A Brief Look At Some Things We Missed
A Brief Look At Some Things We Missed

A Brief Look At Some Things We Missed

I’m sitting here at my desk on a cold, rainy, late-autumn afternoon trying to keep warm simply by increasing my brain activity. I read somewhere that the more active we keep our brains, the more active molecules in our body become, slightly raising body temperature so that we are fooled into thinking we are more comfortable. The trick isn’t working, but there’s certainly no shortage of things to keep my brain busy. 

Over the course of the year, we’ve covered a variety of topics from why we don’t need to be everyone’s friend to the value of life in several parts, to personal terms of service and reducing your digital footprint. I like to think it’s all been interesting. At least, I’ve been interested and a couple of other people keep egging me on. This has been the first year for us to try turning our weekly writings into a podcast, and I rather like what we’ve accomplished even if there’s no one lining up to hand us any awards.

Next week I’m going to take a contemplative look over what’s happened this year and how my own life is changing as we go into 2022. There’s a lot to think about and discuss and I hope that you’ll join me before we take the month of January off to rest and catch up on some things we missed.

This week, though, I want to take a look at some of the things we didn’t have time to talk about. I get hundreds of articles and studies landing in my inbox every day. Even if my body didn’t require any sleep, there still wouldn’t be enough time to get through all of them. A part of me feels bad for not reading everything because every article represents a lot of time, research, and effort on the part of at least one writer and often an entire team of people. I hate letting them down by not reading their work. Still, there are limits to my endurance.

What I’ve done this afternoon is go through that mountainous stack of unread articles and pulled just a handful that we’ve not discussed so that I can present them for you here. Obviously, I’m not going to give each the in-depth full-on conversation I might in other circumstances, but there are links to the articles and I’m hopeful that you will more fully explore the ones that pique your interest. One never knows when some random piece of information we’ve lodged in our brains suddenly becomes relevant in a conversation or a life situation we weren’t expecting.

So fill up your mug with something warm, wrap yourself in a blanket or a sweater, and let’s ponder these compelling ideas from a year with too many serious and troubling issues.

You don’t need to eat three meals a day

Many of us grew up being told that we need three “square” meals a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in order to be healthy. We even organize our days and activities around maintaining those three meal times. At least, we did right up to the point when we were all staying home all day, working from home every day, and grew fearful of going out and doing anything. 

The pandemic has brought to light something many dieticians were already arguing: smaller meals or snacks consumed five or six times throughout the day are healthier for our bodies. For most of history, that’s exactly the way humans ate. The whole three-meals-a-day thing was a product of industrialization. No employer wanted to give factory workers more than one lunch break and initially, some didn’t give any at all. So, we started eating before work, once during work, and a large meal in the evening. As a result, our general health and wellness have declined.

Of course, a little common sense comes into play. If, when you eat more frequently, you consume a double order of chili cheese fries, then yes, you’re going to gain weight and probably do bad things to your arteries. For most people, fruit and low-fat cheeses are the better alternatives. For diabetics, nuts and raw veggies are best. Listening to your body and eating something when you’re hungry or not eating when you’re too tired can be better for everyone. The trick is finding the balance that works for you.

Drinking tea could make you live longer

I ran into a problem after taking my COVID-19 booster: my blood pressure increased significantly. I wasn’t surprised, the same thing had happened for the first two shots. This time, however, it didn’t go back down after a couple of days. I saw the headline for this article but didn’t have time at the moment to read it. The concept makes sense, though, because coffee is inherently acidic and while it does a great job of waking one up it can cause digestive issues among other things. So, I substituted my first cup of coffee in the morning for a cup of tea. My blood pressure instantly came down.

Dieticians and wellness experts have known for quite some time that drinking tea, any kind, whether warm or cold, is a healthier alternative to just about anything except water. That part isn’t new. What we learned this year, however, is that certain teas contribute to longevity. Credit a study released this year on “blue zones,” the areas of the world where people live the longest. While some factors varied from one region to the next, tea is one that is fairly common for those who live well past the age of 100. And while almost any tea is helpful, it appears that Greek teas do the most good.

Among the list of brain-healthy teas are Mediterranian mountain teas, the dried leaves and flowers of Sideritis plants, sage tea for sore throats and to guard against dementia, oregano tea for the elevated antioxidants and to calm upset stomachs, rosemary tea, whose elevated flavonoids guard against dementia, and fennel tea, which uses fatty acids for brain health. One needn’t consume, or even like all of them. Pick the one or two that work best for your taste palette. In addition to the aspects of brain health, there’s something to be said for the calming effects of sitting down and having a cup of tea. There are plenty of options, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Authenticity is probably overrated

When we were working on our Value of Life series this past summer, I specifically avoided the topic of authenticity having been warned that it was a minefield of disagreement and ambiguity over the definition of what authenticity is. That advice was valuable and likely saved me several hours of hair-pulling trying to make sense of something that, for a general topic of philosophy, is at times completely nonsensical. In the middle of that avoidance landed this article tackling the concept of what it means to be yourself and after reading it, I’m convinced it does a better job with the topic than I ever could.

First, there’s the issue that authenticity is a luxury. “Being yourself” often requires a large bank account because we are not frequently inclined to overwork, or work in a money-making venture at all. One has to be comfortable enough to not worry about life’s necessities before ever thinking about authenticity. Secondly, authenticity is often subordinated by tradition, family, or religious adherence, resulting in overwhelming amounts of anxiety and guilt. Prior to the domination of the Christian God in Western society, authenticity was more often a disregarded afterthought.

This whole thing of looking inward only works if we have a plan for getting back out. We have to be comfortable with knowing that there are things we don’t know, that we’ll never know, and accepting that level of ignorance. It’s okay. Embrace the fragmentary nature of our endeavors and temper our desire for wholeness with an understanding of our limitations. We are not merely individuals, but inherently part of multiple communities, and who we are is a composite of all of those things smashed together.

No, you can’t work 24/7

I’ve talked about sleep before a couple of years back and I don’t think it’s surprising to anyone that our bodies function better when we’re getting more sleep. On the surface, this is not new information. We know what we should be doing, we’re simply choosing to not do it. Being locked down and having to work from home has put a lot of people in the unfortunate position of essentially being “on-call” for work all the time, though, and we often feel as though we can’t say no when that zoom bell rings, even if it’s in the middle of the night. What we’re discovering now goes further than what we already knew: not getting enough sleep is quite literally suicide and we need to adjust our schedules. Now.

What’s new in our understanding of sleep is a study published this year proving that toxins build up in the brain when we don’t get deep sleep. The less deep sleep we get, the more toxic beta-amyloid sticks to your brain, and that, dear friends, can cause severe problems such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Getting more sleep in early and mid-life can make a significant difference and even at more advanced ages like mine it can slow the onset of brain disease. What we’re finding out now could explain the early deaths of people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Also included in the article is a conversation about a separate study that reveals that lack of sleep causes us to feel hungry, leading to weight issues. When we don’t sleep, the hormone ghrelin kicks in and tells us that we’re hungry, no matter how much we might have already eaten. This can not only impact people struggling with obesity but diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. The whole myth about getting by on six hours of sleep or less is really doing very bad things to our bodies and where it catches up with us the most is at the latter stages of life when we’re least able to do anything about it.

You may be part of a cult

Different people have been making charges against groups with which they disagree for years and one that we’ve heard often this past year is that one group or another is part of a cult. Here’s the thing: I’m not sure we genuinely understand what a cult actually is. The reason I’m not sure is that the experts aren’t sure and if the experts aren’t sure then the odds are high that people like you and me, as intelligent as we like to think we are, probably get it wrong the majority of the time. The simple reason for the confusion is the fact that almost everyone holds to at least one belief that is impossible to prove and if we can’t prove what we believe, then who’s to say we’re not in a cult?

What spurs this article in The New Yorker isn’t that there’s any shocking new research on cults, but the fact that we’re seeing a rise in cult-like organizations. And while Q-Anon and followers of the former president are among the first to come to mind, there are plenty of others, such as the Colorado-based Love Has Won cult who claimed their recently-deceased leader birthed the whole of creation, investors in Bernie Madoff-styled financial schemes, or  Scientology. The term “cult” is being thrown around faster and perhaps a bit more loosely than it has in recent memory.

With this particular rise in cults, which itself isn’t terribly different than other cult swarms throughout history, the political reach of modern cults is bothersome. A survey published in May shows that a whopping 15 percent of Americans believe that the government is run by Satan-worshipping pedophiles. Twenty percent believe “there is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.” These are just some of the beliefs held by those who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 and while even their own attorneys question their mental acuity, their numbers are great and their potential to dangerously affect elections and society is significant. While we’ve often blown off cults as only being a threat to the misguided people who follow them, the numbers have grown so large, and infiltrated the American mainstream to such a high degree, that we are now forced to take them seriously.

Is anyone cool anymore?

I never considered myself one of the cool kids. I was of the opinion that I could never be one of the cool kids so I went with the attitude that I was too mature to be one of the cool kids. Whatever. The fact is almost all of us secretly want to be on-trend in one way or another, even while we claim to be so off-trend that it hurts. If we really didn’t care, we wouldn’t be on social media by the billions, online shopping would never have taken off, and there would be no such thing as an influencer. Where we find ourselves now, though, is that there are so many people and brands competing for our attention that being cool has become nearly impossible to define, and even if we could define it, would anyone still really want to be cool once we labeled what it is?

Written through the self-aware prism of a woman who is the only person of color and of Muslim background in her office, the article first deconstructs how the whole need to be cool is a middle- and upper-class issue. People struggling with poverty tend to be more practical in their social choices, not having expendable funds to spend on trendy items. In some ways, she makes a reasonable case that being cool is being classist, and it’s a charge that’s difficult to refute.

But looking at Gen-Z and its access to the smartest and furthest-reaching iteration of the Internet yet, one finds that for them, ideas and preferences are more democratized. There might be micro-trends within a certain geographic region, but it’s far less likely to catch hold on a national level and fewer of their peers are likely to care. One 20-year-old woman is quoted as saying, “It’s coming to a point where we may no longer have names or genres in terms of style; style is so much more personalized, especially in the digital space I occupy.” The consumer identity that previously defined what is cool doesn’t exist anymore, and maybe that’s a good thing. 

How sexual assault deconstructs evangelicalism

The late Rachel Held Evans was one of those who dared to stand up and say something. So is Nadia Bolz-Weber. Over the past few years, I’ve watched, and often cheered, as more and more women have stood up in the face of misogynistic patriarchy and confronted the problem of sexual assault in the evangelical church. Many of them have paid a high price of being ostracized from the church, divorced by their husbands, and written off by their families. What we’re learning from them, though, is that evangelicalism is not the Christ-centered religious movement it claims to be, and the more we know the louder they scream.

This Mother Jones article by Becca Andrews takes a deep dive into sexual abuse on the campus of one of the nation’s largest religious universities, the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. She looks primarily at the case of an undergrad coed whose boyfriend not only assaulted her, but continued to make threats against her, her friends, and her family. She went through all the proper channels, told all the right people, only for them to blame her for the situation and then shame her when she fought back against the nonsense the administration was peddling.

If this problem were just limited to one Bible college in Chicago we might not be so concerned. A change in the governance of the university might be enough to correct the problem. But the issue of sexual assault permeates all of Christian Evangelicalism and as more women are taking a stand and finding more men who are allies, they’re deconstructing the whole movement, showing it for the anti-ethical fraud that it is. Just this morning, my Twitter feed contained a graphic posted by Rev. Kim W. Chafee showing a series of umbrellas representing the Evangelical notion of Godly submission and servitude. Rev. Chafee’s note was that anyone seeing anything remotely similar to the graphic in their church should “RUN for the exit and find a real church, rather than a patriarchal cult.” Their voices still struggle to be heard and Evangelicals continue to push back by shaming victims and threatening their supporters, but the cracks in the walls are growing wide and one can see a future where this dominant religious movement finally falls.

When you gotta go and you’re not wearing diapers

I grew up in an era where every store, restaurant, gas station, and every other facility that serves the public in some way had public restrooms. If you were out shopping or having fun and the call of nature hit, you could run to the nearest facility and take care of that need without any embarrassment. By the mid-seventies, though, that began to change. More restrooms were locked. More signs declared what the facilities were only for customers, and even more stated there were no public facilities at all. All across the United States, there’s a shortage of public restrooms. Finally, someone is asking why.

