For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Well, golly gee, I guess I'm doomed - unless I spend lots of money!

(updated to, hopefully, find and fix all my typos 25/02/10)
I pretty much never buy newspapers anymore, but thanks to a charity fundraiser, we did get a subscription to the National Post.  Normally, I find the NP pretty reliable.  Like most papers, they tend to lean one way more than the other politically, but they tend to be informative about both sides of an issue.

Today (or should I say, yesterday, since I'm writing this past midnight), they weren't.

The section, Media Planet, was focused on obesity.  Titled, "The Heavy Truth; Your guide to what obesity is, how one gets there, and the way to get out," made it pretty clear which side they weighed in on (no pun intended), but in case there was any doubt, the full page graphic cleared up any doubts.  A light coloured profile of a fat body, made up of a mosaic of cookies, is surrounded by the browns of chocolate bon bons.  Because, of course, we all know that us fatties are fat because we stuff our faces with sweets all the time.

Actually, when my daughter first held the section out to me, my first thought was that I was looking at a full page weight loss ad, as this graphic seemed to be part of the weight loss clinic blurb across the bottom of the page.  In fact, in flipping through the section, it was difficult to tell the difference between the articles and the ads.  Every article was framed with ads for clinics, diets, bariatric surgery, and weight loss supplements.  The entire back page of the section is taken up by one ad.  The most obvious thing a reader gets from this is that, if they want to lose weight, they need to spend lots of money on these things.  The articles pretty much told us that we were doomed if we didn't lose weight.

There were actually a couple of fairly balanced articles.  The very first one, Obesity: Lifestyle Chance or Lifestyle Choice, was one of them. Sorta.  It espoused some of the usual myths, but pointed out that fat people don't "choose" to be fat.  Later on, there's Obesity: Should we blame nature or nurture.  That one finished with the simple answer of, it's both.  Obesity and Eating Disorders, at least, starts off by saying that obesity is NOT an eating disorder, but it still goes on the assumption that if we just eat "right," our bodies will change to our "natural, healthy weight."  Which is just doublespeak for "thin," since everything else about the section tells us that a larger body shape cannot be natural, nor healthy.

Many of the articles were little more than promotions for specific weight loss diets, clinics, surgeries, supplements, and so on.  They were all filled with the usual assumptions.  Fit and healthy = being thin.  Eating right = reducing calories to lose weight - otherwise known as Dieting, even if they don't use that word to describe their regimen.  Feeling happy about our bodies, or just in general, can only be achieved through weight loss.  Weight gain, of course, is only ever caused by bad eating, even in those articles that acknowledged other causes of weight gain.

The irritating thing is the continual claims that being fat, all on its own, is the cause of a myriad of health problems.  It's that whole correlation/causation issue, all over again.

Now, being fat is indeed associated with higher risks for things like heart disease, diabetes, etc.  An associated higher risk, however, doesn't automatically mean that 1) a person will actually come down with whatever health problem is named and 2) that the increase of weight actually causes said health problem.  It could just as easily be a warning symptom.

Let's take a look at the difference between the increased risk and the actual cause of a problem.

When I get behind the wheel of my van and drive away, my risk of getting into a motor vehicle accident increases substantially from just staying home.

The fact that my risk of getting into a motor vehicle accident has increased doesn't mean that I will get into one.  It just means the chances are greater.  Some people never get into an accident their entire driving lifetime.  Others will get into many.

Now, let's say I do get into an accident.  What are the possible causes?

Well, some of them could be completely outside my control, like an unknown mechanical failure in my vehicle, or weather.  Another thing I have little to no control over is what other drivers do.  Perhaps a driver is texting or drunk while driving.  Or a driver might blow a red light because she decided to tie her shoelace (that is actually what a driver was doing when she ran a red and T-boned a friend of mine).  Or an unobservant driver talking on a cell phone might make a left turn without checking to see if the lane was clear (which is what killed a friend of my husband's).  For this sort of thing, the only thing I can do to reduce my risk is to make sure I am as observant and aware as possible; hopefully I will spot an impending accident and manage to avoid it.

Of course, I could be completely irresponsible as a driver.  Maybe I'm the one not paying attention to the light, talking on the cell phone, driving erratically, etc.  This sort of behavior would increase my risk of an accident even more.  It still doesn't mean that I will get into one.  Just that my risk has increased.

The thing is, if I get into a motor vehicle accident, the action that increased my risk (namely, getting into a vehicle and driving) isn't the actual cause of any accident I get into.  Even if my own irresponsible behavior increased the risk factor and actually caused an accident, it would be a specific action, not just me getting behind the wheel, that caused the accident.

Telling people who are fat that they can decrease their risk of various health problems if they just lose the weight is like telling people they can reduce the risk of a motor vehicle accident by never leaving home, since even being a pedestrian means an increased risk of motor vehicle accident.  After all, I could get hit by a truck while using a crosswalk, too.

