Saturday, February 21, 2009

Health Prejudice

ElseNet a community is discussing (criticizing) a fat woman's nude magazine cover on the basis that she is thereby encouraging people to be unhealthy, and that no obese person can possibly be healthy.

What I always want to ask people who attack obese people on the basis of health is, do you also attack skinny people and moderate size people about their health?

The thing is, size and health are not directly related. Neither are exercise and health. Jim Fixx, the famous jogger, died of a heart attack, so clearly exercise isn't 100% preventive of heart disease (even though fat people are always told they just need to exercise and eat less). Lots of people who "look normal" or have "normal" BMI might have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, or some chronic disease that is untreated..and just because they aren't overweight everyone assumes they are healthy. They might be couch potatoes whose only exercise is walking around their home. They might be eating a horrible diet of junk food and pop all the time. They could even have cancer. But because they're not obese, nobody questions them.

You can't tell by a person's size what their health status is. Attacking fat people and excusing it on the basis of health is just prejudice: you don't actually know anything about their health. You're assuming they are unhealthy because of their appearance. You're not their doctor, and you don't actually know whether they're healthy: what their aerobic capacity is, their blood test results, etc.

You're bullying people and justifying it by pretending concern about their health. Cut that out: it's still bullying.

This also reminds me of how people criticize Israel on human rights, but aren't as frequently vocal about any other countries' human rights violations. Tell me again it's not antisemitism when you never mention Darfur, but write or talk about Gaza regularly?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Answering the unasked question

"How am I supposed to spend the measly $8 per week I get from the stimulus plan?" is a question answered by many economists here, at the Wall Street Journal. Some of the ideas are wacky, some are clever, and the explanations are excellent.

My favorite ideas on the list are to get an $8 hair cut (it's a locally-provided service that isn't regulated by any trade agreements and at that price is likely performed by a low-income worker who will plow the $8 back into the economy on food or the like) or to tip your cab driver extra (because they talk to lots of people they can spread the good cheer of a big tip further).

Language, Women's Culture, and Manners

A terrific post at Feminist Mormon Housewives about housework, expectations, language, and what it's like to be a woman (at least, it matches my experience of being a woman).

The phone rings, its electronic jingle unnerving – I still prefer the warm bell of the old pink rotary phone my parents had when I was a child. I wonder absently what happened to it. My husband’s voice travels upstairs: He addresses his sister by name, and then casually responds with, “Yes, of course. We’d love to have you.” His sister – the nice one, the one I like but only see two or three times a year – is in town. She will be by in half an hour.

Immediately the process begins: Dress the children. Clean the house. Where to concentrate my efforts? Would she be giving us something for the baby? (Do I have enough thank you cards?) No, that’s right, she gave us something already. (Have I sent her the thank you card?) An outfit. “Can you put the baby in the white outfit with the blue teddy bears?” It isn’t a question but a request. “She gave it to us.” My husband looks at me, part adulation, part confusion. “I don’t know how you keep track of all of that,” he says. I shrug and say, “It’s important in a woman’s world.”

Immediately, I think of Virginia Woolf and her ill-advised choice of hat.


This domestic arithmetic is second nature. Women speak their own language, tonal and nuanced as Mandarin: the same words will differ in meaning depending on circumstance. Years ago, I inadvertently shared this with my husband, not realising that men did not know this language. A woman on a TV show remarked that the house of her not-as-well-off friend was “cosy.” I breathed in sharply through my teeth. “Isn’t cosy a compliment?” my husband asked. And so I translated: In that circle, cosy means small, inadequate. Cosy means poor. Cosy means the friendship – so heavily based on money – is not equal, and may not survive. All that, my husband pondered, from a simple word that could, if the circumstances were different, be a compliment.

This domestic arithmetic, this language of women, exists in all cultures, though in different forms: A gift is a gift, but it is also a showing of largesse and wealth. Or, A gift is a gift, but it is also a silent recognition that your family needs help. Or, A gift is a gift, but it is also a showing that you are no more wealthy than I am. So many different meanings.

Negotiating this complex world is a learned skill, and one most women begin to learn very young. We are socialized into it, there are magazine articles and advertisements on television and role models everywhere we look.

And in comments, the same rebellion I've often felt but never had the courage to completely implement:

Bleah. Loved the post, but hate the rituals. To me, it feels like games… games i deeply distrust. I think I must have issues or something; if there is one game I play it’s the “I’m not going to play any games. You want to say something to me? Say it. Otherwise I’ll ignore any signals you may be trying (or not trying) to send me”.

I think it’s part of the reason why it takes me a good long while to make friends with people… I’d say, on average I’ve been in a ward or workplace 2 years before I start getting comfortable with people. But it’s worth it to me, to save “friendship” for the situations where I know that everyone is being honest, transparent… I am only friends with people who I know will say whatever they’re saying about me to my face.
by sare.

An Arab Jew.

