aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
It’s All Because (The Gays Are Getting Married)
Michael Pollan on Colbert tonight
I’ll be tuning in at 11:30. In the meantime, a couple recent reviews of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.
Pollan’s vigorous assault on nutritionism is based largely on looking at its dismal record over the last three decades. As the public and media focus more on nutrition, and as health claims proliferate on every supermarket shelf, we’re getting fatter and less healthy as a nation. Pollan spends much of his gripping narrative eviscerating the research methods of nutrition science, describing not only how this research consistently supports the agenda of the food industry but also how its methods of gathering scientific data are deeply flawed. Contradictory nutrition advice abounds. It’s not some “evil” nutrient that’s hurting our health, Pollan says, but the entire Western diet of processed and refined food-like products.
The smart thing to do, he thinks, is stay away from any food that trumpets its nutritional virtues, since “for a food product to make health claims on its package it must first have a package, so right off the bat it’s more likely to be a processed than a whole food.” Meanwhile, “the genuinely heart-healthy whole foods in the produce section, lacking the financial and political clout of the packaged goods a few aisles over, are mute.” (I’m sorry to have to add that he describes this situation as “the silence of the yams.") [...]
Take refined flour-which, like everybody else, I’ve been hearing since my hippie days is bad for you. Pollan lays out the reasons. Wheat was once ground between stone wheels, which successfully removed the bran from the kernel but couldn’t get rid of the germ, or embryo. The resulting yellowish-gray flour was rich in all kinds of nutrients; the downside was that it soon went rancid. The introduction of metal and porcelain rollers circa 1870 allowed millers to finally eliminate the germ and grind the grains down to the snowy powder we know today, extending their shelf life-"precisely because they are less nutritious to the pests that compete with us for their calories.” But not only is the resulting product nutritionally all but worthless; the removal of fiber and the finer milling also hasten the body’s conversion of the starch into sugar, making it “the first fast food.”
CORRECTION: Apparently my info was wrong. No Pollan on Colbert.
LATER: He refused to cross the picket line. Bravo!
Obama, Utopian Hope and Apocalyptic Religion
This morning I suggested that people who are over the top for Obama are subject to faith masquerading as reason. My suggestion was influenced by a fascinating October 18, 2007 talk by London School of Economics and Political Science professor John Gray:
Where does the utopian impulse in politics originate, and does it have a future? John Gray argues that though they often claimed to be rooted in a scientific analysis of history and society the revolutionary political movements of the past were informed by a utopian vision which derives from religion. Is the age of secular utopianism over, and if so how will religion interact with twenty-first century geopolitical conflicts? He discusses these questions in the context of his new book, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (Penguin).
Gray, an ideological provocateur and controversial public intellectual in Britain, is not well known in the United States. His book argues that utopian politics from the French Revolution through America’s project of spreading democracy in the Middle East are “mutant version[s]” of an ancient, apocalyptic Christian belief that God will transform the world and evil will pass away. He says the “very idea of revolution as a transforming event in history is owed to religion.” [LATimes review]
He takes special aim at Francis Fukuyama, who in 1989 famously announced the end of history and the triumph of western, liberal, market-driven democracy. From The Guardian review:
The utopian right, as he calls it, led by America’s neoconservatives, is a modern millenarian movement, and its drive to impose western-style democracy upon the world, a drive towards utopia that came to a juddering halt in Iraq, was as deluded and foolhardy a project as any past scheme to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Likewise, the “war on terror” is a symptom of a mentality that anticipates an unprecedented change in human affairs - the end of history, the passing of the sovereign state, universal acceptance of democracy, and the defeat of evil. This is the central myth of apocalyptic religion framed in political terms, and the common factor underlying the failed utopian projects of the past decade.
Gray questions how secular a state America really is:
[@33:20 minutes] The point of the book is to really sort of uncover this religious inheritance of apocalyptic myth which underlies secular political thought. In one sense I don’t think secularization has occurred at all. Obviously in other commonsensical senses it has. Some countries are more secular than othersâ€¦ but if you look at it slightly more deeply and ask whether the patterns of thought - particularly about human history which were prominent in the Western religious tradition - whether they’ve altered despite the retreat of religious belief I think my answer is...no. In general we still think in ways which are shaped by religious categories. [...]
America, the society which in the world is seen by many people as being the most modern, certainly has a tremendous amount of scientific development going on in it, at least up until now has been rather rich, is also one which is today as religious if not more so than it was when Alexis de Tocqueville traveled there in the first part of the nineteenth century and commented on the intense religiosityâ€¦ Nothing has changed in the interval, some countries have become much less religiousâ€¦ But [religiosity] can be masked by the new types of ideology which emerge claiming to be anti-religious or non-religious. If you look deeper you find the forms of thought are very similar. In other words it’s not that I’m saying that secular movements have religious beliefs. They reject the beliefs of religion but the pattern and background frame of the thought is very similar in many respects and I think dangerously similar when applied in politics.
When Gray’s focus is the neocons, radical Islam and Soviet and Chinese communism, we on the left are likely to go right there with him. But what if that dynamic is at play in the election today?
As I watch Obama’s language of hope turned into a language of “transformation,” especially as espoused by Andrew Sullivan but also as hyped by reporters and pundits swept up in his winning aura, I’m seeing echoes of Gray.
If I reject it on the Right, and I certainly do, it doesn’t make it any more acceptable that it now leans left.
RELATED: James Wolcott on Too Many Loads on the Love Train.
Grady illustrates safety-net crisis
To generations of Georgians, this city is unimaginable without Grady. Yet that has been the prospect facing the region for the last year, the result of a multimillion-dollar shortfall in the cost of providing charity and emergency care that no one - not the counties, the state nor the federal government - has been willing to cover, though Grady provides vital services to the entire region.
Once admired for its skill in treating a population afflicted by both social and physical ills, Grady, a teaching hospital, now faces the prospect of losing its accreditation. Only short-term financial transfusions have kept it from closing its doors, as Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles County did last year. That scenario would flood the region’s other hospitals with uninsured patients and eliminate the training ground for one of every four Georgia doctors. [...]
Although the hospital is unique in many ways, the code red at Grady is emblematic of the crippling effect America’s health care crisis has had on public hospitals around the nation. Though Grady is among the most distressed of the country’s 1,300 public hospitals, others have faced similar challenges in recent years, including those in Miami, Memphis and Chicago, said Larry S. Gage, president of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. There are 300 fewer public hospitals today than 15 years ago, with hospitals having closed in Los Angeles, Washington, St. Louis and Milwaukee, Mr. Gage said.
The media and the writers strike
Andrew Sullivan says he supports the writers strike. He was on The Colbert Report last night:
The show didn’t use any written material, and I never do in public speaking. I was asked to go on a national TV show to talk about the election, and promote my recent Atlantic cover-story. And I hope the WGA wins their battle.
I have some serious ambivalence about the late night talk shows coming back. I thought Jon Stewart’s first night was a flop; and Colbert shined. I can’t say I understand all of the nuance of the issue but I know I’m seeing very little reporting of it in the media.
Jack Myers, of the Media Business Report, from On The Media last week:
BOB GARFIELD: Now, I want to ask you for a moment about Sarah Fay, whom we both know, and she is the CEO of the media-buying firm Carat U.S. And she said that the press has not covered the writers’ side of these issues fairly. Do you think she’s right about that?
JACK MYERS: Yes, I think she’s right. I think there’s a real reluctance on the part of the television writers and several of the business writers, whose lifeblood is dependent on the networks and studios, to be critical of them and be critical of their negotiating posture.
There really hasn’t been, in my opinion, fair presentation of the fact that the alliance is simply not coming to the negotiating table. What they’re doing is they’re falling into their traditional pattern of essentially ignoring you and hoping you’ll go away and assuming that the writers will experience more pain than they will, and that the writers won’t have the stomach to last until the summer.
RELATED: The Golden Globes “scale back.” Go WGA!
Over the top for Obama: faith masquerading as reason
Watching Andrew Sullivan on The Colbert Report last night talking about the transformational power of Barack Obama I was reminded of the neocon argument for going into Iraq. We on the left made fun of that naive neocon notion that peace in the Middle East could be achieved lickety-split by toppling Hussein, setting up a quickie democracy and then sitting back and watching it spread.
But now we swallow hook line and sinker the ga-ga cable news anchor suggestion that our race problems are solved by Barack’s electability while John Edwards’ economic populism is judged divisive and dismissed, and Hillary’s inevitability - every bit as much a press narrative as a campaign strategy - is mocked with misogynistic resentment.
Andrew was probably the first and remains the most aggressive champion of the transformational Obama. From his December Atlantic profile of the candidate:
In politics, timing matters. And the most persuasive case for Obama has less to do with him than with the moment he is meeting. The moment has been a long time coming, and it is the result of a confluence of events, from one traumatizing war in Southeast Asia to another in the most fractious country in the Middle East. The legacy is a cultural climate that stultifies our politics and corrupts our discourse.
Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America-finally-past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us. So much has happened in America in the past seven years, let alone the past 40, that we can be forgiven for focusing on the present and the immediate future. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly-and uncomfortablyâ€”at you.
At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war-not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a momentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade-but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war-and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama-and Obama alone-offers the possibility of a truce.
This is a faith that the press is preaching to an adoring national choir. Noting it is not to take away from Obama’s talents and skills - hell, if I were him I’d whip up and ride that wave, too - but I think it should be seen for what it is: faith masquerading as reason.
LATER: see also Obama, Utopian Hope and Apocalyptic Religion.
‘Dykes on Bikes’ trademark OKd
A San Francisco motorcycle club gained long-sought legal approval Monday for its trademark of the name “Dykes on Bikes” when the U.S. Supreme Court turned away a challenge from a lawyer who said the term denigrated men.
Without comment, the justices denied review of an appeal by Michael McDermott of Dublin, who challenged a decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to grant the San Francisco Women’s Motorcycle Contingent exclusive rights over the commercial use of Dykes on Bikes.
The motorcycle club applied for a trademark in 2003 after using Dykes on Bikes for three decades as the moniker of the motorized unit that leads San Francisco’s annual Gay Pride Parade. The club’s attorney, Gregory Gilchrist, said the group had no business plans for the phrase but decided to seek legal protection after an offshoot group, now independent, discussed putting the name on T-shirts for sale.
The trademark office initially rejected the application, saying the name was disparaging to lesbians, but approved it in January 2006 after the club submitted evidence that activists were trying to reclaim dykes as a term of pride. Gilchrist said the lawyers pointed out that the office had approved trademarks for other once-derogatory terms - for example, the television show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”
McDermott, a self-described men’s rights advocate, objected to the trademark office and the courts, arguing that the term was disparaging - to men - as well as “scandalous and immoral.” Those categories are grounds for denial of a trademark.
A trademark would put the definition in the hands of a group of “thought police” and contradict the “widespread documented understanding of the term â€˜dyke’ as describing hyper-militant radicals hateful toward men,” McDermott wrote in his Supreme Court appeal.