Browsing Archives for January 2011

Dear Charles,

Last evening I hosted book club at my house.  One of the attendees brought a loaf of poppy seed bread to the fête.  I think she did this because I had sent out an e-mail announcing to the group that if they were expecting any baked goods to prepare to be disappointed.  (I always like to lower expectations for any parties that I am hosting that way, should I actually rise to the occasion, clean house, cook food and prepare exotic mixed beverages, everyone will be happily shocked and surprised.)  So anyway – back to me, me, more me, and also me.  I did (reluctantly) of course manage to rise to the occasion and I baked a lovely chocolate pound cake sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with saucy raspberries on the side.  The cake was very beautiful to behold, but it actually tasted pretty mediocre.  Still, my guests politely ate most of their slices because they are all very nice people.  Fortunately, my friend Kim had also brought her bread which was both lovely AND delicious so we all ate some of that too.  Eventually, our meeting broke up and everyone left, but there was plenty of cake and bread leftover because women generally only make complete pigs of themselves in private.  As I was cleaning up the leftovers, I remembered that poppy seeds are a narcotic.  And then I remembered from my old days as the spice girl at the health food co-op that nutmeg is also capable of getting a body high.  And I started wondering if there was some kind of combination of these two spices that would make an interesting treat to serve the next time I host book club.  Would it be possible to “unwittingly” drug my guests with the humble inhabitants of my spice cupboard?  Would that help us to say what we really mean?  For instance, if everyone at my book club was stoned, would I be able to convince them to read one of my atheist books for our next meeting?  Because I kind of wanted to do that, but I chickened out and suggested Bill Bryson and Malcolm Gladwell instead.  Would a potent combination of poppy seeds and nutmeg wrapped inside of an irresistible quick bread make me a braver person while simultaneously making my guests more open to my radical ideas?


So not a crack head


Dear So not a crack head –

A good rule of thumb to follow in looking for consciousness-altering substances that aren’t alcohol is that if it’s legal, its effect on your consciousness will be either negligible or unpleasant and the disagreeable side-effects will be plentiful. Case in point: nutmeg. In the course of some hasty Internet research, I found an account of a “nutmeg trip.” This doesn’t exactly sound like what you’re after. If you can get enough nutmeg into all of the club members, you’ll then need to keep them at the meeting for about 5 hours (at which point the peak of the nutmeg’s intoxicating effects will be felt). You’ll spend a portion of that time peering through bloodshot eyes at your guests and listening to their complaints about nausea, dry mouth, and flu-like symptoms until everyone loses the desire to communicate and clams up, each retreating deeper and deeper into her own nutmeg hell of intensifying disturbing physical effects and acute anxiety. At about this point, you’ll probably want to call it a night so that you all can get on with an evening of lying awake in bed, starting at the slightest sound, and trying to remember to breathe. I’m uncertain when in this course of developments would be a good time to nominate one of your atheist books as the next club selection.

Poppy seeds would seem to be a dead end too, requiring lots of effort for little or no effect, with a risk of death.

With the right equipment, you can make methamphetamine out of decongestants and diet pills if you can get your hands on enough of them, which is hard to do because it’s illegal to purchase more than a small amount of these items in a specified time period, so it may take a while to accumulate the materials you need. Methamphetamine produces a large grab bag of strong effects that includes self-confidence and sociability, so you may be more persuasive while you’re on it, but it’s doubtful that the club members would be more receptive to your ideas if they were on it, and anyway, we’re getting into territory where it would be harder to claim that any drugging of the club members was done unwittingly, especially if you attempted to administer the drug intravenously or via suppositories. Add to that the trouble and risk involved in the production of methamphetamine and the damage it does to the human body and psyche, and it’s clear that we are once again barking up the wrong tree. I know it’s not a tree you intended to bark up, but given your obvious do-it-yourself spirit and strong desire to drug your guests, I thought it possible that you would get around to barking up it sooner or later, so I thought I’d preemptively advise against it.

As you can see, although concocting your own narcotics from everyday household items sounds like a fun project, it is likely to be a lot of trouble, and the reward for that trouble is likely to be more trouble. Therefore, it would probably be best to let the pros handle the manufacture of the drugs and to consider only well-established, respected drugs for your project.

Choosing just the right drug for consumption by a group of people with the aim of making one of those people courageous about expressing her ideas while making the rest of the group more receptive to any ideas that happen to be expressed can be tricky, because such a drug would have to make a person courageous and receptive at the same time, and there’s always the danger that someone else will express an idea they normally wouldn’t express and you normally wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole and that you (and the rest of the group) will be helplessly receptive to it and that the meeting will adjourn with everyone’s having agreed to read Dr. James Dobson’s Marriage Under Fire: Why We Must Win This Battle for next time. To avert a tragic outcome of this kind, it might be best to take a courage-enhancing drug yourself but to give your guests a different drug, one that will make them receptive but not necessarily courageous or outgoing.

One thing to consider in choosing a drug for your guests is that you’ll want to lower their defenses sufficiently without putting them so far out of it that they cannot easily recall what transpired at the meeting. If a club member wakes up on the following day next to a copy of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and finds that she must struggle to recall how she hooked up with that book, she will probably swear off the book club for good after completing the delicate, shamefaced, and awkward procedure of extricating herself from the company of the book.

