Saturday, December 26, 2015

Movie review: The Force Awakens


So I went to see the new Star Wars, “The Force Awakens,” with my son.

I thought there were some interesting points. They brought back some of the original characters.  They brought in some new characters.  Some of the plot appeared to be a bit recycled as well, unfortunately.

For me, it was a sequel, part of a series.  I’m expecting to keep watching it.  I’m expecting to find out what is going on.  I expected to be left hanging at the end.

OK, so the villain was not depicted as really intimidating.  He has childish temper tantrums.  He looks like Severus Snape — kind of pouty.  He does battle with a guy who has never held a light saber before and does not instantly slaughter him. Still, I’m expecting this villain to be more intimidating later.  He’s not ripe yet.

My son was much more harsh. 

He said he had seen some Star Trek movies directed by J. J. Abrams.  He said “J. J. Abrams just doesn’t know how to do big. This is Star Wars.  It’s supposed to be big.”  I was impressed that my son was following this director and knew who he was. 

It made me think about Tom Hooper, who directed “The Danish Girl.”  He was certainly capable of making even ordinary scenes quite visually impressive — though there were other issues with that work.  I wondered if it would have been more visually impressive with Hooper.

We went home and watched the phantom menace again.  This was a bit of a challenge.  it’s on VHS tape.  I haven’t actually used my VCR in about 10 years or so.  The picture kept migrating off screen — like we used to get with poor broadcast signal — with the top half of the picture on the bottom of the screen and the bottom half on the top half of the screen, and a dark line between.

Still, I had to agree that the older movie was more captivating. 

The music was certainly much more dramatic.  We called those older movies space opera.  The music seemed subdued by comparison in the recent movie.

George Lucas spent more time scanning the space craft, slowly, so that you could really appreciate their size or craftsmanship. 

My son pointed out that when they destroyed a planet in the original Star Wars, they built up to it and
 had Princess Leia being really upset while watching it.  Here they just destroyed planets willy, nilly with no reaction by anyone.  Just fireworks. It seemed more fake than in the original movie.

Actually, when I think about it, I didn’t think this woman who is essentially the main character, was acting all that well. 

My son wished they had hired Idris Elba to do the villain’s voice in the new Star Wars movie, because he thought Elba would have been able to do a real villain voice.  I asked my son, who has a nice, full, bass-baritone voice, how he would have done the villain voice.  He’s actually quite a good actor, though he’d never do it for an audience.  He said he wouldn’t try to imitate James Earl Jones, because he wouldn’t be able to do it as well. Instead, he demonstrated with a hoarse, hissing whisper, which certainly could have been effective.

Also, he pointed out, and I guess he was right, that when they used the force, it wasn’t as credible as it was in the earlier movies.  This was partly due to the sound effects.

Still, I wonder, if it had been really grandiose and pompous, like the originals, would we accept that now?  Doesn't it make sense that these are people who are kind of muddling through?  Not sure.

Anyway, I really thought Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher did well — much their old selves.  The big surprise was Mark Hamill.  Somehow he was suddenly the Luke Skywalker of that first, old movie (“New Hope”) — just loaded with charisma and presence that he hadn’t had in the later movies.

Of the newer performers, I was most impressed with John Boyega.  I thought he was great throughout.

Adam Driver I'm reserving judgment on.  Like my son said, he doesn't have that kind of charisma like the original Darth Vader, but maybe he's not supposed to.

Yeah, ok, I guess I have to concede my son’s point that if the original movie had been like this one I probably wouldn’t have been as excited about the series.  I’m not sure that’s the point, though.  My son said he wouldn’t necessarily want to see the sequel of this one.  I think I would.

Anyway, we went on Christmas day & it wasn’t very crowded, which was nice.  And we saw it in 3D.  I expected the 3D to make it more exciting, but it didn’t seem to.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Terrorism and the USA

I'm thinking about the news stories out of Paris.

I'm remembering

1) this blog I wrote in August: Iran: Bitter Harvest

2) estimates of 500k dead from our second invasion of Iraq: civilian casualties in Iraq

3) estimates of 500k CHILDREN dead in Iraq due to the economic boycott we led between the Iraq wars: Economic sanctions kill children

4) all these public shootings that are purely domestic: domestic shootings rise

How dare we accuse others of being terrorists?  How dare we?

We talk about stopping terrorism?  How about stopping our own horrible behavior that gives rise to terrorism?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On dealing with death

These are some comments I wrote recently to a sponsee relating to dealing with death.


For me, it's part of the disease to always focus on the negative and never the positive.

I like the Hindu trinity: Brahma; Vishnu; Shiva -- it's a cycle: create, sustain, destroy/transform, respectively.  When I first heard about it, I thought that Shiva, the destroyer/transformer, must be a bad guy -- like our Satan.  I was quite surprised to discover that Hindus regard him as a loving God -- the cosmic declutterer. 

Once I attended a seminar at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the earth sciences, graduate campus of Columbia University.  I heard a presentation about disaster hotspots: places where natural disasters are closely located to population centers.  These disasters include floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, and storms. The worst disaster hotspot in the world was in the Ganges valley of India. 

It made sense to me then how they had to include Shiva in their trinity.

In the western tradition, we always refer to HP as "creator."  That's incomplete.

We're still in a time in our world when more people are being born than are dying, though.

Another interesting thing that I heard was when I attended a seminar on fear at a local yoga ashram.  The speaker said that fear is often associated with fear of loss.  Then she said, "if we truly believe that we are part of a universal whole, than we must believe that nothing is ever truly lost," or something to that effect.  I may be distressed because things are redistributed somewhere where I personally cannot access them, but that is a selfish distress.

For instance, in physics we learn that time is a dimension, just like the physical dimensions of our visible world.  We humans have not learned to travel in time.  Presumably, tho, an omniscient HP can do so.  Therefore, people who seem lost to us do not seem lost to HP.  It's just that we personally cannot access them according to our current perspective.

I find these thoughts helpful in dealing with loss.



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

@wsj article about alliance against the Islamic State

9/28/15 There was an article on the front page of @wsj, talking about an alliance between Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria to fight the Islamic State militants.

The POV for the article was that somehow this was reducing USA influence in the Middle East and therefore hurting us.

Hello?

Why aren't we cheering? Don't we want the Islamic State militants eliminated?  Aren't they the wicked terrorists?  Isn't it great that this diverse group is assembling to accomplish just exactly what we're hoping for? 

Why do we have to make everything be about us -- about our giant egos getting bent out of shape?

Why does every article about China or Russia in the mainstream USA media have to be with the "see no good, hear no good, speak no good" framework?  Can't we stop this negative knee jerk reaction and notice when these people are doing something good?  Are we so simple minded that we can see no nuance, no complexity, no evolution? 

@wsj should be ashamed of itself for arousing people into fear and hostility over this.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Equal Rights Amendment

I see that NOW is going for the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) again.

This was the text of the failed ERA:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification


This amendment floundered before for 2 main reasons

1. People did not want co-ed restrooms
2. People did not want to see women drafted or put in combat -- and did not want to compel the military to do that.

Also there were concerns about maternity leave and special protections for moms.

Let's fix this amendment before re-presenting it. Let's add some things

Section 1 Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of [sex] gender, provided however that this provisions shall not be interpreted to
a)  prohibit gender segregation of sleeping, bathing, or toilet facilities;
b) require conscription of females;
c) require the military services to put females in combat or in combat units with males; or
d) relate to provision of beneficial health or work accommodations or services, where those are necessarily biologically gender specific.

