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Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

[ Comments Off ]Posted on February 21, 2013 by admin in Health & Wellness

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Why this book by Michael Moss is probably the next book on my reading list.

Have you ever wondered what that orange crap is that’s left on your fingers after you eat some Cheetos or Doritos? Well, after reading this NYT piece about the science of addictive junk food, I have a hunch that it’s the chemical that’s also responsible for “vanishing caloric density”, which – as food scientist Steven Witherly explains – refers to the fact that “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.” That’s just one of the fascinating terms you’ll learn from the article, which is adapted from Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, which will be released on the 25th of this month. You’ll also gain an insight into a phenomena that seems to be a common likely flaw with highly optimized business processes, i.e., the fact that figuring out exactly what the customer wants and giving it to them probably will have unhealthy results. This is true with web marketing; if you want a busy website, find out what people are searching for. Then create websites about it, and before you know it, search results are full of SEO and social media tips, Lindsay Lohan, and Twilight. This was called content farming for a while, now it’s just the way things work. Or tailor results the way Google and Facebook have been, and you get what Eli Pariser calls the Filter Bubble (see his TED about the idea here). People want big impressive cushy cars? Sell ‘em an Escalade. Before you know it, the world’s out of oil, and the sky is black. They want cheaper electronics? Ship jobs overseas, and get the dual result of fewer jobs in America, as well as pollution and abusive working conditions abroad. The same principle seems to be at work with food; it’s simple proposition. If you can zero in precisely on what the customer wants and give it to them with precision, you’ll have a successful company, and once you’ve built this business model, it’s pretty hard to turn back. And at some point you’ll contemptuously claim that it’s entirely the public’s fault if what they want is sugar, salt, and fat. I’m looking forward to reading the book; if it’s as well-researched as the NYT article, it should be a fascinating window into the process that got the American food industry where it is today. And peering inside that process offers insight into almost every other kind of product marketing; the food industry has always employed the best of the best in the fields of chemistry, psychology, marketing, and business. Maybe reading it will help me understand my information addiction.

Maybe Lance Armstrong Isn’t A Bad Guy – Maybe He’s Just A Psychopath

[ Comments Off ]Posted on January 17, 2013 by admin in Health & Wellness

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Maybe we’re so desperate for heroes these days that we’re willing to overlook the obvious signs of mental illness.

As you may know, last year research confirmed something that most of us had deduced by way of common sense years ago – that Wall Street is full of psychopaths. I mean, that was kind of the whole point behind the film American Psycho, wasn’t it? That in the professional environment of Wall Street, an out of control, psychopathic murderer would go virtually unnoticed? Anyway, today on, Daniel Honan ponders the possibility that maybe Lance Armstrong isn’t a horrible person, he’s just a psychopath. In the BigThink video below, Kevin Dutton – author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths – discusses how hard it might be to distinguish the behaviors of top athletes from your every day, garden variety psychopath. Ignore the fact that Dutton sort of has the appearance of a stereotypical movie crazy himself, he makes some cogent points:

Designer Vaginas: Vajazzling for the Jet Set?

[ 1 Comment ]Posted on December 28, 2012 by admin in Health & Wellness

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Why are cosmetic surgeons so eager to get their hands on your hoo hoo? Also, a categorized list of lady part slang.

Why are cosmetic surgeons so eager
to get their hands on your vagina?

I’ve never actually had one myself, so maybe I’m not really qualified to talk about them, but you know what I like about vaginas? Pretty much everything. I mean, I think it’s pretty fair to say I never met a vagina I didn’t like. In fact, when I fill out forms that ask for my religion, I write in “Vagitarian”. Still reading? IMPRESSIVE! I thought this would be a cakewalk, but as I sat down to say the things I meant to say about the terrifying beast sometimes referred to as “vaginasaurous rex”, I was finding it hard, and finally decided to jump right in, rather than trying to ease slowly into it. We’ve touched on penises before here, and pointed out the odd societal discomfort with the topic, so I thought it was time to give some equal airtime to vaginas. The first hump in this process seems to be the use of the very word vagina, so we’re going to desensitize you a little more. Vagina vagina vagina. There! You should be ready now. But before I go on, I have to ask once again – what IS it about our nethers that makes them so unspeakable? People will talk comfortably about nearly any other body part, both internal and external, usually hesitating only when mention of human waste or mucous seems imminent. That kind of makes sense; both of those things are kind of gross, right? But our genitals? This is an area of the body that otherwise is practically worshipped in many contexts. Perhaps that’s it. It’s sacred somehow. Weird.

Anyway, my interest in doing a spread on vaginas was originally aroused by an article on called Designer Vagina Websites Need Makeover, Study Suggests. Whoa Nellie! What the hell is a “Designer Vagina”?, I wondered. I’m sure by now we’ve all heard of vajazzling; was it some kind of vajayjay bejeweling for the jet set? I honestly was astounded to learn that not only was cosmetic surgery for vaginas a booming business, it was rife with deceit and exploitation, offering scientifically unsubstantiated promises of not only visual redesign – like a nose job for your no-no – but procedures to enhance your satisfaction, and claims about how a labioplasty will boost personal hygiene and curb infection risk, both claims completely unsubstantiated by research. I wondered to myself what kind of quack doctor would make it their life’s work to focus on such procedures. Medical school is quite a rigorous and expensive pursuit. One hopes that as well as wanting to make piles of money, another part of the motivation would be to make people HEALTHY. I don’t have issues with reconstructive cosmetic surgery, but the vanity-driven variety is something I generally find literally offensive in a number of ways. And to extend the exploitation of poor self-esteem to someone’s rarely-revealed personal parts seemed to me especially creepy and opportunistic.

I figured the leaders of the field would be men, and for some reason I imagined them with creepy smirks on their faces. Well, “the internet, it do not disappoint“, as pretty much no-one says. A quick Google search for “Designer Vaginas” turns up the Designer Vagina’s page (misplaced apostrophe and all) of “Dr. G’s Cosmetic Surgery”. If you don’t find the pose of the doctor with his elbow on the female patient’s back creepy (screenshot below), I don’t think I want to be your friend. And sure enough, this and other Designer Vagina clinics seem to be based mostly on selling women into the idea that their hoo hoo is a horrible thing to behold, and should at least bring them more sexual pleasure than it does. Not that their sexual partner has anything to do with the latter, of course.

Look, I’m all in favor of a woman hacking her vagina  as she sees fit, but can’t we otherwise just LEAVE THE VAGINAS ALONE? Aside from a few peripherally-related complaints – which I’ll get to in a minute – a woman’s “promised land” is generally a wonderful thing, in its varied splendor of form. And that use of the silly euphemism “promised land” was intentional, as a segue into my main complaints about vaginas. First of all, about nomenclature – can we PLEASE find a better term for the entire area “down there”? A vagina is a vagina, and it’s only one part of a woman’s “private parts”. As flip as I can be to make a topic more amusing and palatable, I do my research, and especially when the topic is something I have such a natural passion for, I’m thorough. After an extensive search of both “polite” and “dirty” terms for a woman’s genital area, the list was pretty sad. The less-offensive “cute” terms like “cupcake”, “hoohoo”, “kitty”, and “coochie” seemed to have been conceived by three year olds, and the supposedly “polite” terms like “lady garden”, “girly bits”, and “honey pot” aren’t much of an improvement. And you can always tell when the term was created by a man; it usually refers to animals, meat, odor, or hair. Of all the nasty manwords for the girly bits, even the amusing ones – like “panty hamster” – conjure a rather disturbing image. And my other complaint? WHY MUST WOMEN PERSIST IN MAINTAINING THE MYSTERY??? It took me the first several years of my sexually active life to get even a basic grasp of what’s going on with the “bald man in a boat” (who came up with THAT one, by the way?) and I have many times talked to men in their 30′s or 40′s who – once they open their mouth and say anything not humor and fear based – are clearly clueless.

It’s like women WANT it to be a mystery, so they can complain about how inept the man is. Granted, it’s a little unfair that the man parts give away their function at the slightest touch, so there’s little need for a manual explaining how to “raise the crane”. But seriously. Even that vagina hacking engineer – in a 4,000 word article about modifying her sex toy – failed to mention even ONCE any details of the Mysterious Mechanics of Pleasure Down There, and what was really going on in the Lady Garden. Not to excuse the nasty manwords listed below, but they’re probably largely born of ignorance that our society perpetuates. Ah well. I guess these are meant to be the eternal mysteries of the Tunnel of Love. Bonus vagina slang list below. Read the rest of this entry »

The First Rule of Penis Club is That You Do Not Talk About Penis

[ 1 Comment ]Posted on August 25, 2012 by admin in Health & Wellness

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

After all the hoohoo about vaginas lately, we thought we’d take a moment to talk about pee pees.

Penis Club Soap ImageLet’s talk about penises for a moment. I know, I know. It’s not an especially appealing topic for most of us. So let’s ease into it. Before we really dig in, there are probably a few things you should understand about them. First of all, the old joke “Why is a man’s brain so small? So it will fit in his penis!” has considerable foundation in reality. Second, it’s important to understand that 90% of the male population’s behavior is in fact ruled by their penis. And third, in spite of the incredible amount of time men devote to tending to its needs, they seem rather loathe to actually talk about the thing in a serious fashion. In a way, this is probably a rational choice; there is perhaps no other part of the body that is of such limited utility, is so likely to be visually unappealing, and that in spite of its relatively meager dimensions, seems to have a profound impact on human civilization. Consider Napoleon, for instance. This whole issue of men being reluctant to talk about penises came up recently when this ghastly story of an infant in Brooklyn who died as a result of an archaic circumcision ritual called metzitzah b’peh made the rounds. The story (probably because of reason number three above) got scant media attention, and mostly seemed to be used as fodder for hyperbole-driven atheist blog posts  and poorly-executed internet memes (language NSFW).

Amongst some people I know though, this tragic event stimulated some conversation about the whole circumcised vs. uncircumcised debate, and led us to an Read the rest of this entry »

Have A Nice Day

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 10, 2011 by admin in Health & Wellness

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

It’s easier than you think.

The content of this article is partially derived from
a book and a personal development site I’m working on

Did you have a good day today? Or a bad day? If you had a “good” day, there’s a fair chance that you didn’t even notice it. But if you had a bad day, you may even still be thinking about it. The interesting thing about good and bad days though, is that there’s really no such thing. As a recovering addict, I consider myself to be something of an expert on good and bad days. For a long time, I had plenty of both, and often on the same day! Some days would start horribly – perhaps because of a brain-splitting hangover – and then I’d dig into the day’s activities, and things would be okay. And then later, I’d meet up with friends for drinks (and perhaps more), and things would get really GREAT for a while. A few years ago, I decided to step off that little merry-go-round though, and since then, have sort of made it a goal to have a lot of good days. I’m getting better at it, and ironically one of the biggest reasons is that I’m becoming more and more convinced that there’s no such thing. Let me explain. Think of two of your friends. There’s a good chance that you have one that is a little more easygoing and doesn’t get stressed out easily, and one that seems to flip out at the most minor frustration. Now put them both in a similar scenario. They wake up late one morning because their alarm doesn’t go off. They immediately try to call work to explain why they’re late, and drop their cell phone, sending the battery skidding across the kitchen floor. In the ensuing frantic moments, as they fumble to put the phone back together, they spill coffee on themselves as they rush to get dressed. And then, just for good measure, let’s say shortly after that, they get in their car and it doesn’t start. At this point, there are two distinct reactions a person could be having. On one hand, a person might be well into a frustrated rage or panic that will take hours to subside. On the other hand, a person may have started laughing at the absurdity of it all around the point where the coffee was spilled. Which one of these people is more like you? If you’re inclined to experience the scenario I described as the beginning of a “bad day”, I’d urge you to re-examine things. First of all, on a simple, scientific, and rational basis. Books like Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day and Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long both use narrative scenarios to support their explanations for what is really going on when you’re “having a bad day”. The former focuses a lot on the physical science behind things, the latter, more on the brain and cognition. The fact is, we have so many cognitive biases to choose from, that we may as well do just that – choose them! I needed a refresher in this recently, and ran across two audio books that I’ve found useful. I sort of half-listen to them while I work. One was recommended by a long-time friend. A very motivated, practical guy who – as well as being a lawyer – runs a martial arts studio, and is acknowledged worldwide for his mastery of the style of Japanese swordsmanship to which he has devoted much if his study. The book is Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. I’ve focused on the audio version. A key concept that Chopra emphasizes which I find useful is that we tend to place ourselves in an object-oriented reality, forgetting that we are literally, physically continuous with our physical reality, and that all the divisions we create are largely arbitrary. Remaining more aware of this helps me feel less at odds with things and events around me. I mean crikey. I’M PART OF THEM! He also talks about our perception of time, and the benefits of operating in the present. Along the same lines, I grudgingly gave Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (again, the audio version) a whirl. As long as you don’t find his diction or occasional meanderings into slightly woo-woo realms of thought, he offers some remarkable and simple insights into the absurdity of some of our common perceptions of time and and expectations of ourselves and reality. He reminded me that I don’t have an ego, an ego has me. But the fact is, it doesn’t need to be this complicated. We don’t need to wade through hundreds of pages of books and hours of audio. Because there are simple tools to achieving a more present-centered and acceptable life. One of them – the “serenity prayer” – gets a bad rap because of its religious overtones, so I’m going to share a deconstructed version below. This single tool has prevented more bad days than I can count, because it reminds me of the two most essential elements of having a good day: living in the present, and working with or accepting events instead of battling them. Let’s have a little fun with this. My deconstruction is below. Read the rest of this entry »

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