Saturday, February 26, 2011

Big Words Have Nothing to Do With Ideas

I seem to encounter it more and more often, pompous kids in their early 20s who equate big words with logic or critical thinking. It's probably just a coincidence that they always have liberal arts degrees.

Richard Feynman wrote about mathematics being the language of physics. Why? Because of its density and precision. I don't remember where I read it and a quick Google search turned up only this, so I'll just paraphrase his ideas as I remember them.

Let's say you want to express Newton's Law of gravity in words. I'm not sure how this was originally done because it was written in bloody Latin:

Inventing Calculus in a dead language, not too shabby

But Robert Hooke, who claimed to have scooped Newton, originally described it as such:
the Attraction always is in a duplicate proportion to the Distance from the Center Reciprocall, and Consequently that the Velocity will be in a subduplicate proportion to the Attraction and Consequently as Kepler Supposes Reciprocall to the Distance.
Say what?

Here's Newton's law of gravitation in mathematical form, as I learned it:

Clean, simple and timeless. Unless multiplication and division are revoked, this formula ain't going anywhere. Sure it might not be be 100% accurate in a relativistic Universe, but it touches upon a Platonic truth.

There's a time and a place for most words. Nuance and poetry have their rightful spot in the human experience, scholars will forever be trying to interpret Shakespeare in a game of pin the bare bobkin on the heroine. But using big words to obfuscate a logical point is simply bullshitting.

The scary thing is, I'm pretty sure these people tossing around heavy meaningless phrases have no idea how divorced they are from actual logic and reason.

Friday, February 25, 2011

As Far As Ice Cream Goes, It's Got To Be The Healthiest

now in chocolate, vanilla and rocky road
If you live in or around London, you can now buy yourself some breast milk ice cream.

The first thing I thought of when reading this, is human breast milk vegan?

Actually, my first thought was yech! Which is kind of strange, but I doubt is atypical. We had plenty of breast milk sitting in the fridge a few years back and I never thought, gee, why don't I put some of that in my coffee. Just goes to show how conditioning can effect our food preferences. I've no problem with cow cream or (full fat Greek) goat yogurt. Yet they can't be as well suited for human consumption as products made from human milk.

[Note: and why do we say human breast milk? Isn't the breast part redundant? We don't say cow udder milk.]

But getting back to the vegan thing, surely an ethical vegan, someone who believes that animal secretions are evil because they are rape and exploitation or something, ought to be ok with human milk, or human milk ice cream? I believe the official vegan party line is OK with people consuming lab-grown meat, were it ever to become available. So surely breast milk ice cream made from voluntarily sold human milk ought to be vegan kosher? The only problem I can see with it is the classic argument:  THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

Yes, were human milk to enter the mainstream, I can picture a Dickensian dystopia with hordes of women having unwanted children, then starving them whilst selling their precious breast milk to the corporate fat cats at Ben and Jerry's. A tragedy just waiting to happen. Dogs and cats living together . . .

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Simple Beef Stew

J. Stanton at Gnolls just wrote an interesting post about simple paleo recipes, like a paleo fry-up. I don't think it is too difficult to make pretty simple paleo-ish stuff, in fact I just made this:

So I figured I'd post it.

It wasn't very time-consuming, you have to wait for the meat to soften in the pressure cooker, but that's not really taking up time. And, of course, like all stews--anything with garlic and onions--this tastes better the next day.

The secret to making this quick and painless is a pressure cooker and a V-Slicer (for the onion).

How I love your razor sharp edges, little V-slicer
A couple pounds of stew meat (I used beef shank, I think)
A couple liters of water
Some lard or tallow
1 large onion (or two small 'uns)
1 carrot
1/2 potato left from breakfast
1 large paprika (bell pepper)
a few cloves garlic
a couple cubes of bullion (this is kind of bad, too much crap in there, but we're talking quick and dirty)
a couple teaspoons provence or italian spice mix (might be closer to four actually)
a couple teaspoons sweet hungarian paprika

The worst part of this is cutting up the meat into little cubes. It is somewhat time consuming and the cats go into heavy begging mode whenever I go near the cutting board.