You'll notice that the American language has changed.  The word "sex" now commonly refers to sexual acts, rather than the gender of individuals.  The word "sex" is no longer appropriate to this amendment.

Sometimes issues are complex and need more consideration.

I do foresee difficulties because of the gender reassignment trend that is currently so much in the public eye.  It may be that additional language will have to be considered to cover this situation.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Iran: The Bitter Harvest


[this essay was written in support of an agreement that Barack Obama reached with Iran in August of 2015, but many of the points continue to be applicable after that issue has passed from the public consciousness]

We, in the USA,  find ourselves reaping the bitter fruits of a long period of misguided foreign policy, policy that has been as evil as it has been stupid. We have supported brutal, unpopular regimes around the world to advance short term interests, ignoring the ill will we were sowing in the people affected. We have repeatedly abused our super power status.

First, there was the anti-communist period.

Iran is only one country that has been the object of such treatment. Our CIA helped overthrow a popular government in Iran in favor of a shah, whose policies were more palatable to us.

This action totally ignored the future. Most Iranians were furious about our actions. Eventually they wrested control back to an elected government. This government, being a reaction to anger over our actions, was angry at the USA and unpleasantly conservative, more so than it might have been if we had not intervened.

We did something worse in Chile, where we conspired to destroy an 84 year old democracy, because the elected president was a communist. The resulting brutal dictatorship was known for "disappearing" large numbers of people.  This became the topic of a popular song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESSbVYHHS0o

Worse still was our intervention in Viet Nam, where we fought for years to prevent a popular election, because we feared that communists would be elected. The result was untold carnage. Fortunately those people are Buddhists and seem to have forgiven us.

With the passage of time, we have come to see that our domino theory ideas, which led us into many of these actions, did not come to fruition. Politics is much more complex than black and white dotted toys. We also did not recognize that a communist government, popularly elected through a constitutional democracy, might be a very different thing from the Soviet Union or Maoist China.

I don't really understand the history of Korea, but whatever we did there has at least contributed to the survival of the fiendish lunacy that they call a government there.

More recently there has been the period of attacking Muslim regions.

The evil folly of our intervention in Iraq is fresher in our memory. First, we took the side of Kuwait in an oil dispute, ignoring the fact that Kuwait was one of those countries where women were held as slaves, while Iraq was a country where women had relatively better status. Women's rights have never taken a sufficiently important role in our considerations of foreign policy.

Then Bush II, and Cheney, conspired to deceive the American people into participating in a second war in Iraq that benefited Cheney's company at horrendous expense, both in money and in human lives. They overthrew a stable government that kept terror under control, in favor of violent anarchy. They violated the Geneva convention, relating to war criminals, a treaty our country self-righteously imposed on others, by authorizing torture and refusing international inspection. They are war criminals, yet they walk free.

Afghanistan is a strange story. Our fear of the Soviet Union was so great that we backed and trained the mujahideen, an insurgent group that opposed Soviet influence in the region. We didn't look too closely at who we were training, because we trained the likes of Osama bin Laden.

I remember reading an interview with a mujahideen member in Time magazine back in the early eighties. The fighter was asked why he opposed the USSR. He replied that they wanted to educate women and girls, which he opposed. It immediately occurred to me that, in our blind fear of the Soviets, we had rushed to help the bad guys. We saw that later, when the Taliban arose, saw too late the folly of our actions.

Then we rushed to install Karzai in Afghanistan, one of Bush II's oil industry cronies, becoming involved on the pretext that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan, when it now appears that he was in Pakistan. While this action seemed temporarily successful, we see the Taliban coming back now -- those same women haters who we helped back in the 70's and 80's.

Ever since WWII, our military adventurism has been mostly evil and stupid, earning us much enmity all over the world.

People in the Middle East, in particular, remember military adventurism from other countries as well, notably European countries, not only in modern times, but also in ancient times,  especially during the crusades which is still a topic frequently mentioned by terrorists, and which provokes a lot of negative emotions in the minds of Middle Easterners.

I remember being in seventh grade social studies and having Mrs. Raymond, at Cherokee Junior High School, teaching us about the Monroe Doctrine.  For those of you who dont remember, this was a policy instituted during the early history of the USA.  We undertook to protect other Western Hemisphere countries against European military incursions. 

I asked her, Who is going to protect them from us?

She said No one needs to be protected from us.

Really, Mrs. Raymond?  Really? Why are we studying in a school called "Cherokee?"  What did we do to the native peoples?

So now we find, "Gee whiz! Iran is actually a fairly powerful, wealthy country. They're developing nuclear capability, and they hate us."

As I stood on 8/10/15 in front of the Manhattan building where Schumer has an office, protesting Schumer's stance on Obama's agreement with Iran, I heard a counter protestor shouting, do you trust Iran? He was talking to someone else. I didnt say anything,

Afterwards, I thought No, I dont.  Do you trust the government of the USA? If you do, theres a bridge in Brooklyn Id like to sell you.

Still, my sense is that Iran is not part of the axis of evil, the way Bush II characterized it.  They have a democracy granted not perfect, but still a democracy of sorts.  The people there do have a deep concern about morality maybe not our sense, but still a sense.  Theyre not at all like North Korea, where the people are held in slavery to a mythical king.

One question is whether Iran is less to be trusted with nuclear weapons than countries that  already have them, such as Russia, China, Pakistan, India, France, the UK, Israel, and North Korea.  I would personally rate them as more trustworthy than North Korea and Pakistan possibly on a level with China and India, in terms of the quality of people who are in government. 

We should note that, as afraid as we were of Russia using nuclear weapons against us, it has never happened.  Please note my prior blog about Russia Russia v Ukraine a Dissenting View

What is the only country that has used nuclear weapons in war?  The USA!

What moral authority do we have to say that we should have nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction while others cannot? My view is none no moral authority whatsoever.  Our history is shameful -- as I've listed above.  We're just international bullies.

The real problem here is that Israel is afraid that Iran is going to attack them.  Its not the nuclear weapons exactly after all Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons itself, though I dont think thats been officially confirmed.  The problem is that Iran has committed to wiping Israel out. 

Its a unfortunate that were arguing about nuclear weapons rather than the real issue.

It would be more cool if Iran were committing not to invade/bomb Israel, much more cool, but what we have is this proposed agreement.  Its remarkable, given that we have had this ignominious history of perfidy with respect to Iran, and so many others, that theyre willing to talk to us at all.  Thats to be celebrated.  That we got any kind of concessions out of them at all is a miracle.

Can we trust them?  No.  Can they trust us?  No.  Will they abide by the agreement?  Who knows?  Will we? Who knows?

Still its progress. Its a commitment not to go into nuclear weapons.  Thats cool.  It should be supported.

The alternative seems to me to be war short-sighted, evil, misguided war a reflection of the short-sighted, evil pattern that weve been exhibiting for so very long. Let's stop this pattern.  Let's stop trying to control the world.

*******

Addendum 8/26/15 Here is a link to the FCNL flyer on the topic of the Iran deal FCNL FLYER

*******

I was at a protest demonstration in front of Chuck Schumer's office and an obnoxious person came up and started making outrageous statements which I later realized were sardonic critiques of Obama's Iran Deal.  She claimed he would do well as Hitler, and wanted to wipe out Jews.

I found this offensive.  My father was a refugee from the Holocaust, because his ancestry was Jewish.  
I do not want to wipe out Jews.

