📰 The Beautiful People

[This post makes me feel like Ira Glass. So perhaps I should assume the persona]

Recently, we’ve been seeing a whole lot of ugly. Ugly behavior in politics. Name calling. Bullying. Lies, innuendo, and gossip. But I’m tired of talking about that. I’d like to focus on a different type of ugly — one triggered by a number of articles that I have read, and a podcast I listened to on the way home. Some of this makes me think of someone we know… and I’ll leave it at that.

So the question is: What makes a person beautiful? Is it how they look? How they smell? Their size? Their behavior? Here are some items I’ve seen of late that explore the issue, and like Ira Glass of This American Life, we’ll divide it into four acts.

Act I: Beauty is Only Skin Deep

Most of us — at least in the technical field — don’t care about makeup. We see the inner person, and judge beauty based on how someone behaves, how they treat other people, and what they do. But there is a subculture of young women (and I’m guessing some guys) that are obsessed with looks and makeup. I’ve seen this first hand: I know someone who is obsessed with makeup — so much so that their Instagram is filled with faces of their face with various different makeups. There’s a name for that phenomenon: Instragram Face. Alexandra Jones describes it in a fascinating piece from the BBC:  “the make-up look that has dominated social media for the past three years… Search the make-up hashtag on any social media site and you’ll come across it. The unique flaws that make us who we are, that make humans so attractive, have been replaced by one face. The Face. Photo-perfect skin and sculpted, contoured cheekbones, wide almond-shaped eyes which taper up into a feline point, and that full, inescapable mouth. This look is what Twiggy’s lashes were to the 1960s and what Kate Moss’ dewy skin was to the 1990s.”

I know it well. The person I know worshiped that look, which we all thought hid her natural beauty. But she would not be deterred. Jones’ piece, which is well worth reading, describes her quest to live with that look for a week. What was once a quick dab before she left because a routine that took, at best, 45 minutes in the morning. She couldn’t go out in the sun because her face would melt. Men start making lewd comments at her; it is something my wife refers to as a “fuck me” face, designed to be attractive to the male patriarchy (and, due to the time and cost, it keeps women in 2nd place). Further, it actually makes skin worse. Take off the makeup for a year, and your skin is much much better.

Then there is what this makeup subculture does to people. Gimlet’s Reply All touched upon this recently in the 2nd “Yes, Yes, No” segment of their show “Alex Jones Dramageddon”. They explored a recent incident in the Beauty YouTube subculture where a number of beauty vloggers had to make apology videos due to their poor behavior. I’ve known folks that are addicted to watching these videos, faces in screens for hours at a time. More on that in Act IV.

People need to realize that the best makeup is … none. Our flaws and our imperfections are what make us beautiful, what give us character. We aren’t all the same; we shouldn’t look the same.

[ETA: A reader in another venue pointed out that my commenting with my attitude on makeup may be sexist. That certainly wasn’t the intent — I feel the same way regardless of sex. However, it was a fair comment in that it was judging on looks, which is wrong. If you find makeup something that improves your self  esteem and makes you feel better, go for it. I do suggest you read the linked articles however — they were talking more about doing it based on a cultural pressure from others. If you use makeup, or make other fashion choices, do it because it is right for you.]

Act II: Something is in the Air

My wife likes to tell the story of an exchange student that lived with them when she was in high school. This person never bathed; instead, they used excessive cologne. As someone who suffers from migraines, I can just imagine what that fragrance in the air would do. A recent article explored how fragrance is the new second hand smoke. As the article notes; “Hundreds of studies over the last two decades are finding “fragrance” in beauty products and household cleaners are just as bad or worse for our health than secondhand smoke. Is it time for fragrance-free workplaces, hotel rooms and sections in restaurants?”

As a migraine sufferer, I can say, “Yes, please”.

Let’s look at two things fragrance does, both bad. First, it covers up the smell of clean, which is…. nothing. Using fragrance to mask BO is silly; just take a shower instead. You want your house to smell clean: air it out, instead of using air freshener, use fresh air. And as for perfume: why try to imitate animal pheromones when your natural ones will attract much better. People should be attracted for you for who you really are, not a fake image created through makeup and perfume. That image will always be destroyed when they see the real you.

