August 06, 2010

Update 6: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Excerpt From Chapter 2

As promised, below is another excerpt, this time from Chapter 2. I’m hoping to post an earlier promised chapter outline in the next few days, mainly because I really need to do a chapter outline.  You’d be surprised how important organization is when you’re writing something longer than a snarky five-paragraph blog post. 

Okay, I was surprised. Be that as it may:

Chapter 2

You Are Ignorant

“You Idiots!” – Cover of Rolling Stone1

Bill Maher, former comedian turned acerbic commentator on the human condition for HBO, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post entitled, “New Rule: Smart President ≠ Smart Country,”2 in which he calls America a “stupid country.”

Of course, he doesn’t mean to imply that all Americans are stupid, just the ones who aren’t him. 

By way of evidence he offers up polling data that found that two thirds of those surveyed lacked sufficient familiarity with Roe vs. Wade, seven in ten couldn’t properly identify the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and two-thirds could not accurately describe the functions of the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Morons.

These are things Bill Maher, knows of course.  That would be the same Bill Maher whose job it is to make witty observations on current affairs, public policy, and politics, and so (and I’m just winging it here) would probably benefit from being thoroughly conversant on subjects that include abortion rights, Janet Napolitano, and the FDA.

By Bill Maher’s standard “Joe the plumber” could just as easily note a survey in which two thirds of Americans lack sufficient familiarity with pipe brazing, seven in ten can’t identify a flaring tool, and two-thirds can’t accurately describe the functions of a spiral ratchet pipe reamer and similarly conclude that aside from himself, the country is full of drooling imbeciles.

Now, I would not mind it if more people took a greater interest in the political process and the functions of their government.  But then, I also wouldn’t mind if more people took a greater interest in bringing back “Xena, Warrior Princess,” but that might just be me.

And while there is no question that as the size and scope of government has grown, it has become increasingly important that people follow public policy more closely, we should appreciate that people who earn their living doing something other than critiquing American public policy initiatives might devote their limited time to honing skills and accumulating knowledge that is relevant to their line of work (never mind spending more time with their family or pursuing other hobbies and interests) as opposed to carefully reading the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

That’s my job.3

And it shouldn’t mean that people less familiar with the minutia of public policy don’t get a say.  Or, as Maher says towards the end of his piece, “And these are the idiots we want to weigh in on the minutia of health care policy?”

Apparently Bill Maher doesn’t want common people on the street carelessly passing judgment on a bill they haven’t read and don’t understand. He finds it far more preferable to have educated elites carelessly passing judgment on a bill they haven’t read and don’t understand.4

After all, who is better equipped to decide whether or not comprehensive health care reform is a good idea?  The people who will be most affected by it, or the people who know how to spell J-A-N-E-T N-A-P-O-L-I-T-A-N-O?...

J.

August 6, 2010 at 01:02 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 29, 2010

Update 5: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Excerpt From Chapter 1

A commenter asked last week, “So when are you going to finish [the book]?” 

That’s a legitimate question and deserves an answer:

"I don’t know."

I didn’t say it deserved a good answer.

That said, I think I’m realistically looking at the end of August. However, regardless of where I am on the book, I plan on resuming regular blogging after Labor Day (with the campaign season heating up then, I know I won't be able to resist such a target rich environment). 

In the meantime, I’m going to post excerpts from some of the early chapters, partly because it will give you a better feel for the book itself and partly because they’re done (or nearly done, since I am endlessly tinkering and copy editing).

Today, I’ll start with the beginning of Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

Shut Up, That’s Why

“Do You Know Who I Am?” – Senator John Kerry 1

You hear people say it all the time, “everyone is a moron,” but they don’t mean it, not really.  What they really mean is “everyone else is a moron,” which is a very different thing. 

The necessary flip side to believing everyone other than you is a moron is that you yourself are not one. In fact, you are obviously quite smart.

Why would you be anything else?  You’re you, after all.

But where does this attitude originate?

