Bananas

You need the right key to open a lock, and can’t be sure you have the right one unless you can try the key in the lock. So psychiatrists usually won’t make a diagnosis from afar. But sometimes a person’s behavior is unusual and problematic enough that a professional feels compelled to say something. Earlier this month, two prestigious psychiatrists sent this opinion piece into the NYT:

 ‘Protect Us From This Dangerous President,’ 2 Psychiatrists Say
March 8, 2017

To the Editor:

Soon after the election, one of us raised concerns about Donald Trump’s fitness for office, based on the alarming symptoms of mental instability he had shown during his campaign. Since then, this concern has grown. Even within the space of a few weeks, the demands of the presidency have magnified his erratic patterns of behavior.

In particular, we are struck by his repeated failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and his outbursts of rage when his fantasies are contradicted. Without any demonstrable evidence, he repeatedly resorts to paranoid claims of conspiracy.

Most recently, in response to suggestions of contact between his campaign and agents of the Russian government, he has issued tirades against the press as an “enemy of the people” and accusations without proof that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, engaged in partisan surveillance against him.

We are in no way offering a psychiatric diagnosis, which would be unwise to attempt from a distance. Nevertheless, as psychiatrists we feel obliged to express our alarm. We fear that when faced with a crisis, President Trump will lack the judgment to respond rationally.

The military powers entrusted to him endanger us all. We urge our elected representatives to take the necessary steps to protect us from this dangerous president.

JUDITH L. HERMAN
ROBERT JAY LIFTON, NEW YORK

Dr. Herman is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Lifton is a lecturer in psychiatry at Columbia University and professor emeritus at CUNY.

I’ve often wondered how mental health professionals evaluate their patients and arrive at the treatment options for them. What is taught in four years of residency, for example, that gives that young person deep insights into the mental state of another person? It seems like a short time to get (some) people tuned into what’s happening at a profound level in someone else. Anyway, in general that training is recognized as effective and these two high level practitioners sound very concerned about President Trump’s inner world and its possible negative effects on the rest of us.

Good bike locks

The Ultimate Guide to Ensuring That Your Bike Never Gets Stolen Again in Outside magazine explores the best bike lock options for finding your bike right where you left it. Here’re what I thought were the highlights.

The FBI claims 205,000 bicycles, worth maybe $80 million new, were stolen in 2015. Some say those numbers are conservative because bike theft is widely underreported.

In terms of packaging and strength, reputable U-locks are still the best single bike lock to purchase. They’re less fallible than virtually any other bike lock available. Bike theft is largely Darwinian: the strongest locks frequently survive.

Kryptonite’s New York Fahgettaboudit Mini is a U-lock that resembles a bank safe. Its hardened-steel shackle measures 18 millimeters in diameter, and its crossbar is as thick as a bratwurst. The shackle locks at both ends making it more resistant to prying/leveraged destruction and forces a thief to cut through both arms of the shackle to free a bike.But it’s heavy, nearly five pounds, as much as three full water bottles.

For everyday use, what I wanted something reassuringly sturdy but lighter, more versatile, and less expensive. Enter the Abus Granit Plus 640 ($100). The Abus locks also twice at each end of its 12-millimeter-diameter specially hardened shackle and has its locking mechanism set in the middle of the crossbar. The lockable area approximates the New York Mini’s, meaning a tight fit in terms of proper locking so there’s less room to slide in a prying tool. The Granit’s best quality: it weighs a slim 1.75 pounds.

In terms of value and convenience, the Kryptonite Messenger Mini+ is my top pick. It features an ingenious but unobtrusive second locking loop that makes the lock more versatile. The locking area of the main shackle is slightly more generous than those of the others I tried, your best parking option has a fatter anchoring point. The second locking loop provides the real magic. The main shackle threads through the second locking loop’s two rings. Use the second loop to secure a  chunky rear wheel. Or it can secure your (removed) front wheel. You can also leave the extra loop at home if it’s unnecessary for the day’s two-wheel journey.

The Knog Frankie is an outlier. The rubbery, lime-colored, cartoonish-looking cable lock is only about 28 inches long. But for only $27, you get a 14-ounce package with an incorporated (and thus unsnappable) lock that a thief, with only bolt cutters, will hate. I did. It took several minutes of my grunting effort to sever the thick and gummy silicone sheath, along with a six-millimeter braided-steel cable over a fiber core. Don’t ask the Frankie to fly solo, but as a minimalist second lock for running errands, the Knog felt reassuring.

The best balance of function, portability, versatility, and value came from combining the Kryptonite Messenger Mini+ with the Knog Frankie. In general, I’d feel secure employing that pair of locks anywhere, from errands to a lingering breakfast to a music festival.

The return of a classic

Before the smartphone came along there were phones like the Nokia 3310.

Since 2000 Nokia has sold 126 million of the original version. Today sometimes smartphone owners pine for a simpler, cheaper, and less intrusive cell phone.

Later this year, Nokia is bringing back an updated version of the 3310, keeping the name the same.

It’ll be fairly basic by modern phone standards. But for around $50 you’ll get a smaller, thinner, and lighter Nokia 3310 with a bigger screen, and a better camera.

The battery life is 31 days on standby and 22 hours of talk time. So what, if you forget to charge it.

 

 

How to be a stoic

The stoic philosopher  Senaca said, “Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

Elif Batuman wrote “How to be a Stoic” for The New Yorker last year. Here’s a shortened version of it:

Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, was born a slave, around 55 A.D., in present-day Turkey. The first line of his manual of ethical advice, “Some things are in our control and others not”—made me feel that a weight was being lifted off my chest. For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we’ll live in constant anxiety and frustration. Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being “ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’ ”

Most of the pain in my life came not from any actual privations or insults but, rather, from the shame of thinking they could’ve been avoided. Wasn’t it my fault that meaning continued to elude me or that my love life was a shambles? When I read that nobody should ever feel ashamed to be alone or to be in a crowd, I realized that I often felt ashamed of both of those things. Epictetus’ advice: when alone, “call it peace and liberty, and consider yourself the gods’ equal”; in a crowd, think of yourself as a guest at an enormous party, and celebrate the best you can.

