thinking

bits and pieces of clouds, ether, maybe even ideas

Monthly Archives: April 2010

Movie Review – Examined Life – Cerebral Celebrities Entertaining the Big Questions – NYTimes.com

Dr. Cornel West Releases Long-Awaited Memoir, “Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud”

How the five-a-day mantra was born – Times Online

How the five-a-day mantra was born – Times Online.

April 13, 2010

How the five-a-day mantra was born

It all began with a catchy number and a marketing campaign — not hard science

Planet Apple Earth in a form of an apple

It is one of the most successful indoctrinations in modern Britain, filtering into every aspect of public life.

I start my day on a bus decorated with the injunction to eat five-a-day, I drop my son off at a nursery where he learns to count using the Government’s five-a-day fruit and vegetable quota, and at the supermarket it is slapped anywhere it will confer a commercial advantage.We have swallowed it whole and, when we swallow the five-a-day, we believe we gain a kind of magic protection. Or we did until last week’s news that the biggest study of its kind, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed that the reduced cancer risk by eating five-a-day didn’t add up to more than a hill of beans.

This made me a bit queasy. Where did this five-a-day order — promoted by government, the NHS, the American Cancer Society and more than 25 other countries — come from? Fuelled by a two-a-day-diet — ketchup and an olive — I tracked the global health campaign. The trail took me back 25 years, to a woman in California, and left me with little appetite for public health advice.

“The world has gone mad with targets,” says Tim Lang, the first stop in my quest. I’d tried the Department of Health, and was told its five-a-day programme was announced in 2000, based on World Health Organisation advice about the role of diet in cancer, but that didn’t really tell the full story.

Lang, a professor of food policy at City University, remembers it differently. It was the late 1990s, the new Labour Government had come to power and set about instilling a target-driven culture in every aspect of British life.

“We all understand targets in the policy world. I remember being in the room when we were being briefed by Americans on five-a-day, which we adopted from them. They chose five partly as it was considered a nice round sum and partly because it seemed possible, given how low consumption of fruit and vegetables was.”

The Department of Health was searching for a motivational tool for a nation of poor eaters and the ready-made American campaign based on the number five seemed catchy. What, I say? Can this really be true — the five in five-a-day was chosen for marketing purposes?

“Five-a-day was an attempt to shift culture, which is not the same thing as saying eating five-a-day will protect everyone. It was a political judgment, but not a bad one.”

Hippocrates said “let food be thy medicine”, but was this “let modern branding be thy medicine”? Walter Willett, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University, is one of the world’s most eminent nutrition researchers. His career, though, has been distinguished by disproving excitably reported ideas about “superfoods” rather than forming them.

In 1991 the American Government adopted the five-a-day policy, as growing numbers of experts were stating that bad food was causing cancer. First and foremost among them was Britain’s esteemed Sir Richard Doll, the scientific hero who established the link between cigarettes and cancer. In 1981 he estimated that a third of cancer deaths in the West could have been avoided with a better diet. When Sir Richard spoke, the world took notice and, by 2007, says Willett, the experts proclaimed that eating a load of fruit and veg could reduce your cancer risk by 50 per cent. The American National Cancer Institute upped its recommendations to nine-a-day.

“It was a pretty rough, arbitrary number, which is always the case with any target,” says Willett. But, he adds, the studies were fatally flawed.

“They were based on retrospective evidence — asking people about their diet after they had already got cancer, which can lead people to report differently. Also, the control groups were not perfectly random, the people who volunteer for that kind of thing are much more health-conscious individuals.”

So, from where did the US Government get the idea for the number five, if not the scientific studies? I was closing in. Marion Nestle, nutrition professor at New York University, thinks she remembers exactly where.

“It was Susan Foerster, the head nutritionist in California. She had the bright idea of promoting fruit and vegetable consumption in a state which was a big fruit and vegetable producer.”

The American National Cancer Institute admits that “no studies have tested the impact of specific numbers of servings on cancer risk”. But it says five was chosen in California in 1988, as it doubled the average consumption, and “the number five was memorable and provided a platform for creative message and programme delivery”.

In America now, the five-a-day message is “invisible; [it has] completely dropped off the radar”, says Nestle.

Britain, though, has taken California’s 1980s marketing policy and run with it.“We have to abandon this idea that there’s something miraculous in diet,” says Paulo Boffetta, the doctor behind last week’s study. “It’s not true for fruit and vegetables as a whole, and even less true for fruit and vegetables individually.”

And by the way, as everyone I spoke to emphasised, an unexpected surprise of all this research is the discovery that although it may not do much for cancer, eating fruit and vegetables is good for your heart. How many a day? Don’t ask.

It can only harm Christians to bleat about persecution -Times Online

It can only harm Christians to bleat about persecution -Times Online.

pril 13, 2010

It can only harm Christians to bleat about persecution

I am reluctant to wear a cross as I don’t want to be seen as a victim

In Britain Christians cry: “We are being persecuted.” But the lions don’t exist beyond their imaginations or the arena beyond their story books. Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and his fellow victims are giving all Christians a bad name. It is time for liberals to stand up and say: “We will not be slain by this malevolent spirit, not even when the persecutors are our fellow Christians.”

In Stalky & Co, Kipling says: “The bleating of the kid excites the tiger.” Persecutors can be moved to greater effort by the pathetic noises of their victims. In their persistent bleating about the non-existent persecution of Christians in Britain, Lord Carey & Co are merely exciting the secularists to further ridicule. I am now reluctant to wear a cross, not because I fear persecution but because I don’t want to be identified as a victim. And I don’t want to be identified as “one of them”, a fundamentalist hijacking good traditional Christian values to serve a right-wing political agenda.

Christianity has always been big on victimhood and victims have to find a persecutor. Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has been known to grumble about his treatment by we beasties of the media — but even he thinks that the craze for victimhood has gone too far. He used his Easter Day sermon to focus on the truly persecuted in countries such as Nigeria, not nurses complaining about being banned from wearing crucifixes.

It’s not just so-called discrimination in the workplace. Conservative evangelicals and Catholic s joined forces to promote Westminster 2010, a conscience manifesto launched on Easter Day to promote “Christian” values on poverty, abortion, marriage, euthanasia. Lord Carey was among the signatories. Most recently he urged senior judges to stand down from Court of Appeal hearings involving religious discrimination if their previous rulings were “hostile” to Christianity.

Many leading judges are religious; many are not. But they are all fiercely independent and impartial. They are trained to set aside any personal prejudice. To suggest that they are anti-Christian is not only insulting but fails to understand the oath they swear by Almighty God, to “do right by all manner of people, after the law and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will”.

Let’s hope the Church of England really is like a swimming pool where all the noise is at the shallow end. Increasing numbers don’t need the props of religion to keep them afloat and with leaders such as these representing my faith, I’m starting to wonder if it might not be time to ditch the armbands and head for the deeper, more interesting waters of doubt.

Ruth Gledhill is religion correspondent

Honda on Failure to Success « Inspiration for your work & life

Honda on Failure to Success « Inspiration for your work & life.

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Give sons a porno pep talk :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Betsy Hart

Give sons a porno pep talk :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Betsy Hart.

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Give sons a ‘porno pep talk’

FROM THE HART | Let boys know interest is natural, but that images are misleading

March 18, 2010

The Sun-Times ran an Associated Press story last week with this headline: “Study: Guys More Into Sex.”

Shocking but true, I know. Yet so found University of Chicago researchers. Really. They recently published their findings in the British Medical Journal.

OK, I’m being facetious. But there’s an irony when what comes as news to our “sexually enlightened” culture — that men and women typically have very different sexual appetites, prompted by different kinds of stimuli — would have been utterly accepted by our grandparents’ more “repressed” generation.

I thought of this as yet another female friend called me to tell me with horror that her son was found to be looking at pornography on the Web, and to ask my advice. My friends are typically angry and disgusted in the wake of their discovery. And that comes through to their sons. In contrast, my response was what it always is: of course he was looking at pornography, and of course he was, well, seduced by it.

In fact, that is exactly how he was designed — to be sexually aroused when viewing beautiful naked women. That he would want to do so is not perverted, or weird. Unlike us women, males are intensely visual creatures, and his desires are completely normal.

Shocked? Don’t be. I hate pornography. It objectifies women. It degrades men because it separates sex from relationships. It completely distorts notions of what real women look like, not to mention their sexual appetites and desires. That, in turn, can impact a man’s relationships. We need to openly tell our sons, and daughters, all of this.

(Here I’m focusing only on so-called “mainstream” pornography, not that which involves children, violence, etc.)

Parents, don’t be naive: unlike when we were kids, explicit pornography is everywhere and only a computer click away. By all means put filters on your computers. Just know your sons will see it, are seeing it somewhere, anyway. And they are enticed by it. Period.

Your daughters will see it too, of course, but they are just not as likely to find it highly erotic or to be entranced by it over time.

As I’ve counseled many mom friends, I think we make a mistake if we try to make our sons feel ashamed for their reactions to what they have seen.

Moms, they aren’t us. Rather, I think our approach to them here should be put in the context of “of course this interests you. This is exactly how you are designed. Don’t be ashamed of that desire. You were made to find beautiful women sexually enticing, and the people making this base stuff know that. But, these images aren’t good enough for you. That good desire you have will meet its greatest satisfaction with a real woman, when sex and relationship in marriage go together.”

When there is a dad in the home or other trusted male in the family, he should take the lead. But I think it’s helpful for moms to have a part in that dialogue too!

Now do I think such a pep talk is going to keep anyone’s sons from being involved with pornography? Unfortunately, no. And yes by all means we need to set explicit rules and protections against pornography.

But because today it is so ubiquitous, I think we parents also need to proactively give our sons in particular some tools for dealing with it. And for thinking rightly about it — so that they are not as damaged by it as they might otherwise be. So that they even get a positive message from us parents as to who they were really created to be.

It seems to me that starts with what our grandparents knew. That regarding sex (and so much more) men and women really are wonderfully different. And we don’t really need a study to tell us so.

The Way We Live Now – Great Expectations – NYTimes.com

The Way We Live Now – Great Expectations – NYTimes.com.

Great Expectations

Eric Weeks/Gallery Stock

When I first told my son, Charlie, about the Easter Bunny and described his duties — distributing and hiding colored eggs — my logical 3-year-old would have none of it. “But rabbits don’t have any hands,” he said. Since I never believed in the Easter Bunny, either, I didn’t apply further pressure on the issue. Next to the Crucifixion itself (whose violent details I spared my son and daughter until age 7 or so), the image of a man-size rodent that lurches around people’s houses late at night, clutching fragile treats in its curled paws, strikes me as one of the most appalling nightmare visions that adults can inflict on tender minds.

Human Empire

Data source: The Barna Group, February 2010.

As a wavering Christian and occasional rationalist, I’ve always found Easter (which I sometimes think of as the New Testament’s Passover 2.0) a singularly problematic holiday, both in its cheery, secularized aspects and its grisly, credulity-straining religious form. My considerable respect for Easter in theory and my shallow responses to it in practice left me feeling inadequate and frustrated. Year after year I tried and failed to feel the profound sense of renewal and gratitude — of hitting bottom and coming back — that the liturgically crucial feast is said to inspire in countless souls that I kept wishing and praying included mine.

This spring my hunger for an uplifting Easter is especially acute. I doubt that I’m alone. The past year has been a test of faith for Americans of all sorts, even atheists, and on many fronts. Take our long and agonizing vigil at the grave site of what once was termed “the new economy.” According to the worldly theologians of finance and commerce, a force known as “the business cycle” that governs the rise and fall of markets was supposed to have taken us higher by now, replenishing depleted bank accounts, restoring a sheen of functionality to corroded Rust Belt cities and permitting again the buying and selling of homes.

The rock in front of this tomb remains in place, though, and the day of rejoicing still appears far off. This seems true in the realm of politics as well, despite the recent passage of the health care bill and the winding down of the battle for Iraq. Unity and peace, where are ye? Hidden.

Ten years ago, during a time of steady churchgoing that followed the birth of my daughter, my first child, I made friends with a gruff old Episcopalian priest to whom I confessed my perennial difficulties with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Easter’s for-me elusive main event. He listened with a big fist propped under his chin as I listed my doubts and puzzlements, which went back to childhood. More troubling for me than the supposed miracle’s scientific implausibility, I said, was its murky dramatic character. In what sort of shape was the Savior’s body once it was reanimated? I asked. Pierced and bleeding or intact and shining? And why did Our Lord not fly straight up into the sky rather than hanging around down on the ground? I went on like this for half an hour, until the old man raised his square gray head and stopped me. “Walter, here’s the important thing,” he said. “It either happened or it didn’t, and if it didn’t, if it’s all a lie, neither of us should be in church today. But we are,” he said, “aren’t we? Yes, indeed, we are.”

I’ve come to call this thoroughly circular argument for Easter’s significance the “Presence Principle.” It implies, in a way that my intellect resists but my heart is willing to entertain, that the terrific annual to-do involving lilies, hymns and dexterous rabbits is, just by virtue of its continued existence, not an absurd, unwarranted phenomenon. A celebration, by my old priest’s reasoning, means that its celebrants must have something to celebrate, and the bigger the celebration, the bigger the something. Because I suspect that no man will ever succeed in satisfying me further on this matter, I’ve stopped asking questions; I take Easter as a fact now. And Passover too, for the people who observe it. I’ve decided that faith is what some facts are made of and that the true meaning of Easter isn’t just the escape from sin and death but, in part, the escape from thought itself, one of humanity’s direst oppressors and, perhaps, the hardest to shake off.

This year, when so many more solid-seeming facts have proved to be not entirely satisfying (see the stimulant effects of increased government spending and lowered interest rates), I’ve decided to celebrate into existence 12 months of optimism and abundance, for America and the whole world. Why not? In economics, it has long been recognized that markets are driven not only by rationality, nor even chiefly by rationality, but also by a non-thought-related energy known to the experts as “animal spirits.” Well, I’m raising my animal spirits. I’m raising them high, like a sacred cup of wine.

The Easter Bunny has no hands, it’s true, but my children’s enjoyment of the holiday didn’t suffer from this realization. In fact, it has grown over the years, perhaps because their expectations for Easter didn’t start out particularly high. (As isn’t the case with hyped-up Christmas, which hasn’t been the same since Santa vanished.) They hunt for eggs, sit peacefully through church, gorge on candy, pretend to eat their lamb, gorge on more candy and, later, drift off to sleep, usually with new stuffed animals tucked tight against their sides. They do all this even though they know, by now, something about the cross, the crown of thorns and various other unsettling grown-up matters, from unemployment to terrorism. It’s a wonder that they can forget about these things long enough to dig the sugary chicks from the wads of phony cellophane “grass” packing their made-in-China Easter baskets, but it’s only one wonder among many — including the fact that they exist at all, which I’m not sure they properly appreciate. They certainly weren’t born of thought, my son and daughter. Nor do they live by thought, when I come to think of it.

So this Easter I’m vowing not to think at all, and I’m not going to face the facts; I’m making new ones. I’m making them the way I dye the eggs and hide them behind the furniture: humanly yet magically, with nothing but my own two paws.

Walter Kirn, a frequent contributor, is the author, most recently, of “Lost in the Meritocracy.”

BBC News – I pray for dissidents – Baggott

BBC News – I pray for dissidents – Baggott.

I pray for dissidents – Baggott

Matt Baggott

Matt Baggott became PSNI chief constable in September 2009

The chief constable of the PSNI has revealed that he has prayed for dissident republicans who are engaged in violent actions against his officers.

Matt Baggott, who is a president of the Christian Police Association, said he asked God to “take the scales from the eyes” of those who were engaged in a “cycle of violence and anger”.

The chief constable took on the role in September 2009 in the midst of a renewed outbreak of dissident republican violence.

In March last year, the Real IRA killed two soldiers outside Massereene army barracks in Antrim.

Attacks

Within 48 hours, another dissident group, the Continuity IRA, murdered PSNI constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon.

Since Mr Baggott took over, dissidents have continued to try to attack his officers.

In January, PSNI officer Peadar Heffron was seriously injured by a booby-trap bomb just a couple of miles from where the two soldiers were killed.

In an appearance on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show, Mr Baggott, a 51-year-old father-of-three, spoke to a dissident republican supporter who called in to the programme.

We’ve got to stop this nonsense about the war machine
Matt Baggott

Mr Baggott said: “You are obviously a very angry man and I’m sure there are things that have happened in the past that have made you angry and I respect that.

“But when I go to the graduation ceremonies of new recruits, many of whom are Catholic young people doing a fantastic job, they are not joining the PSNI to be part of a British war machine, they are joining to be the impartial guardians of your family and your young people’s future.

“The PSNI does not swear allegiance to the Queen, it swears allegiance to the people of Northern Ireland or the North of Ireland, however you want to call it.

“I have absolutely no political bias whatsoever.”

Mr Baggott said he could not understand the portrayal of him “as a leader of a war machine”.

He dismissed claims he led a political police force, and added: “We’ve got to stop this nonsense about the war machine.”