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Archive for the ‘coffee’ Category

Since I left the last ‘Weekend Reading’ until mid-week, this one has only a few days’ worth of links.  I believe these ones date back to… last Wednesday?  Anyway, enjoy this week’s very short list!

Best of the Week – Religion: Blind Faith (Washington Post)
Some disturbing information about religious literacy in the US here – for the most Christian nation in the world, I find this horrifying.  For instance, cited in the article is that less than half of Americans know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible, that only half can name even one of the Gospels, and a little over 10% think that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.  The title of this article is very fitting – what are all these people following?

Psychology: This is Your Life (and How You Tell It) (New York Times)
How you view and retell memories says a lot about you, and can have substantial impact on your thoughts about them.  Sad and embarrassing memories viewed and recalled in the third person can actually seem less sad and embarrassing, and the people who recall them that way seem to have apparently learned more from them.

Software/Advice: Firefox Keyboard Shortcut to Retrieve Lost Tabs
The BEST Firefox tip I’ve ever heard.  It happens so often to me: I start closing down unused tabs, and accidentally delete one that I really needed.  Pressing Command+Shift+T (Ctrl+Shift+T for us Microsoft slaves) will bring back any tab you just closed.  No more accidentally deleting the wrong tabs!

Gender/Psychology: Girls do badly at math when told boys do better (Reuters)
A study from the University of Chicago shows that when girls are told that their male counterparts are naturally better at math, they start doing badly on tests.  This was also shown to impact achievement in whatever tests or classes they took directly afterwards, and was not limited to just mathematics.

Coffee: Understanding Coffee People
Coffee can be a link category all on its own, who says it can’t?  I found this accidentally through Google hunting for myself (you know you’ve done it).  These are descriptions of a few distinct “coffee types”… the Addict, the Snob, the Teenager (proud to say I’m not one of them in this context), etc.  Which one are you?  (I’m the Addict – I like my coffee bitter, black, and lots of it.)

Nostalgia: 15 (Painfully) Unforgettable Cartoon Theme Songs
Ahhh, pre-Y2K cartoons… how I miss that blurry quality that I thought was so awesome as a kid.  To think there are kids today growing up without classics like the Looney Tunes.  This is a list of 15 memorable cartoon themes (YouTubed and embedded!) from the 80s and 90s.  (Some of these I can just barely remember, and some I didn’t even realize had stopped airing. I miss the 90s… I made a Mister Rogers joke to some kids I know and they just gave me blank looks.  I shouldn’t have to feel that old yet.)

That’s it for this week!

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I’ve done a post on coffee in the past, but I had a really odd moment of perspective this morning. Caffeine-addict that I am, I was preparing my daily intake… drip coffee for the morning and a thermos full of black tea to last me the rest of the day (tea is less expensive to brew in bulk). It’s a daily routine, so I didn’t think much of it, but when the caffeine high started to kick in on my way out, it somehow hit me that…

…Douglas Adams (author: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and various other projects) once wrote an email instructing an American tourist on how to brew a proper pot of tea. (The email was later published in a posthumous collection of some of his shorter works called The Salmon of Doubt. If you’re a DNA fan and have not read it, go do so. Now.)

…George Orwell (author: 1984, Animal Farm, and various other books and essays) also wrote at length about the proper way to brew tea. Like Adams, he was very picky about the details of brewing tea, and had his own quite strong opinions about how it should be done. Orwell had chosen some weird essay topics in his life, but I always thought this one was particularly odd.

…Malcolm Gladwell (author: The Tipping Point and Blink) wrote an article for The New Yorker about the joint cultural history of coffee and revolutionaries, with the subtitle: “How caffeine created the modern world.”

…Frank Sinatra (if you don’t know, I’m not telling you) performed a song called The Coffee Song about coffee obsession in Brazil. (“The politician’s daughter/Was accused of drinkin’ water/And was fined a great big fifty dollar bill/They’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil… And when their ham and eggs need savor/Coffee ketchup gives ’em flavor/Coffee pickles way outsell the dill/Why, they put coffee in the coffee in Brazil”)

…And countless other people who have made creative contributions to society have commented on, or made tributes to, coffee/caffeine culture.

Which led to my moment of perspective, captured beautifully by artist/physicist Randall Munroe in his webcomic xkcd:

Coffee/tea is a drink.

What is wrong with us?

That feeling of sudden perspective quickly faded away, as in the comic, but the idea had already taken off. Coffee is a drink; tea is a drink. They contain caffeine, a mild stimulatory drug. It makes us more alert and energetic… not much else. Yet there’s an entire coffee-culture and tea-culture built up around these drinks. A caffeine culture.

Why?

Sugar and energy drinks increase energy and alertness, too, but do we see famous figures writing/singing/painting odes to sugar and energy drinks? Maybe if energy drinks had a longer history, but not really, no. What about detailed instructions from famous writers on how to squeeze oranges for the optimal production of orange juice? No. Do we have sugar or orange juice subcultures that have contributed to the development of modern culture? No.

Maybe we idolize and romanticize caffeine consumption as a drug that’s not dangerous enough to really harm us, but enough to give us a little buzz. It would explain the existence of Jolt and cannabis culture, but those two still fall into separate stereotypes (geek and hippie – though the latter is changing) while coffee culture is more widespread. Similarly with tobacco; though with its relatively recently discovered health complications, smoking is increasingly regarded as belonging to a more delinquent stereotype.

When I think about it, even the stimulation seems like something so trivial to build a whole subculture around… much less one that has impacted human cultural development. Coffee is a drink. A damn good drink, but a drink nonetheless. It just boggles my mind that we – collectively, I mean, over history – have become so enchanted by it. It’s an odd thing for me to say, personally, because I’m probably more addicted to and enthralled by caffeine than anyone I know (my excessive coffee consumption has raised eyebrows at many social functions). I once wrote that coffee is not just a drink but a lifestyle. But why? How is this feeling so universal? What is it about coffee and tea that holds us spellbound? Are we as a society just held captive under the effects of a mild drug?

Why does coffee have a subculture? For heaven’s sake, it’s just a drink!

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As those who know me interact with me on a regular basis in real life will attest, I am rarely seen without a cup of coffee in hand. In fact, if asked to describe me to someone else, my closest friends and family would use the word ‘coffee’ at least once in the first sentence. ‘Coffee-addicted’ is even the first word (pair of words, really) in my blog profile on the right. The truth of the matter is that I actually do not always have a cup of coffee in hand, but those moments are depressing and mostly incoherent. When the blood starts to resurface in my caffiene-veins, I tend to lose interest at an alarming rate.

It may seem a bit odd for me to dedicate a post solely to coffee and my experience of it, but I figure if George Orwell can write an entire essay about optimal tea preparation, I’m entitled to a measly post about the drink that makes me tick. (That sort of rhymes! <–this is me when the proportion of blood to caffiene raises; laaame…)

I read Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article called ‘Java Man’ last night, and it inspired me to dedicate a post to coffee. It’s a very fascinating essay about the history of coffee as an influence in major intellectual and revolutionary movements (namely, the American Revolution and the Enlightenment). I very highly recommend it to fellow coffee enthusiasts and the generally curious.

Wikipedia has an entire article titled ‘social aspects of coffee’. This is not just a drink, folks. Coffee is a way of life. As hippie-esque and fridge magnet-y as that sounds, Gladwell and Wikipedia have nailed it. Coffee changes lifestyles, and coffee is a lifestyle. Need more proof? Wikiquote has a list of coffee-related quotes from well-known people who feel the same.

The coffee lifestyle is so much my own I can hardly remember what it felt like otherwise. As a student of knowledge and slave to my writing, coffee is just so… useful. There’s definitely practical value in it; for myself, often struck by inspiration just before bed, it’s an effective way to keep myself up through the night to get my thoughts to paper. It even cushions the impact of the consequences, because when I wake up half-dead the morning after a thought-binge, there’s a steaming pot of coffee ready to keep me from passing out in my morning classes. (Obviously, this is not the healthiest lifestyle, but chosen insomniacs know that some things can be sacrificed for art, and sleep can always be made up later.)

As aspiring intelligentsia, too, and having the setback of being so young, I benefit from the social aspects of coffee. There is certainly social advantage in drinking coffee or tea, at least in these circles of discussion. Being fifteen, I can hardly expect to be included when dinner party conversation turns to politics or economics (in my extended family, it often does). It seems an unwritten rule, though, that once I accept a cup of coffee, people pay attention. If I don’t have a cup of coffee in front of me, I tend to be tuned out in favor of the ‘adult’ opinions, but once it’s acknowledged that I, too, drink coffee, my opinion on the global economy is suddenly valid. It’s a curious thing.

Consider this: in the eighteenth-century, the coffeehouse was the place for intelligentsia discussion. Through clouds of nicotine and over cups of java, key ideas of the Enlightenment were discussed and debated, and some of the first democratic ideals were uttered. Coffee brings people together, now as it did then. Its reputation as the ‘thinker’s drink’ did not emerge because someone thought it sounded cool.

Ironically, this post was not actually written while drinking coffee (it’s midnight–even I have my limits). This is my excuse for the choppy-ness of the writing and lousy structure. You’ll have to excuse me; there’s blood in my caffeine.

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