Archive for January, 2012

Social norms begone

I’m not very complicit with most social norms. If you see me be, then I’m probably faking it. For one, I always speak my mind with bone-breaking honesty, and this usually puts me in trouble. But that’s the most conventional example of what’s going on in my head.

Consider that I find that clothes are a waste of time when the weather is hot. No, I do not subscribe to the “nudist” ideology because that has an organized, political connotation behind it. Instead, I just find clothes impractical during summer. Why do I have to wear something when the sun is so hot? I guess I don’t find the human nude body gross, and people who do, are probably too far removed from their own nature. But that’s their problem, not mine. Why do I have to live with their golden standard of appearance?

Also, having to dress up in fashion in order to fit in is a major turn off. Well, I don’t really fit in, and I kind of like it this way. I also never use make-up (apart maybe some lip-gloss every blue moon). I’m not into clownship.

Another problem I have is with greetings. I don’t mind saying “hi”, I think that’s a very good conversation starter. But I have a problem with “happy new year”, “merry Christmas”, “happy birthday” etc. I mean, really, do we ever wish “have a bad new year” to our fellow man? Not really. So I don’t understand why we have to keep affirming such wishes separately to all we know. It feels like a renewal of a contract to me, for something so human that shouldn’t require a contract in the first place. It should be the default.

Other things that I hate: weddings. I wrote more in depth about it here, and what I consider a good alternative to them.

Table manners are not always genuine either. I prefer to enjoy food with the kind of people whose their fingers are full of oil while munching on a bone, rather than to have to dress up and try to figure out which utensil is for which purpose, while some imposter human next to me is trying to use a knife and a fork with a fucking quail.

I don’t always use my hands to eat, but when I do, it’s because I just roasted a goat!

Regarding workplace norms, I hate them equally. The dry professionalism in office and store jobs that feels like you’re talking to robots, or the office politics. Recently I read that a hospital banned its staff from wearing vibrams, and that’s just sad. In my opinion, as long as certain clothes don’t get in the way of performing the work, then staff should be free to wear anything they want. Or nothing at all.

I guess the thing that pisses me off the most is the wall people have built around them. They try to make a good impression to others by hiding their true self, just so they don’t get misunderstood and become outcasts. At the end, it’s the “lies” we perform to others daily that makes our society inhumane. No one has a clear idea who’s who, and when there’s this natural mistrust brewing, then paranoia is running the game, and when that happens, humanity is nothing but lost.

Social media, texting, and Chomsky

I really like Noam Chomsky. He’s a very kind and understanding man, full of humanity (we had a brief conversation via email recently). His opinions, and the way he tackles problems make sense to me. Well, most of the time.

He recently went ahead to say that Twitter, SMS and other forms of social media are shallow forms of communication. He has a good point when he says that complex, mega-thoughts can’t be expressed through these means of communication. I’m sure that he feels that we say too much via these mediums, but without saying anything of importance at all. But I believe that he only sees half of the picture, not because he’s too old to understand the Internet, but because he’s too entangled in his own profession where big thoughts and ideas are the bread & butter of his whole existence. He sees the big picture about everything, but not the casual details of the picture, because he’s looking from 10,000 ft high.

The kind of communication Chomsky advocates for (books, essays, possibly art) is the right medium for big ideas. But we don’t always want to philosophize all day long. Sometimes we just want to vent out or say we’re happy, or share some quick knowledge, experience, or fact. In our daily lives, outside the web, we mostly have this kind of small-talk rather than discussing Kant or Foucault (well, most of us at least). In our lives there’s usually time designated for philosophy or science or religion or whatever else, and there’s time designated for small-talk. So why shouldn’t we be able to move part of this very-human communication online and share with more people?

Sure, tweeting that your “carrot cake came out delicious and everyone at home enjoyed it” is not a big idea, and it can be perceived as “shallow”. But it also expresses the little happy things in life, offering a window into people’s lives. When I read a random book I don’t know if the author is happy or not, I don’t know if he’s happily married or not, or if he has mortgage to pay. Most of the time I don’t need to know. But for people I feel closest to, I do want to know more. It doesn’t make me visit my friends less just because I got their update online and I know they’re doing good, it just gives me a piece of mind instead that they’re ok. It makes communication feel two-way, rather than the one-way kind we get from books. Not everything in life has to be about science, philosophy, or math.