One obvious source is the fact that most people are very good at one or two things.  You can be a moron like the rest of us and still be an imaginative artist, a skilled surgeon, or a mathematical prodigy.  Commerce, indeed civilization as we know it, rests on the notion that most people are really good at a few things, and pretty bad at everything else.  If we were all geniuses at everything we’d do everything, or most everything, ourselves.  Instead, we do the things we’re good at and trade the product of that labor for the things that other people are good at.

You can call it division of labor if you like, or comparative advantage.

I call it the idiot-savant theory of prosperity.

In other words, our modern industrial economy and the unprecedented prosperity it creates, is built upon the enduring principle that people are incompetent.

Inevitably, people who are good at one thing, who excel at doing something all day long, particularly in professions where there are too many opportunities for overt expressions of praise and admiration, come to believe that they are, in fact, so smart that they can do nearly anything. 

This is a universal proposition that spans millennia:

“But I observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the poets; because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom.” 2

And this is why doctors lose all their money in real estate.  This is why models think they can sing, singers think they can act, and Sean Penn thinks he can think.

This is why lawyers think they can do, well, anything…

J.

July 29, 2010 at 01:39 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 19, 2010

Update 4: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Final Excerpt From Introduction

Did I say "brief?"  I meant that ironically. 

Below is the final section of the introduction. I hope to make some real progress the next two weeks, and might have a near-final chapter outline to share within the week.

But then, we've already established that I'm a filthy liar. 

Introduction, concluded:

A few quick caveats:

I am not a conservative, although I share many common causes with conservatives, such as a preference for limited government, a fondness for low taxes, and a possibly unhealthy passion for good gin. Also, mediocre gin.  And in a pinch, bad gin, but only if there is no good and/or mediocre gin available.

Okay, I might have a gin problem. And by “gin problem,” I mean “I occasionally run out of good gin.”

Regardless, given the Sharks vs. Jets dichotomy of our national political dialogue, much of this book will draw examples that sit comfortably along the liberal/conservative fault line.   In most instances, when it comes to economic liberty, I’ll be sympathetic to the conservative view (if not necessarily the conservative practice).

I am also not a populist. 

The term “populist” has taken on some unfortunate baggage of late, much like “socialist,” “liberal,” and “MSNBC news anchor.” 

It is generally assumed (as by Brooks and Kristol mentioned earlier) that populists believe the average person in the street is gifted with wisdom grounded in hard work and simple pleasures, and if only he or she were granted dominion, our republic would flourish anew.

There is a problem with this view.

The average person in the street is an idiot.

But then, my argument is that the average person in the nation’s boardrooms, university faculty lounges and marble corridors of Washington is an idiot too.  The difference is those people don’t know it.

And here is where the average person in the street does have a leg up.  There is a certain humility born of a life spent on a rough and crooked road.  There is a sense of personal accountability that accrues to those who, while well aware that not all of life’s failings and fortunes are within one’s control, they are still one’s responsibility. 

Meaning your average person in the street at least has the wisdom to know he or she shouldn’t be telling everyone else what to do.

I am not a liberal. While perhaps obvious in this context, it might not be as clear if I were writing about the war against some drugs, or other social issues. For the record, though, I fully support the government sanctioning civil unions for straight people.  You want to get “married,” go to a church. You want to enter into a contractual agreement that will be governed by a body of law, go to the courthouse.  Now, can we please get back to important things like hysterical protests over Christmas crèches at public community centers?

I am not anti-intellectual.  I am in fact rather fond of intellectuals without whom my Amazon Wish List would be devoid of obscure narratives on Greek history I’ll never find the time to read.  I am however anti-faux-intellectual, and against the substitution of lockstep collectivist conformity for critical thought. And while I concede there really are “smart” people in the world (more to the point, people who are smart in areas I am not), I still don’t want them telling me what kind of light bulb I can buy.

