Category Archives: writing

The Hacking of the American Mind — a review

Some may know the author from his book, Fat Chance, or one of his many youtube presentations about the compelling dangers from the dramatically increased sugar consumption in our diets.  In his new book The Hacking of the American Mind, Dr. Lustig takes a different tack exposing not only the complications of sugar and why we want more of it but also our appetite to stimulate the biochemical receptors that give us pleasure.  More specifically, the book is about the science behind pleasure and happiness, how most of us confuse the two, and how government and business knowingly blur the difference between them at our expense.

In January, I wrote a post entitled Accumulating Pleasure Moments.  At the time, I was treading the hazy space of fusion between pleasure and happiness without realizing the difference.  Pleasure, I deduced, could be the opposite of pain.

It could be a pleasure spending a day, or days, lounging on a beach. Or is that happiness?

Dr. Lustig goes into great detail to explain the chemical differences between the neural pathways that pleasure and happiness take.  Pleasure, it seems, evoked by a dopamine response, can fool us if we are not careful.  One of the downsides of constantly seeking pleasure, he says, are addictions, which in turn decreases our happiness quotient.

I’m not sure I agree with the author’s point that pleasure moments last for one hour then they are gone.  I was recently upgraded to first-class on a trans-pacific trip. The resulting pleasure lasted well over 16 hours.  Then again, perhaps I was interpreting the delight of the flight incorrectly.  Now I know to be cautious least the anticipation of an upgrade happens too frequently or I could become addicted.

In narrating, Lustig has a somewhat peculiar way of emphasizing prepositions at times, especially “the.”  But his passion for the subject is evident, and the net effect of his reading the book is a plus.  It was also reassuring to hear that even he has fallen prey to the grips of pleasure, i.e., coffee (daily) and ice cream (on rare occasions).  In fairness, he explains, pleasure isn’t all bad, and at times, even intersects with happiness (contentment).  But given that the dopamine effects of pleasure are so powerful, it behooves us to recognize its intoxicating influence, both physically and emotionally.

In short, I found the book highly informative and well worth the read, or listen, for anyone seeking to reap the benefits of pleasure and happiness by managing them so that the former does not dampen the latter.

Meanwhile, when I make it from point A to point B on my new commuter cruising skateboard without landing on my ass, I’ll be satisfied to be pleasantly content.

Faint Winds

Faint winds blow warm, cool; warm, cool,
No sign for the reason why,
Captured by welcome fascination,
With moments of sparked elation.

Circulating, embracing, raw, and fleeting,
Drawing on colored boundaries,
Subject to induced reception,
Growing in an instinctive direction.

Words

Before school age, dear ole Mom made sure we understood the sticks and stones children rhyme, that words can’t hurt is if we don’t let them.  Words, whether intended as harmful or helpful, are as real as our imagination, and left open to interpretation.  As Bill Clinton famously said, “it depends on what the definition of is, is.”

But only when we give it to them

Some of us use few words, others lots of them.  Some of us carefully construct our words, others don’t give them a second thought.  Yet most of us don’t write, read, listen or talk with dictionary precision.  Even if we did, we form and develop our own pictures.  The words we sting together form an image in the receiver’s brain which is different from the picture of the brain that constructed the string.  The meaning behind every strung together jumble of words is unique to the eyes and ears of the beholder — resulting in distinct mental images.

When we give them permission

We also tend to fill in the blanks with the stuff that isn’t said, the juicy sub-text.  Lawyers try to eliminate blank-filling with terms, conditions, and agreements we’ve all got to check or acknowledge when we commit to something.  A mumbo jumbo of words most of us never read, nor would understand.

The subliminal messages we send and receive through facial expressions help fill in what isn’t said, so when the face is absent, the meaning of words is especially elusive.  Within families, those close enough to conceptualize similar images, many times utter “what I meant was.”  Throw in different backgrounds and cultures and our imaginations slip and slide all over the place.

We all have times when we choose our words carefully, least they be taken unintentionally.  Still, they can come back to bite us, because our image of those constructed words didn’t match the receivers image of those same words.  How could they?  They will never match.  The best they can do is point in the general direction.

Yelling “the house is on fire” means something with an immediate call to action.  But most of our dialogues are filled with much less life-threatening urgency, where we each paint as we go, with different brushes, stokes, mediums, backgrounds, and imaginations.  No two pictures are ever the same.

Post message?  Don’t take words too seriously, or at least give them plenty of leeway.  They are concepts.  And they will never hurt us, unless we give them permission.

fuck

Just an innocent four-letter word, fuck has gradually worked itself out of the shadows and into the mainstream.  Like tattoos, saying fuck was once reserved for those daring enough to show a toughness or an edginess to make a point.  No more.  Fuck has marched right into conformity.

It’s a word that has lasted generations and gotten so much use, as a verb, adverb, adjective, noun and everything in between.  A quote I remember from a mechanic who could not loosen a bolt on a car engine demonstrates a portion of the word’s flexibility: “I couldn’t get the fuckin fuck to fuck.”  Of course, we all know fuck means all those things and so much more.

The prompt to write this post was during an exercise routine recently in a calisthenics area of Lumpini Park in Bangkok when a small gaggle of young girls stopped to play on the monkey bars.  One, all but ten years old, was wearing a tee shirt with fuck printed all over the front; fuck it, fuck you, fuck this…,fuck all.  When I asked if I could take a photo of the shirt they giggled as none of them understood english.  She had no clue about her ‘fucking’ shirt.

the 10-year old running around Lumpini Park had no problem with the word

the 10-year old running around Lumpini Park had no problem with the word

Then yesterday as I was looking for a new book to read, I floated through iBook’s bestseller list and came across Hard F*ck.  Sure, the publisher won’t print that one extra letter because the book would then be relegated to a speciality (erotic) genre.

We say “the F word”, use an asterisk in place of a letter, and we hide it in acronyms in mainstream print like, SNAFU  (Situation Normal All Fucked Up) and WTF (What The Fuck).  We love using fuck, especially behind a comfortable smoke screen.  STFU.

Words are just a jumble of consonants and vowels that we’ve constructed images around.  The letters that make up fuck don’t do physical damage to our senses, but we’ve been conditioned to use the pronunciation of them behind closed doors.  As parents, we don’t want our children to say fuck (or get tattoos), at least until they’ve reached the age of reason.  We can say fuck in front of them, but we don’t want our little fuckers to say fuck.  It sounds too grown up.  Oh yes, it’s a grown up word.

This Chinese woman may not have known what she was wearing, and may not have cared

This Chinese woman may not have known what she was wearing, and may not have cared

The word has so many flexible uses and most of us know most of them.  We use fuck no matter what form of speech it takes:  “Fuck you” or “fuck them” makes little grammatical sense, but we all know the expression is meant to convey warm, sweet feelings to the person(s) it’s hurled to.

We use it for impact and to add clear emphasis:  If someone asks you to do something that you find outrageous, you might say “no way,” or “hell no,” or “fuck no,” or “no fuckin way.”

As a form of astonishment we might let out a long drawn out fuuuuuck to ourselves upon seeing or hearing incredible news.  (I catch myself once in a while using that same drawn out form if, for example, food or coffee finds its way to the clean shirt I’m wearing.)

Documenting all of its uses would make this post much too long.  Point is, fuck seems to have eased itself out of the curse-word category and become a more accepted evocative expression.  But we should be careful.  Overused, like “like,” and fuck becomes tedious and boring.  It’s a word best used sparingly, like a pungent spice.

ready for purchase

ready for purchase

The Indian sage and guru Osho sums up the “magical” word nicely in this video.  For those who know him, Osho is a deeply spiritual teacher, not a comedian, but he nevertheless knows the power of fucking humor.

While there are certainly more creative ways for the car mechanic to describe his inability to loosen the engine bolt, it would be hard to argue that fuck does not add color to our vernacular.  So who knows, maybe keeping fuck in its profanity box contributes to its colorfulness.  But then how profane is it if 10-year old girls are shouting the word on tee shirts?

Maybe because it needs to be shouted out.  Perhaps voicing a solid fuck once in a while is healthy for the soul.  So you go girls, help spread the zestful expression.  And thanks for meandering into the exercise area, because now I want one of those fuckin tee shirts.

better blather

It takes time to refine blathering skills.  Not everyone has the patience for mediocre blather.

Blather gets a bad rap, for good reason.  Most of it is worthy of disregard.  But done right, blathering is an artful form of entertainment.  A good blatherer can drift a loosely knitted topic in a wide arc circling several themes in babble-like fashion before coming back to point.  Many TV series employ this form of blathering.

The other day I was listening to a guy jabber on about his dog.  I wasn’t so interested in dogs, especially his dog, but he kept me hooked by engaging a few of us with snippets of his dog stories.  His dog yak took us into his family and through several semi-absorbing stages of his kinsfolk history.  As we strolled through various family vacations to aspects of a particular vacation which was in itself a location of interest, he was back to the dog and his original point about how it was eventually trained.  It was a blather experience saturated with plenty of rich airy verbiage yet it filled the airspace with entertainment.

This chatter-friendly guy was deftly able to detect listener drift, then either altered a component of his prattle or added a colorful highlight making sure his impromptu audience was continually engaged.  His blathering skills separated him from spewing verbal vomit or just running at the mouth.

Now thanks to the world wide web, blatherers have a new platform.  Or rather, it has created an entirely new set of blatherers who’s numbers have been multiplying exponentially.  Written blather has the advantage of being editable, umpteen times, with a much wider reach, whereas verbal blather is mostly impromptu and exposed — a nugget in time, consumed then gone.

The world is full of expounders and listeners.  A well balanced human likes both.  To achieve that well-balanced state, I heard through the grapevine (yes, there is such a thing) that it helps to develop better verbal blather.

This post may be considered short-form written blather, with hardly an arc and barely a point — sorely missing good blather.  Perhaps, I’m thinking, I need to work on better verbal blather.  So yesterday I circled back and found the guy with his dog story and asked him his secret to developing good blathering technique.  He said, with deadpan seriousness, that better verbal blather increases the likelihood of world peace.  I returned the serious deadpan look as he then told me that better blather takes practice by reducing mind mush (pointless mental blather) and increased spouts of talking aloud to oneself, with emphasis on articulating the following phrase five times as fast as possible: Bee Buckle Bendy Baby Baked a Batter of Better Blather. 

Shrinking the level of mind mush may prove to be too much, but what the hell, I’ll give it a shot.  Those around me will need to understand that the constant talking to myself and repeating the above phrase will someday arm me with better blather.  I’ll keep the idea of world peace tucked snugly in my back pocket.

no good excuse

Three weeks have gone by since I’ve updated this blog, meaning I’ve missed two Sunday updates.  I made a personal commitment to update the blog at least weekly.  In late October I also missed a post, which I chalked up to being in China (no access to the blog).  That makes three missed posts in the last two months.  Not a good record.

Two weeks ago I made a road trip to Pennsylvania to visit family, both DOM and DOD.  Last weekend was just full of stuff.  All three excuses seemed perfectly rational at the time.  My head told me what I was doing was more important than a blog post.  But dissecting the excuses exposed their weaknesses.  Some excuses are good and healthy, others are poor and weak.  Mine were limp, flat, and good for nothing.

It would be easy to ignore the blog and only write when I have the whim.  After all, the readership is low.  Who would miss a post here or there?  And if they did, I could make the excuse sound good.

Expert excuse makers can make excuses sound not only good, but even necessary.  But most excuses for not doing something disciplinary are flimsy.  In each of my three excuse examples, I could have prepared thoughts prior to the weekend.  My time is not so busy that I can’t take a few minutes to think and write.  If I convince myself that I am too busy, I’ve succeeded in manufacturing an excuse worthy only of the garbage.

There may be valid times for missing a post, like being in China, where access to most social media sites is blocked.  But posts can be written and updated earlier or later than trips.  Writing once per week and organizing thoughts doesn’t need to be hindered because of a trip, or because other stuff took the post’s place.

Fact is, it’s much easier not to write than to write.  Writing takes time, construction, and for me, a lot of editing.  On the flip side, I’d enjoy reading blogs by many of the people I know, family and friends, beyond a few Twitter or Facebook lines.

So no good excuse.  I can make up those three missing posts before the end of the year.  Let’s see about that.  It might even make a good excuse.