- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2010

To your health

“Let’s think, for a moment, about the cultural history of drinking. The first reason people consume booze is to relax, taking advantage of its anxiolytic properties. This is the proverbial drink after work - after eight hours of toil, there’s something deeply soothing about a dose of alcohol. … Since chronic stress is really, really bad for us, finding a substance that can reliably interrupt the stress loop might have medical benefits.

“But drinking isn’t just about de-stressing. In fact, the cultural traditions surrounding alcohol tend to emphasize a second, and perhaps even more important, function: socializing. For as long as people have been fermenting things, they’ve been transforming the yeasty run-off into excuses for big parties. From Babylonian harvest festivals to the bacchanalias of Ancient Greece, alcohol has always been entangled with our get-togethers. This is for obvious reasons: Alcohol is a delightful social lubricant, a liquid drug that is particularly good at erasing our interpersonal anxieties. And this might help explain why, according to the new study, moderate drinkers have more friends and higher quality “friend support” than abstainers. They’re also more likely to be married….

“Given the extensive history of group drinking - it’s what we do when we come together - it seems likely that drinking in moderation makes it easier for us develop and nurture relationships. And it’s these relationships that help keep us alive.

-Jonah Lehrer, writing on “Why Alcohol is Good for You” at www/wired.com

A mensch’s mensch

“Let us now praise Woody Allen.

“I know how unfashionable that seems. Once upon a time, a Woody Allen film was an occasion, an event, even - something to be longed for and anticipated and, once it arrived, to be seen more than once and savored.

“These days, however, Allen has fallen into something approximating critical disfavor. My impression is that this is particularly true among younger critics, whose own youthful senses of humor weren’t shaped by the anarchic comedy that Allen offered in his days as a stand-up comic in the 1960s, and then with early films such as ‘Take the Money and Run,’ ‘Bananas,’ ‘Sleeper’ and ‘Love and Death.’ …

“Yet, to me, his films just get better and richer: funny, certainly, but with an increasing sense of melancholy and emotional depth. While he continues to explore the subjects that have always fascinated him - the ephemeral nature of love, the meaning and absurdity and randomness of life - he also finds new and innovative ways to tell his stories and different styles in which to work.

“While Allen himself often tells interviewers that only a tiny fraction of his own films satisfy him, I can’t think of anyone as prolific and profound at the same time, someone whose filmography contains as many memorable and significant films.”

-Marshall Fine, blogging on “Woody? I would” at http://hollywoodandfine.com/fineblog

Faithless

“In search of an escape from pollen on Cape Cod last weekend, I went to see ‘Eat Pray Love,’ mainly for the air conditioning. I certainly agree with the critiques of the movie as a prime example of a Ladies With First World Problems flick. But while the movie deals in reasonably substantive, if not exceptionally compelling ways, with the ‘Eating’ and the ‘Loving’ bits of [author] Liz Gilbert’s journey, the movie seemed exceptionally shallow on the ‘Praying’ part.-

“We see Liz say she’s angsted about food and her body for years, but we never see her doing it, or feeling the consequences of it, so it’s hard to feel victorious when you see her eat a Neapolitan pizza. Because we’ve never seen her living with a lack of faith, and she never has a major religious revelation in the movie, it’s hard to see a major change.

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