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I've been reading _Is it All In Your Head?_ by Suzanne O'Sullivan, MD. On the whole, it is a very good, very important book. Unfortunately, there are a few things in it that I had a problem with. All of my complaints involve when O'Sullivan steps outside her neurology arena and starts applying what she is talking about in patients she sees in her neurology practice who have symptoms (seizures, paralysis, weakness, loss of feeling, etc.) in her area of expertise which do not behave the way those symptoms should behave when objective tests are applied (EEG, electrical stimulation of nerves, reflex testing, etc.) in areas in which she has no expertise. Especially allergies and food intolerance.

Some people have meat allergy which appears for the first time in adulthood, and which in some people disappears after a few years. The onset of the allergic reaction tends to be quite delayed vs. most food allergies.


This is a _classic_ instance of "Oh that must be medically unexplained but surely can't be a REAL allergy because real allergies don't behave that way." Adult onset. Delayed. Etc. ON TOP OF THAT, it's a reaction to a _carbohydrate_, and allergies are reactions to proteins. Right. RIGHT?!? (ETA: I am describing a rhetorical position here; it is not mine.)

To be clear, O'Sullivan makes no mention of meat allergy or alpha-gal. (ETA: Technically, it is not hers, either.) I am using it as an example. We got really incontrovertible evidence of the _mechanism_ that alpha-gal delivered via tick bite causes adult meat allergy when scientists wanted to figure out why there was regional variation in negative reactions to cetuximab. (ETA: My position is the science-y one. Science has shown conclusively that at least some adult onset meat allergy which behaves very unlike some allergies is caused by a tick bite.)

O'Sullivan is ALSO very clear that every year, something with no medically known cause is found to have a medical cause. She just figures that it happens so rarely that people are really bending way too far over backward looking for medical causes and not looking for psychological causes and that needs to change. I don't actually disagree with her general thesis.

On page 190, she talks about candida and candidiasis, and that period of time now past when a lot of people thought they had it but actually didn't test positive for it even when medical professionals looked really hard. On the next page, she says:

"In the twenty-first century the exact same symptoms are more likely to be attributed to gluten sensitivity or allergies."

I'm not necessarily going to argue about the basic idea: there is a fraction of the population -- not trivial in size but not by any stretch of the imagination most people -- which will tend to latch on to the latest Oh This Is Causing All Your Problems, adopt an associated set of health prescriptions (usually diet oriented Don't Eat This / Do Eat That) and try to pester everyone they know into doing the same, while claiming that it cured all their ills. I'm not even _opposed_ to the general phenomenon. I figure each one of these things helps some subset find the thing that really was wrong with them, they stick with what worked for them, and the herd moves on to the next thing. My theory is that some day, everyone will have finally found the thing that worked for them and we'll all feel about as well as we can. (Is my progressivism / optimism showing? Oops! I'll try to cover that up again. I know it is unseemly.)

Here is what she says:

"I recently went to a dinner party where every person bar two, at a table of ten, reported that they had an intolerance of or allergy to at least one foodstuff. Most had developed the allergy in middle age, which is not how an allergy typically behaves."

She's a neurologist. How did she become so expert at allergies? Adult onset allergies are not particularly uncommon. Adult discovery of allergies is also not uncommon and sometimes deeply tragic. And every time someone decides to actually do a general population study for food allergy, we learn all kinds of new things, which means the field is by no means all caught up with reality. (See alpha gal above, but did you know that 2-3% of the general population is allergic to shellfish? I didn't. I am, and I didn't know how common it was. Legal Sea Foods has employees who have been quoted in the press saying that every little bit somebody shows up from the Midwest, eats something they've never had before and drops from anaphylaxis at the table and often is never revived. Don't you think this is something that maybe shouldn't fucking be dismissed so readily?)

I live in an area where food allergy is taken very seriously by restaurants, in part because of restauranteurs like Ming Tsai (mmmm Blue Ginger):


I've got food allergies and intolerances (yes, Dear Reader, both the proteins AND the sugars in milk cause me problems -- and not just cow's milk either, alas), some of which were detected in infancy and some of which I learned about the hard way as an adult. My husband has food intolerances. Many of my friends have food allergies and intolerances. The group that the author encountered may well have self-selected -- this was a party, I'm assuming some of these people hang out together on purpose. I know it's much easier to socialize with people who have or know someone who has food issues. Dealing with doctors like that one at T-weekend a while back -- or Dr. O'Sullivan -- is the worst. Here we've finally figured out a way to stay out of the doctor's office, and the doctor is now joining us for dinner and trying to tell us that it's just a phase.

No, dear doctors. No, it's not just a phase. It's not all in our heads. And just because food allergy now doesn't look like we used to understand it before is actually reflective of progressively better understanding of food allergy. Which it would be nice if you put some effort into catching up on.

She also disses IBS as probably psychosomatic; she seems blissfully unaware of FODMAP.

Oh, and as near as I can tell, this book is further evidence that in the UK, when people say "learning disabled", they mean something super-different than people mean in the US.

I have no reason to disregard O'Sullivan's neurology based expertise. I agree with her that there is a population over-using (to their own detriment and our shared expense) the medical system in pursuit of something which would be better found through the mental health professions. We part ways whenever she steps out of her area of expertise, which leads me to suspect she hasn't really understood the mental health side of this problem at all.
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We got a Show! I'm so excited about it. It is not flat. It has a weird sort of wedge shape to it that makes it sit upright on a flat surface very nicely. The speaker sounds quite decent. The screen is a bit small, but honestly, we have so many huge screens in our house I do not give a fuck. Placing the Echo Show was pretty straightforward: I wanted it next to my recliner. You know, so I never have to get up again. (<-- Joke.) This thing would have been so flipping perfect when I was breastfeeding. Oh well! But, you know, if you are a Millenial, and staying at home for some months with a little one physically attached to you, you might think about getting this. Also, if you are bedbound or whatever because of other issues (sprained ankle, broken foot, paralysis, etc.), I can see this really being a game-changer.

The main issue with putting it there is that we already had a regular Echo in the front hall, and that thing can hear decently far away (better than me, honestly. I'm old). So I kept having both of them respond, which really sucked. Yes, Dear Reader, you can be home alone and STILL have two people trying to tell you things at the same time and ignoring the fact that the other person is talking and you can't actually distinguish between them. For suitable values of "people". R. fixed this by having the main Echo respond to a different wake word -- it is now "Echo", and the Dot and the Show are now "Alexa".

Over the last few days, I have concluded that the single most awesome feature of the Show is that you can play music on it (wait for it) and it will scroll the lyrics with the music. Karaoke lovers might get a kick out of this, but my daughter absolutely loves it. Singing along is a blast.

It's nice that the weather forecast, your shopping list and similar features now no longer just "speak" at you, but also have a handy little display as well. T. is enjoying watching movie trailers on the Show. I'm sure we'll find more timewasting things to do with it. I hooked up my Apple calendar (my gmail calendar was already attached), and so it now shows on the scroll for the screen saver my next activity, along with random headlines and things that are trending on various social media. It's a little hypnotic just sitting there looking at it all go by. I'll probably eventually figure out how to configure that so it will show me index / stock / commodity prices and business headlines (because I cannot make head or tail out of the sports headlines that are currently scrolling by).

Should you get an Echo Show? I have no mortal clue. I suppose it depends on whether you read that and thought, "Awesome!" or "Why the hell would anyone waste money on that?" But if you _do_ get an Echo Show, and you and I call each other, make sure you call me on the Echo Show sometime because I want to try out the whole video call thing.
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It has been close to 40 years since I last read _Murder on the Orient Express_. And let me tell you, it's a different read in 2017.

The paperback copy I am reading starts on page 3. Hercule is about to get on the Taurus Express in Aleppo, Syria. By page 5, we have met Mary Debenham, who has already been on the train since Baghdad. She has not rested well, "Neither in the train to Kirkuk, nor in the Rest House at Mosul, nor last night on the train".

