Category Archives: Ramblings

You’re Guilty (but you’re also the solution)

I was reading Kelli’s post on her new food blog. One thing that struck out at me is when she says:

I feel guilty when I read about people who do more than I do

But ultimately you can only do what you can do. I find there are so many people who especially when it comes to nutrition or the environment will have someone point out how much more they could be doing, and it just knocks the wind out of their sails and they stop doing anything at all. I feel like this has become a powerful tactic that originated in our political discourse and is now used constantly. We feel if we can knock out one pillar of a persons argument then there is no value to the entire argument, and they give up completely.

Recently a bunch of Global Warming deniers got very excited because they found a lot of errors in NASA’s climate change data. And those errors when corrected did change the overall picture a little bit. The problem is that a lot of people heard, “NASA’s made mistakes so there’s really no global warming”. Which wasn’t the case. It made a difference in overall severity, but not whether the problem existed in the first place. And I feel like our culture has become like that. Anyone trying to do good is a large inflatable balloon just waiting for someone to walk by with a pin.

And so I try to keep plugging along and not get discouraged. And I try to keep an open mind to change. There might not be global warming. It’s certainly possible. But that won’t change the fact that using reusable shopping bags is good whether there’s global warming, cooling, or we get invaded by green men from mars. And sometimes we get discouraged because we forget the bags. And sometimes we use disposable diapers with Stella. But you have to take the long view, and realize that every plastic bag taken is one less plastic bag, and every disposable diaper not used is one less disposable diaper. And just because we haven’t become saints, doesn’t mean we’re no good.

Links and Calories

You know, I’m always dismayed by the quality of my blog posts. With my plays I generally am quite happy with what I write, but I know my blog posts aren’t the most interesting thing on the planet, and that makes me think that perhaps I’m a bad writer.

But I take heart from Neil Gamin’s blog. He’s an exceptional writer, but he doesn’t write Oscar Wilde-esque posts. I’m envious of people who can do that. Who can write succinctly and wow you day after day with their humor, warmth and profundity (Dutch, I’m looking at you). Maybe being a good writer doesn’t mean that I have to be good at writing everything.

Ok, so I lied

So, I said I wouldn’t talk much about the Baby Einstein thing, but this article brings up a much more disturbing comment:

…when you’re alone with your baby for hours on end, and especially when you haven’t been able to sleep more than three hours withing being woken up in months, sometimes you want to eat a meal or read the newspaper. You need something to occupy the baby, and a Baby Einstein video — which tends to make the babies smile and coo — is better than making them stare at the ceiling for twenty minutes.

I’ve read this sentiment before. First off let me say if you have a baby who is screaming for 2 hours and you’ve had no sleep and you put them in front of a Baby Einstein video – that I can understand. But, babies do not need to watch a Baby Einstein video rather than the ceiling. This is a disturbing trend I see mentioned more and more. The point of this study is that developmentally it is worse to put a kid in front of a Baby Einstein video than having them watch the ceilings. I don’t know what’s on the ceiling, but it fascinates them. Apparently babies learn a lot by doing what we would call “nothing”. I read an article in which a father basically created a TV schedule for his daughter, always turning on the TV for her at all meals. His reasoning was that he didn’t want her to be bored. Which is so frightening, because if there is anything a kid younger than 3 is never, it is bored. I mean, I’ve never tested this, but I have a feeling that Stella would play peek-a-boo with me for 7 or 8 hours straight. I’m the one who gets bored. She’ll keep exercising those brain cells forever. So let the kid stare at the ceiling. It’s good for ’em.

Random Wednesday

  • New Stella cuteness: She has started wandering around the house with her hands clasped behind her back. This is ridiculously cute, and you want to offer her a pipe to puff on. Well, I do. You might not if you are a responsible adult.
  • More studies on ADHD and TV watching. I think I’m going to be like Dutch and try not to editorialize on TV stuff. I don’t want to be the “I don’t watch TV” guy. But the stuff’s scary.

Body Image

So I was reading Kelli’s most recent post, and just really wanted to comment. Body image is a very interesting thing to me. Especially, since it’s so much about your brains chemistry. There are so many things that can influence it, and an outside source that can cause one kid to become wildly anorexic can have no impact on another.

