Manspreading

So here is another situation we might encounter on a daily basis. You sit on a train and the seat next to you is empty. The first thought that might come across your mind is the silent shout of hooray! Because this means that you can put your forearm on the armrest, and that there will be none of that awkwardness you encounter when two individuals silently manoeuvre their forearms so that they occupy a narrow strip of plastic of no mans land. So you rejoice inwardly, but this temporary moment of celebratory elation is soon suitably shattered at the next stop when a man walks through those two parting doors and lays his eyes at the empty seat.

Within moments of plonking himself into the gap, unceremoniously bouncing you an inch of your seat, you find not just your arm shoved off the shared armrest, but there is a sense of your own personal space being minimised by the expansion of the man. Your legs, which your mother had always taught you to keep within your own space, are now contorted sideways, as the man expands from his seat, like a toy sponge frog that has taken on water. If he is traveling on the train and continues with the same rate of expansion, he might swell to twice his size.

This sort of anti-social behaviour is more commonly perpetuated by men and it is so prevalent that it even has a term for it. Social commentators refer to the term as manspreading, simply because a man (used in its generic sense, actually) merely sites himself or herself in a particular spot and expands outwards, spreading the legs wide open and elbows out. It is a particularly unsightly social act, like a frog on its bottom.

What can you do if someone acts like that? Well, realise that some people deliberately go out of their way to be rude and difficulty. (Johannes Brahms, the classical music composer, would deliberately apologise for not having insulted people. And if you are ever a victim, don’t stay silent and endure the lack of consideration. Speak out. “Excuse me, can you keep your self out of my space please?” Or if you are simply too afraid to, then as you depart, casually knock an arm or bag into the offending body part. Look at the person. Glare. And then simply refuse to apologise as you walk off. That may be the return treatment most of us are comfortable with! It may not be good, but it is better for your well-being than holding on to that anger!

Being too clever can make you blind – really?

Does being educated lead you to become myopic? This is what recent research seems to be pointing at, and what the NHS website seems to be endorsing. According to a study of nearly 68,000 participants, the research suggests that for every year spent in education, there is a decline of 0.2 dioptres in vision.

We all know the typical stereotypes of kids being brainy and wearing glasses. Everywhere we look this stereotype is being perpetuated. If you look at the character Cuthbert in the Dennis the Menace cartoons, he is the smart one in the class in the class, and like the teacher, one of few who wear glasses. Wearing glasses seems to convey some form of intelligence. Harry Potter wears glasses. The alternative stereotype is the muscular but dumb individual, big on muscles, small on brainpower.

The sample size of nearly 68,000 makes it of worthwhile consideration, unlike some research that (rather pointless) tried to use only a sample size of 20! Believe it or not, there was a piece of research on an important area such as smoking and vaping that published results after a sample size of 20 people were consulted. How is that even feasible? We have seen in the past how sample sizes skew statistics and this is how some manufacturers try to initiate the process of research in their twenty-year monopoly in pioneering new drugs; one can only speculate that this was why that particular research was published.

The research assessed the eye health of individuals are correlated them with the years spent in education. On the face of things, this seems to suggest that the more you study, the more your eyes deteriorate.

The more educated you are aiming to be, the more you have to sacrifice your sight.

Which is absurd.

It is not education that spoils the eyes. If that were the case, then all professors would wear glasses and have worse eyesight than the general population. And no teenagers would have high prescriptions.

The answer – if you can call it that – is what we do with our eyes. If we read in poor lighting conditions, then we put our eyes under strain and develop bad habits. For example, if you read with a overhead lamp and a shadow is cast on your book, or you lie on your back while hoisting a book upwards towards the sky, then you are straining your eyes; and if you spend more years (presumably in education) reading like this then you are going to develop myopia. But if you have good reading habits, then it is not going to hurt you to educate yourself and read, because you will not be doing much harm to your eyes.

But reading itself is not going to harm your eyes per se. We can point to various different activities that strain your eyes, such as watching too much television with faulty lighting, too much glare from scrolling cellphones in the dark, too much playing computer games and not noticing it has got dark … all these things strain your eyes.

In fact, if the researchers went back to the 68,000 people they surveyed, and asked how many people owned a smartphone, they would more or less get a close to 100% response and might as well have concluded that owning a smartphone leads you to developing myopia. It does – only if you focus for too long on it.

