A blog about nothing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

PROFANITY IS THE SHIT, SOMETIMES




Profanity. We all have heard it. And at one time or another, most of us have used it. Some of us more than others. Curse words get used as nouns, verbs, adjectives, interjections. They are inserted in the middle of words, like unfuckingbelievable, and can convey various emotions, from anger to excitement to awe. It seems the occasional fuck, shit, cock or bitch can serve a useful purpose in certain situations.

As Stephanie Hayes reporting for the Atlantic Magazine writes, taboo words convey emotional information more effectively than their tamer equivalents. We can use them to vent anger without getting physical. Swearing can help us endure pain for longer periods than we can when uttering things like yikes or Christ! Although "the Lord's name" doubles as a more modest form of cussing itself. If you can insert the strategic swear word into witty banter, it can create bonding and boost morale, but if you swear too much, it loses its effects, and swearing in formal settings smacks of incompetence. While using the mild expletive in speeches and arguments can sway the sympathetic listener.

Which is probably why I told my mother the other day to "get the fuck out of my face." We were arguing. A friend of hers broke the news of her pregnancy and forthcoming marriage and my mother got all excited and wanted to share the news with me. I was offended. The friend in question has no business getting married. Her on-again, off-again relationship with her now fiancé has been volatile, untrustworthy, and littered with infidelities. And being a product of a broken home with a very conflicted relationship with her own mother really gives her no business to bring forth new life. You have to submit a resume to get work as a janitor, and yet any fuck-up can have a kid. Crazy! Crazier still, this woman I'm supposed to call my mother is encouraging the craziness. She should be ashamed of herself. It's like driving a person off a cliff and parachuting out the moment the car bursts into flames. She should be the more mature party. Her own marriage ended in bitter divorce. Hopeless.

Worse still, the woman did the same thing to me when I was 21, getting all enthusiastic about a girl I was seeing, doing our astrology, arranging our engagement, predicting our wedding. I got cold feet and we broke up. Luckily, because the girl went on to have a child out of wedlock and then become estranged from the father, marry another guy only to divorce, a year later, and is currently on her second husband, or maybe her third I'm not sure. Had I followed my mother's advice to wed this girl, or allowed myself to get swept up in the excitement she generated to let my heart lead me in a direction my head said not to go, I'd be divorced myself, with or without an estranged child. And bitterly resentful.

Some of this resentment I conveyed to my mother, who called me distorted and then said maybe I should move out. The bitch. When I was a kid, if a girlfriend said something  I didn't like, I'd often say, Maybe we should just break up. Now I know where I get it from. As a young child I probably watched my parents argue (when they thought I wasn't listening, because I was too young to speak) and probably watched my mother threaten break up when things weren't going her way. Because she does this sort of thing a lot. It is a form of despotism to threaten separation the moment you hear something you don't like. It shuts down lines of communication, which is the death of any harmonious relationship.

My mother doesn't fight fair, which in a woman over 70 is pure ignorance. And so I uttered the expletive in question. I told her she was invading my space and to back the fuck away and shut the fuck up. I called her insane. You have screws loose, I said. (A little below the belt: I could have said your views are insane, not you, but anyway.) And I went on: Your priorities are all mixed up! Just because a person wants something doesn't mean you should encourage their getting it. If I wanted to slit my wrists would you discuss the pros and cons of such action or would you hand me the razor? I don't relate to you at all. How I sprung from your godforsaken loins is beyond me, you stranger. (Okay, I didn't say godforsaken, but it does have a ring to it.) And yet, I'm the product of your upbringing, so deal with the monster you created, if that's what you think I am. You have so many mirrors in this house, you wannabe Marilyn Monroe, here's a living breathing one. Stare at me and see what you truly are! I ended with something to the effect of "If I move out trust that I will never speak to you again."

Sometimes you have to communicate at another person's level, even if it means taking it down a notch, and one good threat sometimes deserves another. That's not profanity, but it's in the same ballpark. Maybe I should move the fuck out. And yet, if I do leave my mother home alone with metastatic cancer and half a colon, I'm the fucking bad guy. Talk about caught between a cock and a hard place. Okay now that's just being gratuitous. #ineedhelp

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

HOBBLE ON!


Modern living poses threats to our mental health never before seen in history. The simple act of driving to work is potentially life-threating, should you turn the wheel ever so slightly to your left or right while on the freeway, or should that big rig driver fall asleep at the wheel, etc. And those who are able to manage the effects of stress and moderate their mood enjoy many benefits not seen in their stressed-out peers.

A good mood makes you more likely to experience a positive surgery outcome, while intense anger increases your likelihood of having a heart attack by nearly 1000 percent. Serenity of mind reduces body-wide inflammation, and a positive outlook is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's. Being mindful, or able to stay focused on the present moment without judgement, also makes you less likely to be obese.

The one thing a good mood won't do is prolong your life, since happy-go-lucky individuals do not outlive their grumpy peers, according to a recent study published in the Lancet. But who cares about living longer? The real value is in quality, not quantity. If you extract the most wonder from your years and die at 78 (the average lifespan), your time on Earth is certainly better spent than the miserable old scrooge who lives to be a hundred and two.

This is all fine and well, but the trick is to manage the stress in an environment that sends harmful stimuli shooting your way from every direction. Screaming kids. Conniving coworkers. Traffic. Deadlines. Bills. Solicitors. The news. And so many other things vying for your attention and sapping your energy. One almost longs for the days of the hunter-gatherer, spent lounging in the woods foraging for fruit, roots and tubers, and running from the occasional predator, but only on occasion.

The fight or flight system has a season and a reason, and helps us respond to threats. It is one or the other. You see it in animals all the time. The other day I disciplined the family pooch for peeing on the corner of my bed and he ran beneath the couch (flight). I attempted to grab him and he snarled and snapped at me (fight). I persisted in my efforts to apprehend him and he darted into the other room (flight again). And we humans exhibit similar behaviors. We pick our battles. Luckily for us we can speak, so fighting takes the form of profanity-fueled rants. To these I am no stranger.

The problem is when the enemy is the mind, nagging at us, racking us with guilt, paralyzing us with apprehensions. How do you "fight or flight" yourself? Yes, mindfulness helps. Watching your thoughts. Not reacting or judging. Just relaxing into beingness. And all that self-help mumbo jumbo. But it works. It has, long before the Tony Robbins of the world were "awakening the giant within."

There are types of stresses. The good stress (eustress) takes the form of obstacles or challenges that excite your energies and focus your acumen and via whose accomplishment you are strengthened and emboldened. The marathon. The marriage you want to work. The struggle to be a responsible parent. Bad stress is stuff you can't do anything about, that hits you and makes you feel powerless and without defense. All the bad stress is generated in your mind in response to environmental stressors. Because there is always something you can do, whether it is accept something, try to change it, or walk away. Powerlessness is simply an illusion. And though it is imaginary, its effects can be deadly - to nobody else but you. So don't break your heart. Fight or flee, as the occasion requires, but once the show is over, and you reflect on what is done, remember just that: what's done is done.