Finally, I am not anti-government, much in the same way the Founding Fathers were not anti-government seeing as they went through a great deal of trouble creating one. Like the Founders, I recognize that government has an essential role, its only legitimate role, really, in securing individual liberty.  Also like them, I recognize its limits, and the hazards a powerful state poses to individual freedom. And yes, to those of you who maintain that any central government no matter how carefully conceived will inexorably consolidate power to the detriment of liberty, well, fine, you win that one. 

Anti-government zealots: 1
Me: 0

However, I try to stay in the realm of the possible.  The chances of our achieving some anarchic Utopia are about the same as the New York Yankees deciding that “you don’t need money to build a gosh darn good baseball team.”

So, what am I? (Aside from the obvious.)

I am a recovering libertarian with a drinking problem. 

Or a recovering drunk with a libertarian problem.

(I can never remember which.)

I believe retaining personal sovereignty should be a default position, and unless someone can make a really good argument as to why you should relent and cede decision-making authority to the government, just say no.

Foreign powers present an imminent threat to life and liberty? 

Okay, sure, sounds reasonable.

You think maybe I should lay off the salt and French fries? 8

Um, you know what? How about you leave that one to me.

A quick preview:

In Section 1, I review the ways in which those who fancy themselves to be gifted with superior intellect define “superior intellect” to include those people who demonstrate a unique talent for agreeing with them.

In Section 2, I address the ways in which this illusion is maintained and reinforced.

Section 3 explores the very real ramifications of allowing a small group of people who are not as smart as they think are, to run the country.

Section 4 attempts to take the first steps toward addressing this problem.  I say attempt because I admit up front that I don’t have all the questions, never mind all the answers. (Although, I have found “go easy on the vermouth” to come in handy on more than a few occasions.)

Besides, the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem.

J.

July 19, 2010 at 12:46 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 12, 2010

Update 3: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With New Excerpt

I just wanted my faithful readers to know that I have been inspired by President Obama’s example and have released the following statement:

I am not going to rest or be satisfied until the book is finished, the manuscript has been edited and cleaned up, and the people of this country can go back to reading my blog.

In that spirit, I promise I will not take any more than three vacations in any given 81-day period until my book-writing crisis has passed!

In the meantime, below is part 2 of the book’s introduction. To my surprise, the introduction is actually useful in providing a decent feel for what the book is about. Sure, this runs the very real risk of suppressing sales, but I’ve decided to call anything over a dozen a resounding success.

Planet Moron: Grading on a curve since 1993.

Introduction, Cont’d

...Before I go further, my apologies for use of the word “they” and its counterparts.  I don’t attempt to define it clearly up front, but rather let its meaning become clear through the course of the book.  This is a respected rhetorical device known as "laziness." Most people will understand it to mean those of influence, liberal or conservative, who believe themselves to be of such high intelligence that they have an obligation to tell the rest of us what to do, from politicians to academics to pundits to, God help us, “celebrities.”  In other words, the “elite,” a word I’m even less fond of, but still find a useful shorthand in this context and use extensively.

How can you determine if you are a part of “they” or a member of the “elite?”  There’s actually a very simple way to tell:

You’re not.

That was probably easier than you thought it was going to be.

Anti-elite and anti-establishment uprisings such as what has been transpiring with both the Tea Party movement specifically and the more broadly growing notion among many independents that perhaps we should start embracing individual liberty over the creeping collectivism of the past seven decades or so is often miscast.

Conservative columnist David Brooks in a March 2010 New York Times column exploring the similarities between the “new left” uprisings of the ‘60s and today’s Tea Parties wrote:

“But the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures.” 3

This is what psychologists call “projection.”

It is natural that an establishment member of the elite would assume that those who seek to overthrow the nation’s entrenched leadership structures, would believe, as David Brooks certainly would, that they are uniquely endowed with purity and virtue. 

