Monthly Archives: January 2012

“Good” and “Sweet”

There is an important distinction between what is “good” and “sweet.”

Good: “Good” actions are those that lead to enlightenment, improvement, positivity, growth, and love. More often than not, “good” actions are not “fun” things. We may need to have an unpleasant conversation with a friend about her addiction, arrive late to an important meeting because a stranger ran out of gas on the freeway, or pick up our dog’s poop to keep the neighborhood beautiful.

Sweet:  “Sweet” actions are those that are pleasurable: they make us feel excitement, short-term happiness, or arousal.

Understanding the difference between these two concepts is critical to personal growth and genuine happiness. When we cannot tell the difference between these two concepts, we misdirect our energy and waste tremendous amounts of time.

Deep down, we know when we are using “sweet” things (shopping, sex, drugs, alcohol) to fill holes in our other aspects of our lives, but giving “sweet” things up is difficult, so we close the door to our thoughts and continue on a pattern of destructive, anxiety-provoking behavior.

We may overindulge in food, becoming compulsive eaters who are addicted to the dopamine-rush of a fatty meal. We may zone out for hours every night in front of the television, without leaving time for friends, family, or self-improvement. We may spend prodigally to repress something that is bothering us: “Ugh, I should really nurture my relationship with my husband/read that fascinating article I’ve been putting off/clean my home, but I’m going to buy this instead.”

We can use food, television, and shopping like emotion-numbing drugs or we can use them to bring people together and nourish ourselves. If there is a hole in your life created by emotional or physical trauma, the only thing that can fill the hole is hard work on yourself (individually or with a loving professional). Using people or things to procrastinate putting in work on ourselves may be “sweet” in the short-term, but it is not “good.”

There are, however, many things in life that are both good AND sweet: savoring a delicious fruit (taking joy in the taste and nourishing your body), smiling with a young child, engaging in random acts of kindness, having sex with a loving partner, petting a dog (I’m sure the dog would also find this “sweet,” even though he may have no concept of “good”).

When we fill our lives with things that are both good AND sweet, we maximize our capacity for joy and pleasure.

Ask yourself: What am I doing in my life today that is only “sweet” and not “good?” How can I find more joy my “good” actions? Am I too concentrated on aspects of my life that are “sweet” or am I moralizing excessively and obsessing only over what is “good?” If I cannot identify what I can improve about myself, how can I gain insight into who I want to be?


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Why I Hate the “Fat is Beautiful” Movement

I am a size zero. Being thin is in my genes. I eat. I am healthy and happy. I have to work hard every day to put on (and keep on) fat and muscle. It’s a struggle.

So I had a visceral reaction the first time I saw Dove’s “real women have curves” campaign for “real bodies.” The idea seems good on the surface, but what idea is Dove really selling us?

Dove is a multi-million-dollar corporation. The idea that Dove is encouraging “real” beauty by selling us beauty products is, in itself, laughable. Dove uses statistics (like this one: “Only 2% of women describe themselves as beautiful”) and images of women’s bodies to sell us the idea that Dove is made for “real” women (not those skinny bitches who are not “real” women). The message is incredibly cynical and insidious.

In other words. They are using this image:

Dove Advertisement

…to do the same thing to women as does this image:

What advertising is selling women is the gap. For Dove, the gap is between “real” women and “not-real” (skinny) women. For Armani, the gap is between you and the ideal woman. Either way, the end-game is to get you to buy things. The problem is that this message is a destructive one that seeps below the surface and poisons our thoughts about ourselves and about women on the other side of all the manufactured gaps.

I cringe every time I hear a corporation (or person) bang on about how only large/curvy/thin/fat/big/skinny women are healthy or beautiful. Such messages are not just hurtful to every woman excluded from the body-of-the-year definition of what is beautiful, they are also concepts mobilized to encourage competition and dissatisfaction among women. They funnel female energy away from loving, accepting, and nurturing one another and into competing with each other over what is most attractive and appealing.

I would say I wish male bodies were exposed to the same scrutiny as ours, but that’s not the solution. The solution starts with showing men (and women) the effect they can have on female health and self-esteem by being kind, accepting, and loving toward women instead of belittling, categorizing, and objectifying them.

