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Robin
21 September 2016 @ 08:20 am
I'm now on week two of my experiment in ketogenic dieting. Since it's all the rage, I reckoned I should at least give it a try. (BTW, "all the rage" means "popular amongst the people I follow online." I know maybe two people in my physical neighbourhood who even know what it is.) First week went smoothly - no keto flu, no keto breath (thank god), no stomach problems. I'm not sure if or to what extent I actually got into ketogenesis, but I felt pretty good. On Sunday I had my normal cheat day, loading up on carbs, and felt OK but sleepy. Monday turned out to be another cheat day because the in-laws came round with simit and kazandibi, and it would have been rude to refuse. Felt lousy as a result. Back on the keto waggon now. I'll see how it goes - I'm not sure how much my feelings of energy and good humour last week were due to the diet, how much to placebo effect, and how much to doing more t'ai chi than normal.
 
 
Robin
20 September 2016 @ 11:00 am
New post on Medium: "The Problem with Cultural Appropriation". This is an article I'd been meaning to write for about a year and was finally prompted to by Lionel Shriver's Brisbane speech. I spent a long time trying to think of a witty title, and failed completely.
 
 
Robin
16 September 2016 @ 05:22 pm
Earlier this year, my website got accidentally wiped by the friend who was kindly allowing me to use his space. Fortunately I had back-ups of most of the important stuff, but it was often in a different format, and all the structural stuff (e.g., CSS) was gone. After the panic gave way to annoyance and the annoyance gave way to apathy, I realised that it was high time I thought about my online presence. What, if anything, I'll eventually do with sensiblemarks.info is another subject; the important thing is that the webacle prompted me to try out Medium, and I liked it. In fact, I liked it so much, I decided to use it for most of what I would normally put on LiveJournal, because it struck me that I was primarily using LJ as a blog, which is not what it's best for. So if you're interested in my argumentative/speculative/whimsical posts about language, philosophy, politics,pop culture etc., the place to go is https://medium.com/sensible-marks-of-ideas.

Having said that, I may well keep using LiveJournal for something more like journalling - mainly private or friends only posts for playing with ideas, venting etc.
 
 
Robin
25 June 2016 @ 07:34 am
I'm seeing a lot of tweets, status updates and articles to the extent that even if we don't like the result of the UK referendum, we have to accept it because democracy. I'm also seeing pleas to avoid recriminations, but since these come almost entirely from the winning side, I think we can ignore them as just another case of people claiming the age-old right to do stupid things and not be held responsible for them. What interests me is the people on the Remain side saying we should accept the decision to leave the EU because that's what the majority of people want. Aside for the usual problems that come with referendums, I am not convinced by this for two reasons.

First, I didn't get to vote, having been resident outside the UK for too long. I would only feel bound by a decision I didn't get a vote on if it were a decision in which I have no interest (e.g., a fishing dispute between Norway and Sweden), and I obviously do have an interest in this one—possibly more than most British citizens, in fact. However, since only a handful of people are in my particular boat, I'll pass over this reason.

The main reason is that at the moment, I am a European citizen. I have the right to vote in European elections, and to live and work wherever I want in the EU. I also have a bunch of other rights, but these two are enough to negate the validity of the Brexit vote. I don't know any theory of democracy that says one group of citizens—even if they are a majority—have the right to strip other citizens of their citizenship. Put like that, it seems absurd; the only reason it was even contemplated in this case is that everyone concerned has dual citizenship: of the United Kingdom and of the European Union. But if British citizenship cannot be revoked at the drop of a ballot box, why should European citizenship be?

It's hard to find a precedent for this situation. The closest I can think of is the decision by the southern states to secede from the Union, which obviously didn't work out too well. The problem with this analogy is that despite talk of states' rights, it was pretty obviously all about slavery, and it's hard to take such a glaring issue out of the equation. However, even if we can imagine that there was no slavery in the southern states but they wanted to secede because of, say, whisky taxes, the decision is still problematic because it would mean that people who had citizen's rights at one level (state) would suddenly lose them at another level (federal). If there were a referendum on secession, and if the secessionists won, the Unionists would still have a pretty strong case for ignoring the result. The counter-argument would presumably be that if you don't like it in Louisiana, you can always go north, but that wouldn't apply in the Brexit case because our right to go and live elsewhere in Europe is what is being denied.

In other cases of secession, it's usually been the case that the country in question never wanted to be part of a union in the first place. This is what happens when empires break up, or ethnic minorities form breakaway states. Naturally that doesn't apply here, since a large majority of British citizens voted to join the EU. But even in these cases, there is often an opportunity for those who opposed independence to keep their citizenship of the parent country. If I had the opportunity to keep my European citizenship, I might regard Brexit as democratic; as it is, I feel no obligation to "respect the wishes of the people" when those people are depriving me of my rights. For the same reason, parliament is neither legally nor morally obliged to pass any legislation on leaving the EU.
 
 
Robin
08 June 2016 @ 04:22 pm
Happy birthday, chr0me_kitten!
 
 
 
Robin
24 May 2016 @ 08:06 pm
In class a student giving a presentation asked if any of us had any secret vices, or at least things that jarred with our public image. I answered "Project Runway." It's not that I feel ashamed of liking Project Runway, but it certainly doesn't go with the kind of shows I recommend to my students, which include Game of Thrones, Vikings, Jessica Jones and suchlike—basically, fantasy violence, historical violence and superhero violence. Apart from the fact that there are a lot of men in skirts, they're not what you'd call fashion forward. Neither, for that matter, am I. Sure, I like to wear nice clothes, but it's not like I look forward to the latest Armani collection. What I like about Project Runway, apart from the opportunity to spend (low) quality time with my significant other, is watching people who are really good at what they do, doing creative and challenging things. I'd probably be just as happy if it were an industrial design competition.

My other not-really-fitting-my-image show is Survivor, which I got back into watching because my extra course load left me so brain dead that after working till 10 p.m. I'd just watch an hour of people surving then fall into bed. However, I found that this season the two shows have gone in opposite directions. I'm losing interest in Survivor (Turkish version) because all the contestants I really like have been eliminated, and the show could be renamed Catfight in the Caribbean. In contrast, Project Runway left us with a final at New York Fashion Week with our four favourite contestants, Kelly, Candice, Ashley and Edmond. (Yes, in Turkey we've only just finished season 14, though fortunately we were able to avoid spoilers to the extent that I only just found out it finished in November everywhere else.) So basically, there was no one we'd have been really pissed off to see win.

Nevertheless, we had our favourites, both as designers and as people: Kelly Dempsey and Candice Cuoco. Because, like most people, I tend to exaggerate the talents of people I happen to like, I was especially careful to establish that they did indeed have the best designs (check them out in the links in the last sentence if you don't believe me). OK, I know it doesn't make a nanodifference what I think, but it's good mental training IMHO. The other two contestants had pretty good collections (and Edmond had one absolutely stunning dress) but our lasses were well out in front; when the show was over and the jury got to talk, it was a toss-up between Kelly and Candice.

Or so we thought. Then the word came up: "plus-size". Ashley Tipton specialises in plus-size clothing, and her runway show had plus-size models, which means somewhere between "curvy" and "obese". Now Ashley's work wasn't at all bad (unlike some of her previous entries, which were hideous) but it wasn't in the same league as the other contestants unless you really, really, like lacy pastelly skirts and blouses that make you look fat—sorry, I mean, "celebrate your womanness". Am I being bitchy here? Yes, of course I'm being bitchy; this is Project Runway. But back to the point. Up to this point, the other designers were in with a chance, but then the other word came up: "inclusive". That's when we knew they were doomed. Having plus-size models would be inclusive, you see. (Having a Black guy win wouldn't be inclusive enough, I suppose, and the other contestants were just skinny White Trash.)

Now you'd think I'd be all for inclusiveness in fashion as everywhere else, and indeed I am. But just as in other areas, inclusiveness shouldn't ride roughshod over talent, especially where here it's largely a case of the fashion industry defending itself against largely justified claims of distorting female body images. Sure, it's nice to see some big models for a change, and it's great that people are designing clothes for big women, but please let's not think that we're better people because we try to balance a pile of size zeros with a few XXLs. That just reinforces the message that fashion is primarily for women with eating disorders. What would be really nice (as well as seeing the most talented people win, of course) would be for the fashion industry to acknowledge the middle of the bell curve once in a while. One of the best episodes was when the designers had to create a look for the members of the technical crew. That really got the message across—not that "real women have curves" but that real women actually come in all shapes and sizes.
 