We are products of our upbringings. Interestingly the emotional body is formed at such an early age that you may not even have memories of its formation. I'm talking the first few years of life. I have a good memory especially regarding my personal history, and I can only recall a handful of the events that occurred during the first half dozen years of my life here on earth. To think that I was shaped and colored - by my parents, teachers, experiences, by what I passively observed in others - and that still in development and not yet self-aware my formation was all out of my power, out of my reach, and beyond my mental grasp. What violence!

Many of the ways we act and react have been determined by our wiring, and since we can't remember what in our distant past seeded the tree that has become the oak staring back at you in the mirror, life becomes a case of feeling one's way in the dark. You can still watch yourself. You may not know why you do what you do, but the show is still interesting. It is like the person who suffers paralysis of the legs and doesn't know why. If he goes to the doctor and learns he has polio, that a virus was the cause of his incapacitation, this certainly explains his condition; maybe it even gives him some peace of mind or closure; but it won't make him able to walk again.

Even knowing why we act as we do may not give us the power to change things. So I say, hobble on!

Monday, December 28, 2015

ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

Recently the TV personality Bill Maher had as a guest on his show the author of a book on the urban drug problem. Which is big. (In case you're interested the book is Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, by Johann Hari). The average big city has a lot of meth addicts and heroin users aimlessly groveling around in its underbelly. But Hari argues that the biggest cause of drug addiction is not so much the chemical properties of the drugs but the environment these poor unfortunates are born into, one which offers little chance of social advancement, which keeps them impoverished and oppressed and consequently encourages, if implicitly, the use of drugs which furnish a means of (temporary) escape from the plight of being human! And then punishes them with protracted prison sentences that further cripple the ability to find a better life.

Case in point, the author said: We have all been told how dangerous heroin can be, how addictive it is. From the opium dens of the East to the widespread laudanum use in Europe's not too distant past and to more modern manifestations such as have been depicted in the movie Trainspotting and contributed to the deaths of many musicians, heroin is to be avoided unless you want to wind up a junky. Right? Not so, said the author. Each day throughout the world and especially in America, thousands of people are shot full of this powerful drug; and after their trip, whether it be for days or weeks, they walk away without the slightest craving to experience the drug again. I'm talking about hospitals, which administer concentrated and purified forms of the otherwise illicit substance (as morphine and Dilaudid, for instance) to patients suffering from a variety of mental conditions, from cancer to broken bones to headaches. These patients are then discharged with or without a prescription for a pill form of the drug and many, in fact the vast majority, never use the drug again.

I speak from personal experience when I say this is true. I was hospitalized for a broken hip and for 5 days remained in a opium haze, getting heroin nearly every hour on the hour, not eating, in dreamland, experiencing a sort of bliss. Never did I realize I was not much different from Ewan McGregor's character, only less dramatic. And my fix was legal. But I left the hospital and hardly touched the Vicodin they gave me, because the constipation it caused was worse than the pain it partly took away.

I have also done a variety of other addictive substances, some illicit, some not, and when the honeymoon was over, when the cons outweighed the pros, dropped them like a bad habit because that's what they ultimately are. I smoked cigarettes on and off for 10 years, smoked marijuana on and off for the same decade; drank alcohol daily, 4 to 6 drinks, for like 15 years; partook of cocaine for 10 years, on and off of course, with the occasional line or two of crystal meth throw in for kicks. And like heroin, none of these drugs did I find to be addictive. Yes, these substances were a lot of fun (they don't call it a high for nothin'), and some do create a physical dependence, the body growing so accustomed to their regular ingestion as to seem to require continued use. But this is temporary and like most habits and skills, it wears off with neglect, usually within days. And this chemical addiction also happens with coffee, whose withdrawal headaches can be excruciating, though coffee is hardly maligned by anyone for its addictive properties.  In fact some doctors even encourage coffee consumption for its anti-oxidant benefits.

Of course opiate use is a big problem, the pills probably more so than the injectable versions available at "crack houses," whatever those are. Vicodin and Percocet are widely prescribed and easily obtainable without a prescription and without a condition that warrants their use; and really, few conditions justify the regular use of opiates, which are most commonly prescribed for pain; curiously, many heroin-like substances produce what is known as paradoxical hyperalgesia: rather than alleviate pain, they often make it worse. And so more pills get popped, and the pain continues.

But there is a numbness that succeeds the use of all opiates, a numbness of the mind, and of the feelings. They dull the sensibilities and seemingly make one impervious to mental anguish. They cease to make you feel. You become hazy-eyed, speak in a monotone, walk with a shuffling gate, and carry a paunch, like the villains of popular cinema. Zombie nation is not just the stuff of movies (my favorite one being Shaun of the Dead). If we are not careful we will soon enter the zombie apocalypse. But to feel is to live, and to be cut off from the mind, even if it gives you so much trouble as idle thoughts and petty anxieties can, is not to be alive.

So all you disenchanted housewives, bloated socialites, and boozy celebrities, take heed: if you call yourself addicted to a substance, whether prescribed, illicit, or socially accepted, you have nobody to blame but you. Recognizing this is the first and biggest step in your cure. Trust me.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

VANITY FAIR

Vanity Fair (1848) is a classic novel by English author William Makepeace Thackeray, which satirizes British society in the 1800s. The title is borrowed from Bunyon's The Pilgrim's Progress. "Vanity Fair" refers to a stop along the pilgrim's route. It is a never-ending fair erected by the devil in the town of Vanity, which represents man's sinful attachment to worldly things and whose purpose is to detain the individual from the goal of Self-realization. As Bunyon writes, "It beareth the name Vanity Fair because the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity; and, also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity. As is the saying of the wise, 'all that cometh is vanity.'"

Now, vanity has two meanings. The more common definition is "excessive pride in or admiration of one's own appearance or achievements." In this sense vanity is a synonym for conceit or narcissism, excessive self-love. A lesser-used meaning is "the quality of being worthless or futile." As far as worldly actions are concerned, both seem to apply. This second sense of the word vanity is the one conveyed by the Biblical passage "All that cometh is vanity."

For we find after living long enough that almost all actions are futile in that they do not serve much of a purpose. Subject your own daily actions to the test. Why do I do what I do? The basic needs - food, shelter, clothing, and thirst - are easily met. Animals roam the hills and are content. To survive humans need little more. Social intercourse is optional. We evolved to cooperate because it gave us an advantage over other members of the genus homo, and for the good of our children, who otherwise would be left unattended when the mother was called away to hunt. Can you imagine such a time? Nowadays yes, if you have children some cooperation is necessary, but how easily we stray into the land of superfluity, with our unnecessary hobbies and engagements, parties and events.

I was fortunate. Like most children I'd get taken to get-togethers and go outside to play. Adults do nothing but drink and talk. I have yet to find a place in society. So instead of babble, I write this. Along the spiritual path, along which we are all pilgrims, however wayward some of us may be, so much worldiness is time spent in Vanity Fair. No wonder Thackeray's book has been so widely read and filmed. Lest we forget the magazine by the same name. Because today's humans can relate. If you stop and think about it, anything above and beyond the satisfaction of basic needs is a direct result of vanity, this in the first sense, as in conceit. We want to make lots of money to flatter the ego, or get that promotion, or give to this charity or buy this possession; even raising kids is to perpetuate one's name. Doing something to pamper our vanity is itself vain. As in futile.

In his "Reflections," Francois duc de La Rochefoucauld makes several pithy phrases about vanity, or arrogance. He writes: "When not prompted by vanity we say little." How true!  And: "Virtue would not go far did not vanity escort her." True indeed! How many books have been written to gain name and fame. No wonder I am still unpublished. Or maybe I'm just not a very good writer. Rochefoucauld goes on: "What we call liberality is often but the vanity of giving, which we like more than that we give away." I have met a lot of generous people to whom these words most definitely apply. And finally: "The pomp of funerals concerns rather the vanity of the living, than the honour of the dead." Of course, because the dead aren't around to see our tears; we shed them for ourselves. Vanity can get us in dutch in other ways as well. It makes us susceptible to flattery, and to false friends. So spend more time contemplating vanity. Aside from catering to the body's basic needs, such contemplation is one of the few things you can do which itself is not vain, in either sense of the term.

IT'S GETTING HOT IN HERE

New Study: Heat is Being Stored Beneath the Ocean Surface

I have a scientist friend who has done some research in global warming. She and her colleagues have published the results of their work in the prestigious journal Science. It seems the recent decade-long hiatus in global surface temperatures is not the result of human efforts to decrease carbon emissions, because during that time we really haven't cut down. Rather it is due to shifting patterns in the oceans, which absorb some of the atmospheric heat before moving around and releasing it somewhere else. This phenomenon has been going on for as long as the Earth has been a planet with water. Hardly a sign that the trend in hot weather is abating, the hiatus is actually a predictor of scary things to come, so we can expect global temperatures to get hotter faster in the forthcoming years - despite our efforts to cut carbon emissions. And we are trying. I'm trying. But riding my bike instead of driving and eating plants over the more carbon-costly animal foods is small savings, and I'm one among 7.3 billion and counting. A global effort is needed. Enter the Paris Agreement.

On December 12 the Paris Agreement was signed by nearly 200 countries in an effort to curtail global warming through a global reduction in carbon emissions. But even if the agreement's minimum goals are met and the Earth remains under a ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius above baseline (baseline being the average global temperature before the start of the industrial age around the year 1800), this will not prevent some islands from sinking and as many as a third of the species from going extinct. 

I know the business of climate scientists is to analyze the problem and not necessarily to provide solutions or forecast the future, but given what seems to be an inevitable increase in temperature as a function of billions of humans living on Earth and using fuel, regardless of however much we may be able to slow the increase in the Earth’s temperature, isn’t the ultimate extinction of most of life inevitable? If nation's meet the initial Paris pledges to reduce emissions, by the year 2100 the Earth will be 3.5 degrees hotter than it was in the year 1800, with the result that coastal cities are sunk and half the species of plants and animals die out. Or will it be the case that despite our efforts, global warming will continue at a more or less rapid pace and serve to diminish the Earth’s population to a level whose modest carbon emissions do not warm the planet any longer? 

Remember, the baseline temperature the Paris Agreement used is what the Earth's weather was like when industry took off. And in 1800 there were only 1 billion people on Earth, and no factory farms, planes, trains or automobiles. So get ready to hoof it, and to do without the hoofed animals. But that will be the year 2100 or beyond. One shudders at the thought of bequeathing such a warm world to our grandkids. One more reason not to procreate. Of course, many believe that there are alternate energy sources able to sustain such a large number of people (10 billion by 2050 is the projection); but many of these many are the businessmen who stand to gain from such technologies. Like carbon capture, one of the latest candidates to save the world, which is proving to be pretty much hot air. We better get used to that. Hot air, I mean. Yet another reason to "take off all your clothes." Whoa, Nelly!


Saturday, December 26, 2015

THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS

The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegorical tale written by John Bunyon in 1678 describing the spiritual journey of a pilgrim named Christian. Christian reads a book (the Bible) and his soul becomes burdened (by a knowledge of sin). He seeks to leave the City of Destruction (worldly life) for the fabled Mount Zion (life of the spirit). His family thinks he's crazy so he has no choice but to leave wife and children behind and boldly go it alone, with only his book to give him strength, for "All which you shall forsake is not worth to be compared with a little of that which I am seeking to enjoy." A

Along the way he meets with several travelling companions. Though the journey is arduous, wearisome, painful and perilous, he strives onwards, because the burden upon his back is more terrible than any lion, dragon or darkness he could encounter along the way, even death! He walks the "straight and narrow" path, led by the rule of the Master while others he meets are led by the rude working of fancy. Encountering many dangers he gives himself strength with the reminder that "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me," another Bible passage. Question: Who is this Thou?

In the end Christian arrives at the Celestial City, but in the world of real life, one finds that addressing God in the second person, referring to the Almighty as some other than oneself, can only impede progress along the path to enlightenment. Assigning authority to some Higher Power can only take you so far. Who are you really talking to? If God is all, any distinction between individual and Supreme Entity is mere illusion. It is almost like addressing your reflection in the water, mistaking your mirror image as you. You are the one you pray to.

It is simply a matter of identity. You are free to identify yourself with the struggling sojourner stomping through life, or instead root your attention on the One whose "candle shineth upon my head, by whose light I walk through darkness." That light is the light of pure awareness. Thus you can dispense with the quotes so famously uttered in Bunyon's classic and instead assert: "Thou are with me for I am Thou."

But still it's a nifty read.

THE NEW FOOD RULES


The family pooch has grown tired of eating the same old boring dried dog food every freakin' day of his little life. This is probably because my mother has taken to mixing in with his kibble a little of her flavored rice, since after all many  dog food brands include this grain, so it's fine right? Such is her logic. And Max is fine by it. He usually just picks out the rice (and the parmesan cheese, which is also thrown in, but only as a garnish, and only sometimes) and leaves the dried stuff scattered on the floor. "I spit on you!" he seems to say. He may or may not get to it later on.

And I wondered: I bet I could turn this dog into a vegetarian. What if I gave him only rice and other human food (grains mostly), and left the kibble to rot in the pantry? He'd probably develop diabetes, since the canine system is not really equipped to deal with so much sugar, and carbohydrates, whether from sweets, grains or potatoes, are just that: sugar. Dogs have been known to devour huge quantities of foods they love. If I left out a lump of butter I have no doubt that Max would consume the whole darn thing right then and there. Where rich foods are concerned, dogs do not know when to say when. The same goes for us humans.

Luckily for canines nature does not supply a ready source of concentrated calories. Coyotes must track down, pounce on and tear their prey to shreds, navigate through hair and sinews and gristle before getting to those succulent organs, that blood and muscle tissue, which they often leave for scavengers. Imagine if these animals when hungry could simply dive into nature's pantry and come away with huge rib-eye steaks, buttered lobster, creamy mashed potatoes, peanut butter pretzels, not to mention a buffet of sinful desserts. And they would, if you left your trash cans open. The result would be an animal kingdom-wide epidemic of obesity. But we are the only ones with a pantry, and thus only humans battle the bulge. We and our domesticated pets are the only animals who eat for the sake of pleasure rather than survival. The result of catering to our palates with a diet heavy on fats and sweets has been a change in brain chemistry scientists are only beginning to understand.

The term they've coined is hedonic hunger, that powerful urge to consume food even after the caloric needs have been met. In other words, our stomach says stop, and our brain wants more. Hedonic hunger is a major contributor to skyrocketing obesity rates  seen in developed nations, which as I like to call them are the land of the cheap and plentiful. You get a similar rush from eating sugar- and fat-laden foods as you do from gambling, doing drugs or having illicit sex. Ah, those were the days. And food companies know how to play with your brain's reward circuitry, employing teams of chemists to get those tantalizing flavors just right.

All the overeating we do involves the consumption of rich foods. That's a no-brainer. You don't have to tell a person to go easy on the steamed broccoli. And emotional eaters, those who are really affected by the rush of eating sweet, savory foods, far outweigh those persons who suffer from the "slow metabolism" syndrome, which is more myth than science since any flaw in the body's ability to burn up calories has a negligible affect on the daily calories expended. So don't blame your metabolism. Blame Krispy Crème; better still, blame yourself for stocking the cupboard full of those sweet nothings.

But rather than kick yourself in the butt for lacking willpower, use behavioral interventions. Do not buy foods that should be off-limits. If you want to treat yourself, do it out of the house. If your personality is such that palatable foods invoke an overwhelming urge to devour them, willpower be damned, then try this: rather than resist such foods, don't keep them around. "Reengineer your food environment," says one scientist, who goes so far as to suggest that you avoid venues that offer fatty, supersweet foods altogether - and stay away from the buffet. For most of our history, the task was to get enough food to avoid starving to death. For many of us moderns the challenge has become just the opposite: how to avoid eating more than you need. And simple behavioral changes can make a huge difference in the quest to remain at that perfect weight. And for extra credit, here are some additional tips (courtesy of this week's Time Magazine).

1. Don't worry so much about protein. Getting the recommended 46-56 grams per day is easy on a balanced diet, even without supplements. More than that is not only unnecessary, it is downright harmful, since eating 20% or more of calories from protein (100g on a 2000-calorie diet) increases your risk of cancer by 400%. One hundred grams is easy to get if like all of West Hollywood (and me back in residency) you supplement your diet with 2 scoops of protein powder (25 g of protein per scoop), load up on egg whites and indulge in protein bars for snacks and dessert. Those were the days. Stay away! Next:

2. Choose unpackaged, unprocessed food over stuff you find in a box. That means whole foods, particularly plant-based (since you're unlikely to visit your local market and come away with a hen). Eat vegetables, fruits, beans and seeds; be moderate with grains and nuts; and avoid animal products. Emphasizing whole foods means staying away from superfood juices and powders and consuming their leafy green ingredients instead. Specifically, tomato combines well with broccoli, bringing out the latter's anti-cancer effects; and to reap the benefits of all that iron in spinach, eat it with citrus, whose vitamin C aids absorption of this precious mineral.

3. Eat more fiber. Our ancestors consumed 100 to 150 grams per day. Most Americans eat about a tenth this amount (16 grams). Fiber keeps you regular and feeds gut bacteria, making for a healthy GI tract and keeping cholesterol levels within normal range (one would hope).

4. Don't use artificial sweeteners, which may trick the mind into thinking the body is consuming sugar, with a resultant rise in blood glucose and all the attendant health problems, including diabetes and abdominal fat. The jury is still out on Stevia last I heard, so be moderate. Finally,

5. Don't count calories. Your body responds differently to a given calorie load, depending on whether it is, say, from berries or from bonbons. So emphasize those whole plant foods and eat until your stomach says to stop. With this simple goodness you can be sure your palate will second the motion.

By the way this is all information that can be found in The Paradigm Diet, so if you haven't already, buy my book!

Friday, December 25, 2015

MOMMY, WHERE DO THOUGHTS COME FROM?


Kids ask such strange questions which, though seemingly so simple, defy pat answers. We've all heard of the "where do zebras get there stripes" query, maybe asked it ourselves. Such promiscuous questioning of the universe and our place in it is pretty much weeded out by our late teens, early twenties at the latest. By then compulsory education has drummed out a lot of our innate creativity, replacing it with a knack for following the rules, and if you don't, you're branded with ADHD you bad boys and girls. Ah, to be a kid today! What fun, right? Our pastimes go from running around and screaming in the playground like so many lunatics to coordinating expensive weddings to prepare us for divorce and padding resumes for that job in tech that gives an extra week of vacation, which we spend getting drunk and fat on pina coladas and buttered lobster. I speak from experience, at least about the time after college graduation that a friend and I went to Mexico and came back bloated. Arriba!

For many the twenties is a time of physical exploration rather than for flights of fancy, and by the thirties we shack up, saddle ourselves with a mortgage and pop out the first of our 2.4 kids. It makes one yearn for simpler times. Like in ancient Greece, whose bare bones society was set up to allow for a lot of leisure time, which the populace, or at least the more philosophically-minded portion of the populace, would use to question the nature of the world and their place in it, like so many grown up kids, wearing togas for diapers. And this society gave birth to the Olympic games, so clearly they knew something about how best to spend time. We know these ancient people by the few individuals whose teachings have been bequeathed to posterity and have shaped modern civilization - at least the part of civilization that still nurtures free time, solitude and independent thought. The only place that fits that description is the back of a university library, a beach in winter, a trail that nobody knows about, and my bedroom.

If we choose not to follow the herd and "settle down," we find ourselves with ample time even after the day's obligations are fulfilled to pose such questions that bedazzled us as kids, and with adult brains so much better equipped to arrive at convincing answers, provided we can decondition. After all, the brain's frontal lobe, seat of higher order thinking and executive functioning, doesn't fully develop until aged 25.

So, what higher order question should we ask ourselves today - other than who will win the Super Bowl - which actually would require one to think at least a couple games ahead? For the non-football fans like moi, how about: Is the will truly free? This has been a subject of prior discussions here, and it is also a question that troubled the mind of Karl Marx, who founded communism with his manifesto on the subject. Karl Marx was a thinker if there ever was one, and yet he questioned the nature of thought. Which means he thought about thought, a lot. He wondered, and we should wonder with him, where does an individual's thought come from?

Marx imagined that thought was absolutely determined by exterior reality. That is, though a thought - whether hunch, hankering, anxiety or inspiration - seems to arise from within, coming to one's mind as a bubble travels the depths of the sea to reach its surface, Marx believed something quite different: "For me," he said, "the process of thought is only the reflection of the process of reality transported and transposed to the mind of man." Via the subconscious, Freud would say, and Jung with him. For the subconscious, the witnessing consciousness, never misses a thing. In other words your unconscious or subconscious mind is like your own personal Santa Claus, operating year round; it knows "when you are sleeping, knows when you're awake, knows when you've been bad or good." So be good for goodness sake, we tell our kids, and we should take our own advice.

Even if you take the world to be free, or at least that you are free to make decisions and take actions, really you are only free to act on what comes to your mind. As a guest at a wedding is free to eat what is on his plate (after choosing fish or fowl, but one never is offered a choice of which vegetables one would prefer; me I eat them all). As to what comes to your mind, that would seem as out of the individual's control as whether or not it rains tomorrow. And with this weather, even if it's sunny at the moment, one never knows.

Haven't you ever had fits of inspiration while doing the most mundane of tasks? Mine come to me in the shower. Or awakened in the middle of the night in a panic over something you neglected to address the prior day? Or suddenly you are struck by an overwhelming urge to eat a certain food; or a friend you haven't heard from crosses your mind and prompts a call. We are as in control of our thoughts as we are of what we dream, which is to say, little or not at all. Yes, our thoughts (and dreams) draw their material from waking reality. You think of people you know or have seen, desire foods you've enjoyed in the past, remember places you have visited, etc. But as to why you think these thoughts exactly how and when you do is a question we as a race have yet to answer, and maybe we never will.

Isn't that crazy? We are a generation away from colonizing outer space and the workings of one's own mind remain largely a mystery. Efforts have been made to catalogue the dreams of a population. They began in the 1950s and centered on a certain tribe of Native Americans. Such painstaking efforts would be required to understand where thoughts come from and why they visit us when they do. But this is a journey Jung and Freud took, with varying and less than spectacular degrees of success.

Until we understand the nature of the mind, we can however rest assured that we are free to act on a particular thought, or to simply fix ourselves in the witnessing consciousness and watch it flit by like a cloud in the bright sky. Which is a pastime worth enjoying and one I highly recommend. Of course, we can go a step further and wonder whether we are even truly free to choose whether to act on a particular thought or simply ignore it instead. Does your personality determine in advance if you'll give in to a craving for a calorie bomb or if you'll choose instead to channel that craving into a 5-mile run? Some do, only to enjoy two. And what gave rise to your personality? A mixture of nature and nurture, environment and genetics, as scientists have long believed, then discredited, only to resurrect? Alas, another question, like the zebra's stripes, without a pat answer. How about we take this discussion outside where we can lie in the grass and watch the clouds go by? I bet I fall asleep before you do.

THE REBEL


"Is it possible to find a rule of conduct outside the realm of religion and its absolute values?"

This is the question the philosopher Albert Camus poses in his essay The Rebel. The metaphysical rebel, says Camus, protests against the condition in which he finds himself as a human being. Like the atheist who denies a personal God to pray to and be punished by, the rebel overturns conventional religion with its ordinances and Enforcer, instead assigning to himself the responsibility to create the unity he seeks in vain within the human condition, and only by finding such unity can he justify the fall of God.  

And why overthrow God, why deny the human creation we have fashioned into our own likeness, as a Father or Son or Savior or Buddha? Like the atheists, among whom was the fashionable French author the Marquis de Sade, God cannot exist in a world such as ours because, given the injustice and inhumanity that characterizes the times, the existence of a Supreme Ruler would seem to imply that He was indifferent, wicked, or cruel.

But if God is not some other but rather the force, spirit or energy that pervades all, if such a Being is imminent in the heart as well as transcendent as an all-encompassing Reality, then he can be said to voluntarily subject Himself to the human condition and the ignorance that prevents his remembering this voluntary subjection. We can no longer condemn God for the sufferings of humanity once we recognize that it is the omnipresent being Himself as humans that undergoes this suffering. Is the Ruler who imposes laws and then subjects himself to their obedience to be pitied? Of course not; it is merely the way things are.

The aim of all intellectual endeavor is to become God. That is, to develop reasoning capabilities which clearly mirror the Divine. Thus mathematicians often see more than frigid logic in symbols and numbers; they see the Sublime itself working through formulas, which represent fundamental truths and capture complexities with exquisite grace and precision. To explore the inherent beauty of math, which gives insight into the mind of the Creator, 10 experts were assembled to write out the "most beautiful mathematical expressions" they could think of. Some picked classic equations, others selected those they themselves had discovered in a lifelong pursuit of truth and beauty. The resulting formulas are sleek and sharp.

When asked to comment on what drew them to select their favorites, the scientists gave very cogent replies. One man explained that his equation "doesn't particularly tell you anything true about the universe; rather, like a piece of music, it just stands for itself." Another commented on an equation describing a universe of many different dimensions. Of the variable 13 which appears therein, he says the fact that such a large number should come up was startling, since it is usually only small numbers like 1 or 2 that appear. How then to explain the aberration? It defied explanation. Given the equation it had to be this way and no other way. Like the universe, and everything that happens in it. Christ was the thirteenth apostle. Many buildings skip that floor. The number itself is lucky for some, unlucky for others. It is the day on which I was born.

Another scientists described Newton's method, which approximates the solution to an equation. Every time the process repeats, the variable gets closer and closer to an estimation of the solution, without ever reaching it. Like the mind, which turned inward tries to know the Knower, but can only do so via the thoughts that are its instrument, but going beyond thought alone suffices, which is impossible as long as you exist in the realm of thought. Thus, completely understanding the universe while in it is impossible. As Dostoyevsky once had a character say, "My mind is of this world, what good is it to try to understand what is not of this world?" You can only get closer and closer to an estimation of truth. The mathematics itself is merely an approximate expression, of something that exists beyond and within.



Mathematics says nothing about God. It only describes a process, an order, a truth, however logical and beautiful and unified it may be. All the things we'd like our God to be. But our God, the God the rebel seeks to go beyond, is a human invention, a product of the mind. Camus explains: "As God and immortality do not exist, the new man is permitted to become God." Or as Nietzsche put it: "If there is a God, how can one tolerate not being God oneself?" To be expected from the very man who first uttered the words, "God is dead."

In a world rid of God, where the individual is alone and without a master, freedom of the mind is possible. Seeing God within is the first step. Self-reliance is not a comfort; rather, it is an achievement worth aspiring to, and after a long and arduous struggle, is obtainable. But many find it hard to bear the "cold and implacable" clarity one must endure in order to see clearly and live genuinely. "Those who love, friends or lovers, know that love is not only a blinding flash, but also a long and painful struggle in the darkness for the realization of definitive recognition and reconciliation."

But there is light at the end of this tunnel. Why else would it be called enlightenment? In a world of enlightened individuals, "all the inhabitants pervaded by the same spirit will pervade one another and will reflect one another's happiness," (Maistre) each individual consciousness a mirror reflecting another mirror, itself reflected to infinity.

In this city of absolute knowledge, the eyes of the mind and the eyes of the body become as one. The result is a mysterious unity regained in which, "evil having been annihilated, there will be no more passion nor self-interest, and man will be reunited with himself when his double standard will be obliterated and his two centers [lower self and higher Self] unified."

All this is fine and well, if you are forward-thinking and trend-seeking. But what about now? Doesn't the present moment deserve a modicum of our attention? Camus would think so. As he writes, "Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present."

We would do well to follow Nechaiev's advice for the revolutionary, which applies to one in search of Self-realization, such as you are. And as such, you are an individual "condemned in advance" [by fate to the adventure, the quest], with neither romantic relationships nor objects to engage the feelings. You should even cast off your own name. Every part of you should be concentrated in one single passion: Self-realization.

Do you have what it takes? Not if you don't ask yourself precisely this question.  Self-doubt is often integral to the process. "Before man accepts the sacred world and in order that he should be able to accept it - or before he escapes from it and in order that he should be able to escape from it - there is always a period of soul-searching and rebellion." Rebellion is action without planned issue, spontaneous protestation. It is the simple act of saying no - to this grunt work, or to that dead-end relationship. And what follows is revolution. Revolution always implies the establishment of something new. That something new is the real you.


THE FINAL MYSTERY


In 1895 the English playwright and personality Oscar Wilde was charged with homosexual behavior, convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labor. During his imprisonment the prolific author wrote a short treatise on sorrow entitled De Profundis. The title is a reference to the Bible's Psalm 130, which is often called "De Profundis" from its Latin beginning. It starts with the line "From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord."

The experience in Reading Gaol transformed Wilde from a worldly man of letters to an earnest seeker of truth. "My nature is seeking a fresh mode of self-realization," he writes. "That is all I am concerned with." Rather than follow in the steps with the thinkers of his day and digest volumes of treatises on the subject of truth, he resolved to turn within. "If I may not find its secret within myself, I shall never find it: if I have not got it already, it will never come to me." The celebrated bon vivant came to embrace the simple, regimented life imposed on him by his jailors, believing that "one realizes one's soul only by getting rid of all alien passions, all acquired culture, and all external possessions, be they good or evil."

He was on the path, and from the beginning it was touch and go, feeling his way as if in the dark, towards the light of truth, for "people whose desire is solely for self-realization never know where they are going." But throughout the two-year experience, he remained fixed in his commitment to as Socrates once said, "know thyself," which he called the first achievement of knowledge. Although "to recognize that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom. The final mystery is oneself."

Wilde left confinement with the hope to "live long enough and to produce work of such a character that I shall be able to the end of my days to say, 'Yes! this is just where the artistic life leads a man!'" His aim was not to be a better man, but a deeper one, perfectly content in solitude, "with freedom, flowers, books, and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy?"

Wilde seemed to have reached the highest knowledge while serving his sentence, "conscious now that behind all this beauty [in the world], satisfying though it may be, there is some spirit hidden of which the painted forms and shapes are but modes of manifestation, and it is with this spirit that I desire to become in harmony." His was the mystical path, the mystic's aim to unite the ego-based personality with the ever-aware Knower, and thereby to achieve union with the Divine.

Tired of the utterances of his peers, he sought the mystical in life, and remained convinced of the absolute necessity of finding it somewhere. And then he was released. How did Wilde fare in his continued quest for truth. Did he attain the enlightenment shining in his own soul? Debatable. Doubtful. He hardly wrote anything of note after his release from prison, other than perhaps his Ballad of Reading Gaol. His health having declined considerably during the period of his jail term, he experienced crushing poverty during his final years at a dingy hotel in Paris, where he spent much time wandering the boulevards alone, and spent what little money he had on alcohol. He died of syphilitic meningitis in 1900 at the age of 46. So much for enlightenment.

This reminds one of another Biblical passage, where Jesus Christ discusses mysteries with his disciples. "Do you know these things?" Christ asked his followers. Yes, they replied. "Blessed are you if you DO them."

Actions speak louder than words whether written or spoken. Learn from our dearly departed Oscar Wilde and let your life be your message. If not as profoundly expressed it will surely be more convincing.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

MISMATCH DISEASES


The other day my grandmother came over with her wrist wrapped in an Ace Bandage. What's wrong, nana? She told me the doctors had diagnosed her with arthritis, but they didn't tell her which type, and there are many. Rheumatoid. Osteo. Gout. Pseudogout. We settled on gout, which may be due to too much meat, plus her newfound yen for Bailey's Irish Cream. I gave granny some high dose ibuprofen which would alleviate symptoms in 24 hours without addressing the underlying cause (can you tell I studied allopathic medicine; shame on me!) but what I didn't tell granny - basically because she wouldn't care - was that gout is now numbered among a group of conditions known as mismatch diseases.

The new theory making its way around scientific circles to explain the prevalence of many chronic, noninfectious diseases like heart attacks and strokes (and gout) is that these and other diseases are caused by evolutionary mismatches. Simply, the human body evolved in response to environmental stresses that no longer exist today and have become maladaptive in the environments we have created to take their place - i.e. modern civilization. For example food scarcity has not only been abolished in developed countries, it has been reversed in favor of a superabundance of processed edibles. The traits that made us more able to survive times of scarcity (such as the ease with which we store fat) now jeopardize our health in a land of plenty.

So heart attacks and strokes, these scientists say, are largely caused by the combination of industrial diets plus sedentary lifestyles. But noninfectious mismatch diseases are not all life-threatening. Others, and there are many, don't necessarily lessen your days; but they can make life less enjoyable if not downright insufferable. See how many of the following conditions you recognize as your own.

acid reflux/hearburn
acne
Alzheimer's
anxiety
sleep apnea
asthma
athlete's foot
ADHD
bunions
cancers
carpal tunnel syndrome
cirrhosis
cavities
chronic fatigue syndrome
constipation
coronary artery disease
Crohn's disease
depression
diabetes (type 2)
diaper rash
eating disorders
emphysema
endometriosis
fatty liver syndrome
fibromyalgia
flat feet
glaucoma
gout
hammer toes
hemorrhoids
high blood pressure
iodine deficiency
impacted wisdom teeth
insomnia
irritable bowel syndrome
lactose intolerance
lower back pain
malocclusion
metabolic syndrome
multiple sclerosis
myopia
obsessive-compulsive disorder
osteoporosis
plantar fasciitis
polycystic ovarian syndrome
preeclampsia
rickets
scurvy
stomach ulcers

I don't know about you, but I can identify no fewer than 13 of the above that I have become intimately acquainted with during my 43 years - 13 that I know of. There may be more, and I won't say which ones. Most plagued me during  my younger days when my lifestyle was more modern, in the deplorable sense of too many hours sitting; too many alcoholic drinks; too much tobacco; some drugs; plenty of meat and plenty of grains and dairy; layers of clothes; and shoes with too much support.

Now that I have shed my proverbial skin (read: clothes and shoes),  as well as cleaned up my act, so to speak, I can proudly report that I am not bothered by any of the above afflictions. Except lactose intolerance, which like many people who didn't descend from farmers I experience whenever I have ice cream. You don't want to come near me if I drink milk. Lucky for you, I never do.

BE A STONER


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher of the Enlightenment period who believed that the world of matter is in itself a sin, being separated from spirit, which is divine. Therefore every human activity is sinful, Hegel says. "Only the absence of activity is innocent, the existence of a stone and not even the existence of a child." Personally, I've never met a stone I didn't like, but some children are bratty, so I'm on board.

But how do we reconcile Hegel's rather severe view with the fact of human physiology? A human's muscle mass uses more energy than any other part of the body. Your muscles consume 40% of your daily energy, equivalent to 800 calories in a 2000-calorie diet. Contrast this with the brain's 20%, which is equal to the gut's 20%. Unlike the muscles, which burn more energy the more active you are, the brain's caloric requirement is constant for deep thinkers and numbskulls alike. Interesting. From this we can infer that our bodies were meant to propel us through life, and that life is to be a life of action, of "getting things done" as a friend likes to put it - with less of an emphasis on thinking and digesting. Is this the case? For most people, yes. I've met lots of busy bodies. But if you consider the other creatures under the sun, it's debatable whether we should jam our days with stuff to do.

Our primate cousins, the chimpanzees for instance, are twice as strong as we humans, and yet they hardly exert themselves. Adults walk one or two miles per day, compared with our human ancestors who could easily cover 5 or 10 on foot. Most of the time they munch fruit and flirt. So what is all that animal mass good for? Some sex, yes. They are social creatures. Like we humans. And then there's the lion, who is pound for pound one of the strongest of all predators. How does the lion put his prodigious strength to use? For short bursts of speed and power in hunting down and slaying prey, it is true; but the business of earning a living (food) occupies a small fraction of a lion's time. It is known that the felines spend most of the 24-hour day resting and sleeping; about 20 hours, in fact. That's a lot of chilling. We humans have nothing near the physical prowess possessed by our bulky buddies in the animal kingdom. Maybe we should take our cue from them and take it easy.

How to turn it down a notch? Before engaging in any activity, however insignificant it may seem, from picking your nose to adding a second story to your home, ask yourself, "Why am I doing this? Does it need to be done? Is there an alternative which doesn't involve so much time, energy and effort?" Evaluate your occupation. Is it merely a means of earning a living? Yes, making money is certainly necessary, but the means never justify the end. In other words, if your work is soul-killing, there is no amount of compensation that could be deemed adequate, for your soul is after all priceless. As one philosopher has put it, "when work is divorced from creativity it is a degradation, and as such is not life, even though it occupies every waking hour." So much for so many desk jobs. By contrast, daily labor in which you can take interest and derive purpose, creative work, does not degrade life - even if it is badly paid. It costs you to read these words, and me to write them, and by way of compensation I receive nothing but the joy of composition. Contrast these free blog posts to my old job as a physician, where I stood to be generously compensated in exchange for being transformed by the medical establishment into a mere cog in the machinery of production, a walking vending machine ready to dispense the next best medication. Don't be like that me.

Drudgery sucks. Meaningful work is better. Rest is often best. And stones are always nice.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

BREAKING BAD (HABITS)


In grammar school the nuns used to tell us that it takes about a month to make or break a habit. Which is convenient for practicing Christians, whom Lent affords the opportunity to rid themselves of vices they may have accrued the year before. And it was common to give up chocolate, or pizza, or peanut butter for the 40 days of Lent, dedicate the action to God, and emerge a better person, and possibly a few pounds lighter - which nowadays even the average kid could stand to lose. But in my adult life I'd come to find that when it comes to kicking some bad habits, a lot less time is required.

Not long ago I subjected myself to a three day water fast. Not so much because I didn't want to eat, nor because I wanted to lose weight; but because I was bedridden after surgery and couldn't get out of bed to use the toilet so didn't wish to tempt Mother Nature with food. Nothing in means nothing out, which was fine for me. But after the three days, when I could once again move about and began to take in food again, I noticed something odd. Food which before had seemed perfectly seasoned to my palate was now much too salty. I actually preferred the taste of undressed vegetables to their hot sauce-slathered equivalent. And this is because the taste buds that line the tongue and soft palate and are responsible for transmitting such sensations as sweet and salty have a very short life span, actually of about three days.

So after my fast my food was received by a new generation of buds, and these virgins in my mouth liked things bland. Virgins can be prude that way! You too can use this trick of nature to rid yourself of excessive salt cravings, or an uncontrolled yen for sweets, by monitoring your consumption of chips and cookies for a short time. It doesn't have to be during the 40 days of Lent. A tenth of the time is all it takes. And less salt spares your kidneys the work of ridding it from your system, and your bones the osteoporotic changes that come from excessive sodium intake. Going easy on the sweets helps keep your blood sugar in check.

A little caveat: The taste buds for savory (fat) don't respond to quantity so much as to quality, and all fat tastes the same, whether its in butter or in oil, and regardless of how much of it you eat. Proving some habits are harder to break than others. So trust the nuns and use Lent for giving up things like chocolate and peanut butter if you want to fit into last years jeans this holiday season.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

THE WARRIOR


The movie "Creed" is about Adonis Creed who is the son of Rocky's old rival and best friend, now deceased. Adonis makes his way up the ranks of boxing with the former champion of the world himself in his corner. While training the up-and-comer, Rocky stands him in front of the mirror and pointing to the young man's reflection says, "See this guy here? That's the toughest opponent you're ever gonna have to face. I believe that is true in the ring and I think that's true in life." Meaning we are all in it (the game, the fight, the party of life) either for or against ourselves.

The movie borrows this ancient wisdom from various sources, including philosophers and holy personages. Albert Camus, writing in the middle of the 20th century about what it means to be a victor states: "Conquerors sometimes talk of vanquishing and overcoming. But it is always 'overcoming oneself' that they mean."

Before Camus there was the Buddha, who 2500 years ago uttered something similar when he urged disciples to watch the thoughts, to tame the mind, to overcome the fierce thirst of desire, so that they too may become conquerors and aver: "I have conquered all, I know all, in all conditions of life I am free from taint; I have left all, and through the destruction of thirst I am free; having learnt myself, whom shall I teach?"

From this belief are derived such maxims as "to be one's own worst enemy," and its opposite, "to master oneself." Self-knowledge, discipline, perseverance, patience are in your corner as aids at winning the game of life. The warrior is you, and victory is yours.



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

GOLDEN DAYS

The athlete formerly known as Bruce has been on my mind a lot lately. It's probably because Caitlyn Jenner has been all over the news since her sex change was completed in June, making her "the world's most famous transgender woman," according to Time. But the man who was famous for winning the 1976 Olympic decathlon, earning him the title "world's greatest athlete," who then became famous for being the step-father of the Kardashians in their 2000s reality TV heyday - prompting one of his step-daughter's friends to utter in disbelief that "your dad used to be a sports star?!" and is now famous for being a woman, says he is still interested in dating women, although he himself looks like Cindy Crawford the morning after a bender.



Meaning Jenner is not gay, although even if he did dig dudes, as the woman he now is, he'd still be straight, and as the man he once was, preferring women makes him...straight again. Having his cake and eating it too. Best of both worlds. I'm not convinced Jenner's antics are anything more than "crass exploitation" and a "tabloid play" for ratings, in the words of sportscaster Bob Costas.

But that is neither here nor there. Thinking on Jenner got me thinking of the roles we play. It got me thinking of gender identity, and sexual preferences. It got me thinking about the very thing Jenner says he isn't and couldn't possibly be: gay. In today's world homosexuality is pretty ubiquitous. It probably hasn't been so practiced and publicized any other time in history with perhaps the exception of Greece. The term pederasty is from the Greek word meaning "love of boys," and refers to just that: a homoerotic relationship between an older and a younger male. Pederasty is experiencing a resurgence these days, along with beards and Afros and typewriters.

It is so common and for the most part accepted that a child growing up today probably knows a gay or lesbian personally. Hell, that person may even be the child's parent. And if not, turn on TV and find same sex couples in sitcoms like Modern Family, hear someone of the LGBT persuasion crooning on the airwaves (Sam Smith), see them walking down the street holding hands, and you don't have to be in West Hollywood anymore. LGBT is the thing to do.

When was my first exposure to homosexuality? Probably as a kid, watching the sitcom Three's Company, starring John Ritter as Jack Tripper. In order to live with two female roommates he had to pose as a gay man in front of his landlord - for a reason I never understood, maybe because the landlord forbid straight couples and the messy kids they'd produce? Tripper would go into a lisp and let his wrist go all limp whenever Mr. Ferley came around. Of course Jack was a male whore and had dates with different girls each night of the week. It was actually quite funny, him having to be in the closet about his heterosexuality.

Then in high school I had a friend named Paul. All the girls loved Paul. He had cool hair, was very with-it, and seemed always surrounded by a group of attentive females - that is, when we weren't at school, since Loyola was all-boys. Paul and I used to sit at opposite ends of the quad, on the grass, and sometimes  we'd stare at one another. We were mutual admirers. We had a man crush for boys. Though I didn't know this back then. I just thought he was cool. He was, and also gay.

As were many of the guys I'd come to admire, though I wasn't aware of their sexual preference at the time of my admiration. Guys like George Michael and Ricky Martin. Prince and Tom Cruise (if you believe the tabloids). And why not? Gay guys are cool, more so as they age, since for some reason raising a family makes a guy the equivalent of soccer mom, with oversized clothes, scraggle, and alopecia. Straight men often (but not always) weigh 40 lbs too much, drink too much beer, are slovenly over-grown children who cower under the woman's wrath while at the same time often breaking their backs supporting the family, or at least chipping in.

Gay guys, on the other hand, keep their shit together. But of all the guys I hung out with in high school (and I went to two high schools), only Paul stands out in my mind as being openly homosexual, both as a teen and now as a 40-something, if his Facebook is to be trusted. The late 80s were different times, I guess. Being gay was not the thing to do. More homophobia than anything. Getting called fag was worse than being called a prick. Now every movie about high school has the token gay guy. Overdo it much? I think the tide to make homosexuality acceptable is pushing too far to the other extreme. Let it happen naturally. Hell, it already is deemed natural. There's no need to force matters, or to publicize sex-change procedures as a really viable option for a person that doesn't feel comfortable in his or her skin, because who does always feel comfortable in his or her skin, and a sex-change process really is no different from massive plastic surgery. It's superficial and fake. And carries with it a crippling stigma (or would me). I think there is a bit of a publicity stunt with Jenner's antics. I wish he'd just still be the guy who ran fast, threw far, and was given gold for his efforts. Those were the golden days. The days as Mr. Kardashian and Ms. Caitlyn I'd just as soon forget.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

THE NEW FACE OF EVIL


So the new face of evil is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Have you heard of him? He's the head of ISIS. Have you heard of it? The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Worth tens of millions, he is allegedly behind the recent wave of terrorist attacks hitting France and Russia and Libya and Tunis and closer to home in San Bernadino, CA. He's a "magnetic extremist," a "master opportunist," according to this week's Time magazine, which is clear to point out however that he did not create the Middle Eastern anarchy, he's only using it, and using the Internet, for his purposes.

One must ask, who created al-Baghdadi, nee al-Badri? Other than his parents, of course. And Allah, lest we forget. What made him the madman he has become? He was a shy child exceptional at nothing but reciting the Quran, which scores you a lot of points in the Islamic world. He is highly educated, earning a master's degree (on the Quran) and later a PhD in Islamic studies. So is he a product of higher education? One wouldn't think graduate school to produce such a radical. As I've learned personally doctorate programs teach conformism first and foremost, if you wish to graduate, as al-Baghdadi did. But as Time notes, public enemy number one is a product of the US. In February 2004 after America went in and turned Iraq upside down, al-Baghdadi was visiting a friend when U.S. Army intelligence officers raided the home and arrested him, carrying him off to the "notorious" prison camp at Camp Bucca, which "inadvertently came to serve as an incubator for Sunni jihadism." Al-Baghdadi became a skilled networker there, courting radical factions and proving that if you're not a criminal when you're put behind bars you will be one by the time you leave. Released at the end of 2004, he joined a series of jihadi groups "invigorated" by the fall of Saddam Hussein and indignant with US occupation. In May 2010 after the US killed the two men above him, al-Baghdadi emerged as the emir (guy in power).

So he is a result of our meddling in foreign affairs, his righteous indignation at being unjustly arrested fueled and given vent in an atmosphere of chaos which the US has at least co-authored. And now we're going to send ground troops in there? Yes, we will deploy 100 to 150 special forces for raids. A one-time measure, or the beginning of another protracted and ugly involvement? Perhaps it is time to learn our lesson and keep our noses out of other countries' businesses. Unless this is at bottom about oil and gas (and Time estimates that ISIS pulls in over $30 million a month from oil and gas), in which case we should be ashamed. Championing the causes of the innocent, coming to the rescue of nations in need (France, in this case), when in reality we are merely serving our own selfish agenda.

I don't usually talk politics. It depresses me and makes me feel impotent. I only hope that the billion-plus peace-loving Muslims in the world won't be branded as radicals, victimized by the desperate actions of an extremist few who are fueled by the aggression of nations more powerful than they. There is only one God, call him what you will. And just as the sun shines on everbody, God blesses one and all. Can't we just get along?