Yes, fat is beautiful. So is thin.

The next time you are tempted to criticize another woman’s body, just imagine a man (let’s make him unattractive, whatever your idea of unattractive is) leaning back in his leather chair and smiling cynically at the inertia he has created to feed into the destruction of female self-esteem. Every time we push each other down, he is winning.

I refuse to buy Dove products and prefer real images like this:

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Universal Morality: In the Final Analysis

Thirty years after he wrote them, Dr. Kent Keith was shocked and thrilled to hear his “Paradoxical Commandments” (see below) read as a poem attributed to Mother Theresa. He discovered the basis of the connection between himself and Mother Theresa through library research and began to speak about his work again.

Since then, Dr. Keith has become a renowned writer and public speaker (and lawyer) who has put years of work into parsing out universal ethics and exploring the field of positive psychology.

In addition to writing beautifully, Keith has produced a clear list of universal ethics–ideas that are common among all the major religions and on which we can agree even if we do not believe in a higher power. He calls this The Universal Moral Code.

Keith’s Universal Moral Code can be distilled into two main tenets: “Do no harm” and “Do Good.” The complete list contains twenty-two actions we can take (“Be generous,” “Take care of your children when they are young”) or not take (“Do not physically or verbally abuse others,” “Do not do to others what you would not like for them to do to you”) to be moral, ethical humans.

I am fascinated by the commonalities among the beliefs of ethical people and am always curious to discover what ethics seem to be innate in humans (most ethics) and which are ‘created’ through religious idiosyncrasies or legal peculiarities.

Keith and I are not the only people who seek clarity on what ethics we can all agree upon.

"Penn Fraser Jillette (born March 5, 1955) is an American magician, comedian, illusionist, juggler, bassist and a best-selling author." I copied that directly from Wikipedia, because it is awesome.

In 2011, Glen Beck challenged Penn Jilette (of Penn and Teller) to come up with an Athiest’s version of the Ten Commandments and this is what he came up with.

Jilette’s list has a lot in common with Keith’s, but it is more parsimonious and elegant. He includes a commandment to rest, to “Put aside some time to rest and think” in his fourth commandment. This commandment encompasses all forms of religious ‘rest’ (Shabbat, Sunday for Christians, snake-handling, whatever). His other commandments include the abstract: “The highest ideals are human intelligence, creativity and love. Respect these above all.” And the simple: “Keep your promises. (If you can’t be sexually exclusive to your spouse, don’t make that deal).”

Keith and Jilette each provide a wonderful base of commonality among all humans: religious, spiritual, and non-believing. What a beautiful project. What ethics do you think are universal? Is there anything missing from Keith’s or Jilette’s list? Is there anything that should be taken out of either list?

The Final Analysis (Dr. Kent M. Keith)
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If  you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the FINAL analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

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Top Colorful Art Links of the Week

Since I’m living in Morehead, Kentucky for the next four months, the majority of my artistic explorations have to take place online. The internet is such a lovely tool for preliminary exploration and vicarious living.

Since we are quickly approaching January 24th, the worst day of the year, and cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder (and general grouchiness) are reaching their yearly peak, this week’s post is about color and joy! Let’s get to it!

Image: Getty

On Tuesday, Phillips de Pury and Company opened a new exhibit (curated by Hervé Mikaeloff), Fly to Baku, in their London art gallery. Twenty-one contemporary artists collaborated on the project to produce light-and-plexiglass ‘paintings’ of Azerbaijan. The installation is striking and joyful, and a stunning exemplar of collaboration. You can read more about the exhibition here and view highlights here.

Image: Matthew Brodie

Madame Magazine featured the work of Matthew Brodie in a 2011 edition. Brodie creates fashion out of paper and other media that are not conducive to draping or shaping on a human body. View more images of Brodie’s work here.

Image: Alyse Nicole Dunn

Contemporary pop artist Alyse Nicole Dunn works in the medium of paint to explore alternative views of race and skin color. The resulting works are bold, distinctive, and original. View more of Dunn’s work here.

Image: Mark Mawson

Digital Photographer Mark Mawson is inspired by the “vibrant colors that brighten up everyday life.” He captures vibrant, fluid images of natural phenomenon: water, smoke. View Mawson’s work on his personal website here.