As for fragrance, it can be bad for you. As the article notes:

“The average U.S. consumer today is as uneducated about the dangers of synthetic fragrances as the average American was to the dangers of second-hand smoke in the 1960s… Those dangers include chemicals that are known neurotoxins, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, DNA mutagens, allergens,  hepatotoxins  and  reproductive toxins all hidden under the simple ingredient label “fragrance.” Manufacturers of beauty and cleaning products don’t have to disclose the hundreds of potential chemicals that could be used to make their fragrance, because they are considered “trade secrets” by the FDA. Around 90% of the chemicals included in the label “fragrance”  are synthesized from petroleum or coal tar.  Toxic chemicals commonly found in products with “fragrance” on the ingredients list include acetone, phenol, toluene, benzyl acetate, limonene and formaldehyde. A 2008 analysis of 6 top selling laundry products and air fresheners found “nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from the products, and five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants which the Environmental Protection Agency considers to have no safe exposure level.”

Act III: The Last Acceptable Discrimination

Society is increasingly frowning on discrimination and making fun of the attributes of people (well, unless you’re the President or those who find his behavior acceptable). Sex, race, religion, orientation — all are out for teasing. But fat? Fat seems to be the last area where you can discriminate, where you can make fun — because we all know that obesity is bad for you. But what if it isn’t?

A great article in the Huffington Post was going around Facebook recently titled “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong“. The article talks about how obesity has grown in society, and notes the establishment response to it:

And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat.

But, as the article goes on to note, the solution of dieting doesn’t work. Most people that go on diets gain it all back. Further, “the second big lesson the medical establishment has learned and rejected over and over again is that weight and health are not perfect synonyms. Yes, nearly every population-level study finds that fat people have worse cardiovascular health than thin people. But individuals are not averages: Studies have found that anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy. They show no signs of elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance or high cholesterol. Meanwhile, about a quarter of non-overweight people are what epidemiologists call “the lean unhealthy.” A 2016 study that followed participants for an average of 19 years found that unfit skinny people were twice as likely to get diabetes as fit fat people. Habits, no matter your size, are what really matter. Dozens of indicators, from vegetable consumption to regular exercise to grip strength, provide a better snapshot of someone’s health than looking at her from across a room.

Our society wants to have someone we can intentionally hurt and look down upon. But why?

Act IV: The Screens

Earlier, I mentioned the young person we know that was addicted to Beauty YouTube. How many of us know young people that are addicted to their screens, and who seem to have no attention spans. How do we address it? ADD medication. Perhaps that’s the wrong answer. Perhaps we need to address the screens.

A recent study shows a connection between heavy screen use and ADD in teens. It’s not at the level of a causal relationship yet, but studies show that teens who spend a lot of time using digital media show an uptick in symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That doesn’t mean parents should panic about teens texting at the dinner table; it just means that if your kid is a heavy media user, maybe you should have a conversation about why they like it so much. The study monitored ADHD symptoms in a group of nearly 2,600 high school teenagers. Students who used multiple types of digital media multiple times a day were roughly twice as likely to report new symptoms of ADHD over a two-year period than their less digitally active classmates, according to the study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Now, combine that with the images they are seeing — the prevalence of Instagram Face, the emphasis on weight, our leadership role models — and we wonder why kids today are as they are.

Take off that makeup, get rid of the fragrance, don’t worry about how you look, and pick up a good book. You’ll be much happier.

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📰 The Last Straw

Humans are technological creatures. We invent new technologies. We embrace new technologies. Quickly. Often before we fully consider the ramifications or consequences. As we’ve seen over the last few years, the Internet is a great example of that. It has enabled marvelous new things. It has allowed us to keep in touch with friends and relatives across the globe, and to write and express our opinions with ease. Perhaps too much. It has also amplified the voices of the haters, enabled them to discover each other and grow their propaganda. It has enabled foreign countries to manipulate our media and propaganda easily to achieve their goals, and we’ve seen who and what those goals have elected to our highest offices, here in America. A two-edged sword indeed — with remarkable benefits, but with a terrifying downside.