Putting the understandable fuel behind this Bloomberg article is the public health necessity created by COVID-19. Having hand sanitizer stations all over the place is not a sufficient replacement for the ability to thoroughly wash one’s hands with hot water and soap. The fact that such facilities are now uncommon is not only an inconvenience but a real problem in our attempts to stop a disease that is currently starting a fourth wave across the US and threatening to upend everyone’s holiday plans for yet another year.

The article is well-written by Elizabeth Yuko and she doesn’t back down from the political discourse of who should get to occupy public space. She ends the article with a quote from Peter Baldwin at the University of Connecticut: “If you don’t have public bathrooms, what you’re saying is, ‘We do not care about anyone who doesn’t have money,’ which I think encapsulates where American politics has been going since 1980. I hope that there will be a move toward greater acceptance of public spending and government intervention because that’s what it’s going to take to deal with the problem.”

The dark side of the rainbow

Millions of us grew up watching Dorothy’s adventures in the land of Oz and believing in the magical power of rainbows. Rainbows are symbolic of many things to a lot of people, but as Dorothy found out, not everything about rainbows is sunshine and unicorns. In fact, there are some cultures where rainbows are bad luck. Who knew that something so cheerful could go so wrong?

The article, based on the experience of Robert Blust in Java, Indonesia, takes a surprising look at the fact that some 124 cultures around the world have some form of tradition or mythology making rainbows a less-than-positive occurrence. These beliefs are not just relegated to more culturally-separated peoples, either. From northern California and the Great Plains tribes of North America to Australia, and even a mention in the original German version of the Grimm brother’s tales, taboos about rainbows span the globe. While they may not all be as popular as they once were, that they remain to any degree has a lot to tell us.

Where all this fear of rainbows started is difficult to pinpoint but it’s likely that it stems from the fact that rainbows have long been considered to have a supernatural force to them, either being the direct handiwork of deity or possessing some form of magic powers. The myths aren’t bothered with the actual science because they existed before science was understood. And while the tales and warnings are thousands of years old, the fact that they still exist, that there are still plenty of people who think pointing at a rainbow can cause your finger to wither, demonstrate how difficult it is for science to overcome long-standing traditions. In the end, any conversation about rainbows is fun and interesting, especially without any political influence.

We never know as much as we think

One of the things this exercise teaches me is that we all remain woefully ignorant even when we try our hardest to stay on top of the days’ most critical topics. There is no way we can ever keep up with all that is going on around us much less what is happening around the world. Sure, we’re more connected than we’ve ever been, but that only amplifies our ignorance as information that was once out of our reach is now only a few keystrokes away, leaving our ignorance without any excuse. What we ultimately have to come to grips with is the fact that there is a finite amount of information for us to know and the rest we have to leave to someone else.

This is where friends come in, a network of people who know things we don’t know and a few things we do know, and a shared desire to expand our own knowledge by sharing with others. Knowing that there is a lot we don’t know is a clear sign of intelligence but knowing that you know someone who does know, or a list of people who do know, is infinitely more valuable than simply having access to the far reaches of Google at your fingertips. Not only is the knowledge of people who are experts in a field more likely to be accurate than an Internet search, but they’re also more likely to provide the nuance necessary to apply that knowledge to a given conversation. 

Of course, I personally prefer in-person conversations and those haven’t been possible for the better part of two years now. Just as I was starting to see more opportunities being organized, this Omicron-fueled increase in rates of hospitalizations has me once again quite reluctant to participate in larger public gatherings. Zoom conversations with multiple people don’t feel natural in any way. They’re sufficient for business perhaps, but not a situation where one is trying to cultivate friendships. 

So, for now, I’ll hold onto all those emails with links to articles I don’t have time to read. Sooner or later I’ll get to them and when I do I’ll be the better for it. 

We Need Your Help

Life hits everyone hard but over the past three months, our operational expenses have jumped 40%! At the moment, this is all coming out of charles’ pockets, pockets that were already pretty shallow. We would be extremely appreciative if you would consider helping us out.

We’ve changed donation methods, for now, to hopefully make it a little easier and more transparent. You can pay directly through PayPal using either a credit card or your own PayPal account. If you listen to these podcasts, if you enjoy what charles writes, perhaps you see the value in donating, maybe even on a monthly basis rather than trying to do a lot all at once. 

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Whether you donate today or not, thank you for listening and/or reading. We appreciate you being here.


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