More over, Twitter has been a major micro-blog to co-ordinate political movements and report on big ideas too. It gives a voice to people who can’t always use complex words or write books. It’s the democratization of communication, and from all these 6 billion people out there, at least some of them have something interesting to say or report on, even if it has to be squeezed at 140 characters.

There is of course the other side of the coin, where we have kids texting 100 SMS per day, which is of course not only excessive, but also indeed damaging, and a waste of time and money. But then again there are trash books too out there (like these stupid romantic novels with vampires in them, ugh). So we should not get too disappointed about new technologies, it’s how we use them, they’re not inherently good or bad. I can’t wait for the time we would be able to transmit thoughts or feelings to others! Hopefully at more than 140 bytes of thought per message! 😉

I personally don’t use SMS (I may be sending about 5 SMS texts per year overall), I do very few phone calls (which is why I’m still on pay-as-you-go), but I do use Twitter and my personal blog extensively. I don’t have the hots for Facebook, MySpace, or Google Plus though, I find them too cluttered & messy — I like direct simplicity, which is why Twitter won me over. I’ve written in the past that I use my blog as a therapeutic method, it’s kind of my shrink (which is why I also write a lot of very personal things here). It has worked wonders for me, so this new world order about communication can’t be all that bad.

New hair!

Woohoo! New hair!

After years with female alopecia (thinning hair), at last, I seem to be winning that war. The smaller, younger hair you see below (click for the bigger image), did not exist a few weeks ago. My hairline now grows half an inch lower in my forehead too! My husband noticed too and he’s as delighted. If this good luck continues, I expect to have most of my lost hair back within a year or so.

So, how I did it:

1. I follow Paleo (I moved to Paleo-ketogenic 1.5 weeks ago). I eat lots of fermented foods (e.g. sauerkraut, home-made lactose-free probiotic goat yoghurt fermented for 24 hours, home-made goat kefir fermented for 36 hours), as much pastured offal as I can find in the market, home-made bone marrow broths (bones cooked for 12 hours), kombucha decaf tea, Greek Mountain Tea (one of the magical herbal teas for health), coconut oil, and a bit of raw & unfiltered local honey — among other “forgotten” foods by our civilization. I also take the iFlora multi-probiotic occasionally for my (now almost-cured) IBS-D.

2. I supplement with a lot of stuff (not all every day), mostly with: D3, Mg, K2, C, PQQ, Q10 Ubiquinol, 500 to 1000 mcg biotin (no more than that per day), and most importantly for hair: E d-tocotrienol. I bought the Dr Best one from Amazon because it was the only one with a respectable amount of tocotrienols in it, that didn’t also include a-tocophenols. These two are antagonists and they cancel each other out, so be careful what you buy. I use Cron-o-meter to estimate daily what vitamin I might be short on.

That’s it. It took 4 months of following this regimen diligently, and I got results! I fixed a lot of health issues this way, but regarding my thinning hair, the problem was hormonal, and it now slowly fixes itself back. If you’re losing hair because of genetic factors, I’d expect fewer results, but I believe that purely hormonal hair problems are reversible.

Update May 2012: After that initial bout of new hair, I got no new ones after that, but it’s possible that the Paleo-ketogenic diet I followed afterwards shot my thyroid, so I didn’t get any new hair.
Update June 2012: Scalp test now shows that my alopecia is “probably genetic”. I will be monitoring the situation and I’ll be updating here over time.

My beautiful village

This is the Greek village I’m originally from, called Skiadas (my dad’s village). The name in Greek means “Hades’ shade” or “Hades’ shadow”, since my village is built by the Acheron river, close to where the Cerberus and the entrance to the UnderWorld was located according to the ancient Greeks. According to the myth, when Plouto had too much of Hades’ darkness (or too much bickering from Persephone, his trophy wife), he would come out to the living world to rest, but because he hated the sun (he was the God for the UnderWorld, and his eyes were not used to the light), he had to find a place that had shade for a long time. The sun is obscured by a large mountain in front of Skiadas, so we don’t get sunshine there earlier than 11:00 AM for most of the year. A perfect hideout. The supposed actual entrance to Hades is nearby another village, which is where my mom is from. I guess you can say that I have a creepy lineage…

I only lived about 5 years in Skiadas overall, but it’s my real home. At 00:45 sec you can see my school (now deserted, I went there for 3 years). You can ignore the terrible local music in the video btw… That kind of music has become my nightmare since I was a kid, as I was often forced to line-dance to it (social pressure).