My first husband's family is mixed; originally his father's family came from the Isle of Rhodes, they're Sephardic (Spanish, Greek, Middle-Eastern Jewry), while his mother's family is Ashkenaz (European Jews). Some of their family traditions for practicing Judaism are more Sephardic, others Ashkenaz. The recipe I learned for gefilte fish is definitely Sephardic! There's no boiling in broth, instead you fry the fish patties and then bake in tomato sauce. I never thought the only model for Judaism was the one in the movies Fiddler on the Roof and Yentl.

But I hadn't actually read anything from an Arab Jew. Not a convert, not the child of a mixed marriage, but a woman from a long line of Jews who also are Arabs, who lived in the Middle East all along.

As an Arab Jew, I am often obliged to explain the "mysteries" of this oxymoronic entity. That we have spoken Arabic, not Yiddish; that for millennia our cultural creativity, secular and religious, had been largely articulated in Arabic (Maimonides being one of the few intellectuals to "make it" into the consciousness of the West); and that even the most religious of our communities in the Middle East and North Africa never expressed themselves in Yiddish-accented Hebrew prayers, nor did they practice liturgical-gestural norms and sartorial codes favoring the dark colors of centuries-ago Poland. Middle Eastern women similarly never wore wigs; their hair covers, if worn, consisted of different variations on regional clothing (and in the wake of British and French imperialism, many wore Western-style clothes). If you go to our synagogues, even in New York, Montreal, Paris or London, you'll be amazed to hear the winding quarter tones of our music which the uninitiated might imagine to be coming from a mosque.
The same historical process that dispossessed Palestinians of their property, lands and national-political rights, was linked to the dispossession of Middle Eastern and North African Jews of their property, lands, and rootedness in Muslim countries. As refugees, or mass immigrants (depending on one's political perspective), we were forced to leave everything behind and give up our Iraqi passports.

She goes on to point out the discrimination within Israel against the Arab Jews and suggests looking past the artificial binary distinctions that not only reduce the region to Israel/Palestine but also oversimplify the issues.

Hat tip Alas, a blog.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell

This morning when I delivered his mail to one of my bosses I noticed Malcom Gladwell's new book, Outliers, on his desk. We talked about it for a minute (he'd actually borrowed it from another of my bosses) and he offered it to me, since I'd probably finish it before he had time to start it. I do read pretty fast!

So on my morning break I read some, and during my lunch, and afternoon break, and while I ate dinner (not while cooking it, though) and I'm done. It's a quick read, a small book with small ideas and small conclusions that adds up to a big potential for change. If you believe him, that is.

He postulates that although intelligence and hard work matter, you have to have the proper setting (time, culture, family, money) to make the most of them, and that if you examine their settings, what we think of as genius outliers are really as much products of circumstance as of ability and effort. Although I don't think he actually concludes this, it would be a logical extension of his summation that we can help far more people better themselves if we analyze and improve their circumstances in general than if we pick out "the best and the brightest" and spend our limited resources exclusively on turning them into geniuses.

Likewise, he theorizes that a lot of human-error problems can be traced to culture and therefore rather than looking at personal responsibility we should examine systems and cultural communication to prevent future tragedies.

And he starts a class war, maybe not intentionally, between the free range parents and the helicopter parents by giving lots of evidence that helicopter parents are more likely to produce outliers of success, whether financial or intellectual.

I was definitely stimulated by this book, to some thinking and considerable humor.

Express yourself!

At Nicola Griffith's blog, a study finding that putting your feelings into words activates the same areas of the brain as emotional self-control. Although given what I've recently read about the dubious value of interpreting fMRI (basically, some scientists are finding correlations because they're throwing out a lot of data) it's hard for me to evaluate this finding.

But just for the sake of argument, let's pretend it's true. It does kind of make sense: you have to discipline yourself to put feelings into words rather than acting them out, so you're practicing controlling your feelings already.

And parents of toddlers everywhere are vindicated in saying "Use your words, dear."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's a compliment, but...

I've been making myself things for a while now: I've knitted scarves and hats and purses, I put together a terrarium for my desk a month ago, and just this week I made myself a silk half-slip (because I can't find one my size in my price range). I was talking to a co-worker about the slip when another co-worker overheard the conversation and said she wished I'd make her one and she'd pay me for it. The terrarium was complimented that way too--would I make one for them? They'd pay for the materials. Some of the knitting also generates this response.

People, this is not a compliment. I'm glad you like what I made enough to want your own, but telling me you'd pay me to do it again for you (and I don't mean in a hypothetical, "Oh, you did that so well, people might pay you good money for that!" way) transforms the conversation from being about me to being about you, as well as implying that I have nothing better to do with my hobby time than making you something for money. Any mention made of how well I made it, or how much you admire my work, is lost in your envy and your expectation that I will want to assuage that envy with my labor.

Leaving aside whether I want to do it, none of these people could afford to pay me a decent wage for the hours I'd spend making their project. Just once, I actually made an offer: I'd knit some fingerless mitts, and at least half a dozen people admired them and wanted a pair. I said I'd do it, if they paid for the yarn and bought me lunch. Nobody jumped on that grenade!

