Monthly Archives: July 2013

Nature sounds

images-4Most mornings, we take our dog on a nature walk. It’s easy to do in our small Mexican town which encompasses and is surrounded by tropical jungle.

Usually, our walk is on a lightly traveled road with shrubs and huge trees on either side. We feel like we’re looking at a picture in National Geographic. But what’s also amazing are the sounds, especially in the summer. All sorts of frog, insect, and bird calls mixed together.

People are drawn to the natural world when they have a choice. Even in New York City.

A pleasant NYC surprise is the High Line park, an elevated pedestrian park that’s been repurposed from an elevated freight rail line running for almost two miles on the city’s west side. The landscaping is well planned and beautiful. It’s very cool and I walk it whenever I make it to NYC.

There’s a growing number of workers who walk the High Line to get to work a bit quicker in the morning and savor it later at a slower pace when returning home. The High Line is a little bit of nature in the concrete jungle.

It’s become pretty easy to at least get the sound part of nature when you’re stuck inside and want to hear a relaxing backdrop. You can hear rain sounds here, or if you prefer bird  and jungle sounds  they’re at “birdsong radio” on iTunes. There’re lots of other sites out there too. I live in a place where the sounds of nature are right outside my door, but when I want to bring some inside I turn to these sites.

Sometimes it’s good not to be #1

collapsed fat ladyI heard this week that the US has been knocked off its perch as the fattest country in the world. Who’s the fattest now? Mexico.

Mexico’s ascendance to the top spot doesn’t come as a surprise to me. I’ve lived in Mexico long enough to see how most of the people eat and witnessing some young people ballooning up after puberty and youthful activities stop. Especially if they’ve had a baby, which like many rural areas happens pretty young sometimes.

It’s easier to see obesity happening in young people as they mature, but of course it isn’t just young people. There’re plenty of heavy Mexicans in every stage of life.

Lots of soft drinks, sweet fruit drinks, and industrially processed foods are wreaking havoc here just as they are in the US. The education system here is generally lacking, so I’m guessing most people think that because something is being sold in a store it must be okay to eat, when it’s not.

Sometimes it’s good not to be #1.


Endlessly amused by people’s minds?

hidden dangerLet me tell you an abbreviated version of one of the recollections from Psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz in his book “The Examined Life.”

Girl meets boy in medical school. She’s Jewish, he’s Catholic.

Her father forbids her to marry him. She marries the boy and her parents break off all contact with her, for 18 years.

Eventually her mother reconciles with her after divorcing her father, a doctor. He’d been having an affair for years with his blonde, blue-eyed, Christian employee.

The affair had started long before the girl went to med school. The daughter described her father this way, “the bigger the front, the bigger the behind.” Stephen Grosz says, “Typically, we want to see ourselves as good, and put those aspects of ourselves that we find shameful into another person or group.” Actually the daughter’s description is pretty succinct. Grosz thinks it’s a good phase too.

Grosz has selected 31 interesting patient/analyst stories from his more than 25 years in practice, and over 50,000 hours of conversations with patients.

Each short and engrossing story is his distilled account of conversations with patients covering all sorts of behaviors, thoughts and insights. Just as most peoples’ stories are unique, each story is different and attempts to figure out and understand the hidden motivations driving his patients.

People don’t like being ignored and need to feel that someone is listening to them. Grosz meets both of these needs for his patients and often gives them, and us, penetrating insights into the “why” of human behavior.

The stories are current and timely accounts of present-day patients told without  psychological jargon. If you’re amused or intrigued by peoples’ minds you’ll enjoy “The Examined Life.”

Cause and effect

23113917What’s something men tend to buy less of when times are tough?

Most guys will put a low priority on buying themselves new underwear when money gets tight. A result of their inaction is that men’s underwear sales tend to drop in a slow economy. Even Alan Greenspan used men’s underwear sales as one of the economic indictors he looked at when making economic forecasts.

But, one thing happening at the same time as another thing doesn’t always mean that one is causing the other thing to happen. Correlation isn’t always causation. Sometimes it’s even a case of “despite” instead of “because.” Many situations are so complicated you’d never be able to tease out how much influence one thing has on another. Even so, people still like to try to understand the world around them.

Was the introduction of large diameter drinking straws an indicator as well as a contributor to the obesity epidemic in the US that’s now in full bloom? A columnist in the Washington Post posed the question and traced the introduction of the big bore straw to around 1988.

How big an influence did these jumbo straws have compared to the other factors like bigger portion sizes, less active lives, industrially processed foods, and the like? Hard to say. But a bigger straw enables people to drink more and drink more easily.

And most people use jumbo sized straws mainly when drinking sugary beverages, not water. It’s like death by a thousand little cuts – obesity by a thousand little behaviors.



It’s a Bar

imagesThere’s a bar in our small Mexican town owned by a sweet young gringo couple.

The bar struggles a bit. It’s in a pretty good location on main street, but it’s several blocks from the beach. There seem to be some “regulars.” And because the couple is well liked some other, non-regular, people pop by from time to time. Everyone in the bar is a local.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand. There isn’t much signage. Even the name of the bar isn’t easily seen. And more important than that, I think, is that there’s not a sign with the word”Bar” anywhere to be seen. And it is a bar. It’s very mysterious to me.

Everyone who drives or walks into town has to pass by the bar. It can’t be registering as a bar to visitors to town. People on vacation generally like to go out at night. I think vacationers would make a mental note of a bar as they passed by it, especially in a town with very few bars. And later, they’d return to where they saw a sign for a “bar.”

People don’t like unsolicited advice most of the time, but maybe I should work it into the conversation next time I’m there. It seems like a good idea to point to a bar if you want people who like bars to stop in.

Shattering barriers

messnerUntil it was done, most people believed no one could run a mile in under four minutes or climb Mt Everest without bottled oxygen.

Nowadays, neither feat gets much attention because Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954 and Reinhold Messner summited Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978. Achievements seem to go through three stages. First, they’re ridiculed as being impossible, second, they’re strongly opposed as foolhardy to even attempt, and third, they become accepted as self-evident and not note-worthy.

But Messner did something more. He shattered another barrier by climbing the tallest mountains in the world without a team, using a fast and light “alpine style” to get up mountains. This style was the opposite of the “siege style” of the day that used expedition sized assaults on the tallest peaks. Messner climbed not only without oxygen, but also without Sherpas, fixed ropes, or crevasse ladders and usually getting to the top in just a handful of days, instead the usual month plus for the siege style climbers.

I just wanted to tell you about an innovator and game changer. Messner’s still around and has continued and succeeded at other adventures. He’s 68 and doing well, living in northern Italy where he grew up and got his taste for the mountains. His accomplishments are extensive and impressive, if you’re curious google him and see for yourself.

Ed Viesturs, one of the top mountaineers today, put it this way, “After Messner, the mystery of possibility was gone; there remained only the mystery of whether you could do it.”

Really Hot

chili-contestantWhat’s up with this guy?Did he fall off a bus, just shoot up, or is he having an epileptic fit?

Turns out he’s a contestant at a chili pepper eating contest in India. A contest with really hot chilis. The contestant who eats the most chili peppers in 20 seconds is the winner – or maybe not.

There’s a scale used to measure the hotness of chili peppers. It’s the Scoville scale. There’s some imprecision, but it’ll give you a good idea of what you’re biting into. Some examples are, a bell pepper which wouldn’t really budge the needle, Tabasco sauce coming in at less than 8,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), and some habanero peppers will rate 400,000 SHUs.

Then there’re the naga jolokia peppers, scoring a scorching 1,000,000 SHUs or more!

For comparison, law enforcement pepper spray delivers around 1,750,000 SHUs. You’ll have to go to Northern India if you want to sample naga jolokia peppers and their relatives.

Peppers won’t hurt you but some of them can be overwhelming, I don’t want to know what happens the next day when the peppers exit the contestants’ bodies.

Give up the small tent

gettysburgA few weeks ago, we had dinner with a friend who was born and raised in New Orleans. Now in her later years, she’d be considered very liberal, so I was surprised when she said for most of her young life, living in the south, she’d always thought the civil war was about economic issues, not slavery.

And yesterday I was listening to a radio show about the battle of Gettysburg celebrating its 150th anniversary.  It’s considered the decisive civil war battle that repelled the Confederate push north.

One of the interviewees on the show was a Southerner and had visited Gettysburg, I think he said, four times. But he went on to say that this was his last visit because there weren’t enough Confederate flags on display for his liking. I think he wasn’t upset about a lack of authenticity and realism. He just wanted to see some validity bestowed on the confederacy. What was he pining for? It’s 2013 and he lives in the US. Why is he nostalgic for a time when some people could own other people?

In 1862, Frederick Douglass, had this to say, “When slavery was assailed twenty-five years ago, the whole land took the alarm, and every species of argument and subterfuge was resorted to by the defenders of slavery. The mental activity was amazing; all sorts of excuses, political, economical, social, theological and ethnological, were coined into barricades against the advancing march of anti-slavery sentiment… When the accursed slavery system shall once be abolished, and the Negro, long cast out from the human family, and governed like a beast of burden, shall be gathered under the divine government of justice, liberty and humanity, men will be ashamed to remember that they were ever deluded by the flimsy nonsense which they have allowed themselves to urge against the freedom of the long enslaved millions of our land.”

Over time people trend toward acceptance because we generally want a bigger more inclusive tent. And it turns out to be better for us all.

Get down (and up)

follow the leaderAs kids we spent lots of time on the floor and as well as time getting up from the floor. But as we got older most of us, in the first world, rarely spend any time on the floor. Are we missing something by not getting down onto the floor and getting back up from it?

When you’re training Brazilian Jui Jitsu (BJJ), you spend most of your time getting down  on the floor, either doing drills or grappling and then getting up. I’ve been training in BJJ for a while and couldn’t help noticing how much getting down and getting back up seems like an easy and effective form of exercise.

There’re other factors of course. There’s the grappling and the stresses that causes along with practice movements requiring a good bit of effort, but I feel like just the constant getting up and down from the floor is good and simple exercise.

Just getting down on the floor, lying flat, and getting back up to standing several times would be hard for most folks. It doesn’t need to be that way. Maybe getting down and back up is a way to do some exercise, you could do while watching the news or a sitcom (no pun intended). Don’t count the repetitions, just get down and get back up until the show’s over.

The best exercise is the one you’ll do. Getting down onto the floor and returning to standing for half an hour is an easy one, it probably doesn’t matter how fast you go, and could be the best one.