We can reduce our health risks by doing some things. Just as we can practice defensive driving, we can improve our health in a variety of ways.  That might involve dietary changes (as opposed to going on a weight loss diet).  We can increase exercise as much as we're able to.  We can make changes in our lives to reduce stress.  If we have a family history of certain health problems, we can be aware of what signs to watch out for, in hopes of catching a problem before it becomes dangerous.  These actions may or may not prevent certain health problems from happening.  They may or may not result in weight loss.  The numbers on our scales are not necessarily a reflection of our actual health, nor are we failures if the numbers refuse to go down, even while our health indices improve.

Being thin isn't a guarantee for good health.  It just means a slightly reduced risk for some things.  It's actually an increased risk for others.  Despite the scary claims that being fat causes all sorts of problems, being thin doesn't magically remove that risk.  We can still drop dead of a heart attack.  We can still get cancer.  We can still get depressed.

Perhaps most important, being thin doesn't guarantee us happiness, nor does it define our worth as human beings.  The purveyors of weight loss solutions would have us believe otherwise, so that we'll spend lots and lots of money on their products or services.  As an added bonus, when they don't work (which is 95% of the time), it's never their fault.  It's always ours, for not trying hard enough.  Or giving them enough money.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

YOU are killing your kids!

You know, I was thinking of going to be early tonight.  Instead, I took the 20+ minutes to watch the Jamie Oliver TED Prize wish speech.  Now, I know I won't be able to sleep until I get all the thoughts swirling around in my head written down.

No, I'm not going to link to it here.  Go do a search on it on youtube, if you really want to see it.  Assuming you want to waste 20 minutes of your life watching that condescending little git.  Man, I used to like this guy!  Sheesh!

First off, I want to talk about the good stuff.  There is some there, and it's a shame it was ruined by the crap.

Oliver talks about food education, which I think is a grand idea.  Knowing how to pull together healthy, tasty meals is a good thing.  Knowing how to do it using fresh, quality ingredients is also a good thing.  Being able to feed a family healthy meals economically is a good thing.  I've encountered far too many people who not only don't know how to use basic ingredients, but are thoroughly intimidated by them.  They're under the impression that cooking is complex or difficult, and don't feel confident that they can learn.  I think this is part of the larger problem of our education system teaching us to defer to experts in areas that used to be the realm of family and community, like how to parent, feed, raise and educate our kids.  Spend 12 or more years being told you're incompetent, and there's a tendency to believe it.

Oliver also discusses the excessive additives in many modern foods, and he has a very good point there.  He somewhat looses the theme by focusing primarily on sugar, rather that some of the other strange things added to our food.  Just try, for example, to find foods that can be eaten by people who can't do gluten, milk proteins or soy.  Any one of them is hard enough, but all three is amazingly difficult.  They show up in places you'd never expect, like milk proteins in sherbet or deli meats.  Soy and wheat are almost ubiquitous.

Unfortunately, that's about it for the good parts.

Oliver actually starts his talk with one of the biggest pieces of BS, claiming that in the next 18 minutes of his speech, 4 Americans will die because of what they eat.

Really?  And how was that determined?  Did they all eat poison?  Or would that be based on the already falsified, junk science claim that obesity kills 300,000 + people in the US every year?  He infers that obesity - which I don't think he ever defined in the talk, so I'll assume he is referring to the BMI definition - is killing these people, and says so directly many times throughout his talk.  This, of course, runs counter to the repeated studies that show people in the overweight category have the best outcomes and longest lives, while those in the normal and obese categories have equal numbers except in the most extreme examples of obesity, at which point the numbers match what's really the most dangerous category to be in, underweight.

At least he admits he's not a doctor, not that that really improves anything.

He then chastises Americans for being the most unhealthy people in the world, and repeats the recent BS claim that our kids will live shorter lifespans than their parents.  He emphasizes this by pointing to someone in the audience and saying "YOUR child will live a life 10 years younger than you, because of the landscape of food that we've build around them."

Aside from the guilt inducing accusation, this is, of course, an extrapolation, similar to those that claim X% of adults will be obese in the near future - a model that, if it were to believed, means that obesity rates will eventually be 100%.  Like so many other predictions, these are mathematical constructs that have little to do with reality.  Life spans and overall health have more to do with things like poverty, sanitation, and reliable, accessible health care, and while obesity may indeed be connected with various health problems, increased adiposity, in and of itself, has never killed anyone.

His next fallacy is shown in a graph of causes of death.  Of these, he blames heart disease, all cancers, stroke and diabetes on diet and obesity.  Which is absolute BS.  The primary predictors for heart disease and diabetes - especially T2 diabetes - is heredity.  Among the list of risk factors for heart disease, obesity is the last one listed.  (As a side note, a recent study found that the majority of first time heart attack victims had normal cholesteral levels.  Of course, the pharmaceutical company, and manufacturer of statins, that paid for this study declared that this meant that we should change what is considered normal cholesterol levels, and doctors should put more people on statins.)  All cancers?  There are so many different types of cancers, to blame them all on eating habits and body fat is ludicrous.  As for stroke, a quick look at a medical reference site, and there's nary a mention of diet or obesity.  As for diabetes, it's caused by the pancreas's inability to produce insulin, ranging from an absolute lack of insulin, to defective insulin (which is rare).  Risk factors are a different issue altogether, and again, genetics plays a strong role.  This is particularly notable when looking at diabetes rates in different ethnic groups. Blaming diet and obesity is far too simplistic - but does a great job of blaming the victim.

What Oliver also neglects to mention is that research has found obese people who have never dieted do not exhibit increased risk factors for heart disease, diabetes or stroke (I can't say for cancer, again because there are so many different types).  It is only obese people with a history of weight loss dieting that exhibit increased risk factors.  Dieting to loose weight is more dangerous to our health that being fat in the first place.

Ultimately, the single greatest increase in risk factor for all of these isn't diet or body fat, but age.  The older we get, the more likely we are to die of any of these.  Well, at least until the age of 50, at which point there's no difference anymore.  In other words, the higher death rates in these categories are the consequence of our increased life spans.

Oliver then moves on to some of his more disgusting behavior.  He introduces us to "my friend Brittany,"  a 16 yr old, complete with unflattering photo.  Brittany, he declares, will be dead in 6 years.  Because she's eating herself to death.

If this is how he humiliates his friends, it's a wonder he has any at all.

Just how does Oliver know she'll be dead in 6 years?  He's already admitted earlier that he's no doctor.  He doesn't tell us, other than some vague reference to her eating her liver to death.

I'm not sure how he came to that conclusion, but it reminds me of a French study that was ongoing when I read about it, and I really wish I could find out more about it.  Inspired by the movie, Supersize Me, a French university professor with some extra money in his budget decided to do a clinical study to replicate what Spurlock did to himself in the movie and see if he got the same result.  In this study, volunteers - all healthy, young, male medical students - agreed to eat a minimum of 6000 calories of fast food a day and get as little exercise as possible, for the entire school year.  The only exceptions to fast food were breakfast, which they could eat at home, so long as it was lots of bacon and eggs and the like, or, if they failed to reach 6000 calories by the end of the day, a high calorie shake they would mix up enough of to put them over 6000 calories was to be drunk before bed.  The participants were closely monitored, with particular attention to liver function, because Spurlock had apparently developed liver problems.

The results of the first group to take part in this study were; an initial weight gain in the first month to month and a half, which was lost shortly after; some minor changes to liver function in the same time period, then back to normal.  By the end of the study, none of the volunteers displayed any health problems, though they all complained about the difficulty of eating 6000 calories a day, and were chafing at the lack of activity.

On to Oliver's talk.

He then shows a "normal family," and gives various other examples of all these fat people.  None of which is normal, of course, but extreme examples.  Then there's the diatribe against fast food, corporations, and the usual myths about diet.  Again, he ignores the actual research, which has shown time and again that there is no statistical difference in diet and exercise between fat kids and thin ones.  Whatever is causing these kids (and adults) to be unusually large, it isn't as simple as what they eat.  He then makes all sorts of assumptions: that fat = unhealthy, fat people are fat because they pig out all the time, don't know how to cook, don't eat fresh food, etc. This implies, of course, that thin people are all healthy, never overeat, always cook their own healthy, wholesome meals, and eat fresh foods.  Which is bullshit.  Again, complex issues reduced to simplicity.

Then he goes on to humiliate that "normal" family again.  A week's worth of food, which we are supposed to believe is what this family eats every week, is piled onto the table in a big, disgusting mess, as well as on the counters and shelves around them.  The camera spends a lot of time showing the crappy pizzas, corn dogs, hot dogs, and who knows what else is buried in there.   He then tells the mom that she's killing her children, YOU are killing your kids, he tells her, then asks, "how does that make you feel?"  I don't  know about that woman, but it would make me feel like ordering the biggest, greasiest burger I can find, just to spite his smarmy ass.  He reduces her to tears and into admitting she's killing her kids (which makes me wonder just what else he said and did leading up to this clip), then says, "but we can stop that."

Yeah.  Right.  Tell me, Jamie.  Did you find out what this family's medical stats where?  Do they have high blood pressure?  Abnormal cholesterol levels?  Heart problems?  Do you know?  We sure aren't being told.  We're just supposed to assume that, because this family is fat, they're going to DIEDIEDIE!  Well, not the mom.  Just the kids, because she's just such a disgusting, pathetic excuse of a human being that's KILLING HER KIDS!!!!! Of course, he did mention that this is a "third generation" family.  I think he meant to say that they were third generation fat.

What was that thing about heredity and genetics?  Or, right... body size is anywhere from 80-98% (depending on your source) genetically determined.

He ends that particular section by repeating the word, "normal."


Then he moves on to the schools.  He spends some time slagging school lunches and blaming it mostly on accounting, which again, is simplistic.  He doesn't mention what a failure his school lunch program has been, nor the reasons.

Then there's a really bizarre clip of a "normal" elementary school.  Looking at the kids, I'd say kindergarten to grade one.  He proceeds to hold out various fruits and vegetables, none of which the kids can name, or name properly.  Cue ominous music.  He hold up tomatoes, and is told they are potatoes.

Now, I find I have to comment on this one.  I realy don't think that the kid was too stupid to know the difference between a potato and a tomato.  I think it's just as likely he got the words backwards.  I've known adults who constantly get tomato/potato mixed up.  Heck, I've done it myself.

Oliver, however, doesn't correct the child.  Later on, however, he holds a potato out to another child.  When asked what it is, the child has no answer.  Hmmm... let's see... he can't say it's a potato, because some other kid called another completely different food a potato and wasn't corrected.  So if that's a potato, than this other thing being held up couldn't possibly also be a potato, could it?  Looking back at my own thinking at that age, I would have been suspicious of any food held up at that point.  After all, if I know what a food is, but suddenly it isn't, I would have been second guessing myself, no matter how sure I might have been only minutes before.  And besides, if a tomato is suddenly a potato, than surely a cauliflower can be a broccoli, or a beet can be a celery?

I can also say, in all honesty, that I would not have recognized an eggplant (or should I say, aubergine) or a leek at that age.  These are foods that, like many other foods, I simply wasn't exposed to until much later in life. There were also foods that I knew what they were, but didn't know what they were called.  At least in English.  I might have seen cauliflower in the grocery store, but we never bought them (with a garden as large as ours, we pretty much never bought vegetables, which greatly limited my exposure to different types) and I had no idea what they were called for a long time.  I've met kids who didn't know the word broccoli.  To them, they were "trees."

While it's possible that Oliver somehow managed to find an entire classroom of kids who'd never been exposed to these vegetables before, not even in coloring or story books, I find it highly unlikely.  Especially with all those "healthy eating" programs that are in so many schools right now.  I find the entire segment very suspicious.  Especially when he keeps insisting that this is "normal."  We're at a point when, thanks to "educational" programs and cultural indoctrination, we have 6 yr olds being hospitalized for anorexia, 4 yr olds putting themselves on diets and refusing to eat, and toddlers who can barely talk saying they think they're fat!

Normal?  He keeps using that word.  I don't not think it means what he thinks it means...

Next he talks about milk and sugar, and uses a wheelbarrow to demonstrate all the sugar kids are drinking in their milk.  I happen to agree that adding that much sugar to milk is pretty disgusting, but he goes overboard in claiming child abuse.  As has become usual in this talk, Oliver is making false assumptions, this time on sugar.  In reality, there is no connection between sugar and obesity in children.

So what are his solutions?  Food ambassadors in supermarkets to show us how to shop. (Because we're all so stupid.)  Get the government to wean us off salt, fat and sugar (all of which are dietary requirements) in fast food. (Because we really want the government telling us what we should eat, and how much.)  Food cooked fresh on site at schools. (Because it's the schools' job to feed our kids, efficiency, health and safety standards be damned - another one of his failed projects.)  Having every child graduate knowing how to cook "10 recipes that will save their life."  (No explanation as to what those would be.)
He makes a few really odd statements.

"If you can cook, recession money doesn't matter.  If you can cook, time doesn't matter."  What does that even mean??

Then he refers to a woman earlier who's fat dad died in her arms (he was fat, so he just up and dropped dead on her, apparently), and declares she'd be happy  "... if corporate America could start feeding their staff properly." Since when was it our employers job to feed us? Our body shapes and sizes are no business of theirs, any more than they are Oliver's.

I think he's absolutely right that it's good for people to learn how to cook, though his "pay it forward" concept was a complete failure.  The plug he throws out to Mrs. Obama is, I find, rather disgusting, considering how she used and humiliated her own daughters.

There are so many things about him that bothers me.  Arrogance.  Ignorance.  Condescension.  I'm going to have to stop, though, as this is already quite long.

At the end, he puts out his wish. 

"I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

How can someone turn such a potentially good idea into something so filled with ignorance and idiocy?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The joys of socialism

Every now and then, in looking at the different models of community living out there, the idealist in me longingly looks at socialism and thinks, gee, wouldn't that be nice?  Everyone helping each other out, working together in co-operation for the common good, and all those wonderful utopian ideals.

Then reality comes along and smacks the stupid out of me.

I need that every now and then.

Tonight was one of those head smacking nights.

As I've mentioned before, we now live in a housing co-op. This is a model that's somewhere in between the capitalist model of home ownership, leasing or renting, and the more communal co-housing model.  In a co-op, every unit owns exactly the same number of shares, whether it's a 1 bedroom unit with a single dweller, or a 5 bedroom unit with 7 people living in it.  One unit also represents one vote, so not only do we all own exactly the same percentage of the complex, but have the same level of power as anyone else.

One of the requirements is that everyone is expected to put in their share to the smooth running of things, to the best of our abilities.  Obviously, someone in a wheelchair isn't going to be able to do garbage room duty as well as an able bodied person, but there's nothing preventing them from participating in or heading the various committees.

Ah, the committees.  What joy! 

Yeah, that's meant to be sarcasm.

Some of the committees are necessary.  Maintenance.  Finance.  Membership.  Others are more for fun.  Social.  Gardening.  Newsletter.  Most of these get together at least once a month.  Then there are the board meetings every couple of weeks, quarterly membership meetings that we're all supposed to try to get to, and the annual membership meeting, where we get to vote in our various board members.

Now, in a perfect world, each of these committees would get together for their meetings, look at what needs to be done, make decisions on what they have enough information on, or find out what is needed and spend the time until the next meeting gathering that info so that decisions can be made.  Everyone gives constructive input, co-operatively debate what needs debating, call a vote if needed, and once the decisions are made, the job gets done.

The problem, of course, is people.

Which illustrates for me why the socialist model, as wonderful as it might sound, simply cannot work on a large scale, such as in running a country.  Because even on a scale as small as our own, it barely works.

In order for a democratic socialist model to work, everyone involved has to be motivated for the greater good.  What always seems to happen is that there people, usually the same one or two, that just can't seem to do it.  Even the simplest of things get stymied, blocked, argued over and lambasted.

I was just at a general meeting.  Not an annual one, so not as many people were there.  Still, these are the meetings where decisions involving the entire co-op are made, so long as the minimum number of people show up for any voting that needs to be done.  The meeting moved along swimmingly until we got to the one piece of new business we had, which happened to involve a chunk of money.  There is some needed renovation of a public, communal area in our complex, and it was suggested that some of the money gets invested there.

Cue the bickering.

Note, we weren't even trying to decide on what needed to be done, just that we agreed this area needed work beyond regular maintenance, and that we'd look into the details for future decision making.

On one side, there are the people who don't want any "spare" money going towards anything at all.  They'd rather the money was rerouted to [insert preferred budgetary area here].  Then there are the ones who refuse to accept a specific process.  Others refuse to accept details; in the case of a renovation, that might be the type of flooring, or paint colours.  None of which was even part of this meeting.

Even after the president specifically stated that he didn't want things to get bogged down like another suggestion that had been made a while back - so bogged down, in fact, that even after everyone agreed it needed to be done, it hasn't been done and may well not be done at all anymore - someone went and suggested that...

Can you guess?

That's right... another committee get formed.  A temporary one, formed just to deal with this one renovation. 

Which would pretty much guarantee that this needed renovation of a communal space wouldn't happen for probably a year, if at all. 

While a community situation like ours pretty much requires the use of committees, it is probably the most inefficient way to get things done that exists.  Things that could be taken care of in a matter of days are instead taking months just for the decision making process.  Not that everyone is happy when things do get accomplished, but that's just human nature.  Were this a commercial property, owned by an individual or corporation, things can still get bogged down, but in the end, the owner(s) say, "this is what will be done," hire the appropriate people to do it, and it's done.  The more people involved in the decision making process, the longer it takes, which is why decision by committee is so bloody frustrating.  When the committee has to answer to an even larger number of equally invested interests, the result often feels like running into a brick wall at every turn.  After hitting that wall head first time and again, it gets pretty hard to see straight.  The same points get rehashed over and over, because there are always some people who are completely unwilling to accept that their opinion on the subject isn't the one everyone else agrees on.  If they don't get their way one way, they try another, and if that doesn't work, they'll insist on various actions that drag things on and on and on.

It gets worse.

With some people, they're among those bitter, toxic people that hate everyone and everything.  They just love poisoning the well, and nothing is ever right for them. With others, it might be the manifestation of psychological problems.  How do you respond to someone who keeps repeating issues that have already been resolved because they literally can't remember what happened 5 minutes ago?  Still others do it as a way to grasp power and gain relevance in their lives.  Perhaps they're frustrated at work or in their home lives, so they latch onto the one thing in their world where they can actually exercise some control, so they do it, even if it causes distress to others.  Well, to be honest, the more distress it causes to others, the better this particular group seems to like it.

In a nutshell, no matter how much socialist style co-operation would benefit a community, human nature will never allow it.  The only way it could work smoothly is if all the members of a community reject or hold back their own self-interests in the interests of the group, and no one has any ambition beyond what the group desires.  There certainly isn't any room for individualism, unless the individual's desires happen to be the same as the group's.  Independent thinking, whether it's of the negative sort I've mentioned above, or more positive sorts that suggest improvements and changes, is not encouraged.  Rocking the boat, even it it's to try to knock people into a bigger and better boat, is not tolerated. 

In the end, what develops is apathy and complacency.  Why bother showing up at all these meetings, when every good idea will just get shot down by the toxic avengers?  Why take part in committee meetings, when the same people bring up the same issues, over and over and over and over and...