All words which would have been less than nothing to me when I was a child, and all of which we have become familiar with in the intervening time, most fairly recently, because of news.

Lieutenant Dubosc says, "Brrrrrr". I'm wondering if he should have instead said, "Gla gla!" or perhaps 3 glas. I don't really know.

Hercule hears what he believes to be Ratchett using the fold down washbasin in the next compartment over, where there was a groaning cry a moment ago, and the bell was rung and then someone said, no never mind. Here's a fold down washbasin for you:


"A calamity of the first water". Wow. Never run across that construction before, but it is by no means unique to Christie, if google is to be believed.

I like this bit. "She must have been a very strong woman". I am _so_ tired of procedurals and other mysteries -- to this day! -- which say, oh, must have been a man because tall or strong or big feet or whatever. I'm always like, I have more than one woman friend over 6 foot tall and unbelievably powerful. I am not short or weak myself. So this is really nice to see. If the blows were powerful, then that means a strong person, NOT inherently a man.

Oh, check this out! I've never heard of this book:

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T. and I went to CVS and the bank to run a couple errands before the snow hit completely. He did not have track today because it was canceled, but we were happy to learn that track continues through the end of March, which is exciting.

I'm reading Gloria Steinem's memoir, _My Life On the Road_, which I'm now halfway through and it is amazing. You should read it. I don't care who you are. I don't care whether you even like to read. This book is a blast. I bet it is even better as an audiobook, so if you don't read but can listen, you have an option.

Organizers like Steinem and Obama are wonderful to read, because they personalize everything they are trying to make a general point about, and they almost always do it from a The Joke's On Me perspective. So if you try to go, but even I know better than that, you sound churlish. If you try to go, but that never really happens to anyone, you sound heartless. And if you act like the whole thing is irrelevant, you are only illustrating their point Far Better Than They Ever Could (TM). If you read it and see how the magic is done, well, good for you! Go forth and do more of the same, and you can read the book for tips and tricks.

But if you are a person of good will, it's just an amazing stream of stories making some really insightful points about some extremely sticky situations that are all too common and worth working to mitigate, reduce or even eradicate. I'm really hoping the weather doesn't kill the possibility of a book group discussion about this tomorrow.

I thawed ground beef to make T. another batch of taco meat.
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All may be forgiven!

I've encountered a section about the inflationistas of 2010 and thereabouts/thereafter. Oh, that's a juicy lot of Too Much Commitment to a Wrong Belief, right there.

Of course, every last one of those assholes had huge incentives to try to pressure central bankers and others to worry more about inflation than deflation. If the author ignores that, I'm gonna be annoyed.

Here is the list of people: Michael Boskin (HW era), Klarman (half his fund in cash pretty much always), John Taylor (the oddball in the group that isn't stinking rich, but his audience is the stinking rich, and Krugman has been calling him out for misrepresenting the work of economists he is quoting for years now), Paul Singer (OMG could you get more conservative) and Niall Ferguson (I so don't need to say any more at this point). Bummer is that the author represents these conservative a-holes as: "some of the most celebrated individuals in their fields", without acknowledging their massive political skew, or, for most of them, their personal incentives for supporting monetary policy that focused on inflation vs deflation. If you talk about people who are VERY political without acknowledging that, and then go, why would they do that? You don't come across as very well-informed, for starters, because you're looking in the wrong place for the explanation. Something about the drunk looking for his keys under the street light.

"Indeed, there was something intellectually courageous about the group choosing to make their predictions so public in the first place." Uh, no, actually. Self-serving nonsense that distorted our policies in a way that harmed the world for longer than we had to do.

Altho, where did Rogoff and Reinhart go in this mess? I had to explain to my sister the other day why I couldn't bring myself to buy Rogoff's book about cash, given his participation in this mess (and Rogoff has actually mostly my-bad'ed about the whole thing, unlike the rest of these idiots).

Author sort of does a weird thing by failing to address the asset inflation that the idiots were complaining about.

Wow. That was distressingly short. Never did dig into the many more double-downs on Hyper Inflation Now that happened (to be fair, there's just no point in drawing any more attention to the idiots, because if you pay attention to them for any length of time, you do figure out that they are ... idiots).

There really was an awful few months in the time frame in question (2010/2011), before what's his face had to leave his bond fund, where a _lot_ of advisors were spewing Inflation Just Around the Corner Just Like Interwar Germany!!!! And whenever I walked them through, okay, tell me how this is going to happen? Just at the point where their argument fell apart, they re-asserted, and this time, refused to walk down the path of okay, so commodity prices are going to somehow stay high even when no one is buying them any more? But most people recovered from that and even admitted, yeah, my bad, I was wrong about inflation, ha ha. IT IS NOT THAT HARD TO ADMIT BEING WRONG. Unless it is, because you have external incentives and/or have abnormal interior life.

I hope he goes after Einstein being such a jerk about quantum theory. Einstein deserves to be called out on that one.

"The most striking finding of all was that the celebrated experts, the kinds of people who tour television studios and go on book tours, were the worst [predictors] of all."

Yeah. Well. I think we're all learning that it's a lot more fun watching people screw up than get it right every time. I mean, blooper reels. Reality TV shows. Dr. Phil. Etc.

This is such a weird book! "You might suppose that the higher up you go in a company, the less you will see the effects of cognitive dissonance." I guess if you've never even _heard_ of the Peter Principle. Or contemplated the probable overlap between cognitive dissonance reduction activities and narcissistic personality disorder. I mean, come on! "I am great! So why did I just get fired/dumped/told off by friend or family member. They must just not appreciate me! Screw them!"

Or, for that matter, the Psychopath Test by Ronson -- he spends a bunch of time on CEOs and insensitivity to feedback/lack of empathy, inability to see that they screwed up, etc.

You know, part of how I am feeling is that only part of the problem are these personality disordered leader/pundit types. The rest of the problem is that we are collectively prone to believing their bull shit. It is really our expectations, hey this guy says he is the smartest, best leader ever! That must be true. Because he said it! The expectations, the willingness to believe these people is the real problem. But we actually _recognize_ that we've been misled, and move on to someone else. I'm not sure we're as good at better identifying good leaders. Like, the process we should work on is Spot the Bullshitter. Not, spot our own reframing to avoid acknowledging our screw up. Altho maybe it is the same thing in the end -- we keep reframing how the person in charge can't really be as awful as he seems to be, thus not disinvesting, not finding another job, not divorcing the idiot, not changing to a better educational program, etc.
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"Our empathy for the victim is, emotionally speaking, almost synonymous with our fury at those who caused her death. (New para) But this has recursive effects... It is partly because we are so willing to blame others for their mistakes that we are so keen to conceal our own. We anticipate, with remarkable clarity, how people will react, how they will point the finger, how little time they will take to put themselves in the tough, high-pressure situation in which the error occurred. The net effect is simple: it obliterates openness and spawns cover-ups. It destroys the vital information we need in order to learn.

I was a little iffy on this book based on the first chapter of the free sample. But this quote alone has nearly sold me on it. I'll finish the sample and then decide.

I don't know if my experience of empathy is like neurotypical people. But I will say this. When things go wrong, I want two things. I want to know why, and I want to know how we can fix it going forward. Secondarily, I want to be compensated. If the first part is completely satisfied -- if you convince me you know what happened and you explain to my satisfaction how you have made sure it won't recur, I will often find that to be compensation enough.

But boy, if you don't want to investigate, correct and explain? That second part becomes all I care about. I don't _start_ with blame, but I can end up there.

I do think, however, that this description is a really good match for a set of responses to negative events that I find very puzzling and unhelpful.


I bought the book. There was a page that was just awful about science being "mankind's" something or other. Ugh. Oh well.

Second half of the book is why do people double down in core beliefs when they encounter powerful disconfirmation (apocalypse fails to happen on schedule, type of thing).

"That is why, when we mess up, particularly on big issues, our self-esteem is threatened. We feel uncomfortable, twitchy. (New para) we have two choices. The first is to accept that our original judgments may have been at fault. We question whether it was quite such a good idea to put our faith in a cult leader whose prophecies didn't even materialize. We pause to reflect on whether the Iraq War was quite such a good idea given that Saddam didn't pose the threat we imagined. (New para) The difficulty with this option is simple: it is threatening. It requires us to accept that we are not as smart as we like to think. It forces us to acknowledge that we can sometimes be wrong, even on issues on which we have staked a great deal."

Is your brain doing that vinyl screech sound as it cuts a new groove across the disc, permanently damaging it? Because it should. I don't know anyone that is _that_ committed to being right all the time, and I sure hope you don't either. Because, yuck.

The real reason that being wrong is threatening is that it forces us to make a lot of other major adjustments if we accept that we were wrong. Get divorced. Abandon all relationships with people who continue to be in the cult. Give up one's job as a pundit on Fox News. Etc. It's not hard to accept that one is wrong. What _is_ hard is what happens when you go tell everyone else that you were wrong (and maybe they are still wrong), and all of a sudden you've been kicked out of your family, or your job, or your social circle, or lost your kids or whatever. _That_ is hard.

I _wish_ it was a simple as being some arrogant I'm Always Right jackass. But honestly, most people who get stuck in denial are not jackasses; they just have very powerful incentives to pretend they don't know what they now know.

This is probably why I loved _One Fell Sweep_ so very much. This is _exactly_ what happened with the Draziri.

ETA: Next couple pages quote from _Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me)_, which I read because one of the authors was Carol Tavri and I liked some of her other work. I really _loathed_ that book. *sigh*

To be clear: I am not arguing with the basic idea that if you make people go through a high commitment exercise in order to join a group, they tend to have remarkably bad judgment of the quality of the group they just joined. That is absolutely true. But that's actually more like a sunk cost thing than a I Don't Want to Admit I Was Wrong thing.

A few pages further on, author is trying to explain prosecutors and why they don't let go of a suspect even after the suspect is cleared via DNA evidence.

"Many prosecutors see their work as more than a job; it is more like a vocation. They have spent years training to reach high standards of performance. It is a tough initiation. Their self-esteem is bound up with their competence. They are highly motivated to believe in the probity of the system they have joined."

The profession selects for aggressive assholes who never concede a point and who tend to think in terms of rules and games, rather than in terms of people and justice. You get what you select for. They were not _trained_ to be this way. They were _selected_ for this. Trying to explain this as a general human trait -- or trying to show how prosecutors are representative of a human trait -- or whatever is just ridiculous, because we all can look at this and go, that is just insane.

There are two distinct phenomena here. The prosecutors are what the author has been saying all along: all wrapped up in identity and self-esteem. But it is NOT representative of humanity as a whole. Most people who are in denial are responding to other incentives NOT doing it because of identity/self-esteem/gasification/never concede a point assholery, etc.

This seems petty, I know, but this is supposed to be a deep dive into the psychology. And he's getting it really wrong.

It keeps getting worse, too.

"Imagine what it must be like to be confronted with evidence that they have assisted in putting the wrong person in jail; they they have ruined the life of an innocent person; that the wounds of the victim's family are going to be reopened. It must be stomach churning. In terms of cognitive dissonance, it is difficult to think of anything more threatening." Eyebrow raise. What about doctors who have a patient die in the middle of a routine operation? What about a person who is obeying all the laws and driving carefully, only to hit and injure or kill an elderly or very young person or mentally unwell person step out in front of them? What about a programmer who did the very best she could, but who discovers that an error in her work led to someone dying of the wrong dose of radiation, or because a safety system malfunctioned or whatever?

I doubt there is an adult in our society that can say with certainty that there is zero chance their actions will ever lead to harm or death on the part of someone else. Some of us have to confront it more directly than others, but if you think you are in the clear, you probably just haven't had your nose rubbed in it. The way people deal with this is the review their actions, identify where they went wrong, and make amends. Say I'm sorry. Participate in a process of change. Pay compensation. Etc. The idea that it is somehow magically worse for participants in the criminal justice system just makes me go, what? I mean, our oldest written material documents cases of people unjustly imprisoned (heck, Joseph was unjustly imprisoned because of a false accusation of rape when he declined the overtures of Potiphar's wife -- but I bet you can come up with an older instance).

NO WAY can anyone with a lick of sense be wandering around thinking they can't possibly have made a mistake. Altho I will happily concede that there are a lot of people without that lick of sense out and about in the world.

I feel like there are a lot of people out there trying to make this some sort of Special Snowflake situation. It's So Bad to Convict the Wrong Person. Well, yeah. But a lot of other things are So Bad, too. Fix it. Fix the process. If they are actually having trouble adjusting to the idea that they made a mistake, there is actually something notably wrong with _them_. That's NOT NORMAL HUMANITY.

I'll give another example. I used to know someone -- not calling them a friend -- who showed up a little late for a party saying she'd run into someone else's car, and then driven off without stopping. She was admitting to a hit and run. Her excuse? My husband would be so mad. NO ONE at that party that was normal. We didn't make that a normal human response. Also, she refused to pay up at one of the poker games at that party. AGAIN, refusing to pay up at a game of chance is NOT NORMAL.

This should NOT be treated as an aspect of normal human psychology. This _should_ be treated as a diagnosable aspect of ABNORMAL psychology. We have textbooks for this. It should be in them.

To be clear: I'm saying we should be diagnosing and/or prosecuting those elements of the criminal justice system that are displaying this behavior. Seriously. Change the rules of the game, and the players will also change. You might have to get a bunch of new participants (and in fact, as more and more police officers go through college justice programs rather than just go through police academies, we are seeing major changes in behavior, too), but that wouldn't be a bad thing.

Anyway, author does quote some people saying that it is what I think it is (external incentives like "their political future and a culture that values winning over justice"). Then he dismisses it saying, "But often the scale of denial went way beyond any of this." Yeah, whatever.

ETA still more: he eventually acknowledges that a huge chunk of the justice system DOES NOT resist DNA and other exonerating evidence.

I've been thinking a lot lately about why human organizations come up with batshit detailed rules about stuff that fundamentally no one cares about. Conservative religions and dress codes. Heck, corporate anywhere and dress codes. You name it. I cannot help but feel that what we are trying to do with these rules is deal with a small percentage of people who are just hard to deal with. So we make rules and try to make everyone obey The Rules rather than tell that small percentage of people, hey, asshole. I hate what you are doing. Please stop. And then have to listen to the asshole, totally predictably, lay into us for whatever springs to the top of their brain at the moment.

Rules are great. I love 'em. But I also know that the more of them you have, the more you attract a certain species of asshole that abuses the hell out of them. And I feel like trying to tease out why that kind of asshole tenaciously sticks to a position despite all the disconfirming evidence without saying, goddamn it they are assholes, and they LOVE situations like being a prosecutor or belonging to a cult. If you try to figure it out without starting from the position of OMG YOU ARE AWFUL, you just wind up slandering humanity in general without actually learning anything useful.

Also, why are you still reading?

Here. The author likes quoting Scheck. I'll let Scheck make my case for me. "The Innocence Project and other advocates have spent hundreds of hours just arguing against finality doctrines that are used to block inquiries that no pair person would resist,". See? Scheck doesn't think this is normal human behavior. This is _abnormal_ psychology.

I completely agree that the system needs a procedural overhaul top to bottom. I think we are headed in the right direction, in that we have disrupted the position of the police academy. But clearly, a lot more is needed. That author's dismissiveness of political implications is disheartening; no one will make any progress here without addressing how to make political incentives work the right way.

Mention of a book _Medical Errors and Medical Narcissism_ by John Banda. Someone else is putting this in abnormal psychology land.

Involved several pages about WMD in Iraq and Blair and Bush making up story after story about wtf. Conclusion: "This is important because we often suppose that bright people are the most likely to reach the soundest judgement." *sigh*

OK. So FIRST huge incentive for both Blair and Bush never to admit they were wrong. Second, NOT the brightest bulbs!
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I've given up; it's a thrower. Here are samples.

p 46: "Three-quarters thought English was the most commonly spoken language in the world (it's Mandarin Chinese, with 2.6 times as many native speakers as English)."

Okay. So that was a definitional change. When second and nth language speakers are included, English _is_ the most commonly spoken language in the world. And I have reasonable confidence that that was true in 2006 when the National Geographic-Roper poll was done. I'm hopeful that NatGeo/Roper got the questions right when they asked them; it is inexcusable Poundstone summarized it incorrectly in a book that is all about people being ignorant of details.

p 39: "Though the above facts might seem timeless and generation-neutral" (facts were: number of US Senators, capital of Brazil and where a shortstop plays). No, no they don't seem either timeless or generation-neutral. Nor are they culture neutral, race neutral or gender neutral.

p 24: "My surveys confirm what others have found. American Millenials don't know many facts that might be considered fundamental to cultural literacy." And you, Dear Author, seem unaware of how that is something that old people have been saying about young people (using different words, but the same idea) since forever. When the young people become the old people, they just use a new yardstick for which cultural icons are important. Poundstone, for example, thinks it is important to know who the pop star is who recorded "Heartbreak Hotel" and "All Shook Up". But I bet if you said anything and Ye and the Kardashians, he would be disparaging. (Cue R.'s rant about how all the compsci papers that were written in lisp originally and then redone as java papers.)

And finally, the piece de resistance: "Not everyone agrees with Hirsch that there is a fixed set of facts that all should know. But absent such a set, the concept of being well informed becomes a hopelessly relative one."

No, sweetie, it didn't _become_ a hopelessly relative one. It was _always_ a hopelessly relative one.

I feel compelled at this point to bring up something that El Jefe used to say back in the day, which I always grumbled about. He wanted that little bookstore on the internet to present to the customer not lots of books or all the books or whatever. He wanted to present to the customer the book that customer wanted to buy today. (My complaint was that I rarely only wanted to buy one book. But I agreed with the underlying principle.) None of us actually need to be "well informed". You don't really need to know and be able to reproduce in a multiple choice format how long it takes to boil an egg, as long as you know how to tell when it is done. You don't need to know how long it takes to cook a steak, as long as you have a meat thermometer. Nobody needs to be good at things which we have long, ad hoc familiarity with, but no formal training or credentialing in. It is okay to actually be quite bad at a lot of this stuff. Especially if the people wandering around telling us that we need to be better at some of it keep making boneheaded mistakes like these.

The end of the book appears to have some useful advice about designing apps -- putting labels on icons for new users and then letting them disappear as the user gets familiar with it is an interesting idea. I would rather see some sort of gamification approach (easy early levels that are fun to play and "teach" you how to play). But there's more than one way to do this.

In the meantime, Poundstone seems to suffer from a lot of uninspected privilege and assumptions. And the book as a whole suffers from the very common problem of people walking around pointing out ignorance. It's an old problem. It's described in the Sermon on the Mount, which Poundstone took pains to point out how little people know about who delivered it.

You might be wondering, why did you pick this book up? You must have known how it was going to turn out? Well, no, actually. I picked it up because I'm able to rapidly find things online from high quality sources that otherwise highly educated, intelligent friends of mine struggle with locating (I know people who are even better at this than I am; I'm not saying I'm The Mostest. I'm saying I'm noticeably better at this than I would expect.). I can find things that have been inaccurately summarized. I can find things that have been incompletely summarized. I have some theories about what I am doing, but my explanations don't help other people as much as I think they should. So I was sort of hoping that a subtitle like this:

"Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up"

might have some interesting insights.

Alas, no such thing.

Honestly, people have been bemoaning the decline of wtf since we started writing shit down. It's poor rhetoric, obviously inaccurate and very, very boring.


p 209 (I sampled the financial literacy stuff) "Which is better for someone on a fixed income: a 3 percent inflation rate or a 7 percent inflation rate?"

He says about people who answered other than (A) 3 percent is better: "Let's hope the other 25 percent have someone more knowledgeable handling their money for them." He also characterizes this question as "about as easy as an inflation question can possibly be."

So. What you _really_ want, of course, is a fixed income with a COLA that increases using a metric that is larger than the inflation you personally experience (basket of goods bought nationally, while you retire to some very inexpensive place and eat rice and beans, say). And before you say, but if it has a COLA, it isn't fixed income anymore! Well, try telling that to all the people on Social Security which has a COLA, but is still called fixed income.

He's also sort of a fan of deliberative polling, which I feel all too often must devolve into push polling.

I can't find any obvious indication that he explores the connections between factual knowledge and identity formation/enforcement or ingroup/outgroup mechanisms. Which is especially weird, since that framework would actually go a long ways to explaining the income effects of the otherwise useless cultural trivia he is so focused on.
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On Tuesday, I read a lot of people's reactions to the debate which I did not watch. I do not regret not watching the debate (I pretty much never watch the debates -- this is the point in the election cycle where Normal People are making up their mind, and I am Not Normal), but of course I am glad it happened and that people are learning more about the candidates and figuring out who reflects their values better so they can make an informed choice in November.

I did not go to my Dutch lesson because even tho I have decent energy, I am still coughing too much to feel okay being around a baby.

I've been reading _Biting the Dust_. I don't know how I missed this when it came out! It is exactly the sort of thing I liked then and now. Probably I looked at it and decided that it was inadequately sourced/noted (it _is_ inadequately sourced/noted, but for the first half of the book, I can basically tell where she got everything so I don't really care).

If someone can find any evidence that I _have_ read this book in the past, I am curious. It doesn't read as if I have read it before, but I am really shocked I've never run across it before. I got it at the library, at the same time I found a couple books about personality disorders.
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Chapter 1 sort of set me off, but until I hit this bit, I couldn't quite figure out why.

"And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men -- to feel whether this time the men would break...The children stood near by... and the children sent exploring senses out to see whether men and women would break. ...After a while [sic no comma] the faces of the watching men lost their bemused perplexity [ed: basically, the author here just said "confused confusion". Yes, yes he did.] and became hard and angry and resistant. Then the women knew that they were safe and that there was no break. ... Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole."

Yeah, okay. Whatever. Chapter 2 was a little full of itself, but was basically okay.

The first paragraph of Chapter 3 is a single sentence with over a hundred words, ending in this phrase:

"but each possessed of the anlage of movement."

Okay, that's bad. You're thinking, but the rest was probably okay, right? No. No it was not. "all passive but armed with appliances of activity, still, but each possessed of the anlage of movement."

This author is a pompous ass. I think I now understand both why I so carefully avoided ever reading this book before today (and I doubt I'll get through it now). I _also_ understand a lot more about why my ex-grandfather-in-law loved it so much. He, too, was a pompous ass, and he lived through the relevant time period and read the book when it was new, popular fiction.

I'm not going to mention the title or author; you shouldn't have any trouble working that out for yourself, but I'd just as soon people not randomly google their way into my blog or hate-tweet how feral and uncivilized I am for mocking what is widely considered classic American literature.

Also, why the infinitives in this sentence (assuming that is what they are)?

"The sun lay on the grass and warmed it, and in the shade under the grass the insects moved, ants and ant lions to set traps for them, grasshoppers to jump into the air and flick their yellow wings for a second, sow bugs like little armadillos, plodding restlessly on many tender feet." I really did reproduce this faithfully. I would never write a sentence like that, and I'm not sure why anyone let that sentence be published with that odd grammar, never mind the ongoing randomness of some of the comma choices. I really don't _have_ this problem with other fiction from the late 1920s/early 1930s, so what is going on here, anyway?

Chapter 3 is very short, and appears to be a belabored metaphor for the contents of the rest of the book (turtle laboriously climbs up a highway embankment, rests, continues, is nearly hit by a woman who in turn nearly crashes and is more careful, continues, is hit and flipped by a truck driver who aims for him but survives this encounter. Something about an oat seed along for the ride). I suspect that this author really wanted to be a poet.

Oh, look! In chapter 4, J. (look, if I give the name you are totally gonna know the book right off) says that JWs stayed at his family's house one time. (It's right before the preacher tells J. about no virtue and no sin, just stuff people do, followed by a dollop of the preacher experiencing immanence).

In Chapter 5, this, this, ugh.

"Behind the tractor rolled the shining disks, cutting the earth with blades -- not plowing but surgery ... Behind the harrows, the long seeders -- twelve curved iron penes [sic seriously wait for it] erected [har de har har it gets worse!] in the foundry, orgasms set by gears, raping methodically, raping without passion. ... No man had touched the seed, or lusted for the growth. Men ate what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread. The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died".

I get the whole earth, fertility, blah blah blah thing. That's ancient. But this? People really think this is great literature? This is purple, overwrought, ridiculous, absurd prose and it is also actually kind of bad from a farm policy perspective, too. It's not like the more labor intensive system which preceded the tractors was in any way good for the land. The dust bowl which failed the croppers out was an artifact of the earlier system.

Also, this paragraph is preceded by an interaction between the croppers and the banker/owners which I _think_ is supposed to make me sympathetic with the croppers or perhaps their ancestors, but really doesn't have that effect for me at all. More of a, hey, you[r ancestors] stole the land, you lose the land. You[r ancestors] killed to get the land, if you're smart you'll move along before the bigger, badder dudes kill you.

The Penguin edition's only end note for Chapter 5 is to explain "Spam". Really? You need to have "Spam" explained? Even with spam used for bulk/crap online messages/email, if you google Spam, you get product pictures right at the top. I can't imagine what they were thinking, that they needed to end note "Spam".

There's a really awkward two paragraph tenant monologue about property owning the owner when he has too much of it and is too distant from it. It is inserted in the middle of an interaction with a neighbor who has taken a job driving a tractor (and is eating a spam sandwich), and is advocating for jobs vs. cropping.

After the tenant farmer gets done threatening to kill the president of the bank and the board of directors and a bunch of other people (yeah, that's sympathetic), "the phalli of the seeder slipping into the ground".

Oh, look, in Chapter 6. Muley has ODD. Well, sure, I mean, with a nickname like Muley, what would you expect? Here is TJ's summary of Muley, in response to Muley's question about whether TJ is trying to tell him what to do. "No, I ain't. If you wanta drive your head into a pile a broken glass, there ain't nobody can tell you different." A bit later, here is Muley talking about himself, after noting that he has been told to go somewhere else, a place he _would_ have gone if he hadn't been told to do so. But, having been told to do so: "But them sons-a-bitches says I got to get off -- an', Jesus Christ, a man can't, when he's tol' to!"

Chapter 7 is a monologue of a car dealer. It is every bit as awful as you could possibly imagine. Supposedly, one of the favorite parts of Homer's work Back In the Day was the Catalog of Ships, which of course to any of us is just a list of names. Not entirely unlike that, is this chapter. (Yes, dear, I do recognize most of the makes and marques, altho I did have to look up Rockne -- a Studebaker -- and Apperson. And Star by Durant, which as near as I can tell was a kit car. Can't figure out why Chevvies is spelled with two v's; that's the verb, not the car. Mysterious. I think he had pushovers for editors; nothing else explains the mysterious and inadequately end-noted "Hymie" that occurs in the chapter.)

In Chapter 8, we read a paean to Mother J. which shows that while all other families are run by the men, the J. family is run by Mother. *sigh* This inconsistency bothers the author not at all.

Oh, man. And this book violates my long standing rule against books with awful birth stories in them. Jeez. Really, there is no limit to how much I dislike this book.
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Page 12, after a discussion of animals, feelings, etc.

"To many, we spoke heresy. Skeptics are right to point out that it's easy to misunderstand animals, even those most like ourselves. Years ago, when I was visiting Birute Galdikas's research camp in Borneo, where ex-captive orangutans were learning to live in the wild, a new American volunteer, smitten with the shaggy orange apes, rushed up to an adult female to give her a hug. The female picked up the volunteer and slammed her against the ground. The woman didn't realize that the orangutan didn't feel like being grabbed by a stranger."

I'm not sure this story belongs in the context of "animal feelings are hard to understand/some people don't think they exist". This is more like a, don't be an idiot story. You can honestly have the exact same experience with a human as with that orangutan, if you go up and enthusiastically hug the wrong stranger at the wrong time.

The next paragraph is actually worse. After telling some story about an animal communicator (self-identified) who uses telepathy to talk to animals including an elephant: "After her telepathic conversation with the elephant, the communicator told the keeper, "Oh, that elephant really likes me. He wants to put his head in my lap." What was most interesting about this interaction was the part the communicator may have gotten right: Elephants do sometimes put their heads in the laps of people. They do this to kill them. They crush people with their foreheads like you would grind out a cigarette butt with your shoe."

Actually, elephants used to be used to kill in battle and as executioners. But they usually used their feet to crush. I'm still looking for an example of an elephant crushing anything with its forehead. The statement in the book is unsourced. *sigh* Look, feel free to make fun of the person who claims to be telepathic. I don't really care. But elephants crushing people by putting their (elephant) heads in the human person's lap? Sourcing, please!


Elephants crushing human heads using elephant feet. Just like you would _expect_ an elephant to go about the business. This head in lap theory just doesn't make a lot of sense. The elephant would get a completely unnecessary crick in its spine.

Also, for your enjoyment. An elephant snuggling in someone's lap:


Repeated, unsourced, in an excerpt in the Boston Globe:


Insert snotty remark about people from New Hampshire.

ETA: The stuff about the possible effects of octopus ink on pages 158-60 is really interesting.

Weird editing error on page 161: "(Tarantulas do this too -- if a leg is injured, they will break if off and eat it.)" The error is that the second "if" should be "it".

ETAYA: p 194 gratuitous error

"Says a cameraman for the Seattle NBC affiliate, KOMO."
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I'm going to switch to skimming, before giving up, because the idea of a history of food allergy is awesome. It's just ...

Okay, here. In the historical summary of ancient passages maybe to do with food allergy, maybe not, p. 26 in the hardback:

"Other anecdotes described by Galen are also reminiscent of food allergy. One such case involved a baby who was covered with sores (or ulcers) after drinking the breast milk of a wet nurse who "lived on a diet of wild vegetables from the countryside, for it was spring time and a food shortage was pressing." Although the sores bring to mind some of the skin conditions that have been associated with milk allergy (for example, eczema), Galen's assertion that the wet nurse and others in the area also suffered from similar sores suggests that the problem lay not with the milk itself but with the wild vegetables. Indeed, strange dermatological reactions to other seasonal fruits and vegetables such as strawberries and asparagus, which are eaten in quantity for a short period of time, have long been cited by other physicians. Nevertheless, many have claimed that this is an instance of Galen describing milk allergy."

Where to start?

The number 38 refers to multiple sources, including one entitled "Cow's Milk Allergy", a chapter in a book which is at least partly available in google books. The Galen reference is a single sentence, referring back to O'Keefe in note 2 for support. Here is the O'Keefe paper, which hardly seems relevant to Galen or food allergy!


Turns out the other source at number 38 is just the same fucking article, with the same fucking one sentence reference to Galen, with the same fucking reference then to O'Keefe.

(1) It's abundantly clear that Galen is not referring to cow's milk allergy in this particular story. _It is a wet nurse._ Human milk, not cow's milk.

(2) The citation is so dishonest it is actually a little breathtaking.

This was published by Columbia University Press. I will now treat Columbia University Press as a Be Wary Of publisher.

This has a recommendation on the back by Rima D. Apple. That is a distinctive name, and I've read and disliked her work before:


Hey, good news! I got it from the library! I'll skim for a few minutes then abandon; I'll post further complaints if anything really compelling shows up. But this is just shoddy and dishonest work.

ETA: There's another book about allergy, _An Epidemic of Absence_ that pops on amazon when searching for a history of food allergy. If anything, I think it might be worse! It has gone so whole hog for a hygiene hypothesis it is a little breathtaking.

Here is what we did to Sardinia after WW2.


Yikes! Seems like it might be a problem, right?

Here is an excerpt from the other book about allergy:


Might DDT be causing that horrible outbreak of autoimmune diseases? Well, NIH thinks it might!


I'm gonna go back to ignoring the experts on allergy again. They always disappoint me. Your best bet, if you have sensitivities to random stuff, is to identify the random stuff and, if possible, avoid it. If that isn't possible, rotate through OTC meds, using as little as possible for as short a time as possible, to get relief (zyrtec, claritin, etc.). But watch it with the benadryl, because you might discover it becomes harder to pee after a while, especially if you are a guy. Also, it can make you sleepy and not safe to drive. Whatever you do, stay the heck away from decongestants, because those things are trouble, and rebound congestion is a bitch.
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I dunno if I'll be adding to this, we'll see. I started it yesterday, and it's a weird read, because Daniel James Brown has gone to a lot of trouble to describe places in detail -- and I've been to pretty much all of them, and I've done a lot of genealogical research on top of hearing my extended family's stories about the region for most of my first quarter century.

Anyway. I've found my first egregious error.

On page 73, Joe "trudged up University Avenue in the rain and the dark to the YMCA".

Nope. Nope, he definitely did _not_ trudge up University Avenue. It was 1933, so he trudged up "The Ave", or University Way, but he did NOT trudge up University Avenue. He could even have trudged up the road formerly known as 14th Avenue, or even formerly known as Columbus Avenue. But he most definitely never, ever, ever trudged up University Avenue.

ETA: And again, on p 155, Joe "peeled off from the group and made his way up University Avenue to the YMCA". No. No he did not. Did. Not. "The Ave" or "University Way".

This is really jarring.
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I'm not going to finish this. I read through Actress last night, and stupidly continued through Governess and Companion today, but Companion has done me in. As near as I can tell, no one noticed the heavy handed eugenics in this book, cause google finds me no indication that anyone has written it up.

_Work_ is an episodic novel about a young woman whose parents died when she was young and she was raised by a maternal uncle and his wife on their farm (at least, I think it was a farm). She goes off to make her way in the world, because Reasons. She tries a bunch of gigs; each chapter is one gig start to finish, with a lot of moralizing and Christie excelling and being cheerful and so forth. But in Companion, I met my match. I refuse to continue.

The invalid doesn't have TB or something infectious. Nope, she has insanity or madness, generally unspecified, which is believed to be hereditary in her father's family, which has the money. When the daughter is told she shouldn't marry and have kids because it is hereditary, she falls into a decline (actually spend a bunch of time in a room designed to keep herself from killing herself before graduating to more normal rooms where she hangs out with Christie -- if normal extends to the most amazing conservatory I've run into in 19th century fiction). She feels better hanging out with Christie hearing about Christie's various adventures, but younger sister has her coming out and someone is about to make an offer so Bella is about to be told and blah blah blah. Here is Christie's response to Helen's explanation (a lot of this is kept secret from Christie for a while). "The bitter grief, the solemn fervor of her words, both touched and awed Christie too much for speech. Helen had passed beyond the bounds of ceremony, fear, or shame: her hard lot, her dark experience, set her apart, and gave her the right to utter the bare truth. To her heart's core Christie felt that warning; and for the first time saw what many never see or wilfully deny, -- the awful responsibility that lies on every man and woman's soul forbidding them to entail upon the innocent the burden of their own infirmities, the curse that surely follows their own sins."

Sounds like eugenics to me, but whatever it is, it is def the author using Christie as a mouthpiece for People (Who Might Be) Subject to Mental Health Issues Such As Severe Depression and Suicidal Ideation/Attempts Should Not Have Kids. Period. End.


Good bye, _Work_. Apparently, the only books by Alcott I'm ever gonna love are _Eight Cousins_ and _Rose in Bloom_ which, honestly, are pretty deeply problematic but at least don't obviously suffer from this particular problem.

This was the library adult book group selection for Mayberry, NH (<-- not its real name) for the month of May. However, the May meeting was canceled for a variety of reasons and we will be discussing both _Gulp_ and _Work_ today. Which should make for an interesting combination.
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This is NOT a book review. It is sort of notes along the way.

Probably NOT a good idea to assume that because I am reading a book about a medical condition, that I am reading it because I have or think I might have that medical condition.

At around 23%/loc 2000 or thereabouts, Becker discusses "tight" vs. "normal" control of blood sugar. She covers the 1993 Diabetes Control and Complications trial, T1D, 1441 participants, "relatively young". She summarizes this as "showed beyond a doubt that people with tight control of their BG levels had significantly fewer microvascular complications". She expends a single sentence on a Japanese study of 110 T2D people. Then 1998's UK Prospective Diabetes Study, T2D, microvascular complication rates decreased, and lowering blood pressure "to 144/82" also reduced both micro and macro complication rates.

Then a followup of participants in the DCCT (the 1993 T1D above) study called EDIC (Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions) showed the "normal" group how to do with the "tight" group did and the A1c's of the two groups converged HOWEVER the earlier tight group had lower micro and lower macro BUT CV complications didn't appear because everyone was still too young.

And then, "if that doesn't convince you", general summary that since then blah blah blah.

But it's of course all bullshit, because (a) micro- and macro- effects are still a proxy for what we really care about and (b) how you get there matters (did you do it with diet and exercise, yay, but if you took a stack of drugs, the side effects overwhelm the benefits).


For the most part, this DOES NOT MATTER, because Becker's book is focused on people who have just learned they have diabetes, and she is quite relentless in her focus on diet/exercise/lifestyle modifications, at least in the first quarter of the book. But it is worrisome. I'm reading the 3rd edition, dated 2015. This section should have been brought further up to date.

This is actually sort of a chronic issue with this book -- she wrote it during the early years of the consumer internet (that would be the mid 90s, for anyone who is wondering), and so a lot of her resource information is getting more and more dated. She's trying to bring it current, but that section is weak.
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From _Body of Truth_. I'll point out the screwy part. It's toward the end. The author is describing a Swedish study done by Kristina Holmqvist and An Frisen about positive body image in teens.

"they reported hearing some negative comments about their bodies from friends and family members, they tended to brush off the comments rather than internalize them deeply ... [they] shared the ability to think critically, especially when it came to body ideals. The reason they didn't tend to internalize the comments from others is that they were more likely than usual to question and challenge those cultural beauty ideals. They didn't accept them as gospel; they were able to step back and consider them more objectively."

Lots of problems here already ("objectively"? What? There is no "objective" in any of this. _All_ of it is subjective.), but here's the punchline.

"That last quality may be the easiest to convey to kids and adolescents."

*head* *desk*

I _agree_ that the crucial skill in all of this is reframing. I'm _less_ certain that critical thinking is the optimal path to that goal. I'm _absolutely certain_ that teaching adolescents critical thinking as a means to accomplishing a goal can never, with accuracy, be described with a word like "easiest".

Teaching critical thinking is NOT easy. NOT NOT NOT.

In fact, I would argue that anyone who thinks that teaching critical thinking is easy is displaying their total lack of competence at critical thinking.

ETA: And you know how most parents and teachers would wind up implementing this program? "Oh, honey. You shouldn't take it so seriously when people call you fat and make oink oink noises." Yeah. That's gonna help a lot. <-- Yes I _know_ that isn't how you would properly implement this program. But that's what would wind up actually happening on the ground.

I'll tell you what will help. All this negativity about body image among children and teens is straight up bullying. It's just that the adults are all participating in it too. Train the adults to stop (and make it a job performance criteria) and then deploy anti-bullying programs against the kids doing it. It won't fix it, any more than stopping adults and then kids in school from using racial epithets ended racism. But it will move the ball towards the goal.

She follows this up with self-congratulations for teaching her class that "the ideal woman's body here in America would be seen as sickly-looking in the desert society of the Niger, where girls' bodies are praised for their lush, voluptuous rolls of fat." (So, so many problems here.) "And the most beautiful woman there would be considered unattractively obese by most Americans today."

Because a horrible, horrible argument about sizism needs to have colonizing racism imported into it. Definitely. <-- Sarcasm.

I'm thinking I'm not going to be recommending this book after all. If you're looking for a book about how ridiculous all the weight/diet advice out there is, read Campos' book. I'll let you know if I find anything better, but I've decided that this is not.

ETA endless more:

"UCLA sociologist Abigail Saguy coined the term "moral panic" to describe the blame, fear, and disgust we're now conditioned to associate with overweight and obesity."

USED, sure. COINED, no. Moral panic, as a term, meaning fear felt by a large group of people about some thing identified as evil, has been around for quite a lot longer than Saguy has been alive.


I sort of wish that at some point in this book, I could be sure the author would unpack the self-denial/self-abnegation the is hyper-involved with being thin for a lot of people who conform to that ideal. Self-denial and enough control to deny one the most basic of one's needs are inextricable from the rhetoric in favor of thin. If the author did that, she'd quit buying into the duality as offered (good/bad, virtue/sin, success/failure, beauty/ugly, health/sickness) and replace it with something more useful (brave/self-effacing, demanding/yielding, active/passive, lively/lethargic, powerful/weak). Thin is identified with self-effacing, yielding, passivity, lethargy and weakness. That frame is _ripe_ for supplanting the one the author has been in thrall to.


"A 2011 study by Rebecca Puhl found, surprisingly, that plenty of teenagers with average and just-above-average BMIs reported being teased and humiliated about their weight."

Ok. So, let's start with, "surprisingly"? In my experience, "fat" is a word that gets thrown around largely independent of whether the target is fat. It is assumed that anyone who gets that word aimed at them will experience some pain, so, point and shoot. Is the author unaware of this? Is Puhl unaware of this? Otherwise, how do you explain all the "you're fat" type insults online, when the person who is being insulted is NOT AT ALL VISIBLE to the insulter?

"Puhl can think of two explanations: maybe current beauty ideals are so narrow, so restrictive, that even the tiniest deviation can trigger shaming."

Nope. When Victoria's Secret angels are discussed online and criticized for being too fat, there is NO ONE who is not going to be targeted because they meet the ideal. No One. "Or maybe teens will tease one another about weight because they know it will hurt; they know it's a vulnerable spot, even if their victims aren't overweight."

Oh, look. Sanity in the analysis. Yay. "Because the anxiety about getting or being considered fat has become so pervasive, even naturally thin children internalize it." *head* *desk*

The author clearly needs to better understand that NONE OF THIS IS OBJECTIVE. NONE. (Honestly, I'm trying to wrap my brain around the idea of "naturally thin children". Because how would you know, when looking at an arbitrarily chosen, low BMI child, whether they were "naturally" that way or whether something "unnatural" had caused that. And what precisely does "natural" or "unnatural" mean in this context -- and how is whatever that might mean in any way not judgmental? I ask this as a person who, while a child, was, with the exception of about a year before my last growth spurt, thin. After the growth spurt -- 13 inches in 11 months -- I was _really_ thin for quite a while. I never dieted until later. Was I "naturally" thin? Was I thin because I was an incredibly, legendarily picky eater? Was I thin because I was allergic to milk products but encouraged -- that's an understatement -- to consume them anyway in hopes that would help me "grow out of it"? Did the milk product thing have anything to do with the picky eater thing or were they independent? Which parts of this are "natural" and which parts are "unnatural"? Who gets to decide? Let's play a little game. What if my parents had successfully gotten my weight back down to thin during that year prior to the growth spurt. Would I be shorter now as a result? What if the milk allergy had been handled with avoidance, so I never had all that diarrhea and vomiting and chronic respiratory crap going on. Would I be even taller?)

ETA I know no one is even reading this any more and I am okay with that.

"Terri ... remembers the feeling of losing eighty-six pounds on Weight Watchers about fourteen years ago. . ."I felt really vulnerable... I didn't like the way people treated me. My identity is I'm smart and capable, and I suddenly felt like people treated me like I was weak and helpless and stupid."

I have a friend who does the kind of work Terri did. And let me tell you, if you are in banking regulation, you do NOT want people thinking you are weak, helpless and stupid.

I would like to point out that this supports perfectly my alternative frame (brave/demanding/active/lively/powerful). Unclear whether the author grasps this, because the next story, about Patrick discovering his friends treated him differently after he lost the weight made him see the world very differently. He "fixed" his problem by moving to somewhere where no one knew he used to be fat. Hmmm.
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I'm probably going to wind up recommending this book, however, it is really problematic. I'll give you the current example to illustrate what I mean.

"...if I asked you which of the two bodies below was the most attractive, we all know which one you'd choose. Which one most of us would choose.

"The image on the left, which you've probably seen before, is a four-inch-high statue known as the Venus of Willendorf, carved about twenty-seven thousand years ago. The image on the right shows American model Marisa Miller."

Two pictures follow. Feel free to find your own. Ms. Miller is wearing a bikini and high heels in the photo supplied.

"We'd choose Miller over the Venus for two reasons: because we're human and because we live in this time and place."

As long as the author was saying, "most of us". I had an out. But by this point in the exposition, that door has been slammed. To pick the Venus of Willendorf is to (since I can't evade living in this time and place) pick NOT being human.

Look, I get the author has a bunch of anxieties and hangups and is trying to connect with an audience that has absorbed a lot of self-loathing and fat-hating, and is trying to move FROM that position to a more accepting position. THAT IS THE POINT OF THE BOOK. But stuff like this shuts out -- very painfully -- any reader who comes from a point of view of body positivity.

Please let me stay human. Let me pick the Venus of Willendorf. My High Priestess self-describes as looking like the Venus of Willendorf as a way of making sure that someone she's interacting with online and contemplating meeting for coffee or tea or whatever isn't gonna show up and be all awful. I think my High Priestess is quite beautiful. I don't know Ms. Miller, but I cringe whenever I see someone that low body fat. This is an easy pick for me.

When an author tells me I have to pick Miller or NOT be a human, I question how much body positivity she is capable of conveying.

ETA: The next couple pages are about evolutionary psychological explanations for why we think certain people are more beautiful than other people. Which is AMAZING to me that anyone even TRIES to do this anymore, after more than a century of just being ludicrously racist and arguing evolution in favor of that and then having to go, gosh, let's pretend that didn't happen. After about the same of just being ludicrously sexist and arguing evolution in favor of that, and now having to go, um, we didn't mean it in precisely that way. You would think by this point, anyone with any sense would go, maybe I should not be making these Just So arguments.

But of course, if they had any sense, they wouldn't be making evolutionary psychologist arguments (or, really, most evolutionary blank arguments. Evolution is fine, but the cultural shit that evolutionists deploy it for make it look so much less reasonable that it actually is.).

There's a lot I could say about the section on doctors and bias, but I'll just keep it short here. If you're dealing with a doctor who hates/treats some patients worse because they are fat, you are probably dealing with a low competency doctor in general. That is, even their thin patients are getting screwed by seeing this person. And don't tell me, well, but it turns out that most doctors have a lot of fat bias. Because I know. And I think that says quite a lot, don't you? Doctors got better when they quit being hazed in the anatomy lab, but we clearly have a long ways to go in re-humanizing them. It is a deeply problematic profession.

ETA: "We are fundamentally visual creatures; there aren't enough words in the world to cancel out the effects of so many thousands of pictures."

This is so spectacularly weird. All you need is a slight frame shift, and she _understands_ how many people are frame shifted into thinking thin is positive. But it's actually equally easy to flip that frame to be repulsed by thin and find something else positive. There's a programming period, and there may need to be some maintenance if you inundate yourself with proana websites or fashion magazines or beauty pageants, but honestly, even those can be hate-consumed in a way that promotes a thin is ugly perspective. It's like she has no control over her own framing _at all_, to the point where she doesn't realize that anyone else does. Which is super weird.

ETAYA: It's especially weird because the book _starts_ with her therapist reframing her with a single sentence. THAT'S WHERE THIS BOOK STARTS. *sigh*

There is this beautiful paragraph:

"And research shows that the more we want to conform, the more likely we are to internalize cultural norms, to not just buy in to them but to defend them with the passion of the true believer. We've invested in them; we may have spent months or years of our lives trying to achieve those norms. They damn well have to be true."

It's a free-floating paragraph, largely unconnected from the rhetorical structure around it, which is probably just as well, because it the idea there was fully developed, it would have forced a rewrite of large chunks of the book. The preceding part of the argument is: we know who we are with reference to people around us (ha ha ha ha ha) and have a "fundamental" need to conform. Then the more we want that, the more evangelical and zealous we are. Then, we get those norms from images. And then we're off to photoshopping, and Israel passing a bill to require ads to label photoshopped thinner models.

So, the real problem IS NOT the images. The real problem is that people consume these images in each other's presence, and through grunts and ooohs and OMGs and so forth, communicate which ones are good and which ones are bad. All these consciousness raising exercises address conscious brain. What we really need is to surround people who need a reframe with a bunch of people just like them (same age, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, whatever) who make barfing sounds whenever an image of someone thinner than obese is shown, and make groaning orgasmic noises whenever someone well into obese is shown (<-- I exaggerate for effect.). I can pretty much guarantee that anyone exposed to that a few times a day for a week or so is going to experience a significant shift in how they perceive pictures of people.

In the meantime, you can conduct this experiment on yourself with a little thought. It is totally worth doing.
walkitout: (Default)
"De vriendschap die ik met de koeien had was heel speciaal."

The friendship that I had with the cows was very special. D'oh.

I figured at 150 odd pages in, if I really didn't believe anything I was reading and didn't much care either, I should probably just give up. There's no way I'm getting through the whole thing before book group anyway, and it's increasingly clear to me that I avoided reading it this month for a host of very, very good reasons.

ETA: Who knew that the pronunciation of Gouda could be so difficult to nail down? On Sunday, one of my best and longest friends said a Dutch woman down the street told her it was pronounced "How-duh". I was like, um, pretty sure you mis-heard that, because that's not an "h" at the beginning. It's more like a throat clearing. I didn't debate the "ow" part, however. But then a sentence pops up in Duolingo with the throat clearing G but a very clear "oo". What?!? As near as I can tell, if it isn't a regional variation, Duolingo somehow managed to get a speaker who said it wrong. Which seems impossible, so I'm betting on regional variation (and yes, I listened to it several times -- since the word "gouden" showed up in the sentence, there was the opportunity to do a direct comparison and ou was pronounced "oo" in the city name and "ow" in the adjective golden). If I come up with an explanation, I'll add it here.


8Dori says "h" with no apparent throat clearing. All four agree on "ow".
walkitout: (Default)
I'm having some problems (yes, it is a book group selection; no way in hell would I have picked this up under my own power). For starters, there are some weird similarities between this book and the Will Smith, Stockard Channing movie, "Six Degrees of Separation". Then there's the apparent timeline of the book. The viewpoint character is recalling the death of his mother and the events around that death 14 years earlier, while in a hotel room in Amsterdam that sounds like at least a moderately nice hotel and is -- I know, you won't believe it either -- so drafty and cold he has to wear a coat inside. Also, his mom and him were headed to a school conference having to do with his recent suspension and he's not sure why he was suspended, but one of the possibilities was that he and a school buddy had been using realtor keys to go into empty houses in the Hamptons and steal things like a DVD of Jet Li's "Unleashed", a 2005 movie. That implies that the more modern part of the book -- in the drafty Dutch hotel (I know, not actually possible to believe) -- is actually set in, at minimum, 2019.

And yet he's parked in bed surrounded by paper newspapers.

Not fucking likely.

The whole thing is so confusingly dreamscape in descriptive character that I'm just waiting for the viewpoint character to wake up in a hospital on a 72 hour hold in around 2010 (have to allow for the iPod and cell phone references).

Aha! "Here .. I've taken off the security code for you." So Andy's cell phone has a security code on the screen. Def later than 2005.
walkitout: (Default)
Book group is on Monday, so I really should finish this. It's a weird book, hard to put down when I'm reading it, but when I do put it down it is almost impossible to pick back up. I'd rather do nearly anything rather than pick it back up.

In any event, I'm past the bit at Toad Lake where they were hoping to run into Rainbow Gathering (the internet says that year the Rainbow Gathering was in New Mexico). As I read her description of how there was all this free food at a Rainbow Gathering (and remember, I don't at this point know anything about this group/these events), I'm weighing in my head, okay, more of the food obsession and then on the other hand, wait, I'm pretty sure it's not really _free_. If this is really a bunch of hippies, then you eat the free food, you're gonna have to do something in exchange.

Then I learned that a person who eats and hangs out and drinks and smokes and does drugs and generally consumes without contributing at such a gathering is known as a Drainbow. But I didn't get that from _Wild_.
walkitout: (Default)
Well, I finished Season 1, which I've been watching on Amazon (bought the season there a while back, watched a couple episodes, took a break, came back to it when all my shows went on summer break/ended), streamed through my phone (why my phone? So I can play games on my iPad while I sort of watch Agents of Shield).

I can tell my kids are older because when they were younger and reliably ignored the television unless it was one of their shows, I could put the headphones on and watch just about anything without worrying about the content. Now, they glance up at the screen often enough to make me feel very concerned about the possibility of them, say, seeing Agent May use a nail gun to pin Grant Ward's foot to the floor. Which was a great scene, in a super campy way, but still. Not for the little ones.

Speaking of Ward, the whole Ward story line just gives me the heebies. I sort of never really believed the Ward/Skye thing, because it was developing as Ward/May were colleagues-with-benefits. I was _really_ surprised when the whole Ward/Skye thing -- at least on Ward's side HEY SPOILERS WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE GO AWAY! Also, this is all from Season 1 so why are you all that upset about a spoiler here anyway? Where was I? I was quite shocked at the idea that Ward's interest in? attraction to? affection for? love of? desire to protect/own? Skye continued even after he shot Hand thus switching sides relatively definitively (I say relatively, because the rest of the team doesn't find out for a while). I didn't really have a problem with Ward committing to Hydra over Shield at that point in time, since Hand was so freaking unreliable herself, altho I did sort of wonder why Ward didn't take a golden opportunity to permanently sever connections between himself and Garrett.

Anyway. While I recognize that long time consumers of Whedon product are going to chalk the whole Ward/Skye thing up to Whedon Can't Tolerate a Happy Romantic Relationship, I would argue that this particular unhappy relationship is not a typical Whedon unhappy relationship. Those are usually really ludicrous examples of avoidant attachment/anxious attachment pairups. This is _not_ one of those. It is something else entirely, much closer to Cute Girl Attracts Vicious Stalker, but since they were close -- colleagues, friends, almost something more -- it lacks the randomness of a typical stalker story. I have a whole relationship theory that revolves around the basic idea that like finds like, so the implications of Ward and Skye experiencing mutual attraction, and then Ward turning out to be ... well, Ward, is kind of horrifying in terms of the implications for Skye. But easily the most disturbing part of this whole thing is Ward's over the top capacity for mayhem. It is not easy to imagine a scenario in which one of his targets is safe from him, particularly not if the target is disinclined to kill him. Anyone sensible in the market for a pet *path (socio? psycho?) would be better off with one that was marginally less capable.

I'm debating the relative merits of watching Winter Soldier next or continuing on to Season 2. On the one hand, ScarJo! On the other hand, Patton Oswalt. Tough call.

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