After the meat is cut up, thoroughly brown it in lard, then toss into the pressure cooker with the water, bullion and the provence spice.  Cook for 40-60 minutes. Don't overcook as the meat can become stringy. You want the meat to be almost there. Toss in all the vegetables, paprika and simmer on low for another 10-15 minutes.

Dobrou Chut'!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time Magazine, Still Hip to Idiocy

Remember this? When Time Magazine took the demonization of dietary cholesterol mainstream?

I'm sad because I shorten lives
Well the geniuses at Time are at it again with a cover story about the AI Singularity. Cue scary music:

♫ Buhm buhm buhm♫

Artificial Intelligence, the greatest vaporware ever, has officially hit bunk status by getting a glowing cover story in Time Magazine.

Computers are getting faster. Everybody knows that. Also, computers are getting faster faster — that is, the rate at which they're getting faster is increasing.

True? True.

Uh, oh, I detect a classic logical fallacy swiftly approaching, whenever someone says "everybody knows that" it is usually time to grit one's teeth.
So if computers are getting so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.
Oh, there it is. Cars are getting faster, so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they could EXCEED THE SPEED OF LIGHT!!! All that horsepower could be put in the service of violating special relativity.

Nowadays, a mobile phone comes with a couple gigs of memory, can recognize voice commands, play music, etc. Is it any closer to being sentient, or self-aware than the old bakelite phone? Only in the sense that a Ferrari is any closer to pwning the speed of light than a Model T.

Thank you Time Magazine, now we can officially put the Singularity into the junk science drawer.

Principles, Schminciples--Why I'm a Pragmatist

Warning: serious rambling and non-sequitors ahead.

I consider myself a pragmatist in all things "human" such as politics and ethics.

Building up a paradigm from axioms works in mathematics. But mathematics is not the real world. The hard sciences are based on the scientific method, its ability to help us isolate variables, be more objective, avoid selection bias, oversimplification, etc, traits that were all probably quite useful for a hunter-gatherer. The softer sciences like economics and psychology are fascinating, but of course they suffer from their subject matter being extremely complicated or even chaotic. I don't think anyone will ever prove Keynesianism (yeah I know that ain't a word) to be false or true because it is really in the realm of religion.

The same thing goes for ethics. I believe that murder is wrong. But is the death penalty wrong? I would sort of lean against it but I don't have a strong opinion either way. It is quite fashionable here in Europe to scoff at America's 'backwards' use of the death penalty, whatever, it is quite fashionable to scoff at America in general. What I think is silly is trying to prove that murder is wrong or prove any ethical position.

Which leads us to veganism and anti-veganism. The silliness of veganist ethics are probably well-known to anyone reading this blog (preaching to the choir here) but I think trying to prove anti-veganism is also silly. The ethics of eating animals are simply based on where we, as humans at this point in our evolution, are. I'm not talking about disproving obvious falseisms, countering bad science or perpetuating myths such as Lierre Keith or Denise Minger have done. I'm talking about trying to create an ethical framework upon which to hang one's pre-formed beliefs.

I'm a pragmatic libertarian, classical liberal, or Jeffersonian, whatever. So I find articles like, Why Minarchists Are the Enemy really silly. Minarchist is a derisive term for people (like me) who believe in small government, used by people who believe in no government. I think Richard Nikoley is one of those, an anarcho-capitalist, although I've not read his older blogs when he wrote about his politics (but I doubt he would be dogmatic about it). When one tries to create an ideal society from first principles, one ends up with things like Plato's fascist Utopia (although I'm still not sure he was serious about that). Plato was pissed off at Athenian democracy so he set out to create a society that was its diametric opposite and did so. But he didn't derive this from first principles like a Euclidean proof, because these sorts of things can't be derived.

I think I might have picked some of this up from reading Emerson and William James as a kid. It was the only thing readable in my father's Great Books collection (the Odyssey would've been great had it been translated into the vernacular like the original), I think I must've read Self-Reliance about 50 times.

Now here's a really cool picture of a sad clown:

copyright Penelope Loom

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Psychosomatic Pain And Cognitive Dissonance

This is what makes the blogosphere so interesting.

Richard Nikoley and Kurt Harris have depressingly descended into mysticism. Or at least that was my first thought.

