Charlie's Blog


SOC 19

You cannot open a book without learning something.

In my last SOC post, I praised beer. Now, it is with irony that I must now announce that I am giving up beer. I don't want to give up beer, but I have to give up beer. Beer contributes to gout, and I have gout. I just discovered all of this just this week. It is both liberating and heartbreaking. Here is my tale.

I am a vegan. I do not eat meat, dairy, eggs, or any other animal products. I have been vegan for about four years now. I made the switch in order to preserve and promote my health. Prior to this, I ate crap for four decades. My youth made this abuse of my body possible, but I knew I would pay a consequence for this when I got older. And, I was right.

A vegan diet does not cause gout. In fact, it basically cures gout. My gout is the consequence of my past life as a meathead who ate burgers and fried chicken almost daily. I think my first flare up was when I was 36 or 37, but I didn't recognize it at the time. But I have suffered many flare ups since becoming vegan. This isn't supposed to happen to vegans which is why I had a hard time accepting that I had gout. It didn't make sense. Then, I read an article from Dr. McDougall, and it makes total sense now.

Gout is caused when purines from meat (and yeast) turn into uric acid in your body. This uric acid crystallizes in your joints especially the big toe joint. I don't eat meat, but I still have body fat from my meathead days. As I lose weight, the purines stored in this body fat become uric acid leading to gout. Basically, I am now paying for eating all of that garbage in my former life.

My antidote for this condition is to drink lots of water and consume lots of tart cherry products and apple cider vinegar. I also have to give up beer which contributes to gout. I can drink wine or spirits since it is the hops and yeast in beer that are the problem. But, to be honest, beer is the only alcohol I really care to drink. Wine has never been my thing, and I think spirits lead to alcoholism. So, I'm a teetotaller again.

Yes, it is enough to make a grown man cry. I wish it weren't so, but there it is. Beer was my last vice. Now, I'm safe to invite to a Baptist church picnic again. Why does everything that it is pleasurable and fun in life seem to come with some negative consequence?

I have been here before, so it isn't the end of the world for me. When I was an atheist, I was a teetotaller. I never drank. At the time, I was enamored with tales of Enlightenment thinkers with ideas of freedom and liberty fueled by prodigious amounts of coffee and meeting in European cafes to discuss all their grand ideas. So, I became a caffeine addict which lead to massive amounts of energy and productivity in my life. Unfortunately, all of this energy and productivity was pointed in the wrong direction. But I got things done.

I have toyed with a return to that caffeine fueled high octane lifestyle. There were a lot of negatives in my life back then but alcohol and substance abuse were not on the list. I was a foul mouthed libertarian atheist, but I lived clean.

Now, I have been a coffee person since my twenties. It is my morning habit like many other people. I like to make this joke. We know there is no life on Mars. This is because there is no coffee on Mars, and life is not possible without coffee. Yeah, it is kinda corny, but it makes my point. Coffee is go-juice.

My relationship with coffee became more serious in my thirties when I gave up drinking. If you ever attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, you will come away with the impression that these drunks have replaced their alcohol addiction with caffeine and nicotine addiction. I don't consider myself to be an alcoholic, but I am absolutely a caffeine addict.

I have praised coffee many times here on the C-blog, and I would say that 95% of the content here has been written under the influence of that drug. For curiosity's sake, I read up on gout and coffee. One article said that high coffee intake lead to a 40% reduction in gout attacks. That is so awesome. Everytime that I worry that coffee might be a bad thing, I come away from the internet reassured that java is one of the best things to ever happen to humanity. It is the only drug that I know that will allow you to stay out of jail, keep your job, and may even get you promoted. Alcohol will get you a DUI. Cocaine and heroin will get you dead. Nicotine will turn your body to cancer. But caffeine can resurrect the dead. I know because I rise from the grave of slumber each day with a hot cup of java.

There is a difference between the casual coffee drinker and the serious coffee drinker. The casual coffee drinker has two cups of mild brew each morning. The serious drinker has four cups of strong brew as a mere starter and will drink coffee again in the afternoon and perhaps the evening. The serious coffee drinker is what has made Starbucks possible.

I like Starbucks. Of course, I don't like paying four bucks for a cup of coffee. But I like Starbucks as a location. It is a much better substitute for the bar. That hangout part is why their coffee costs so much, and I should go easy on them for charging so much. Before Starbucks, there was really no place to hang out with friends that didn't involve drunks, and this includes the Waffle House. Plus, I take inspiration in the fact that virtually every Starbucks has someone there working away at a laptop computer either studying or getting work done. These people are on the high octane lifestyle.

Once upon a time, this was my lifestyle. Then, somewhere I drifted into relaxation and contentment. This was certainly as a consequence of being happily married and also becoming Catholic. I was restless then I found rest. The reason those Enlightenment guys like Voltaire drank so much coffee was due to the restlessness that comes from the rejection of Christianity. They got out of the car and went to work prodigiously reinventing the wheel.