If you would like to try separate drugs for you and your guests, perhaps the best combination would be alcohol for you and marijuana for your guests. Alcohol, of course, is renowned for the sociability and courage it bestows upon all whose lips it crosses, so you will be eager and fearless in proposing any idea that strikes your fancy, although it might be best to make an effort to stick to ideas that struck your fancy before you started drinking and to avoid those that occur to you as the effects of the alcohol intensify. Marijuana will enable your guests to see the coolness of your ideas while preventing them from concentrating long enough to formulate any objections. You could include the marijuana as an ingredient in whatever baked good you serve. You should announce to the group beforehand that they should prepare to be thrilled if they are expecting any baked goods and that you will consider it an insult if anyone shows up with any competition for your exquisite treats. Since the club members will not make complete pigs of themselves during the meeting, they will be unlikely to consume enough cannabis to obliterate their memories of the evening. Make a small quantity of an unspiked version of the baked good for your own consumption, and serve your guests a nonalcoholic beverage that’s the same color as the whisky that will be in your glass.

If you prefer not to risk being carted off to jail and having all your property confiscated, you’ll probably want to eliminate marijuana from the plan and just stick with alcohol. If you have a feel for how alcohol affects each of your guests, you can personalize each drink, serving the good stuff to those who become more agreeable as their blood alcohol level rises and watering down the drinks of those who become surly or otherwise unpleasant when inebriated.

A drug/alcohol-free strategy you might consider is to work up to the hardcore atheist books gradually. If you want to take somebody somewhere, you must start from where they are, so the next time it’s your turn to suggest a selection, choose a book in which center stage is taken by a subject or story you judge to be likely to resonate with most club members but which also contains some embedded atheist ideas, and make sure those ideas are covered in the discussion of the book. If you get a sense from that discussion that most of the club is willing to consider such ideas, for your next selection choose a book with a heavy atheist bent but with some material that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with atheism. A good book for this phase might be Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger. It’s still kind of safe, because Mark Twain (a.k.a. “America’s Sweetheart”) is revered in literary circles far and wide and is known for his nonthreatening, folksy wit by people who haven’t read his work. If you suggest The Mysterious Stranger and things turn ugly after everyone has read it, you can feign surprise at the surprise ending and claim that you hadn’t read it before but that it was recommended to you by an angel in a dazzling outfit who appeared to you in a pyrotechnical vision and you just thought it sounded like an interesting story. If things don’t turn ugly after everyone has read it, and if the discussion inspired by it is promising, you might find that you’re able to suggest an atheist book whose only nonatheist material is the dedication. From there, it’s just a few short steps to the dawn of a thriving atheist community in your town, which, thanks to your efforts, may eventually become known as the atheist capital of small-town Kansas, if that’s where you happen to live.

Looking forward to seeing how that status is reflected on the official website for your town,


The CD and I recently attended a party where one guest, his jaws well lubricated with fermented grape stood up and attempted to list off the ten plagues of the Egyptian Exodus.  I don’t remember how the conversation turned towards the plagues of Egypt, but somehow it sort of made sense for this guy to stand up and try to shout them out.  I was a stranger to most of the people at the party, so even though I am very well versed in the ten plagues of Egypt, having been taught my entire life that the bible is the most accurate history book in the world, I was a little reluctant to demonstrate my biblical prowess.  Eventually I did attempt to very timidly enter this conversation and I had a lot of trouble convincing this man that I knew my plagues.  After all – he was drunk and he was also a man.  He had no trouble remembering the obvious ones – frogs, locusts, water to blood, death of the first born, but any idiot could remember those!  When he faltered, I hesitantly tried to help him out.  This is how our conversation went… after I totally changed it to make if much more interesting…

Me – “Darkness”

Him – “Darkness?… darkness?  No, no, no.  Darkness was not one of the plagues.”

Me – “Yes it was.”

Him – “No… darkness was definitely not a plague.  Lets see… what else… frogs, blood… death of the first born…”

Me – “Flies”

Him – “Flies?… There weren’t any flies…. I don’t remember any flies…but maybe lice?”

Me – “Boils.”

Him – “Boils?  Maybe boils… but I don’t know… let’s see frogs, locusts, lice, death of the first born, …”

Me – “Hail.”

Him – “Hail?… ” he answered.  “Oh… I don’t think there was any hail…”

Me – “Diseased cows.”

Him – Yes… maybe… I do remember something about cows…”

Me – “Zombies.”

Him – “Zombies?  Ha ha ha!  Now I know you are wrong on that one!  There wasn’t a plague of zombies!”

Me – “Well… actually the flies are sometimes interpreted as zombies.  A sort of hoard of wild beasts intent on killing only Egyptians.  How else would you describe them?”

Him – “You version of the bible must be very different than my version.  My bible doesn’t have any zombies in it.”

Me – “Does your bible have the New Testament in it?”

Him – “It wouldn’t be a Bible without the New Testament!”

Me – “Is Jesus in your version of the New Testament?”