As an engineer by training, if not practice, and a long time sufferer of back and rotator cuff pain I was immediately skeptical of some sort of mystical bullshit cure involving dancing with wood nymphs and pretending the pain wasn't real.

Here's where the cognitive dissonance comes into play.

I'm a big fan of Richard for his honesty and Kurt Harris for the depth of intelligence he brings to the table not to mention his ability to condense a hell of a lot of material into a very succinct post.

When you read someone's blog for a while you feel like you get to know them, even if you are just an anonymous lurker. If Charlie Sheen thinks the moon landing was fake, well, who cares, right? If Kurt Harris thinks the moon landing was fake, I'd have to sit up and take notice, because, let's face it, the guy is a ninja.

Am I comparing alleged psychosomatic pain to moon landing denial? Yes I am. This is where the cognitive dissonance comes into play.

When an experienced doctor like Kurt Harris endorses a book on psychosomatic pain and it seems to work wonders for Richard (and Kurt's patients) one should definitely re-examine their preconceptions.

I'm trying to keep an open mind. But I'm not especially enamored of this Sarno quote Richard posted in his comments:
There is another reason to doubt the role of injury in these cases of back pain. One of the most powerful systems that has evolved over millions of years of life on this planet is the biologic capacity for healing, for restoration. Our body parts tend to heal very quickly when they are injured. Even the largest bone in the body, the femur, only takes six weeks to heal. And during that process there is pain for only a very short time. It is illogical to think that an injury that occurred two months ago might still be causing pain, not to mention one of two or ten years ago. And yet people have been so thoroughly indoctrinated with the idea of persistent injury that they accept it without question.

This makes my skin crawl. Any injury that lasts longer than six weeks is psychosomatic because it is "illogical to think that an injury that occurred two months ago might still be causing pain."

What the fuck?

I don't see how I was "indoctrinated" to have back pain, or shoulder pain. I ran track in high school and, if anything, I was "indoctrinated' in the suck-it-up and walk-it-off school.

Still, I'm trying to keep an open mind.

Drinking Soda Is Like Drinking Fat

This is where the brilliant logic of the lipid hypothesis leads: drinking soda is like drinking fat because it makes you fat, see?

Or is it that sugar makes you fat and fat makes you develop heart disease and cancer? Therefore only vegetables are healthy? I have a hard time keeping up because it is all so brilliant and sciencey.

They are probably just trying to play on the gross-out factor of someone guzzling fat (laced with blood). The public service ad recommends drinking water instead of a soda, which is not a bad idea of course, or FAT FREE milk,  because, you know, lactosey water is so much healthier than fructosey water. Just as long as there's no fat. I guess we are supposed to avoid fat first, then sugar.

What a great use of $870,000.

I actually do drink fat in the form of heavy cream (cream and coffee 50-50, or sometimes straight), and I like it. I LOVE IT! So screw you and your public service ads.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Policing Tanning Beds

The IRS needs to hire 81 new personnel at a cost of $11.5 million to enforce the new 10% excise tax on tanning salons in the US.

The Skin Cancer Foundation thinks that's a great idea.
"This tax is a master stroke, akin to the sin tax on cigarettes; both tanning and smoking are activities scientifically proven to cause harm to the human body," Katz says in a statement.

"The tax will hopefully serve a double purpose, not only raising billions for healthcare, but giving people one more reason to protect their health by staying away from tanning salons."

People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma, Katz adds.
But these are the same people who think everyone should always wear sunblock if they are even thinking about stepping outside. I disagree with that.

The interesting question for me is: how do tanning beds stack up against regular sunlight? I looked around for a decent graph but couldn't find anything, so I reluctantly made my own.

[With all the talk about the dangers of tanning beds and the implementation of sin taxes against them, why was it impossible for me to find a single graph like this? Certainly a graph speaks a thousand words]

Anyway, I found an excel spreadsheet full of sun spectrum data here (using only the data from Direct Normal Irradiance), and combined that with a tanning bed graph I got from this study, which used a commercial tanning bed from Wolff System Technology. Here's the result:

Blue = tanning bed    red = sunlight
The commercial tanning bed is obviously a lot more intense, especially in the UVA region, about four times more intense at 350 nm. I assume this is to speed up the process, but it probably could have some negative consequences. Are skin cells are probably quite high-tuned to the sun's intensity, since it has remained quite constant for the last 4.3 billion years or so (although atmospheric changes have had some effect on how much UV actually reaches the surface). Quadrupling that intensity could be a problem. Also the less dramatic doubling of intensity at about 310 nm could even be more dangerous. Electromagnetic radiation gets more lethal at shorter wavelengths (higher frequencies) because the higher energy photons have a better chance of ionizing (knocking an electron out of) atoms causing mutations, cancers, etc.

So I guess I would stay away from tanning beds. I don't think sin taxing them is a solution, though. If they made a tanning bed that had a frequency profile similar (or even a bit lower) than the sun's I would definitely reconsider. In fact the experiment from which I got the tanning bed data used a solar simulator for their "sun", so all they really did was hit some cultured cells with a really strong UV light, then his some other cultured cells with a much weaker UV light, and shockingly, the stronger light caused more damage. Hooray for science. Anyway, I think if people were more aware, there might be a stronger demand for sunbeds that closely simulate the sun and the industry would respond accordingly.

Note: this graph on Wikipedia contrasts the solar radiation at the top of the atmosphere with what reaches the ground at sea level.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


"My God - it's full of bacon!"
Just came across this excellent 2 1/2 year old post about nitrates on Junkfood Science, it seems to be the definitive post for quashing nameless fears about eating cured meats. One small caveat, she says, "A chemical is still the same chemical, regardless of where it comes from. NO3 = NO3". That's not necessarily true. Glucose and fructose have the same chemical formula, C6H12O6, yet taste different and are treated by the body quite differently. It's most likely true in the case of a nitrate ion, of course, but I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Knew It Was Bad, I Just Didn't Know It Was This Bad

2 1/2 Cokes a day is part of a healthy meal plan for a diabetic according the the The Canadian Diabetes Association, or at least that's what the Canadian Sugar Institute says:
Recent Canadian, American and International recommendations have concluded that sugars do not contribute to the development of diabetes and can be included as part of healthy meal plans for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) does not recommend the avoidance of sugars. The CDA recommends that in addition to naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables and dairy products, sugars added to foods can contribute up to 10% of total daily energy requirements without deleterious effects on blood glucose or lipid control.
That's in addition to natural sugars, of course, from things like hyper-fruits (as Kurt Harris calls them), or lactose from a huge glass of skim milk.

The Canadian Sugar Propaganda Institute also helpfully informs us that "All plants produce sucrose by photosynthesis, a natural process that turns sunlight into vital energy." Now I'm pretty sure that statement is complete bullshit. But I hate chemistry and know next to nothing about plant biology, so I'm going to brush up a bit on wikipedia.

. . . (final Jeopardy music plays) . . .

Ok, I'm back.
Plants produce carbohydrates with photosynthesis:

2n CO2 + 2n H2O + photons2(CH2O)n + n O2 + 2n A

But sucrose is a specific form, C12H22O11, of carb. It is a disaccharide formed by combining two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose. So I believe the plant only produces sucrose if it wants to store energy that way, like a beet or sugar cane. Otherwise, it might typically store it in polysaccharide form such as starch. Fructose seems to be for luring animals into spreading seeds. Which means they are lying liars who are lying.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pride of Workmanship

Copyright Mitchell Kanashkevich
Speculating about hunter-gatherer mentality is at best just speculation and at worse silly paleo-reenactment. I'm going to speculate, anyway.

It's an old cliché that the industrial age ushered in the modern dreary work environment and displaced the craftsman with the factory worker. But what percentage of pre-industrial England consisted of craftsmen? The vast majority of those who flooded the factories of the industrial revolution weren't.

However, most of human existence was spent in an HG society where people had more leisure time and had to fashion everything themselves, for themselves. Making one's own tool's, clothes, weapons, etc, probably meant that every adult in the tribe was a craftsman to some degree.

Taking pride in one's handiwork would logically have made a selectable trait just as caring for one's young. If one did happen to have this gene and was stuck in a job where such traits were unimportant or even hindrances--such as journalism--then one would probably experience a lot more low level stress than someone lacking in this genetic impulse. This is probably what causes people who work mindless jobs to develop insane hobbies, they are fulfilling a genetic need to make a finely crafted arrowhead or moccasins.

Which brings me to my point: what's the matter with today's youth! Kid's these days all they care about is texting on their phones and playing video games.

No, I have no point beyond speculating that pride of workmanship might have been a trait that was selected for and something that some people possess in greater quantity than others. Of course there might simpler traits at work like concentration, etc.

And I think I ought to start closing all my posts like Abraham Simpson.

p.s. I am NOT a crackpot.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How Not To Think Like Me Pt 1

When I first started this blog in 2006 it was actually going to be about books. I wrote a couple things and then it languished for a few years, like most blogs. Then I got into the whole health thing and got fired up and started posting again.

Kurt Harris has just posted an interesting article about his philosophical influences. It was especially interesting to me because I'd not read or even heard of most of them and I consider myself pretty widely read. Well the truth of the matter is, I don't read much non-fiction these days. And I sort of lost interest in Philosopy (with a big P) a long time back. But I thought it would be a fun exercise to list the non-fiction books I've liked or disliked fairly recently. I won't include books like Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind.
I've talked about Penrose before, the guy is brilliant. What I'm most impressed with is his dismantling of the strong AI hypothesis--that a computer using an algorithm could soon meet or exceed human intelligence. He did this in 1990 back when AI was all the rage and people were talking about the singularity being right around the corner. 20 years ago, and AI has made little progress since. I think the guy was onto something. I honestly skipped over plenty of this book because it is pretty heavy reading. I remember reading Godel, Escher, Bach back in college and being really impressed. Penrose demolishes GEB, and the passage of time has shown Penrose to be the superior Nostradamus. AI and fusion, the two greatest vaporwares in the history of science.

Plato's Republic
I was having a discussion with someone about whether the whole thing was a big joke by Plato. He was of the opinion that it was. I'm not so sure. There are certainly things that are meant to be deeply ironic, like, "Now we come to the greatest system of all, Despotism!" (as I remember it at least). The conventional interpretation, of course, is that Plato was disillusioned with Athens' hubristic democracy--we can all understand being disillusioned with democracy, for all sorts of different and conflicting reasons-- that had gotten itself embroiled in a terrible war and put Socrates to death so he attempted to come up with a superior system, which turned out to be pretty scary. Or maybe it was a joke. I'm of the opinion it wasn't.

Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great, et al
I disagree with a lot of his politics, like war-mongering, and the fact that he doesn't seem to have much grounding in economics (which explains why he used to be a Trotskyite) but the guy is brilliant, always has something interesting to say. And I like his in-your-face attitude. As I wrote before, I think the world needs more of this sort of thing, not less, with the caveat that there's a big difference between Hitchens and professional hysterics like Paul Krugman and it's called intellectual honesty. The world would be better off with more iconoclasts of this caliber.

Malcom Gladwell, Blink
A few interesting ideas, but complete intellectual fluff. I was interested in Gladwell because a lot of economists I like, such as Tyler Cowen, speak quite well of him. His attempt to create this big pop-sci narrative rubs me the wrong way.

Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country
Makes me want to visit Australia. Living in a sort of neutral ex-pat place like Prague, one encounters a lot of nationalities. But the experience is different than if you encountered these people visiting *your* country, you are both strangers in a strange land and you tend to see the real character, or at least that's my hypothesis. Aussies and Kiwis are the most straightforward and likable in my experience. Aussies, especially, don't have a nationalistic chip on their shoulder--except for them going on about their having all those dangerous spiders and snakes, yeah we get it already.

Wired Magazine--Crypto Veganists!

Came across this little gem whilst reading last month's Wired, in an article about the contents of kitty chow.
Soy Flour
Protein is protein, and this stuff provides more amino acids than the equivalent amount of beef. But your cat’s ancestors didn’t hunt soya in the wild, so their bodies aren’t engineered to process the legume’s isoflavones, which may be contributing to the sharp increase in feline hyperthyroidism over the past 30 years.
So, uhm, except for those pesky isoflavones, soy is better than red meat? Protein is protein, you know, just like a calorie is a calorie.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time pointing to all the deleterious effects of soy, these continue to pop up all the time as more research is conducted. This study found soy protein antibodies in humans and this one found that soy formula turned male marmosets into little girlie-primates. Fermenting soy as in a traditional Asian diet seems to help, but I'll give it a miss (and I seriously doubt Purina ferments their soy flour in traditional fashion).

