Archive for the ‘Morsel’ Category

Clichés Don’t Make the World Go Round, but They Can Make Songs Better

September 4, 2017

Ira Gershwin

The Word Mavens are Wrong

Style guides and writing teachers say we should avoid clichés like the plague. They’re bad, hackneyed, and trite. They say clichés are crutches, used by writers who are too lazy and stupid to think up new ways to say things.

But the experts wrong. Clichés have all sorts of wonderful uses.

Assisting Thought by Evoking a Visual Image

Many clichés are metaphors. According to George Orwell, an effective metaphor “assists thought by evoking a visual image.”

The anti-cliché crowd argues that no matter how strong or evocative a clichéd metaphor might be, its power dwindles with repeated use. But that ain’t necessarily so.

If you say, “Mary is burning the candle at both ends,”  a vivid picture comes to my mind which highlights the possible pitfalls of Mary’s behavior. This is an example of an outstanding metaphor that doesn’t diminish in fortitude no matter how many times you hear it.

The phrase “you’re just putting a band-aid on that problem” is another clichéd metaphor which remains evocative and effective despite repeated use.

These two clichéd metaphors are still effective because, even if we no longer light our houses with candles, candles and bandages are still part of our shared consciousness.

Metaphors—Dead, Alive, and Otherwise

But metaphorical clichés will lose vigor as words go out of fashion.  For example, the expression “hoisted by his own petard” packed a much greater rhetorical punch in an age when people commonly referred to bombs as petards.

Sometimes linguists employ the term “dead metaphor” to describe phrases like “hoisted by his own petard.” They reason that metaphors only remain “alive” as long as we can picture them in our mind’s eye.

But what if I tell you that Larry, who’s a very casual sports fan, just jumped on the Dodgers’ bandwagon? Even if you don’t know that there was a time when politicians actually hired wagons full of musicians to attract voters, it’s still easy to see what this expression means. So, is the bandwagon metaphor, alive, dead or somewhere in between?

Not All Clichés are Created Equal

Not all clichés are created equal. And the better ones deserve respect.

Of course, many clichéd metaphors are duds. And a bad cliché is about as effective as a screen door on a submarine.

I tell students that the best way to judge the potency of a metaphor is to visualize it. For example, try to visualize yourself “throwing some shade on someone.”

The cliché “throwing shade on someone” means to deprecate a person. It’s a lousy metaphor and it sets my blood to boiling every time I hear it.

On the other hand, when Victor says, “Yo, man. I’d loved to hang out with you guys all day, but I gotta bounce,” he’s employing a marvelously robust metaphor. It tells me that Victor is so active he’s downright kinetic.

Ira Gershwin Hearts Clichés

As Ira Gershwin explains in his book Lyrics on Several Occasions, “The literary cliché is an integral part of lyric-writing.”

Sometimes lyricists cleverly rework a familiar cliché into a song. Like when Smokey Robinson says “I’m a choosy beggar, and you’re my choice.” Or when the Temptations sing “Papa was a rolling stone/Wherever he laid his hat was his home.” Or when Paul McCartney asks: “Would you walk away from a fool and his money?” Or when the Who’s Rodger Daltry laments, “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.”

Gershwin notes that clichés are an essential part of the songwriter’s toolkit because:

The phrase that is trite and worn-out when appearing in print usually becomes, when heard fitted to the appropriate musical turn, revitalized, and seems somehow to revert to its original provocativeness.

An Essential Part of the Songwriter’s Toolkit

Here are some examples of songwriters putting clichés to good use:

Irving BerlinI’m Putting all my Eggs in One Basket

Phil CollinsAgainst All Odd

Gene AutryBack in the Saddle

Los Hermanos GershwinBidin’ my Time

Arthur HamiltonCry Me a River

Waldo HolmesDon’t Rock the Boat

Cole PorterI Get a Kick Out of You

Sammy CahnHigh Hopes

Norman Whitfield and Barrett StrongHeard it Through the Grapevine

Neil DiamondLove On the Rocks— (Nice pun, Neil)

Ian HunterOnce Bitten, Twice Shy

Robbie RobertsonThe Weight (Take a Load off, Annie)

Stevie WonderSigned, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours

Al Hoffman and Dick ManningIt Takes Two to Tango

Larry Blackmon and Tomi JenkinsWord Up

Aaron Schroeder and Wally GoldIt’s Now or Never (Music by Eduardo di Capua)

by Richard W. Bray

 

Applying Joseph Sugarman’s Copywriting Tips to Content Writing

April 24, 2017

Copywriting usually means putting the right words together in the right order to get people to pay money for something.