... yeah, we've been getting that one a lot.

There's little incentive to improve, and even less to innovate.

Now, as much as I find all this frustrating, we chose to live here.  We came in here with our eyes open, knowing what our responsibilities and expectations were.  So we put up with it, and we try to work with it as much as we can.  If others don't pull their weight, we're not going to slack off, because what we do that benefits our community benefits us.  This was a decision we made, and we will make it work to the best of our abilities.

On a grander scale, however, such as governing a country, that choice is gone.  On a large scale, even if things are supposedly democratic, freedoms are not just lost, but taken, to benefit a larger community we did not necessarily elect to be part of.  Such a system, instead of breeding co-operation, breeds resentment; apathy instead of activity; complacency instead of ambition.  It becomes bloated and inefficient. 

History has shown, time and again, that socialism as a system, no matter how well meaning and well intentioned the original co-ordinators were, devolve to become the most wasteful, the most environmentally harmful, and the least free of all societies.  For all the problems capitalist based societies have, they still manage to be better, for the individual, the community and the environment.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A touchy subject

For the last while, Eldest has been checking out a lot of old and esoteric movies from the library. (you can check out her new movie blog here) Tonight, we re-watched Metropolis, and it reminded me of a conversation we'd had about how different the old movies are from today.  In the old silent movies, the acting is physically over the top. Motions are exaggerated, facial expressions extreme. Without speech to convey the message, people did a lot of heart clutching, eyebrow waving and dramatic swooning.

In one old Garbo movie, the two male leads played characters who where the best of friends. They often held each other in their arms, faces inches apart, while talking. They even kissed each other in greeting. While watching Metropolis, we saw various male characters hold and hug each other in various ways, even though the characters weren't close friends. There was a great deal of physical contact. In modern movies, physical contact between men is either the macho, manly sort, where they punch each other's shoulders, or roughly clasp each other, or they're gay characters who's physical contact is meant to imply romance or sexual intimacy. It's similar with female characters, though modern movies do allow women to have more physical contact with each other in a non-sexual manner then men.

Old novels describe characters behaving in similar ways, and these reflected the culture of the time. I remember women of my parents' generation, for example, would frequently walk hand in hand or arm in arm if they were good friends. At social gatherings, I often saw little old ladies dancing waltzes and polkas with each other more often then with men.

Everyone, male and female, greeted each other with kisses. On the cheeks, on the lips, it didn't matter. It wasn't unusual for people staying overnight in each other's homes, at a time when spare bedrooms were rare (if people had houses big enough for there to be bedrooms at all), for women to sleep with other women, and men with men, and no one thought anything of it. It really wasn't that long ago when entire families would sleep together, sometimes in a big dog pile, and any guests would join them. Co-sleeping among family groups was the norm, even for those wealthy enough to have space and beds. I remember reading that the largest bed recorded belonged to a British (?) king, and it slept 120 people. These days, in Canada and the US, everyone is expected to have their own bedroom, and even infants are expected to sleep alone in a separate room - a truly modern turn of events, and far from the norm around the world.

Other cultures are far more comfortable with physical contact. I recall my FIL telling me about some of the customs they had to get used to while living in Bamako, Mali. There, men walked down the street hand in hand, without anyone assuming they were gay. My FIL demonstrated to me the typical behaviour when meeting someone at the beginning of the day.My FIL reached out to hold my hand with one hand, while stroking the back of it with the other.While looking me full in the face, he started asking me things like, how are you feeling today? How is your wife? Your daughter? This would be coming from the people he was working with! Job talk would not start until after this greeting ritual. Saying hello could take 5 or 10 minutes. It took a long time for him to get used to this level of physical touching.

How different our current culture has become!  Somehow, we seem to have come to a point where all physical intimacy is viewed as sexual. If we see two people holding hands, we assume they are in a romantic, if not sexual, relationship; especially if they are of the same gender. More so men than women, for whom girlfriend hugs are still okay. Physical touch has become so sexualized, that many women won't do breast self exams, never mind use tampons that don't come with applicators. Even parents are suspect when touching their own children. Particularly fathers and daughters. I recall reading one psychological text that described a father bouncing his toddler daughter on his lap, interpreting not only the father's actions, but the daughter's responses, in a purely sexual manner. It was downright creepy!

How did we come to this point, that we have so physically isolated ourselves from each other? How did we come to interpret even the most innocent of physical contact as sexual? (I could probably blame Freud, now that I think about it.)

More than that, we seem to have even begun to see all non-familial relationships as potentially sexual. In looking at older generations or reading books from earlier time periods, we see that people developed close, intimate relationships with each other, without them becoming sexual, and no assumption that they ever would. Men and women alike expressed their love for each other, in words, in letters, in gestures, without it ever becoming sexual. Many people, looking at these real or fictional relationships through the lens of our modern culture, insist that this meant they were actually gay - the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Watson being one example.

It seems to me that our sexualization of intimate relationships may even be effecting our ideas of our own sexuality. I think it's perfectly natural to want to touch and hold someone you care deeply for, regardless of gender or sexual preference.  Since we live in a culture that seems to interpret any sort of physical or emotional desires for intimacy as sexual, I suspect that some people who've found themselves caring very deeply about someone of the same gender are concluding that they must be homosexual. Why else would they want to be so intimate with them? It seems we can't even admire the beauty of someone of our own gender without the suggestion that we must be gay because of it. I can look at another woman, admire and enjoy her physical beauty, without it meaning I'm a lesbian and want to have sex with her, yet our culture increasingly sends the message that I couldn't possibly enjoy looking at another woman without being gay. Heaven help a man who appreciates the beauty of another man! (Note: when it comes to homosexuality, I know that for some people, there's no doubt that they are born that way. They're not who I'm talking about.)

The idea that we can form a close bond with another person, share our heart and soul with them, hold them or even *gasp* kiss them! without also wanting to have sex with them just doesn't compute. Our highly sexualized culture tells us that men and woman can't have intimate (or sometimes, even casual) relationships with each other and not want to have sex with each other. In fact, it seems as if our culture sees people as being completely enslaved by our sexual desires, and that we must indulge them. Not only that, but if we find we *don't* have these desires, something must be wrong with us. The idea that we can have a relationship with someone of the opposite sex without wanting to hop into bed with them means one of two things. Either we're gay, or there's something wrong with us and we should go to a doctor for a pill to fix our lack of desire. The idea that we might actually enjoy an intimate, non-sexual, relationship with others seems an aberration. Yet, like co-sleeping and higher levels of physical contact, this interpretation is very new, and not at all the norm for humanity.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Shaping our perceptions: updated

It's always interesting to me, when reading news and magazine articles, how headlines are used to shape our perceptions - and how often those headlines misrepresent the articles they're written for.  Here's an example I found today.

Obese woman wins right for better parking spot.

Going by this headline alone, you could understandably assume that this woman somehow fought for, and got, a better parking spot simply because she was fat.

But what does the article say?

The first hint that things are not as they seem is right in the first sentence.

MONTREAL (CP) — A morbidly obese Quebec woman with various health problems has won her legal fight for a better parking spot.

Now, she's not just obese, but morbidly obese... with various health problems added almost as an afterthought.

What else is there?
The 57-year-old resident of Sainte-Marie, Que., weighs 389 lbs., suffers from diabetes, needs a wheelchair, and gets help breathing from an oxygen tank.

She had tried to switch parking spaces with another condo dweller, but the neighbour refused and the condo association left the two to sort it out themselves.
 Now we have two things.

One, she's in a wheelchair.

Two, her neighbour refused to switch parking spots with her.

Now imagine if there had been this, more accurate, headline.  How would this change your perception?

Wheelchair bound woman wins right for better parking spot.
Think about it for a moment.  This woman's weight is irrelevant.  Her diabetes and the fact that she needs an oxygen tank to breath is also irrelevant.  When it comes to a parking spot, there's only one relevant fact.

She is in a frickin' wheelchair!

Full stop.

Nothing else is of issue.

Ah, but a neighbour refusing to switch spots with a wheelchair bound woman would be discriminatory.  Refusing to switch spots with a woman that wants it because she's obese... well, who wouldn't refuse such a trite request?

There's another perception that's implied by the phrasing of this headline.  Because this woman is first described as obese, it is implied that her weight is the reason she's in a wheelchair, diabetic, and breathing from an oxygen tank.  It also suggests that someone who is so OMGFATZ!!! can't possibly also be mobile (though she still manages to operate a vehicle, or she wouldn't need the parking spot in the first place).  Never mind that people just as heavy, and heavier, are not rended immobile by their weight and manage just fine, thankyouverymuch.

On the other hand, if she had first been described as being in a wheelchair, one might instead assume that her weight and other health problems are complications of whatever put her in the wheelchair in the first place.  Either way, why she's in the chair doesn't matter.  The only thing that matters is that she is in a frickin' wheelchair!  Seriously.  The rest doesn't even need to be mentioned.

(As an aside, when we first moved to our current home, one of our new neighbours was in a wheelchair, needed oxygen, was diabetic and, yes, obese.  She had considerable mobility problems.  She was also active on many committees, and a great neighbour.  None of her health problems, and certainly not her weight, kept her from being an active contributor to our community.  I wish some of our able bodied neighbours would match even half of what this woman managed!  Note I am speaking of her in the past tense. Sadly, about a month after we met her, she somehow fell out of her chair while alone at home, knocking the oxygen tubes loose.  Unable to reach her help alarm, she died.  The outpouring of grief from our new neighbours was a testament to how greatly loved and appreciated she was by our community.)

The Quebec Human Rights Association seems to get it, though.

The rights tribunal ruled that the condo association discriminated against the handicapped Myrand, and it ordered the association to pay $10,000 in damages.
Congratulations on your win, Marise!