We have four cats and feed them dry food fairly often. I know it's crap and is shortening their lives, which really sucks. But it is hard enough keeping the family eating shealthy, much less buying and preparing fresh offal for four kitties. The one pictured above prefers the dry food, actually, so apparently it's not just humans who can get addicted to carbs. She's also the fattest cat. Our thinnest, wildest cat is obsessed with fresh protein, coincidence?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Food Regulation And Big Agra, Two Sides of The Same Coin

Step away, slowly, from the unpasteurized milk
One thing paleos, locavores, traditionalists, and vegans can pretty much agree on is the need for more real food. We all think that Big Agra sucks, but agreeing on the cause and solution of the problem is where things tend to widely diverge.

For some, Big Farma and Big Pharma (tm) are inherently evil because they are just big corporations and big corporations are all evil and stuff. Others tend to take a more statist approach. We need to regulate and tax these industries to make them adhere to the public self interest, you know, like when governments decided to officially demonize saturated fat. How's that working out?

In my opinion, it was the market distortions created by government that led to the current problems with Big Pharma that people love to complain about.

And whatever government distortions the pharmaceutical market has been subjected to pale in comparison to the food industry.

There are, of course, the billions in subsidies, everyone knows about those--though perhaps not the sheer scale in the US and the EU (which spent €57 billion on "agricultural development" in 2010 (1)).

The other horn of the bull that is mauling the hell out of people's ability to make and sell real food is food safety regulations, licensing, etc.

This brings me to an excellent article written by an Arizona rancher:
Of course the demand for food hasn’t gone down, so how does the system accommodate a hungry public?  Well, that’s where Cargill, Tyson, Monsanto, and the rest of the Big Food set come in.  They’re not evil (despite bumper-sticker claims to the contrary); they’re just picking up the slack left when the small guys get pushed out by big government.  I know, I know: It’s easier to blame their success on high-priced lobbying and a cozy relationship with regulators.  But consider this: The lobbying and cozying can only manipulate government action when government hands are firmly on the wheel of that particular industry.

. . . As a producer of livestock and owner of a small (very small, according to the USDA) packing house, I know about the raft of bureaucratic “protections” between you and the beef I produce.  There is little or no incentive for me to create a remarkably safer production system because my processes are effectively in the hands of our state inspector.  The incentive among producers is to win the race toward the bottom, where you can most cheaply and easily meet the minimum standard.  Imagine for a moment what the food world would look like if we made food safety a competitive advantage.  What if I could demonstrate (through third-party quality assurance, a sophisticated testing regime, or something completely unthought of) that my beef was quantitatively safer than my competition?  I suspect that the maligned self-interest of “money-grubbing capitalists” would be instantly harnessed toward the greater public good.  I for one would probably behave considerably differently if I were continually striving for the next-higher grade on a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” scale instead of aiming simply for the “Inspected — Passed” stamp.
There you are, if you want real food, just get the government out of the way and let the people who produce it sell it to the people who want to buy it. Do I really need all these bureaucrats standing between me and a hunk of grass-fed steak?

Anyone who's ever operated a small business knows the difficulties placed upon it by bureaucracy. These things are scalable, they become a much smaller percentage of operating costs as a company grows and can afford to have a full time lawyer, accountant, lobbyist/bribe specialist, etc. And these effects are heavily increased in a sensitive area like food or medicine production. Hence we end up with things like Big Agra and Big Pharma. Some things just scale naturally, of course, like producing mediocre food for mass production. And a lot of people just don't know or care about the difference between real food and a Twinkie, although that seems to be changing as a people gain a growing awareness of what they eat.

There does seem to be some states trying to introduce exceptions for small producers, especially for people who've been prosecuted for growing vegetables. And Sen. "Jon Tester, a Democrat of Montana, appear(ed) determined to tack on an amendment exempting from safety standards a significant number of produce items and processed foods" in the words of the NY times. After all, pointing guns at people who have unboiled milk on the premises is completely justified according to NYT editors. Think of the children! We have to shoot you for the sake of the children!!!!