I was always a good weight growing up. As a child I got fed a ridiculously balanced diet with almost no snacking or junk food (yes I’m one of the carob and sesame snack kids). Probably too good. When my Grandmother came to visit she’d buy us like $100 worth of junkfood and we’d binge for the entire time she visited. We got so sick. When I hit puberty in the Soviet Union there wasn’t a lot of protein, plus I had a fantastic case of Amoebic Dysentary so my body was not absorbing things particularly well, so I hit 6′ while weighing 120 pounds. I think my body’s been struggling to put on weight ever since then. I’ve had a metabolism that doesn’t quit. In high school I’d eat half a bag of oreos in one sitting. I’d often just eat an entire plate of pasta to “fill in the cracks”. I left high school 6’4″ and weighing somewhere between 130 and 140. My diet was not conducive to reliable weight measurement.

I didn’t actually start cooking until my first year of marriage to Julie. I got to the point where I couldn’t eat one more chicken breast, marinated in salad dressing and cooked on the George Foreman. My grandmother had recently started sending Julie a subscription to Gourmet magazine and so I started cooking recipes from that. I quickly moved towards being the only one who cooked in our house since I actually enjoyed it. Two years ago I realized that I was actually putting on weight. I had started to get rolls around my hips and a slight pot belly. Nothing particularly exciting, but for someone who has never been able to put on weight in their life it’s a pretty massive life change. So I started running. I initially said I was running so I could eat whatever I wanted. And I did. And it was fine. But eventually I realized that I was running these fantastic distances and I could eat 3500-4000 calories a day, but to what end? Why was I churning through this massive amount of food? And was I hurting Julie’s weight related goals just so I could be a glutton? So I started trying to cook better. We tried reduced portions for a while which worked, but made you feel like you were really working to eat healthy. Now Julie’s doing weight watchers (as am I by extension), and it’s been good to see that I should be eating about 2/3 more than her. Which is definitely not how we were doing things before.

Stigma and Obesity

I wrote a post a while back about social stigma and obesity. This article draws up some recent findings in a fascinating way. The crux of the study that came out is this is:

[Risk of Obesity -] Genetics can’t explain it, since having a fat friend was more likely to predict a person’s obesity than having a fat sibling was. Environmental constraints can’t explain it, since faraway friends made a difference, while next-door neighbors didn’t. Availability of food can’t explain it, since friends had a bigger effect than spouses did. Nor can sheer imitative eating, since faraway friends had as big an effect as local friends did.

This is fascinating. It’s saying that social shame and social validation are two of the most powerful factors in our lives. That’s crazy. Even more interesting:

Fowler cautioned that studies “suggest that having more friends makes you healthier. So the last thing that you want to do is get rid of any of your friends.” Christakis added, “We are not suggesting that people should sever ties with their overweight friends. But forming ties with underweight or normal weight friends may be beneficial to you.”

Which is even more fascinating, that your group of friends can have serious ramifications on your health. Julie and I are addicted to the show Big Medicine. It’s about 2 doctors who perform gastric bypasses in Houston, TX. It’s sensational and it’s voyeurism, but it constantly begs the question, “How do people get that big?” And this study makes me wonder. Is it just the lack of friends? Would they have been able to hold steady at 300 pounds rather than ballooning up to 500 if they had had skinny friends (or even other 300 pound friends)? If this is really true, then we are so important to each other. Our behavior impacts each other on such a fundamental level. How are we impacting the world? When we judge, are we judging to make it a better place, or are we judging to try to get others to join us in our misery? What part of our lives does this not touch? Are we perhaps less individuals and more like a herd than we’d like to think?

Fur vs. Hair

So Brandon called me and was wondering what the difference was between fur and hair. I thought about this a lot, without a dictionary, because I’m sure that would be cheating. And I think it’s pretty simple. Fur is a collection of hair. But often it is considered rude to call someone furry. So hair is really just a polite term. A point of etiquette if you will. And of course there are the parts of human society that would prefer you call them furry. So really if you are a guest in an unfamiliar animal phylum you should politely ask your host the preferred term.

Intelligent… depends on your definition of Intelligent

So I was thinking about the ears, nose, and mouth. Which made me think about Intelligent Design and Irreducible Complexity. Irreducible complexity for those not in the know is the idea that certain systems are far too complex to have evolved. They must point to creation by a higher power. Which got me thinking about the ears, nose and mouth in relation. That has got to be the most inelegant design. I mean, sure you have a nose hole and an ear hole, and a mouth hole. But they’re all connected inside. So fluid from your nose can get in your ears. Stuff you drink can get in your lungs. And if the filtration system on your breathing hole (nose) gets stopped up you breath through your mouth which is completely unfiltered. Doesn’t seem to be designed by a higher designer to me.

But then I got to thinking about how humans design things, and we’re really bad at multi-function designs. I mean look at any piece of technology that does more than one thing. The best designs humans create are things that do one thing and do them well. So if man is created in God’s image, then perhaps God is kind of bad at design elegant multi-function designs. I mean if his creation can’t design a combination phone/printer/fax/copy machine that can print a spreadsheet and receive a fax at the same time, then why do we expect that God could create an elegant respiratory system.

Or perhaps the ears, nose, and mouth just evolved to the stupidity of design they inhabit today.

On another public school fairness note…

This is an even better way to create fairness in schools. I disagree with the author, though, that this will lead to less dissent. I think our feelings on race make us less able to criticize race-based policies. Income based policies would face a lot more complaint. After all, think how acceptable it is to use the term “white trash” in our society. Here’s the article:

I do like the idea though.

Societal Norms

So, Coker has got me thinking about societal pressure a lot lately. He’s been talking a lot about the difficulty of not judging other people. Which is nearly impossible, and we all know that. But it got me thinking about the question of why we judge. And I’ve been wondering if perhaps this is our pack behavior. This is our way of passing down important knowledge that is not easily ascertained by cause and effect. Like “have sex and you’ll get pregnant” is pretty simple to teach kids. It’s much harder to get them to understand how much their life might suck if they have a kid at 12. How they might not get to finish high school. How much fun they might miss out in college, etc. Thus we build in societal judging of young mothers. It’s worked decently well for millions of years. And it’s fascinating to me, because we’re obviously in a period where it’s less accepted to judge people. Or at least we think that’s true. In reality we’re just better at segmenting ourselves into populates that just judge fat people, or welfare moms, or soccer moms. Whatever, our little tribe is not. But we encounter so many other tribes in our day to day lives that we get to the point where we pretend we’re not judging anyone. Except in reality we are. Oh we are…

Obviously there are great reasons to buck the trends. The struggle for civil rights is a great reason to buck conventional wisdom. But at least with race now we live under the opposite polarity. We judge people who have the slightest tendencies to do or say things that are degrading to a particular race. So we haven’t gotten rid of that particular taboo. We’ve just moved the mass consensus to the other side. I’m not sure you can actually get rid of this tribal judging. I just think you can move it around on the value map.

It’s interesting to see how people fit into these trends. Some people seem to be the tastemakers in this respect. Setting the bar for those in their tribe. And sometimes various people in the tribe can be the tastemakers on different subjects. Perhaps someone who is a strong foodie in the tribe decides which wines and cheese are good. And the rest of the tribe follows. Because they don’t know as much about wine and cheese. And suddenly you have an entire tribe that judges people who drink St. Genevieve. But is that a bad thing? It’s more a fascinating thing. And when the St. Genevieve drinkers come up against this tribe, perhaps they have a reason that St. Genevieve is a good wine. Perhaps they are thrifty and feel that it’s a waste of money to spend that much money on wine. Their tribe judges people who spend excessively on food. Who’s right? Who cares? These are both valid points, and their judging helps to mold their tribes.

I think one of the unfortunate fallouts of this is that some people can’t take the criticism. This is a clash of cultures man! You can’t just say, I’m pissed off by this or that makes me angry. You’ve got to confront the idea. No one in life is going to have the same life experiences and there’s no way they’re going to understand how your experiences shape your opinion unless you tell them. And then confront your own. Which one is more valid for you? And are you perhaps angry because you see the validity of the other side, but it’s not what you want in your life? Might you need some personal growth and rejection of past dogmas? Unfortunately, with certain people and certain settings we don’t feel free to debate. Work is a great example of this for me. So there becomes less and less to talk about. Because if you can’t talk about your values, what are you really talking about? TV, I guess.

The downside to tribal life is that while we can get meaning and security from keeping a set of values, we also can stagnate and become “old fashioned”. Becoming “old fashioned” I don’t believe is a function of believing in certain things that are no longer hip. It is a function of settling in, and no longer accepting new ideas. Of settling in as one of the tribe with no input on direction.

We no longer have vast country sized tribes. You don’t see Nazi Germany’s or 1950’s US anymore. We’re fragmented. Our migration patterns, and communications patterns allow us to find a very small, personalized tribe. And to reform our tribe as we see fit. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I the only one thinking about it (and feeling that perhaps it is postive for our society as a whole)?