In the interest of keeping CT as highbrow as possible, I have an observation about kissing. Namely, on-the-lips kissing between not-mutually-attached ladies and gents.

I do a fair bit of cheek-kissing and hugging, both socially and at work, probably more than most but not unusually so (I haven’t had any complaints yet). It’s really come in amongst the anglo-saxons in the past decade or so. Time was when only the French did cheek-kissing when they met. Perhaps as the result of many forlorn French exchange summers, or maybe just aping our more sophisticated Continental neighbours, the Irish and British middle classes began to do single-cheek kissing in the eighties and nineties.

I kiss a French person once on each cheek (twice if they’re a close friend or family friend), three times in total for a Belgian or Dutch person, and just one single-cheeked peck for a fellow anglo-saxon. In the last few years, a new variation has crept in. Married men who kiss me – just a peck – on the lips.

Cheek(y) kissing is now so common that perhaps for very good friends something more is called for? Or maybe it’s just an opportunistic twist in a situation where you can suddenly get away with kissing women other than your wife. God knows, I don’t dislike it (though I’ve never lingered), but I’m not in the habit of snogging other women’s husbands either (long live teh Patriarchy!). To call it a guilty pleasure would be to concede there’s something going on where it shouldn’t be – and there clearly isn’t, as none of my lip-kissers has ever made a pass at me – but I have to admit that I enjoy it probably just a little more than I should.

The Desert of the Real comes to Nashville

by Daniel on March 12, 2009

Via my Amazon recommendations, “Naked Willie“[1], the latest album from American national treasure Willie Nelson:

After establishing himself as a major Nashville songwriter (he wrote “Crazy” for Patsy Cline, among others), Willie Nelson signed his first serious artist contract at RCA in 1964. At that time, the producers and A&R men like Chet Atkins were boss. Singers weren’t allowed to select arrangements, musicians, studios – any of the key factors in making the records the artist has in mind. Willie was constantly frustrated by the syrupy strings, vocal group choruses and generally “slick” final product

Fast forward to 2008. Willie and long-time harmonica player Mickey Raphael are casually wondering what those records would or could sound like if only the multi-track tapes could be tracked down and …

… and, a whole lot of time and effort in a recording studio could be spent, in order to get something that sounds less “over-produced”. Ahhh authenticity.

(actually, I’ve listened to the clips on the Amazon site, and as well as getting rid of some rather charming olde-Nashville arrangements, it’s very clear indeed that nobody told the mastering engineer that he was meant to be recreating the sound of 1964. These tracks have entirely modern compression and equalisation and the stereo mix doesn’t have the drums panned to one side. “Naked Willie” is a pretty strange hybrid of what the recordings might have sounded like if they’d been made in 1964 and then buried in a vault waiting for the invention of a) modern digital audio workstations and b) alt-country).

[1] I know, I know.

Good Advice for Prospective Grad Students

by Henry Farrell on March 12, 2009

Via “Seth Masket”:, “this”:

Have you been admitted to graduate school? Are you interviewing at one of the graduate programs to which you applied? Then I recommend that you do not

* assume nothing can go wrong at this point.
* address the female graduate students as, “Yo! Bitches!”
* fill your plate with so many sandwiches that there is nothing but chips and pickles left for the students still in their face-to-faces.
* tell sexist and off-color jokes to the female graduate students, even after they tell you that you are making them feel uncomfortable.
* call the female graduate students “Bitches” a second time.
* confess that you really screwed up your last interview by behaving inappropriately.
* (updated!) tell graduate students their work is boring and no one is interested in it.
* (updated!) tell international graduate students that their country is stupid and that everyone who comes from that country is stupid.

Don’t do these things because (1) you are on an interview and (2) you haven’t yet been funded. The fellowships were handed out today and you didn’t get one. We also called your letter-writers and told them of your behavior.

Good luck on your other interview

The advice from a commenter not to

get drunk at the social and start hitting on the wife of the department chair. That happened here at last year’s recruitment

is also worth considering seriously.

How much better is breastfeeding?

by Harry on March 12, 2009

Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic.

One day, while nursing my baby in my pediatrician’s office, I noticed a 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association open to an article about breast-feeding: “Conclusions: There are inconsistent associations among breastfeeding, its duration, and the risk of being overweight in young children.” Inconsistent? There I was, sitting half-naked in public for the tenth time that day, the hundredth time that month, the millionth time in my life—and the associations were inconsistent? The seed was planted. That night, I did what any sleep-deprived, slightly paranoid mother of a newborn would do. I called my doctor friend for her password to an online medical library, and then sat up and read dozens of studies examining breast-feeding’s association with allergies, obesity, leukemia, mother-infant bonding, intelligence, and all the Dr. Sears highlights.

After a couple of hours, the basic pattern became obvious: the medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature. It shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; but it is far from the stampede of evidence that Sears describes. More like tiny, unsure baby steps: two forward, two back, with much meandering and bumping into walls. A couple of studies will show fewer allergies, and then the next one will turn up no difference. Same with mother-infant bonding, IQ, leukemia, cholesterol, diabetes. Even where consensus is mounting, the meta studies—reviews of existing studies—consistently complain about biases, missing evidence, and other major flaws in study design. “The studies do not demonstrate a universal phenomenon, in which one method is superior to another in all instances,” concluded one of the first, and still one of the broadest, meta studies, in a 1984 issue of Pediatrics, “and they do not support making a mother feel that she is doing psychological harm to her child if she is unable or unwilling to breastfeed.” Twenty-five years later, the picture hasn’t changed all that much. So how is it that every mother I know has become a breast-feeding fascist?

At some point, when I was a little bit obsessed with this topic myself, I looked a handful of studies and my experience was like Roisin’s; they all showed very small benefits, but I noticed that none of them tried to control for the socio-economic status of the mothers. Ever since I have been rather skeptical about the benefits, but have dutifully supported the breastfeeding of my kids, despite the difficulties that both they and their mother endured. Breastfeeding meant that for the first several months of each of their lives their primary relationship was with their mother, and everything I did with them had to be scheduled around the need for them to feed. With the first two, both of whom screamed pretty much constantly while awake for 4 months, I — and my wife — frequently went against our instinct that they were hungry, and refrained from giving them any formula (as the books tell you to), causing, I suspect, far more misery for all of us than was necessary.

My favourite La Leche League story (frequently referenced in Rosin’s article) is a from a friend who teaches high school. She asked a La Leche League counsellor how she could pump, given the brief breaks between classes, and the time it takes to let down. “well”, said the counsellor, “that’s easy, you just massage your breasts for 10 minutes before you pump”. “But I’m teaching in front of 30 teenagers in that 10 minutes before I pump, I can’t massage my breasts in front of them”. “Oh yes you can, they’ll soon get used to it”.

Siobahn, to whom I owe the link, says that her favourite line of the article is this:
“This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.”

Update: see Laura’s excellent follow-up/summary, and ensuing discussion.