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27 December
junk science killed my dog, and i don't think it's fair
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Oh, joy! Another pat solution to the Crisis of Obesity, Egads! You just need to sleep more! [I apologize in advance for the oversimplifications and impossibly immature language that appears throughout this post. I'm rubber, and you're glue. Also, bonus points for those who recognize the title's origin.]

This is actually a month old, but it's been re-circulating via email and various websites for whatever reason. The study itself isn't compelling (really, couldn't people whose whole job is to study fat find ANYTHING else to talk about?), but I find the language used in reporting it just plain stupid.

For example:

The study, presented at the meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, analyzed data from 18,000 adults and found that those who slept less than the recommended seven hours a night had an increased risk of obesity. People who slept for less than four hours per night were 73 percent more likely to be obese than those who slept for seven to nine hours. Getting five hours of sleep or less decreased that risk to 50 percent, and getting six hours or less decreased it even more to 23 percent. ---from the text of the study, as quoted in nearly every press-release spouting article that covered it

I may be cynical here, but I expect the story would have read quite the opposite if the study had found a connection between more sleep and fatness. That story, I imagine, would have run something like: "Proven: fat ass fatty fatpantses really are lazy snoozebutts" - or possibly something ever so slightly more mature-sounding.

But the language must still be all about causation, don't you know!

The language turns it into "if you only sleep 5 hours, you are going to be fat, Mr. Fatty Fatpants!", doesn't it? It seems like 73 percent more likely to be obese is likely to be read by the average layperson (i.e. me) as 73 percent more likely to get fat and dieeeeeeee. Why can't the reporting spell out what they found more clearly? As in, "We looked at a big old data dump [They used one of the NHANES data sets] and found that being fat and not sleeping very much seem to be related. We don't know why, because we never know why." - okay, maybe leaving off that last snarky bit for serious new venues.

I joked a while back that I'd like to have my very own huge set of data that I could manipulate and infer from, and it turns out that I could probably do that with a combination of the NHANES stuff and census data. But I was joking, people. I don't expect serious science to be all about the data dredge. The Obesity Crisis, Egads!, however is all about the data dredge. There's a good article at Tech Central Station about why the data dredge is totally uncool - if, you know, a good time - which you should read if you're intrigued by the Obesity Crisis, Egads!'s scientific backup.

I look at this stuff as progress, though. The more useless the science gets, the less the average person's going to pay attention to it. Right?



20 December
noisy lazy something something
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I think I may actually want to have a kid. At some point. Not now, but at a vague hypothetical "later" time. This is a major shift in perspective for me, but it's not like I've come about this all of a sudden.

I've been meaning to get back to this conversation with myself for awhile (well, since the livejournal post that introduced it, or since the dinner conversation that sparked the post in the first place). You can obviously just go read that post, but it started from a conversation with some friends about their intention to raise their imaginary children with rules much more restrictive than those I grew up with. Like, "no earrings till you're 15" and such. And the Santa thing. That comes up a lot at this time of year.

I don't understand why so many parents perpetuate the Santa thing as a fiction they tell the kids. It's not just about Santa - there are many aspects of our dealings with children that involve belief in magic and imagination, but where the magic and imagination are proscribed. The Santa thing is one of these - why tell your children something you don't believe yourself? Talking about the spirit of giving or the magic of the holidays or something like that would be so much more fun - because it could be a shared belief, not a construct built around hiding stuff from kids. Surprises are fun and all, but I can't imagine feeling a burning need to pass off your surprise as coming from some fictional, if much beloved, character.

But so much of common parenting ideas seem to be about hiding stuff from kids "for their own good". About lying to them. About controlling them and fitting them into an idea. It establishes an adversarial relationship between child and guardian, where we beat kids into well-behaved adults like they're made of clay. Like a good adult is one who conforms and behaves well.

The comments after the LJ post helped solidify for me why the idea of parenting is so scary - it's not about kids' unpredictability; it's about parents' belief that you can control that. It's about educational philosophies that want the child to do all the bending, rather than allowing the philosophy bend to the child.

Some of my friends are very insightful parents, and the essence of their (mostly successful) strategy seems to be to have very little strategy to begin with. Not to prepare answers or construct fiction, but to engage with their kids and be guided by them.

Which is a pretty good philosophy for dealing with people in general, and one I could live with. At some long-distant future time, when the idea of bending around a smaller person seems more appealing.

Why do we think about kids this way? It seems so 19th century - about making good little cog-makers, not thinking citizens.


13 December
fat = gay?
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Last week a story about taking diet pills being linked to having gay kids circulated around the net quite a bit. The articles annoyingly never seem to highlight any biological reason why the study's hypothesis would even be considered [Presumably there must have been some - was it just too complex for the press to grasp?], which leaves you with just a vague idea that not having "control" over your weight might be somehow linked to not having "control" over your kids' queerness.


But improved by Ampersand's couple of posts relating the bias against fatness to the bias against gayness (though I would substitute "queerness", as the same questions apply to bisexual and genderqueer folk). It's not a new comparison to make - both are characteristics for which a person may face discrimination; both are also subject to a lot of inconclusive research as to their cause. But Amp starts by presenting research showing why fat isn't as simple as calories in/calories out (a good summary of the research, and important, given that his audience seems to be completely unfamiliar with the subject) and continues on to analogize fat and gay (intriguingly, he doesn't have to present research about the "why" of gay - which implies that his more "mainstream", largely liberal, audience is much more familiar with the debate over the root of homosexuality than with the debate over what makes a person fat).

It's clear when I read these discussions elsewhere that I am shockingly radical. Much more radical than I ever think of myself as being.

So, Amp's presentation of the research is - as always - tremendously useful. But he wades too far into the idea that one's discrimination-inducing characteristics must be unchallengeable and inalienable in order to be defended against discrimination. Not true! I believe the queer community made a pretty stupid political mistake when it took the route of saying gayness is something one is born to (although this remains a key point in individual queer identities - it's not a useless idea, just a bad political gambit). What if it isn't? What if gayness is as much about behavior as identity? What if identity is mutable? What if one can choose to be queer?

Does that make it okay to hate queer folk? The people who answer "yes" to my rhetorical question are going to think that way no matter what the community argues about the cause(s) of queerness. Positioning gay as the new black (racially) made the debate less about civil rights and more about whether a group deserves civil rights on the same grounds as racial identity.

What the fat movement could bring to this debate is to fight from a whole different angle. Prove that simply being fat doesn't make you a drag on the economy, maybe - because that undermines the favorite argument for anti-fat politics. But don't get bogged down in the "how did we get here?" science. It doesn't matter. If people get fat by choice, and being fat doesn't hurt others (and maybe even if it does - asshats of any size still get rights, and they hurt everyone), then there is no reason to discriminate against fat folk.

Really, the most effective argument in favor of any minority group's rights is more analogous to the right to religious freedom than anything else - one chooses one's religion, and that's a defended choice. Period. No "are people born Catholic, or do they choose it?" debate needed.

On a personal level, I almost can't handle reading the damned comments on posts like this. When people argue that I'm flat-out lying about how much I eat and exercise (and that any fat person who stays fat is doing the same), the urge to verbally gouge out their eyes is too great. But it would accomplish nothing - these are people who wouldn't believe me if they lived in my house for a month; they'd assume I was bingeing undercover or something, because they mysteriously have some part of their identities caught up in the idea that fat people are morally inferior. Arghhhhhhhhh.


07 December
gift against the machine
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This is for Paul, who asked me to re-post the list of not-mall places where you could shop for holiday gifts.

Cause I think DIY and carefully crafted hand-made gifts are swell, but sometimes you just don't have enough time, but you have a little more money. So it's cool to buy the time and products of someone else's small crafty business.

Need ideas? Here's last year's list, with some additions:
Superfantastico (paper, gifts)
WackyJac (undies, tees)
DaddyO's and My Baby Jo (retro clothes)
High Class Cho (clothes made by Margaret Cho)
Fat Chance Belly Dance (belly dance videos, music, costumes)
Dyke Tees (t-shirts)
Good Vibrations (sex toys)
Book Sense (independent booksellers)
Bust (magazine, other stuff)
Bitch (magazine, other stuff)
Hula Source (dance stuff)
Super Hero Designs (jewelry)
Lush (cosmetics, bath stuff)
Flying Skirts (bellydance or generally hippie-esque clothes)
Mode Merr (hipster clothes for women)
Austin Craft Mafia (network of Texas crafters who make practically anything you may want, including kits so you can do your own stuff)
Novica (fairly traded world craftsngifts)
Poise (purses - you know "poises"?)
Stella Marrs (angry and cheeky stationery)
10000 Villages (if you have one locally, it's a good source for funky toys and holiday gear, and about as expensive as Target)

Point being. This year and every year, there are loads of pretty awesome people making stuff outside the Holiday Shopping Machine (you know, the buy-everything, go-to-the-mall-now mentality), so if you take issue with that kind of shopping, you don't have to do it. I kinda like the mall, but no one ever died by avoiding it. And hey, if nothing on this list strikes you or gift-giving in general bugs ya, why not just give money to a cause in your giftee's name (but, you know, make it something you share - don't give to the DNC on behalf of your Republican uncle).

You know, there's one gap in this list - stuff for kids (a lot of the links have stuff for older kids, but not little ones). Hey, lefty moms and dads, do y'all have suggestions I should include?


01 December
cognitive dissonance, indeed!
link : thoughts (0) : track it (0) : in fat & health stuff

Reading the Tech Central article on Ancel Keys actually made me laugh, aloud, at work. It's not so much funny ha-ha as funny strange, or even maybe funny sad.

Keys, you see, did the Minnesota Starvation Study during WWII [He's also the k-rations dude, if you're interested.]. That study continues to stand as evidence of what semi-starvation (dieting) does to the body, basically turning you into a food-obsessed binger who regains weight and loses strength with each starvation (diet) episode. Which any lifetime dieter could tell you about, anyhow. And you become completely uninterested in pretty much anything else, which any actual starving person - and, you know, Maslow - could probably tell you. If they were interested in being that political, which they probably wouldn't be. And you end up with physical problems that you never fully recover from.

So far, you're just seeing the sad and not the funny, right?

The funny is that Keys, whose research condemns dieting, still thought fat people were disgusting and lacked willpower. So, he figures out that dieting is bad and makes you fatter and that fat had no independent health effects, but he still attributes fatness exclusively to overeating and finds it very, very icky. What's not funny about that? And, you know - sad.

It's basically our cultural concept of fat. Despite whatever evidence may exist to the contrary, we want to believe that fatness deserves punishment and is unhealthy and that we can buy our way out of it with diets. Because it's just so much eeeeasier if that's true.

And it's just so perfect that an article on Keys, of all people, should point that out so clearly.


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