When I was a libertarian and an atheist, I was a reinventor of wheels. It was fun and pointless. I don't care to live that again. But I admit that it might be nice to have that same energy back that fired me up so much. I was high energy then but pointed in the wrong direction. Now, I'm pointed in the right direction, but I am low energy. What if I were high energy in the right direction?

With my putting away of beer in favor of coffee again, I think I would like to try this experiment. I am content in my life, but I wish to be more in terms of my work. I feel like a very lazy person these days, and this is something I want to change. This gout thing has really laid me low, but it may turn out to be a real kick in the pants to make some productive changes in the way I live.

Another change I have been doing is cultural and intellectual hygiene. This is the practice of turning off CNN and the New York Times. This is part of an internal debate that I have been having with myself over the last couple of years. Essentially, the debate has two sides. The first side is that you should expose yourself constantly to opposing ideas and culture. For instance, a conservative should take the time to read Karl Marx and Saul Alinsky in order to more effectively oppose their errors. The second side is that you already know they are bad, and life is short. The argument for this side is best expressed by St. Paul in Philippians 4:8:
For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.
My interpretation of this is that you should eschew hip hop, Norwegian death metal, and David Allan Coe in favor of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Debussy. The music issue is an easy one to settle. The issue of art is a little more difficult. Obviously, shock art involving body fluids and blasphemy can and should be ignored in favor of Rembrandt and Leonardo. But what about Monet or Picasso? That's when things get a bit fuzzy. And what about pagan art from Greco-Roman times?

As I embrace becoming an old man, I listen to old man music now. I feel that I am in a halfway place between youth and maturity. This blog is evidence of that as I blend history, philosophy, and Led Zeppelin. But I feel a certain need to purify myself of the decadence of rock and roll. I find no real joy or pleasure in it anymore. I prefer listening to old classical guitar stuff from Andres Segovia now. He is my Jimi Hendrix now.

SCHOENBERG: This guy composed the worst music you will ever hear.

I do not believe that beauty, goodness, and truth are subjective. Consequently, I reject those avenues of culture that believe these things are subjective. Now, some rock music like the heavenly harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young can be beautiful while some "classical" music like the monotony of early Philip Glass or the cacophony of Arnold Schoenberg are just noise and a waste of good vinyl. But for the most part, rock is noise while classical is beautiful. I also believe that the degradation of most rock and popular music today comes as the musicians of today have virtually no knowledge of the classical music of old. Bereft of this grounding in what is truly good, they reproduce what they know which is crap. This is why the radio in my vehicle remains permanently on the AM dial as I listen to news/talk instead of music now.

The easiest case for cultural hygiene is that life is too short to waste on bad music, art, movies, and books. This is why these things have critics except the critics aren't so good at criticizing anymore because they are divorced from the true, the good, and the beautiful now. So, to make it easy for you, you can stop watching almost all movies made today. They are all very bad. Even the best ones aren't so great. If you gave up movies and television completely, you will have lost very little.

Music is also fairly easy. Just listen to classical music, choral music, and opera. I play this stuff all the time when I am at home. My wife claims that it has an effect on her, and she is totally into Motown/R&B/Soul/Disco/Eighties stuff. Her listening to my music is purely secondhand audio and not by choice. But she likes it all the same. That is the universal appeal of good music. Everyone loves it because beauty is not in the eye or ear of the beholder.

With art, I can tell you when it went bad. It started with Picasso and devolved from there. Basically, art fell completely into crap with this work:

GUERNICA: When art turned to crap.

This is Guernica which is more political than artistic. Either way, it is just flat out ugly. People may disagree when art went bad, but this is usually the moment in Art History 101 when students know in their guts that art turned to complete crap. Everything following this work is either a variation of this garbage or a repudiation in favor of a return to more classical forms. Basically, you have art that is purposely made to be hideous or made to be beautiful.

Popular art is a different category for me. This would be the stuff of comic books, advertisements, posters, cartoons, and things of this nature. They are not so much about beauty as about sending a message or information. This distinction between high art and popular art can also apply to music as well. I don't put Andy Warhol in the same league as Michelangelo in the same way that I don't consider Led Zeppelin to be equal with Bach. The popular stuff is simply fun. Fun is good. Sublime is another realm.

The danger I run with cultural hygiene is not being fun anymore. I still remember when a local columnist lost his mind when the local NPR station started programming jazz stuff on the classical station. IT WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE END. It was a gross overreaction on his part because only two people listened to the station, and he was one of them. He should have worried more about losing his newspaper job. AND HE DID. But he was a casualty of the internet.

Art, music, and movies cause me some grief in the cultural hygiene department, but I have none when it comes to literature. The reason for this is that those forms are immediately accessible. Moby Dick is not. Because reading novels takes effort and time, I don't waste any of it on Stephen King, John Grisham, or whoever is pretending to be Tom Clancy these days. I'm still trying to finish Lord of the Rings.

When it comes to literature, the make or break point is Ernest Hemingway. I consider him to be the most influential writer of the twentieth century. That influence was more stylistic than anything else. Hemingway wrote in that spare style. This economy and thrift was a game changer.

I'm out.