Monday, November 16, 2009

Literary Hypertrophy


As this rare 1926 photo of James Joyce on his way home from the local Zurich gymnasium shows, literary mastery and muscular hypertrophy were once considered inseparable traits.

In his non-fiction work The Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway not only defends his (at the time) controversial decision to join PETA, but states unequivocally that "any writer worth his salt should be able to wrestle a full-grown cape buffalo to the ground and bench at least twice his body weight."

Sadly, gone are the days when fifteen hundred pound bench/squat/deadlift totals were a requirement to win the Nobel.  I mean, just take a look at this Swedish National Archive photo of poet Pablo Neruda pulling 650+ pounds in Stockholm...



These days it seems like every writer is just sitting on their ass or (worse) running marathons.  Sure, Michael Chabon still brings his A-game to the gym...

 

But what about the Jonathans (i.e., Lethem, Safran Foer, Frazen, Selwood)?

Maybe if we can all stop Twittering on our iPhones and get back to the basics--to the 22-inch biceps of writers like Mark "The Machine" Twain--we can make literature MATTER again.

Hell, look at this recent picture of J.K. Rowling.  It sure worked for her...


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why Cardio is Worse Than Mussolini


"Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general." - Mark Rippetoe

 Dr. Kurt G. Harris has a wonderful post showing that "Cardio" Causes Heart Disease.  In a study comparing 102 marathon runners with 102 sedentary controls:

What do you think they found? After all, these were a bunch of completely asymptomatic runners. Conventional wisdom, the New York  Times and MSN will assure you that only eating copious fiber and making turds like a gorilla could make you healthier than being a serious runner.
Would you believe 12% of asymptomatic marathon runners had evidence of myocardial damage on LGE?

Would you believe that among the sedentary controls only 4% had abnormal LGE?


So, basically, running marathons appears to not only not help your heart but damage it.  (Read the article if you want the specific medical info.)  Of course, the fact that THREE RUNNERS DIED during the last Detroit marathon also suggests that this sort of activity is not really contributing to health or longevity.

While this does seem to go against "you've gotta do your cardio" conventional wisdom, I don't really find it surprising.  A couple years ago when I decide to get back in shape, I started Googling around searching for the "optimum" amount of cardio for health.  To my surprise, I found nothing.  The only info I found was on how much cardio you need to do in order to lose weight (which, as you've probably heard, is utter bullshit, anyway).

Now, it's possible I'm wrong about this--if so, I beg someone to set me straight (and not with more "correlation equals causation" crap)--but as far as I can tell from the research, WALKING is all the "cardio" you need for optimal longevity.  Sure, a few marathoners live to a ripe old age, but this is probably despite the fact that they run marathons.

I've got nothing against the sport of marathon running, but if another person tells me that they're training for a marathon to "get in shape" I'm going to bent press them.  This is "in shape?"




Even for people who want an extreme level of cardiovascular endurance for their jobs (e.g., military, police, firefighters... etc.), marathon training--and the resulting emaciated twig arms--is not the way to go.  You probably want something more general and high intensity like Crossfit.  But even then, there's no evidence (at least that I can find) that such cardio training is healthier than simply walking.  And, of course, the injury rate for Crossfit is HIGH.

So if "cardio" is bad for you, is there some other form of exercise that has proven health benefits?

Yes, it's called STRENGTH TRAINING, bitches.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Vitamin D/Mercury Link


Why didn't somebody remind me I had a blog?

Anyway, now that the piggy flu is truly pandemic (almost half my son's school is out sick), I thought I should update on the Vitamin D issue.

So far BOTH of the Portlanders I know who've gone ahead and had their Vitamin D tested were VERY low, and were told to immediately start supplementing.  At least one of them had H1N1 (tested) and the other might have had it (untested).

In contrast, none of the people I've managed to nag into taking Vitamin D (such as Gigi) have come down with H1N1.  Now, I realize that my scientific method might be a tad less than rigorous, but I still think the results entitle me to click my tongue, wave my finger, and tell all of you TO TAKE YOUR GODDAMN VITAMIN D, MOTHERFUCKERS!

[Okay, in full disclosure, I should add that my four-year-old son does seem to have a cold despite taking daily Vitamin D drops.  It's mild, but there is some congestion and the occasional cough.  So Vitamin D may not actually END DISEASE AS WE KNOW IT, but it's still pretty freakin' awesome.]

As for the Vitamin D/Mercury link?  There isn't one.