But I’m not here to write about the Internet and Trump. I’m here to write about a different technology, one that was immortalized in that famous exchange from The Graduate:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Have you ever thought about how plastics have changed the world? Look around you. How much of what you see is made of plastic, or depends on plastic, or has components of plastics? Think about how much of our lifesaving medical marvels depends on plastics, on how much of our technology depends on plastics for cases and insulation and structures. Just imagine what life would be like without plastics — a world where we only had fabric, wood, strone/concrete, metal, rubber/latex, and glass.  Now think about where much of our plastic comes from. Do you know? Petroleum. The big risk of our dependence on oil — a limited resource — is not the fuel for our cars, but that one day we may not be able to make more plastic, or that it will be very expensive. Look around you, and think of that impact the next time you throw away your sandwich baggie.

But our dependence on plastic and our acting like they are an unlimited resource is not the only problem we didn’t consider. There’s also the disposal problem. Plastics last in the environment for a long time. Unless specifically engineering to biodegrade (and that’s a different can of worms, so to speak), plastics will be in landfills for many generations to come. We can’t recover the oil from plastic, just like we can’t recover the sand from concrete. Lightweight plastics find their way to the ocean, together with microplastics from so many cosmetics and containers, and everything we discard in the street that goes down storm drains. There they get smaller and smaller, forming the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other trash eddies. Sea life eat these and absorb the plastic, and we eat that sea life, and … you get the picture.

This brings us to the actual point of this article: banning straws, and other news about plastics. First and foremost — why are we banning straws? To be precise, they aren’t being banned, but they are moving to “on request only”, as some people need plastic straws due to disabilities (ADA). There are lots of reasons, but the simplest is: it’s a low hanging fruit. Straws and lightweight grocery bags are easy things to ban because reusable alternatives are easily available, or can be made from other substances. They increase visibility of the issue without being a major pain, except from the Conservatives who use the issue to make fun of Liberals. There would be much more impact from banning disposable styrofoam take out containers, disposable cups, plastic eating utensils. But straws and grocery bags are easy. Some companies are even finding ways to thrive.

What may be next? Balloons. True, these are more made of latex or different plastics, but they create significant problems — both for power companies with the mylar metallic coated plastic that causes electrical shorts when they hit power lines, to the traditional balloons that go up so pretty …. and then deflate and come down for animals to eat. There is a move afoot to ban balloons, or to at least ban releasing balloons. Another area of concern is glitter. Glitter is a lot of small pieces of plastic mylar, that easily goes down the drain and to the ocean, to be consumed by animals.

What about all this consumption? We tend to think of plastic as something inert and non-reactive. It isn’t. Research is increasingly showing that using plastic for food — especially heating and microwaving food — is potentially very bad. [ETA: Even supposedly BPA free plastic appears not to be food-safe.] Consider this (from the linked article):

Most of our food containers — from bottles to the linings in aluminum cans to plastic wraps and salad bins — are made using polycarbonate plastics, some of which have bioactive chemicals, like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.

These man-made chemicals can leach from the containers or wrappings into the food and drinks they’re holding — especially when they’re heated. Research released earlier this year found that more than 90 percent of bottled water from the world’s leading brands was contaminated with microplastics, sparking a review of plastics in drinking water by the World Health Organization.

The main cause for concern is that these chemicals can mess with our hormones. Specifically, they can mimic hormones like estrogen, interfere with important hormone pathways in the thyroid gland, and inhibit the effects of testosterone.

There are those who opine that this one reason for the marked decrease in male fertility and births in recent decades. It could also be behind increases in cancer. What ever it is, there are reasons to use glass for food instead. Of course, manufacture of glass requires sand (another limited resource), but glass can be recycled.

Do you feel better now? Do you have a better understanding of why the humble straw is just the tip of the concern?

P.S.: Of course, there’s always more to be worried about. Millennials may killing mayonnaise, and all those pesticides we use on our crops (such as Roundup) may be ending up in our breakfast cereals and granola bars.

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🗯️ Do The Math

Yesterday, writing about the importance of a free press and depending our mainstream media, I emphasized the phrase “follow the evidence”. That’s what scientists and journalists do. Today, I’m encouraging you to do the math. This is because our free press, which follows the evidence, is highlighting the fact that online trolls are using immigration as a wedge issue for November elections. Here’s a slightly edited (to add context) quote from the article:

In a new report, the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan Washington think tank that partnered with Facebook, concludes that the shuttered pages and accounts [that were part of a covert operation to stoke racial tensions in the United States] were run by or linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the troll farm in St. Petersburg that U.S. officials say meddled in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

One of the pages had an administrator from the Russian agency — “the most direct link between the recent accounts and earlier troll farm operations,” the report states. Two of the pages, including Aztlán Warriors, were also linked to Twitter accounts believed to have been created by their operatives.