Lorne Gunter has weighed in on this story, from a different point of view.

Human rights' next fronteir: Your parking lot.

First off, I agree with Gunter, to a point.  For there to be a human rights tribunal over a parking spot is ridiculous.  It should never have gone that far.  He also gives out a few more details in the story (apparently, Myrand is in a "handicap scooter," not a wheelchair.  Which means that she's got some mobility, but still can't walk.  She would still need an accessible spot.

The person who had the spot, on the other hand, claimed she needed it because she's 60, has a bum shoulder, and works late.

Hmmm...  bad shoulder... can't walk...Which do YOU think is more of an issue?

His other point is that it's not the condo association's place to take parking spots from one person and give them to another.

I would need some clarification on this.  As I understand it, people own their condos (or rent from independant owners), but parking lots are co-owned and assigned, similar to our own co-op parking situation.  Individuals don't own their parking spots, and if necessary, the condo association can indeed change them around, if there were reason to.  If I'm wrong, someone please correct me.

Unfotunately, Gunter still makes it about Myrand's weight.

Clearly, it's bad manners to wonder aloud whether someone who has allowed herself to become morbidly obese is now trying to use that condition to inch her vehicle closer to the entrance and save herself a few steps at the expense of a neighbour.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Giving it a go...

Gosh, I can't believe it's been such a long time since I've written.  It's not like there hasn't been an overabundance of potential subject matter, such as how the AGW fiasco has been crumbling before our eyes, or the latest report telling us we're all gonna DIEDIEDIE, based on double-blind, clinical trials a self reporting survery.

Real Life, however, has a way of stepping in.  Rather distracting that way. ;-)  The biggest issue has been my husband's health taking another turn for the worse.  *sigh*  Poor guy can't win for losing.  His latest combination of drugs has been doing its job and his blood sugars are back in normal ranges.  The side effects have calmed down. Unfortunately, it looks like stress has triggered another flare up of whatever's wrong with his digestive system.  The dr. even signed him off for a couple of days of medical leave (and he ended up taking another day more) in hopes that the rest would help.  Can't say that it did.  We discovered when he tried telecommuting that my husband doesn't have the temperment to be home a lot.  Of course, with having only one chair that gives his back proper lumbar support, that being the computer chair, means Dh has been at the computer playing WoW for hours at a time (well... in between bathroom sessions).  Meanwhile, the dr's written him up for another barium test to try and see what kind of damage there is.  Dh has had this test before, or a similar version, before we changed provinces.  He's not really looking forward to it.  At least this time, he's not expected to go on a liquid diet for a week before the test, with the last couple of days spent drinking that horrible prune juice on steroids he was given.  He's just got a 2 day liquid fast to deal with, instead.  :-P

We've managed to get out and about, though.  Dh even went with me to a big potluck dinner organized by a member of one of our home school groups.  It was followed by games and dancing, but he wasn't up to staying that long.  I hated to cut and run right after eating like that (and boy, was it good!), but we were already pushing his tolerance levels.  There were a few friends I never got the chance to talk to beyond a quick hello.  It would have been good to chat.  Ah, well.  We do what we can.

I also headed out with Youngest for a regular get together with another group of friends.  We got our baby fix in and everything. :-D  I'm still getting to know a lot of the people in this group.  They're a nice bunch of ladies, but I'm a bit taken aback by how much diet talk there is.  It seems like they're all dieting, or about to diet, or should be dieting...  I never know quite how to respond.  Talking to one of them, who's had a baby just 6 months or so ago, she threw out a comment along the lines of "you know how, when you're overweight, you HAVE to diet."  I was rather stunned speechless by that.  Especially when she went on to talk about how hard it was with the rest of the family not needing to diet, then recounted how her daughter, who's about 7, I think, was all upset about eating a piece of cake instead of something "healthy," and all the calories eating an apple would be.  The best I can do, I guess, is just not contribute to the conversation.  I'd be quite the wet blanket if I started going on about how I consider weight loss dieting to be a form or disordered eating that encourages body dismorphia.  I take some solace in the comment Youngest made in the van later on.  She swore to me that she'd NEVER go on a diet.  She is, however, interested in improving her fitness.  She accompanied me on my mall walk (Eldest usually joins me) that night, and we talked about hiking and doing weights and stuff.

One thing I've noticed when talking with other parents with kids of all ages.  We've got a couple of great kids!  Neither of them are suicidal, experimenting with drugs, viciously rebellious, or running away from home.  They don't hate themselves or their bodies, each other or Dh and I.  I'm rather surprised by how much of this I've been seeing.  Apparently we've been doing something right.  What that is, I have no idea.  Could be something we're NOT doing that's right, for all I know.  I can throw out a few possibilities, but for every one of them, I can look at a family that does the same thing, but has issues we don't have, or do things completely differently, and their kids are just as fine as my own.

Whatever it is, I'm thankful for it!