I have a better idea, let's just let anyone who wants to produce food, go ahead and do so, and anyone who wants to buy it, go ahead and do so also?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Yes It Can Happen To You

This is a story of hubris. The terrible hubris of a naturally thin (whatever that means) person in their 30s who thinks getting fat only happens to other people.

No, not Elvis Presley, me.

Skyler Tanner has some excellent advice for aging people, "Don't get fat in the first place". I'd like to offer up a corollary, "Yes, you thin person in your 30's who never had to pay attention to their weight, it most definitely can happen to you."

This is me in college, about 25. No amazing muscle definition or anything but definitely a flat stomach.

Yes, that's a mullet and rolled up sweat pants
A few years after moving to Europe. Around 35. A small gut perhaps and I hadn't lifted weights or done much else for a few years so my muscles were already taking on the consistency of jello at this point:

Florence 2000
(BTW, I'm not trying to show off all the cool places I've been in Europe, it's just that the only pictures I have of myself were taken on a vacation somewhere).

This is where it starts to get ugly.

Barcelona 2005
Ack! No, that's not a very loose shirt or a trick of lighting, that's big fat belly and man-boobs.

And the coup de grace

Greece 2008--I am teh anti-sexy

Jim Morrison came back from the dead just to tell me how much I'd let myself go. "At least grow a beard to cover that double chin, dude." He said in a paranormal experience I made up.

What happened?

Well, two words: Czech Beer. It's good stuff and I was drinking a lot of it. Often a beer for lunch and a few after work every day. In those heady days of youth and a newly opened up Eastern Europe, a flat was just for sleeping in. Nobody went home before 10 pm, and often quite a bit later.

But I was living this lifestyle for five years when the pic in Florence was taken. It was the second five years when it all seemed to take it's toll. It really was the span of two or three years and we weren't even going out that much by this point.

As I wrote in the comments on Skyler's post:
I tend to be of the opinion that loss of muscle mass and its requisite caloric maintenance along with long term metabolic breakdown effects of eating crap are what’s responsible for the mythical metabolic slowdown. Perhaps combined with lower testosterone levels, higher stress levels (it’s more stressful being 45 than 25 IMO), etc.
I agree with Skyler that one's metabolism doesn't suddenly slow down at 38 or 40, the time when dramatic shifts in body composition often occur. Instead, I think this is just the age when bad living typically catches up with folks.

Things start going bad and people accept it with the idea that it's all part of growing old. Screw that.

I don't have any amazing six-pack shots or a great turn around story to tell. I've lost about 25 lbs, mostly in the early part of 2010 when I first got into reading paleo blogs, and put on some muscle. I try to focus on real food now and especially try to keep my kid away from sugar, frankenoils and wheat (not such an easy thing, actually).

It's tough to turn things around when you've let it get to an extreme point. My giant gut was an obvious external sign that something was very wrong for me, but there's nothing good happening in a body in this condition. Organs, muscles, bones, they're all suffering at this point.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

I'm Trying To Be More of a Tiger Mom

It's all cool when we turn the living room into a giant fort
(This post is just about parenting, you've been warned)

I'm pretty sure everyone who doesn't live in the Mariana Trench has heard of the (in)famous Tiger Mom by now. This actually inspired me to get out the keyboard and give Liam a piano lesson yesterday. The lesson consisted of the first three notes of his favorite song. F A D (fa la re).

It was two hours of pure hell.

So I'm convinced I'm on the right track.

Ok, he's only four years old and I was feeling like the world's biggest jerk, but it really was mostly about him flat-out refusing to do something he didn't want to do. I was forced to take violin lessons as a kid (albeit not starting at four), and ended up getting a degree in guitar performance. The guitar was voluntary of course (especially the electric kind), and I later taught myself a little bit of piano.

Everyone is convinced that their kid is the smartest, most talented, etc, in the world, and I'm no exception (I just happen to be right!!). But my kid is definitely into music and he's got pretty good taste. He loves the opening theme to Parks and Recreation, really loves it. LOVES IT. And it actually is pretty nice, could easily be a quintet by Haydn or Dušek. He's crazy about the music in Fantastic Mr Fox, especially the Morricone-esque stuff. Loves Americana stuff like the theme to CatDog. Pretty sophisticated, in my opinion, for a four-year-old.

So the kid seems to have inclination and talent. But we've all known people with talent who simply didn't do anything with it, or didn't do enough (and I could definitely place myself in this category). I knew a guy in California who had perfect pitch and could play anything, anything on the piano after hearing it once, definitely the most talented musician I've ever met, and I've met quite a few. All he ever talked about was music. I met him not in music school but working construction.

I'm writing this mostly to steel my resolve. I imagine things will settle down after the first few skirmishes, well more like trench warfare at this point. And if Liam grows to despise the piano (like my father did after 12 years of lessons) then so be it, he can pick up the guitar and start a rock band or do whatever he wants with the lessons he's learned from trying to master an instrument.

It's a parent's duty, of course, to be more (and less) than just a friend and the job of enforcer usually falls upon the father, although the roles are often reversed (apparently in the case of Amy Chua). Unconditional love is important, and so is tough love. A healthy mixture of the two seems to work the best, but the devil is in the details.

I think Amy Chua's methods were way over the top. I really don't care if my kid ever plays Carnegie Hall. In fact I'd prefer that he didn't as I can think of few elite level performers who weren't seriously screwed up (Wayne Gretzky being the exception that proves the rule). Plus I just don't have the gumption to make my kid practice for four hours.

I also find it interesting that Chua was giving these 'fascist' piano lessons (and having epic fights) herself. It's pretty easy for someone with a decent income to pawn this stuff off to someone else. There's a lot more engagement when the parent is involved directly. 

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The BBC, Leading The Mainstream Media in Bullshit and Scare Quotes

World 'failing to treat high cholesterol'! OMG!!!

I can't even read the Beeb anymore, but I was just checking in to see what's going on in Egypt and saw this wonderful article. I suppose this will be dutifully regurgitated by all the MM news outlets since it is based on a report by the WHO that we all need to take more statins.

It is filled with such wonderful quotes as this from Dr Gregory Roth from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (Institute for Health Metrics? Seriously?):
"Cholesterol-lowering medication is widely available, highly effective and can play an essential role in reducing cardiovascular disease around the world.

"Despite these facts, effective medication coverage for control of high cholesterol remains disappointingly low."
I disagree with every single one of your 'facts' 'Dr' Roth (see, I can also use scare quotes), and your homicidal ignorance, willful or otherwise, is fucking despicable. Influential 'experts' (I'm getting really good at this) dishing out such dangerous advice really ought to be lined against a crumbling brick wall, blindfolded, and forced to listen to every single Spice Girls song ever recorded. Yeah, harsh justice, I know, but these people are mass murderers.

The Beeb helpfully incudes this snippet, "Cheap generic versions of statin drugs are available". See! We don't have to support Big Pharma, we can fuck up people's health with the generic stuff! 

I'm Such a Kitchen Nazi

Yes, it's time to come clean. I'm a complete fascist in the kitchen. When I'm cooking, stay out of the way or I will totally go anschluss on your ass. But it's worse than that, when someone else is cooking I get nervous chills running up and down my spine. I can't keep from hovering and offering helpful hints like, "You have no clue how to dice a @#&*%$ onion!"

And the ironic thing is that I'm a lousy cook. Ok, not lousy but certainly mediocre. This is not false modesty. I'm quite good at a few things, but cooking is definitely not one of them. Of course this must be the root of my kitchen Nazism. I'm insecure because the internet shows me just how mediocre I really am. Damn you, amazing internet cooking bloggers! Yet I probably wouldn't have made cooking into a hobby if I hadn't had access to all those internet blogs and recipes.

We have a pretty small flat, but our kitchen is a shrine to great cooking. Granite counters, Wusthof knives, a spice rack the size of the Ritz, etc. I'm like the guy with the $10,000 set of golf clubs who can't hit a ball out of a sand trap.

Ok, I've come clean. I feel much better. Now I've got to go, my wife is trying to pour a glass of water and totally screwing it up.