I think that we have a better chance of negotiating with Iran about Iran's position on Israel if we have good relations with them.  This deal is a good step in that direction.

Also she implied that Iran is like North Korea. NO.  I don't think so, not at all.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thoughts about how to process resentments under step 4 of the AABB

The resentment form has 3 main parts.


1. The first part is a description of the resentment.  This requires a detailed acknowledgement of what you are feeling.  (see AABB p. 65) 
 
This has 3 sub-parts.
a) the name of the resentment
b) a description of the resentment -- why you have this resentment
c) a list of what is affected.

It is very important to acknowledge your feelings and write them down.  Stuffing down feelings is part of the disease

2. The second part of the form is the prayer (AABB top of p. 67).  This is VERY important.

"God please help me show ________ [person, place, thing resented] the same tolerance, pity, and patience I would cheerfully grant a sick friend.  He/she/it is a sick person/place/thing. How can I be helpful to him/her/it? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done."
This is a spiritual form of recovery. This prayer is supposed to lift the resentment and help you see the person, place or thing resented as sick.  Visualize them with a band-aid on their forehead.

You cannot see your own character defects.  HP has to help you.  This is a spiritual method of recovery.You especially cannot see your character defects until the resentment is lifted. 

If this prayer does not work to lift the resentment, try the two week resentment prayer AABB (4th ed) p. 551-2

3. The third part of the resentment form is the "turnarounds." Where was a selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid? (AABB p. 67) 
 
These are the "character defects," maladaptive thinking that gives rise to resentments.  Resentments are fatal.  Any thinking that gives rise to resentment is also fatal.

I am attaching:

an example of the resentment form (in the style of oabigbook.info, made up the way I think it should be made up, as applied to the story of Jim (the man who drank the whisky with the milk) in the AABB pp 35-36.  You may want to click on this image to see it larger.

More about "selfish" 


When I do a BB style inventory, I list the things I want under "selfish." I do not understand "selfish" to be an insult the way it is used outside program. Instead, it is just the things that I want.

It is normal to want things.  What is bad is if I want things so much that I get sick if I don't get those things.  Also, when I want things I cannot have, I am not surrendered.

Before program I did not allow myself to say or even know many of the things I wanted. I spoke indirectly, all around what I meant or felt.  The things I said were not honestly related to what was going on inside me.  I blew up a lot, because I had so much bottled up, but my blowups were mysterious and sudden, without people having the opportunity to understand what they might have done to offend me – and without me even understanding what was bothering me.

Through repetition in program, by doing this inventory process, I have learned to identify what I want and list those things calmly.  This means that I know myself better than I used to.  I am not stuffing down.  I am being honest.  Since I list things calmly and rationally, I am more likely to get what I want than if I isolate or get sullen & resentful as I used to.  I have become a better negotiator, because of the Big Book process.

Also, because I know and am comfortable with myself, I find it easier to listen to and understand other people.  Their concerns are less likely to destabilize me than before.

Understanding selfishness has helped me feel saner and more integrated with the human race.  

I had a friend in program who had been severely abused by his father.   He wanted his father to love him. He had never felt that his father loved him.  Of course, it is natural for one to want one's father to love one; but, in this case, it was something that he could not have.  He was not able to accept that he could not have it.  (see e.g. Serenity Prayer) He ended up dying from this disease.  Surrender means that we have to accept that we are not in charge and that we don't get what we want all the time.

I have a friend who has wanted to stop the genocide in Darfur.  Now, really, if there is anything that she is powerless over, it's the genocide in Darfur, but she could not accept that.  She had a sign in her front yard that said "not on my watch: stop the genocide in Darfur."  Social activists are often overweight, because they cannot get what they want.  They might be acting selflessly by the standards of the outside world, but not by the standards of program.

For me, the most basic formulation of "selfish" was "I want people, places, and things to be different so I can be more comfortable."

More about "dishonest"

The Dishonest category was something I really did not understand at first. I thought it only related to lies that I told other people or stealing.  I did not understand that it included lies I was telling myself.  These are the harder ones to see.

For me, dishonesty includes: not accepting how much can be accomplished in a day, how much can be accomplished in a lifetime, how much sleep I need, how much time for self care.  I make myself crazy over these things.

Some other categories of dishonest that I had trouble seeing were:
  • I don't accept people, places, and things the way HP made them. I think I know better than HP.
  • Allowing other people to esteem and value me, e.g. "people pleasing" In fact, HP is the one who should esteem and value me. If I am allowing others' opinions of me to make me miserable, I am making other people into HP
  • I thought it was my responsibility to make others happy.  No, it is my responsibility to keep my side of the street clean, using the steps.  If I do that, and others are unhappy with me, then that is not my problem.  It's their problem.  Only HP can make others happy.  If I think I can make others happy, then I'm thinking I'm HP.

More about self-seeking

This category is particularly troublesome, as to what it means.  How is it different from "selfish?"

I heard 3 explanations of this

1. It is the same as selfish and is just listed as "elegant variation," a writing style thing, in the list.

2. It is "seeking yourself in others," i.e. people pleasing.  I personally put this category under "dishonest."

3. How I acted out.  That's the one I prefer.  What did I do as a result of being selfish, dishonest, and afraid? There are a lot of things that could be put in here. 

The most common for female compulsive overeaters is constantly putting out a cloud of negative emotions, which makes everyone miserable.  As with everything in program, there is a spectrum here.  We want to find a happy medium between: being constantly negative and being falsely cheerful, which is emotionally dishonest.  The truth is somewhere in between.  Black & white thinking is not good.

Another way of acting out is somatizing.  I learned more about this when I did ACA.  If I have psychosomatic symtoms, e.g. nervous stomach, blushing, rapid heartbeat, (or in my case also eczema and back spasms can also result from stress) that can often be my first warning that I need to do some stepwork.  My body is warning me. I put that under here because it's important to be aware of body warning signals.

Afraid

I'm hoping to put this in a separate blog (see e.g. AABB p. 68)



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Journalling about my career change

I was at a Quaker retreat a year ago.  They asked us to draw pictures.  That seems to be a common activity at Quaker workshops.  I don’t remember what the topic was.  I do remember what I drew.

I drew a picture of me in church, fuming, because I had to listen to a preacher, whose preachings I found insipid, annoying, lacking profundity.  This was one of my motivations for becoming a Quaker — to get onto the other side of the pulpit — to become one of the ministers — and all Friends are ministers.

Below the picture of me in church, I drew a picture of me, looking at my computer screen, fuming, because I had to watch material, much of which I found annoying for some of the same reasons — but also some other reasons.  This was one of my motivations for getting into acting and performing.  I wanted to get on the other side of the screen.

There were other reasons as well.  I love performing.  I feel it comes naturally to me. 

Yet, as I try to get into the entertainment industry, I find myself continuing to dislike the very things that drew me to want to change it.

I have been studying improv comedy for two and a half years.  I love improvising.  I love getting on stage and making things up.  So far, tho, they haven’t let me into conservatory level courses at the my school. 

I was just at the theater run by my school last night, watching a show, by one of my preferred groups.  The show was raunchy.  That seems to be the norm.

I don’t like raunchy.  I am not laughing.  I respect the talent of the people on stage.  They’re bouncy, energetic, working well together.  They’re great singers.  They are nice people off stage.  I really want to be their friend.  But I didn’t like the show.

I also don’t like the widespread use of profanity in improv.  I don’t like profanity. 

I’m taking an acting course at an acting studio.  We’re working on a classic play called “All My Sons,” by Arthur Miller.  It’s a great play.  But my character has to use some profanity.  I don’t like it. 

I get e-mails offering me courses with casting directors who are casting for TV shows that I’ve never watched.  I’m not a TV watcher.  I went completely cold turkey off video in college, because it seemed like a dangerous, addictive drug to me.  I was only recently drawn back into video, because of my computer — the lure of YouTube videos, videos that are shorter, geared to my interests by an artificial intelligence algorithm. 

TV still doesn’t lure me, tho. I would rather be creating content than consuming it, so it’s hard for me to get motivated to go to casting directors who are casting for things that I know little about and probably wouldn’t enjoy.

I’m drawn to sci-fi fantasy villains.  I like the idea of scaring people.  Probably that’s because I’m a timid person.  I don’t feel badly about being a villain, because usually the villain gets killed.  It’s just a role.

I auditioned for a horror musical recently.  The director saw on my resume that I’m religious, so he wondered if I would fit into horror.  I’m drawn to scaring people, so I’m drawn to horror. I told him that I thought that horror is often very moralistic — often more so than other genres — and draws conclusions that are very basic ethically.  There was no moral conclusion to the musical improv comedy show I saw last night at all.

Still, I was most drawn to Dark Shadows as a child, because Barnabas wanted to reform.  That’s part of what I really liked about Star Wars, Darth Vader was redeemed at the end.  Redemption is a theme that I like, much more so than killing the victim.  Tho I don’t consider myself a traditional Christian, I was impressed with the Christian idea that we are trying to save people spiritually, to get them to repent and reform rather than just punishing them.

I also liked Star Trek, as a kid, partly because Captain Kirk always regretted having to kill sentient aliens.  He did not take pleasure in it.  He wanted to avoid it.

I like to watch movies based on comic books.  There’s little or no profanity there.  There are scary villains that I would like to play, but they don’t have to swear.  Also, I like watching sexy men in tights, if it’s only slightly suggestive, and not raunchy.

One of the things that drew me to Quakers was the historical testimony of plainness.  Historical Quakers felt that spending time decorating themselves was wasteful, that that time and energy should be spent helping the poor.  For me, it’s a bit different.  I don’t like the feeling that women have to spend huge amounts of time and energy decorating themselves, because they feel insecure about themselves, particularly with respect to men.  Also, I feel that society generally compensates women less than men and women are expected to spend scarce resources on their appearances.

I got into a big debate on Facebook recently about Bruce Jenner’s transition, where I was disturbed that he felt comfortable with his natural appearance  while being interviewed by Sawyer so long as that was identified as “male,” but identifying as “female” and becoming “she,” involved wearing makeup, hyper-sexualized clothing and styled hair — a male fantasy of what a woman is — not the natural appearance of a person in the process of transitioning from male to female, with mixed features and body attributes.

The person who got most upset about my post was a successful actress, who does buy into the whole makeup, clothing, hair thing.  She felt threatened, apparently, by my opinion that Jenner’s way of defining female involved all this beauty enhancement stuff. 

The first transgender people I met were Quakers.  They, like me, were not so into the commercialization of female beauty and tended to be fairly plain.  They made me curious.  I tend to be drawn to gay and transgender men.  I wanted to know more about them.

Jenner is different.  Women in his life as a straight man included the Kardashians.  Jenner buys into that view of women. I’m still curious about Jenner, as most everyone seems to be, but I don’t like the way Jenner defines female.

But this brings me back to my friend who is a successful actress, who is not into “plain” the way I am.  In some sense, she represents my fears about what I would have to become to be successful as a performer. 

I’m not going into this to become like everyone else.  I don’t want to have to do roles that include profanity.  I don’t want to have to buy into this definition of female that includes spending huge amounts of time and energy on commercial beauty products and fashion.

Still I find myself buying some pretty clothes — drawn to them.  I used to like to wear grey and black a lot .  I don’t like it so much any more.

Part of this is my realization that grey and black clothing is still dyed.  Dyes are applied in toxic processes.  The whole dying industry has been mostly moved outside the USA, because modern commercial dying cannot be accomplished in compliance with OSHA and EPA regulations.  We’ve shipped the toxicity to the third world.

Jonathan Woolman, a historical Quaker, insisted on wearing undyed cloth, because even then toxicity was a huge issue for workers.  I have a few pieces of clothing that are made of undyed cloth.  They show stains very badly.  They’re ecru in color.  They don’t feel practical because of the way they show stains.

So I’m wearing dyed cloth and feeling schizo about it.

I feel like I’m on a slippery slope.  I’m practicing a role where I have to use some profanity.  I’m wearing some dyed clothing.  I’m anxious not to alienate a successful professional actress who is happy with her makeup and hair styling. 

I don’t want to become what I hate in order to succeed.  I don’t like the influence some people have on me. 

I’m not sure where I’m going with this.  I feel like I have moral concerns that no one else shares, a Don Quixote of sorts. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

response to @wsj op ed piece on assisted suicide 5/23/15

I personally favor the option of an assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.  As I understand it, this writer does not.

The writer points out that many states have not approved assisted suicide. One concern that comes up, and the writer expresses it in this piece, is that health care providers may be put under pressure to terminate expensive patients if physician assisted suicide is allowed.

The missing link here is the physician assisted piece.

The mission of physicians is to save lives.  They take a Hippocratic Oath to this effect.  This is the single most fundamental part of the ethos of physicians.  Why should they be the ones to have responsibility for this delicate procedure?

Why not have a separate profession of people to do this job?  These people would have cross-disciplinary training, e.g.:
  1. some medical so that they can evaluate the seriousness of the patient's condition and administer suicide drugs;
  2. some in psychology so that they can evaluate any need for counseling, both for the patient and for those close to the patient, and administer such counseling;
  3. some legal, so that they can help the patient procure necessary assistance in preparing a will and a living will; getting a health care proxy; arranging for a power of attorney for people to administer finances if the person elects not to commit suicide
  4. some general practical in terms of arranging for care of the patient and any responsibilities the patient has if the patient elects to continue living, but is not able to maintain those responsibilities.  This might reassure many patients and help them feel more hopeful.
Since these people would not be doctors, and presumably financed by some other mechanism than health insurance,  they would not be under pressure from health insurance companies to terminate expensive patients.

I would like to see these assisted suicide ballot efforts changed slightly to include this different vehicle for carrying out wishes of terminal patients.



Sunday, April 19, 2015

A neurological argument about why prayer and meditation help combat addiction

Why do I think a spiritual approach to addiction works?

I often speak with people who are skeptical that a spiritual approach works for addiction.  In some cases, this is because these people do not believe in a higher power.

I see no reason why you should have to believe in a higher power in order to work a 12 step program.  I believe it is necessary to pray, but that does not mean one has to believe in a higher power.  I would like to offer a sketch of a neurological argument for why a spiritual approach should work.  First, I will talk about some articles that I have read.  Then I will talk about impressions that I have in my own head — what some things have felt like to me — and connections I see between my own impressions and the articles that I have read.

I’m struggling to make this coherent.  I tend to get too complicated.  I may edit it more later.

Very shortly after I joined program in the fall of 2004 there was a short article in Science News that strongly influenced my thinking (Science News, 11/13/2004, Vol. 166, No. 20, p. 310). This article dealt with the topic of synchronized gamma activity in the brain
The article compared two studies.

The first was a study of schizophrenics. This first study showed that schizophrenics have less synchronized gamma activity than normal people.

