Tue 20 December 2005
This is the last post until the new year. I need to spend a bit of time working out my custom blogging scripts, housecleaning, possibly a physical move of the server, etc. I have kept the Parlour for a year now, which...I don't know, I guess I just thought maybe I should buy it a cake.
Permalink : New Year
Tue 20 December 2005
Ophelia's holiday weight loss guide.
The most useful weight loss guide you will ever find. Because I say so!
Before we begin, I feel I should warn you that I am not a doctor. Which shouldn't make my advice any less credible: merely having a doctorate, even a doctorate in medicine, doesn't mean you aren't a crackpot. I should also dispense with the standard diet book disclaimer, re, checking with a doctor blah-de-blah. Assuming you even have a doctor nowadays. As if anyone ever takes that advice anyway. It's just there to keep authors of diet books from getting sued, and I doubt it works, and I don't have anything worth taking anyway.
Now, to start with, most diet books are ninety percent rubbish, coated with ten percent common sense to get you to swallow it. They are rubbish because their primary goal is to sell you stuff, starting with the book. I am not trying to sell you anything. I am trying to undermine sales of diet books, so that you will never need to buy another diet-related item again, and instead you can spend the money on something really useful. Our band's new CD, for example. Or cocktails.
So, here it is, the secret, the key to weight loss for all time:
Eat less. Exercise more.
And that's it, really.
That is why diet books have to lie to you. Because they know you want to believe there's a trick to it, that there has to be more to weight loss than a simple energy in/energy out physics equation. It's about only eating carbohydrates on Tuesdays with a full moon, isn't it? Or starting each day with a pint of cabbage soup? Or never eating bacon, or eating only bacon? Or eating according to your blood type/astrological sign/biorythms? Or mysterious food allergies to common substances which cause you in a strange paradoxical fashion to crave them? Or industrial pollution causing cell walls to be lined with mucous which...
Whatever. No, there's no magic spell which will enable you to lose weight without...suffering. A bit, anyway. So, to lose weight you must learn to embrace suffering.
That's why nobody wants to tell you the truth. They know it's not what you want to hear. But I, as I have said, don't care.
The basics of weight loss are incredibly simple, and you already know them. The hard part is putting it into practice. There are a lot of reasons this is hard, the most difficult being -- your body does not want you to lose weight! Your body is kind of stupid, and thinks it is still the Middle Ages out there. It doesn't know about labor-saving devices, indoor heating, or Little Debbies. Your body thinks that calories are precious things and hard to come by. Therefore, it saves them up (in fat), assuming you will need them later. You don't. But your body doesn't know that. Deliberate weight loss is an ongoing argument with your body.
There are some myths about weight loss that we have to take care of right now. For example: you will not lose weight and suddenly look like a movie star. You will look like you. Only thinner.
Another thing to get out of your head is the idea that weight loss is some kind of magic key to health, love, happiness, promotions, television appearances, and beauty. While it is certainly true that fatter people are often socially punished, it doesn't follow at all that thinner people are correspondingly rewarded. And as for the alleged health benefits -- while cutting out junk food and getting more exercise will certainly improve your health, you can improve your health a lot and still be fatter than you'd like. Similarly, you can lose a lot of weight by swallowing a tapeworm, doing drugs, or contracting a horrid disease. When you get right down to it, there is only one reason most of us bother to try to lose weight:
We'll all be happier if we just admit it. We are vain, and therefore, wish to look a certain way, which includes being a certain weight.
There is another reason to lose weight, also pertaining to vanity: clothes. Nothing makes you look fatter than clothes that are too small. It creates unnecessary additional bulging, and also implies a sad, desperate background narrative to your corpulence: your weight is on a rapid upward trajectory and there's simply no telling where it will end. Even corsets no longer fit properly if you gain too much weight after they have been tailored. You might still be able to squeeze into them (they are corsets after all), but they will get this look -- oh, you know the look I mean, the overstuffed corset look, where, instead of a smooth line to the waist and out again, there's more of a reluctant buckling between the chest and hips, and the breasts are pushed up under the chin into a kind of flabby shelf that oozes out over the armpits.
Anyway, this is a problem, because corsets are expensive.
Why do I even need to emphasize that weight loss is about vanity? Because, in our strange world of cheap calories and an overhyped sex-without-sex marketplace, weight and food has replaced the quaint notions of (mostly sex-related) public morality held by earlier generations. All virtue is associated with foregoing the fleshly pleasures of eating "wicked" calorie-dense food, and all vice with indulging those same foods. But this sort of thinking leads ultimately down the wrong path, because it simply reinforces the idea that highly caloric foods are desirable, and hunger isn't. That's what your body already thinks. Also, unless you really break the societal brainwashing, you will continue to turn to super-calorie food when you are sad, tired, depressed, coming out of a nasty breakup, or any other time you need psychological comfort. So, forget the illusion of secular virtue, and embrace honest vanity.
Now, when arguing with your body, your body has a lot of advantages, and a lot of tricks up its sleeve. Part of winning the argument is that you have to know where your body is coming from. So, we are going to spend a few minutes looking at evolution. And if you don't "believe" in evolution, I have nothing further to say to you. Stop reading right now, and go use your magic wishing stones to lose weight, or pray to your guardian angels for a heavenly liposuction, or whatever it is you flat-earthers like to do. I'm serious. I'm through with you people.
A long time ago, human evolutionary ancestors were, more or less, extremely clever monkeys. Maybe like orang-outangs, maybe like chimps, maybe like something that no longer exists because it turned into us. So we were pretty smart. For monkeys. Then something weird happened to us. Nobody knows exactly how or why, but we developed this intelligence thing, this cerebral cortex thing, and suddenly we were capable of amazing feats of abstract thinking. Instead of just responding in a clever-monkey way to the pressures of our environment, eating bananas and squabbling with other monkeys over shiny objects, we could consider. We could make decisions. (And we've been miserable ever since.)
Human intelligence -- will, cognition, identity, all that stuff -- is layered on top of the clever monkey part. The monkey mind. When you are scared, tired, or your survival is threatened, the monkey mind tends to take over. It works like this. Your body wants and needs certain things. It talks to the monkey mind. The body says, "I'm hungry," and the monkey mind is supposed to use the body to go steal a banana from a tourist. This is fine, because the tourist probably wanted to feed the monkey a banana. But you have a human intelligence. So when your body says "I'm hungry," your monkey mind is still inclined to go steal somebody's banana, but your human intelligence says that you can't do that. You have to pay for the banana, or at least ask for it nicely. Or, if you are trying to lose weight, it might say that you can't have the banana at all. Your monkey mind does not want to hear this. It sees a perfectly good banana just sitting there and the body is bugging it to eat and why can't it have the banana? Your body doesn't want to hear this either. Your body starts to worry there might be a banana shortage. It turns up the pressure. More hunger. Maybe some anxiety hormones. Your blood sugar drops and your hands get clammy, maybe your head starts aching. Your monkey mind gets louder and more insistent, trying to take over.
When the argument is waged this way, you can't possibly win. Eventually you will eat the banana. Or, more likely, you will be so hungry and so anxious and so low in blood sugar by this point that you will eat anything that comes along. And in our current society, the thing most likely to come along -- the thing most likely to be cheap and readily available -- is junk food. High in calories, low in nutrition. So instead of eating a banana, you eat a banana-flavored Moon Pie.
Just eat the banana already. They're good for you.
You have to understand, your body is just trying to keep you alive. But (for obvious evolutionary reasons) it cares a lot about keeping you alive long enough for the kids to be on their own (say, about thirty-five in a pre-industrial society) and not so much about keeping you alive after that. In this light, your body's tendency to hoard calories makes perfect sense. Obesity-related problems will (maybe) give you a heart attack when you're fifty. Starvation will kill you right now. So take some steps to reassure your body that you are not in danger of starvation. This is best accomplished with fresh fruits and vegetables, which are cheaper and more readily available now than at any time in human history. (Even if they're not quite as cheap and readily available as junk food.) Your body will think it's summer, fruit is hanging on the vine, la-de-da, nothing to worry about. And produce, especially most vegetables, are so low in caloric density that you could eat them pretty much all day long and still lose weight.
(A note on caloric density -- this is calories/weight, and is primarily a measure of how much water is in a food. Vegetables = high water + high fiber = low caloric density. Rice cakes = dehydrated = high caloric density. Low caloric density is good. Avoid rice cakes. Haven't you been longing to hear that?)
Your body is a lot like a toddler -- it will yell and scream and cry if you suddenly start making it eat its vegetables, but if you are consistent and firm it will eventually come round to your way of thinking. Because, as much as it will throw tantrums at you, it also wants to please you. Your body and brain are set up to become good at the things they are repeatedly called upon to do. What do you ask your body to do? Run marathons on nothing but tofu and wheatgrass? Or sit on the couch eating Nacho Cheese Doritos and watching Survivor reruns? It's your call, although I don't personally recommend either one.
Your weight is not about what you eat today, or on Christmas, or on your birthday. It's about what you eat, and what you do, every day, every week, every month. It's about patterns.
Because many people still think of weight loss as a kind of secular penance, they take an unhelpful all-or-nothing approach. Every indiscretion becomes a reset button. Oh, I ate a cupcake today, I'll keep pigging out tonight and start my diet tomorrow. Or next month. Or at the new year. You know how idiotic that sounds, right? But you do it anyway. You know why? Because it's a trick. Your abstract-thinking human self is reassured by tantalizing dreams of what you will do someday, the wonderful discipline you will suddenly manifest, the perfect body you will suddenly have. And your body/monkey mind are reassured by the fact that you never actually lose any weight.
People can keep this kind of stalemate going for years. Maybe their entire lives. They keep the human part happy by periodically embracing new diets, and the monkey mind happy by giving up on those same diets. And I guess, if you're really happy that way, I won't...oh, who'm I kidding? I live to pop bubbles. You will never lose weight. There is no Santa Claus. You will not become a famous millionaire.
So far, I haven't talked much about exercise. That's because it's a completely different issue from your body's anxiety about weight loss and food scarcity. Your body is a little reluctant to engage in voluntary exercise, only because it assumes that you will, at some point, have to engage in involuntary exercise. Running away from tigers, perhaps, or climbing tourists to get their bananas. So your body has a mild incentive to want to conserve energy. A Newton's law sort of thing. Inertia. But inertia works in your favor as well. If you just decide that you will start doing something physical your body generally takes the hint and starts getting into it. If you make your body do something every day, your body kind of assumes that you have to do it, and it tries to cooperate. It learns. It tries to provide necessary muscle tissue. And, while there are some adjustment problems (sore muscles, etc.) those are side effects of your body trying to cooperate. If you keep it up, eventually, your muscles aren't sore anymore -- they're just stronger, better looking, etc.
There are some things to consider. If your goal with exercise is health and vanity, you don't want to rip muscles and cartilage and damage your joints and all that sort of thing, because it will interfere with your ability to keep up exercising. So think low-impact. Yoga is good, even if you're not a hippie. Walking is good, and you probably already know how to do it. Bicycling is good except if you decide you're going to bicycle to work and then stupid drivers hit you with their stupid cars. Jogging is good exercise but you're more likely to rip something. Etc. Really, I'm not an expert. Just pick something. Anything. Rock out to your iPod. As long as you do it. (The only diet that matters is the one you will stick to. The only exercise plan that matters is the one you actually do.) Most days is good, every day is better. Half an hour is good. An hour is better.
And one more thing, on the subject of exercise -- you can't buy it with money. I mean, paying money to a gym, or buying the latest exercise gadget, just helps make the gym and infomercial guys rich. Exercise takes a certain amount of time out of your day no matter how much money you spend on special shoes. Experts disagree on whether it is better to spend the time all at once or break it down into ten minute segments. But look, if three ten minute segments is what you will do don't worry about whether you "should" be trying to find a whole half hour of uninterrupted time. Unattainable goals just lead back to that place where you're lying to yourself about what you're going to do maybe someday. A little exercise is always better than none.
So, this is Ophelia's "holiday weight loss guide," and by holiday I mean "Hallothankschristmasnewyearukah," the nonstop sugarjunkfest that begins in the middle of October and doesn't really let up until the vernal equinox. Why is "holiday weight loss" an issue? Because during Hallothankschristmasnewyearukah people have parties, and at parties they have party food. And even when there isn't, technically, a party going on, possibly because of the long, dark nights, people try to party-up everyday life, which again involves party food. People have special little sugary butter things they only make during Hallothankschristmasnewyearukah (are you wondering when I'm going to stop saying "Hallothankschristmasnewyearukah"?) Maybe it's an instinctive response to winter, or maybe it's just that holidays are about tradition, and traditional foods all date back to an age when people actually needed calories, because they didn't have central heating, and they did have to hike through snow to get anywhere. People start keeping nut mixes at their desks, and actually drink things like eggnog, which, thanks to all the sugar, actually has more calories per ounce than if you just microwaved butter and drank it. Sugar is hydrophilic, bonding readily with water, meaning -- you can fill a cup with sugar, then fill the same cup with water. Then add carbonation and flavoring and you have a soft drink. Really, that's how much sugar they have. I'm not kidding.
Yes, sugar really is as bad as you think.
Sugar barons try to confuse the issue and claim that sugar isn't so bad. And it's not. Compared to strychnine. Yes, hippies make some pretty extravagant claims about the negative health effects of sugar which don't hold up. But that doesn't matter. If you think about it a minute, you'll realize, you already know what's wrong with sugar. It adds calories, contributes nothing nutritionally, and if you're sensitive it can cause a blood sugar spike/crash cycle which not only makes you cranky and difficult, but also can prompt excess consumption while you scramble to recover from the crash. Also, too much sugar all the time kind of burns out our taste buds, so that we become immune to the natural sweetness of things like fruit and milk. We like sugar because sugar tells us that fruit is ripe and (often) that food is good for us. But once we become accustomed to the hyper-pumped super-saturated world of sugar-coated sugar pops with chocolate milk poured on, we no longer even recognize, say, apples as sweet. So you don't like apples because they're not sweet enough, you eat Apple Jacks instead, and the cycle continues. Artificial sweeteners and various sugar substitutes only solve part of the problem -- the calorie part, or the blood sugar part. The taste bud burnout can only really be solved by periods of abstinence. You can eat sugar sometimes. But only if you really want it. Break the habit. It's easy.
Okay, it's not easy. This time of year people will be putting sugar in your face all day long. Just say, "no thanks." Don't tell people you're trying to lose weight. It's tacky, and can instill in others a perverse desire to break your resolve. After all, they don't want you losing weight when they're not.
Don't ever tell anyone you are trying to lose weight. Ever.Remember what I said about fooling yourself about the diet you are going to go on next week/month/year? Just as, on some level, you know
you're lying to yourself, everybody else knows it too. There is nothing good that can possibly come of telling people you're trying to lose weight. It won't make them stop waving fudge under your nose. It won't make them admire your newfound slimness until the slimness actually manifests itself. And it's none of their business anyway.