 
Robin
07 May 2016 @ 02:00 pm
I have an ambivalent relationship with Malcolm Gladwell (a relationship of which he is naturally unaware). On the one hand, I love his ability to seize on apparently insignificant details (Goliath's myopia, varieties of spaghetti sauce, the Norden bombsight) and draw interesting conclusions from them. I love his amazing enthusiasm, which translates into wonderful talks that break several rules of presentations (a phenomenon I've dubbed "the Gladwell effect"—if you communicate enthusiasm about your topic, it doesn't matter if you say "umm" all the time, have a lousy Powerpoint or let your shirt come untucked at the back). On the other hand, it's not a good thing that such a wonderful writer and speaker manages to get things spectacularly wrong in ways that a little critical reading of the data could have prevented. Gladwell attracted some criticism for his attribution of New York's falling crime rate to Giuliani's "No broken windows" policing when in fact New York's crime fell more because crime across the whole of the developed world was falling. (To his credit, Gladwell admitted he "oversold" the idea.) Now, belatedly, his famous "10,000 hour rule" has been deflated by Anders Ericsson, the very person he got the idea from.

As a naturally lazy person, I was inclined to be skeptical of the 10,000 hour rule as soon as I heard about it. I was also reminded of my time as a music student. Gladwell's claim was based on research by Ericsson that found the best students at a music school in Berlin had, on average, put in 10,000 hours of practice by the time they were twenty. What I observed as a music student, though, was that beyond a certain point, the amount of practice my fellow students put in didn't correlate particularly strongly with their performance. Some people were just good, and only had to practice enough to stop their technique from getting rusty. Some people could practice all day and would never be more than competent, because actually being a great musician isn't primarily about technique; it's about feeling. (I'm speaking here as less-than-great musician; as my teacher at the time put it, "You're playing virtuoso material, but you're not a virtuoso yet." Ironically, I was one of the ones who might have benefited from those 10,000 hours of practice.)

Another person I admire (but also take with a grain of salt) is Tim Ferriss. In The Four-Hour Chef he points out the problems with the idea that 10,000 hours of practice are necessary (let alone sufficient) to master any skill. Firstly, we can't say anything on the subject without a clear idea of what we mean by "master". Is your standard for mastering golf the best player at your local course, a national champion, or Tiger Woods? (Ferriss takes being in the top 20% world-wide, which I think is reasonable.) Secondly, the amount of effort, practice or talent necessary to master a skill varies according to the skill being practiced. As Anders Ericsson himself points out, "Steve Faloon, the subject of an early experiment on improving memory, became better at memorizing strings of digits than any other person in history after only about two hundred hours of practice." At a more modest level, I've used YouTube to relearn several skills, from peeling a banana to tying my shoelaces. I can say with some confidence that I've mastered them (except for folding fitted sheets—I've got a way to go there) but it certainly didn't take 10,000 hours of practice.

Most importantly, Ferriss queries the cause-effect relationship. Remember that the data come from intensely competitive fields, as Andersson says: "The reason that you must put in ten thousand or more hours of practice to become one of the world’s best violinists or chess players or golfers is that the people you are being compared to or competing with have themselves put in ten thousand or more hours of practice." But as Ferriss notes, if you're in a highly competitive field where everyone is practicing like crazy, you are likely to practice like crazy too, regardless of how much practice you actually need to do. Maybe it's not just that practice makes perfect but also that perfectionism makes you practice.
 
 
Robin
22 April 2016 @ 10:20 am
I have just received some academic spam entitled "Top Ten Reasons to Submit Your Paper to Textile Research Journal". Apart from the fact that this sounds like an article from Cracked.com, how about the top reason not to: my knowledge of textiles is limited to not putting my sweaters in the same wash as my jeans.
 
 
Robin
10 April 2016 @ 09:45 pm
I've decided my social media fast doesn't apply to Instagram, because I need cute puppy pictures to calm me down before I go to sleep, and LiveJournal, because it predates the term "social media".
 
 
Robin
02 April 2016 @ 10:23 am
Happy birthday, miss_next!