The second study compared normal people with Buddhist monks who had been meditating several hours per day for fifteen to thirty years. These monks had much more synchronized gamma activity than normal people, and especially spreading into more areas of the brain. The article said that it wasn't known what was cause or affect here, because possibly people with more synchronized gamma activity were choosing to be Buddhist monks, but they found that normal people who tried to meditate would increase the size of the areas of their brains that had synchronized gamma activity.

Moreover, I saw another article (Scientific American Mind, November/December 2009 pp 65-67) where Buddhists were interviewed and they explained what they were doing when meditating.  One stated goal was to try to expand their mediation into more parts of their brains. 

I have seen some articles proposing that the schizophrenic impression of hallucination relates to some lack of connectivity between brain centers generating the hallucination and brain centers perceiving the hallucination, (cf P. Boksa, “On the Neurobiology of Hallucinations,” J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2009 Jul; 34(4): 260–262) 

This reminds me of my experience in natural childbirth. At the time I did that, I was doing a lot of yoga, so I was in a what I would now call “fit spiritual condition”. I got a sense of being in contact mentally with the labor process and even of having some control over it, despite labor allegedly being involuntary. That sensation of being in contact with the process had a spiritual feel to it, something like ESP.

Shortly after childbirth, I read the fiction book The Mists of Avalon, which is a retelling of the Arthurian legends from a female perspective. This book talked about women who had been in childbirth believing that they some kind of second sight, a sort of ESP. I really related to that, from my own prospective of having ESP-like feelings while in childbirth.

I also found a diagram on a government website related to addiction that posited that addiction is related to the central portion of the brain, including the amygdala. These central portions of the brain area approximately on eye level.

Another article in Science News gave a diagram of the brain showing areas of the brain that have been linked to conscious thought. (Science News, 2/11/2012 p. 24) These areas were almost all on the outer surface of the brain, in contrast with the suspected areas relating to addiction, which were deep in the center.

Yet another article that I saw (Currents -- Science Journal: A Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight --- Researchers Map the Anatomy of the Brain's Breakthrough Moments and Reveal the Payoff of Daydreaming, Robert Lee Hotz. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern Edition). New York, N.Y.:Jun 19, 2009. p. A.11 ) said that neurological researchers have seen decisions being formed in the subconscious part of the brain eight seconds before we are aware of them. The conscious brain is a delusional egomaniac. It thinks it is in control, but it is not.

My impression as an active food addict was that there was a part of my brain that wanted to stop eating and a part that didn't want to stop, and, somehow, the part of the brain that didn't want to stop was winning. A lot of other addicts have told me the same thing, and chapter three of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is dedicated to this phenomenon, the idea that the conscious brain wants to stop, and, yet, there constantly arises this insanely trivial excuse to go back and engage in the addictive behavior, and the conscious brain is powerless to stop it.

When I first got abstinent, I had a sensation of fluid flowing inside my brain.  I have sometimes had a similar sensation after a limb falls asleep.  As sensation returns, there is sometimes a feeling as if fluid were flowing into the previously numb area.  I therefore got the definite impression, early in program, that somehow prayer and meditation were causing parts of my brain that were asleep or numb to wake up, or have circulation return.

In view of the different positions in the brain of the conscious brain and the centers for impulses and desires, it makes total sense to me that one would not have conscious control over addiction — that there would be a disconnect between those regions.  In view of the ability of meditation to cause some form of neurological activity, namely the synchronized gamma activity, to move into more areas of the brain, it makes sense to me that meditation could help connect the conscious and unconscious brains.  This also makes sense to me in view of my experience with natural childbirth.

When I started program, I devised a meditation of an ocean wave at eye level washing into the back of my brain. I spoke about this in another blog. This was even before I saw the diagram of where the amygdala is, but, in fact, this meditation involved reaching with a wave image into precisely those areas that the government diagram specified as relevant to addiction.

The use of prayer seems analogous to me — a potential tool for getting one part of the brain to connect with another, precisely what seems to be missing in the addict who wants to quit and yet finds him or herself continually returning to the behavior that s/he wanted to stop.

******

Addendum 9/2/15

Also prayer releases endorphins http://www.wikihow.com/Get-a-Natural-Rush which is generally what addicts are seeking -- and prayer is much healthier than other things that addicts are doing to get endorphins.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Birdman

I saw Birdman.

This movie got an Oscar.

One of my teachers in one of my acting classes recommended it highly. She said she watched it three times or something like that, on her free SAG/AFTRA account. 

I can summarize my reaction

ICK

I’ve been studying to be an actress. 

Should I conclude that professional actors voted to give this movie an Oscar because it accurately reflects what actors and crew are like? 

Backstage they are constantly yelling at one another and fighting, sometimes with fists?  They trash their dressing rooms?  They are hallucinating, gratuitously naked, sexually harassing their colleagues, using French kissing a bit like the game “musical chairs?”  They loiter in high places contemplating suicide on a regular basis?  Every moment of their professional life is marked by high drama interpersonal conflict?

Really?

Drag.

To me, this movie seems a lot like the video game “Halo,” which my kids like.  It’s just one continuous sequence of conflict, from scene to scene, from room to room — like a video game.

But it gets an Oscar, as if it were high art.  I would say instead that it’s self-deluded snobbery.

And, of course, the NY Times critic is depicted as a petty sociopath.

Really?

Give me a superhero/action film any day.  At least those are intellectually honest.  They do not have the plot of a violent video game and then masquerade as art.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

@Hozier, Fantine, and Occitocin

I'm listening to Hozier. 

I was alerted to his existence by an acquaintance who told me about his song “Take Me to Church.”  She said she hated the song.  I decided to go listen to it. 

I pull up the music video. Here’s the link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYSVMgRr6pw

 I immediately hate it.  The idea of promoting gay rights appeals to me, but the not idea of watching innocent people be burned alive.  Still, the voice sticks in my head.  I want to hear it again.

I am drawn to watch the video several times.  I get a bit desensitized to the horrific incident depicted there. I decide to go listen to the album preview on amazon.  I download the album.

I’m listening to it on replay for a while. The first song currently has 27 plays on my iTunes, while the later songs have 16 .  As I listen, I keep bopping around, loving the rhythms, the voices, the harmonies.

But after a while, as I sing along, I start noticing what I’m singing.  OK, this guy doesn’t like the church, but he worships women and sex.  Hmmm.  This isn’t exactly representing my my beliefs.

I look back at the video and listen to the words.  Hozier is singing about a female lover.  He’s not singing about a male lover.  Presumably, he himself is not gay, unlike the couple in the video.  The video doesn’t really go with the words.

I mean the passion and anger go with the video — and the anti-church message — but the songs on the album are clearly about a straight man.

I find an interview with Hozier on YouTube.  He explains that treatment of LGBT people is one of the reasons he feels angry toward the church, yet I don’t see anywhere that he himself is gay.

Someone sends me a link to a video with a Russian ballet dancer done to “Take me to Church.”  Here’s the link. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-tW0CkvdDI

It is sort of a stereotype that ballet dancers *are* gay — so I imagine that perhaps this dancer, taken by the music and the video, wants to add his enthusiastic contribution.  His video is a lot more appealing than the official video.  It’s done in an idyllic wooded area.  No one is burned alive.  The dancer is talented.

But the actual words of the song, as opposed to the video — and the actual words of more than one of the songs — are on this somewhat unappealing topic: I worship women and sex, but I’m not interested in marriage/commitment.

This is a pretty typical view for an immature, selfish, young man.  Perhaps his personal morality and maturity just aren’t as advanced as the music.  That wouldn’t be too surprising.