Now that my health is back on track, next time I’m there I will be able to shoot a proper video of my village and its people. Maybe I’ll shoot it as a documentary.

Regarding “Two Steps from Hell”

For those who never heard of “Two Steps from Hell“, allow me to introduce them to you. They’re a music production company in Hollywood that employs some classicaly-trained musicians to write operatic music for movies — although their main market is writing music for… movie trailers. As a side job, they also release full-length albums with great success. Their two albums “Invincible” and “Archangel” are some of the most-sold among contemporary classical works.

Their music is interesting. If you take these songs individually, they sound pretty good. They are all very catchy, epic, and can make some people feel like they’re the intellectual ones in their bunch, listening to cooler music than Foo Fighters. But it’s an illusion.

These albums are a great example as to why most people today don’t listen to classical music: because it’s a language from another time. It does not mirror our modern life. Music has this magical ability to describe feelings that we might have hidden deep inside us about the world we live in. When we listen to a piece that well-describes our life today (musically, not lyrically), it can evoke certain feelings that otherwise remain indescribable.

And that’s the problem with “Two Steps from Hell”. These guys are good copy-cats of the golden age of Opera. They studied what modern people find cool about opera/classical music when they cursory listen to it, and then they compress these few elements together in 2:30 minute pieces. Each of these pieces are a copy of each other in reality. Listening to these albums offers absolutely no variety. It’s from one high note to another, resulting in a shallow result at the very end.

Don’t get me wrong. These musicians know how to write very catchy classical music, they’re unquestionably talented. They have an uncanny way of providing the goods, and duping the common listener into thinking that they’re listening amazing, modern classical music. But what they listen to instead is a smart algorithm, a recipe. Over and over again.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my desire to see a kind of truly modern electronic-based “classical” music. I provided some examples from artists that touch this hopefully-upcoming sub-genre, but I think I should provide one more example, which is a piece that’s closer to what “Two Steps from Hell” do (more operatic that is). This is what the talented musicians at “Two Steps from Hell” should be doing. THIS is the kind of “classical” music (witch-house in this case) that can work today (use headphones to spot the differences). THIS is modern classical music, and not a wanna-be. THIS speaks TODAY.

Garden Vegetable Soup

JBQ had a food request today, and since he doesn’t often makes such requests, I knew I had to satisfy his cravings. He requested a vegetable soup, and so I modified Alton Brown’s popular soup recipe to make it more Paleo-friendly. JBQ said he absolutely loved the soup and that it felt fresh and tasty, although I believe that anything that gets cooked with bone marrow broth becomes tasty. Just like with duck fat…

Ingredients (for 4, 10 gr of carbs per portion)
* 1 tspoon coconut oil
* 1 tspoon pastured butter
* 1 leek, chopped
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 1 Thai chili pepper
* 1 carrot, chopped
* 1 turnip, chopped
* 3 button mushrooms, chopped thinly
* 1/3 cup frozen green beans, cut in 2″ pieces
* 1 small zucchini, chopped (optional)
* 2 green leaves, chopped (either kale, collards, turnip, swiss chard, or a small bunch of spinach or bok choy)
* 2 ripe tomatoes, peeled & chopped
* 2 cups beef bone marrow broth
* 1 TBspoon of fresh parsley, minced
* Salt & pepper to taste

1. In a big cooking pot, under low heat, add the coconut oil and butter. When hot, add the cleaned & chopped leek and minced garlic. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn the heat to medium.
2. Add the Thai chili pepper, carrot, turnip, mushrooms, green beans, the optional zucchini, and the green leaves. Stir occasionally, and cook until most of their juices have evaporated.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes, stir and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Then add the bone broth, and 1 cup of water. Cook for about an 45 minutes in medium heat, or until the liquid has been reduced to the amount you find satisfactory for a soup.
4. A few minutes before it’s done cooking, add the parsley, salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Serve hot.

Spaghetti Squash Bolognese

This is the Paleo version of Bolognese, using spaghetti squash. We had this last night for dinner and it was really good. Personally I prefer it over real pasta.

Ingredients (for 4, 15 gr of carbs per portion)
* 1 lb (450gr) beef or veal minced meat
* 1 small spaghetti squash
* 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 1 TBspoon chopped parsley
* 1 clove of garlic, minced
* 4 button mushrooms, chopped
* 1 TBspoon coconut oil
* 2 TBspoons olive oil
* 1/3 bell pepper, chopped
* 1 cup of bone marrow broth, or water
* Salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven at 400 F (200 C). On a cookie sheet lay some parchment paper. Cut the spaghetti squash in two length-wise with a sharp knife. Using a spoon remove all the seeds found in the squash, and discard them. Using your finger, apply the olive oil everywhere on the inside of the two pieces of squash. Place face-down on the cookie sheet, poke some holes using the knife (so the squash can “breathe”), and bake for 30-40 minutes, until soft.
2. In the meantime, prepare the bolognese meat sauce. In a cooking pan, under medium heat, cook the chopped onion with the coconut oil for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the minced meat, and cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the garlic, mushrooms, parsley, bell pepper, salt & pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes, continuing to stirring occasionally.
5. Add the chopped tomatoes, and bone broth or water. Stir, and cover. When all the liquid has evaporated and the sauce is thick, it’s ready.
6. After the spaghetti squash is still warm but not too hot to handle, use a fork to “scratch” in it, and remove the spaghetti threads from it. Discard the hard skin. Serve topped with the meat sauce and optionally, grated parmesan.

Breakfast Paleo Muffins

These breakfast muffins are the latest craze in the Paleo community. Reddit’s r/Paleo is full of pictures lately with people experimenting with these! The idea is that you can make muffins ahead of time, refrigerate them, and then you microwave some of them for a few seconds in the morning, for breakfast.

Ingredients (makes 12, 3 gr of carbs each)
* 6 eggs
* 4 slices of bacon, or 2 sausage links
* 1 TBspoon Parmesan or 1/4 cup coconut milk (optional)
* 2 green onions
* 1 tspoon butter
* Salt & pepper to taste
* 3/4 cup (overall) of broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach, zucchini… Use whatever fast-cooking veggie you need to get rid of from your fridge

1. In a big bowl whisk well the eggs, with the optional Parmesan or coconut milk. Then sprinkle salt & pepper to your taste.
2. Either in a food processor, or with a sharp knife, cut the bacon (or sausage links), green onions and vegetables in small pieces. Preheat oven at 350 F (180 C).
3. Place the chopped ingredients in a frying pan and fry in medium heat for 5-8 minutes (until the bacon is done), while stirring often.
4. Take the butter in your fingers and grease well the muffin holders in the tray.
5. Pour the fried ingredients in the egg bowl and mix well. Then, using a ladle, pour the mixture into the muffin holders.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the holders immediately and let cool. Then refrigerate for up to 3-4 days, and each morning microwave for 15 to 30 secs (depending on the microwave unit) the quantity you need for breakfast.

Atheism 2.0 is ridiculous

TED published a video today by Alain de Botton, suggesting a “religion for atheists”. Basically, atheism that “incorporates religious forms and traditions to satisfy our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence”.

I must thank Alain for thinking of us atheists, but his views are myopic. Bollocks, even.

He goes on to say that education does not provide true guidance and that humans need (spiritual?) “help” all the time. Weird, because I don’t really need any of that kind of help — not any more than my normal relationship with my partner, family, or friends provide. I’m glad that I live in one of the most progressive places in the world, so people here are smart & intelligent to provide me with tangible, objective, no-bullshit advice should I need one.

I practice love, generosity, and forgiveness on any chance I get. I’m not trying to boast, but now that my major health adventure is over, I do try to help out my community (I teach free filmmaking classes for kids, and I have other plans too). But I need no God, or church, or priest, or doctrine of any kind to tell me to do these things. I know them in my head to be right because they make perfect sense, not because a deity said so. When I left Christianity back (I used to be religious in the ’90s), my opinions about love and forgiveness didn’t change. Becoming an atheist did not make me unethical. It made me more objective, and more analytical instead. But the compassion remains, I did not become empty. In fact, I see more inhumanity within religious groups today than I see between atheists.

Alain de Botton makes the mistake of thinking that atheists need extra guidance, that their education is dry and sterile, but this is not the case. While there are certainly atheists that are assholes, at least the kinds of atheists that I know are extremely smart, humane, understanding, and true freedom/liberty fighters. Societal progress is one of our major objectives of course, be it via fighting for universal healthcare, anti-corruption, environmental etc. If our society becomes more free, humane and open-minded, the citizens will be happier, that’s the idea behind our “movement” (personally I don’t see us as a movement at all, but some do). We must endlessly continue moving towards a society that’s for each-other rather than against each-other. In other words, true love. Not love instigated by a deity, or fear, but true human love.

Regarding “transcendence”: You want to transcend? Listen to music, take LSD. Or wait for future technologies. But I don’t see how trying to reach a mythical being transcend us anywhere other than the abyss. It’s just a state of mind, and in our current situation, I find it not helpful. Maybe in the future we find a technological way to save our conscious forever, or able to communicate with a higher being (e.g. a Type III civilization alien) or something like it, but today we don’t have this technology, so it’s counter-productive trying to get “high” (basically that’s what it is), instead of actively helping one-another.

Regarding “ritual”: Not only I don’t need rituals, I in fact hate rituals. It is stupid play-acting bullshit. From all his arguments, this was the dumbest one.

Regarding “connection”, it’s the only legitimate point Alain has. But I don’t need to have calendar days (as he suggests) where I join others to do specific useless things (“staring at the moon”, really?). True connection comes when people come together to solve problems, or to help one-another. Not at certain dates, but all the time. When the one becomes many, but is still singular and free. But again, I need no God to do all that. What I need is a goal (== problem that needs fixing), and a few other people who would join in the effort.

The way forward is without guitars

Almost exactly a year ago The Guardian wrote an article about “rock’n’roll” being dead. Today, they had a new article where they say that “indie rock” is dead, citing disappointing sale figures for the genre, and the fact that no new major stars are coming out of it. I will argue against this new article on two of its points, but first we need to understand what “indie rock” means. For the author of the article it encompasses anything that has guitars in it, and happens to be coming from an independent label.

The fact that no big arena stars are coming out from the indie scene is not a bad thing. The sales speak for themselves, the numbers are down for guitar-based music. And that’s for a multitude of reasons: Britpop-style or alternative-rock-style music had its time in the ’90s, and these days are now over. Another reason is that there are over 100,000 albums coming out every year, so sales are divided more now, rather than having a handful of embraced artists selling millions of records and then having the rest selling almost nothing. Being a musician is just a job now, only the best ones will be able to make a buck and go by. Don’t expect Hollywood villas, and Rolls Royce anymore. I’m personally content with that reality. It’s for the best, as we’re maturing as a society. More people are doing art, resulting in more radical art, and that art becomes less commercialized since it usually comes from musicians that don’t even have a label contract. My prediction is that as artists lose their “star” status, and as art becomes more democratized, more radical art emerges. The winners will be artistry itself, and our society as a whole.

Secondly, I don’t get what the big deal is about guitar music. Like all the other kinds of music or instruments, it had its time as a center-stage sound. It’s being in the fore-front for 50 years now. Whatever kind of melody/harmony a guitar can produce, it has already been done. There’s very little to explore, musically-speaking, via a guitar anymore. It’s time to move to naturally-impossible, more interesting sounds, sounds that can only be done via computers/synthesizers. This is not to say that guitar sounds don’t have to be used anymore. I mean, we still use pianos, or violins, or other older instruments to enrich our modern sound. But the difference is that these sounds are not at the center stage anymore, they’re there as part of the whole, they don’t overtake the whole arrangement.

I know that I will take shit for saying that stuff about guitars, but it’s only natural musical evolution. Times change, people change, music changes. It’s inevitable, and I have no recourse but to embrace that change. I personally find modern electronic music (e.g. Nightlands, Washed Out) way more engaging, unpredictable, and atmospheric than acts like Wilco, or The Black Keys. And even if you’re more into rock than electronic, the truly modern rock bands, like Phoenix or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, use the guitar as a secondary or equal element to synthesizers. That’s the way forward: No guitar, or a guitar that blends with modern instruments and doesn’t overpower.