The late Irving Kristol held a similar view, although for different reasons, elevating the wisdom of the common man above his supposed betters in order to draw a contrast with the “cultural elite” and “intellectuals” of which he was said to be generally scornful. 4

That is clearly not the premise of this book. Nor, I doubt, the premise of those who call for a less activist government.  In fact, if there is one thing I can attest to, it’s that “regular people” mostly lack the arrogance to believe their elevated virtue qualifies them to tell you how to live and tend to hew more closely to a kind of Socratic modesty:

“…So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is - for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.” 5

But then, it’s easier to retain modesty regarding your abilities when you work in occupations that don’t include an endless parade of self-congratulatory awards and recognitions.

There are no Nobel Prizes presented for the expert use of a band saw, and no national media adoration when you’re named “salesperson of the month” (although you might find yourself catching admiring glances from Richard in accounting.)

And yet one could argue that my assertion that we would be better off with less government intervention in our lives suggests that I must believe I know better how to organize society, that I am elevating my judgment above those who would argue otherwise.

But that is not my assertion at all. I’m no more or less a moron than anyone else (with the possible exception of the inventor of the vuvuzela, and that cuts both ways). I don’t want to organize society any more than I want someone else to organize it for me. 

Admittedly, there are certain collective endeavors that enjoy broad-based support. Most people would agree that we need, for example, a common approach to national defense, lest the Canadians, drunk with power from their Olympic hockey gold medal victories6 swarm our northern border and force upon us a regime built around ice beer and innovative sketch comedy.

And I concede that there is little doubt that a society with less government intervention will be different from a society with more, that is, I’m trying to convince my fellow citizens to pursue a particular point of view.  However, there is an important difference between what I want, and what the collectivists want.

You can pursue all your wildest collectivist fantasies within a system of government that elevates individual liberty above the collective.  That is, if you want to “share the wealth,” live in a commune, or organize your entire life around “Star Trek - The Next Generation,” you retain the right to do so in a free society.  I have no interest in stopping you.  (Although I might want to know where you got the cool tricorder.)

However, if you live in a collectivist society there are all manner of laws prohibiting your pursuit of individual liberty, and if you insist on running around in your Starfleet uniform all day,7 you run the very real risk of encountering a violent reaction.  Okay, running around in a Starfleet uniform all day is going to increase your risk of encountering a violent reaction no matter where you live, but you get the idea. 

The reason for much of the anger you see today is because broad swaths of people who were sitting at home minding their own business are discovering that there are legions of people who want very much to mind their business for them.

I get into all this, and much more in the pages that follow...

 

The final installment of the introduction will appear within the next week or so.

J.

July 12, 2010 at 03:30 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 06, 2010

Update 2: Brief Summer Book Hiatus With Excerpt

As part of my Brief Summer Book Hiatus, I went on my annual beach trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my old college buddies last week believing that would be a good opportunity to make some progress on my book.

Spending a week at the beach with your old college buddies is not as conducive to thoughtful writing as you might think. Well, as I might think.  It is, however, very conducive to waking up at four in the morning sitting upright in a living room chair with a half a glass of whiskey at your side.  This forced me to reassess my priorities in life. I mean, really, what a waste. 

Of perfectly good whiskey.

In my defense, I was a little burned out from trying to write the blog and the book at the same time and so a little break will no doubt serve to revive my creative juices.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Regardless, I’ve included a brief excerpt from the introduction, just so you know I really have made some progress, with “progress” loosely defined.  This is actually one of my longer chapters (blogging has made it increasingly difficult for me to sustain a single thought for more than… hey, I didn’t know we still had cheese…) so rest assured, there is much more. 

That’s supposed to be a promise, not a warning:

 

Introduction

You Are a Moron

 “People like blood sausage too, people are morons.”  -- Bill Murray as Phil Connors, Groundhog Day 1

You will find most people in authority and their enablers, whether government officials, opinion leaders, or influential members of the media, operate under the general assumption that you are a moron.  There are two problems with this:

    1) It is insulting.
    2) It is true.

Now, before you get all offended, ranting on about how that isn’t why George Washington charged the Japanese on San Juan Hill to blow up the Death Star, stop and go take a look at yourself in the mirror.  Those shoes?  With THAT belt? 

And do you even own a comb?

But the problem is not that you or I or the guy across the street with the Sierra Club bumper sticker on his Range Rover is a moron (he is). After all, our individual actions tend to have finite, limited ramifications when we are making personal decisions. 

Let’s say, purely as a hypothetical, that you once thought it would be a good idea to consume four cheese enchiladas immediately following a three-mile race during which you had to stop at seven bars and chug a beer.  The only people you hurt are yourself, maybe your girlfriend.  The waiter.  Okay, the busboy too, but you get the idea.  (Hypothetically.)

The real problems begin when people believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they themselves are somehow immune to the general human affliction of universal idiocy and should be put in charge, saving the rest of us from ourselves through the power of their superior intellect.

What do we end up with when we turn decision-making authority over to self-identified smart people, the better to organize our lives?

Sorghum subsidies.  2

This combination of conceit and power is an intoxicating cocktail for those who have imbibed but a dangerous one for the rest of us who are left to figure out how to throw the obnoxious drunk out of the house (a task made infinitely more difficult if the obnoxious drunk happens to be the federal government).

In the pages that follow I make the case for limited government from the straightforward perspective of a person who has met too many morons who are supposed to be geniuses and too many geniuses who are supposed to be morons.  I have seen small handfuls of people assume that they are so smart they can better engineer the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans than the hundreds of millions of Americans themselves.

I have seen martinis served on the rocks.

(I still have nightmares.)

In order to believe that a small group of “smart” people are best equipped to tell everyone else how to live you need to accept three premises:

1) The criteria used to choose the smart people are based on whether the people are actually smart.

2) There actually exist people smart enough that they can substitute their judgment for the judgment of 300 million individual Americans.

3) These smart people, so empowered, will act in the best interest of those 300 million Americans and not in the best interest of the smart people.

This book primarily addresses the fist two (everyone knows you make the big bucks on the sequel)…

J.

July 6, 2010 at 07:56 AM in Books | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 24, 2010

Update 1: Brief Summer Book Hiatus

Progress at start of Brief Summer Book Hiatus:

  1.  First 13 chapters written.
  2. Rough outline for remaining sections completed.

 Progress at Day 3 of Brief Summer Book Hiatus:

  1. First 13 chapters written.
  2. Rough outline for remaining sections completed.
  3. All caught up with Hell’s Kitchen on the DVR.

In other words, I’m doing pretty much as well as you probably expected. 

I should also add that I have thus far successfully resisted writing posts on educators’ attempts to ban “best friends,” a law school’s decision to increase all their graduates’ grades by .333 points in order to make them seem better to employers, and an editorial completely rejecting the notion that private property owners shouldn’t have to bear all the costs under judicial takings.

I have GOT to stop reading the New York Times.

J.

June 24, 2010 at 03:25 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 21, 2010

Brief Summer Book Hiatus

Writing, not reading.

Long-time readers know I’ve been threatening promising to write a Planet Moron book for some time now.  Long time readers also know that I’m a filthy liar.

However, I actually managed to write the first thirteen chapters over the past few months despite my many other obligations including my day job, my drinking, my blogging, my drinking, taking care of baby moron, and my drinking.

Clearly there was only one thing that I could do without for a few weeks to make room for the book.

And yes, I know I listed drinking three times but that’s only because I was afraid if I listed it four times people would start to think I drink too much.

There is a decent chance that, unlike previous hiatuses, I might actually get something done on the book, if only because I already gave the vanity publisher all my money and now they’re just waiting on the manuscript.

I am going the self-publishing route since my experience over the past 17 years strongly suggests that Planet Moron, no matter what its form or iteration, has limited niche appeal (a phrasing I prefer to the more descriptive, "actively repels most readers"). Besides, I’m hoping that what I lose in credibility, I’ll more than make up in desperate futility.

