Friday book post

Just finished reading The End of Overeating, by former FDA head Dr. David Kessler.   It’s a terrific book, in which Kessler reveals how food companies and restaurants have increasingly hijacked our brain chemistry to work against us by creating hyperpalatable foods that we find it very difficult to either resist or eat in moderation.  My favorite part was learning all the things the food industry does to get us to eat more.  For the most part, it comes down to the triumvirate of fat, salt, and sugar, with the latter probably being the post important.  Fat alone gets our brain’s pleasure centers going pretty good, but throw in some sugar with it, and it’s off the charts.  As someone with a major sweet tooth, I found the power of sugar especially interesting.  Kessler offers some useful suggestions, sort of a self cognitive behavior therapy, to combat all this.  They’re not all that easy, but its not just a matter of “willpower” either.

Here’s a terrific interview with Kessler in Salon last year.  Read it.  Seriously.  Here’s a brief selection that definitely applies to me:

Do people of all sizes and weights have this tendency to overeat?

Absolutely. Our data suggests that a greater percentage of obese individuals and overweight individuals have this. But a significant percentage of lean people have it. If you say to them — “Do you have a hard time resisting? Do you think about foods? Do you have a hard time stopping?” — a significant percentage of lean people say, “That’s me.”

The question is, how have they stayed lean? For many of them the fact is, they’re in torment. It’s a constant struggle. Others have laid down new learning, and that’s made it easier. They develop rules for themselves that they follow. Then, you’re not constantly eating in a chaotic, disorganized way. You’re not constantly being cued. Your brain’s not being constantly activated. But those rules have to be unambiguous, and they’re not easy to follow.

Though I’ve always been of pretty-much healthy weight, it has never been particularly easy for me.  I very much relate to the idea of thinking about food way too much and letting it have far too much control over me.   I’ll never look at food the same way again because of this book.  How many books can you say change the way you look at the world for the rest of your life?

I live in metaphorical Finland

Over at Ezra Klein’s blog, Dylan Matthews assembles a nice chart on per-capita living space by country:


Well, while those other extravagant Americans flaunt their 800+ square feet per person, the Greene family is getting by on about 380– positively Finnish.  And come November when the new baby arrives, we’ll be in living space solidarity with the Greeks.  Of course, that’s the reason we’re probably going to try and buy a new house next summer and try and get ourselves up to at least Italian standards.

Future of the Republican Party

Let’s bring together some disparate pieces here…

1) House Republican Bob Inglis, who was defeated in his primary for being in touch with reality, let’s loose on the modern Republican Party:

Too many Republican leaders are acquiescing to a poisonous “demagoguery” that threatens the party’s long-term credibility, says a veteran GOP House member who was defeated in South Carolina’s primary last month.

While not naming names, 12-year incumbent Rep. Bob Inglis suggested in interviews with The Associated Press that tea party favorites such as former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and right-wing talk show hosts like Glenn Beck are the culprits.

Yep.  Sadly, its guys like this who lose in the primaries despite being incumbents in the modern GOP.

2) Former Bush speech-writer and now Post columnist, Michael Gerson, is not to happy about the direction of things, either:

The response of many responsible Republicans to these ideological trends is to stay quiet, make no sudden moves and hope they go away. But these are not merely excesses; they are arguments. Significant portions of the Republican coalition believe that it is a desirable strategy to talk of armed revolution, embrace libertarian purity and alienate Hispanic voters. With a major Republican victory in November, those who hold these views may well be elevated in profile and influence. And this could create durable, destructive perceptions of the Republican Party that would take decades to change. A party that is intimidated and silent in the face of its extremes is eventually defined by them. [emphasis mine]

Love that last line.  Alas, I think Gerson does not realize how much his brand of reality-based politics is now the margins of the Republican party.  The party has become the extremes.

3)  Kevin Drum highlights Ruy Texeira’s recent report on the demographic trends which will only serve to further weaken the GOP:

But there’s more to the story than just this. As Teixeira says, “On social issues, Millennials support gay marriage, take race and gender equality as givens, are tolerant of religious and family diversity, have an open and positive attitude toward immigration, and generally display little interest in fighting over the divisive social issues of the past.” That’s bad news for the Republican Party, which has shown little willingness to soften its stand on cultural concerns like these — all of which are core hot button issues for its Tea Party base…

Even if the Republican Party eventually softens its views on social issues, it won’t make much difference once the Millennials have reached age 30 and their party identification has hardened. If Teixeira is right, by the time this process is over an entire cohort of voters will be heavily pro-Democratic for the rest of their lives.

As I’ve pointed out before, the Republicans will do will in November because of the economy, but what will likely see is that they will attribute their strong showing to embracing the crazy.  Ultimately, that will only drive them further off a cliff.  In theory, I should be happy about this, but I’m worried about what they make take with them going off that cliff.

Acting White

Interesting article recently in Slate about the problem of high-achieving Black students be labeled as “Acting White.”  Turns out, this is an entirely post-integration phenomenon:

But suppose integration doesn’t change the culture of underperformance? What if integration inadvertently created that culture in the first place? This is the startling hypothesis of Stuart Buck’s Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation. Buck argues that the culture of academic underachievement among black students was unknown before the late 1960s. It was desegregation that destroyed thriving black schools where black faculty were role models and nurtured excellence among black students…

Buck draws on empirical studies that suggest a correlation between integrated schools and social disapproval of academic success among black students. He also cites the history of desegregation’s effect on black communities and interviews with black students to back up a largely compelling—and thoroughly disturbing—story. Desegregation introduced integrated schools where most of the teachers and administrators were white and where, because of generations of educational inequality, most of the best students were white. Black students bused into predominantly white schools faced hostility and contempt from white students. They encountered the soft prejudice of low expectations from racist teachers who assumed blacks weren’t capable and from liberals who coddled them. Academic tracking shunted black students into dead-end remedial education. The effect was predictably, and deeply, insidious. The alienation typical of many young people of all races acquired a racial dimension for black students: Many in such schools began to associate education with unsympathetic whites, to reject their studies, and to ostracize academically successful black students for “acting white.”

Don’t have any observations of my own to add, just thought this was really interesting.

Helping people means enabling fraud

Interesting story today that the VA is making it easier to get Veterans’ Benefits for PTSD.  Under existing policy, veterans had to jump through many hoops to show that their PTSD was based on combat, e.g., soldiers would have to detail where they came under fire, etc. :

The government is making it easier for combat veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder to receive disability benefits.

The Veterans Affairs Department plans to announce Monday it will no longer require veterans to prove what might have triggered their illness. Instead, they would have to show that they served in combat in a job that could have contributed to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Veterans advocates and some lawmakers have argued that it sometimes could be impossible for a veteran to find records of a firefight or bomb blast. They also have contended that the old rule ignored other causes of the disorder, such as fearing a traumatic event even if it doesn’t occur. That could discriminate against female troops prohibited from serving on front lines and against other service members who don’t experience combat directly.

Will this make it easier for veterans who don’t really have combat-related PTSD to defraud the system.  Yes!! But, so what!  If you want to help people, you simply have to accept that people taking advantage of your munificence is going to happen.  Unfortunately, that’s life and the human race.   The alternative, is to make it much harder for people who really need help, e.g., veterans suffering from PTSD, to get the help they need.  I’m so willing to allow a few people to cheat the system to ensure that all the worthy veterans get the help they need and the benefits they deserve.  What so often frustrates me about conservatives is that they take the fact that people will always cheat the system as an excuse to not help people in the first place.

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