My thoughts drift a bit to a couple of other amazing songs, performed  in Les Miz.  “On My Own” and “I Dreamed a Dream.”   Here are some links.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvzLZIiD5TU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzNVmZfNoa8

These are songs about women who have had their hearts broken by men. 

The case of the character, Fantine, played by Ann Hathaway in the movie, is much like that of the gay couple in Hozier’s video.  In both cases, we see pompous, self-righteous hypocrites violently brutalizing others in the name of religion, while ignoring those principles of religion that most of us hold most dear: love, forgiveness, tolerance, mercy, and compassion.  In both cases, the brutality of the attackers persuades us that their viewpoint is defective.  The primitive, savage brutality,  which might be thought to be inspired by early scripture, is in fact not what God wants us to be doing here and now.  Art helps us see a truth that naked text fails to reveal.

But there’s something here that doesn’t quite click. 

In fact, Hozier’s attitude toward women seems not so very different from that of the guy who abandoned Fantine to the savagery of vigilantes and, inherently, Cosette to the exploitive greed of the family who takes money in exchange for neglecting her.  He wants to have fun. He doesn’t want to make a commitment. He hates anyone who might be implying that there is something wrong morally with his behavior — or his idea of worshiping sex and women.

Now, we can rationalize.  There are contraceptives and abortion so women don’t have to be left with children who they cannot care for.  In much of the world — though certainly not all — the idea that women who have had premarital sex should be brutalized or killed or even shunned has been abandoned.  The idea that out of wedlock children should be stigmatized for the malfeasance of their parents is also commonly rejected in places that we consider civilized. 

Still, it is not at all uncommon for young women to have their hearts broken by exploitive, young men who are eager for sex and don’t care at all for the consequences.  Hozier and/or his handlers are clever to divert us from that thought, by directing our attention to the case of the poor gay couple in Hozier’s music video, which now has over a hundred million views.

Listening to Hozier’s lyrics over and over, it’s hard for me to believe that the subject matter of the music video was more than a self-interested afterthought.

This leads me back to one of my pet theories, which I talked about in a blog that I see has only 5 views at this point

http://annalisse-mayer.blogspot.com/2014/10/premarital-sex-and-free-love-revolution.html

I believe that our ability to bond to lovers is not infinite.  I believe that we bond most strongly to the first person we have sex with ("the first cut is the deepest"); and that the more people we have sex with, the weaker our ability to bond becomes. 

My own experience is that I could never enjoy anyone else as much as the first one.  Everyone is shaped a bit differently, moves a bit differently, makes different sounds.  No one was ever quite the same as the first one, the one I had bonded to, and therefore could not satisfy me the same way. 

I believe this has to do with the action of the hormone occitocin on the body responsive to certain types of stimulation.

I learned about occitocin during childbirth education.  I had an even stronger, but similar, experience after giving birth to my first child via natural childbirth and nursing him — resulting in even greater release of the hormone occitocin in a particular, life-changing event.

Based on my personal experience and my reading about the action of the hormone occitocin on the body, I believe that people who have casual sex with multiple partners are damaging themselves and their partners -- reducing their ability to bond and have satisfying relationships.  This damage has nothing to do with the vicious actions taken against Fantine in Les Miz.  It’s just the way our bodies are made and how they respond biologically to stimuli.

Despite the beauty of Hozier’s music and the cleverness of the diversion posed by his video, I have to conclude that there is something fundamentally wrong — even perhaps evil — about some of his lyrics.

-------------
Addendum 4/19/15

Well, I haven't stopped listening to Hozier.  I still like the music, even tho I have this impression of him as being a self-centered user of women.  One thing that I'm noticing now is the prevalence of the word "sin." It appears that he's troubled at some level by his own behavior and also by the moral teachings he received at a younger age.  I find this a bit encouraging. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

freight train (poem)

It's next to me
Only a few feet away
My heartbeat speeds
A bit
It's blue
At least the cars I see
It's a freight train
I'm in a passenger train
Almost close enough to touch
If the windows would open
Trains pass so near
Confined by their rails
Startling sometimes
Freight trains fascinate
Their length
No windows
Impenetrable
Spooky
The mysterious, dark coal
That's often in their open cars
Their race along
Frozen wastes
To parts unknown
For purposes unknown
So often nocturnal here
Something vaguely horrific
As if, perhaps, a ghost story
Might attach to them.
But maybe this one
Is only a construction train
A more boring creature
More frequently seen in the day

Friday, February 13, 2015

In response to @TheEconomist allegations of meritocracy in the USA

The Economist has run an opinion piece about an alleged meritocracy in the USA.

I strongly disagree with this piece, and wish to memorialize my disagreement at length.

At first blush, one might have thought my ex and I were the sort to produce rather prodigious children, but it hasn’t worked out that way at all.  My children are mentally ill, and, tho highly intelligent, are almost completely dysfunctional.

Let’s start with my ex and me.  I have an undergraduate degree and graduate degree from Ivy League institutions, with good marks from both.  My ex has an undergraduate degree from an ivy League college and a graduate degree from an almost equally prestigious university.  We both grew up in upper middle class families. My parents both had graduate degrees and my father was highly respected in academia.  My ex’s father was also a graduate of an Ivy League institution, who had a successful job, and my ex’s mom was a stay-at-home mom.  Tho she did not complete college, she was highly intelligent and articulate.  My brother also has undergraduate and graduate degrees from highly respected institutions. My ex has two siblings with graduate degrees — and the other two both have college degrees.

So why aren’t our kids doing as well as we did?

1. Research shows that older fathers are more likely to conceive children with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Bipolar.  Older grandfathers also have higher instances of such issues in their grandchildren. My ex was 36 and 39 when my kids were conceived.  My father was 40 and 42 when my I and my brother were conceived.  I suspect that couples who are academically and financially successful are more likely to have children later in life, which can enlarge the likelihood of such problems.  My kids both have mild autism spectrum disorders.  The younger one has ADHD and depression as well.

2. I believe that autism spectrum disorders are inheritable.  I see them in myself, my parents, my kids, my ex, and much of my ex’s family.  Both of my kids have them. I noticed neurological issues in my older son from birth — and he was born at home, so there were no vaccines for the first six weeks — yet he was showing neurological issues then (arching away from me when he cried, crying to be put down, preferring to be carried facing away from me, unable to mold his body to mine)

It seems to me that academically successful people are more likely to have autistic features.  Autistic features make it easier to have the attention to detail and focus necessary for academic success.  When academically successful people meet in college and have children together, they are more likely to concentrate inheritable autistic features in their children.

3. I still have a concern that my decision to work when my kids were young may have hurt them.  My mom didn’t and my ex’s mom didn’t.  I wonder how much kids would be different if i had stayed home.  Granted I was not of the sort, emotionally, to be happy doing that and my older son infuriated me a great deal, so I might have abused him if I were stuck alone with him.  Still I wonder.

4. Successful people live in larger houses.  Larger houses reduce the amount of contact between parents and children.  My ex noticed this when he moved out to a two bedroom apartment.  In the smaller, space he was better able to supervise the kids than he had been in the house.  When I was on the second floor, I had no clue at all what my kids were doing in the basement.  Granted, I would not have left them alone before they were five, but afterwards they might have been out of my sight and still in the house. I suspect that less financially successful families have mentally healthier kids, because the kids are in closer proximity to the parents more of the time. 

Indeed we see quite often that the children of the rich have serious psychological problems.  I suspect that this large house business is a factor.