As for the content of the book, it is a philosophical manifesto of sorts, at least in the Planet Moron style. Think “On Liberty,” only not as well written.  Or clever. Or interesting, original, or important.

Okay, I need to work on my marketing approach. 

Working title:

PLANET MORON

How Faux Intellectuals, Hubris, and A Fetish For Democracy Threaten Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Martini

Since site traffic is like crack for bloggers, I would appreciate it if you’d provide me a fix from time to time and continue to check back.  Although I won’t be blogging in my traditional manner (well, mostly, as long-time readers, knowing that I’m a filthy liar, also know I’ll probably still blog a bit not to mention the Twitter updates that you can read in the sidebar), I do hope to put up some posts on my progress and perhaps include some excerpts from the book.  These will be limited as I’m intent on ensuring that the book will contain at least 85% original material and by “original material” I mean "my typical offerings of hackneyed, derivative, and juvenile musings only in a slightly different word order."

Hey, you dance with the girl that brung ya.

J.

June 21, 2010 at 05:43 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 17, 2010

Weekend Book Report - Kindle 2 Update

Dead Kindle

Kindle 2

Amazon.com
2009
Bazillion pages

PlanetmoronPlanetmoron




The good news: Amazon provides Kindle owners outstanding customer service.

The bad news: You're probably going to need it.

About a week ago I found my Kindle with the following screen:

Kindle Critical Battery No big deal I thought, I've seen this before when I haven't used it in a while.  But, like Martha Coakley's Senatorial campaign, no matter how much of a charge you give it, it just refused to take.

With my warranty about to run out, I had no choice but to spend my entire Sunday afternoon in technical support hell.

And by "entire Sunday afternoon in technical support hell," I mean, "a seven-second wait to talk to someone and five minutes of troubleshooting followed by a promise to ship me a new Kindle for delivery by Tuesday."

As impressed as I was by this (although my cynical nature suggests that those kind of quick resolutions are the product of frequent and long-known problems) it's hard to excuse a product that dies within a year and dismiss the concerns over how the experience might have been different a month from now when the warranty expires.

Overall, even though I still personally like the Kindle, I'm not pleased with its performance during its first year.

Wait, that sounds familiar...

J.

UPDATE:  As promised, the replacement Kindle arrived today (Tuesday).

Replacement Kindle I really liked the Kindle and gave it four Planet Morons in my original review nearly a year ago, and customer service has been great, but it's hard to overlook the fact that it croaked within a year.

January 17, 2010 at 10:45 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 30, 2009

Weekend Book Report – A War Like No Other

A War Like No Other A War Like No Other
How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War

Victor Davis Hanson

2005
400 Pages

PlanetmoronPlanetmoronPlanetmoronPlanetmoron

 


I was reading “A War Like No Other” around the time Mrs. Moron and I were trying to choose a name for our first child, a boy.  Being a “live-in-the-moment” kind of guy, I naturally suggested “Pericles.”

Which is why men have wives.

Author Victor Davis Hanson is a classical scholar in the traditional sense.  And by “traditional sense” we mean, “he makes you feel like an idiot in comparison,” as he does his own translations from the original Greek or Latin.

“A War Like No Other,” chronicles the Peloponnesian War between the Athenian empire and Sparta and its allies, a conflict that would consume nearly three decades and change the course of history forever.

If you are like most Planet Moron readers, you’re probably asking yourself, “I wonder if the author properly addresses the role the ill-fated Syracuse campaign played in the ultimate outcome of the war a decade later?”

Also, “I like cheese.”

The book is in fact largely organized around the methods of warfare employed, from chapters on “Fear” and “Fire” to “Horses” and “Ships.”  There is at first a gimmicky feel to this, as with all attempts to take a fresh approach to well-trodden ground (like a chess set that uses Star Wars characters, or calling cuts in a program “savings”) but it works here and offers a fascinating perspective into the means of war and the manner in which it was fought at the time.

