wasn't really a t-shirt person. I thanked him for not getting the shirt (I'm neither a t-shirt person nor not one, but I definitely have more t-shirts than I know what to do with).

I've also--as I've told you--been on a self-perpetuating decluttering kick. It started out with one area of the house or maybe one category of stuff, and then, one thing led to another and I've managed to get my house to the point where there's barely anything in here that I don't want or need (or think I may not ever need). And I'd really like to keep it that way. In a sense, it's "academic"--it's not like I had clutter spilling over furniture; it was all hidden in corners and storage spaces, or even spare rooms. But there's a feng-shui, spiritual aspect to not having excess stuff around, sapping your emotional energy. It's the converse of what personal finance advisors tell you about deciding whether to buy something: think of the total cost rather than the sticker cost, where the total cost includes the space you'll have to find for that thing and the time you'll spend cleaning it, or, perhaps, the hassle of having one more thing to pack and unpack if or when you move. And the environmental cost, of course (production, disposal). Gifts may not bear a sticker cost, but they do bear those other costs.

So, especially now that I've recycled my electronics and donated my old clothes, furniture, and other stuff, and I can pretty much find everything I want to when I want to, I'm very sensitive to extra stuff. And I'm also at the point where I either have everything I need or I'll quickly go out and buy it, unless the thing I need is something so specific that no gift-giver is going to randomly figure it out. Which brings me back to the RM factor, or what I'll call the arrogance factor of gift-giving.

RM, as you may recall, would get very excited about "surprising" me, and not just in inadvertent, creepy ways or by amazing me with just how annoying he could be. And even from the beginning, I tried to discourage this sort of thing because he was in no position to surprise me: he didn't know me well enough to know what would make for a pleasant surprise. Of course, it didn't occur to him that I wouldn't necessarily be pleasantly surprised, just as it didn't occur to him that he was in no position to get me gifts that I wouldn't dislike. At first, I felt genuinely bad, because he was trying. Then--after I discouraged him--I just got annoyed.

Sometimes it was unquestionable arrogance (he would bring me chocolate candy after I specifically asked him not to bring me chocolate candy). I rewarded his arrogance by ignoring the candy, which, upon my rejection, he placed on the table so as to tempt me subtly. Sometimes it was clueless arrogance, as in the case of the pearl earrings. They were not only inappropriate, but misguided in a really ironic way: he went to the jewelry store and described me to the shopkeeper, who helped him pick out the earrings. It did not occur to him that--even as he and the shopkeeper agreed that the earrings fit my personality perfectly--I might already have a set (or two or three or ten) of pearl earrings. This kind of thing went on and on: he would try to figure me out in a very simplistic way, and--I repeat, despite my asking him to quit giving me gifts--find gifts based on his conclusions. I have a lovely Bohemian crystal displayed on my bookshelf (that a friend brought me from abroad), therefore he should give me a faux Bohemian crystal conference freebie he probably found around the house.

But let me quit piling it on atop RM, because who the f* cares. And let me also point out that any of us may put thought into a gift that may still fall flat. The bigger point is, intelligent gift giving requires a more complex thought process than "Susie likes dogs, so she must want dog paraphernalia." And even if she does like dog paraphernalia, maybe she already has as much as her apartment can hold. This feeds into the even bigger point, made earlier, that gift giving needs to be intelligent in this day and age of small living spaces and environmental awareness. Gone are the days of harmless tchotchkes; in are the days of, everything in your space best have a purpose or a meaning. That means that "no gifts" really means "no gifts." Not to put too fine a point on it, sometimes the best gift is no gift. When that's not an option, the best gift is well-thought out and attuned to the recipient's tastes, circumstances, and values. If you're not in a position to suss those out, the best gift is probably still no gift.

Tuesday roundup

More extreme foreclosure company BS.

I take this point on privilege blindness, but is it okay for people who started out poor, like these Mexican-American winemakers, to say that if you work hard, you'll succeed?

Timely to yesterday's roundup, someone used "strident" on a guy.

Dudes continue to look more kindly upon sexting than do ladies. That article needed a more clear separation of sexting between halves of a couple and random sexting, which is also--or is at least perilously close to, depending on the circumstances--harassment.

No one's really certain of the moon's origin story.

Sometimes "weaker" arguments can be more persuasive, at least in a limited context. That does explain the anti-vegetarian arguments in the article (and other anti-vegetarian arguments).

By now I'm sure you've heard that there's a definitive study debunking the sacred link between breakfast and weight management. Truth is--as the article states--studies saying as much have been coming out for years. The most interesting part of that article is how it takes researchers (but not the journalists who oversimplify their results) to task.  See it also as an example of how social-science concepts like "confirmation bias" can inform "hard" sciences (in this case, medical or nutritional science).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday roundup

Guys, there are non-white people in Boston, running for office, and the Times is on it.

South Florida reels over pollution and its impact.

Electric cars aren't a panacea, nor a lost cause.

There are some (very important) things that online education can't replace.

Stories work, and they bridge the artificial gap between science/data and art/gut.

Competitive parenting serves no one, but it does serve your kids to see that they're not the most brilliant people in the world (unless they are). On that note, let's talk about fashion. Specifically, the notion that fashion should tone it down so that people don't feel bad about themselves. I don't know about you, but that strikes me as "let's not teach spelling because it's competitive and feelings might get hurt. Also, let's ban art because not everyone is equally good at it."

There are alternatives to increasingly technical agriculture, and factory farms don't actually save consumers any money.

OMG, I've never understood jarred mashed banana. That's an egregious example, but still, make your own baby food.

Wow, I'm definitely done with Popular Science. That article is soooo poorly written and full of crap:

Popular Science on "Why Vegan Diets Suck." Hard to believe a mag with "science" title would publish this quackery.

Let's overlook, for now, the environmental and other ethical disadvantages of eating animals, which are thoroughly discussed elsewhere on this blog. Let's only take one quote from one of the latest articles on food safety, because it's too good to pass up: “Tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses,” he said. “Not small bits, but chunks.” Let's ignore the growing scientific consensus that less meat is better for most people. All that aside, does PopSci really think there's any science in that piece of crap they reprinted?

In honor of that piece of crap, I'm going to tell you what I (BMI: 19) ate yesterday: oatmeal, tofu scramble, two potatoes and a beet (three root vegetables! the horror!), a big bowl of pasta, ratatouille over quinoa, a few squares of dark chocolate, a glass of wine, an ear of corn, and some other stuff I can't remember. So suck it, smug omnivores with second-grade writing skills.

On that note: sure, there are smug vegans out there, too; they exist. But there are lots of smug omnivores, too. Also, there are probably some malnourished vegans out there; but there are also lots of malnourished omnivores. Not talking about people who can't afford food; talking about people who don't get enough nutrients.

Science says that there are drawbacks to big balls, but I'll still insist on huge proverbial ones.

Is Jennifer Weiner crying sexism to deflect legitimate criticism? Who knows?
But it’s easy for me to claim that my criticisms of Weiner are unrelated to her gender. It’s a lot harder for women to pick apart whether potentially sexist terms are being employed in a malicious context or a benign one. In 1970, Harvard professor Chester M. Pierce coined the term “microaggression” to refer to minor slights that are “subtle” and often subliminal, but that nevertheless contribute to a culture of racial or gender harassment. One of the most pernicious aspects of microaggressions is that they’re more difficult to assess than more explicit threats. Did that person just cross the street to avoid the black man walking her way, or because her route just happened to take her there? Did he call her strident because she’s a woman, or because she's strident? As a woman, I understand that because targets of microaggressions are often criticized as overreacting or playing the race or gender card, these potential slights are allowed to slide under the radar unchecked. But from a writer’s perspective, it seems unreasonable to totally excise certain descriptors from the English language—or to only apply them to men—in order to avoid the perception of sexism.
I agree with some of Jessica Grose's points here (on Delia Ephron's piece) but I think she's missing the overall point. Yes, we should all drop "having it all" from our discourse; yes, the fact that women (and men, for that matter) generally have it worse in some other countries does not mean that women in America can't aspire to career and family. I don't need to remind you that it was Nora Ephron who said of course you could have it all, what else are you going to do? DE's column chose a concept with an unfortunate gendered connotation (in fact, I've always argued that if we're going to question whether women could have it all, we should be asking the same question about men), but her point was more universal; it was not about the work-life balance that the term is associated with. Her point was, can we be happy if we're always grasping for more, in the superficial keep-up-with-the-Joneses sense (rather than the more fulfilling feed-your-soul sense). So sure, we can call her out on her terminology, but that doesn't undermine her overall message.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday evening roundup

Bangladesh factory-collapse survivors have PTSD.