5. Having successful parents is intimidating.  I found this with my father, who was such a successful academic.  I never felt I would be able to measure up to him — so, even tho I had the smarts, I probably sabotaged myself, so that I didn’t.  With my kids it was even worse.  My younger son felt so intimidated by my ex’s and my academic successes that he continually sabotaged himself to the point where he could not function at all.

6. History shows it is not so.

Also, historically, it has never been the case that highly successful people had children who were as successful as they were. 

When I studied Chinese history, I learned that they had a meritocracy under the emperors.  I also learned that it was vanishingly rare for those with high success on the imperial exams to have children with similar levels of success.

Also, learning about corporate history in two companies I worked for, I discovered that successful corporations develop something called “Third Generation Problems.” The founder builds the company.  In many cases, the first generation of offspring can continue to build the corporation; however, in general, the second generation of offspring are not competent to run a large corporation.  This is a well-documented phenomenon.

In conclusion, then, I disagree strongly with this recent article alleging a growing meritocracy in the USA.  I would use more pithy terminology to describe the meritocracy thesis, but I want to sound respectable.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Hillary phenomenon

The first that I heard that Hillary Clinton might be running for President was from conservatives.  They said she was running, that she was extremely liberal, that she would be awful.  They painted her as some kind of demon, really.

I’m going to call her “Hillary,” even though that sounds sexist, when politicians are usually called by their last name, because, otherwise, you cannot tell if I am talking about her or Bill.

I was amused that they portrayed her as so much more conservative than Rudy Giuliani when he was running against her for Senate.  Giuliani is a New York City Republican.  I found it dubious that a New York City Republican is more conservative than an Arkansas Democrat. 

My suspicions were confirmed, when I started seeing photos of him dancing in drag in a chorus line on a New York City stage, in an outfit that left his legs essentially bare.  I thought of those conservative Republican housewives in Kansas who had been induced to donate money to him because allegedly he was the conservative choice and wondered what they would make of these photos. 

Then of course there was the fact that he was publicly cohabiting with his girlfriend prior to his divorce being official — and publicly stated that it was o.k., because his medical condition rendered him impotent, so he couldn’t have sex with her — as if that made a difference or we wanted to hear it.  I again thought of those conservative rural housewives and wondered what they would make of this.

I suspect they were not feeling too happy about the people who told them that Giuliani was conservative.

Yet, this continued.  Conservative fundraisers would decry the allegedly liberal Clinton and drum up donations from those who did not know better.

But, equally, liberals started thinking she must be great if the conservatives were making such a commotion against her.

She was eventually elected senator, because Giuliani had health issues that forced him to drop his campaign.  He was radioactive, as I recall. That was different: the radioactive candidate.

But the chorus about her being so liberal and contemplating a presidential run continued. 

Whenever these rumors would circulate, the press would ask her if she was running — and you could see her thinking about it.  Would she have thought about it without the rumors?

And what was the motivation of the rumor mongers?

Once she became Senator, it immediately became clear that she was as middle of the road as they come and and as eager as could be to embrace causes that were non-controversial — like compensation for 9-11 victims.  Things that were more controversial were not on her agenda.

Kirsten Gillibrand, her successor, has been quite different, loudly proclaiming her belief in gay rights, for instance. 

In the Senate and as Secretary of State, Hillary became known for working quietly and effectively behind the scenes.  She earned the respect of everyone on both sides of the aisle and conservative Senators started acknowledging that she was someone they could work with.

I suspect that they knew that all along.  I suspect that they began decrying her alleged liberalness, just like Br’er Rabbit  told Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear that he did not want to be thrown into the briar patch.  He screamed that so loud and so often that they decided to do just what he stated he didn’t want, which was, in fact, what he did want.

For me, Hillary’s greatest weakness is lack of charisma.  Ultimately, it was lack of charisma that made her unpopular as Bill’s wife in Arkansas and what made her lose to Obama.  Curiously, Obama's charisma seems to have diminished since he became President, but still, I think he has more than she does.

Charisma gets people elected.  Sometimes commentators decry the cults of personality that seem to surround leaders, but I think it’s important for a President to have a great personality.  Charisma  helps a President get things done when interacting with others, and makes for a good impression in international negotiations.

Also, I feel that she has basically been a figment of the conservative imagination, the straw woman that they put up to distract us from someone who might be better.

She may end up as the Democratic candidate this time, but I think we should focus on finding someone else.  She is a better back office person than a candidate.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Step 1-3 AA BB Quiz

In the process of sponsoring people in Overeaters Anonymous using the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I developed a step 1-3 quiz, with key concepts that I want them to understand.  The quiz consists of a list of words and phrases that I want them to be able to define.  I also prepared model answers, which reflect my definitions of these terms.  The following is a list of the terms on the quiz (in bold) followed by my model answers.  Page numbers are in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, unless otherwise indicated.


allergy [of the body] 

p. xxviii
One common saying in program is that this disease is a three legged stool, that this disease has physical, emotional, and spiritual components.  Different people react to the stress of life in different ways.  Some people get butterflies in their stomachs, some get migraines, others back spasms, still others bite their nails.  We eat.

When modern doctors refer to an allergy, they mean a histamine allergy.  This is the sort of allergy where a person may sneeze, cough, have watery eyes, hives, or asthma.  In fact, Dr. Silkworth, who wrote "The Doctor's Opinion" and who was the great addiction maven of his time, uses the term "allergy" in an older and more general way to mean any abnormal reaction of the body to  a substance.

In the case of addiction, the allergy is one where we break out, not in hives, but in cravings.  This allergic reaction is due to a physical abnormality of the body.  Not everyone becomes a compulsive overeater.  Just as with alcohol, where there are normal drinkers, who can drink alcohol without serious problems. there are also normal eaters, who can engage in foods or eating behaviors that trouble us, without suffering any adverse effects.

Please see also p. 30, first paragraph.

phenomenon of cravings

 p. xviii

The point that Dr. Silkworth makes abut these cravings in "The Doctor's Opinion" is that these cravings are sufficient that we cannot control our repetition of the addictive behavior.  They cannot be overcome by effort of will.    This is part of powerlessness. 

entire psychic change

p. xxix

Dr. Silkworth tells the story of a man who, having followed the recommendations of this book, was so changed as to not be recognizable.   In order to escape from our addictive behavior we have to become someone else -- be prepared to change virtually everything about ourselves.

entire abstinence 

p. xxx

This was the major contribution of Dr. Silkworth to the field of addiction, the idea that an alcoholic could not drink in moderation.  They were either going to drink themselves to death or they were going to abstain entirely. There was nothing in between.

When talking about alcohol, the concept of "entire abstinence" is much clearer than when talking about "entire abstinence" with respect to food.  Obviously, we can't stop eating, or we will die. I have written a document about food plans in which I discuss some of my thoughts about this topic, which I can send you.

hitting bottom

See esp. p. 8 of the BB, where Bill W describes his hitting bottom experience … bitter morass of self-pity -- quicksand stetting around in all directions ….  In order to be able and willing to work the steps a person has to have hit bottom -- gotten to a sufficient point of desperation that they are willing to throw away all their own conceptions of things, follow instructions, work the steps.  A person who has not reached this level of desperation will not be willing to go to sufficient lengths to overcome the disease.

higher power

We cannot recover from this disease without a higher power.  We are powerless over it.  The higher power must be "God as we understood him."  It's not a higher power as someone else told you to believe in, but what is meaningful to you.  The higher power has to be something powerful enough to take away the cravings, to create the entire psychic change, to make you see yourself more clearly so you can do an inventory, to take away your defects of character, and to make you willing to make amends

curious mental twist

 (p. 37, p. 92) (also obsession of the mind)

The allergy of the body means that we cannot stop eating once we have started.  The curious mental twist means that we cannot stop from starting.  This is the one-two punch of powerlessness.