Since then I've responded with offers to teach or show them how to do it; not one person has taken me up on it. Most of these things I'm only beginning at myself. The slip is only the second garment for myself that I've finished to my satisfaction, that is, it fits and reasonably resembles what I imagined it would be when I started the project. I've been knitting for quite a few years now and I've knitted a reasonably broad array of items and techniques, but I still haven't knitted myself a sweater (working on it). Gardening--well heck, I always used to kill house plants within a year, until my kids grew up. I still lose about one in five of the plants I buy, whether for indoors or the yard at home, and I'm buying easy plants! Nothing exotic, nothing that requires me to check the soil pH or spray fungicides or other substances: I just plop them in the ground in what I hope is the right spot, with the right amount of sun and shade; water weekly the first year; and fertilize at least once a year if I remember.

For the most part I'm stumbling around discovering this stuff for myself. I read books, I look at resources on the intertubes, and I plunge in. I took a class to learn the basics of knitting, and I have a friend who is a proficient gardener and loves to help me discover the pleasures of gardening, but except for that class and my friend's work and advice once or twice a season, I'm on my own and I like it that way.

I wish I could just get the compliments.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Tracking promise keeping

A different kind of promise, this time: The Obameter tracks the progress President Obama is making on his campaign promises. It includes the list of promises being tracked and status updates and some explanation of the assessment.

Hat tip Megan McArdle.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Keeping promises

Who knew that that the phenomenon of taking "virginity" pledges about saving sexual activity for later wasn't exactly recent?

We're saving ourselves for Yale. (scroll down, arrow at bottom of page).

As they downed their first cafe
The girls were heard to softly say:

"Oh, we have had our chances for overnight romances
with a Harvard and a Dartmouth male
And though we've had a bunch in, oh from Princeton Junction,
We're saving ourselves for Yale

And though we've all had squeezes
From lots of Ph.
We're saving ourselves for Yale

Hat tip to The Kitchen Cabinet.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"They told me they wanted anti-Israel stories because it made their lives so much easier. "

An interview with Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim journalist in Israel. Long but worth reading.

About his work:

And to be honest with you, I find it ironic that as an Arab Muslim living in this part of the world that I have to work for a Jewish newspaper or for the international media in order to be able to practice any kind of real journalism. Why? Because we don't have any free media. In the Palestinian areas we didn't have it when I was working there in the 1970s and 1980s, we didn't get one when we brought Yasser Arafat in to start the Palestinian Authority, and of course we don't have a free media today under Fatah, Hamas, and the rest of the gangs that are running the show out there.

About international journalists:

When I tried to alert my foreign colleagues in 1995, 1996, and 1997, to the fact that there was corruption in the Palestinian Authority, many of them asked me if I was on the payroll of the Jewish Lobby. I wanted to know where was this Jewish Lobby? If there was one maybe they would pay me.

I told them: “This is what I am hearing. The writing is on the wall. Come and listen to what Palestinians are saying.” And they told me they weren't interested in that story. They told me they wanted anti-Israel stories because it made their lives so much easier. They told me they didn't want to write anything bad about Palestinians, that Arafat was a man of peace and should be given a chance. I heard this from major American journalists, by the way. Leading American journalists. I don't want to give you their names right now, but I was really frustrated. And angry.

Listen. For all these years we've been attacking the military occupation. So why is it that when I tell you something that Arafat is doing, suddenly you don't want to report it and think it's Jewish propaganda? Most of these journalists did not even want to make any effort.

About the tunnels:

Smuggling is a business. We're doing Hamas an injustice by saying they're the ones who established the tunnels. These tunnels have been there since 1967. In the 1970s I visited some of the tunnels. In the 1980s I visited the tunnels. When Arafat was there I visited the tunnels. These tunnels are part of the culture. It's a cultural thing over there. If you have your own tunnel it's like you have your own business. Hamas now takes taxes and gives people a license to build their tunnel.

Simple pleasures for simple people.

Like me: the sheet of bubble wrap from inside the box of See's chocolates. It smells like chocolate and it pops!

I'd never be appointed.

I'd never be elected, either, but I'd never be appointed to political office because I pay my taxes. This is a clear class marker for "one of the little people" and so I will never be considered for appointed office by an elected official.


The Astronomy Picture of the Day is of lenticular clouds.

I remember the summer my sister and I visited our dad in Ohio. He was stationed at Wright-Patterson, and one of the times we visited the base was for an air show. There were lenticular clouds on the horizon, and Dad explained that they are often mistaken for flying saucers or space ships. We also saw a stealth plane that trip--there's a good air museum on base.

Righteous Anger

It doesn't win debates. As Megan McArdle puts it:

he who loses his temper, loses. His supporters see him as righteously inflamed by the moronic arguments of the other side. But the rest of the audience sees him as bully with a case too weak to be made without screaming.

Thin slicing first dates

Apparently a study has shown that although both men and women are terrific at judging men's level of interest on a first date, they're likewise equally poor at judging women's.

However, that doesn't mean it's because Evolutionary theory, said Place, predicts a certain level of coyness or even deceptiveness in women because if a relationship is abandoned they may face greater costs, including pregnancy and child rearing. When choosing a mate, it is in a woman's best interest to get men to open up and talk honestly to give her a better idea of whether they would be good long-term partners. It's because as women, we're socialized to keep a conversation going, and to pretend interest in men.