Is it too late to invoke R2P?

The DC government is too busy falling into corruption scandals to keep its people from losing their homes over ridiculous tax bills.

Can George Washington National Forest withstand horizontal drilling? Will it have to? Meanwhile, a book addresses one side of Don Blankenship's misadventures.

Pearlstein argues that the prioritization of stakeholder value at the expense of everything else encourages short-termism.

Can your camera capture dark energy?

Anne-Marie Slaughter thinks people care about her career moves. The Washington Post is apparently under the same delusion, since they printed the column. Then again, maybe they just wanted to leave less space for Richard Cohen.

Here are my suggested responses when someone asks you how you get enough protein (although Carolyn's suggested “You’re worried about my health, how kind of you” is a good one):
  • What's "enough" protein?
  • I eat food. (If pressed, add "food has protein.")
  • How do you make sure your meat isn't contaminated? Or riddled with hormones and antibiotics?

Weekend roundup

Egypt's latest scapegoat: Syrian refugees.

Gawker offers a thorough calling-out of Richard Cohen.

Harvard Business School graduates underwent a social experiment

Can we come to a reasoned middle ground on the role of technology in agriculture?

These ink-in-water photos are really cool; I wish there was a link to more of them.

Are house calls the future? The science of famous for being famous.

I take her point (and that on the Ms. blog) but I'm glad I don't address any groups where anyone really cares. Look, I'm going to do it now: Guys, Stolichnaya is actually made in Latvia. Where, ironically, people who care about society wouldn't mind a domestic vodka boycott.

For once, I agree with the letter-writer more than I do with Carolyn: the potential stress over comparatively minor weight gain is not the same as that of rising cleaning costs for a yacht.

The late William Glasser pioneered the idea that we have control over our happiness. See also Delia Ephron on having it all:
To me, having it all — if one wants to define it at all — is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up. Like an eclipse. A total eclipse is when the moon is at its perigee, the earth is at its greatest distance from the sun, and when the sun is observed near zenith. I have no idea what that means. I got the description off a science Web site, but one thing is clear: it’s rare. This eclipse never lasts more than seven minutes and 31 seconds.
Personally, I believe having it all can last longer than that. It might be a fleeting moment — drinking a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning when the light is especially bright. It might also be a few undisturbed hours with a novel I’m in love with, a three-hour lunch with my best friend, reading “Goodnight Moon” to a child, watching a Nadal-Federer match. Having it all definitely involves an ability to seize the moment, especially when it comes to sports. It can be eating in bed when you’re living on your own for the first time or the first weeks of a new job when everything is new, uncertain and a bit scary. It’s when all your senses are engaged. It’s when you feel at peace with someone you love. And that isn’t often. Loving someone and being at peace with him (or her) are two different things. Having it all are moments in life when you suspend judgment. It’s when I attain that elusive thing called peace of mind.
Robin Givhan shows us fashion writing at its best.

Oh, Bill Cunningham, I've been wearing one-piece dresses for years. Like he says, "you just put it on, zip it up, and you're gone."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thursday roundup

International law isn't perfect but it's there for a reason. Also: RAND on Syria options.

Campaign finance hasn't changed in the ways predicted.

Meh, I've seen better discussions of the real cost of cheap meat, but here's a mediocre one anyway.

The Economist compares agriculture here to that of Europe.

Has fashion really grown a social conscience and is the industry acting on it?

I was thinking about this--telling people they look tired--in multiple contexts, but particularly with regard to that recent article on makeup (I wear none (or, occasionally, little) and I always look tired). Indeed, let us stop policing facial expressions.

I'm glad my GH and I are not codependent.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday evening roundup

Coll and Reidel on Syria.

Richard Cohen is even more pathetic than we thought. Do read the Slate piece (linked) but not his stupid-beyond-words column, which just speaks to his own irrelevance. I read Ariel Levy's New Yorker piece when it came out; it doesn't support what he thinks it supports.

With so many anti-feminists attempting to co-opt feminism, let's talk about what it is. On a personal level, it means having the power to decide what's right for you without social interference. That goes for make-up, education/career, grooming, style, sexuality, marriage, name change, family (whether/how), feeding (breast- and otherwise), spousal division of labor, etc.). Having those choices on a personal level implies certain requirements on a social level, i.e., social structures that facilitate those choices (workplace and education fairness laws, birth control, etc.). It does not mean having to minimize signs of one's gender to exist in the world, nor does it mean making choices that may not be right for you in adherence to ideology (e.g., not breastfeeding your baby because it makes you more of a primary caregiver than your spouse).

Now that I've thoroughly addressed gender in other contexts, I'll skip over it with regard to this article about women in science and just quote something unrelated from it:
Students show greater gains when they are taught that the mind, like a muscle, gets stronger with work, as opposed to being told that talents are fixed and you’re born either quick or slow.
“It’s a uniquely Western phenomenon to say, ‘I’m no good at math, that’s O.K. and I can stop doing it,’ ” Dr. Chow said. “I grew up in Hong Kong, and no parent would say, ‘You’re right, just give up.’ ”
Don’t give up, budding scientist. One day you’ll look in the mirror and proudly embrace the term nerd. Whatever that means.
The universe hasn't been around forever, or why the night sky is dark.

Another Scientific American piece on GMOs, mostly vouching for their safety but also acknowledging their limits and the validity of some concerns about them:
How Bt crops threaten insect ecosystems and the environment is much less straightforward than whether they are safe enough to include in our diet. The massive mat of monoculture rolled across the U.S.—vast adjacent fields, each consisting of a single crop—is a relatively new kind of man-made ecosystem that has replaced much more diverse wild habitat.
Ah, but here comes the usual argument: this is preferable to heavy use of pesticides. But are GMOs a longterm solution, and are pesticides the only other choice?
Far more worrying to farmers—and ultimately to ecologists as well—is how quickly destructive insects become impervious to Bt crops. "Any entomologist would be stupid to say you’re not going to get resistance," says Brian Federici, an entomologist and Bt expert at the University of California, Riverside. Whenever farmers fight pests the same way over and over again, pests adapt and outwit that strategy. Consider one of the oldest methods of pest control: crop rotation.
Read also about the socioeconomic toll of biofuels.

On a lighter note: whatever your junkfood, be glad it's not this. Also be grateful for the unavailability of deep-fried soup at KFCs near you.

CTFD is great for life in general and wedding-related issues in particular.

If I could pick which monkey to be, I'd definitely go for the muriquis, not least because the dudes have "oversized testicles," and yet, there are no alpha males.

Tuesday roundup

The Iraqi government emphasizes the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime but could do more to substantively distinguish its own human rights record.

The acid attack in Zanzibar wasn't the first sign of trouble, but there's still denial about the problem.

Development is always about local ownership and input.

Oh, there have always been ways to pigeonhole ourselves into a narrow world; electronic devices are just the newest medium for it.

Diana Nyad's mind-blowing success was built upon a few failures.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Monday roundup

Auditors have been falling for Potemkin village factories, and the only way around that is for workers to have an unassailable voice.

Sesame Street finds science. Scientists don't necessarily believe in science. There is no STEM shortage.

If you think women suck at math, you suck at math.

I must go around looking sick all the time, because I don't wear make-up. I won't speak to the premise of this piece--whether "pretty" is a set of skills--because I wouldn't know. I've never aspired to or tried for pretty. It may be a cultural thing: when I see even lightly made-up women they strike me as trying too hard. It goes beyond principle--I just can't be bothered to wear make-up, beyond the occasional lipstick.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday roundup

How much more horrific are chemical weapons (than conventional ones)? This issue also comes up in Max Fisher's handy Syria-for-dummiesthose who haven't been paying attention.

Sri Lanka, which is showing signs of growing authoritarianism, was also the site of a group police dog wedding.

Will oil companies ever be held accountable for their longterm devastation of Louisiana's wetlands?

China can't help but deal with its emissions.

Carolyn reminds us that (1) smugness and judgment serve no purpose and (2) you are not responsible for anyone else's choices.