Tuesday, July 04, 2006

This Week's Recommended Reading #14

From Ash:

A holiday issue of Recommended Reading.


I know, the kids just got out of school. But before you put all thoughts of school out of your head, don't miss this San Francisco Chronicle piece on how California and other states are manipulating their school testing results to comply with No Child Left Behind.


It got some press, but I think it deserves more. Washington, DC now has a policy that it wants every person over the age of 14 to get an AIDS-test.

But hands-down, this has to be my favorite, love/hate story of the week. The Washington Post reported that a program in Africa is recruiting witch doctors in the fight against AIDS. That sounds like a huge step forward, until you keep reading the article. The program is through a Christian-organization that requires that the traditional healers sit through lessons on Christianity, first, with the express goal of trying to convert them. And what makes this worse is that this program is funded by the US government. I don't know if the fact this happens outside of the US makes a constitutional difference, but I don't think it should: if this were here at home, this would be absolutely illegal.

Get Any Rest over the Holiday?

If you're pondering our Time piece on rest and leisure time, you might want to check out the Washington Post reported on the rising popularity of naptime in Japan. It's not just for kids, any more. Well, as a matter of fact, a nap sounds good about now. . . .

But if just a nap doesn't quite cut it, you might consider working for Deloitte & Touche, one of the firms profiled in this Chicago Sun-Times piece about companies who give their employees extended sabbaticals.

And I was quite intrigued by this Los Angeles Times piece on tourists from China: they are increasingly traveling around the world, thrilled by the shopping, challenged by other nations's etiquette rules, and disappointed that they can't find good Chinese food in . . . Italy.


Speaking of food, there's no shortage of articles on the American obesity problem, but you aren't nauseous reading about the annual hot dog eating contest, or digusted by the article about the $100 hamburger (no, that wasn't a typo – it's $125 with tax and tip), I thought these articles had a particular bent that was intriguing.

First, an AP survey found that Americans are reading all of those food labels that warn about how bad food may be, but then half of them eat the food anyway.

But then, I actually make a militant point of avoiding the labels, I was more intrigued by this article that on how obesity is tied to mental disorders like depression – a 25% increase in odds for the obese. That of course doesn't sound terribly surprising, and they aren't sure if obesity is the chicken or the egg, but I wonder if that will open up the concern for treating obesity to beyond calorie-counting. At the same time, wanting to give treats to some of the kids I know who are embarrassed about their weight, this story – about how doctors are debating whether or not you tell a kid when he's obese – also struck a chord for me.

Then, there was the amazing article in the Washington Post that obese passengers were partially responsible for deaths in a boating accident: old limits on the number of passengers on a boat were based on now-out-of-date weight estimates of the passengers. (The result being the boat capsized during an accident.)

Just Because We All Think People Are Out To Get Us, Doesn't Mean We're All Wrong . . . .

The BBC reports that a new British study found 1/3 of Britons regularly have paranoid or suspicious fears, much higher than previous estimates. But then, the researchers asked questions relating to things like whether or not people think others do things to intentionally irritate them or say mean things when they're out of the room. (You mean there's someone who doesn't ever believe that? That's the person they need to study. )

And that should come as no surprise to the Pittsburgh attorney who, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is suing a website for the slanderous comments posted about him on the site, which is set up as a forum for women to post comments about the guys who done them wrong. Most cases have held that servers/forums aren't responsible for what people post, but I think this is a pretty interesting twist, because the whole intent of the site seems to be to encourage negative – even defamatory – comments.

Women in the Islamic World

If you are as confused as I am about the role of women in the Islamic World, these articles will fascinate, but not clarify the situation. Or perhaps they show that their role is as confused and transforming as we think. As Reuters reported on the rise of women preachers in Egypt, the New York Times reported on how Indonesian women are suffering under increasingly stringent Shar'ia (Islamic-based) law and the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about women in Afghanistan who were living under death threats as they ran for elected office.


Anonymous This Man said...

Interesting round up of stories and headlines. I found the bit about women in Islamic countries very interesting. The bit about Afghan women was even more interesting.

I heard about this one fellow who has dedicated a recently formed non profit aimed at helping Afghan women, but also women in Islamic countries. What's even more interesting is that he's named it after the woman on the cover of National Geographic cover in 1985; "Sharbat Gula"--the Afghan girl with the green eyes.

The story goes that National Geographic made millions off her image but never did much for her or women in that region, even after finding her more than 16 years later(after that iconic photo was taken). All of this motivated the young man to do something meaningful to raise awareness of the plight of women there. He was quoted to the local news: " We (Sharbat Gula and he), amazingly it turns out, were born on the same day, the same month and the same year, in the same country, but our lives could not have been more different. I moved and lived in America, while she and millions of other women suffered in Afghanistan and suffer to this day. I had to do something to alleviate their pain."
He even mentioned that he knows Po Bronson and that Po's Book, "What Should I Do With My Life" was his inspiration for doing something that filled his live with a real sense of purpose. Let's hope Bill Gates takes his newly acquired foundation wealth from Mr. Buffet and channels it to helping the Sharbat Gula Justice Center and women world wide.


12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question of obesity is so weird. As a kid, other kids called me "fat" but when I look at the photos, the other kids were fat, NOT me! They often ate sugar cereals for breakfast while I had orange juice every day for breakfast. I had bagels or oatmeal cereal or toast and eggs and bacon. Sometimes omelettes.

It is really important to establish good healthy eating habits early in life. I never had fruit loop cereal but I always had good stuff like eggs and bacon. Now we know eggs and bacon are not always good. Now I eat eggs and bacon with cherry tomatoes.

Regarding treats, you may want to give them string cheese or sliced apples or oranges or watermelon.

Remember the Cal-5-a-Day? We are bombarded with ads on TV saying five servings of fruit and vegetables every day prevents a list of future health problems like heart attack, stroke, breast cancer, and so on.

Never tell a kid about the obesity factor. Explain the concerns about health.


10:11 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

Hi, Hayley,

Yeah, we sometimes give them fruit. But it's kind of hard not to splurge with a cookie or sweet, since I know how rarely they get stuff like that at home. I try to rationalize it by saying that at least we're giving them good food for thought. :-)

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somebody very close to me suffers from clinical paranoia and has to take medication to be able to function in her daily life. I am also British. So I do not take lightly the BBC study you have referred to.

Labelling something paranoia is a sociological exercise. Do we stop to think that this may have something to do with gradual but certain breakdown of communities and societal trust, rather than the population suddenly being clinically mentally unwell?

Robert Putnam's 'Bowling Alone' is one of the best books I have read on the matter. Sadly we in UK are headed there fast too.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my second comment (first was re paranoia). My multidisciplinary PhD work is on obesity. So I can safely say I know more than average Joe about the matter..

One question to ask is whom does obesity hurt? Do obese people hurt non-obese people the same way smokers hurt non-smokers? Or in a nationalised health system - and clearly I refer to the UK - should we worry about obese people blocking (pardon the pun) the pipeline for non-obese people waiting for treatment? What if over 80% of the society is obese, which is not impossible if present trends continue? Will we reconfigure our world for the minority?

So is it another sociologically constructed phenomenon or a real major problem requiring attention? And who is to say?

7:56 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

I apologize if you think I was being insensitive; however, if you read the article (I haven't read the underlying study), the way it was conducted would seem to pick up far more than those would never have been identified in the medical definitions of paranoia -- and I'm not quite sure the benefit of labeling a 1/3 of Britons as having a psychopathology is necessarily helpful.

If the study's truly accurate, then I would consider that to be a near national health crisis, and I sincerely hope it will be treated as such.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

Regarding your comment about obesity, when I lived in the UK, there seemed to be a growing concern about it, but I don't know enough to opine on that specifically.

I can tell you that in the US, this is a medical problem that impacts not only those who suffer from it (with increased incidence of diabetes, heart problems, etc), but that it is a huge burden on our entire health care system.

I also feel that, at least in the US, we as a society conduct large-scale education programs and other activities, designed to inform and change behavior, even if it is only to benefit that individual person (e.g. US efforts on smoking, alcohol use, AIDS). And I'm fine with that.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Paranoia and Obesity part 2) Ashley, I was not implying you are being insensitive. At best psychiatry is a 'pseudo-science' (i.e. one cannot prove or disprove anything through clinical research; and nothing can be falsified; indeed Freud has the only universalist theories to explain everything!) and the classifications artificial.

For instance in my PhD data collection exercise, I have been told by an interviewee that obesity is being considered as a 'disorder' for inclusion in DSM-V. (That brings both my previous comments nicely together!). I am not sure that is what you would include in 'mass education programmes'?

The question to ask is what determines normality and should that definition not change in line with the changes in our society? After all a few years ago, appearing to talk to oneself meant one was 'cuckoo'; but now with all those bluetooth-fairies rambling on as they walk, is it so abnormal? Even if we cannot see the earpiece, we usually assume they are on phone, dont we?

As for 1 in 3 Britons being psychopathological needing attention, I do not think that is the case.

If policy programmes do not take into account societal changes, they remain ineffective as is evident from the rise in obesity in the US despite US having been one of the early nations to adopt a food pyramid. Where are the enablers to make those choices? I have been chronicling US environment with a camera for the last 8 weeks, alongside my interviews with policy influencers. The chasm could not be more vast if one tried.

Obesity is not a medical problem; it has several co-morbidities. Obesity is a complex problem with genetic, metabolic, behavioural, socio-economic roots which has to be medicalised to be treated.

In the US vast sums of money are being made throughout the obesity 'value chain' - food, automobiles, insurance, treatments, and as long as that remains the case, why would anyone seriously consider 'solving' the problem?

PS: I study comparative health policy in the UK and the US.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Rita Desai said...


Thank you so much for bringing up the issue of AIDS/HIV in DC. It's amazing to me that the leadership here hasn't said or done anything about it and continues to keep mum on the horrifying stats of DC's infection rate, as purveyed by the latest Appleseed Foundation report.

I moved to DC a year ago and I was astounded to listen to a local health educator speak about what was happening locally. 5% of the population of DC is infected with HIV and 1/50 people lives with AIDS.

He works with a volunteer group called DC Fights Back that pushes leadership to confront what is happening in our area. They don't really listen much, unfortunately, so I am heartened by your summary.


Thank you so much.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

Re Anon's Paranoia/Obesity comment #2, I agree that there are vested economic interests that will be keeping with efforts to work on lessening incidence of obesity, and your remark about changing standards over time.

But I do take exception to your comment that psychiatry is "pseudo-science." Both pharmaceutical drugs and talk-therapy can be and are regularly tested for efficacy. There are definitions of mental illness just as any other disease, and these are not artificial distinctions, but those made by physicians over decades of study. (That is why I had a problem with the British study: because I wondered if it was broadening the formal definition of clinical paranoia far beyond the accepted standard.)

Further, physicians will tell you that the practice of all medicine is more art than science, in terms of it eventually coming down to a doctor deciding what he thinks you have and what the best course of treatment may be, and if that works, then he'll try something else.

And while I'm no particular fan of Freud, to write off psychiatry just because of his initial errors would be the same as saying that political theory began and ended with Machiavelli's Prince, and that astronomy is useless because of Ptolemy's theory of an earth-centered universe.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...


Thanks for that color about AIDS in DC: NPR also did an interesting piece you might want to take a listen to: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5512908

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Po is so popular. Ever wonder why nobody seems to be reading this blog??? May be because the more popular one is not writing on the blog?

WHy does this blog exist anyway if Po won't write?

1:46 PM  
Blogger Po Bronson said...

Hey now ... sorry to disappoint you, but I'd hardly say crunching out an essay just about every week for Time is "not writing." And on our last topic, "Will This Marriage Last?," Ashley and I conferred every day and we alternated posts, each putting up almost six on the topic. But the real reason you haven't seen me post in the last week is that I took my family to Florida for a week to see my wife's grandma. Right before that, I had a long essay due for a literary journal called "Knowing Your Audience," about one reader whose life took two dramatic turns as a result of reading one of my books. So it's not like I'm not writing here every day.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

As Po wrote, between the individual posts and Time.com columns, we're both working really hard / doing as much as we can.

I'd like to think that it's the topics, and the way we're addressing them, that is the ultimate appeal of the blog - regardless who pens an individual post.

But I'm truly sorry if you're disappointed when I'm blogging, instead of Po. I can only hope that over time, you'll come to enjoy reading both of us.

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Sipho said...

I live in this area where this organisation works. and If you actually check the facts of this story. At the time this occured they were receiving no funding from the US. Also the community loves livinghope as they offer day care, food, work, basic health car, support and HIV/AIDS car with no strings attached. Watch the washington post I hear they are going to be correcting the "facts" soon.

11:19 AM  

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