Image: Yayoi Kusama

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama created “The Obliteration Room” by installing an entirely white domestic living space and inviting young visitors to ‘obliterate’ the room with thousands of colorful stickers. I love the simplicity and whimsy of this project! View images of the installation here.

Viewing art, looking at bright colors, and enjoying the creativity of others are all steps that can help combat depression and SAD. If you suffer from SAD or need a pick-me-up on the worst day of the year, you can read about holistic treatment options here.

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How Americans View North America (Game of Thrones Edition)

The first big snow-storm of the season is hitting the Midwest!

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6 Groundbreaking Psychology Experiments that Scarred Participants for Life

Psychologists are wonderful people. They’ve given us psychoanalysis, Celebrity Rehab, and Ritalin. Psychologists are also generally ethical, kind people out to do good and improve our understanding of human behavior.

However, sometimes people do some ethically dubious things in the name of science. For example…

6. Little Albert

Remember Ivan Pavlov, the guy who’s famous for making dogs droll in response to a bell?

"I’m a genius! Where’s my Nobel Prize?!"

Pavlov is famous for demonstrating classical conditioning. Classical conditioning works like this: Humans are pretty dumb, so we try to make everything easier on ourselves. We put things together that don’t really go together. For example, if your local bartender slaps you in the face every time you order a vodka-cranberry, you’ll start cowering in terror every time you smell vodka or cranberries.

It’s not really the vodka or the cranberries; she just hates you

Conditioning is responsible for those heart-flutters you feel every time you smell your ex-girlfriend’s perfume. It’s also why a junkie can’t visit his former crack-house without going into a self-destructive, needle-poking rampage.

The experiment:

In 1920, John Watson and Rosalie Rayner wanted to top Pavlov’s work and see if classical conditioning could work on a human baby. They chose a normal, eight-month-old baby who they dubbed “Little Albert.”

They started by showing Little Albert a white rat, then slamming a hammer onto a metal rod. Little Albert wasn’t initially afraid of the rat, but the crazy hammering sound was terrifying, so he soon learned to associate the rat with fear and misery.

After Little Albert was satisfactorily terrified by the white rat, Watson and Rayner used the same process to make him afraid of other white/fluffy things: a rabbit, cotton, Santa Claus, and a white seal fur coat (because, you know, this was the 1920’s).

I wasn’t there, but I assume their thinking went something like this: “Wow, those drooling dogs were adorable! How much more exciting would this experiment be if we used an infant instead of a dog? But instead of letting the baby smell delicious steaks all day, we’ll make sure every time he sees something white and fluffy, it will scare the bejeezus out of him! What could possibly go wrong?”

Where it went wrong:

Unfortunately, Watson and Rayner chose the color white. There are a lot of white things in the world, and we can only assume that all of them terrified eight-month-old Little Albert after his encounter with science.

Even worse, Little Albert left the lab before the experimenter was able to get rid of his fear of everything white (probably because Little Albert refused to see the mean, evil scientists at this point). So, essentially, Watson and Rayner gave an infant an enduring terror of all things fluffy and white and then never fixed the problem.

Not pictured: Little Albert shitting his pants at his first job interview

5. Oklahoma Sonic Boom Tests

The experiment:

Also known as “Operation Bongo” (yes, really), the Oklahoma Sonic Boom Tests were carried out in Oklahoma City across six months in 1964 by the Federal Aviation Administration to parse out the sociological and economic factors in sonic boom flights over rural areas. The FAA wanted to figure out if the US could use supersonic transcontinental air travel.

Seems important…

Where it went wrong:

Except that a sonic boom is sound. A lot of it. Just for some perspective, a sonic boom can reach 200 decibels at ground level. That’s one million times the sound of a cricket. Or 3.5 thousand times the sound of the average fart.

Although residents of Oklahoma city were initially receptive to the experiment, they got tired of the sonic booms pretty quickly. The force of the booms broke 147 windows and led to a class action law suit by the residents of Oklahoma city against the federal government. The FAA concluded that sonic booms were “tolerated” and hundreds of thousands of people in Oklahoma concluded that the federal government is composed entirely of assholes.

"Turns out, poor people will tolerate a shit-load of noise!"

4. Facial Expressions Experiment

The experiment:

In 1924, Carney Landis, a psychologist from the University of Minnesota wanted to do an experiment to figure out whether people make universal facial expressions unique to different emotions.

The study had many awesome implications for teaching autistic children about emotions and teaching men how to approach the gentler sex.

If you start apologizing for existing now, you might still get laid tonight.

Where it went wrong:

As part of the experiment, to induce a ‘disgust’ facial expression, participants were asked to behead a live rat. They had no instructions and no training to perform the procedure in an ethical manner. So, this was pretty freaking terrifying for all of them.

Although the idea was admirable, the experiment actually produced no positive results. Turns out we really are beautiful and unique snowflakes when we look at really gross stuff.


The 1960’s were a glorious time in American history. Love was free, racism was falling out of vogue, and your parents were drying weed in their ovens to go to Woodstock.

I don't know about you, but I had fun.

MK-ULTRA was the code name for a series of experiments conducted by the CIA during the 1960’s. The CIA? Well there must be nothing to worry about; they’re totally trustworthy! Right?

The experiment:

Wrong. Although the original stated goal was “mind control,” what they actually did was test LSD on unsuspecting civilians.

The CIA even included a separate project called Operation Midnight Climax (seriously) in which they used prostitutes to lure unwitting subjects and then test tons of illegal substances–including LSD–on them, all while monitoring them behind one-way glass. I know this is a regular Saturday night for some of you, but these are innocent civilians we’re talking about.

Towlie was a "scientist" in the 60's

Where it went wrong:

Senator Ted Kennedy’s comments on MK-ULTRA really sum things up well. In an apology to Americans and non-drug-users everywhere, Kennedy admitted that the CIA conducted “drug tests on unwitting citizens,” the “agents doing the monitoring were not qualified scientific observers,” and that “at least one death” occurred. At least…

And, best of all: “Other experiments were equally offensive. For example, heroin addicts were enticed into participating in LSD experiments in order to get a reward — heroin.”

What actually happened is not known, since almost all documents related to the experiment were destroyed in 1973. What we do know is that the CIA took advantage of the best decade of the 1900’s to get innocent people addicted to drugs. Awesome.

2. Harlow Monkey Experiment

Harry Harlow is famous for his experiments in pair-bonding with monkeys. Harlow taught us that monkeys prefer a surrogate mother who gives them warmth to one that gives them food.

In 1960, Harry Harlow changed the direction of his research. He took happy, well-adjusted monkeys who had bonded with their mothers and placed them in isolation chambers.

Fascinating! This guy has already proved he’s a genius! Everything seems fine!

Where it went wrong:

Humans aren’t the only creatures that can be emotionally affected by experimentation, you dirty speciesist! The monkeys were placed in isolation, which caused many of them to eventually go super bat-shit bananas, and not in a good way.

Harlow actually called the isolation cages “Wells of Despair.” Plus, numerous comments by Harlow indicate that he was a serious monkey-hater. Harlow’s creepy later experiments, explored the depths of depression in animals by ‘breaking their hearts.’

I hate things that share 98% of my DNA!

1. The Monster Study

The experiment:

The Monster Study was a stuttering experiment conducted on 22 orphan children in Iowa in 1939 (uh-oh, they used orphans; we can already tell this isn’t going anywhere good…).

Researchers wanted to figure out if parents played a part in whether or not children develop stutters.

Where it went wrong:

Did I mention that the experimenters got the children to stutter by screaming in their faces and telling them they were worthless?  And that they got the orphans to participate by telling them the experimenter might be their new mom?

"Hey, this is your new mom! J/K, you're still an orphan, but she's going to yell obscenities at you for the next six months."

Of the six ‘normal’ children in the experiment, five developed a stutter after “negative therapy.” The experimenters tried to reverse the damage, but couldn’t. Worst of all, the experimenters didn’t even tell the orphans they were part of an experiment until 60 years later.

When the study was made public in 2001, experimenters were forced to admit that many of the participants were psychologically scarred by participating in The Monster Study, and that “the negative therapy group showed a loss of self-esteem,” which probably led to years of this:

The University of Iowa made a public apology after the study came to light.

That’s all, folks! Thanks for reading!

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