When the Giver Gains More, While the Recipient Loses by Accepting, Who Is the Altruistic One?

When, in the acting of giving, the giver gains, while the recipient loses, is the giver the altruistic one?

I recently read Alcestis by Euripides (and yes, this post will have some spoilers). The premise is that Admetus is fated to die in the near future, but due to help from the god Apollo, he can live a long life if a close family member dies his place. His father refuses to die so that he can live, his mother also refuses to die for him, Admetus doesn’t want his own young children to die in his place, so that leaves just one close family member: his wife, Alcestis. She loves him so much that she agrees to die instead of him.

In the play, everyone (except Admetus’ father) says that Alcestis is the most amazing woman ever and that Admetus was truly fortunate to have such an awesome wife, and that because she is willing to sacrifice her life for him, she will be famous forever. And it’s not just this play, it was general Greek opinion that this made Alcestis a great woman (check out this mention in Plato’s “Symposium”).

The Ancient Greeks had this idea that dying (relatively) young on the behalf of someone or something else, and thus attaining everlasting fame, was the best kind of life to have. Take the example of Achilles, who, when given a choice between having a long and boring life which would be forgotten, and a short life which would bring him fame and glory, he chose the latter. The leaders of Ancient Greece initiated a lot of wars, and in order to go to war, they needed to persuade young men to risk their lives. Generally, young men are reluctant to die, so to keep up all of this warfare, the leaders needed to pound the idea that on the behalf of one’s clan or (later) city-state in battle was much better than living to old age. A famous example of this is Pericles’ funeral oration speaking about soldiers who died in the early part of the Peloponnesian War.

Even though Alcestis was not a warrior who died in battle, it’s clear that the concept of martyrdom for fame and glory bleeds over to her.

But is dying for love and/or glory is so great, and his beloved wife is going to the underworld, then why would Admetus want to remain alive? That is the crux of the story. Continue reading

Why Qing Dynasty Clothing Isn’t the Best at Communicating the Idea of ‘Ancient China’

Xena: Warrior Princess is nominally set during the time of Hercules (i.e. before the 8th century B.C.), but in practice, the TV show is all over the place historically. Thus, when Xena travels to ‘Chin’ (i.e. China), um, they don’t wear clothes that people would have worn in 8th century B.C. China, or even 8th-century A.D. China. Since I’m commenting on the clothing and hair only and nothing else, I think it is sufficient to skim this clip rather than watch the whole thing.

For anyone who has the slightest clue about historical Chinese clothing, the clothing is glaringly anachronistic. More anachronistic than the European clothes that Xena: Warrior Princess characters wear? Perhaps not. But I think there are reasons that these particular anachronisms were chosen. Namely, it is bloody obvious that the characters are wearing clothing from the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 A.D. to 1912. When I first saw that Xena clip, I found it jarring that they were dressed in the style of the Qing dynasty.

To anyone who has watched Chinese historical dramas, these costumes scream ‘Qing Dynasty!’

To see an example of a Chinese historical drama set during the Qing Dynasty which has an English character (wearing period-appropriate clothing), check out this video. (That Englishman also sometimes wears Chinese clothing.) That gives you a rough idea of what type of European clothing corresponds to the time of the Qing Dynasty.

This is obvious to anyone who has paid even the least amount to historical Chinese clothing because the Qing dynasty represented a major change in Chinese fashion. No matter how little the costume designer for a Chinese historical drama cares about historical accuracy, they will make sure that the costumes in a Qing dynasty drama will look approximately like the clothes people wore during the Qing dynasty, and that historical dramas set before the Qing dynasty will feature costumes that look really different. Otherwise, they will confuse the audience. It’s the same reason that Hollywood costume designers wouldn’t have actors wearing togas in a drama set in 18th-century France, or petticoats + corset + panniers in a drama set in 1st century A.D. Rome, unless there was a good reason for a character to be wearing a toga in 18th-century France, or petticoats + corset + panniers in 1st century A.D. Rome. Continue reading

I Recently Lost Weight by Eating Less. How Does That Compare to What The End of Overeating Say?

When I spotted The End of Overeating by David Kessler at a Little Free Library I probably wouldn’t have had any interest in picking it up, except I recently lost weight with intention via calorie restriction. I was curious with how the book compared with my experience.

I ended up having all other kinds of thoughts about the book, which is why I have written three blog posts about it so far (here, here, and here), with this being the fourth (and final) post.

So. How does it compare? Continue reading

In Retrospect, I Think Choosing Not to Mention COVID-19 In My Regular Weekly Posts Was a Good Decision

Back in mid-March, I decided I was not going to write at all about COVID-19 in my weekly scheduled posts, and that if I was going to make any blog posts mentioning COVID-19, I’d do it in addition to the weekly post.

Maybe allowing myself to discuss COVID-19 in the weekly posts would have also been a good decision, I don’t know. But I don’t regret imposing this policy on myself.

Yes, it was weird at first to be ignoring the herd of elephants packed into the room that was threatening to cause the walls of the room to burst apart, but after a couple months I got used to ignoring the elephant herd. Quite frankly, aside from personal reflections, anything I have to say about COVID-19 would just be a rehash of something someone else said, and probably said better than me. It would be better for me to do linkspams than blog posts about COVID-19 stuff, but it would take a lot of effort for me to put together a really good yet timely COVID-19 spam (the ‘timely’ part would be especially challenging to me), and there are other people doing good COVID-19 linkspams (for example, Naked Capitalism has a COVID section in their daily linkspam) so I don’t think it’s good for me to duplicate that effort.

I do have urges to write an out-of-schedule post about some TERRIBLE THING that going on right now that is related to COVID-19. But the urge fizzles out. Usually, all I have to say about TERRIBLE THING is ‘TERRIBLE THING is TERRIBLE!’. However, it’s not a secret that many terrible things are going on right now. Maybe I know about some angle about a TERRIBLE THING going on now that you’re not aware about, but if you aren’t already aware of it, would making you aware of it do us any good? Continue reading

Does Availability of Hyperpalatable Food Increase How Much a Society Eats? Thoughts on the United States and Taiwan

According to The End of Overeating by David Kessler, a dramatic rise in ‘overeating’ began in the United States in the 1980s, which led to an increase people’s average weight and obesity. What caused the increase in ‘overeating’? Commercial sellers of food became more competent at making food ‘hyperpalatable’ by using new food processing techniques which made it cheaper to ‘load’ foods with sugar, fat, and salt and add a variety of appealing textures and flavors (provided by industrial chemical processing), while making food easier to chew and make it ‘melt’ more in the mouth so people can fill themselves with more calories before they feel full; this combined with improvements in ‘eatertainment’ which enable firms to entice customers to buy more and more (and then eat more and more). On top of all that, there has been a change in norms – whereas in France (and maybe previously in the United States, Kessler hints) people only ate during official meals, now eating outside of mealtimes has been de-stigmatized, with food being included in more and more workplaces/social events/etc., and people being more used to ‘snacking’ outside of mealtimes.

Much of this wasn’t news to me, but there were details I wasn’t aware of before, and I hadn’t seen it presented in this particular way before. In particular, I hadn’t encountered the insight that it was improvements in food processing technology which allowed companies to produce more ‘hyperpalatable’ foods at lower cost.

This calls to mind something Lucy Worsley says in If Walls Could Talk – that for most of British history, the upper class tried to eat the most processed food possible, and went to great lengths to get more highly processed food, as well as novel flavors (hence the high price of imported spices). Back then, food processing was very labor intensive, and thus expensive. According to The End of Overeating, it’s only in the past few decades that increased mechanization of food processing has allowed restaurants and food retailers to overcome ‘chopping disease’ (i.e. the labor costs of hand-processed food) and make highly-processed food more widely available. Continue reading