Program does not seek to cure the allergy of the body.  Program seeks to remove the curious mental phenomenon/twist.

insanely trivial excuse

p. 37

The insanely trivial excuse is often the manifestation of the curious mental twist, see e.g. the story of "Jim" pp. 35-6 -- the man who drank the whiskey with the milk.  I find this story particularly instructive, because it illustrates the disease in microcosm. 

Jim has a resentment.  He stuffs it down into his subconscious, by minimizing it.  "It wasn't much," he says.  The subconscious responds to this stuffed down resentment with the insanely trivial excuse.   The idea that he could drink whiskey with milk was seriously delusional, dangerous to both him and others, since he was sufficiently dangerous when drunk that he ended up in an asylum. With the steps, we seek instead to inventory the resentment, bringing into the conscious brain where we can hold it up to HP to take it away, rather than stuffing it down.

My metaphor for this disease is the conditioned reflexes of learning how to drive.  When I first learned to drive, I had to think about everything I did: putting foot on brake, turning steering wheel, looking in mirror.  Later, when I had been driving for a long time, I no longer had to think about these things. They came reflexively -- a conditioned reflex.  The conditioned reflex mechanism is an efficient technique for the brain -- allowing us to react more quickly to situations that we are trained for.

I believe that the tendency to medicate myself with food also became a conditioned reflex, something that happened so quickly in my mind that I was not even able to notice the emotions that led me to medicate myself.  For me, the Big Book resentment and fear exercises are an effort to dig out these emotions, bring them into the front conscious part of my brain and hold them up for my higher power to help me with. 

The danger is in minimizing the emotions, not feeling them, stuffing them down -- because that will result in the insanely trivial excuse.

Hard drinker v. alcoholic 

(20-21)

The hard drinker can stop, even tho he may have damaged his body with drinking, but the alcoholic cannot.  When confronted with the danger, they can summon the motivation to stop.  Knowledge does avail them.  Hard drinkers may actually be drinking more than alcoholics and yet not be alcoholic.

vital spiritual experience

 (p.27)

The vital spiritual experience is one that is sufficient to disrupt the conditioned reflex.  Our higher power needs to access the parts of our brain that are no longer under our conscious control.  See also pp.56-7; 567-8

One of the frustrating things about this program is trying to describe the spiritual experience that I find helpful.  There is a particular state of mind that brings abstinence, a particular kind of neutrality, presence, and peacefulness.  I believe that this state results from spiritual practices, specific mental exercises.  I don't know how to teach others to do what I do in my head.  It's frustrating.  Many other things that I do I could teach someone else.  I could show people things.  I cannot go inside someone else's head and adjust their mental attitude or teach them how to pray.

I once took a workshop in writing poetry.  In that course, I learned the concept that poetry is the art of rubbing words together to achieve a mental impression that might not be directly describable.  The following 3 program terms, when rubbed together, for me, describe the mental attitude I must have in order to be abstinent.

humility

It was the OA 12&12 that actually gave me a useful definition of "humility,"  i.e. being no better and no worse than anyone else.  Most of us can easily identify an attitude of superiority and not being humble, but it is more complicated than that.  Please also see BB 4th ed. p318

Before program, I believed that I was uniquely unloveable.  That no one could love me.  One might not think that that was an arrogant perspective, but in fact it was.  There is no one so specially unique that they cannot be loved by anyone.  None of us is that special. 

Humility is then a neutral state.  

surrender




When I am surrendered, when I substitute HP's will for mine, then I cease to struggle.  I am present.  I am flexible.  I go with the flow.  I see a silver lining in every cloud.

infinite God 


(p68)
Focus on infinity is a common meditation technique.  Most people find that looking at a distant horizon, for instance on a beach or from the top of a high point, can provoke a contemplative state.  This contemplative state is conducive to abstinence.  The term "infinite God" to me also helps provoke the contemplative state.

bondage of self

This phrase appears in the 3rd step prayer, p. 63.  I find this a surprisingly subtle and difficult concept -- when are we bonded to ourselves?  The common definition of self-will in program is "I want what I want when I want it." 

I am bonded to myself when I want something so much that I become sick if I don't get it.  I am bonded to myself when I am unable to see any point of view other than my own.  
HP is not bonded to my point of view.  HP sees things from all perspectives, something I am not capable of; however, in program, I believe I should attempt to imagine how things look to HP rather than how they look to me.

Bondage to self, or selfishness, in the BB is not necessarily the same as what a civilian means by "selfish."  When the civilian says "selfish" it is an insult.  Here, selfish is just anything we want. 
Sometimes what we want might seem very generous.  I have met several people who believed in very noble causes who ate when things did not go their way, even though their desires were generous.  One of them, for instance, desired very much to stop the genocide in Darfur.  This was a woman living in the USA.  Obviously, she was powerless to stop the genocide in Darfur.  Her frustration at her powerlessness made her eat, even though her fundamental impulse was generous.  As far as the BB is concerned, her desire to stop this genocide was selfish.  It was something she wanted to make herself feel better.  She was not surrendered to the will of HP.

This is not to say we should never want anything.  The Buddha said that desire was the root of all suffering.  Buddhists believed that the Buddha achieved complete detachment, that he came to the point where he did not desire anything -- and thus was happy.  Program does not promise us that we will become like the Buddha. 

The point is that we should know what we want; that we should inventory it; that we should ask HP to help us with it -- so that our desire will not become so painful that it causes us to relapse into our compulsive eating behavior.

I have found that the precept of program that I should list what I want has been very helpful to me.  I have come to know myself better.  I have come to be able to verbalize what I want better.  When I can calmly say what I want -- rather than withdrawing, becoming resentful, sullen or furious -- others are more likely to be able to listen and more likely to give me what I want.  Since doing the BB inventory process I have become a better self advocate, less of a doormat -- and also, therefore, less likely to explode in anger after having stuffed emotions for so long

theological arguments/questions

After giving this quiz to a number of people, I actually looked up this phrase and found, to my embarrassment that the quote I was thinking of  is not actually in the BB.  What I was actually thinking of is in the OA 12 & 12 p. 14.

"We were free to set aside theological arguments and examine the idea of spiritual power in light of our own desperate need for help with our lives."

There are many theological questions that people ask themselves when they are worried about whether and how to undertake these questions.  These questions include:
    ⁃    Is there a God?
    ⁃    Does God love me?
    ⁃    How can a loving God allow all these terrible things to happen in the world?
    ⁃    Does God care what I eat?
    ⁃    Is it bothering God or selfish to ask God for help with my eating?
    ⁃    Will God help me with this problem?
Putting aside theological questions or argument, means not worrying about these things.  You do not have to believe in God.  You do have to pray, but you do not have to believe in God, or that God will help you, or that God cares what you eat.  You just have to do the steps, whether you believe in them or not.

resentment

(This is actually the beginning of step 4)

The word resentment comes from the Latin word "resentire," meaning to feel over and over.  While the BB particularly talks about anger as an emotion that we could feel over and over and therefore get into an addictive cycle with, in fact any repeating emotion, such as grief or happiness, could also result in the insanely trivial excuse emerging.