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Following on from my news items of November 21, I have more, this time on Thanksgiving, crossword puzzles, technology and health.

Thanksgiving everywhere!

It is hard to disagree with Jordan Cracknell, the American wife of Olympic rower James Cracknell.

On November 22, 2022, she wrote an article for Metro: ‘Thanksgiving is a holiday that all Brits need in their lives’.

I couldn’t agree more, and I wouldn’t restrict it to the UK, either.

The problem is turkey, which the British associate with Christmas dinner. The other problem is the lack of sausage links — chipolatas — which the British associate with turkey and are absent from Thanksgiving dinner.

Not surprisingly, when Mrs Cracknell took her husband to his first Thanksgiving dinner in 2019 at a friend’s house:

he grumbled about ‘the bastardisation of British dishes’

Oh, yes. My far better half thought similarly three decades ago.

Now things are different, in both our households. James Cracknell’s reaction sums up that of those Britons who taste Thanksgiving dinners and become converts:

By the time we’d eaten, he was in awe of the ‘un-Britishly moist and juicy’ turkey.

Indeed. Americans can definitely roast turkey to perfection.

His wife writes:

Now, I am firmly of the belief that this American holiday needs to become a British fixture. 

Of course, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving in honour of our earliest settlers who learned from the Native Americans to cultivate the land and local livestock. That partnership and its bounty was the focus of the feast. The settlers gave thanks to God for that first harvest.

Admittedly, in Florida, initially settled by the Spanish, the menu might not include turkey. However, most Americans follow the New England menu celebrated in Massachusetts in the 1620s: turkey and corn being mainstays.

Jordan Cracknell explains what Americans give thanks for today. Her second paragraph below explains why I prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas (emphases mine):

Sometimes it can just be having gratitude for being able to see relatives, who might have travelled thousands of miles across the US. Other times we give thanks for our health.

It is as simple and lovely as that, and unlike Christmas there’s no exchange of presents. A positive and non-materialistic holiday, where all the family get together, is something that seems to be missing from the British annual calendar … 

I’m one of around 166,000 Americans living in the UK, and in my experience, other US expats would also be hard-pressed to give up the holiday …

Since being here, I have managed to convince a handful of UK friends to mark the day by inviting them to dinner. Going in with an open mind, they too have enjoyed it.

Thanksgiving is now James’ favourite US holiday, and not just because of the food. ‘It just makes sense to have two major holidays back-to-back to spend with family,’ he says. ‘Why try and fit it all in over Christmas where inevitably someone gets disappointed?’

I agree – and there are also a lot of benefits to having a holiday where the focus is merely on giving thanks and spending time with your family.

She is the descendant of one of those first settlers in Massachusetts who arrived on the Mayflower and learned from the Wampanoags (pron. ‘Wom-pa-nogs’) how to cultivate the land. As she says:

My ancestors would have starved to death without the help of the Wampanoag people.

True!

There are two other advantages to Thanksgiving, for me, anyway. First, turkey is out of the way for another year, enabling us to eat goose at Christmas. Secondly, it is the start of the holiday season, so we start decorating the house for Christmas in the days that follow.

The Telegraph‘s new Cross Atlantic crossword

Speaking of things American, The Telegraph is introducing a new crossword puzzle called Cross Atlantic.

The article says that The Telegraph was the first British paper to feature crosswords, an American creation. That was around 100 years ago:

It is that rare treat: a new puzzle, to be published every weekend and daily online, in our own Telegraph, a newspaper that knows a thing or two about the genre, having delivered its first crossword to readers almost a century ago, years before Fleet Street rivals cottoned on. The name of the new game gives a hint of its origins: American crosswords whose clues engagingly blend wordplay, odd definitions, colloquialisms, general knowledge and current affairs, stretching and testing the brain without the forbidding challenge that the cryptic grid presents to the uninitiated (and which, in the 1940s, prompted Bletchley Park to use the Telegraph crossword as a test to recruit new code-breakers).

The article shows the first Telegraph crossword, which is splendidly symmetrical and a joy to behold, unlike the new Cross Atlantic, which looks ugly by comparison. I can do the original puzzle, which has quick rather than the cryptic clues that are so characteristic of British newspaper crosswords.

My British readers will be interested to know that the geeky comedian Dave Gorman already sets the paper’s cryptic crosswords and offers this advice to neophytes like me:

The formulations are unavoidable. The most frequent are hints that an anagram may be involved – using words like ‘unsettled’ that indicate other parts of the clue are anagrams of the answer. Then there are substitutes for letters. For example, ‘sailor’ often indicates the use of ‘AB’ for Able Bodied. Most solutions blend several such elements in directing the reader to a single answer.

I am lost already. I would not connect the word ‘sailor’ with the terms ‘AB’ or ‘Able Bodied’.

Anyway:

To the inexperienced, says Gorman, all this can seem impossibly complicated, not to say convoluted – an off-putting ritual only for those initiated into its dark arts.

But there is a shortcut, he says, a way that smug solvers rarely mention. This is the fact that each clue contains a simple, straightforward pointer to the whole answer. What surrounds it are small elements of the whole. But if you can find that critical definition, usually at the beginning or end of the clue, you can leap straight to guessing at the answer. Then, says Gorman, ‘you can work backwards’, to confirm your guess using the other elements of the clue.

Take a poser of which Dave is extremely proud. The elements are as follows: sea eagles are known as ernes. ‘Min’ is an abbreviation of minimum, or smallest. Golf, as military folk know, is the letter ‘G’ in the Nato alphabet. And a way, or path, is also a course.

Again, that would not even enter my head.

Continuing on:

Armed with all that, try deciphering the clue: Eagles on the smallest golf course.

Did you get it?

No, I did not.

Here’s the solution:

ERNES+THE+MIN+G+WAY. Which may still look baffling. But that’s before you add the clue to the whole answer and the number of letters:

Writer eagles on the smallest golf course (6,9) = Ernest Hemingway.

Gorman says that ‘it’s far from being the best clue I’ve written but the discovery of it – the idea that a real person’s name can also quite sensibly be rendered as a meaningful sentence – is somewhat delightful. There’s no wrestling it into submission, adding an initial of something here or the last letter of something there. So it feels like it’s been hiding in plain sight for ever. It’s like discovering a fossil on a Dorset beach – the setter doesn’t invent a clue, they find it.’

I’ll leave cryptic crosswords there. Life is too short.

Old technology fans

On Wednesday, November 23, The Guardian had a fascinating article about fans of old technology, from 100-year-old typewriters to Atari. A number of the people interviewed would have been too young to experience the initial rush when these items first appeared.

The comments were equally fascinating. I read them all. It’s amazing what people still enjoy and why.

Definitely an article to enjoy on Black Friday, while the rest of the family is out Christmas shopping.

The ‘big night out’ returns

Thankfully, after two years of pandemic fears, the big night out has returned.

This is the complete opposite to staying in with old tech.

On Saturday, November 19, The Times reported that disco-style skating rinks are this year’s hot venue for Christmas parties:

This month has seen the arrival of Flipper’s, a vast rink in a disused power station in west London, large enough to house 1,800 guests. Whatever you do, though, don’t call it a roller disco — it is a roller “boogie palace”, insists the venue, which has become one of the hottest places to host a Christmas party this year

And it is not the only new skate venue to open in recent months. Two new rinks have opened in Manchester, including Paradise Skate World, which has seen Christmas bookings flood in. It’s billed as an intergalactic experience, with tunnels you whizz through on the dancefloor and the option to hire “space visors”.

“The obvious route was to go down the retro 1980s style, but we didn’t want to regurgitate old ideas,” says Chris Legh, the co-founder, who was also behind Junkyard Golf Club, another so-called “competitive socialising” format. This is the term used to describe a phenomenon of the past decade which has transformed the nightlife of many towns. Instead of going out drinking with your friends, you take part in some low-level sporting competition: ping-pong, crazy golf, cricket nets or axe-throwing …

Flipper’s is co-owned by Liberty Ross, the model and daughter of Ian “Flipper” Ross, who founded the original rollerskating nightclub in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. It was swifty dubbed “Studio 54 on wheels” because it attracted Prince, Robin Williams, Elton John, Nile Rodgers, Cher and other hard-partying celebrities. It lasted until 1981 before it shut down

At Flipper’s it costs £22.50 for a two-hour session for an adult, including the hire of skates in a funky electric-blue suede.

Legh has another theory as to why rollerskating has become the new party craze: “If you are in charge of your Christmas party and you only have a £30-a-head budget, do you really want to spend £20 of it throwing drinks down your throat? Because so many young people don’t drink now, there is still quite a bit of discretionary spending, and skating feels active and wholesome.

“For a couple of hours, it is escapism from the digital world,” he adds. “Sure, people will take photos and post them on Instagram, but you can’t be on WhatsApp while you’re skating.”

Partying deplored in 1922

Every generation thinks it is the first to decry partying.

To the finger-waggers, any and every party is bad, especially where seemingly endless alcohol and — gasp! — cigarettes are involved.

On November 23, The Times dug out an article on the topic from its 1922 archive: ‘What cocktails, cigarettes and unhealthy meals meant for “society girls”‘.

In reality, most socialites, then and now, get parties out of their system early on and settle down with a husband and a family.

But there’s always someone, then and now, who wants to make them out to be physical and psychological wrecks.

Such was the case with Dr Agnes Savill, who delivered a lecture on partying socialites a century ago:

Dr Agnes Savill delivered a lecture on “The Dangers of Society to Health” at the Institute of Hygiene last evening. She said that the development of communities was found in the earliest stages of human society, and this gathering together of families to share a common life had many advantages, provided the individuals concerned were of a high grade and had a sound organization.

… the girl who could command her parents’ wealth left school for a life of continual excitement which resulted in mental and physical deterioration

“I have seen some of these girls after a few years of society life aged by ten years and, before the age of twenty, as worn out and nerve-tired as if they were forty.

The hectic life of continual excitement, the absence of all repose, all time for meditation, the perpetual change, the cigarette smoking, irregular and unhealthy meals — no wonder these girls become the prey of disease. And though the physical consequences are disastrous, even of greater importance is the evil effect of this life upon the character.

“Society life is responsible for deficient sleep and consequent deterioration of the nervous system. It encourages the pernicious habit of the too-frequent cigarette. It encourages the girls to take cocktails and whiskies-and-sodas, which ruin their digestion, impair their livers, and upset the nervous system, and it encourages them to take rich foods, which upset the rhythm of the body.

“The ill-health of modern society girls is in a measure the fault of their parents, who have it in their hands to postpone the downfall of our modern civilization.”

My diagnosis of Dr Savill? She was deeply envious, as are all killjoys — then and now — who wish to restrain us, young and old, from having a bit of fun.

Most socialites have taken great care of themselves throughout their lives. Very few deteriorate. They cannot. They are in the public eye all the time.

Online gambling ‘addiction’ damaging young adults

Unlike cocktails, ciggies and rich food, there is a serious phenomenon affecting some twenty-somethings, especially young men on low incomes: the lure of online gambling.

I first read about this phenomenon in a French newsweekly earlier this year. Young lads place bets on sporting events, most often football fixtures, often prompted by frequent texts from gambling firms. Enough young men are going into debt and are sometimes driven to suicide because of it to be a worry.

In fact, the French government is currently running an advert about the lure of online gambling, showing some of the texts those who bet often receive. I’ve seen them on M6. If they were in English, they’d be something along the lines of:

Hi there, haven’t heard from you in a while. Fancy a flutter?

The more the recipient ignores the messages, the more frequent they become, driven by algorithms.

The Times has a good article from November 22 on what is happening in the UK, especially in England. It says that victims also come from the middle classes. Furthermore, young women are also affected:

Health bosses urged betting firms to “think hard about the human cost behind their profits” after a 42 per cent annual rise in demand for NHS gambling clinics was revealed.

Doctors said more patients were attending A&E after losing all their money in online betting sprees. NHS gambling clinics are full of “young men in football shirts” who have fallen foul of “predatory tactics” by betting firms, including a boom in addictive “in-play” sports betting.

The health service will announce tomorrow that it has opened clinics in Southampton and Stoke, adding to a national network of five commissioned in 2019. Figures seen by The Times show that 599 patients have been referred to the service in the past six months, a 42 per cent increase on the same period last year and up 65 per cent from 2020-21.

The clinics offer addiction therapy, including medication usually given to opioid users to reduce cravings. Patients can be sent by GPs or hospitals or self-refer and usually spend several months in treatment. One in three have attempted suicide; 57 per cent report thinking they would be better off dead. There are more than 400 gambling-related suicides a year in England.

Matthew Gaskell, a consultant psychologist and clinical lead at NHS Northern Gambling Service, said that almost all the patients it saw were hooked on online gambling, including in-play betting, which allows fans to bet on every aspect of a live game. He said: “People start gambling as soon as they wake up in the morning; they’re gambling in the shower, gambling while they’re driving to work. The NHS is picking up the tab.

“There has been an increase in people turning up at A&E in crisis, in a state of suicide. People are completely desperate, begging for help and seeing suicide as a genuine escape.” The service opened in 2019 and has clinics in Leeds, Manchester and Sunderland.

With football’s World Cup going on as I write, one can only imagine the damage.

The article profiles a 34-year-old woman who developed an online slot machine addiction at the age of 24:

Jennifer, a young mother, spent weeks in hospital and lost custody of her children after her gambling addiction triggered a mental breakdown.

Jennifer — a pseudonym because she did not want to reveal her real name — began gambling a decade ago aged 24, and became addicted to online slot machines, feeling trapped “in a never-ending spiral with no escape”.

By 2019 Jennifer had £40,000 of debt and was declared bankrupt. Her mental health collapsed and she was admitted to hospital, with social services taking control of her children

She has not placed a bet for two years. She said: “The group therapy made me realise there’s gambling addicts from all walks of life. By giving me the tools to manage gambling addiction, I’ve had the platform to rebuild my life financially and it means the world to me to be with my kids again as a happy family.”

The article briefly mentioned two young men who took their lives, one of whom was an English teacher:

Jack Ritchie, 24, an English teacher, killed himself in 2017 after six years of battling his addiction to gambling.

Joshua Jones, 23, a talented jazz musician, leapt to his death from a ninth-floor balcony in 2015 after an addiction that culminated in him gambling all his money away and even selling his prized trombone.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of betting shops, but at least, I would imagine, they have some human control. Men who frequent betting shops often have a group of mates they meet up with there. They might tell their friend that he’s been betting too much too often. The staff behind the counter are also likely to have a kind word with someone they see a bit too frequently.

Feet rule knees and hips

On November 19, The Times had an instructive article on the importance of our feet and how they affect other parts of our body.

While this is intended mostly for women, sedentary men would do well to pay attention, too:

According to Dalton Wong, the founder of Twenty-Two Training and who has worked with a host of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence and Olivia Colman, stretching and strengthening the lower limbs can prevent pain in the feet and postural problems elsewhere in the body. Yet most of us neglect to focus on strengthening the 29 muscles of the foot and ankle.

“I am seeing an increasing number of clients coming in with hip, lower-back and knee issues that can be traced back to weakness and instability of their foot and ankle,” Wong says. “What so many don’t realise is that if you are not working your foot muscles enough, then it is reflected further up the body as ankle, knee and hip joints don’t work well.” Anatomically, these interconnecting body parts, joints and muscles that work together to perform particular movements are referred to as the kinetic chain. “Our toes, feet, ankles, lower legs, knees, upper legs, hips, pelvis and spine are all part of the body’s lower kinetic chain,” Wong says. “If one part is weak or out of kilter it has the potential to affect the rest of the chain.”

A strong, healthy foot has a moderately high arch, minimal overpronation — rolling inwards — and some natural spreading of the toes. There are four layers of muscle and soft tissue in the feet that help to lock them into position and keep us upright. A team of Harvard researchers writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine described how the foot has an intertwining central “core” of muscles that work to maintain a naturally raised arch, providing us with the stability needed to hold us in good posture or to support even the most basic movement patterns, such as walking. It follows that misuse of these muscles through, say, lots of sitting or the wearing of ill-fitting shoes can play havoc with foot performance and structure. For starters, too little strength of muscles in the feet can lead to decreased ankle mobility. “If your ankles are stiff and inflexible, you will be less able to transfer weight from foot to foot in a walking or running stride,” says Lucinda Meade, a physiotherapist at Twenty-Two Training.

We should be able to flex our toes easily:

Big toe mobility is particularly important for better balance and gait. “If you can’t bend and flex the big toe, your posture and functional movement will deteriorate,” Meade says. “We should be moving all of our toes, especially our big toes, freely for at least 15 minutes every day.”

Walking around in bare feet is also helpful:

Wong recommends that his clients perform some weekly workouts barefoot. “We spend so little time without shoes that even 20-30 minutes a couple of times a week going barefoot is helpful for strengthening the feet,” he says. Not that you should ditch shoes for workouts overnight. “It takes time to strengthen the muscles in the feet, so build up your barefoot time gradually, starting with 5-10 minutes daily,” Wong says.

Your ability to walk around in bare feet is dictated not just by the feet but by the strength of your glutes in supporting the pelvis and hips, and if these muscles are not strong enough the inside of the foot will collapse if you suddenly go shoeless, Wong says.

At the very least, practise some foot moves for ten minutes each day. “Setting aside some time for your feet will pay huge dividends,” Wong says. “And if your feet are tired or tight, roll them on a cold bottle of water to release the fascia underneath the foot.”

The article has simple foot exercises that anyone can do.

Who knew the role feet played in governing the body? I certainly didn’t.

Egg news latest

And finally, barely a day goes by without a story about Britain’s notional egg shortage. My last news post had an article about egg substitutes.

On Tuesday, November 22, The Telegraph reported that supermarkets will be rationing eggs and that the shortage is expected to last six months.

The second sentence below irritated me:

Both M&S and Morrisons have confirmed its customers are now limited to two boxes each. A spokesperson for Morrisons, which only sells British eggs, said the rationing followed “unprecedented demand” at the end of last week.

The reason for ‘unprecedented demand’ came from the media, blasting news of a ‘shortage’ here, there and everywhere.

At my supermarket, egg prices have remained relatively static for around two years: £1.10 for six, then $1.20 and, only within the past few weeks, £1.40.

Someone’s not getting paid properly — the farmers:

farmers are grappling with double-digit inflation in the price of feed and soaring energy costs to store eggs. The National Farmers’ Union has warned the supply chain issues causing egg shortages on supermarket shelves could last until next summer …

Farmers who are currently making a loss on eggs are not reinvesting in new flocks of hens, leading to a shortage for shoppers.

Robert Gooch, of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association, said the egg shortages would last until “retailers pay a fair price to farmers” …

Ioan Humphreys, a fourth generation farmer in Wales, has 32,000 birds, for which the cost of feed has risen from £250 a tonne last year to £400 today. Meanwhile his electric bill on the farm has more than tripled.

But since December, Mr Humphreys has only received a 5p increase from retailers for each dozen eggs he sells them and is operating at a loss.

He said: “I have got to sell them even if at a loss to get some money in.

“Retailers are blaming bird flu for the shortages, but I haven’t culled one bird from my flock this year. There are shortages on the shelves because farmers are not being paid fairly by supermarkets.”

An M&S spokesperson said the company had provided “additional support, including for animal feed” to help suppliers manage rising costs. Meanwhile Sainsburys said it had increased the amount it paid to its own-brand egg packers, not directly to farmers, by 40pc in the past year.

A spokesman for Asda said the supermarket was “working hard” with its egg suppliers to resolve industry challenges.

Tesco and Ocado did not respond to requests for comment.

——————————————————————————————————-

In conclusion, I hope that my American readers had an enjoyable turkey day and that they’ve got plenty left over to enjoy this weekend.

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John F MacArthurIn writing this week’s Forbidden Bible Verses post on Philippians 2:14-18, I used, as per usual, John MacArthur’s sermons.

‘Stop Complaining, Part 1’ begins with his view of an overly indulged, complaining generation.

He says that the problem is getting worse, rather than better.

Emphases mine below:

Let me sort of ease in to our subject a little bit, if I might.  We’re in Philippians chapter 2 verses 14 through 16.  And I titled the message, “Stop Complaining.”  There’s a reason for that, and it’s fairly obvious if you look at verse 14 where Paul says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” which are really two ways of saying stop complaining And as I was thinking about this very pertinent message about living your Christian life without complaining, it became very apparent to me that we live in a very complaining society.  And I really believe we are breeding a generation of complainers, and they seem to be getting worse with each passing generation

And as I’ve said to you on a number of occasions, it is a curiosity to me that the most indulged society is the most discontent society, that the more people have, the more they seem to be discontent with what they have and the more complaining they seem to be.  In thinking about this, and there would be many ways to approach it, I was just inadvertently flipping on the radio this week and I heard a speech by a sociologist that was quite curious to me and quite interesting The sociologist made a very interesting point.  He was talking about the young people in our culture, talking about their discontent, talking about their complaining attitude, their resistance to responsibility, and how that nothing is ever the way they would like it And they go through life with a kind of sullen discontent, kind of rejection of things the way they are And he had an interesting thesis What he basically said was this: that in many ways this discontented generation of young people is a product of small families His thesis was that where you have families where the average is two or less, of course the average family now in America is 1.7 children, which is kind of strange to think about; as one brother said to his sister, “I’m the one and you’re the point seven.”  But every family seems to come out at about 1.7.7.  We realize that families are getting smaller and smaller and moving toward one child families, if that.  Most families in America have either none, one, or two children …

And the difference is where you have a small family, the system bends to the child Where you have a large family, the child bends to the system And so, what you have, he said, is young people growing up in an environment where the system bends to them And you have child-centered parenting.

MacArthur grew up in a large family, where choice was not an option:

I know as a child myself, one of the reasons I wanted to grow up was I wanted freedom I lived in a totally conformed society.  I ate what they gave me I don’t ever remember going shopping with my mother, everI wore whatever she brought home I never picked out a thing, never.  I don’t even remember going to a department store clothing section as a young person.  My mother brought me what I needed, and I put it on.  And I conformed to the system.  And I looked forward to adulthood so that I could be free to make my own choices The reverse is true now; children grow up controlling the family and they don’t want to become adults because that means conformity Then, they have to go to work, and nobody at work says, “Now, how would you like your office decorated?  And what time would you like to take a break for lunch?”  Nobody says that.  They put you on an assembly line or they put you in a place where you are forced to conform, so what you have then is a generation of young people who don’t want to grow up.

And this sociologist said on the radio, you ask the average high-school kid, what do you want to do when you get out of school?  What’s his answer?  “I don’t know.”  You ask the average college student, what do you want to do when you’re out of college?  “I don’t know.”  And the reason he doesn’t know is because he is postponing responsibility because responsibility means conformity to a system, whereas childhood for him has been absolute freedom Eat what you want when you want, wear what you want when you want, and your mother will take you anywhere you want to go whenever you want.  And so, you breed a generation of young people who are irresponsible And when they do get a job, they get a job simply to finance themselves so they can enjoy their indulgences, and then when they’re 28 years old their license plate says, “He wins who has the most toys.”  And the whole idea of adulthood is to collect toys, boats, cars, vacation trips, on and on and on.

Now, what you have in this kind of thing, said this sociologist, is breeding moody discontent And you build young people who cannot conform and cannot be satisfied, over-indulged kids who don’t want to be adults, continue to push off responsibility; they grow up in an environment they control They don’t like being controlled And they become discontent They don’t want to take responsibility.  They don’t want to work And their adult years are sad.  They become sullen, very often, they become complainers And I really believe that he’s right in many cases.  One of the curses of our culture are overindulged childish kind of adults who are really complainers about everything Nothing is ever enough.  That’s why we have a whole society with a critical mentality, constantly attacking everything.

The church environment is no different:

Now, I want you to know this has found its way into the church And the church is full of its own complainers, and what is really sad is many of them are run by their children’s discontent People leaving the church because their children don’t like it Can’t imagine such a thing, unless their children control the family.  The church has its complainers.  And here we are with so much, so much.  How in the world could we possibly complain just because every little thing in life isn’t exactly the way we want it?  Frankly, I would suggest to you that few sins are uglier to me and few sins are uglier to God than the sin of complaining.  Frankly, I think the church at large does much to feed this thing by continuing to propagate this self-esteem, self-fulfillment garbage that just feeds the same discontent There’s little loyalty There’s little thankfulness There’s little gratitude.  And there’s very little contentment.  And sadly, what happens eventually is your griping, grumbling, murmuring discontent is really blaming God because, after all, God is the one who put you where you are So, just know who you’re complaining against.

He discusses how famous people from the Bible railed against God, from the very beginning:

Now, having said all of that there is a sense in which this complaining is part of our culture There’s another sense in which it’s not new at all Who was the first complainer who ever walked the earth?  Who was it?  The first complaining human being who ever walked was the first human being whoever walked.  And what was Adam’s first complaint?  “God, the woman You gave me.”  We are in this mess because of this woman.  He didn’t blame Eve; he blamed God.  Eve had nothing to do with it.  God made Eve.  Adam wasn’t married; he woke up one morning he was married.  God could have picked anybody He wanted, He picked her.  Why?  It’s God’s fault.  She led the whole human race in sin.  The woman You gave me, complaining.  Cain complained to God about God’s work in his life, Genesis 4:13 and 14 Moses complained to God for not doing what he wanted Him to do when he wanted Him to do it, Exodus 5:22 and 23 Aaron and Miriam complained to God against Moses, His chosen leader and their own brother in Numbers chapter 12.  Jonah complained to God because he was mad at God for saving the Ninevites, Jonah chapter 4 verses 9 and 10.  And it is still a popular pastime to complain at God And may I say that all of your complaints in one way or another are complaints against the providential purpose and will of God.

There’s a new book out called “Disappointment With God,” very popular and being promoted very heavily.  It seems to me to make complaining against God okay It sort of tries to define God as a lonely misunderstood lover who is really trying to work things out, but is really kind of a victim of all of us and we shouldn’t complain against Him, we ought to love Him What a strange view of God.  He is not some lonely misunderstood lover; He is the sovereign God who has ordered the circumstances of all of our lives And to complain against God, to grumble against God is a sin and we must see it as such.

In the ninth chapter of Romans verse 20, “O man, who answers back to God?  The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?”  Who in the world are you to answer back to God?  What an unthinkable thing to do.  And when describing the apostates in Jude 16, it says they are grumblers finding fault following after their own lusts All they want is what they want when they want it, they don’t get it, they grumble and find fault.  It’s characteristic sin of the proud and it is characteristic sin of the wicked.

Now, the tragedy of this particular sin is that it is so contagious Let me take a minute to usher you back into the Old Testament, chapter 13 of Numbers.  And I want you to follow me and we’ll at least get through this little introduction and I think set the stage for what is ahead of us.  This is really very, very interesting and very important.  We go back to the number one illustration of grumbling, murmuring belly-aching griping people the world has ever known, namely whom?  The Israelites.  Numbers 13 just gives us a little insight in to the potential power of this attitude to spread.  Verse 30 says, “Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, we should by all means go up and take possession of it for we shall surely overcome it.”  Joshua, you remember, and Caleb came back from spying out the land and they said we can do it; God is on our side, we can take it.  “But the men who had gone up with him said, we are not able to go up against the people for they are too strong for us.”  Which is nothing but doubting God.  “So, they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out saying the land through which we have gone in spying it out is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.”  And then, they said this, “Also we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim, and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight and so were we in their sight.”

So, they come back with this complaining: we’ll never do it, we can’t make it, we can’t defeat them.  It’s a bad report.  It will fail, it will never make it.  Prophets of doom, they are.  And they’re really complaining against the fact that God has told them to go in.

God hates complaining as much as He hates sin.

God killed complaining Israelites. The wages of complaining were death:

Now, go over to chapter 14, watch what happens in verse 36, “As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation,” what?  “Grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land,” follow this, “died by a plague before the Lord.”  You know what the Lord thinks of grumblers?  He killed them because they spread a brooding discontent against God That’s the issue.  These people complained against God, they complained against God calling them to go into the land, they complained because the odds were against them humanly speaking.  And in their disbelief and complaining against God, they caused the whole nation to grumble, and as a result God killed them with a plague Grumbling really spreads, and your discontent, and your critical spirit, and your grumbling attitude, and your murmuring complaints will infect other people.

Here were the children of God They had been led out of Egypt.  God had parted the Red Sea for them They had seen ten plagues, miraculous plagues at the point of their deliverance And as soon as they got out of the land of Egypt they started to complain, and it never really ended Can I take you through a little trek?  Go back to Exodus and let’s go back to where it started in the Exodus.  Verse 11 of chapter 14, “Then, they said to Moses,” and they’re out in the wilderness now.  “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  They said, “What do you bring us out here for, because there weren’t any graves in Egypt?”  Which is a mocking statement.  I mean, wasn’t there a place to bury us there?  You’re going to have to take us to the desert to bury us?  “Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?”  Here’s the complaint, it’s not like they want it.  They’ve left Egypt, it’s not the way they want it Pharaoh is moving after them, and they begin to complain.  Of course, God did a marvelous thing, He opened the Red Sea, drowned Pharaoh’s entire army and saved them.

Go to chapter 15, they come through the Red Sea, they’ve been delivered, and in that great 15th chapter, the song of Moses sings of God’s great deliverance And it’s no sooner than they’ve done that, verse 22, then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur, and they went three days and they didn’t have any water, three days.  And they came to Marah, they couldn’t drink the waters of Marah, they were bitter therefore it was named Marah, so the people what?  Grumbled at Moses saying, “What shall we drink?”  Again, the same attitude.  Chapter 16, by the way, God provided water for them You remember it.  Verse 27 of chapter 15, 12 springs of water and they camped there and 70 date palms and they had a feast.  “Then, they set out from Elim and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai, on the 15th day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt, and the whole congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses.”  Nothing is ever enough.  Part the Red Sea, provide the water, more grumbling.  “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, we would have been better off there when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full.”  Boy, this is a crass crowd, right?  They don’t care about anything but food.  “We’re all going to die of hunger.”  Boy, they’re real deep, aren’t they?  Real deep people.  “And the Lord provides again.”  It’s absolutely incredible.  God sends quail, God sends manna down.

Then, you come to chapter 17 “Then, all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin according to the command of the Lord and camped at Rephidim and there was no water for the people to drink.  Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, give us water that we may drink.”  See, here’s more complaining, griping, grumbling, quarreling, disputing.  “Moses said to them, why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the Lord?  He is the one who has ordained the circumstances.  But the people thirsted there for water and they grumbled against Moses and they said, why now have you brought us up from Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

Well, Moses is getting to the end of his rope.  So, Moses cried to the Lord, and I’m sure it was loud, “What shall I do to this people?  A little more and they’ll stone me.”  Some group, huh?  So, the Lord said, “Pass before the people, take with you some of the elders of Israel, take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go.  I’ll stand before you there on the rock at Horeb and you’ll strike the rock and water will come out of it the people may drink Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel, he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord saying, is the Lord among us or not?”  It doesn’t take very long for people to forget the provision of God.

Now, go over to Numbers for just a moment or two because I want you to see this pattern.  Now, they’re at the other end of the 40 years They’re ready.  Time is ready to go into the land.  And it’s not much different Verse 1 of chapter 11 of Numbers, “Now, the people became like those who complain.”  You ought to underline that.  “They became like those who complain of adversity.  Complaining of adversity in the hearing of the Lord.”  That’s where their complaint really was directed.  “And when the Lord heard it His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp The people therefore cried out to Moses and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out.  So, the name of the place was called Taberah because the first of the Lord burned among them.”  40 years later, and they have been complaining the whole time about everything.

Verse 4 says, “The rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and the sons of Israel wept again and said, who will give us meat to eat?  We remember the fish and the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, and we’ve got nothing but manna, crummy manna.”  Day after day, this is typical complaining.  Chapter 14, God keeps on providing.  God sends the spies into the land.  And what happens?  They come out, they give this evil report, we can’t do it.  Verse 27 of chapter 14, “How long,” the Lord says to Moses and Aaron, “shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me?  I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel which they are making against Me.  Say to them as I live, says the Lord, just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will surely do to you.  Your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men according to your complete number from 20 years old and upward who have grumbled against Me.”  God says I’ll kill the whole lot of you, you’ll never enter the promised land, and He did it.  He did it.

Chapter 16 verse 41, “On the next day,” what next day?  The next day after God had just punished some people for invading the priesthood The next day after God’s object lesson about serious treatment of His law, “All the congregation of the sons of Israel,” verse 41, “grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and they’re saying you are the ones who caused the death of the Lord’s people.”  And the Lord was furious.  Verse 45, He says, “Get away from among this congregation that I may consume them instantly.  Then, they fell on their faces.”  And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in a fire from the altar and take incense in and bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord, the plague has begun Then, Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold the plague had begun among the people so he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.  And he took his stand between the dead and the living and the plague was checked, but those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah,” where the ground swallowed them all up God just starts slaughtering thousands of them because of their grumbling, complaining, discontent.

You find it again in chapter 20 You find it again in chapter 21 I won’t read them to you.  I suppose the summary of all of it could be in Psalm 106, just listen to this, verse 25.  It says, “They didn’t believe in His word but grumbled in their tents.  They didn’t listen to the voice of the Lord.  Therefore, He swore to them that He would cast them down in the wilderness.”  And that’s exactly what He did.

I read with interest and thought that this must be quite a recent sermon.

How old do you think it is?

MacArthur delivered that sermon on January 15, 1989!

Let’s return to our generation of complainers from that era, 33 years ago, as I write in 2022.

Their parents would have been born in the late 1950s through to the early 1960s, in most cases.

Those young adults, their children, in 1989, would have started getting married and bearing their own offspring in the 1990s.

Here we are, three decades — and three generations — later.

I have an update on today’s youth from Saturday’s Telegraph, July 30, 2022: ‘Our fixation with feelings has created a damaged generation’.

The article is about British youth. Post-pandemic, the main topic that appears in many news articles and parliamentary debates is mental health.

If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard the words ‘mental health’ in parliamentary debates between 2020 and 2022, I’d be living in Monaco right now.

Not only do we have a new generation of complainers, they say they are suffering.

They are suffering because they are too introspective.

Feelings are the order of the day. A dangerous solution to that is the Online Safety Bill currently in the House of Commons. Pray that we can put an end to it, because it has provisions for ‘legal but harmful’ speech. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — currently Nadine Dorries — can decide what is ‘legal but harmful’ speech.

Whoa!

That is a very dangerous route.

Even more dangerous are the voices coming from Labour MPs, who say that if they are ever in government again — a likely possibility — they will clamp down on whatever free speech remains.

Even worse, the legislation has not been passed, yet, here are Hampshire Constabulary just last Saturday, July 30, 2022, arresting a military veteran for tweeting a meme. The person who complained said that the meme caused him or her ‘anxiety’.

The police don’t ordinarily go to people’s homes to investigate crime these days. Yet, they are all too ready to look into social media.

Five officers attended this man’s residence and arrested him. It appears that no charges stuck, possibly because of the Reclaim Party’s Laurence Fox’s video of the incident. Perhaps the police were embarrassed?

The man tweeting this — unrelated to the incident — is former firefighter Paul Embery, a GB News panellist and Labour Party member who is active in unions, someone concerned about freedom of expression:

Guido Fawkes has more on the story and points out (emphasis in the original):

Arresting people for causing offence or anxiety, all while Hampshire recorded 8,000 burglaries in the last year, probably isn’t the best use of police time…

How did we get here?

The Telegraph article consists of an interview with Gillian Bridge, 71, who is an addiction therapist, mental health advocate, teacher and author of many years’ experience in schools and prisons.

Now you might think she makes all manner of apologies for today’s youth.

Au contraire!

Gillian Bridge was aghast to find that the BBC put great emphasis earlier this year on how young Britons were reacting to the war in Ukraine. She said:

there was this expectation that they were going to be enormously distressed – and about something that was not affecting them directly. Meanwhile, what were they doing in Ukraine? Living in bomb shelters; giving birth in cellars. But we were supposed to worry about the ‘anxiety’ young people were experiencing here? Frankly, I found that terrifying.

She said that this was not surprising, because in our post-pandemic world, feelings in a world of short attention spans are the only thing that matter.

As such, Ukraine is less important now. It shouldn’t be, but it is:

Terrifying, but “not surprising”, she adds with a sigh. “And you’ll notice that just like other political subjects that have prompted huge emotional outpourings on and off social media of late, things have now gone very quiet on that front. Once we’ve had these ‘big’ emotions, we are no longer particularly interested, it seems.” She cites our celebration of the NHS as another example. “People were virtually orgasmic about their pan-banging, but how many of them then went on to volunteer or do something tangibly helpful?” It’s in part down to our gnat-like attention span, says Bridge, “but also the fact that a lot of the time we’re not interested in the actual subject, just the way we feel about it.”

Mental health problems, real or otherwise, have spun out of control over the past few years, even pre-pandemic:

the 71-year-old has watched our “fixation with feelings” balloon out of all proportion, eclipsing reason, and predicted how damaging it would be, especially for the young. However, even Bridge was shocked by figures showing that more than a million prescriptions for antidepressants are now written for teenagers in England each year, with NHS data confirming that the number of drugs doled out to 13 to 19-year-olds has risen by a quarter between 2016 and 2020.

Child mental health services are reported to be “at breaking point”, with referrals up by 52 per cent last year and some parents even admitting that they have been sleeping outside their children’s bedrooms in order to check they are not self-harming. There is no doubt that we are dealing with an unprecedented crisis – one that was definitely heightened by the pandemic. “But Covid cannot be held responsible for all of it,” cautions Bridge. “And while antidepressants can be very effective, we need to be asking ourselves how we reached this point? Because whatever we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working.”

Bridge blames this on too much introspection:

At the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in 2019 Bridge told the 250 independent school heads in attendance what she believed to be the root cause of this mass unhappiness: “This focus on ‘me, myself and I’ is the problemIt’s taking people who are vulnerable to begin with and asking them to focus inwards.” And in Bridge’s ground-breaking book, Sweet Distress: How Our Love Affair With Feelings Has Fuelled the Current Mental Health Crisis, the behavioural expert explains why too much emphasis on emotion is as bad for our health as a surfeit of sweet treats. Indeed the “empty calories contained in some feelings” have only helped our “sense of self-importance to grow fat”, she says. Hence the “emotional obesity many are suffering from now”.

Cancel culture and censorship are part of this dreadful focus on feelings:

The book – which kicks off with Bridge’s assertion, “We’ve been living in a gross-out world of personal emotional self-indulgence and sentiment for decades now … decades which have seen the nation’s mental health worsening” – is a succession of equally magnificent declarations. Magnificent because she has pinpointed the cause of a whole range of societal problems, from mental distress and the determined fragility of the young to the woke chaos of universities and cancel culture.

Interestingly, Bridge believes that this toxic focus on feelings began in the 1970s. MacArthur and the sociologist he cited spoke in 1989The timing makes sense.

Bridge told The Telegraph:

Certainly the touchy-feely approach to things had already started in classrooms back in the 1970s.

From there, it gradually expanded, year after year, decade after decade:

Flash forward to today, when every boss can be silenced by an employee starting a sentence with: “I just feel that …”

Whereas you could do so in the old days, it is now taboo to downplay someone’s feelings, and that is not a good thing:

The great value of feelings today, Bridge tells me, “is that no one else can ever deny them … so if you feel offended then someone has genuinely harmed you”. Celebrity culture has promoted this new way of thinking as much as social media, “where you can witness people actually gorging on themselves, getting high on the strength of their own feelings just as they do on sugar – self-pleasuring, basically. And listen, it may feel good in the short term, but it’s very bad for us in the long run.”

People can convince themselves that their feelings are the truth, their truth, anyway. That omits fact, what really happened. Bridge mentioned Meghan Markle’s complaints:

Take the Duchess of Sussex, she points out, and her litany of “heartfelt” complaints. “Just last week there she was explaining that she didn’t lie to Oprah about growing up an only child, because she felt like one, so it was, as she put it ‘a subjective statement’.” Bridge laughs; shakes her head. “We really are tying ourselves up in knots now, aren’t we? Because it’s all about me, myself and I, and someone like Meghan has made it so much easier for people to follow in her footsteps, when the reality is that feelings are not immutable. They are not fixed, an absolute. They are not fact. And they are certainly not something that must override everything else.”

Yet there is a natural neurological process whereby the brain is able to turn feelings into fact, Bridge explains. “If you revise, rehearse, repeat and reinforce, then you create a fact, and that fact will then be embedded in your memory: ‘your truth’. Going back to Markle, that’s crucially a truth that no amount of counter-evidence can challenge.”

Bridge says that encouraging children to emote and focus on their feelings is unhelpful for them and for society at large. The focus on feelings originated in the United States, the source of all bad ideas in our time:

“The worst possible thing you can do with a child is to give them a fixed idea that they are feeling a certain way,” she says with aplomb. So those “emotional literacy” classes that started in California and are now being taught at schools here in the UK? The ones using a “traffic light” system, with pupils as young as four being asked to describe their “happiness levels” accordingly? “A terrible idea,” Bridge groans. “Feelings are simply physiological sensations mediated by cultural expectations; they go up and they go down!” Yet thanks to the pervasive narrative that every feeling should be given weight, “instead of enjoying the limitless health and optimism of youth” many youngsters “are now entrenched in their own misery”.

Bridge then tapped unknowingly into what MacArthur preached about in 1989, the notion that there were once roles for us in life, conformity to social expectations:

The desire to feel significant (either by embracing victimhood or by other means) is hardly new where young people are concerned, Bridge reminds me, and her tone is notably empathetic. “Let’s not forget that people used to have a role in life assigned for them within their communities. You might do an apprenticeship and then go and work in a factory or go into your father’s firm, or you might be preparing to get married and have babies. Now people have to find their role, they have to choose an identity, and that is much more complicated for them.”

Remember when we older folk — the 60+ group — were taught resilience at home when we were children? ‘Tomorrow’s another day’? It meant that today’s setback was temporary and, sure, we were hurt or upset, but better times were on the way. And, sure enough, they were.

Parents and schools are not teaching children about the temporary nature of setbacks. Therefore, today’s children lack resilience, which gave all of us who learned it so long ago hope for the future:

“The reason ‘everything will look better in the morning’ is so important,” says Bridge, “is that just like the children who did well in [Walter Mischel’s famous 1972] marshmallow experiment, they were able to predict the future based on their past.” That ability to delay and see the bigger picture is closely associated with the development of the hippocampus, she explains, “which is memory, navigation and good mental health. Yet by immersing ourselves in feelings and the now, we’ve blotted out the ‘OK so I’m feeling bad, but tomorrow will be another day’ logic, and we’re trusting the least intelligent part of our brains. As parents, we should all be discouraging this in our children. Because a child has to believe in tomorrow.”

Developing resilience is good for brain health, and it helps us to survive.

Bridge says that altruism also helps our brain health. We look out for others, not just ourselves. She says:

Studies have shown that it protects us from mental decline in our later years, but that the self-involved are more likely to develop dementia.

She cautions against cancelling or revising our history, whether it be factual or cultural:

Learning and a sense of history are equally important when it comes to brain health. “Yet again we seem to be distancing ourselves from the very things that we need to thrive. We’re so threatened by history and its characters that we try to cancel them! When you only have to read something like Hamlet’s ‘to be, or not to be’ speech to understand that it encapsulates all of the issues and irritations we still suffer from today. And surely knowing that gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of context, continuity and, crucially, relativity?

Alarmingly, Bridge says that some young people believe that suicide is a melodrama, not a final act:

they don’t actually realise it’s the end of them. Instead, they are almost able to view it as a melodrama that they can observe from the outside. Which is a deeply distressing thought.

Scary.

Bridge warns that too much introspection can lead to criminality:

Although it’s hard to condense everything she learnt about the criminal brain during those years down to a tidy sound bite, “what was notable and important in this context,” she says, “was their fixation on themselves. So the more a person looks inwards at the me, myself and I, the more they’re likely to run afoul of everything, from addiction to criminality. In a way, the best thing you can do for your brain is to look beyond it.”

She tells me about a prisoner she was working with “who came up to me and said: ‘I’ve got mental health’ – as though that were a disorder. Because people have become so ‘into’ the problem that the phrase is now only negative. That’s surely one of the most worrying developments of all. And it’s why I refuse to use or accept the term ‘mental health’ unless it is prefixed by ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”

Incredibly, with all the misplaced importance on feelings, Bridge says she has never had a bad reception to her talks:

… she stresses she “has never encountered negativity anywhere I have spoken”. Yet another reason why Bridge isn’t about to dampen her argument.

She thinks there might be the seeds of a turnaround, based on news items over the past few weeks:

“I think people understand that it’s time for some tough talking,” she writes in Sweet Distress. “There is increasing evidence that families, schools and universities are being overwhelmed by an epidemic of mental ill health.” So whatever we are doing isn’t just “not helping”, but harming? “Absolutely. But I am seeing more and more people speaking up about this now. The narrative is changing. Just look at what the Coldstream Guards fitness instructor, Farren Morgan, said last week about body positivity promoting ‘a dangerous lifestyle’. He’s right.” She shrugs. “It’s no good saying ‘it’s OK to be any size you please’ when we know that if children have bad diets, that can in turn lead to obesity – which in turn makes it more likely that they will suffer both physically and mentally later on.”

She mentions the new smart dress code implemented by the head of Greater Manchester Police – the one that, according to reports last week, helped turn the force around into one of the “most improved” in the country. “These officers were performing better at work because they were dressed smarter. So what does that tell us? That if you have a disciplined life and if you accomplish the things you set out to do, that gives you self-esteem – which makes you happier. But of course none of this happens if we are just sitting around ‘feeling’ things.”

She suggests that a good way of getting young people out of the cancel culture narrative is to point out that, someday, they might be cancelled, too. Also note the final word:

How do we get people out of themselves when they are so entrenched, though? How do we root them when they are flailing to such an extent? “By giving them a sense of being part of history! By getting them to see that if they want to cancel someone who lived 50 or 100 years ago, then in 50 or 100 years’ time someone may have entirely ‘valid’ reasons to cancel them. By building the inner scaffolding that will keep them standing throughout life’s ups and downs. And you know what that inner scaffold is called?” she asks with a small smile. “Resilience.”

Get Gillian Bridge into the new Government, coming soon, as an adviser. The nation needs someone like her. She would be perfect in helping us to defeat our mental health pandemic.

Recently, we spent a lovely holiday in the south of France.

One thing that struck both SpouseMouse and me was the proliferation of people staring at their digital devices. Now that mobile connections are available on flights from start to finish, some people were attached to their screens from boarding to landing.

While we were there I ran across an article which warned about today’s obsession with non-stop digital connection, especially at mealtime. (I’ve already posted about a French etiquette expert who says that mobile devices are not invited to the table, where good food and conversation take pride of place.) The article reported on a study that showed social interaction, empathy and conviviality declined severely when dining partners continued checking messages, texting and surfing.

Nearly a year ago, I read an article on digital addiction in the French newsweekly Marianne: ‘Chéri(e), lâche ton portable!’ (‘Darling, put down your mobile!’) which appeared in the 25 – 31 July 2014 issue on pages 18 – 21. Highlights follow.

All too real cartoons

Marianne featured three tragicomic cartoons by way of illustration.

The main one showed four people sitting together in silence on their mobiles (pp 18-19):

Man No. 1: Hello. My name is Philippe and I’m a mobile telephone addict. (Tap, tap)

Man No. 2: Hello, Philippe. (Tap, tap)

Woman: Hello, Philippe 🙂 (Tap, tap)

Man No. 3: Hi, Philippe. (Tap, tap)

The second had a couple in bed with the husband responding to a message (p. 20):

Wife: It’s your mistress.

Husband: Not at all … It’s the office …

Wife: No … Your iPhone is your mistress …

The third shows a multi-storey house with dialogue coming from the uppermost room (p. 21):

Once again you’ve taken the side of the bed where you can get a connection!

The problem

A Frenchwoman, Carol, told Marianne that her boyfriend receives audible notifications of messages at all hours (pp. 18-19):

He sleeps with his phone; he wakes up with his phone. During the night it’s ‘ding, ding, ding!’ on the phone, on the computer and on the tablet.

Portable devices have become the adult version of cuddly toys or security blankets. Seventy-four per cent of the French say they never leave the house without them! That gem comes from an Ipsos survey taken in 2013 for Google (pp. 19, 21).

Furthermore, people are using their phones and tablets as escape routes from boring conversations (p. 19).

Even worse, the article says that a survey done in England showed that 62% of women use their smartphones during sexual intercourse (p. 20)!

Marianne interviewed one phone addict who was slowly realising that he has a phone problem. Business school student Jean-Manuel, aged 22, said (p. 20):

I no longer wait for my phone to vibrate; I look at it all the time. Even when I’m having a phone conversation, I hold it away from my face so that I can glance at the screen. I’m never separated from it.

During my student trip to Budapest, I was constantly on WhatsApp to communicate with my girlfriend who was in France. As it was non-stop, I turned down invitations to parties and missed moments of conviviality with the other students … I couldn’t even appreciate my mates who came to visit me.

Whilst travelling, I went to McDonald’s rather than to traditional restaurants just for the Wifi. It was horrible.

Online games are also an issue. Stéphanie Bertholon is a psychologist and cofounder of the Centre de traitment du stress et de l’anxiété in Lyon. She has a patient who prefers to play Candy Crush rather than put his daughter to bed at night. He realised (p. 20):

it gave him a rather pitiful picture of himself as a father …

Yet:

he is completely dependent [on the phone].

Let’s hope that, one year on, he is on the road to recovery.

Two researchers who have been studying phone addicts’ behaviour — sociologist Francis Jauréguiberry and anthropologist Jocelyn Lachance — have found, independently of each other (p. 21):

– No digital addict will make a clean break with a portable device. Although digital addicts talk about it, not one has done it yet.

– No corporate executive is ever completely disconnected.

– Rather than turning off, digital users tend to get more involved with their devices over time. Mastery of applications becomes increasingly more important to them.

Lachance, the anthropologist, indicated that loved ones can become co-dependents in this behaviour:

It’s not work that encourages [the addict] to stay connected. Friends and family cannot admit that they can no longer interact with these people.

Strangely:

The ultimate argument [for staying connected] is death. ‘What if something happens to him?’ ‘What if something happens to us?’

Who will know — and when?

Practical solutions

With summer holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to try to break the habit of being online all the time. Marianne‘s interviewees offered the following suggestions (p. 21).

Jean-Manuel, the aforementioned student: When you’re having drinks with friends, everyone has to put his mobile in the middle of the table. The first one who cracks and reaches for his phone has to buy the next round of drinks … Okay, fine, but we stopped playing that game. It made everyone too nervous.

Stéphanie Bertholon, the psychologist: First thing: I recommend stopping notification of messages. Then, before taking your smartphone to the beach, ask: ‘Why am I doing this?’ Above all, it’s about discarding a ritual in order to control your behaviour.

Another suggestion — especially good for parents and other family elders to impose — comes from Sabine Lochmann, director general for BPI Group, mother of three and wife of 25 years (emphasis mine):

On holiday, my husband and I pay fines if we work or talk about work. Our eldest daughter is in charge of the kitty. And when we all spend time together, I ask everyone to lay down their ‘arms’, meaning portable phones, and put them in a basket when they enter the house.

It was shocking to see so many airline passengers on our return flight from Nice to London using these smartphones and tablets non-stop. They even missed the beauty of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) and the Esterel (the Alpes-Maritimes nearest the coast). I’ve seen both several times on take-off; such natural beauty never fails to captivate. I could not believe the number of people who preferred gazing at a tiny glowing screen!

Conclusion

Parents and grandparents should not hesitate to ask — demand — that mobile devices be left behind or put in a basket during family gatherings. And, unless there is something urgent (i.e. doctor on call), they should stay put until the end of the meal or party.

Let’s recapture the lively art of conversation! What better time to start than during summer holiday?

Speaking of Andrew Zimmern — longtime host of Bizarre Foods (Travel Channel) — how many people know of his dramatic personal story from addict to sobriety?

Some news sites’ commenters would say — and have said: ‘Did you just climb out from under a rock? Everyone knows this.’ However, there are always people who do not know of another’s struggle to climb out of the gutter, which rather describes Zimmern’s journey back into acceptable society.

Zimmern is one of the most polite and congenial television hosts around, with a real slant on food and congeniality. Unlike Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential [book] and No Reservations [television series]) — a close friend of his, by the way — he hides his political commentary and affiliations.

In his episode on Maine — series three — he invited his father Bob along for a dinner. According to their conversation, Bob took young Andrew all over the world and encouraged him to eat what was on offer in local restaurants. I do not know what Zimmern senior did for a living, but he seems to be well-educated and well-versed in etiquette.

It so happens that Andrew took a bit of a detour from his middle class upbringing and began dabbling in drugs and drink.

In 2011, The Fix, devoted to recovery from addiction — ‘straight up’ — interviewed Zimmern in depth. Excerpts follow (emphases mine, outside of the questions), so be sure to read the whole three-page interview:

Formerly Executive Chef of Minneapolis’s much-lauded Cafe Un Deux Trois, as well as a host of high-end New York establishments, Zimmern won two nominations in this month’s James Beard Foundation Awards—known as the Oscars of food and voted for by 600 culinary professionals—having already picked up Outstanding TV Food Personality last year. Then there’s the web series, the books and the domestic life he shares with his wife and son in Minnesota.

But the 49-year-old, New York-reared foodie still takes the time to reflect on what might not have been. Before he achieved his near-20 years of sobriety, alcohol and drugs wrecked his life to the point where he saw death as the only way out. He told his truly bizarre tale to The Fix.

What were you using when you were younger and how did it start?

I’m really a New York City garbage-head at heart. I found marijuana and alcohol in the first couple of years of high school. By the time I was done with high school I was a daily pill addict, a daily cocaine addict. By the time I was a freshman in college, I’d experimented with—and fallen in love with—heroin. The other stuff didn’t go away—it was always just swapping out one thing for another. I found that smoking or snorting heroin and cocaine would keep me on an even keel throughout the day, then I’d drink a bottle of vodka at night and pass out somewhere. Then it was easier to get up in the morning with a hangover by scoring some blow. I came to realize in my 20s that something was horribly wrong—I blamed it on the hard drugs. And it was easier to kick hard drugs with an alcohol and marijuana maintenance program. By the time I went just to pot and booze, I was totally unemployable. I was so hopeless; I was just waiting to die.

Also:

You were homeless throughout 1991, living in a disused building in downtown Manhattan. How did that come about?

I had no income, no job and no place to show up, in that none of my friends wanted me. I was kicked out of my one-room apartment for non-payment of rent. I then got a series of sleep-on-the-couch deals from people I knew from local bars—not even friends, just drinking acquaintances. It was horrible neighborhoods, horribly scary stuff and I didn’t have the stomach for it. So it was easier for me to just curl up somewhere. Once you do it and get through a night, it’s like: “Oh, okay, now I’ll just improve that situation.” Your alcoholic mind tells you that living like that is acceptable. My brain tells me things that aren’t true, even today. If I act on that, I get myself in trouble; back then, it’s all I was listening to. Eventually, I was drinking with a bottle gang one night in the alley outside a nightclub, and they said “Oh, we’re all staying in this building.” It was on Sullivan Street, which these days is quite a swanky neighborhood. We went over and they’d pirated electricity, they had water coming out of a pipe in the sink and that’s all we had.

Is it true that you would sometimes eat rats during this period?

No, not at all! But I think I know where you may have gotten that from. No, it wasn’t until Bizarre Foods that I started doing that! But living in this building, one of the problems we had in the warm weather months was cockroaches and rodents. Every day you’d do your hustle or whatever to get enough money for booze and you’d buy a bottle of Comet cleanser. And I’d sprinkle it in a circle around my little pile of clothes that I slept on, so that roaches and rodents didn’t crawl over that line and hassle me when I passed out at the end of the night. It’s a pretty horrific way to live.

He told The Fix that he snatched handbags from wealthy ladies who lunch and sold the contents within 20 minutes of the thefts. (There’s also another related article at Eater.com from 2010.)

After a decade of living like this, he finally picked up the phone and rang a friend for help. He ended up several hundred miles west at the Hazelden Treatment Centre in Minnesota and was clean for the first time since he was … 12 years old.

He doesn’t drink at all now, even though he will try a strange ingredient (e.g. lizard) normally used in a cocktail. For his drink, the exotic non-alcoholic ingredients, he says, are left in water for a few hours to give him a better idea of the taste. A wine glass in front of him on camera is there for the table setting only.

Yet, Zimmern still likes his kicks; he just doesn’t get them the old way. Nor does he get that same excitement from food. He told The Fix:

There’s no thrill in eating for me. I think that’s a different kind of addiction and luckily I’m not there yet. What is thrilling to me is jumping off Table Mountain in South Africa attached to a rope, or jumping into a hole in the ground that’s 40 feet deep, but only the width of a human body, in the Puerto Rico episode in the rainforest there. What is addictive is spending a week with the Zhun/Twasi in the Aha hills of Botswana, the people of the Kalahari—the real ones, not the Disneyland version! Those are rushes. So is walking down the street in Chengdu, China, and having somebody come up to tell me they heard me talking about my recovery on a talkshow three years earlier, saying that they’re three years sober, and thanking me for being one of the voices of reason in their life. Those are incredible moments.

Is there a ‘magic formula’ for addicts wanting recovery to follow or, for that matter, those who wish to break into television? No, he says. After 20 years, it’s still the same:

Everybody asks me: “What’s the secret of success in television?” because everyone thinks it’s such a good job. And everyone in recovery also asks: “What’s the secret of success in recovery?” And for both, the answer is the same. You just chop wood, carry water. It really is that simple.

A commenter on Gawker.com read The Fix‘s article and wrote:

I got something from that article though, and it was this quote about his proneness to experimentation: “All those things got me in a lot of trouble when left unharnessed, but when focused the right way are the core elements that make up all of my successes today.”

That’s so important to remember. The thrill-seeking, the willingness to explore and the thirst (!) for new experiences just need to be channelled into a useful, productive fashion which benefits us and others in a good way. It’s not simple, but a thoughtful, responsible adult can help guide an adolescent or long-term addict in the right direction. It can take time.

Here’s Zimmern’s episode from the Philippines which sums him up quite well:

Zimmern appreciates American food but is also critical of the lack of variety. He’s only a few years younger than I, but I recall the variety of head to hoof meats on offer when I was a child. Even at the supermarket head cheese (brawn) was always at the cold meat counter. Pickled pigs feet were always on display. Ham hocks were on the shelves. Veal was a staple meat. There was also a variety of offal — liver, kidneys and sweetbreads (thymus glands) — on offer. I never had pigs feet (trotters) until 12 years ago here in the UK but I’d certainly had the others now and then growing up in the 1960s. Where do you see them now? Nowhere.

British supermarkets are quite similar these days, also in terms of fish. When I first moved here nearly a quarter of a century ago, I was amazed at the variety of fish at the supermarket counter. Now only a fraction of that exists. I take issue with the lesson-givers who present our food programmes. Listen, if I could get gurnard or sprats, I’d buy them. Even the fishmonger only has a limited range of fish and seafood: ‘Oh, no one wants that, so I don’t stock it.’ I can barely buy fresh sardines!

I agree that, on this point, Zimmern puts his point across somewhat better, but probably because he presents such an unusual show. I can see his point, which he explained to an interviewer from Gadling.com:

I go to a lot of sporting events with my son. We’ll be sitting there, and I’ll get recognized and somebody comes up to me and they’re eating a hot dog or a bratwurst because we’re in Minnesota. They say to me, “I can’t believe some of the stuff you put in your mouth. How can you eat that barbecued pig snout?”

My response to them is, “when I was in the Philippines, and they butchered that pig and took the snout and grilled it, steamed it and grilled it again, chopped it up and made that snout hash and I ate it, that meat had never seen the inside of a refrigerator. It had never seen pesticides. It had never seen growth hormones. That was fresh, gorgeous porky pork the way God meant it to be eaten. And it was delicious.

The pork that you’re eating, sir, is ground up, it’s five years old. It was liquidized. It was ammonia-ized. It was food processed.It was loaded with filler and chemicals, and the government says they don’t have to tell you 25% of what’s in it. What’s worse? To me, it’s not even close.

The diet of the average American is universally mocked and ridiculed for good reason. Our culture has created a part of a food life for many Americans that is unconscionable. Our show is entertainment, but there is a very graspable message in Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern that I think is the most important message of anything we do.

When you broaden out the number of, for example, protein choices in your life, and start eating little fish as opposed to the American way which is just tuna, salmon and halibut and shrimp, when you start to eat 20 different types of red meat, not just two, you then spread out your choices and you ease pressure on farms and take away the power of these giant multinationals that now produces 75% of our food in this country. You actually level the playing field, and you’re eating more, in the words of one of my idols, Michael Pollan, “you’re eating foods that your grandmother would recognize.”

To Andrew — and his counterparts in the UK — we would if we could.

This is part of the reason that some of my recipes appear rather ‘humble’. Yet, they’re a voyage of discovery for some. They’re also inexpensive but good foods to enjoy. And they’re ones your grandmother would recognise.

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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