But sometimes copywriting means saying the right things to get people to feel good about your client.

Content writing is copywriting designed specifically for professional websites.

Content writing shares these two major goals with copywriting:

a) getting people to pay money for something.
b) getting people to like someone/something better.

But medium affects message. In addition to selling the product and the client, content writers must regularly supply a substantial number of words on topics that are useful and interesting to the client’s audience. For example, if the client owns a fitness gym, engaging and informative blogs on health and nutrition should be of interest his customers.

Good content is important to SEO and good SEO brings more visitors and more visitors mean more money for the client. And when visitors stay longer, it’s good for SEO, which means more customers and more money. (Of course, this only applies if you’re selling a product or service people want; not even Don Draper could sell something people don’t want.)

Joseph Sugarman wrote extremely successful advertising copy for a long time. He specialized in direct mail and advertorials, advertisements disguised to look like articles in magazines. It’s not easy to get someone’s attention when she’s sorting through junk mail or reading articles in a good magazine. Sugarman needed to suck his readers into his copy and engage them to the point where they read the entire thing. And then many of them would pick up the phone and call the 800 number where operators are standing by.

Sugarman’s genius is to make his copy extremely compelling from beginning to end.  As any writer can tell you, that’s not an easy thing to do.

People voluntarily seek web content via a link or a search engine.  So content writers don’t need to grab their readers with the same intensity that Sugarman did. But content writers do need to be able to hold their readers, and Sugarman was great at that. Like copywriters, content writers want to hold the reader long enough to garner a sale or at least hold the reader long enough to get his contact information.

Tips from Joseph Sugarman for Content Writers

Here’s some tips from Joseph Sugarman’s Adweek Copywring Handbook which apply to content writers as well as copywriters:

You control the environment. Unlike a store where you spend thousands of dollars to create an environment, you can do it all simply in the copy of your ad or the look of your web site (38).

At the preliminary part of the sale, you must get the prospective reader to start saying yes. In order to do this, you should make statements that are honest and believable (40).

Emotion Principle (66)
a) Every word has an emotion associated with it and tells a story.
b) Every good ad is an emotional outpouring of words, feelings and impressions.
c) You sell on emotion, but you justify a purchase with logic.

You can create a warm and personal atmosphere when you use words like I, you and me. This will create the feel of a personal form of communication (88).

Use as few commas as you can get away with (106).

Break up your writing with paragraph headings because they make your writing look more inviting so your reader will start the reading process (114).

Never forget that just as a song has a rhythm, so does copy (120). Always listen to the words you write inside your head or even read them aloud if it helps.

by Richard W. Bray

Eleven Opening Lines by Nathaniel Hawthorne Proffered Without Further Comment

April 2, 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison

The House of the Seven Gables

Haflway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst.

The Blithedale Romance

The evening before my departure for Blithedale, I was returning to my bachelor apartments, after attending the wonderful exhibition of the Veiled Lady, when an elderly man of rather shabby appearance met me in an obscure part of the street.

Fanshawe

In an ancient though not very populous settlement, in a retired corner of one of the New England States, arise the walls of a seminary of learning, which, for the convenience of a name, shall be entitled “Harley College.”

Wakefield

In some old magazine or newspaper I recollect a story, told as truth, of a man—let us call him Wakefield—who absented himself for a long time from his wife.

The Great Carbuncle

At nightfall, once in the olden time, on the rugged side of Crystal Hills, a party of adventurers were refreshing themselves, after a toilsome and fruitless quest for the Great Carbuncle.

Lady Eleanore’s Mantle

Not long after Colonel Shute had assumed the government of Massachusetts Bay, now nearly a hundred and twenty years ago, a young lady of rank and fortune arrived from England, to claim his protection as her guardian.

Old Esther Dudley

The hour had come—the hour of defeat and humiliation—when Sir William Howe was to Passover the threshold of Providence House, and embark, with no such triumphal ceremonies as he once promised himself, on board the British fleet.

Peter Goldwaite’s Treasure

“And so, Peter, you won’t even consider of the business?” said Mr. John Brown, buttoning surtout over the snug rotundity of his person, and drawing on his gloves.

Endicott and the Red Cross

At noon of an autumnal day, more than two centuries ago, the English colors were displayed by the standard-bearer of the Salem trainband, which had mustered for martial exercise under the orders of John Endicott.

The Birthmark

In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy, who not long before our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one.

Compiled by Richard W. Bray

Your SEO Cheat Sheet—How to Attract Customers to Your Website

February 21, 2017

zzseo

Here are the things you need to do:

Have Quality Content—interesting, engaging, relevant, and useful to people who might be interested in your product

Update Content Frequently

Link to Quality Content

Get Quality Content to link to you—email people who have sites with Quality Content and say nice things to them, inform them that you have linked to them, and hope (but don’t explicitly ask) that they backlink to you

Landing Page—Should direct client to provide contact information and/or direct client to make purchase.  However,  a Landing Page should not contain a sitemap.

Funneling is a strategy designed to pull readers into site and direct them towards a Desired Action.

Key Words should be present:
Early and Often
in URL
in Title
in correct order
Bold and Bulleted
in Anchor Text

Have a Site Map

Make your URLs Mobile Friendly

Video Content is essential

Video Client Testimonials are invaluable

Use Social Media to promote your site (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn)

Here are the things you must NEVER do:

Link Farming
Linking to Bad neighborhoods—Links that link to spam
Too much duplicate content
Purchasing Links
Buying followers on social media
Hidden content
Article Spinning (Plagiarism)
Allowing Dead Links on your site (constantly monitor your links to see if they still exist or if they have morphed into something new)

Warning: Constantly monitor your site for spam links that bad people insert into your comments section or elsewhere. It could mean Instant Google Death if a creeper discovers it.

Additional Resources

Here’s Backlinko’s best guess about Google’s elusive and mysterious List of 200. (Of course, no one outside of Google’s inner, inner circle knows what’s actually on this list or if it even exists at all. That’s Google’s multi-billion dollar secret.

Copywriting Tips—A Review of Joseph Sugarman’s Adweek Copywriting Handbook

by Richard W. Bray

First Day of College Composition Class—Syllabus, Tone, and Thesis Statement

February 19, 2017

zzzzthesis

I do more talking on the first day than I usually do. (Reminder: A teacher should always keep a lozenge in her briefcase. Better to have it and not need than to need and not have it.)

I spend the first day of English Composition class teaching about thesis statement and tone.

Of course, I go over the syllabus first. I always hated it when one of my instructors spent the entire first session covering every word of the syllabus, giving us a preview of each upcoming lecture, so I tell the students that they made it this far and they should be able to read a syllabus on their own. Instead, I focus on the required texts for the class, my grading policies, due dates for assignments, and my expectations for appropriate classroom comportment.

I stress the following sentence from my syllabus:

It is important to maintain a cordial demeanor which facilitates free and open discourse.”

In other words, in this classroom we need to be able to disagree with one another without being disagreeable.

I tell my students that it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Professor Bray, I disagree with everything you just said for the following reasons….”

However, it is not acceptable to say, “Professor Bray, you are stupid and your mother dresses you funny.”

I beg my students to disagree. Please, I tell them, disagree with me, the authors we are covering, and anyone else in the class. That’s what we are here for, the free and open exchange of ideas. My students will receive no brownie points for agreeing with the instructor. This is true for the classroom discussions and also for their essays. Students are not graded on the positions they choose to take; they are evaluated based upon the quality and structure of their arguments and the style of their prose.

In order to teach students about thesis statements and tone, I select two short essays that vary in style and substance; usually I read them a serious article first (for example, Katha Pollitt on reproductive rights or Pat Buchanan on trade policy) and then I read them something lighter (a silly article by Jon Carroll about his cat, perhaps). Before I read the articles, I ask who can tell me what a thesis statement is, and then I type their answers into a machine which magically projects words onto a large screen for all to see.

Their answers will include:

An essay’s argument, an essay’s main point, an essay’s main point distilled into one sentence.

I tell them these answers are correct, but in my class it’s okay to state a thesis in two or even three consecutive sentences rather than trying to jam it all into one very long and awkward sentence with too many clauses and too many commas.

When I ask them where the best place to put their thesis is, they tell me it belongs at the end of their introductory paragraph. I say, “Correct.” (Good job, high school English teachers!)

This is the point where I tell them that different types of writing are bound by different types of conventions and expectations. For student essays (but not for other types of student writing such as journals) I expect them to follow specific conventions, such as placing the thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph and supporting their arguments with “evidence” (the quoted opinions of people who are assumed to know what they are talking about for one reason or another.) I tell them that the two essays we are covering today are written by professional writers for popular consumption. Such authors are under no obligation to follow any of Mr. Bray’s rules for academic writing. For example, fragments and one-sentences paragraphs can be very effective tools, but they are not generally acceptable in academic writing.  Furthermore, many professional writers believe that a thesis statement placed at the end of the introductory paragraph is a clunky device.  And I agree with them, but you will nevertheless be marked down substantially if you do not have a clear thesis statement in any paper you submit to me. However, in the essays we are about to consider, the thesis statement might be at the beginning of the essay, it might be at the end of the essay, it might be broken up and scattered throughout the essay, or it might not exist at all.

Next, I ask my students what the word tone means in relation to writing.

Probable answers include: mood, attitude, voice

I tell them that these are all good answers. I also suggest that they think of tone in relation to a person’s actual speaking voice. Many of the authors I teach are people I have seen on television so I can imagine how they would sound reading a particular essay. For example, in my head I hear how Pat Buchanan stresses and elongates the second syllable of “bamboozled,” one of his favorite verbs.

Then I ask my students for adjectives that could describe the tone of a particular piece of nonfiction prose.

I get answers such as: sad, angry, sarcastic, light, witty.

I tell them these are all good answers.

I inform them that my rule about tone is that is must be appropriate in relation to the chosen subject matter of and essay and also appropriate for the anticipated audience for an essay.

For example, if one is writing about 9/11 in a mainstream American news magazine such as Time, a witty tone would not be appropriate. Also, if one were writing an essay for young children about the adorableness of puppies, a sarcastic tone would not be appropriate.

(I briefly explain the distinction between sarcasm and verbal irony, something we will go into in detail at a later time.)

Lesson Plans

#1 Distribute first article.

#2 Instruct students to get out their writing utensils and number the paragraphs.

#3 Instruct students to look for and mark possible examples of tone and thesis statement as I read the essay aloud.

#4 Instructor reads the essays aloud.

#5 Allow students an additional seven minutes to look for examples of tone and thesis statement.

#6 Pair and share (if time permits and if you’re into that sort of thing).

#7 Review as whole class discussion.

An appropriate answer for an example of tone in the essay would be: “The author is using a verbally ironic tone in paragraph six when she says, “I just love it when my boyfriend leaves me dirty laundry to pick up.”

#8 Repeat steps 1-7 with second article.

#9 Instruct students to save the articles for later use with this exercise on strong verbs.

#10 Remind students that it’s going to be a long semester and send them on their merry little way.

by Richard W. Bray

Seven Ways of Looking at a Line of Poetry

November 6, 2016

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Anthropologists tell us* that “some time between 75 thousand and 60 thousand years ago” homo sapiens underwent a remarkable change (194). This event occurred “somewhere on the African continent (most likely somewhere in its eastern or southwestern regions)” (193). Suddenly, our already impressive brains developed the capacity for symbolic thought. Our ancestors, who heretofore merely consisted of roving bands of uppidy carnivorous weapon-wielding bipeds, were transformed into artists, shamans, scientists, and engineers. World-domination was now only a matter of time.

These new-and-improved brains rendered representational art, handicraft, metaphor, music, dance, language and poetry essential to our existence.

As Kurt Vonnegut notes, this spectacular transformation gave us not only the capacity and the inclination to produce Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; it also gave us the capacity and the inclination to

burn people alive in the public square for holding opinions which were locally unpopular, or build factories whose only purpose was to kill people in industrial quantities.

I’m seriously into words. I have argued that it’s ultimately impossible to separate language from poetry because our ancestors began playing with words as soon as they began to invent them. Uttered phonemes are automatically poetic just like every basket and every arrowhead homo sapiens produce is a work of art.

Death and disruption at an early age hurt Theodore Roethke into poetry, as W. H. Auden suggests “mad Ireland” hurt W.B. Yeats into poetry. And oh what prodigious poetry Roethke did make! I’m going to spend a little bit of time talking about how to say the third line of a villanelle Roethke wrote called “The Waking” because my brain spends a lot of time thinking about such things.

A villanelle is a nineteen-line Italian form in which the first and third lines are each repeated three times. (I’ve written a few of them myself.) (A smartass once wrote on this blog that “the cool thing about villanelles is that once you’ve written the first three lines, you’re 42% finished.”)

Here’s the first stanza of Roethke’s “The Waking.”

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

I told you the dude was prodigious, right? Anyhow, the first and third lines of a good villanelle must be firm and flexible as much heavy lifting is expected of them. Here are some examples:

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

(First line of Auden’s “If I Could tell You”)

(I think I made you up inside my head.)
(Third Line of Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song”)

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Third Line of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”)

Now back to “The Waking.” If a reader must read the same lines four times in a nineteen-line poem, the poet should provide her with options about which words to stress. Here are seven ways to say line three of “The Waking”:

#1 I learn by going where I have to go

Learning is about destination rather than free will.

#2 I learn by going where I have to go

The essential lesson is in the destination

#3 I learn by going (pause) where I have to go

The journey, so to speak, is the destination.

#4 I learn by going where I have to go

The lesson is in the doing.

#5 I learn by going where I have to go

The important thing is that the experience is educational.

#6 I learn by going where I have to go.

It’s imperative to take a certain route that is nonetheless educational.

#7 I learn by going where I have to go.

I find out what I’m supposed to do only by doing it.

Art inevitably pops up wherever you have people and it’s our sacred duty to make it available to our children. (But this isn’t another jeremiad about those sick, sad losers who think our children are merely their test scores).

by Richard W. Bray

*Ian Tattersall, Masters of the Planet

The Funny Men of My Youth

June 27, 2016
Jan Murray

Jan Murray

Sometimes I like to do the Grumpy Old Man routine with my students: “When I was your age, Sonny, I had to walk barefoot to school in the snow, and the long, arduous journey was uphill—both ways.”

None of this is true, of course. My parents always provided me with good shoes and it’s only snowed once in Claremont in the last fifty years. I stole that joke from one of my childhood heroes, Bill Cosby. I still love to tell that joke, but I no longer attribute it to Cosby.  Once the most avuncular man in America, Cosby is now, allegedly, nothing but a sick old creep.

Bill Cosby’s fall pains me; I spent so much time with his comedy LPs as a kid, and it really felt like I knew him. One of my favorite Cosby albums was called I Started Out as a Child. It took me over a decade to get the joke in the title. Another Cosby album title was also quite funny: To my brother Russell, Whom I Slept With (but I still haven’t completely worked out its implications).

The comedy albums of Cosby and The Smothers Brothers were a big part of my childhood.   (For you younger readers, albums, also called records, were large flat black petroleum-based disks that created marvelous sounds when played on something called a turntable.  Albums were very fragile, which may have accentuated the reverence we had for them).   In junior high school I discovered the more “mature” comedy records of George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Cheech and Chong.

When I was a kid, back in the dark ages before VCRs, HBO, and Comedy Central, in order to see the great comedians, you had to watch the three major talk show hosts: Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Johnny Carson. I would rush home to see Mike Douglas in the afternoons and Merv was on in the evening, but Carson, the King of Comedy, was on after my bedtime, so I would listen to The Tonight Show through the slats in the hall door while my parents thought I was asleep.  If I laughed too loud my mom would shout, “Go to bed.”

The old-timer comedians like Buddy Hackett, Jack Benny, and Henny Youngman that I loved to watch on tv when I was a kid frequently spoke about something called “working the Catskills.” Since there was no google back then, I asked my dad what the Catskills were. He said that they were mountains in upstate New York (hills really, by California standards) where people from New York City used to go on vacation.

Decades later I was watching a PBS documentary on the history of Jewish Comedy in America which went into great detail about the Catskills (also known as the Borsch Belt). One of the people featured in the documentary was Jan Murray. I thought, “Jan Murray is Jewish. Who knew?” Then it dawned on me–the overwhelming majority of the comedians I revered as a kid were Jewish. And as I think about it now, the non-Jewish comedians from my youth like Cosby, Bob Hope, George Carlin, Red Skelton, Flip Wilson, Danny Thomas, and Johnny Carson are really the exceptions.

by Richard W. Bray

Women (and Men) in Love

June 19, 2016
Simone De Beauvoir

Simone De Beauvoir

What about romantic love?  Is it merely, as the scientists say,  a trick played upon us by the chemicals in our brains, an evolutionary mechanism that provides a bond that will last long enough to increase a human offspring’s chances for survival?  Yes, probably.  But so what?  Romantic love’s utilitarian origins don’t preclude it from being good and beautiful.

There are several indications that the experience of heterosexual romantic love is in many ways different for men and women?   (I should point out, however, that men and women have many more characteristics in common than we have differences. We are not two separate species. Furthermore, there are myriad variations within members of each gender. And both nature and nurture account for differences between men and women: men’s and women’s brains function somewhat differently and, across cultures, we tend to be socialized in very different ways.)

Several years ago, Johnny Carson asked cartoonist Kathy Guisewhite: “What’s the difference between men and women?”*

Guisewhite replied: “I really don’t think men sit around discussing women the way that women are constantly obsessing about men. You know, we’re constantly asking each other, ‘Why are they like that?’ or ‘Why do they do that?’”

Guisewhite has a point. Women certainly do spend more time talking about men than men spend talking about women. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. And for most of Western history women were legally and socially subservient to men, passed along as chattel from father to husband.  This is still their situation in many parts of the world.

When your very existence is dependent upon pleasing someone who is bigger and stronger than you are, someone who has the legal right to assault you at any time, knowing your oppressor becomes an essential survival skill.

In her book The Second Sex, French feminist icon Simone De Beauvoir describes “The Woman in Love”

Since she is anyway doomed to dependence, she will prefer to serve a god rather than obey tyrants—parents, husband, or protector.  She chooses to desire her enslavement so ardently that it will seem to her the expression of her liberty; she will try to rise above her situation as inessential object by fully accepting it; through her flesh, her feelings, her behavior, she will enthrone him as supreme value and reality: she will humble herself to nothingness before him. Love becomes for her a religion (The Second Sex 643).

De Beauvoir chooses an epigraph for “The Women in Love” by Lord Byron which declares that romantic love is “to a man’s life, a thing apart”, while it constitutes “woman’s whole existence.”  This is not entirely true, of course.  Most men do fall in love, and a few of us have even died from a broken heart.

But how many men do you suppose would go out and buy a book like Relationship Rescue by Dr. Phil?

 

*Carson and Guisewhite quotations are reconstructed from my fallible memory

by Richard W. Bray

 

Walking Makes Humans What We Are

June 12, 2016

WWHUNTERS

I have never hunted animals. And I used to wonder how hunters walking around lugging heavy guns could ever get close enough to their prey in order to shoot it. Most animals can easily smell/see/hear humans long before the hunters get into firing range and then they could simply run away. Meaty mammals tend to be much faster runners than humans. What I didn’t realize is that human beings are designed to walk and walk and walk until our prey is too exhausted to continue. Then we use our weapons to kill it. And then we cook it and eat it.

In Masters of the Planet, an excellent introduction to human evolution, Ian Tattersall describes how the ability to walk great distances was key to the hunting prowess of homo ergaster, “an extinct ancestral form on the evolutionary scale of the genus Homo” that “lived in eastern and southern Africa during the early Pleistocene, that is, between 1.8 million and 1.3 million years ago.” Tattersall explains that “although homo ergaster would hardly have been fast compared to four-legged predators, its newer slender hips and long legs would have made members of the species exemplary distance runners.”

This evolutionary innovation gives homo sapiens a huge advantage over our prey because, unlike humans, “most mammals do not have the capacity to shed the heat load acquired and generated during sustained activity in the tropic sun, except by pausing in the shade while it slowly dissipates, largely through panting.” That’s why hunters will eventually catch their prey.   “In the heat of the day, the human ability to simply keep going would have allowed these lucky bipeds to single out, say, an antelope, and to keep chasing it, until it fell from heat prostrations” Or we can just kill it with our weapons when we get close enough.

Our ancestors made the remarkable transition from prey to predator.  Human beings are designed to vanquish by walking and running after animals until we get close enough to kill them.  This evolutionary history remains a major component of our collective psyche whether we like it or not.  And we should never forget this, even in an age when, for most of us, meat comes from the back of the supermarket.

So, Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare, in addition to being a marvelous parable on the efficacy of slow and steady diligence, is also the true story of how Our Hunting Fathers survived. Human beings are designed to “simply keep going” and going and going.

And simply trudging along is how our species came to inhabit and dominate so much of the planet.

I’m really glad that I exist as a human being; I wouldn’t trade in this particular vehicle of consciousness for anything in the world.  But our evolutionary success has had ominous ramifications for many of our fellow inhabitants of planet Earth.

As novelist Kurt Vonnegut notes, the human tendency to simply keep on walking and consuming has a dark side:

humanity itself had become an unstoppable glacier made of hot meat, which ate up everything in sight and then made love, and then doubled in size again.

Soldiers drilling, refugees fleeing, shoppers shopping, children strolling to school. Walking. It’s what we do and it’s one of the most essential things that makes us who we are.

Final word to Fats Domino:

By Richard W. Bray

 

 

 

 

Warning: Sugar and Wheat Will Make Your Brain Swell

June 5, 2016
Dr. David Perlmutter

Dr. David Perlmutter

In the 1973 Woody Allen movie Sleeper, we follow the travails of Miles Monroe, jazz musician and owner of the Happy Carrot Health Food Store. Miles dies in 1973, but he is reanimated two hundred years later into a crazy dystopian future. Miles is the victim of unauthorized cryropreservation. (Don’t you just hate it when that happens.) Anyhow, Miles is taken in by Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton) and her wacky band of radical chic revolutionaries. Sleeper is one of Allen’s funniest movies, with none of the Bergmanian angst of the writer/director’s later movies. (I’m not suggesting that Allen’s early movies were necessarily better than his later ones, just funnier. Crimes and Misdemeanors, a dark and brooding “later” Woody Allen film, is a masterpiece.)

At one point in their struggles against the risibly inept future totalitarian power structure, Miles complains to Luna that he misses his old life running The Happy Carrot. Luna attempts to disabuse Miles of his nostalgia by telling him that his so-called health food wasn’t really good for people and in the future science has proven that the healthiest thing we can eat is “deep-fried fat.”

It’s easy for Woody Allen to have fun lampooning the health food craze.  For one thing, the list of unhealthy foods just keeps growing and mutating: Red meat, processed food, eggs, pork, butter, sugar, gluten, dairy, saturated fat, corn syrup, sodium, margarine, cheese, cholesterol, fried food, barbecue, preservatives, seafood, soda, pasta, junk food.

Remember when eggs were supposed to be really bad for you? Now not so much. And fat used to be bad, but now we have good fat and bad fat.  It’s all so confusing.

Anyhow, several months ago I was eating cookies and doing housework and watching Public Television (I’m such a multi-tasker) when a man came on the tv and told me that my cookies were going to make my brain swell and probably give me Alzheimer’s Disease someday. (It’s not as crazy as it sounds; Americans who live to be eighty-five have a fifty percent chance of getting Alzheimer’s.)

That man’s name is Dr. David Perlmutter, and he convinced me that sugar is poison and wheat isn’t food.

So I gave up my cookie and chocolate habit and I quit eating bread, burritos and pasta. Life without bread is sort of weird. Bread is almost synonymous with food in our culture. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that God should “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:2) bread is not merely a metonym for all food but for spiritual sustenance as well. Jesus makes a similar analogy in Matthew 4:4. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

I didn’t go the full-Perlmutter; I still eat some carbs–some rice and potatoes and corn tortillas.  But I lost thirty pounds in a few months.  I was as skinny as I had been in college, down to a thirty-two inch waist. All my pants were falling down, so I got some new ones.  Then I gained back about ten pounds as my body adjusted to the new diet.  Unless disco comes back, I probably won’t be wearing those thirty-two inch waist pants any time soon.

People tell me I look good and I feel great; my moods and my energy levels are much more consistent.

 

by Richard W. Bray