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Merry Christmas

December 17, 2012

With a nod to Borges, I will say that I have committed the worst sin of all that a man can commit: I took the wrong book on vacation.

It was a hurried choice, a new book I’d put on hold knowing only that I liked the title: “Encyclopedia Paranoiaca.” It’s not that the book isn’t entertaining and informative, but it’s a one-trick pony that would be tiresome cover to cover.

And I had no back-up until I arrived at my father’s house and found another new book I’ve been waiting for (so I started his copy): “Antifragile” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. No doubt we’ll discuss this
book later. Among the entries in the Encyclopedia Paranoiaca is “Black Swans,” a term and previous book title of Taleb’s.

The encyclopedia is a “compendium of things you absolutely, positively must not eat, drink, wear, take, grow, make, buy, use, do, permit, believe … etc.”

It’s partly, but only partly, tongue-in-cheek. For example, there are successive entries about the detrimental aspects of commuting by bicycle, car, and train. No particular help is offered for how to get to work, and one might decide simply to stay home, but our homes are full of danger, too, from germs, viruses, mold, poisonous air, radon, and other sundry dangers.

Things to be paranoid about range from Asteroid 99942 Apophis and Comet Catalina to yoga and zombies. There are mega-tsunami threats on both coasts, and sitting in Cafe Dawn drinking coffee or tea isn’t much safer, especially if you sit cross-legged.

There are consequences. The entry “Tea, a nice hot cup of” cites a recent study showing habitual hot tea drinkers were twice as likely to contract esophageal cancer. However, lukewarm tea is simply not acceptable.

But then again, the entry “Research Studies” urges caution in reacting to reports of research studies. Not only are the reports in the media often flawed, the research itself may be flawed.

There are negative effects to our wellbeing from clowns and Santa Claus. Also from brown rice and flip-flops. There’s no telling.

“Exercise, lack of” states the obvious, but the encyclopedia doesn’t discuss the very recent research showing athletes such as long-distance runners can be more likely to suffer atrial fibrillation in later years.

Sitting down at a desk for long periods creates problems. But then, so does working at a stand-up desk. Something in between, I guess.

The first entry under A is “Abdominal Cramping. See also Sushi, Sashimi, and Ceviche.” And one thinks, well, of course.

But what to do about the dangers of “Sex Selective Abortion,” which has so distorted the male-female ratios in Asia that there will be no end of problems for many years. Not least, in my mind, is what to do with millions of un-mated Chinese men. (You make an army, of course.)

Maintaining equanimity about such intractable issues, one might presume to sit in meditation, but there are issues with this, too, particularly Qi-Gong. The Qi-Gong Psychotic Reaction has its own place in the DSM-IV diagnostic manual.

The encyclopedia is fun. One can enjoy it with a whisky and cigar and chuckle to oneself: “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”

One source of paranoia not included is the issue of who tracks your reading habits. But the Electronic Frontier Foundation has you covered. Annually they publish their “E-Book Buyer’s Guide to
Privacy,” which you can find on their website.

Just what information is saved by Amazon and Google et al? Should you care? After all, there is still the question of whether or not the world will end in just a few days.

So, in case next week doesn’t come, I’ll say it now: Merry Christmas.

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