Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Atheist, Accomodationist, more ists for the mill

One of the interesting things about living in Canada is that we are a secular state in spite of having God in our constitution. There are a lot of churches and apparently our Prime Minister is a church goer. I say apparently because he doesn't talk a lot about his private life. In any case, we really we have more of a Christian culture than burgeoning Christ based theocracy. Sometimes reading about religion in the US is like reading about a different world and because they are such a h-u-g-e influence on Canadian culture I fear religion in Canada becoming radicalized.

I think about this because of a few themes in the blogosphere that I follow; accomodation vs atheism, Phil Plait's don't be a dick talk at TAM8 and Park 51 There is so much disingenuity when discussing these topics that are really linked by religious in grouping.

First a little about atheism. It means one doesn't believe god(s) exist. Any of them. Ever. Most atheists are honest enough to admit that if a god actually showed up they would have to renounce atheism.  That doesn't mean they would have to worship that god, just accede that it is one. Atheist probably don't have any more in common than any group that is defined by one characteristic. One hopes that atheism is a decision based on examining facts but it could just be the way you were brought up. Many atheists are secular humanist and passionate about human rights and justice. Some aren't. Some are outspoken, some soft spoken and some non-spoken.

So first the Accomodation vs Atheism thing. Why do accomodationists (and my main exposure is Chris Mooney) like to demonize passionate atheists writers and bloggers? Why frequently joining with the religious in totally missing the point of a gnu atheist demonstration then expect respect from them? PZ Myers/Crackergate is a really good example. Accomodationist and religious alike focus on the stake through the host while ignoring the back story. PZ stepped up when a student was assaulted in a church for handling a host that a friend brought back to show, then expelled. Assault and expel a student for looking at a host - pick on an adult staking a host. Immature is marauding into a church service; victim-less crime is a picture of a host, page from a Qua'an and the God Delusion with a spike through them.  And I have to say, I have gone to RCC church many times and NEVER seen bizarre behaviour of people watching to see if the host is eaten or prevented someone from showing it to another - things must be very different in Florida.

Then there's the don't be a dick thing. I can't see how people say they don't get it.  Again PZ is a good example. Pharyngula is a great unmoderated  blog; there is a lot of swearing, aggression and dismissal of religion there. If someone tries to evangelize there, that person must be able to logically argue with new points to be respected. Critics like to point at PZ as an angry "dick" atheist. I suppose he is if you are insulted by the idea that people don't believe gods exist. On the other hand, I can recognize dick commenters on his site. If you are an isolate atheist, you may think you have to be this outspoken to be included in the gnu atheist "club" and *talk* to people like this. The internet confers anonymity and it's pretty easy to be much more abrasive on line than you are in real life. Be aware, not everyone reads the same sites as you.

And Park 51. I'm not Muslim but I am horrified by the moronic things the protesters are saying so I can well believe that radical Muslim groups are happy to have recruiting help courtesy of the Teabaggers. And this idiot rhertoric has leaked into Canada. When I mentioned the center and said what about the Muslims that died by 9/11 my Dad actually asked if I meant the hijackers. Really!?!?! I didn't know Muslims were prevented from having jobs in the WTC or being emergency responders.

Sometimes I have to step back from the internet.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The first sign of getting old is using the phrase when I was young

I've always smiled at the emails that go around asking what you remember even though I'm having more in common with my Dad than I used to. I'm also having a heck of a time looking at people and guessing their age. When I got IDed at 29 I thought it was nuts but I now understand now hard it is to visually tell ages. I generally divide into kids, young adults, "my age" which seems to span a 30 year range, parent's age and wow you've lived a long time old. I don't think about it a lot because I consider stage of life to be more important than age.

So I did found discussion in Slate about Twentysomethings to be fun to read. This is at least the third time (each separated by a decade or so) I've read about how twentysomethings are kind of lame for being different than the people now in their 30s like being 30 is magically gives you something other than the bragging rights of getting there. I read these discussions to learn if anything new and came upon a couple of interesting ideas (mostly from comments).

One is the introduction of a developmental stage between adolescence and adulthood. I suppose that would be a good thing. As our society has more time to age it makes sense to recognize stages of growth but consider this. Many people have problems understanding how juvenile crime works - limiting terms and sealing records due to the youth being unable to fully understand the consequences of their actions (IANAL). I'm not sure creating another "division" serves any value. The other is a comment about kids these days have too many choices and no clear path to adulthood. I'm not sure how you can have too many choices unless one isn't given the tools to properly make decisions and isn't that what parenting is about? Waa - society isn't as authoritarian as you want.

I get the part about wanting to both criticize and be part of the current twentysomething cohort. Who wants to grow old - especially in our current society. Not only are we judged by how old we look but it's easier to escape youthful mistakes than in the "olden days". Mobility and secular society have made shunning a less effective social tool. Work seems easier. At tech school, I learned how to make an analytical GC column and computer courses revolved around learning to program. Now it's more computer courses  focusing on learning how to use specific programs - easier maybe? Younger folks have more time to get finances somewhere decent - let's ignore the huge burden of student loans and how profitability is worshiped over job creation even in the public sector.

Supported squat, a sign of aging.
I'm not seeing the difference between kids now days and when I was a YA. We are lucky enough to live when being 20 something is the time to try jobs, maybe get ahead, try relationships and hopefully find yourself in terms of ethics and self actualization. I admire that the people I know take their time more, both at work and in their personal lives, not rushing into tasks or relationships (personal or work). I have lived long enough now to know that people can change and learn from mistakes and it's only by luck that we avoid serious consequences of the thoughtless stuff we all do.

And defining adulthood? Maybe it should just be when a person figures out they are not the center of everyone else's life and  takes the consequence for their actions. No blaming things on someone/thing or expecting a supernatural being to make thing better.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I have the exercise habits...now about balanced eating

I'm lucky to have really good exercise mentors. While my parents didn't particularly encourage me in team sports, one of my youngest memories is my mom working out with Ed Allen with I was a pre-schooler. Her example of making time to exercise is one of the things I really admire. Through my  YA years I remember her skipping (on a cement floor - yuck) for 10 minutes most evenings to get her exercise in. My M-I-L could not be more totally different physically than my mom was yet she too has a strong exercise history. My partner's family did a lot of outdoor activity while he was growing up including fishing and hiking. Unfortunately going to the gym was pretty intimidating for women in the '70s and '80 so activity fell off in the winter. Her group activity used to be bridge but is now water aerobics sometimes yoga. How great is that when she's in her '70s?

Of course physical activity is only part of the health story. I am a proponent of the calories out must be same or more than calories in or one will gain weight and all calories are the same (in terms of energy). Yes you may have a faster or slower metabolism, have food sensitivities that physically affect you but in the end, if you eat more calories than your body uses then expect to end up putting extra physical demands on your body through weight gain.

Even though I know this, I eat a lot of nutritionally empty calories. In spite of all the scare chain emails, I do use sweetener because I really like sweets. Like everyone (I hope) the more I think about a specific food the more I crave it and feel hard done by if I can't eat it. The effect of the piling on calories from pop, cake and candy is much more immediate and difficult to counter act than the use of sweeteners (I may change my ind after reading this article  from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). I prefer Splenda because I can bake with it. Each packet is 12 mg and as long as I don't consume the equivalent of 65 packets a day, I'm inside the FDA guidelines for exposure. Since I do not have phenylketonuria I don't have to be overly concerned about the effects of  aspartame either. For me, drinking nutritionally valuable liquids is difficult if not impossible. I would rather eat fruit than drink fruit juice although I enjoyed the eggnog-esque smoothie by Booster Juice last winter.


I've never really followed the Canada Food Guide but I have followed research about values of different types of food. I think because of school and our climate, I think of fall as the time to change things up and create new habits. I will be evaluating my exercise regime due to some chronic injury and I also to tune up my eating habits to decrease risk of chronic disease. I enjoy cooking and now that summer grilling season will be over soon, I need to get some good recipes in hand for comfort eating.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stop looking for the magic diet bullet!

Feministe has some guest bloggers right now and one blogged about advances in obesity research and how it could be used to castigate pregnant women. Cue the anti science comments.

There are a few problems with talking about obesity research. One is that most are discussing reports (news clips or PR releases) of the research the other is that obesity is a hot-button topic. Women have been rated on looks for so long - and it's rebounded with a vengeance currently due to hypersexuality. Most people have a bias if they are interested enough to read a science paper; I know I do. I follow many obesity research blogs because I want to know what my risks are and what effects of those risks are as I get older. I want to start taking the pill cocktail with each meal as late as possible so I try to keep up with research.

What are the risks of being obese? Weight and health are related. More weight makes your muscles and joint work harder. But fat isn't just like carrying around a bag of rice. My interest in fat cells developed when I noticed, during peri-menopause, that my weight affected whether I menstruated. Then when my SO had elevated cholesterol levels the doctor suggested trying weight loss to see if he could avoid starting on Lipitor for awhile. 10 kgs lighter and no meds. Sure enough fat cells have a metabolic effect.  Recent research shows that obesity related diabetes is can be related to  metabolites from fat cells causing the liver to become insulin resistant. It's long been known that dietary fat can increase cholesterol levels and increase risk for heart disease. Combine the increase in cholesterol levels with the increased difficulty in being active when obese and the risk can skyrocket. Turns out that fat cells become a big problem when they are overloaded and having more fat cells can help with that storage. All of these things are counter-intuitive.

We're entering a very important time in obesity research and weight management. Food companies are becoming much better at marketing poor quality food as healthy.Spokes persons to tout the "no bad food" mantra (who doesn't want to believe that) while emphasizing the possibility of risk in quality foods. There is bad food : it's when the health risks intrinsic to the food outweigh the calories consumed. Yes an Aero bar IS a source of calcium but is it the best source? Red Licorice has no fat but it isn't calorie free so what are those calories from? Exercise is not medicine. BMI is taking a hit since most people outside the BMI limits insist they are muscled way more than the population BMI is based on.

Isn't is less expensive to try and eat well than to take a bunch of medication later?

My SO and I have each lost 7- 10 kg and maintained it for the past 9 years. We did it different ways (low fat vs. food/calorie logging) because we have different belief systems about what works. The reality is that reducing excessive eating lowered weight. The thing we had in common was an increased awareness of what and how much we put in our mouths. I struggle with this much more since I cannot casually skip meals. This has become a lifestyle change reflected in our grocery lists and restaurant choices.

Back to the research finding from the Feministe post - pregnancy is a very difficult time, not just the physical changes (and possibly permanent changes in family life) but the bizarre loss of privacy. It seems that since women no longer hide away they are fair game for everyone with an opinion. (and strangers touching bellies - just yuck). As research continues about how fat tissue physically affects health it is important to monitor how fat affects fetus development. Research provides better perinatal care as well as (in an ideal world) shifting health resources for an aging population. This study isn't saying anything new, it's giving more reasons for encourage pregnant women to be aware of what they are eating.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

all kinds of -ists

I've always thought of myself as a secular humanist. I'm not sure if that's what exactly I am but it's how I identify. I don't care if you get inspiration for ethical behaviour from Grimm's Fairy Tales as long as you don't expect me to worship your source or expect your source to top laws that apply to everyone. Part of being a humanist to me is to try to support groups that make the world a better place.

That desire also leads me to identify as a feminist. One of the ongoing random arguments in my home space is when SO makes a comment that implies that papa x can't come out and play after working so hard all day because mama x demands papa x be ...OMG ...a parent. Our domestic unit now uses terms like flight attendant, letter/mail carrier, fisher, spouse that, at least mentally, takes the gender role out of the job. Guys who use the 10 weeks of paternal leave available gets my support because they are embracing their family role. If woman will trust me with her kids, I will look after/monitor them when she needs a break. To me feminism is about fighting patriarchal privilege by, at minimum, recognizing it and working to overcome that privilege.

As is frequently the case, this post at Feministe about embracing the label of mama'i rather than feminist was made more thought provoking by the comments. I am not black nor USian so much of the anger does not resonate with my experience, I can only empathize. I can understand the need to redefine feminism because is it so white and US-centric and has become a strawman to burn in the media. Much like art, music, socialism and most cultural changes, a formal feminist movement requires a group of comparatively affluent people wanting to initiate change. Most of society are busy just living their lives; affluent people have the time and resources to advocate for change. The unfortunate thing is they also end up defining the movement initially and frequently the movement fizzles out as the next generation thinks the battle has been won. It seems to me that the biggest difference between the black civil rights and feminist movement in the US is the recognition by the majority of blacks that the fight is on-going regardless of what mainstream media tries to say. Too many women are ready to narrowly define the feminist movement and call it done. Men are more than happy to go along with that because they don't have to try and change their thinking.


Which leads me to another type of -ist; the "New Atheist".  The NA is an expected extension of the Enlightenment movement which discovered less and less need for a god to explain the world or for a brutal justice system based on otherness...and a topic for different post.