Archive for the ‘a little clarity’ Category

Diet Drink Sweet Tooth

March 5th, 2012 No comments

The Globe has just published another article on artificial sweeteners.

I find it dismaying how many people would defend an inanimate substance, such as white/brown sugar, chocolate or artificial sweeteners, when none of those are necessary for our health. Similarly, I find it dismaying when I see my diabetic friend guzzling diet pop. Why not water?

Sure, sweets taste good, and eating sweets make us feel good when we’re eating them. Afterward? Maybe not. But every now and then … sure. I’m not going to get pissy about a decent lemon tart every now and then.

But the real nastiness is in sugary drinks, which have become the drink of choice for post-breakfast drinks for many, no? I used to drink them all the time: fruit juice, pop (soda) and iced tea. Water was something I only had when there was no other option, or if I was really hot. It seems strange now — my normal drink, my regular ingested fluid was basically sugar water. It wasn’t a treat, it was a staple.

So. Diet drinks are for those people who want sugary drinks as a staple, but don’t want the sugar. Now if they drank water regularly as a staple, would they drink diet drinks as a treat? Now that would be a cure for the diet-drink sweet tooth …

… because really, diet drinks taste like crap once you really taste them. And after that, what’s left?

Categories: a little clarity, nutrition, rants Tags:

What is normal?

February 14th, 2012 No comments

Did you guys know that “normal” is a statistical concept?

Generalizing past the technical statistical usage, it basically means “common”, or “usual”. Check it out. Sure, a dictionary  is a book of history, not law, but realizing that the term can exist without connotations of value (ew, you’re not normal!) can be quite liberating. For example, both ends of the IQ scale could be said to be “abnormal”, making both geniuses and (insert current low-IQ term here) “abnormal”.

But why do we give such positive value to the idea of “normal”? Social psychology provides a clue: one of the worst things that can happen to a person is to be shunned — by classmates, by work team, by members of the club, by the tribe. To be normal is to resemble the group — to be included. To be abnormal is to risk being shunned. Thus “normal” = “good”, in a social sense.

In the end, though, knowledge is power. If we become aware of the statistical meaning of “normal”, and the power of shunning, we may transcend them.

Just a thought.

Categories: a little clarity, psychology Tags:

The Instability of Inequality

October 14th, 2011 No comments

Returning to University has given me access to new ideas, new thinkers, and of course, new links, on subjects beyond health and philosophy. To wit: here’s an interesting article on our current economic situation, in which the author points out how in today’s interrelated economy, balance must be restored to prevent the instability that arises from inequality.

The Instability of Inequality

Life by proxy?

May 23rd, 2011 No comments

Did any of us stop to consider that when we watch television, we’re actually watching other people live their lives?

Not only are average folks airing their dirty laundry on reality TV, but athletes are playing their games, actors are playing their parts (and working!), cinematographers are shooting, directors are directing, editors are editing and marketing people are trying to keep their jobs by selling us stuff. Even if we’re not watching someone living their life directly, we are watching the result of their living, as seen in the aforementioned editing, directing and so on.

Sure, some programs can change the way we see the world, but most leave us none the wiser, but a little bit older. I don’t know about you, but that thought keeps me off the couch most of the time.

Wait — here’s an opposing view. If you liked Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of Flow, you might see why I think the opposing view is mostly ridiculous. Here is my take on the respective assertions of the article: 1) The writer is advocating useless downtime that isn’t actually refreshing. 2) Sure. Have the TV on while doing needlepoint. I guess we really don’t like doing either, then? 3) Okay, TV isn’t all trash. 4) I’d rather laugh in good company, not at a TV set. Now if it bonds the family, it has a value, but there are better ways to bond, and if a family can’t laugh away from the tube, something’s not right. 5) Sure, as long as part of that inspiration includes getting off the couch and doing whatever it was we were inspired to do.

Meh. Time to go for a walk.

How to be a Hero

March 25th, 2011 No comments

In 1995, Psychology Today came up with a list of the characteristics of a hero. At the time, I found the article interesting, but I was in search of some inspiration. As usual. To that end, I thought I’d rephrase the characteristics in the imperative, to make them more of a set of affirmations. I printed up little cards with these imperatives, but only gave them to people who asked. Don’t want to be pushy, you know.

They’re rather lofty, but hey, aim for the stars and hit the moon.

  • Be courageous and strong
  • Be honest
  • Be kind, loving and generous
  • Use skill, expertise and intelligence
  • Take (reasonable) risks
  • Be charismatic

The risky part should be qualified, don’t you think? I wouldn’t advise anyone to risk harm to themselves or anyone else, but often we avoid risking damage to our self-image through embarrassment, for example. Naturally, there’s no need to be complete here, as a fine and honorable life can be lived through observance of only the first three of these. If the meaning of the list isn’t clear, do read the article.

By the way, this post came about because something popped into my head recently — another pearl of wisdom from Dr. Dave, who said “there can be no refinement without repetition”. Dave defined integrity as saying and doing the same thing. In other words, what you say and what you do match, they integrate, therefore you are integrated. You have integrity.

Hm. How about adding “thinking” to make it a trinity of enlightenment?

a) we’re alone b) we’re not c) neither

January 24th, 2011 No comments

A recent study found, or supposed, that either we’re alone in this universe, or the other guys are just as bad as us. It’s quite possible that the other guys are jerks, using up resources, mistrustful of others, not very enlightened indeed. Maybe so …

… but aside from that, I take issue with the binary “alone or not” choice, or at least I take issue with some interpretations of the “alone” side of the coin. Implicit in such a point of view is the idea that we have always been alone, will always be alone, and that when we’re gone, pfft. No more us, no more intelligent life … such as it is. We are God’s only children.

“Not so”, I say. What if … we’re not the only intelligent life, but we’re just the first. Hey, someone has to be the first! Why not us? Imagine that there are some amino acid noobs out there, doing their best to struggle onto the universal stage and play their parts. “But that may take millions of years”, you say, and “if we snuff it, there’ll be nothing out there for millions of years”.

So what?

We often need to look at some of our paradigms and see how human-centered they are, as if our pitiful nanoseconds of universal existence meant anything in the grand scheme. Maybe we’re alone now, or maybe there was life before us, or maybe there will be life after us. Maybe it’s all one big continuum of life in various stages, maybe like us, maybe not.


So. What’s for lunch?

Categories: a little clarity, off-topic Tags:

Pound for pound …

October 30th, 2010 2 comments

The other day, I had the pleasure of the company of one of the most charming babies ever. Apparently, she took a liking to me as well, or at least my hand, which must have looked quite tasty. When little Avery reached for my hand, I felt this strong tug. I knew it was Avery doing the pulling, but I thought I’d try looking the other way and see what this sensation felt like without the visual cues.

It felt very odd, even before the gumming. Sure, the pulling came from a small area, but it felt as if an adult were pulling me in. The pull was insistent and strong, and could have been mistaken for an adult’s pull.

Now we’ve all heard about strong baby grips, but this was quite something. Internal martial artists try to recover that natural, full-body strength, but what if we had maintained that natural strength all through childhood and it only grew as we matured? How naturally strong and healthy would we be? I have to ask …

… at what point in a child’s life does that strength diminish? What went wrong? Are children told they’re small and weak? Do they become self-conscious? Are they told that things are more difficult than they really are? Or does it have something to do with bad physical training, or a complete lack thereof?

… or can little Avery buck the odds and keep her natural, non-self-conscious, strong way of interacting with the world?

The Fasting Track

August 15th, 2010 2 comments

While tidying up today, I ran across a copy of Utne Magazine from 2007. Before tossing it, I was caught by a headline: Detox Diets DEBUNKED.

Here’s the online version, but for you loyal readers, I’ll quote a sentence of interest to RnR:

It sounds boring … but plain old moderation, exercise and clean living will go farther toward improving your health than fasting.

Naturally, I haven’t done exhaustive studies on the worth of fasting. However, as is true with many of the arguments I make, I support this one because it is difficult to argue against. I believe that many people do a detox to allow them (in their minds) to consume those toxins the rest of the year: consume and detox, consume and detox. Now there must be some toxins in our environment that are difficult to eliminate (air pollution, for example), but when it comes to food, I believe we can eliminate much of those with a change in diet from processed foods to real foods.

As for the historical validity of fasting, I believe that its roots are spiritual. The fasting ascetic attempts to lose attachments, achieve some kind of focus, experience humility or reaffirm a devotion to his/her spirituality. That’s all well and good, but I don’t think it has anything to do with detoxifying, because in the past a) today’s toxins weren’t present in ancient diets, and b) can you see the average non-ascetic person with an unpredictable food supply actually fasting for health reasons? I can’t.

Oh, and the Utne article makes another good point:

We were born with our own detoxification systems: our liver and our kidneys.

So why not just eat right and let them do their job, I wonder?

Categories: a little clarity, nutrition Tags:

Talent or affinity?

July 22nd, 2010 No comments

Once a week, I teach a college course related to my work. Faced with the energy of 22 young people at or near the end of their schooling, I often have to evaluate their readiness to enter the work environment. What often comes to mind is the question of their relative level of talent. Some are talented in areas directly related to the course, others have more peripheral talents, leading me to wonder how they will proceed after graduating. Will they apply themselves according to their talents?

… but the word “talent” comes with some baggage. Normally, we associate the word with the arts, success and a clear path obvious to all, if not the talented one.

Associations can be useful, but in some cases, they’re a burden, preventing us from seeing possibilities. Is it no less valid to consider a talented mechanic, manager or mining engineer? Sure, within a field, a person may be considered talented by his/her peers, but outside the field, our use of the word “talent” may discourage some from seeking their true calling or exploring their gifts.

Instead, I prefer the word “affinity”.

There is less baggage associated with the word affinity, and it is more of a direction than a classification, burden or goal. If someone has an affinity for something, to me it implies that they are able to explore that direction to the best of their abilities, while if we say someone has a talent for something, they are now required to perform to a prescribed standard, and that they have a responsibility to perform, lest they waste the talent.

“Affinity” can also be applied, without judgement, not just to an occupation, but to a number of occupations. To say that someone would be a talented accountant is restrictive, but to say they have an affinity for numbers is much more open, and allows the person to explore his/her affinity within a number of occupations at his or her own level of skill.

It says less about what you are, and more about what you have. Consider that, if you will.

Categories: a little clarity Tags:

Secrets of Rejuvenation: Incremental Growth

June 16th, 2010 No comments

When we try to make changes in our lives, we often become frustrated at the lack of progress, especially as we approach our target. In my quest to improve my health, I’ve found it to be a slow, steady march toward a healthy weight, diet and level of activity. However, after being at it seriously for about a year, I’ve gotten used to this pace of progress. If I gain some weight over the weekend, I know that by eating properly the next week and exercising, I’ll get back down in a couple of days: no big deal.

I think that’s the key. We expect that something will happen quickly, but if we stick with it and don’t give up, we’ll find a pace, or a rhythm that we can maintain. We’ll get used to that, letting it form our new set of expectations. If we wish, we can then push them a bit more to see if we can pick up the pace.

As for incremental growth, I’ve now realized it’s the key to lasting change. The body is trying to adapt to new circumstances, but there are limits to the pace of this adaptation. If we try to ram too much change in at once, the body knows that something’s not right, and it tries to return to the previous steady state, whatever that was. However, if we make small changes, give the body a chance to adjust and create a new steady state, then previous habits won’t seem normal any more. For example, my previous portion size seems too big now, I don’t like Coke very much any more, and I can handle much more physical activity as a matter of course.

In other words, each incremental gain creates a “new normal”.