A major theme of the narrative, and an inspiration for the title, is the escalating brutality of the war, unseen in earlier internecine Greek conflicts, that marked the 27-years of the on-and-off hostilities.  Modern readers will no doubt find the barbarous accounts of men and women being torn apart by swords and spears by these primitive ancients disturbing, accustomed as they are to the far more sophisticated approach of using bullets and high explosives.

Those were savage, savage, times.

For those interested in this era, or who just like good war stories, it’s hard to go wrong with “A War Like No Other.”

J.

PS:  The kid did end up with a name that will get him beat up at recess far less often than "Pericles."

Some comments on the Kindle: "A War Like No Other" was not available for the Kindle. And therein lies a problem.

I still love the Kindle (originally reviewed here), but my fears regarding availability (much like downloadable music a few years ago) have been confirmed.  From past Book Reports you'll note I don't spend a lot of time on the best-seller lists, so I'm finding maybe half the books I want to read available for the Kindle. On the plus side, it is approaching the $199 price it always should have been.

Bottom line, it remains a product for early-adopters.  That's my comfort zone, since it has buttons and is shiny, but it might prove frustrating for those less fascinated with gadgetry and with eclectic reading habits.

November 30, 2009 at 01:06 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 14, 2009

Weekday Book Report – The End of Overeating

The End of Overeating The End of Overeating:
Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

David Kessler

2009
336 pages

PlanetmoronPlanetmoron


The idea for Dr. David Kessler’s latest book came to him one day when he was watching the Oprah Winfrey show in which a young woman who was overweight grew distraught as she tried to confront the issues surrounding her insatiable food cravings.

If you are like us, you’re probably asking yourself, “What in the world is a grown man doing watching Oprah?”

Also, "Why do I suddenly feel like eating carrot cake?"

The book, “The End of Overeating,” explores the reasons why Americans tend to find so many modern foods irresistible.  In fact, Dr. Kessler uses his own struggle to illustrate the point:

“Why does that chocolate chip cookie have such power over me? Is it the cookie, the representation of the cookie in my brain? I spent seven years trying to figure out the answer.”

As a non-magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College and absent an M.D. from the Harvard Medical School, you’re probably thinking, “Heck, I could have solved that mystery in seven seconds: ‘Because it tastes good.’”

However, the answer is far more complicated than that and requires an advanced understanding of neurochemistry and the complex biological processes of the brain:

“When we first put a highly palatable food into our mouths, taste buds in the tongue respond by sending a signal to an area of the lower brain responsible for controlling many of our involuntary activities, such as breathing and digestion.”

"When the lower brain receives that signal, it activates the neural circuitry that contains natural opioid molecules. From the lower brain, the sensory experience of taste travels through the midbrain, reaching the regions where the sensory signals of food are integrated. Those signals are ultimately related to the “nucleus accumbens.”

Okay, fine, “It tastes good.”

But it sounds much more smarter when you use scientifiky-sounding talk.

So, we’ve established that people desire food that tastes good.  But why does it taste good?  Why do we crave buffalo wings and chocolate-covered pretzels? That’s the second blockbuster revelation of this book:

We like sugar, fat, and salt.

Mystery Solved

Mystery Solved!

But it goes even beyond that. Dr. Kessler notes that restaurants are careful to avoid creating foods that are either too bland or too overwhelming by “manipulating” the amounts of sugar, fat, and salt.

This manipulation is known in some quarters as “cooking.”

DontBugTheManipulator  

What can we do about our desire to eat food that tastes good and an industry that refuses to provide us with meals we'll dislike?

In the closing chapters of his book, Dr. Kessler lays out a number of actions you can take, all of which involve not eating those foods.

So, to sum up “The End of Overeating:”

  • We eat food that tastes good.
  • Sugar, fat, and salt taste good.
  • Don’t eat those.

There, we just saved you fifteen bucks.

J.

Disclosure: I read this book with the same care, dedication, and attention to detail, as our congressional representatives display when reading important legislation.  Probably more so.  Still, there is only so much I’ll do for my craft!

July 14, 2009 at 05:50 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack