Guest Post: More more more
Snarkout writes: [We talked] about chonker cats, so maybe too-big-to-fit week is still ongoing! I was really fascinated by the one-two punch of this article by the excellent Paul Ford, on what it's like on the inside to feel the craving for food suddenly disappear:
Where before my brain had been screaming, screaming, at air-raid volume--there was sudden silence. It was confusing. Would it last?Where before my brain had been screaming, screaming, at air-raid volume--there was sudden silence. It was confusing. Would it last?
and this one, about how the rich and glamorous are scheming to get skinnier by taking these appetite-suppressing diabetes drugs off-label.
Heebie's take: Oh lord, somehow this is blurring with all the new AI stuff to make me feel very unsteady about the future that is looming down.
A few things jump out at me. From the first link:
What health professionals call my morbid obesity--that "morbid" is a helpful reminder--is what you see. But it's a side effect of what I am, which is insatiable. Literally: I never seem to feel full. In practice this means that at certain times of day, I watch in horror as my body reaches for the cheapest, easiest calories nearby--out of the pantry, out of a vending machine, at a party. I scream, "Stop!" But the hand keeps reaching.
I remember hearing at some point that the most universal, robust difference between overweight people and thin people is hunger and something like "food palatability" - how appetizing do you generally find food? It's almost comical how obvious this ought to be, and yet how rarely that's included in why people are overweight. (I get that it's partly because the actual subtext is usually "why are more people overweight than there "should" be?") But still: people have different sex drives, and different heights, and different appetites, and different levels of peak fitness. What a big world it is.
The second link is all about the people who are not obese who are taking Ozembic. This is where my mind went, reading it:
Weren't we supposed to have moved on from this? The discourse on bodies has changed since the days when a slender figure could be blithely and uncomplicatedly celebrated, sought, or advertised...Getting-skinnier discussions have become fraught; we profess admiration instead for wellness. Everyone laments the ghouls of body dysmorphia and eating disorders and the pressure social media exerts on teens. No one longs to go back to the days when Lucky Strike could advise, "To keep a slender figure no one can deny, reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet," or when Louis B. Mayer kept Judy Garland on a diet of chicken soup, black coffee, and amphetamines to stay starlet ready. Ours was supposed to be the feel-good era of Lizzo and Ashley Graham and Adele.
Then Adele lost all that weight.
I was very much standard-brainwashed on the moral imperative to stay attractive by staying thin, and it's taken a fair amount of work to distance myself from that mindset. It's been really helpful that society seemed to be inching in the same direction. It's pretty unsettling to me that we might be regressing so rapidly. (And of course, in the recesses of my brain, I recognize the appeal of just ...not having this belly anymore?)
How much food do you feed your pets? Do you just leave a bowl of food out, like everyone did 20+ years ago? Or do you get into the weeds with meals and stuff?
I've always just left food out for the cats, (until they're elderly, and then I've catered to them a little more). However, two years ago one of our young-ish cats had a UTI and the vet told us to put them on some wet cat food, which suddenly seemed like the advice du jour and I was seeing it everywhere. I couldn't tell if it was some weird trend about the health benefits of wet cat food, or if I was just over-noticing it, plate-of-shrimp style.
So I started giving them wet cat food every night (and training them to sit for it: successful!). But we're still leaving dry food out during the day. One of the other cats has definitely become rather portly.
I guess my sub-question is: how much do you bother worrying about an overweight pet? The vet sites on the internet make it sound like you're a terribly cruel pet owner if you let your pet become rotund, because it's hard on their joints and causes problems in aging. Is this tinted by fat-phobia or is it actually a terrible thing?
And if it's actually a terrible thing, is helping my dear cat to reduce going to be a massive pain in the ass? How could it not be?
Ok, it's kind of satisfying to watch this Dominion lawsuit play out. I'm not saying it will change anything at Fox News or in the political landscape, but it's at least worth taking a beat to enjoy how it plays out. There are just so many culpable statements being unearthed. Sunlight is the best disinfectant!
Guest Post: The Mall Food Court
Snarkout writes: Where are the Sbarro's of yesteryear?, better known as "Fountains of Youths: One grown-ass woman's descent into the soul of the American teen on their home turf: the mall food court"
A short list of perfect things: a Minions bucket hat on a mannequin with the eyes scratched out, three toy claw machines shaped like VW vans driven by oversize stuffed hamsters, an abandoned bungee-jumping station with all the cords removed, Heath Ledger's Joker poorly screenprinted on every conceivable surface, and a full Rainforest Cafe where I enjoy one of the wettest sandwiches of my life. The teenage shoppers of Arizona don't appear to be buying this stuff, electing instead to pull the bait and switch of looking at it, watching their friends look at it, and giving the vendor just enough hope that they might have bought it to stay in business. The salespeople never seem to notice that the teens are laughing at the Minions hat, not with it, but that never stopped me from forking over my hard-earned minimum-wage money at the same age.
Heebie's take: First off, the author - Jamie Loftus - is very funny, and it's a great read. She's also podcaster Sarah Marshall's friend and sometimes-co-host. We actually don't have a mall - living or dying - in Heebieville, and so my kids think of them as glamorous things that [the suburbs of] big cities have, which is kind of funny. At least they've seen a violin.
Malls obviously get a bad rap because sheeple don't realize that capitalists have monetized the concept of public space, and shouldn't we just have more dedicated public gathering spaces? Absolutely. Third places and all that. I generally agree, and European plazas always seem so beautiful, but I will say this: sometimes air-conditioning is really a relief. Or heating, YMMV.
(Malls are also given a bad rap for being relentlessly butt-ugly. It's really amazing how awful they can be.)
Guest Post: What does it mean to say that American institutions are Broken
NickS writes: I want to highlight two pieces that I've read recently on the topic of the success or brokenness of existing institutions. Both feel not-entirely-correct to me -- in both cases I think they risk drawing a conclusion which is stronger than the evidence supports but, more importantly, I don't think either frames the issues in a convincing way.
First Brokenism (Alana Newhouse)
At one point last year, Ryan said something that struck a nerve. "I don't know what I identify as these days, because everything has gotten so scrambled," he noted. "I'm not a Democrat or a Republican, I don't even think I could define myself narrowly as either a liberal or a conservative anymore. The one thing I know that I fundamentally do believe is the premise of your piece, that the dominant institutions of American life--in education, in the arts, in politics--are either totally broken or so weak or corrupt that they're becoming irrelevant. In a way, the only thing I know that I believe in is ... brokenness."
Ryan went on to explain that, when he gets into political debates with friends and acquaintances these days, those on the "other side" aren't all liberals or all conservatives or in fact all from any other previously recognizable camp. Instead, they are the people in his life who, regardless of how they vote or otherwise affiliate, remain invested in the institutions and political ideologies that now leave Ryan cold. Many of them acknowledge that there are problems, even serious ones, with universities, newspapers, nonprofits, both political parties, what have you, but they see these as normal, fixable challenges, not signs of fundamental brokenness. To them, the impulse to consign weighty institutions to the dustbin of history feels impulsive and irresponsible--like arson. To Ryan, staying committed to decrepit structures, and insisting to others that they are fundamentally safe when they're clearly not, is what feels reckless.
Brokenists come from all points on the political spectrum. They disagree with each other about what kinds of programs, institutions, and culture they want to see prevail in America. What they agree on--what is in fact a more important point of agreement than anything else--is that what used to work is not working for enough people anymore.
vs Don't Be a Doomer (Noah Smith)
Now, as someone who has struggled with clinical depression for two decades, I'll be the last person to tell the good people of the world to buck up, turn that frown around, and realize that everything is going to be OK. Because in a deep sense, it's not going to be OK -- we're all going to die, and almost all of us are going to do so without accomplishing at least some of the stuff we wanted to. Many grievous injustices will go unpunished, many terrible things will happen to good people...
I cannot give you any set of facts or statistics or charts that tells you whether you should be optimistic or pessimistic about the world; that is a matter of opinion. But what data can do is to make you better able to calculate the relative importance of the various threats, risks, and trends in the world.
The reason that we shouldn't exaggerate the threats from the aforementioned set of standard Millennial boogeymen is that there are other things we need to worry about. Capitalism isn't failing, but U.S. healthcare and infrastructure and housing and college education cost twice as much as in other developed countries. Covid isn't the new HIV, but U.S. life expectancy has fallen thanks in part to opiates, alcoholism, suicide, and endemic violence. Climate change isn't going to destroy human civilization in the next few years, but a world war might.
I will note, both essays arrive at the same point -- that we have real problems that we should be working to fix, but they have a very different sense of what that would look like. I am, by temperament, an incrementalist and inclined to defend and work with existing institutions, so I am not a brokenist, but I don't know that Noah Smith is arguing against the correct target.
It is true that inequality is (in the last couple of years) starting to decline, that global living standards continue to improve and that what "used to work" didn't work for everybody is the past either. But it does often feel like our institutions don't live up to the standards we would expect, and that there's no visible path to do so. So why does it feel more acute now (or does it; was it always thus?). I have three theories; first, that the scope of the challenge of climate change requires functioning large-scale institutions, and makes the lack of them more conspicuous. Second, as the country and the world becomes richer that brings rising expectations (can you believe it's the 21st century and we're still dealing with . . . .), third that it feels like alternative structures have withered and languished. Noah Smith spends a couple paragraphs talking about the phrase "late capitalism" but I wonder if the simplest interpretation is that capitalism feels omnipresent and inescapable.
I remember the 90s and early 2000s when there was still a lingering sense that it was possible to not "sell out." when it was possible to use the phrase, "urban bohemia with only moderate amounts of irony*. The much noted decline in church attendance and communal social life mean that more and more of our lives are spent as consumers, in one form or another, rather than socializing. But, writing that, it's impossible to separate out my own experience of aging. In the 90s I spent a lot of time hanging out** because I was young; I do less of that now because I'm middle aged, but it does appear that my experience isn't only age-related.
* This suggests another explanation -- that everything is being driven by housing prices.
** In praise of hanging out. " Pushed further into isolation by the pandemic, we're all losing the ability to engage in what I view as the pinnacle of human interaction: sitting around with friends and talking shit. I agree with Liming that no one is down to hang out anymore, and agree with her that it's a 'quiet catastrophe.'"
Heebie's take: The excerpts from the first one make it sound like stoned undergrad philosophizing. When I clicked through it was more coherent, but kind of too abstract for me? I couldn't get into it.
The second link is a happy balm. You can always get me to read "Why it's not so bad" posts. It's like a soothing bedtime story. We'll be okay. Same as it ever was.
Finally, on the last link, "in praise of hanging out": I have heard parents say that their kids are weird and rigid about hanging out at each other's houses, and my kids are as well. This resonates:
I remember once, when I was in college, wandering over to my friend Ehren's apartment, letting myself in, and watching whatever he had going on the TV. I knew he was there; I could hear him peeing in the bathroom. When he came out, he exhibited zero surprise to find me on the couch. It's impossible to imagine doing such a thing now, even with my closest friends.
But I think we forget how fucking boring life was, pre-internet. It was the most pervasive annoyance, and I spent a huge amount of energy always making sure I had a newspaper or a thing to think about, with mixed results. A lot of that vaguely social downtime is, I mean, what phones and the internet are really good for.
Check Ins, Reassurances, and Concerns, 2/26
This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while. There is no way it could function as that sentence implies, but it's still nice to have a thread.
Episode Kobe fifty four