Saturday, July 31, 2004

Supersize Me!

I'm really looking forward to watching the documentary 'Supersize Me'. This is a funny and yet serious look at the American obsession with fast food, where the moviemaker survives on a diet of supersized McDonald's meals for a month, while doctors track his vitals with horror. Incidentally, the website is pretty cool in itself and has many links including to this story about why the French do not face similar obesity problems. You should read the whole story, but here is one excerpt I particularly liked:

Nutritionist Dr Francoise L'Hermite says the French secret to staying slim is to do exactly as Clemence and her family do - make sure you sit down with friends or family for a meal, eat three times a day at regular intervals, don't snack, don't eat in front of the television, and finally - eat slowly and savour both the food and the company.

"For France, a meal is a very particular moment, in which you share pleasure, the food as well as the conversation," she says. "From an Anglo-Saxon point of view, food is just fuel to give energy to your muscles. If you have no pleasure in it, you are breaking all the rules of eating."

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Swing Voters and the Nature of the Election

I enjoyed this editorial in the New York Times - funny and yet substantive, reflecting on the nature of the Democratic convention and election year politics in general.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Get to Work!

Well, if I betrayed a liberal bias with my previous posting, here's my attempt to reclaim the center. This article on MSNBC indicates that that bastion of workers' rights may be finally cracking. Germans who are used to insane amounts of vacation are finally realizing that young men and women in China and India are willing to work their butts off for their job (ok, that wasn't in the story). Come on guys, you don't need 37 days off in a year!!

OK, and it also talks about overgenerous unemployment benefits preventing workers from feeling the need to take low-paid jobs! Hmm, are you listening, lefties? While I'm a big supporter of certain welfare programs, including benefits for all children (legal and illegal - no kid deserves any different!), it is obvious that an overgenerous system doesn't help these people.

Reminds me of a conversation that I had with a homeless father once ... still rings in my head and troubles me. We sat and had a chat, and he shared his very moving story with me about how he was trying to do better for his daugther. But while the government and churches and all other welfare organizations had invested extensive resources in "keeping him homeless", not one of them had ever bothered to help him break the cycle. To get a job, you need a place of residence ... to rent a place, you need a job, and for a guy who is labelled a bum of the streets without a family network to depend on, well, that's gonna be one long stay!

Lil Ron's Politics

While I'm no big fan of his dad (or maybe because of that?), I quite enjoyed this interview with Ron Reagan, Jr on NPR. He was honest, witty, charming and intelligent on a number of issues. A couple of points he hit that I really liked (don't let the illusion of quotes fool you - they are still paraphrased from what I recollect!)

On Stem Cell Research: "While I accept some pols may have moral objections to stem cell research, many still use it as political football. If they were sincere in their objection to the destruction of embryos as potential life, why not object to InVitro Fertilization (IVF) where thousands of identical embryos are destroyed! Because they know such an objection would be political suicide, because 'moral' men and women still want to use technology to have babies when other methods fail. But stem cells is something they can use to 'rally the base'!"

On Gay Marriage: "My wife and I have been happily married now for almost 24 years. But I'm sorry, now we're just gonna have to break up, because Stan and Rick are getting married!"

Overall, well worth the time to listen to the interview!

Monday, July 19, 2004

Graduate Student Union

The NY Times reported that the National Labor Relations Board reversed a prior decision to allow graduate students at private universities to unionize. This brings into focus the whole issue of whether students are primarily students or workers. One thing strikes me - do students WANT to be workers? As graduate students, we allow ourselves the liberties of poor research pace during our coursework deadlines ... we allow ourselves extended periods of vacation or unproductivity and indeed extended periods of productivity and overwork. What the unionization doctrine suggests is that we would have to abandon the spurts of creativity and motivation that define grad school for a professional production mode. That does not strike me as being particularly good.

That is not to say that there is no need for grad students to band together. Certainly, an aggressive graduate student body can rally the academic community to redress deficiencies that may exist, be it in pay, benefits or other issues. After all, an unhappy graduate student community would eventually reflect on the students, and would serve as warning flags to potential graduate students (who, by the way, read the entrapped community like a children's book!) It is unclear that there is a pressing case for a more legally binding resolution, especially one that opens the community to politics!