September 24th, 2013

I Really Hate Quotations Out of Context

Today's example is Mark Twain's Pudd'n'head Wilson's remark about God, idiots and school boards. It took me a while to find it (maybe 5 minutes), but it is from _Following the Equator_, and if you've read any of Twain's travel writing, you recognize that it is Problematic. At the very least. The quote is the epigraph for chapter LXI, and it is quite breathtaking how offensive Twain manages to be to how many people (then and their equivalent identity groups now) in such a short space.

So, yes, I get that people don't like school boards, because local politics get quite impassioned and sure, there are some loony boards out there who do really irresponsible things. But using _that_ quote to make _that_ point is, perhaps, not your best choice.

I will also add that while I am ordinarily sympathetic to arguments in favor of high schools being less academic and/or at least having a stronger voc/tech component, reading Twain's version of this argument is so appalling to me that I'm just going to stay out of all of that sort of debate from here on.

Jump Rope Found

As I have been cataloging, purging, etc. the basement I have repeatedly passed a mesh bag sitting on the weight bench. The mesh bag contained bands. Well, that's what I thought it contained anyway, and it looked like that through the mesh. About the 10th (or 20th or wtf) time I looked at that bag, I asked myself, what's that blue thing?

The jump rope.


I was clever, and stored the lightweight workout equipment together, and put it on top of the weight bench where I could never lose track of it. Clever! But I am Not Clever, apparently.

It turns out I misidentified some wood in a pile as well. I thought it was a table (that I had thought we had gotten rid of because it was broken, and not worth repairing). It is Bits and Pieces left over from a closet system install. While I got an ok from R. about tossing the table in the trash, this is Not the table. So there will be further discussion.

In the meantime, I picked through some of the more persistently non-donatable items on the donation table, and put them in a plastic garbage bag. That was satisfying. I also pulled some things out of a bin where I stored supplies for my CD storage system (sleeves and the base rails for a CD Projects system I used to use). Since I no longer have CDs, I figured I really can get rid of the sleeves. I may still offer the rails to my sister, who has my old CDs, in sleeves. Not sure when the transfer of those might happen; maybe next summer, if she decides she wants them. She declined the Quail Ridge cookbooks, so those are off to the bins next.

I am reading _The Stuff Cure_, and it is really enjoyable (maybe not for you; I find decluttering/organizing/etc. books very addictive). However, it brought together a lot of things I had been thinking about and foregrounded them in a way that might not otherwise have happened for a while. I have been Losing My Religion when it comes to environmentally "sound"/"middle class guilt reduction" tactics for a while now.

Hence the garbage bags. Some things you really do just need to recognize are trash and put them there.

[ETA: From _The Stuff Cure_: "Once recycling becomes a household habit, everyone will feel good about reducing the amount of useable and reusable materials that, otherwise, would be wasted in landfills." I think this is Not True. I think you feel good while _developing_ the habit, but once it is set up and running, those good feels revert to whatever your mean, that is to say average, state is. And then the extra effort associated with recycling and reusing is what continues to stick out. This is a Problem that will, over the long term, need to be addressed.]

I'm still happy I ordered new jump ropes, because I had a few of the kind that I found and reduced them to just one, largely to ensure I _had_ one in the house should I want to use it, but getting rid of the extras because I don't like the vinyl rope kind much at all. The weight just feels wrong.

Blood pressure and birth weight: how did I not know this?

Starting in the early to mid-1990s, there were studies showing a correlation between high blood pressure in middle age and low birth weight. These studies included meta-studies in the US, studies in South Africa, the UK and elsewhere. There are a lot of them. More recent examples discover Things We Knew, like, sometimes blood pressure measurements are rounded up or down, creating "buckets" rather than a smoother curve of "actual" measurements -- and it turns out that tends to weaken the finding.

I am utterly stunned that I did not know this. I really am. I've read a ridiculous amount about how prenatal and early childhood "program" our adult health status, about nutrition, about health measures such as blood pressure. And yet I didn't know about this one.

I feel like this may be one of those things that doesn't match a narrative (Fat Babies Make Fat Adults! Fat Adults Are Sick And Cost Us All Money! Pregnant Women Must Watch Their Weight!!!!) and thus hasn't gotten a lot of coverage, but maybe it's just One of Those Things.

I come from a family with a lot of ridiculously huge babies (almost all over 9 lbs, many over 10 lbs) who grow up to be large adults (in height, especially in shoe size, and overall as well -- women with broad shoulders, type of thing), yet persist in having normal or even low blood pressure. The few among us who are shorter and smaller in general are the ones who have high blood pressure, and they complain about the unfairness. Really makes you wonder.

_The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100_, Robert William Fogel

Subtitled: Europe, America, and the Third World

Sis: I'll be sending it along to you next; I think you might like it better than I do.

For everyone else: it's thin. The first chapter of five is an interesting historical survey. The second chapter depicts the massive changes in body size, mortality, morbidity, etc. of the 20th century. The third chapter assesses where developing nations were and what their prospects were as of the writing (published 2004). Things fall apart in the fourth chapter, where the author's position within the Chicago School becomes apparent. His prescriptions for replacing Social Security are risible and his ideas about health care in the US in general more than a little silly. Also, his assessments of political viability are just about what you would expect from someone like him. Weirdly, the fifth chapter isn't too bad, altho not good enough to make up for the fourth chapter.

On balance, _because the book is so damn short_ and because the author is quite blunt about his politics/academic school of thought, it's worth a read if you think it's an interesting topic (generally, the importance of having plenty to eat if you want to have a long and mostly healthy life, either as a society or an individual). But I disagree with him on too many points to agree with his ideas about what to do next.

And I'm pretty pleased that he pointed me at Fries' 1980 article (which I had definitely encountered secondary and tertiary summaries of, without having the citation and/or ability to access I love Milbank Quarterly. Best. Journal. Ever.) and that research about the correlation between low birth weight and high blood pressure in middle age.

I stopped reading half way through the book, then picked it up again after the part I got stuck on as part of Read or Release. That's how I realized the last part of the book was worthwhile. I then revisited the middle bit and figured out why I found it so offensive. There is a lot to be said for reading books other than start at the beginning, continue until you read the end and then stop.

Complaining about _The Stuff Cure_

In the room by room section, some advice about decorating. There's a Papa Bear (large things like a big TV, sofa), Mama Bear (chairs, side tables), and Baby Bears ("accent pieces") theme. Specifically:

"Baby Bears constitute the accent pieces that express your individuality and taste, such as coffee table books, glass, art work, candles, reading material, and family pictures. Add Baby Bears to your decor [she puts the accent over the e in decor) only if they make the room look better. Be mindful of Baby Bears that tend to creep into the room and contribute to a cluttered look. You can return your room to an organized look by counting the Baby Bears and keeping the number of less than seven for the entire room. [authors' emphasis]." Stuff about seasonal changes and flowers.

A couple of points here. They are at least not so extreme that they say No TV in the Living Room, and they advocate finding a use for a formal room if it is never being used. Points to them. Serious points to them.

But _seven_ "Baby Bears"? So you put a couple candles, a vase, one book, a couple family pictures, one piece of OTC art and you're _done_?!? Are flowers in the vase counted as two things or one thing?

Some of the minimalist blogs might go this far, but most of them ban living rooms on general principles.

The authors also advocate for paper towel re-use. Paper towel re-use is a Thing. It is a Thing that I Disapprove Of.

Get a Fucking Dish Towel. Wipe Your Hands On That. Stick It In the Wash Every Evening. Not Hard.

There is also this Ted talk about how to use paper towels minimally.

I don't know why I didn't notice I was Losing My Religion in this area years ago. Some of these people are Very Odd.

ETA: Also, it is Blu-Ray, not Blue Ray. And she talks about book storage after covering media storage for music and video, but makes no mention of e-books. She mentions a Nook earlier on in the book -- and I'm reading it on the kindle, it has a 2012 publication date. A little mysterious, but perhaps explained by the pro organizer quote that books are the hardest thing to convince clients to get rid of.

The authors who limit you to 7 "Baby Bears" have this to say. "Where cabinets, closets, or drawers are not available, stackable plastic storage boxes are functional, and not unattractive, when placed in a corner or along a wall." The mind boggles at a writing time who thinks that stacking plastic bins in the living room along the wall is somehow more attractive than more than 7 pictures on the wall.

It's YouTube, not UTube. Eeek! Wrong URL, even!

ETA: I am unsurprised that the workflow descriptions (paying bills, filing, paying taxes, keeping records and so forth) are terrible. Personal organizers/declutterers are notorious for being paranoid and keeping stuff too long. I assume pathology (or why would they feel compelled to do this, right?). But this is ridiculous:

"Also it needs to be noted that failure to report income is considered to be fraud with no statute of limitation."

Not true. 6 years from filing OR whenever you lied to the IRS agents who asked you about it. I do _not_ understand why anyone still thinks, in 201x, that you need to keep tax documents of any sort that are more than 10 years old, other than things needed to prove a basis in a property you still own (and related things like credits you are rolling over from year to year, such as AMT credit and so forth).

_The Stuff Cure_, Sproules (kindle)

Subtitled: How we lost 8,000 pounds of stuff for fun, profit, virtue, and a better world Authors: Sproule, Dr. Betty A. and Sproule, Dr. J. Michael
Published Dec 18, 2012, and I _think_ self-pubbed, but not sure (Michelle Manos Design of Pacific Grove, CA)

I read books about decluttering, home organization, time management, personal workflow, blah, blah, bleeping, blah. It's difficult to explain why, beyond that it's a very easy topic for me: I already do a lot of the stuff in these books, I have opinions about a _lot_ of the standard array of tips and tricks but have a generic interest in more, and I'm always curious (I mean _always_ curious) about how people frame the topic area. They are repetitive. You should not adopt this as a hobby/genre focus. Really, trashy novels are much better.

There are enough errors in this book (UTube, Blue Ray) to be annoying, and at times worrisome (asserting that there is no statute of limitations on failing to report all income to the IRS because it is fraud, type of thing). They have a generally good perspective (TV in the living room is allowed, definitely make sure you use the space; get consensus on the process rather than throwing out stuff that belongs to other people in the house) and an excellent sense of humor. They are not afraid to tell stories about other people (and themselves) to illustrate What Not To Do/How Not To Do It. Their pop psychology is about average (they probably oversell the enlightenment angle, but everyone who writes books in this area does that, so I'm not going to lay into them for participating in the nonsense).

In general, these authors are surprisingly up-to-date on transitions that are currently underway, with occasional exceptions -- they are not repeating advice that was out of date in the 1990s (more common than one would hope!), and understand the you-don't-own-it-permanently perspective, valuing access over ownership.

Unfortunately, like many people who write these kinds of books, they came at the problem _after_ the kids moved out. So, you know, useless from several perspectives. Also, it's terrifying how bad they let things get. It's one thing to talk about how most people can't park both cars in their two car garage. Having almost all your wedding gifts in their original packaging, and going through them finally on your 20th anniversary? Ooooooh. Having boxes that don't get opened in a move, hey, that's normal. 50 of them, including one from when one of the authors was _6_? Yikes! I understand wanting to see your old stuff be enjoyed by new owners, but recommending donating Happy Meal Toys?

None of it, of course, as ridiculous as advising the re-use of paper towels.

So, yup, they're nuts (look, if you spend the kind of time I spend on this type of thing, you have to be nuts. Sane people have messy closets, messy houses, and throw stuff in the trash without worrying about whether a charity will accept Happy Meal toys.). But as this kind of books go, it's relatively entertaining.

ETA: And I should add, the authors convey strongly the impression that they are really nice people, who have a fun and enjoyable partnership, good relationships with family and friends, etc. It really adds to the experience of the reading the book. Nutty != bad.