If other people make it awkward for you to refuse their alleged treats (like grandmothers. grandmothers are famous for this), go ahead and accept it -- then throw it away when they're not looking. You don't have to feel guilty about this. It's their fault for being rude. It's still none of their business what you eat.
If other people make it really, really awkward for you, lie. Lie big. Lie so as to make them embarrassed they pushed the issue. Tell them you can't eat certain things after having parts of your intestine removed after a bullet wound, or that you're allergic to chocolate, or that you're hypoglycemic, or that it's against your religion, or that you are psychologically disturbed by high-calorie treats because you had a little brother with Prader-Willi syndrome who literally ate himself to death. And then later, if somebody catches you eating something you claimed to be allergic to, or discovers that you never had a brother, and calls you on it, you can give them a withering look and say, "I just made that up to get you to leave me alone" as if it should have been obvious to anyone with half a brain that you were lying.
At actual parties, you can hang around the token vegetable tray. It's just there because people have a feeling that it ought to be, not because they expect anyone to actually eat it, so you will have it mostly to yourself. Other rules of thumb are easy. Avoid creamy dips, go for salsa. Drink martinis, avoid punch. If you really like crab puffs or port wine cheese balls rolled in slivered almonds, go ahead and eat them. But don't go nuts. You can do math, right? If a single crab puff or a tiny eggnog or an ounce of cheese ball has 100 calories, you can have a couple. But each one you eat is another hundred calories. There's a diminishing reward-to-calories curve, where the pleasure of having one rather than none is well worth it, but having five instead of three just isn't.
You have to invert your thinking. Your body, and your monkey mind, and thousands of years of pre-industrial history, all assume that calories are the goal -- inherently desirable -- and you spend effort to acquire them. The late-period industrial revolution has turned that on its head. Nowadays, you have to think of calories as the thing you spend. You have a limited calorie budget and you need to spend it on nutrition, then, if you have any calories left over, on enjoyment. If you can combine nutrition and enjoyment, that's better. This requires some soul-searching and experimentation. How much do you really like french fries? What about mayonnaise? Do you eat fast food because you enjoy it, or just because you can't think of anything else to eat? What kind of vegetables do you actually like? C'mon, there must be something. (And remember -- nothing counts as a vegetable after it's been deep fried.)
I won't lie to you. There may come a time when you have made all the easy improvements -- sorta regular exercise, very little junk food -- and you still want to lose weight. (Vanity, remember?) At that point you have to decide how important your vanity is.
How much are you willing to suffer?
Can you stand being sorta hungry all the time? Can you spend an hour every day exercising hard? Can you count calories precisely and stick rigidly to the counted-out portions? Can you limit your consumption of the foods you really do like? And can you keep all this up for the rest of your life? If you have made all the easy adjustments -- all that remains are the hard ones.
This stage is harder not only because it requires more discipline and causes more suffering, but because it is more complex. This is the point where individual metabolic quirks really come into play. It's easy to know that nobody really needs to eat french fries or candy bars. It's harder to know that you, personally, can't eat potatoes at all without hopping onto the blood sugar roller-coaster. Or that for you a low-carbohydrate approach backfires by making you sluggish. Or that you really like periodic liquid fasts. Or that fasting even half a day renders you incapable of normal activities. Or that you really benefit from lots of herbal "dieter's tea." Or that you function well if you break up your food into many little snacks. Or that you stick to the rest of your diet plan easily as long as you can look forward to eating pizza once a week. Or that once a week is still too much pizza and you have to cut it back to once a month. No one else can possibly tell you these things -- not your doctor, not a diet guru, and certainly not me.
Pop culture, by the way, has lied to you. It has told you repeatedly that losing weight is the key to health and happiness. It's axiomatic. Lose weight = healthy = feel good! This is true -- up to a point. Or, I should say, down to a point. Because, if you try to drop your weight below a certain point, your health can suffer. You might have no stamina, you might be cold all the time, you might be more susceptible to infections, you might have frequent headaches, you might be cranky, you might suddenly need ten hours of sleep. I'm not talking about anorexia, either, although it might sound like I am. These negative effects happen well before starvation. They might not last. Your body might adjust and you will bounce back and suddenly be a bundle of happy, skinny energy, like a teenager. Or maybe not. Maybe the price you pay for being the weight your vanity prefers is an endless battle with your body in which your body never, ever succumbs, and you suffer for the rest of your life.
Is it worth it? That's up to you.
Permalink : Ophelia's holiday weight loss guide.
Tue 20 December 2005
Really, you are doing better than you think
President Bush flew to rainy North Carolina on Monday to make a campaign-style sales pitch: The economy is better than you think it is.
"This economy is strong, and the best days are yet to come," Bush told employees at a construction machinery plant near Greensboro.
Blasting "pessimists" who had attacked his tax cuts, Bush credited those cuts with triggering high growth rates and rising employment.
This is the Bush economic plan: 1. Blame Clinton, then, 2. Blame 9/11, then, when you have been president too long and had too many of your own policies implemented for that to work anymore, 3. Claim you have succeeded in turning the economy around, and if you are still worried, it is because you are an economic girlie-man!
But, I guess things do look good if you are an economic policy wonk who makes more than $100,000 a year.
Bush has good reason to tout a robust economy, some economists say. Growth has been stronger than forecast — a 4.3% pace in the third quarter — Unemployment is a low 5%, and inflation remains relatively muted.
"The U.S. economy looks good, I might even say terrific," says Allen Sinai, president of Decision Economics, who has advised the White House on fiscal policy in the past.
Even so, there are trends that have been worrisome to consumers. Drivers have struggled this year with sharply higher gasoline prices. The administration has projected that home heating costs will surge this winter. And data show that workers' income is lagging behind rising costs.
Okay, I won't deny that the economy is...somewhat better...than it was this time in 2001, an improvement which I think happened in spite of Bush's borrow-n-spend economic, er, "plan." But we're still kind of limping along, and if you want to know why the average non-millionaire thinks the economy is nothing to get happy about, note where the article mentions "workers' income is lagging behind rising costs" almost as an afterthought. Because -- and I realize that I don't have economic policy wonk credentials -- it seems to me -- that it should be sort of obvious that workers who aren't earning enough to pay for their lives are pessimistic about the economy. Because, you know, most people don't base their view of the economy on little numbers that indicate how many people the administration counts as unemployed, or how much "growth" is happening. They base their view of the economy on how well they, and their immediate circle of friends and family are doing. And in this case "how well" is not simply a measure of whether or not they have a job, but also, on what that job pays for, and what direction things seem to be going in general. Do people feel like they're getting ahead, or falling behind? What we have here is a moderate gain after years of sluggish growth, perhaps even a double-dip recession (depending on how you cut the numbers).
Let's go through this likely scenario: you got laid off in December 2001 and spent a year unemployed. Then you got a job that paid less than half of what you were making at the point you were laid off. Then, after a couple years of that you were unemployed again for a few months, and then you got another job that still paid less than half what you were making in December 2001, or maybe you got fed up and started your own business. So, you aren't technically unemployed right now. But you're not exactly breaking out the champagne either.
In fact, you're incredibly anxious, because you have been living on debt for the past four years waiting for things to really turn around -- for your income to achieve pre 9/11 levels, for something other than government and fast food to start adding jobs again.
Permalink : Really, you are doing better than you think
Tue 20 December 2005
The right wing war on Christmas: update
It's amazing how irresistible it can be to make fun of idiots.
I mean, I know I shouldn't. It's bad for my health. But they're so funny.
Like this CNN exchange between Sam Seder (Minority Report host) and Bob Knight (Culture and Family Institute aka. Concerned Women for America). (Look at the clip or read the transcript. The transcript has attribution errors which I have corrected. Kyra is the moderator.)
SEDER: Listen, as far as the war on Christmas goes, I feel like we should be waging a war on Christmas. I mean, I believe that Christmas, it's almost proven that Christmas has nuclear weapons, can be an imminent threat to this country, that they have operative ties with terrorists and I believe that we should sacrifice thousands of American lives in pursuit of this war on Christmas. And hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.
KNIGHT: Well, first I want to compliment him on his dry humor, but this is actually a very serious subject ... it's actually insulting when you're talking about Christmas day or a Christmas tree and you can't bring yourself to use the word for fear of offending someone. In the name of diversity we're a less free country when that happens.
SEDER: Yes, well, Kyra, I mean, listen, I would like Bob to tell me who is the person who has been offended by someone saying Merry Christmas to them? I've never met that person. I don't celebrate Christmas. But if someone says "Merry Christmas" to me, I either think, well, it's a little bit odd, it's like me saying happy birthday to you on my birthday, but no one cares. What else would Bob Knight have an opportunity to do, how else would he get on television if he wasn't pretending to be attacked.
KINGHT: This would be funny except it is serious to a lot of people who have seen their faith cleansed from the public square systemically.
SEDER: Are you suggesting, Bob, that someone can't celebrate Christmas in America? Tell me about the person who can escape the celebration.
KNIGHT: Can I get a word in here? I'm talking about things like in Ridgeway, Wisconsin, where the school children in the public school were told they couldn't sing "Silent Night," so they substituted "Oh, Cold Night." When you take Jesus out of anything it gets pretty cold, so it's apt. But it's outrageous, they had children actually singing a bastardized version of "Silent Night."
SEDER: This may come as a shock to you, Bob, but I don't consider Jesus the messiah. If you're going to ask me to praise Jesus, I'm going to be a little offended. ... you can find other songs to sing, so what about "Silent Night."
KNIGHT: Because you're offended none of those other kids can celebrate the great heritage of Christmas carols.
SEDER: I'm not the one who said they couldn't do that. ... You don't care about the people who don't celebrate Christmas, fine. But I don't celebrate Christmas and I don't care. So, why are we wasting everybody's time? It's so that you can fund raise, that's why Bob. And I think you know that's true.
KNIGHT: OK. You know, when the Nazis moved into Austria in 1936...
SEDER: Oh, that's offensive, Bob, to raise Nazis.
KNIGHT: You can't even let me speak. Can you? You're so...Maria Trapp wrote the story of the Trapp singers that's in "The Sound of Music," and she said she sent her kids to school after the Nazis took over. And they came home and said mama, we can't say the word Christmas anymore. It's now winter holiday. I think that ought to disturb people...
SEDER: Kyra, that's offensive.
KNIGHT: ...that we're moving toward that kind of attitude in this country.
SEDER: The Puritans also outlawed Christmas. The founding fathers of this country would fine you in Massachusetts if you celebrated Christmas in the beginning. So don't talk about Nazis, Bob. I think that's really inappropriate. Why do you have to bring hate to this Christmas and holiday season? That's so sad, Bob.
You can tell they don't have much to go on, when it's national TV and in ten minutes they've already lost according to the Godwin's Law Corollary. Also, accusing a Jewish person of Nazish behavior is just...tacky. Even if Knight meant well. Which I'm not convinced that he did. Humorless people scare me and man, is that guy humorless.
And then, there's the stunning news that Mr. Anti-Christmas crusader Bill O'Reilly himself...gasp... got the facts wrong when he shared the suspiciously urban-legend sounding tidbit that "In Plano, Texas, a school told students they couldn't wear red and green because they are Christmas colors." It turns out -- it was an urban legend. According to E-mail sent to parents in the Plano, TX school district:
Due to the number of e-mails, inquiries and phone calls to Plano ISD regarding students "wearing red and green," Superintendent of Schools Dr. Doug Otto is e-mailing this communication to eNews subscribers (and has posted this message on the PISD website) to assure the school community that this rumor is false.
"The school district does not restrict students or staff from wearing certain color clothes during holiday times or any other school days," noted Dr. Otto, who said that the school district's attorney has requested that Mr. O'Reilly retract the statement.
Regular watchers of The Daily Show might have seen a clip where O'Reilly (O'Really?) calls Comedy Central "secular central" (uh...what else are they supposed to be?) then shows a Samantha Bee clip where she says, "Christmas is the only religious holiday that's also a federal holiday. That way Christians can go to their services, and everyone else can stay home and reflect on the true meaning of, separation of church and state." Then O'Reilly makes a face and says very sarcastically, "Merry Christmas to YOU, Jon Stewart." (Who is, some of you might know, Jewish. Does O'Reilly know this? Is there...well, I hate to sound paranoid, but is there...maybe...kind of a...kind of a nasty little anti-Semitic flavor to this whole war on Christmas? First Knight's Nazi crack, and now this?) Then a very pregnant Samantha Bee comes out and establishes that the, uh, "offending" clip is from a year ago. Because her highlights are honey instead of caramel. So you see, Christmas is under attack! Because somebody made a joke more than a year ago!
Then O'Really came out with this perplexing quote from his December 2nd show:
"I am not going to let ... anti-Christian forces ... denigrate the holiday. I'm gonna use all the power that I have ... to bring horror into the world of people who are trying to do that. ... They are on the run in corporations, in the media, everywhere. ... And anyone who tries to stop us ... is gonna face me."
Whew. When your idea of spreading Christmas cheer is to threaten a Cthulhu-like summoning of unnamed horrors...
Then some people decided that what they really needed to do was picket Wal-Mart. Which in general I approve of, except that these particular protesters are "hoping to turn away customers by calling attention to the retailer's decision to use 'happy holidays' rather than "merry Christmas" in its seasonal advertising." Oh, yeah, that's important. We'll give 'em a pass on all their oppressive anti-labor policies, but using "happy holidays" instead of 'merry Christmas,' that's really going to far! Because...uh, I don't know. I'm still not getting how anybody is materially harmed by any of this. (You know, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket if a man says "happy holidays" or "merry Christmas," or "bah, humbug.") Unless, perhaps, at some point, fisticuffs ensue.
Then, bringing the whole thing to a crescendo of absurdity, Congress decided (apparently) that the First Amendment is just a helpful suggestion, and that bit about "making no law respecting the establishment of religion" certainly wasn't intended to prevent them from hopping on the latest bandwagon to stupidtown. So Virginia Congresswoman Rep. Jo Ann Davis introduced a bit of offensive anti-constitutional nonsense, House Resolution 579, titled "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected (for those who celebrate Christmas)." Congressman John D. Dingell made fun of it with a fairly clever poem. Then he joined an overwhelming 402 majority and voted YES on it. (Here is the complete idiots list if you wanna read it and weep.)
So, in conclusion -- if you think that "Christmas is under attack!" because you heard it on Fox or something, just try a little experiment. Try going to a public place and saying "Merry Christmas" and just see -- just see if stormtroopers suddenly come bursting out of the wall to point automatic weapons at your head.
Because I'm pretty sure they won't.
(In a related issue, try going to a public place and saying "President Bush is a moron" and see if they start tapping your phone lines without a warrant. Because that's actually seeming pretty likely these days.)
Permalink : The right wing war on Christmas: update
Fri 02 December 2005
The stupidest thing I ever heard of, part 2
The stupidity just won't stop
Dot mobile, a British mobile phone service aimed at students, says it plans to condense classic works of literature into SMS text messages. The company claims the service will be a valuable resource for studying for exams.
Some examples from the article:
"To be or not to be, that is the question" becomes "2b? Nt2b? ???"
The climax of Jane Eyre becomes 'MadwyfSetsFyr2Haus.' (Mad wife sets fire to house.)
The beginning of "Paradise Lost" becomes "devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war." ("The devil is kicked out of heaven because he is jealous of Jesus and starts a war.")
Now, as stupid as that plainly is, I can't help feeling like it's all a big put-on. Like this quote from John Sutherland, a University College London English professor who consulted on the project and also chaired the judging panel for this year's Booker Prize for fiction.
"The educational opportunities it offers are immense"
Umm...really. Teaching what, exactly? I mean, when you take poetry, dialog, and narrative flow out of a work of literature, what are you left with? Obviously, not a lot. So, I will view the whole enterprise as parody, unless Sutherland himself convinces me otherwise.
A brilliant parody, in its way. But not as good as "Tales for the L33t: Romeo and Juliet" by Chris Coutts. Really, it's worth installing Flash for.
Permalink : The stupidest thing I ever heard of, part 2
Fri 02 December 2005
The stupidest thing I ever heard of: The sequel
So, there is this reactionary nutcase meme sludging along that, somehow, in some way you probably have to be a paranoid reactionary nutcase to really understand, AHHH! CHRISTMAS IS BEING DESTROYED BY FAITHLESS LIBERALS! WE ARE ALL UNDER ATTACK!.
(Note: if you take the link, you might be amused to note that Michelle Malkin has written a book called Unhinged. Yes, Michelle. I was aware that you were unhinged. I'm surprised you admit it so openly. But, isn't it a relief to tell the truth for once?)
I noticed it a little bit last year, when Bill O'Reilly declared war on Christmas, but last year, my pre-Christmas brain was occupied with getting ready to go to Indonesia, and it didn't penetrate much. This year he's at it again, with this particularly silly little exchange from his program in mid-November:
O'REILLY: With us now, Philip Nulman, author of the book Just Say Yes!: Extreme Customer Service [Career Press, 2000]. That's what I like, extreme customer service. All right, 85 percent of Americans say they're Christians. Christmas is a federal holiday, signed into law by [President] U.S. Grant. And we're living in a time where some retail outlets will not say "Merry Christmas." Insane?
NULMAN: No, no, I don't think it's insane. I think that it's good business practice, actually. And many organizations are trying desperately to be inclusionary. They feel that the use of "Merry Christmas" in their packaging, their bags, their messages, their environment is just the opposite. It's exclusionary to the 15 or 20 percent of the customer base that is not Christian.
O'REILLY: See, I think you're, I think you're crazy. And here's why. I think the backlash against stores that don't say "Merry Christmas" is enormous because now people are aware of the issue... And when you walk into a secular environment, most Christians are looking around, and they're really aware of it. Now, the other thing is, I don't believe most people who aren't Christian are offended by the words "Merry Christmas." I think those people are nuts. I think you're crazy if you're offended by the words "Merry Christmas."
NULMAN: "Season's Greetings" and "Happy Holidays," Bill, does not offend Christians.
O'REILLY: Yes, it does. It absolutely does. And I know that for a fact.
So there you have it -- non-Christians are "crazy" if "Merry Christmas" offends them. Yet, (nominal) Christians are perfectly justified to get all bent out of shape if somebody wishes them "Happy Holidays." So...what kind of drugs do you have to be on before you think that's a normal thing to say? Or does that sort of thinking just come naturally to bullies like O'Reilly?
I mean, we live in a world where, if the American people buy an insufficient dollar amount of useless junk over the "Holiday Season," our entire economy goes into a tailspin. Retailers and marketers already took the Christmas out of Christmas, and they did it when you were still a screaming toddler, Billy. Wait. I mean, when you were still a genuine screaming toddler, as opposed to a nominal adult doing an amazing imitation of one. And, let's be clear here -- there wasn't very much Christmas in Christmas anyway. The date? Iffy at best, and probably related to Roman celebrations. Gifts? Yeah, right. Mass quantities of sugar? Candles? Stockings on a mantle? That tree? It's a YULE tree, and it comes from pre-Christian Scandinavian celebrations on the midwinter Solstice, and has about as much to do with Christmas as barbecues have to do with Independence Day. Which is to say -- quite a bit, really, if you regard the celebration of a holiday as an important cultural benchmark. But not very much if you look to what is supposed to be the reason for the holiday in the first place.
Now, I don't know if this attempt to stir up some sort of bandwagon is having any real effect or not. According to Paul there's still no religious gift wrap for sale, so, probably not. But I find this desire for nominal Christians to feel persecuted to be disturbing. And just plain annoying. Are you being fed to lions? Are there Gestapo agents breaking down your doors and destroying your nativity scenes? Are you afraid to tell anyone you're a Christian for fear that the secret police will cart you away in the middle of the night? Do you fear that you will lose your job, or custody of your children, if it is found out that you are a Christian? Have gangs of steroid-crazed young men recently beat anyone to death because they thought he was a Christian? No? Then shut up.
Related: How the secular humanist grinch didn't steal Christmas.
In 1959, the recently formed John Birch Society issued an urgent alert: Christmas was under attack. In a JBS pamphlet titled "There Goes Christmas?!" a writer named Hubert Kregeloh warned, "One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas -- to denude the event of its religious meaning." The central front in this perfidious assault was American department stores, where the "Godless UN" was scheming to replace religious decorations with internationalist celebrations of universal brotherhood.
Which just goes to show, no sufficiently bad idea ever goes away forever.
The article also has an interesting point -- that the "war on Christmas" myth can be self-fulfilling, as school board members and local politicians believe these paranoid urban legends claiming they can't celebrate Christmas without getting sued by the ACLU, and act on them.
Anyway, Mr. O'Reilly -- and anyone else out there who is tempted to jump on his anti-"holidays" bandwagon -- I have to say: Careful secular inclusionism is what you should EXPECT if you turn to commercial retail establishments for your holiday guidance. You want Christmas to be about Jesus, go to church.
Addendum: Since writing the above, the (koff) Reverend (koff) Jerry Falwell has launched the charmingly named "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign." It is being led by the "Liberty Counsel," a right wing legal organization, and their technique for spreading Christmas cheer is to file lawsuits against anyone spreading "misinformation about how Christmas can be celebrated in schools and public spaces." The 8,000 members of the Christian Educators Association International will be spying -- er, reporting -- nah, tattling any perceived transgressions back to 750 Liberty Counsel lawyers who are eager to instill the Christmas spirit in everyone by suing them in court.
Sheesh. It's amazing how icky these guys make Christmas feel. Instead of being about love and peace on Earth and sparkly things, it's about giving a big, bullying, scornful, in-your-face, Nelson Muntz "hah-hah" to pagans, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists and Jehovah's Witnesses. I think I'm celebrating Festivus this year.
Permalink : The stupidest thing I ever heard of: The sequel
Fri 02 December 2005
The stupidest thing I ever heard of, Part 1
The stupidest thing I ever heard of
Upside-down Christmas trees. Actually, if people were taking regular trees and turning them upside-down, that might seem kind of cool, but manufacturing a "tree" that is designed to be upside down is just...dumb. And who knew fake trees were so expensive? Even the ones at Target start at 300 bucks.
According to Sheryl Karas, author of The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree, upside-down trees were a 12th-century tradition in Central Europe. Which doesn't make it any less stupid, although it's slightly comforting to know that people in the middle ages were just as stupid as we are now, as it bodes well for our future survival.
Permalink : The stupidest thing I ever heard of, Part 1
Fri 02 December 2005
"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city."
"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there."
--Pat Robertson, on a November (9 or 10) broadcast of The 700 Club, in response to the vote in which eight Dover, Pennsylvania, school board members up for re-election lost their seats after trying to introduce a statement on "intelligent design" to high school biology students.
"Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead.
And if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.
-- Bill O'Reilly, on a November 8th broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor, critical of a San Francisco ballot measure which strongly encourages public high schools and colleges to prohibit on-campus military recruiting.
I was struck by the similarity in wording, and on almost the same day. And I wonder...are their followers ever going to notice that they have come completely unhinged? Or is complete crazification the appeal? Also, I wonder why being a right winger seems to confer an apparently irresistible urge to threaten bodily harm to one's political opponents. Like Zell Miller challenging Chris Matthews to a duel or Ann Coulter's belief that the state needs to "physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too." Of course, I'm inclined to think it's because a will to violence is an inherent component of the current right wing. That is, I believe they do not start out simply as ideological "conservatives" and then become so convinced of their own correctness that they eventually lose all sense of perspective and start frothing at the mouth demanding their opponents be physically punished. I believe they start out wanting to hurt things (people, animals, the natural environment -- anything alive). Then they try to find an ideological system that justifies the expression of this urge. Sure, right now it's just expressed with poisonous rhetoric. But I wonder...I suspect that Coulter would shoot me if she thought she could get away with it. But that's only because she knows I could beat her at mud wrestling.
Permalink : Threats?
Fri 02 December 2005
The Curse of the Cat People
The Curse of the Cat People
Saw this on one of those double feature DVDs, with Cat People. It's a good movie -- a psychological study of troubled childhood, in which Simone Simon is, maybe, the ghost of Irena from Cat People. Or maybe she's just the imaginary friend of Amy, the daughter of Oliver (Irena's husband) and Alice (Oliver's love interest from Cat People, who you might remember as the victim of the swimming pool menace scene).
Permalink : The Curse of the Cat People
Fri 02 December 2005
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The movie series continues to be a delight of visual design and inspired casting. This movie works particularly well when grappling with adolescent melodrama, including the first boy-girl dance of these fourteen-year-old witches and wizards. It's sort of nice to have a movie where you can deal with adolescent rebellion and sexual awakening without the predictable blackboard jungle tedium of movies set in the "real world." Ho, hum, sex drugs and rock-n-roll. Rebellion through magic (forbidden spells and invisibility cloaks) ends up feeling fresher, and, oddly, more authentic.
On the downside, the story ends up a little busy and unfocused -- crammed full of things, not all of which seem to matter, and it's a looong film. But, as every moment is reasonably enjoyable, the time feels well spent.
Permalink : Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire