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Category: Humans

Be Happy Now
We received some promising news from French neuroscientists recently that might help people who suffer from depression. By shooting a simple beam of light into the brain cells of mice, researchers were able to activate the happy memories stored there — and thereby alleviate depression in their subject animals.

We all know that revisiting pleasant experiences can help make us feel better. The tricky part, if you are depressed, is getting your mind to do that. If you are lost in that dark mental state and looking to find your happy place, you will likely discover that you can’t get there from here.

That’s why this story is good news. If scientists can isolate, and then activate pleasant memories in rats, they can probably do it in humans. Can a “happy button” be far behind? Feeling bad? Just press your happy button and the darkness begins to recede. Suddenly, all the possibilities of a normal life are within reach.

Everyone seems confident that Silicon Valley is up to this job, and who can blame us? It seems that nothing is beyond their wizardry these days. And we can all agree, I think, that such a device would be a truly wonderful thing for the many people who live under the crushing weight of clinical depression.

I hope that you will forgive me, however, if I see a down side to this hopeful news. If people who live with depression have access to a happy button (and I don’t begrudge them that), then wouldn’t everyone want one, too? You know, just to get you through the day? If you are troubled by our current brave new world, in which everyone is staring slack-faced into his phone — a world where we are all lost in our devices and rarely interact face to face, then imagine this: soon, we might all be sitting around pressing our happy buttons every waking moment, not speaking, not working, not living at all in any real sense.

Since we would be so absorbed by what was happening in our happy places, we would not have time to acquire new happy memories. Instead, we would be plugged into an endless tape loop, reliving the same happy moments over and over.

Working would be out of the question. Too much of a bummer. Eventually, civilization would grind to a halt. Everyone would simply be too busy in his happy place to keep the whole thing going. At some point, the electrical grid would break down, though, and our happy buttons would cease to operate. We’d probably rebuild the system then, or at least some of it…just enough to keep our happy buttons fully push-able. Civilization would be gradually reconfigured to become a society centered on the upkeep of happy buttons.

I suppose this might be a good thing for the environment. We’re moving forward too fast as it is, and our rate of acceleration seems to be reflected in the deteriorating health of the planet. A dead stop in human activity would stop that slide. The world would be saved, but the human race would probably just wither and die.

It’s not a pretty picture, is it? In fact, it’s kind of depressing. If I only had a happy button…
No Sweat
When we hear that someone is “sweating like a pig” our mind conjures up all kinds of unpleasant images. We imagine perspiration rolling off in profusion, and we envision that flood accompanied by the unseemliest grunting and heaving and repellent odors. Not only do these images slander the person sweating, they also advance unfair stereotypes about pigs themselves.

Pigs, you see, do not sweat. They employ other methods to cool themselves (typically rolling in mud). The term “sweat like a pig” has its roots in the early days of the industrial revolution and the process of producing pig iron. The sweating referred to is the condensation that forms on a bar — or “piglet” — of molten iron as it cools after smelting.

Though I know that pigs will continue to struggle with discrimination, I can only hope that this blog has played some small part in dispelling a hurtful myth about these sensitive, intelligent creatures.

(For the record, the term “eat like a pig” means exactly what we think it means…not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Clothes Encounter
There are plenty of silly things to read about on the internet. Any article handicapping suitors on “The Bachelorette” would qualify, as would an in-depth analysis of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

I did see a story today, however, that merits more thought. The headline was almost enough to turn me away, but something drew me in. “Could Your Skinny Jeans Kill You?” it asked soberly, and I immediately suspected that the writer was mocking my gullibility. Still, I wanted an answer — and it turned out to be “Yes!”

I won’t get into details, but let me just say nerve damage and let it go at that. Apparently, such garments are only safe if you stand erect and perfectly still. Even then, you would have to put them on and take them off, and that could potentiate “tibial neuropathies by causing a compartment syndrome." I don’t have to tell you how bad that can be. I assume that culottes or skorts would have been okay.

I do feel for the woman who was at the heart of the story. She was, after all, hospitalized for four days after her run-in with her clothing, and the pants had to be cut off of her in order to administer medical care. She was clearly a victim, but my sympathy can only go so far. That’s because her injuries were self-inflicted, putting her in the sad, special category of fashion victim.

Such people are everywhere, though their misguided clothing choices rarely result in physical injury. Someday, I suppose, we might read of some unfortunate lad falling under a train because his butt-hanging-out trousers finally tripped him up, but most examples of fashion victimhood are only pathetic, not fatal.

The worst injuries are to the comfort or reputation of the victim. Imagine the young man killed by the train, for example, as he walks across the parking lot on his way to the station. One hand is occupied holding up his rad, boxer-exposing pants, while the other is employed shielding his eyes from the sun because he has his baseball cap on backward. He is no doubt oblivious to the drawbacks of his tout ensemble, but the rest of us can clearly see that he is an idiot.

But let’s not get cocky. We’ve all been fashion victims at one time or another. No? What about the button-down collar? What do those buttons accomplish besides making it harder to put a tie on? And then there are the ties themselves — which do little else but provide a showcase for our own bad taste. High heels are on the list, of course, along with most shoes, most hats, and all pre-torn garments.

Yes, we are all victims here, even if we don’t develop tibial neuropathies. If you look at the history of human apparel, you see that it has always been thus — a silly species wearing clothing that is silly. Still, we can imagine a better, more sensible world, and who knows? Someday we might live in a society without fashion victims, a universe where we can all be practical and look good...wearing togas and Birkenstocks.
Student Guide
We’ve just been through Graduation Week around here, and it’s been heartening to think of all those young minds teeming with information and ideas, the proud products of higher education. They have studied, they have learned, and now they are eager to apply their hard-won savvy in the wide, wide world.

Well, maybe. If any of them are like me, they were probably faking it most of the way. In fact, I’ll bet most of these fine young people were doing just enough studying to get a decent grade — or simply to pass. Oh, there are students who go to college to learn things, and they follow the same path that scholars have walked from the beginning. They read what is assigned; they attend classes; they take notes. They are filled with genuine curiosity over the subject matter, and they seek the fullest possible understanding of it. In other words, they study hard.

I salute these people. I am in awe of their scholarship and the contributions to society they will someday make. We need people like them to make a better world. I’m just glad it wasn’t me. I was a member of that much larger group of students who were simply trying to get by, cop their diploma, and get on with whatever the whole charade could actually buy for us in the real world.

For us, those four years were like an extended summer camp with a little light reading and writing thrown in. It prolonged our childhood into the early 20s and gave as a chance to learn how to drink and fornicate in the relatively safe environment of a college campus. It has been said that it is the longest, most expensive play-date we will ever have.

We had only one responsibility on this play-date: to earn and re-earn the right to keep it going for the whole four years. We needed a passing grade — to succeed by not failing. This was a worthy goal. Perhaps not as worthy as what those true scholars were seeking, but let’s not quibble. We, all of us, just wanted to graduate.

During my tenure in academia, I discovered some shortcuts to this goal. By disclosing them now, I hope to help the next crop of would-be graduates find their way to success. Unlike the path to a degree taken by true scholars, which traverses the high road of hard work and erudition, the road I propose skirts the marshlands and nether regions of higher education. Hence, the term “shortcuts.” Call them tricks, if you like.

Most of my recommendations do not pertain to the bulk of the school term. They are reserved for use mostly in the panicky, desperate hours right before finals, which is when most students are interacting with their subject matter for the first time. However, just in case you attend a class or two (which some people call “going to school”) I do have a few tips for the rest of the term.

1. Do not attend the first day of class. The professor is no readier than you are to start the year. If you feel that you must have a syllabus, you can always get one later. If you do manage to get your hands on a syllabus, put it in a safe place so you can pull it out the night before the final. Looking at it now will only undermine your confidence. (It can also be useful, by the way, in impressing parents with the difficulty of your work at school and make them feel better about paying for all this.)

2. Do not attend the second day of class, either. The professor still isn’t ready to go, and even if he/she is, nothing taught in this session will appear on the final.

3. If you actually attend any classes, take notes. You’re there, so you might as well, right? Even if you’re just doodling, at least try to link your scribbles to the current lesson.

4. So much for the semester. Let’s fast forward to the night before the final. You probably have some inkling of what the course is about, and that alone will probably get you through — along with a little creative bullshitting. (If you are in the Sciences, rather than the Liberal Arts, God help you.) Just to be on the safe side, though, you should probably crack the textbook. Don’t worry; this won’t take long, even if the thing is a thousand pages long. First, look at the Table of Contents. In most cases, this simple act, by itself, will guarantee a passing grade. To be sure, examine it twice — backwards, the second time. It is worth trying, at this point, to divine a single, fundamental message that the book might be trying to convey (if you were to read it). If you can’t, don’t sweat it.

5. Next, peruse the Index. Allow yourself to notice any words or phrases that are repeated. Do not take notes! It is way too late for that.

6. Now, open the book to Chapter 1. Read the first paragraph of the chapter. If there are any graphs in the chapter, take note of what the x and the y axes represent. Look at the pictures, if any. Read the last paragraph of the chapter. Now move on to Chapter 2, follow the same procedure, and so on until the end.

7. If the book was written by your instructor, repeat step 6.

8. If you have the syllabus, take it out. Your mind is now ready to make sense of the titles in the suggested reading, so read them. Don’t forget to recycle when you’re done.

9. Read your notes, if any. If you can decipher them at all, it should give you a much-needed boost in confidence. Again, recycle.

10. Do not use primers like CliffNotes or other such illicit crutches. I’m talking about tricks here, not complete moral corruption.

11. Get a good night’s rest. You’ll need to be ready to party once you’re done with these goddam exams.

And that’s it! Before you know it, the four-year play-date will be over, and you will be afloat in the high seas of adulthood, as ready as you’ll ever be to make it on your own. Or, you’ll be living with your parents. But still, good job!
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon