Saturday, March 13, 2010

A blind spot

Every time I read an article on the obesity crisis, or public health, or food policy, or really anything involving the theme that Americans eat too much, I have a very strong gut reaction that the writer is crazy and has no idea what he's talking about. On reflection, I think it's probably more accurate that I am crazy and have no idea what I'm talking about.

I am, depending on perspective, either blessed or cursed with an impressively large metabolism; at various points in my life I've averaged about 5000 calories a day, with a stable weight, a slim build, and low cholesterol. My major complaint about American restaurants is that the portions are so small; with a few exceptions (the Cheesecake Factory serves portions that are precisely the right size), I leave restaurants still hungry unless I've done something silly like order two meals. (Or bring a date; my last girlfriend and I averaged two meals between the two of us).

Consequently, whenever I read a comment like Michael Pollan's "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," my immediate reaction is something like, "there's just no way to get a full meal out of plants. It's almost impossible to feel full after a meal with less than half a pound of meat in it." And for me, that's more or less true. But I should stop projecting onto the other 99% of the country.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Concert etiquette

Ran across an excellent speech by Alex Ross, who writes on classical music for the New Yorker. He addresses an issue I've had for a long time: where did the (quite frankly insane) norms about behavior at classical concerts come from? Why can't we applaud excellent solos? A modern orchestra performance is more reminiscent of a wake than of a music concert.

The change seems to date to shortly after the turn of the twentieth century; Ross seems to blame Wagner and his attempt to make a spiritual experience out of music performances. Read the whole thing--it's an excellent rant on a neglected topic.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Mind of a Jihadi

An old article, but I just got around to reading Renouncing Islamism by Johann Hari. It's a profile on British Muslims who were once radical jihadis, then renounced the Islamist movement and are trying to build a liberal counter-movement within Islam. Fascinating reading. I was particularly intrigued by this bit on identity crises:

As children and teenagers, the ex-jihadis felt Britain was a valueless vacuum, where they were floating free of any identity.

Ed Husain, a former leader of HT, says: "On a basic level, we didn't know who we were. People need a sense of feeling part of a group – but who was our group?" They were lost in liberalism, beached between two unreachable identities – their parents', and their country's. They knew nothing of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or the other places they were constantly told to "go home" to by racists.

Yet they felt equally shut out of British or democratic identity. From the right, there was the brutal nativist cry of "Go back where you came from!" But from the left, there was its mirror-image: a gooey multicultural sense that immigrants didn't want liberal democratic values and should be exempted from them. Again and again, they described how at school they were treated as "the funny foreign child", and told to "explain their customs" to the class. It patronised them into alienation....

Without an identity, they created their own. It was fierce and pure and violent, and it admitted no doubt.

Let's try this again

Over the past few weeks, I've periodically said to myself, "Wow, that was a great article, I wish I had some way to recommend it to people." Or, "Here's this interesting thought, I should write it down somewhere." And it occurred to me that I do, even if it's...a bit stale. So I'm trying this again, and I'll see if I can post when I have that thought. Even if it's just a link.

But no promises. I suggest an RSS feed reader--it's made my life much easier, and means you don't have to remember to check and see if I'm posting. Google Reader has worked well for me.