Half the sins of mankind
Was talking yesterday with a friend about the relative lack of high-profile female bloggers; with another friend separately about the same with American fiction, especially before the past twenty or so years. For the first problem at least, ms.musings has a solution. The new blogrrrll there has some great selections, I'll be taking note, and you should too. I know I've mentioned it before, but the ms.musings blog itself is highly recommended.

Interesting and also embarassing for me was the discovery that frequent commenter and blogger PG (for Pallavi Guniganti) is female - I have posted previously about "him" which, well, isn't good. It's completely inexcusable, I know, but I find myself casting about for some explanation (the worst: we have the same initials). In any case, I humbly repent. Let me take this as an opportunity to plug Pallavi's blog, which is one of the best I've come across, and a pretty much daily read even in these times of profligate laziness.


Other worlds
Studying Aymara this summer has me increasingly isolated from world events. One of my classmates, upon seeing the headline that Saddam's ruthless sons were dead, remarked only that "ruth" is a bound morpheme, ie you can't be ruthful, only ruthless. Meanwhile car problems have kept me from listening to my beloved NPR; I've been doing fiction instead, certainly a way better use of my time. And when the news does catch my ear, it's usually some feature piece about the bodhron or the CIA.

On Monday, I suppose I'll discover a whole new world of the arcane at the Lilly Library in Bloomington IN, where apparently they have a 17th century Aymara vocabulary, one of the earliest known to exist, and also the 1951 foundations of an English-Aymara dictionary that still hasn't come into being. I was finally able to purchase a couple of Spanish-Aymara dictionaries though - you too can satisfy your hunger for foreign language esoterica at Schoenhof's Bookstore.

Anyway, all this is, I suppose, meant in way of an apology for not sticking to whatever promised topics are there in the box to the right. Politics and analytical argument seem to be concerning me less and less, to the point where I may have to go and change my motto. Even this post, what is it about? Truthfully, I set out to write about Dianne Feinstein and DC vouchers, but I couldn't get properly revved up. Book reviews? Salad recipes?

Good night.


Even if the popcorn is stale...
My girlfriend and I have a running argument about the food (especially fast food) industry's complicity in Americans' massive weight gain of the past two decades. I usually come down on the side of blaming big corporations and the capitalist system (big surprise there) and she's a little more circumspect - and of course there's always a bit of subtext revolving around my own weight, which of course fuels the argument on my side etc etc. But in any case, this will help the cause:

Traditionally, the prescription for shedding extra pounds has been a sensible diet and increased exercise. Losing weight has been viewed as a matter of personal responsibility, a private battle between dieters and their bathroom scales.

But a growing number of studies suggests that while willpower obviously plays a role people do not gorge themselves solely because they lack self-control.

Rather, social scientists are finding, a host of environmental factors — among them, portion size, price, advertising, the availability of food and the number of food choices presented — can influence the amount the average person consumes.

"Researchers have underestimated the powerful importance of the local environment on eating," said Dr. Paul Rozin, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, who studies food preferences.

Give moviegoers an extra-large tub of popcorn instead of a container one size smaller and they will eat 45 to 50 percent more, as Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor of nutritional science and marketing at the University of Illinois, showed in one experiment. Even if the popcorn is stale, they will still eat 40 to 45 percent more.

Keep a tabletop in the office stocked with cookies and candy, and people will nibble their way through the workday, even if they are not hungry. Reduce prices or offer four-course meals instead of single tasty entrees, and diners will increase their consumption.

More seriously, I've always been a little bit skeptical of arguments that take responsibility away from individuals for their own actions, call me an existentialist, I don't know. I remember years ago being totally flabberghasted by the way the big tobacco was crucified for basically letting people handle their own affairs - I wanted to start smoking as protest even. But it seems to me now that responsibility is a more complex animal, especially when there's an assymetry of consequences ie when corporations have incentives to create a less healthy environment for individuals and don't have to face any consequences. It will be interesting to see how these data are interpreted, and whether liability will become an issue. It's good to see companies like Kraft taking steps to change their approach, and I think inasmuch as the big tobacco lawsuits created an atmosphere where this kind of responsibility is on the radar screen, I think they must have been a success.


And all the king's men
Haven't weighed in on the whole Iraq debacle in a while, I actually find the situation pretty depressing and to a certain degree events simply speak for themself. But maybe a little bit of persepctive: looking back on the neocon plan for Iraq - for the whole Middle East, really - it's hard to see the American presence there as anything but an unquailfied disaster. I'm not talking about WMD - obviously that whole line of argument presents a problem for those who advocated the war, but it wasn't the central motivator for the neocons. They were more concerned with things like changing the balance of power in the Middle East, becoming the darlings of the Arab street, creating a base of uncontested US military strength in the Middle East, and controlling Iraq's oil. But none of these things have really happened - Saddam Hussein is still there, somewhere, and people are still afraid of him; oil prices haven't fallen as expected (even with pumps offline there should be some anticipatory price drop); the Iraqi people are becoming resentful of the American presence, and their resentment is manifesting itself not just in in terms of American casualties (which, after all, we hear are caused by a diminishing faction of Saddam's loyalists) but also as home brewed, free speech style protests. And while I'm happy that the Iraqi people are free to protest their government/lack thereof, that sure as hell wasn't the neocon plan. For a while it looked like there would be a positive outcome for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but now things seem to have stalled somewhat, and the Bush administration really isn't pushing that in the way that it was.

A lot of people are talking about the WMD scandal, with all of Bush's carefully misspoken declarations and all of our Freudian misprisions. (I'll probably come back to this soon, with all the black irony of the DPRK case.) They imagine that the Bush people have gotten what they wanted and now just have to play the game of belatedly getting their prewar ducks in order. But I think the Bush people are really sweating it, not because of this WMD stuff or because of the elections (I don't think Iraq by itself will cost them in 2004) but because their whole ideological basis for this war was ill-conceived, and they know it. There hasn't been a radical trasnformation of the Middle East; we haven't won unprecedented credibility in the Arab street; our military is under seige and we're begging other nations for help; we're expanding a force that was supposed to be overkill; Saddam Hussein is still alive; we don't seem to have disarmed anybody; democracy isn't working, and there aren't any serious prospects for it either. No, this war has won them nothing but a bloodthirsty public's transitory favor.

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