Him – “Uh yes… sort of a central figure that Jesus.”

Me – “Does he die and then come back from the dead in your version of the New Testament?”

Him – “Yes he does!”

Me – “Does his resurrection also bring back a bunch of other people from the dead as well?”

Him – “I seem to remember a story along that line.  Graves being open.  All sorts of people rising from the dead and wandering the streets when Jesus rose from the dead.”

Me – “Would those people qualify as zombies?”

Him – “Uh… I don’t think… ”

Me – “They are basically the undead.”

Him – “That is not really how I pictured those people.  I sort of see them as miraculously healed and whole, running to see their family and being joyfully received.”

Me – “Well that’s one interpretation I suppose, but in my version, they would be more traditional type zombies.  Scaring the crap out of everyone they see, walking around in their grave cloths, looking like a bunch of mummies, smelling like death, rotting flesh, covered in maggots… hopefully they disappeared when the chief zombie, Jesus disappeared.”

Him – “The bible doesn’t really say what happened to them does it?”

Me – “No.”

Him – “So darkness was a plague?”

Me – “Yes it was.”

Him – “Have we got them all?”

Me – “Let’s see – blood, frogs, locusts, flies, lice, boils, dead cattle, hail, darkness and death of the first born.  Yes.  I think we got them all unless you want to trade flies for zombies.”

Him – “Zombies do make a better story.”

Me – “Yes they do.  Zombies always make a better story.”

This is the book that made me a vegetarian.

As you can see by the cover, it is all about meat.

Okay, okay.  It is not really about meat.  It is actually about female evolutionary biology.  And it reads like the craziest science fiction/fantasy realm/neolithic/ muse of the ancients/primitive odyssey/gothic horror/ fairy tale you ever heard.  It is as if the author wrote it from a trance while channeling Ayla from Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear.  I do not doubt for an instant that Leonard Shlain was an extraordinarily smart man because he was also a surgeon who was also a professor of surgeons, but boy could this man also string together a story regarding how early humans may have functioned.

In his book he’s got women trading sex for meat and having secret meetings to convince the men-folk to marry them, while the men are also having secret meetings to convince the women-folk to marry them, but at the same time they are also secretly planning to trade their women for other women from other tribes but not until they bleed and only if none of the men in the home tribe want the young women for themselves and then after long intense debate they finally agree to not sleep with their daughters.


Turns out that men used to be even more primitive than they are now!

But that is only because they weren’t as smart as women.

I knew it!


Cuz guess what!

Women understood time before men did! Because women have cycles!  And that cycle is controlled by the moon!  And the moon is controlled by… by…. well the book doesn’t explain the moon’s power.  But that’s okay – because Bill O’Reilly doesn’t get the whole moon thing either.  But the moon did give the power of time to women and once women figured out time, they started figuring out all sorts of things!  Like pregnancy and fatherhood and that if they traded sex for meat, they had a better chance of surviving.  Because meat equals iron.  And iron replaces lost blood!  And you can eat dirt to get iron, but meat is much tastier!

I know!

Totally insane!

I can’t even remember all the fascinating tidbits that I learned from this book.  But let me just see if I can list a few.

1.  Prepubescent boys don’t like meat.

2.  During adolescence, the meat switch suddenly flips on for boys and suddenly they crave bloody protein.

3.  Human females are the only creatures on earth that need help delivering their young.

4.  Why?

5.  Because huge headed infants, tiny holed moms.

6.  Women lose an absurd amount of blood over the course of their lives – no other animal even remotely compares.

7.  This blood must be replaced constantly and since there were no iron supplements in cave man times – meat was the easiest way to get it.

8.  Women came to rely heavily on men to supply her with the much needed meat because she usually had a baby or a toddler or was heavy with child and this made running after an animal with a spear very difficult.

According to this book…

9.  8% of men are lefthanded (world wide).

10. 8% of men are colorblind (worldwide)

11. 8% of men are bald in the prime of their life (world wide).

12.  8% of men are gay (world wide).

13.  Why 8%?

14.  Don’t know.  But probably evolution was helping our species to survive.

15.  How did the above factors help the human species to survive?

16.  Left handed men attack from a different direction making a band of hunters more effective.   Colorblind men can detect animals even if they are camouflaged.  Bald men do not alert animals to human presence as quickly because bald men don’t look human to animals.  Don’t believe me?  Hold up a photo of a bald man in front of your cat.  Is the cat frightened?  No?  See!  And finally  – a gay hunter will not have children/wife to distribute his portion of the hunt to, so his ‘meat’ goes further.

Other interesting things from this book…

Oh heck!  It’s all interesting.  It’s so interesting that at times felt like I was reading pure fiction and at other times I felt like I was reading pure horror and then I became a vegetarian.  This book made me a vegetarian because I don’t want to associate myself with those horrible primitive humans from which I came.  It also made me feel very poorly evolved.

Sex., Time and Power by Leonard Shlain is absolutely fascinating, extremely bizarre and so full of information about early humans that you will start wondering if those alien abductees aren’t also telling the truth.  I am going to read his other book, “The Goddess and the Alphabet” as soon as I recover from this one.