The Russian agency and 13 of its employees were indicted in February on charges brought by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on allegations that they sought to interfere “with U.S. elections and political processes.” U.S. officials have since said that Kremlin-backed groups have continued to spread mayhem in American politics.

The nation’s volatile immigration debate has amplified online, researchers warned, and foreign operatives and homegrown trolls are using it as a political wedge ahead of the November elections. The report said the online disinformation campaign was likely to grow more sophisticated, with bad actors tailoring their posts, videos and other content to target communities of color — and to hide who is controlling the message.

“Covert influence campaigns, some steered from abroad, are using disinformation to drive Americans further apart, and weaken the trust in the institutions on which democracy stands,” the report warns.

During the upcoming election, you will see Internet sources and politicians urging you to fear the immigrant. They will make you fear that they are coming to take your jobs. They will make you fear that all sorts of evil people are streaming across the board, hoards coming to do unspeakable things, and that they are the only people standing between you and the unthinkable them. They will try to make you believe that only by electing them will you keep your communities safe. They will play on your fear. They will play on your nationalism. They will play identity politics.

But do the math.

Ask yourself how many immigrants — legal or otherwise — have come across the border over the years. Look at the percentages of documented vs. undocumented, and how they have changed. Look at the overall percentages of good immigrants vs. bad. When you look at the “bad” category, make a distinction between those whose only crime is crossing the border without papers vs. the more violent crimes of the MS13 variety. I believe that you will find that — with the extensive vetting we do — the amount of “bad actors” in documented immigrants is minuscule. There is probably greater risk of getting hit by a car when crossing the street, or getting in a car accident. For the undocumented immigrants, the percentage is likely a bit higher, but I do not believe it is a large percentage of those crossing. The fear is being magnified out of proportion to the risk.

Are they coming to take your jobs? To answer that, ask yourself: Why would an employer hire an immigrant over you? If it is because they have more skills or are harder working or have a better work ethic — can you blame the employer? That’s something that is in your power to fix — capitalism means the employer wants the best employee possible. They also want that employee at the lowest possible wage. Are you willing to work for that low wage? If not — don’t blame the immigrant, blame the employer. Just as you’ll order from Amazon rather than patronize the local merchant because of price, the employer is simply being a capitalist. Do you want to solve the problem? Raise the minimum wage to something that you will work for, making the playing field even.

What about those undocumented immigrants? Surely they want your job? First, note that an employer is taking a risk hiring undocumented workers. What makes it worth the risk? The fact that they can use fear to exploit them further: not giving them legal benefits or legal wages, making them work longer hours, locking them in buildings, giving them bad working conditions. You wouldn’t work under those conditions, so they aren’t taking your job. But what the employer is doing is wrong. Again, blame the employer, not the undocumented worker. The worker is just trying to feed themselves and their family. It is the employer that is taking advantage of them — again, doing what employers do under capitalism: get the employee who does the most work for the lowest price.

Immigrants have built this country. All of your major companies and industries in this country were started by immigrants (or (children of)n>0 immigrants). Immigrants run your corner markets and restaurants. They bring new ideas and hard work, and truly appreciate the freedoms that we have. They may come from different places, and may workship in different ways, and may speak different languages, but that diversity gives this country strength. Do the math. Don’t fear the immigrant.

Do, however, fear the politicians that play on your fear and try to manipulate your emotions. Fear the Internet sites that do the same, for an agenda that they do not publicize. Follow the evidence, and the sunlight and wisdom it brings. Don’t give in to the fear.

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📰 Chum Caught in the Drain of the Sink

Observation StewAs I continue to clear out the accumulated news chum from the past few months — chum accumulated while I was writing up sample ballots, doing the highway page updates, attending the Fringe Festival, doing the mapping projects, going to theatre, and all the assorted stuff that I do. This is what was left at the bottom of the sink after washing the dishes, the chum that didn’t fall into any particular category, but I found interesting none-the-less:

OK, well those might theme. But these?

And these last two may be of interest to selected folks:

 

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📰 Crafting Some Chum

Lots of news chum accumulated over the last few months while I’ve been focused on other articles. Here are some articles related to crafting and such:

 

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📰 Pod People Read the News

One of the categories in which I collect news chum is titled “Music and iPod”. The articles I’ve collected here fall into two broad categories. The first looks at the changing music marketplace. The second collects information on potential iPod replacements. So unlock your device, take your scroll-wheel for a spin, and let’s start.

The music industry is changing. What’s old is new again, and maintaining what you have becomes more work. The world is divided between those that want to own their music (some say “hoard, my precioussss”), and others are just fine with leasing it and paying subscription fees. Generational divides are at play here. Here are two articles exploring that divide:

  • Spotify is fine. But let’s mourn the passing of CDs. Once loved, the humble CD is now derided. It’s forefather, the vinyl LP, is having a resurgence. There are those giving the cassette some loving for the mixtape. But the CD? It’s sound was “too perfect”. Is it time for the requiem?
  • Wired headphones are having their quartz moment. When Apple decided to get rid of the 3.5mm port for headphones, wired headphones began to be pushed out the door. People were willing to live with the spotty connections and limited battery life of unwired headphones. But just like mechanical watches and vinyl, wired headphones are finding their space.

One of my worries is the eventual death of the iPod and the iPod ecosystem. I’m not sure whether it will be due to the death of hardware, or Apple deciding to remove iPod Classic support from iTunes, leaving iPod users high and dry. So I’m always looking for alternatives. Here are some articles related to that:

 

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📰 Beauty is in the eye of the News Chum

Another area in which I collect news chum is titled “Size and Beauty”. Articles in this area explore body image, and society’s acceptance (or non acceptance) thereof. It also explore how we treat people based on their appearance. As I clear out the news chum, let’s see what’s in this area:

 

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📰 Is News Chum Kosher?

As I continue to clear out the accumulated news chum, here’s a collection of articles that had been accumulated in the religion and Judaism areas:

  • The Disease of Christian Privilege. For as much as our great nation touts religious freedom and religious diversity, this is a profoundly Christian nation, with clear and distinct benefits — both explicit and implicit — provided to those who are Christian. From common morals to the days we get off, to the views on abortion to the views on marriage, Christianity abounds …. and those who are not Christian pay the price. This article explores how this privilege has influenced … and hurt … our culture.
  • The Loneliness Of The Liberal Zionist. We’re all aware of the place that the Nation of Israel holds in the heart of the Evangelical Christian, and you may even know how the attitude of Orthodox Jews have often become similarly aligned with respect to Israel. But what about the Liberal Zionist? As the article notes, “It means you support the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their historic homeland while simultaneously supporting progressive causes in your American homeland.” It also means “having a position on Israel/Palestine, one that is rejected by the anti-Zionist left and the Zionist right.” It also raises loads of questions in light of the recent decision of the Israeli government: how does one balance the desire for a Jewish state with recognition of the rights of other religions and ethnic groups in Israel, especially when many of the progressive Jewish movements aren’t considered to be Jewish-enough for those in power in Israel.
  • Religiously unaffiliated ‘nones’ are pursuing spirituality, but not community. One of the big issues facing organized religion in America is the shrinking of congregational religion. How do we get younger people and younger families into the seats to support the infrastructure? This article points out the difficulty: building the community or supporting the community is no longer a sufficient argument. The desire is for spirituality, which isn’t always found within organizational walls.
  • People Told Me I Wasn’t “Jewish Enough” My Entire Life. Judging other people. It seems to be the main activity of some Jews — in particular, judging whether they are Jewish enough. Here’s an interesting exploration.
  • Surveys show sharp differences between Jews in US and Israel. What do Jews want for Israel? Is the attitude the same for those Jews in Israel, and those in America? This article explores the dichotomy.
  • Jeffersonian vs. Jacksonian Jews: Revisiting Jewish Political Behavior in the 21st Century. I have a number of Jewish friends who are strong Trump supports. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. This article explores the question — in particular, it explores the distinction in view between the Populist, America First bunch (Jacksonian) from those with a more Global perspective (Jeffersonian). Quite interesting reading.
  • Why Are Jews So Pro-Choice? Abortion / Choice. It is one of the driving forces of those on the right to oppose it. But it is also one of those areas where those who aren’t that ilk of Christian feel they are having a Christian moral shoved down their throats. Here’s an explanation of the Jewish position. (Note: This item also appeared in my “Lighting the Political Fire” post earlier this week — a good post, you should read it)
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