Epictetus also won me over with his tone. If you want to become a Stoic, he said, you’ll suffer losses and humiliations and yet every setback is an advantage, an opportunity for learning and glory. This is a very powerful trick.

Epictetus’ advice about not getting angry at slaves is this simple exercise: “Starting with things of little value—a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine—repeat to yourself: ‘For such a small price, I buy tranquillity.’ ”

Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud, Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons. The sense of doom and delight that is programmed into the human body? It can be overridden by the mind. The eternal war between subconscious desires and the demands of civilization? It can be won. Now cognitive-behavioral therapy is based largely on Epictetus’ claim that “it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.”

If you want a good place to start checking out Stoic philosophy try Ryan Holidays’ book “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.” It’s a daily bite sized nugget from various Stoics accompanied by a short discussion of the quote. In a nutshell, use your own judgment about what’s good and ignoring what’s beyond your control.

 

 

Improving the simple

Improving on something that’s already simple and widely used is impressive because most people take the things in their lives for granted.

What about the lowly keyring? Every time you want to add or remove a key from a substantial keyring you risk damaging a fingernail and futzing with the split in the ring always seems to take more time than it should.

It looks like the Tang Ring keyring has improved the keyring. One disadvantage of living in Mexico is not being able to get certain things that are available in the US. It’s not a big deal but next time I’m in the US I’ll get some of these to try out.

Who gets to complain?

There’re lots of Americans  unhappy with what President Trump is doing.

If you take a look at this infographic, it’s easy to see the portions of Americans that voted as well as the portion that couldn’t be bothered to vote.

So if you’re complaining about Trump and you don’t fall into either the blue or red group, please stop.

 

Refining your Google search

Sometimes searching for answers can frustrating on the internet. Here’s Kevin Kelly’s advice for what to do when your Google or YouTube search isn’t yielding much:

I simply add the suffix “solutions” to the query. The terms “problem X + solutions” is more likely to yield sources that have answers, not just the same problem I have. 

Silos and stockpiling

 

An article in the New Yorker described how some wealthy Wall Street and Silicon Valley folks are preparing for big catastrophes by buying luxury condos in decommissioned US missile silos, or creating large stockpiles of food and other necessities.

If there is a complete collapse of civilization, I don’t think they’ll last very long hunkered down. Stronger, tougher people will find them and take what they need from them.

Consider the highly trained US soldiers who’ve been discharged into the general population or the many highly skilled hunters and outdoors people. Do you think those types are going out without a fight?

One of the wealthy interviewees said the super rich will be better off spending to make our society stronger not trying to create a stronghold for themselves.

Anyway, if there’s a calamity, knowing about hedge funds won’t be as useful as just having a down jacket and a positive attitude.

What’s the best way to survive a rocky ride? Start with how you perceive the world. Like a hummingbird’s beating wings, your brain is constantly putting out 300 to 1000 words every minute. Feelings (anger, shame, delight) appear almost instantly. Left alone they don’t last very long. But when you invent negative narratives around events, feelings can go for a very long time.

You can feel impulses, think, and experience situations without becoming hampered by mental narratives about how things should or shouldn’t  be. Navy SEALs deal with stressful situations and work to keep the chatter in their heads positive by shifting how they frame  situations.

They view setbacks like this: View bad things are temporary, tell yourself, “That happens occasionally, it’s no big deal.” Understand that bad things have a specific cause and aren’t universal, by reminding yourself, “When the weather’s better that won’t be a problem.” And realize it’s not your fault and say, “I’m good at this but today was just an unlucky day.”

They use goal setting too. When your mind says, “I need X to be happy,” SEALs are taught to set goals properly by setting goals for very short chunks of time, like making it to lunch, then dinner. But it’s enough to keep them going when their body is screaming for them to quit.

And what happened when they achieve those goals? They set new ones. The focus is on always improving because nothing motivates you better than seeing progress. The first time I ran in a marathon, instead of thinking about needing to cover 26 miles, I’d pick someone just ahead of me to catch, then pick another runner a little bit ahead as that person slowed. It worked really well.

Don’t wait until you’re in a grave situation to implement using positive framing and small goal setting. Practice during low stress situations so they become habits. Make positive deals with yourself all the time.

In the military they say, “Train like you fight,” not, “O.K., when it’s for real then we’ll really ramp up.”  Because that’s not what happens. You need to train as hard and as realistically as possible. Otherwise, you won’t rise to the occasion, you’ll likely sink to the lowest level of your training.

Good luck in that missile silo!

Gary Taubes on Joe Rogan

Gary Taubes is a science journalist with a new book, “The Case Against Sugar” (I’ve read both of his earlier books, both are well researched and compelling).

The first one is called “Good Calories, Bad Calories” presents the role of insulin as the culprit of diseases of civilization such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer. It’s very thorough and verges on being almost like a text book.

His next book was a more accessible version of the first book. And this third book seems to be along the same line.

Taubes recently appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast. During their two hour plus chat they covered most of the information the Taubes has uncovered about the role of refined carbohydrates in disease. It’s eye-opening stuff.

If you listen to this entertaining interview, you’ll get most of what you’d get from reading the book(s). Joe asks the questions you’d likely ask and bores down on the big ideas. Some of the information is getting traction and for a better understanding of what’s going on with what we eat give this interview between Gary Taubes and Joe Rogan a listen.