Poor vision has many causes – diet, prolonged focus and habit. One of the ways to help your eyes recover is to minimise the time you spend focusing on things close-up, and then to spend time outdoors to focus on things that are far away so that your eyes are not consistently taxed. If you were thinking of taking up piano lessons and then had to focus on reading the notated music, which may be tiny, and under dim conditions difficult, minimise the time you spend on it.

Being educated does not make you myopic – the poor reading habits that individuals have can be exacerbated by the reading demands that the pursuit of higher education requires. It is important to note the difference!

Multi-vitamins increase risk of death in some cases

Over the last few decades, people have been more concerned about health. The fitness boom of the 1970s led to a running craze and the 1980s could be described as the supplement decade, where people started taking multivitamins. (We could refer to the 1990s as the bodybuilding age and the noughties as the creatine and steriod age.)

Why do people take supplements? As the term suggests, it is to make up for vitamins that might be missing in your diet. But a report by the Guardian found that not only did supplements not have any positive effect, some vitamins actually have a higher risk of death of poor health.

Researchers at the University of Toronto looked at the effect of various vitamins on the risk of heart disease and stroke. What were the results? There was no significant proof that vitamins prevented heart disease, although folic acid, found in the B vitamins, did reduce the risk of stroke.

However, niacin (vitamin B3) and antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E) were associated with an increased risk of all causes of death, according to the findings published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology.

Too many people have assumed that multivitamins only have a positive effect, but the levels in the products on sale can be well over the daily recommended limit, sometimes by as much as 1000%.

Vitamin C, in particular, is assumed to be good but too much can be dangerous.

There should be no need to take multivitamins if you are on a balanced diet, and the money spent could turn out to be a waste, or even harmful, if you happen to get supplements that have high levels of certain vitamins.

The pianist Robert Schumann suffered from poor health and even lost the use of his left hand, causing his performing career to be over. While part of it was reportedly due to a device that he used to widen the reach of his handspan, medication he was taking did not help either – which goes to show you must be careful what you put in your body.

Part of the problem is due to what we call anchoring. When we have a fundamental belief in an assumption, subsequent opinions are formed relative to that first opinion. If you believe supplements are good, then successive formulations of opinion are assumed to be good too, even though they may be distorted.

Diverting negative energies into positive gains

You’ve heard of Twitter. You’ve heard of trolling. And if you haven’t heard of the latter, you must be of the social media landscape, which may be a good thing for you. Trolling is the process – some may call it art now, unfortunately – of sending someone offensive messages in a bid to get them to respond. Some might liken it to baiting. It was a way of provoking conversation by say something to unsettle someone. I personally call it needling. It is like one of the silly things children used to do, to poke each other with a finger until someone got fed up and reacted. Over the years it has evolved into and art form, of saying something objectionable until someone “flames”. Unfortunately the development of such social terms only conveys how acceptable a practice it has become.

Twitter was a good medium for trolling – some say it still is – because it offered anonymity. And it was instantly responsive to news. Back in the days of the Arab Spring, and the London riots, people were using Twitter to communicate instant messages alongside Blackberry IM. It was almost as if these events opened the eyes of the authorities to the power of social media and how they needed to police it. To this effect, many have social media accounts to “communicate” with the public. Twitter may have had its twitterstorm, and while Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are having their turn in the news, Twitter remains an important feature of the social landscape nonetheless.

The responsiveness of Twitter and its immediacy mean that people can send anonymous messages to others and watch the impact as it unfolds Imagine receiving a message from someone who purports to know you somewhat like “The guy at the next table is watching you”. Immediately you would react to the sense of danger, and then feel a sense of embarrassment if it turns out to be a hoax and that you have been pranked. That’s what one form of trolling is. A cheap, inconveniencing laugh at someone else. And when you’ve been hoaxed, there is the embarrassment too that your hoaxer is in the vinicity observing you. But sometimes others troll (trawl) the Twitter landscape just to be objectionable, to say things to others without being physically around to be accountable for their words.

It’s not nice being trolled. It is akin to be digital bullying. A BBC report investigated some teens who had been trolled. But when they dug deeper, they had a nasty surprise. The ones responsible for the trolling, the cyber-bullies were the teens themselves.

Welcome to digital self-harm.

Why do people leave nasty online messages for themselves. One of those teens said that it was a way of getting attention and sympathy. When we are bullied online, we get some words of sympathy from others and a bit of their time and attention. Julian – not his real name – received the message “Nobody cares what you think. Just deactivate your account. No one likes your posts, and you’re a waste of everyone’s time.” Later it was discovered the digital hate mail originated from himself.

As he says of those who have been trolled, “they were quite popular so their followers would really support them through it and send them nice messages. I didn’t have many followers at the time so I thought sending myself a hate message might be a good way to get attention.”

Another girl, Sophie, sent herself hurtful comments in order to open up a discussion with herself, she said. She said she suffered from anxiety and to bring it out to the open, she penned a 1000-word response to her online hater – herself.

It may be useful, especially if you were concerned about an issue such as, say, one’s sexuality and needed to bring it out to the open. And one can perhaps understand that. But when a trolling comment is used only for the sake of generating attention, it really calls to mind the state of one’s mental health.

What kind of state is the mental health of someone who abuses themselves online to draw attention? Most would say “not good”. To that effect there are attempts to track those who do so. One of these methods involves checking the IP addresses of user accounts, to see if two have the same address – meaning they were sent from the same computer and individual.

What can you do if you are feeling down and need an outlet for your mental frustration? Sometimes it is useful to learn a new skill or do something to deflect your mental situation away briefly. You may find it useful to learn a new skill like learning the piano. And try to channel your frustration into a creative activity, because it will keep you from dwelling on your circumstances and the drive, directed correctly, will propel you to greater heights. The composer Ludwig van Beethoven, by all accounts, had a difficult childhood, but as a Piano Teacher in Crouch End expounds, Beethoven managed to transcend the difficulties faced to become a skilled musician and composer.

Certainly it is better to do something self-fulfilling, rather than self-harming!

The social signal of music

If you look around you, on your daily travel to work, or perhaps just as you are moving through society, you will notice that many people are plugged in to their headphones, listening to music, trying to pass the time. And how headphones have evolved. They used to be merely a tiny pair of plugs to stuff into your ears, now they have become large ear mufflers that purport to cancel out exterior noise, and many of them are bluetooth enabled, meaning you are no longer limited by the length of a wire and can be unencumbered by its messiness.

Of course, this has meant that the music industry has taken advantage of it. Now that many people are listening to music, thousands and thousands of hours are devoted each week to producing music for listeners to devour. This has of course given rise to the number of people producing and recording their own music, and the number of apps and other music technology software for that kind of purpose. But what does the increasing popularity of music really tell us?

It doesn’t really tell us that music is increasingly popular on its own merit. That is to say, that the music nowadays is of good quality. What it does tell us, unfortunately, is that society is fragmenting socially.

You might be thinking that is a crazy thing to say, but if you examine what situations you see the use of headphones in use, it may shed some light on this viewpoint.

People use headphones to shut off one of their senses to the world. This means that on public transport for example, if they are hogging a seat that has been prioritised for a person that needs it more, for example, an elderly person or a pregnant lady, they may avert their gaze and pretend they have been so immersed in their music that they did not notice the need. One of the unwritten social contracts is to give up your seat for someone – a young child, a pregnant mother or an elderly person – who may need it, but using headphones means that one can break out and default on this without hearing the reprimand of the others.

The above is only an example. But what it highlights is that we use headphones not so much to enjoy music, but as a barrier to the social world around us. If you travel on a bus, and a group of youths are making a ruckus, no one dares to even utter a word for fear of retribution, being involved in a discussion with those out to get attention via argument, or lack of bother. The solution? Headphones. Pretend you never heard. Shut out one of your senses to the world.

It is a shame really because music was meant to be enjoyed, but now it is a shield to the world. Actually, not a shield, but a lance to say keep away. As a Crouch End piano teacher tells us, it could offer us such positive experiences. But it is somewhat disheartening that we use music to divide rather than to bind us. And it is not just merely the use of headphones. A noisy car blaring out noisy music, or a person playing loud music on public transport, is equally guilty of trying to impose some sort of social control on the people around that they do not like or want. We should try to use music more positively instead of as a divisive tool.

Broccoli is good for your heart

“Research has shown eating broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts to be particularly beneficial for the hearts of elderly women,” The Guardian reports.

Researchers investigating the benefit of a vegetable diet in Australia found that women who consumed the highest number of vegetables displayed less thickening of the walls of a vessel that supplies blood to the brain. The blood vessel is known as the common carotid artery and it has been linked to incidences of stroke, as a blockage in the artery prevents blood getting to the brain.

 

Might it have been a case of merely the consumption of vegetables? After all, we know that vegetables are good for you. Did the consumption of broccoli specifically have health benefits?

When looking at specific types of vegetables, researchers in Australia found that cruciferous vegetables seemed to provide the most benefits. These are a range of vegetables that belong to the same cabbage “family” (Brassicaceae) and include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.

While previous research has linked a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables to lower risk of heart attacks and stroke, this study looks at the potential effect of specific types of vegetables.

The study could not merely narrow down the benefits solely to the consumption of vegetables, particularly broccoli But after variances in other factors was taken care of, the results held true after taking account of other factors such as women’s lifestyle, medical history and other components of their diet.

Cruciferous vegetables are good for you and the evidence suggests that older women in particular should make an effort to include them in their diet.

The researchers who carried out the study came from Edith Cowan University, the University of Western Australia, Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Flinders University and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, all in Australia. The study was funded by Healthway Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. It was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Heart Association, and is available to read free online.

Surprisingly enough, the Mail Online reported the study results accurately. Nevertheless, as is often the case, did not make it clear that this type of study cannot prove that one factor (cruciferous vegetables) is a direct cause of another (carotid artery wall thickness).

The Guardian headline and introduction said the study showed vegetables provided “heart benefits”, although thickening of the carotid artery is more closely linked to risk of stroke.

The new wonderfood?

Wow, pasta is in the news again. In the 1990s it was claimed that eating pasta would mean consuming large anount of calories, which then get deposited as fat.

And now the surprising media focus is now on how pasta can help you lose weight? It is incredible to think how two pieces of research can have such different results over time.

The latter fact was what was reported in newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and the Independent.

Carbs have become a common focal point for newspapers because it is almost unavoidable that we have to consume them every day. Newspapers tend to focus on common foods such as pasta, rice and bananas because the majority of readers consume them and this makes the news relevant, newsworthy, and inclines the reader to purchase a newspaper or read a web page loaded with adverts.

The common carbohydates that feature in news are white flour, rice and potatoes. They have been criticised for causing weight gain, alongside sugar.

Pasta is a low-glycemic index food, which means the carbohydrates don’t release sugar in the bloodstream when broken down.

But the abundance of carbohydrates in daily food also means that when it is absent, it is newsworthy. Which is why when celebrities go on a zero-carb diet, like the Adkins diet, the news is jumped on.

In the cited research, researchers looked at pasta that was used as a part of an overall low-glycemic index diet, compared to a high glycemic index food.

When pasta was eaten as part of a low GI diet, it was more likely to cause weight loss than if it were eaten as part of a high GI diet.

The research is still out on that one really. But is eating a low GI diet part of the solution that it appears to be? I would suggest not.

I would suggest that those who eat a low-GI diet anyway would be more inclined to eat a high fibre type of pasta.

High fibre pasta keeps you full and you feel fuller on less calories. Thus less calories remain with the body and get deposited as fat. Excess calories end up as fat, you see.

Those who ate pasta as part of a high GI diet would be less likely to be health conscious and hence the type of pasta would be less specific, less high-fibre and more ordinary pasta, requiring one to eat more calories to feel full.

Look at it this way. Less health concious people drink norrmal tea. Health conscious people drink peppermint tea (or some other sort).

Those who drink peppermint tea as part of their daily diet would be more likely to be health conscious, while those that consume normal tea are likely not. But that doesn’t mean you should stretch research and say peppermint tea helps you lose weight.

To summarise, what I would propose is not that pasta helps you lose weight, but that high-fibre pasta means you consume less calories and hence lose weight. It has nothing to do with being used as part of a low glycemic index diet or a high glycemic index diet. But low GI diet followers are more likely to eat high fibre pasta.

This was the bit of information that was not supported by articles.

The researchers found that “when pasta is consumed in the context of low GI dietary patterns, there is no weight gain but marginally clinically significant weight loss.”

The Mail Online, England’s favourite Health Daily, of course stretched the truth by saying that one should forgetting eating courgettes and going to the gym. Who ever knew a humble common daily event like eating pasta would have such a great effect?

That was the Mail Online’s spin to it, but don’t rush to eat lots of pasta. The extra consumption of pasta would merely make you pile on the pounds again. It is unethical to report like this but in this day and age it sells articles and is inportant though, even if it is peddling mistruths!