- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thin: It’s still in

“In contemporary America, becoming thin is a choice that for most people requires rigorous and sometimes painful self-discipline. But so does becoming a lawyer, or a concert pianist. The celebrity press is wrongly decried for giving women false ideals. In fact, it has demystified the relationship between effort and beauty, between discipline and weight. It opens up a path for non-celebrities.

“One celebrity glossy recently estimated that, in a single year, the actress Jennifer Aniston spends close to the average woman’s annual salary on trainers and other aspects of a high-level work-out. Former tween-queen Britney Spears told Oprah Winfrey that she used to do between 500 and 1,000 crunches a day to perfect her on-display abs. Actress Kate Hudson told one interviewer that, to lose post-pregnancy ‘baby weight,’ she worked out three hours a day until she lost her 70 pounds: It was so hard that she used to sit on the exercise cycle and cry. Entertainment figures and models are like athletes; it takes a lot of discipline and social support to look like them. Money helps, too.”

— Garance Franke-Ruta, writing on “The Natural Beauty Myth,” Dec. 15 in the Wall Street Journal

Wasted gifts?

“Christmas shopping in the U.S. has been a reliable source of anxiety and stress for well over a century. — But recently millions of Americans, instead of trudging through malls in a desperate quest for the perfect sweater, have switched to buying gift cards. The National Retail Federation expects that Americans will buy close to $25 billion worth of gift cards this season, up 34 percent from last year …

“An economist might suggest that the solution is to abandon the pretense and simply start exchanging small piles of money. The boom in gift cards is a kind of socially tolerable version of this: the cards are somehow more personal than cash, and they’re also not going to be wasted on an unwanted gift. … Calculating the deadweight loss of Christmas gifts is a coldhearted project, but it leads to a paradoxically warmhearted conclusion: the fact of giving may be more important than what you give. Start with ‘Bah, humbug’ and you somehow end up with ‘God bless us, every one.’ ”

— James Surowiecki, writing on “The Gift Right Out,” in the Dec. 25 issue of the New Yorker

Belated respect

“The writer and playwright S. N. Behrman observed that George Gershwin ‘oxygenated’ any room he entered. Other friends agreed. Commandeering the piano with a cigar clenched between his teeth, Gershwin dominated any gathering, yet instead of sucking the air out of a party he enlivened it. In the same spirit he oxygenated American music, inspiring a new and expanded sense of its possibilities, from pop songs to orchestral works to opera. Nearly 70 years after his death at the age of only 38, he remains America’s most protean and popular composer.

“ ’My time is to-day,’ Gershwin declared in 1927, but his time has not yet passed. Indeed, although Gershwin conceived ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ to the rhythm of the rails on a train bound for Boston in 1923, not until 1997 did the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform it for subscribers. Only in 2005 did conductor James Levine program Gershwin’s Concerto in F and ‘An American in Paris.’ ”

— Ken Emerson, writing on “Fascinating schism,” Dec. 17 in the Boston Globe

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