My father did recently test very high for mercury, though, and is now "off the fish" for a few months.

Is mercury poisoning the new Vitamin D deficiency?

Probably not.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Blathering On Pt1

I first saw Magnus Zeller's "The Orator" at a LACMA German Expressionist exhibit back in high school. Yes, it does foreshadow--ahem--Hitler. But it also captures the flat-out awesomeness of public speaking when you're good at it. (Just click on the image to make it bigger.)

I was not good at it. In fact, I was terrified of it. And as far as I can tell, MOST people are terrified of it. In many surveys, it even ranks above the fear of death.

(I should also note that at least half of the small minority of the people who aren't terrified of public speaking seem to be oblivious to how others perceive them and therefore SUCK at public speaking--but do it anyway.)

The only time I managed to even stand up in front of a class and give a presentation without terror was for a few months after I returned from a college semester in Spain. The immersion exchange program I'd been on required the students to speak Spanish and only Spanish during the entire semester. Since Spaniards aren't shy about laughing in your face every time you make a slight linguistic mistake, I had become more or less desensitized to public humiliation.

However, it didn't take long before I became "re-sensitized" to the fear of public speaking.

By the time my first novel sold and my book tour loomed, I realized that not only was I terrified of public speaking, but this fear had kept me from actually doing any public speaking. Thus, I not only feared it, but sans practice, I sucked at it too.

My first step was to start going to as many author readings as I could, and see how other writers managed to do it. If you've ever attended random author readings, you won't be surprised to hear me say that most authors are actually terrible readers. First, like me, they spend most of their time writing in private, and freak out when they have to engage the public. Second, many if not most writers chose to be writers BECAUSE they felt more comfortable hiding behind a keyboard than, say, doing a stand-up routine at the local comedy club.

If I could have pulled a Pynchon and gone into hiding instead of going on the book tour, I would have. Instead, I was forced to take a rather drastic step and enroll in an improv comedy class.

Yes, improv comedy.

You see, I could think of NOTHING more terrifying than improv comedy. Not only do you have to stand up in front of a crowd and try to be funny, but you can't prepare at all. I figured that if I could force myself to stand up in front of a crowd and improv, doing a public reading would be a piece of cake.

And it worked.

[Full Disclosure: Alright, so it was all I could do not to puke before my first reading at Powell's, but it did get easier after that. And the important thing is that I now actually LOVE public speaking.]

continuing...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Don't Be a Swine

Every time I try to stop prattling on about Vitamin D, they pull me back in.

Dr. Kurt G. Harris over at the PāNu blog has written an excellent article on how Vitamin D may help prevent the dreaded H1N1.

"So higher D levels make you less likely to get infected.

With higher D levels, if you do get infected, you are much less likely to get severely ill, and more likely to be able to breathe on your own.

With higher D levels, if you do get infected, you are probably also less likely to spread the virus to others."


Hey, I don't know about you, but I'm all for breathing on my own. He also shows the specific physiological benefits of different levels:

Prevent rickets 10 ng/dl

Suppress parathyroid hormone 20 ng/dl

Maximize intestinal calcium absorption 34 ng/dl

Maximize muscle strength 50 ng/dl


The blog is also a great resource for anyone interested in the concept of paleo nutrition. It's far more science-based than most paleo blogs.

Also, I've found that Carlson's makes Vitamin D3 drops (in coconut oil). It has no taste and solves the problem of trying to get your toddler to swallow a gel cap. You can even add it to food if need be.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vitamin A and How to Plot a Novel

So now that you're taking your Vitamin D, I thought I should tell you not to neglect your Vitamin A or K2.

These three fat soluble vitamins work together to...

Fuck it. I'm sick of writing about nutrition.

Every now and then, I go back through some of the old books on writing I have lying around and try to refocus my brain on the basics.

Since I'm 38 and a published novelist, reading books like "Fiction First Aid" or "Writing Screenplays that Sell" is a tad embarrassing. Even worse is reading through them in a coffee house like I am now. Honestly, I'd rather be caught reading porn.

But it's worth it. For example, Michael Hauge's advice on how to write a screenplay in one easy lesson:

Enable a sympathetic character to overcome a series of increasingly difficult, seemingly insurmountable obstacles and achieve a compelling desire.

Obviously, this is the "Hollywood Happy Ending" version (after all, the book is called "Writing Screenplays that SELL"). But if you want the more literary (i.e., box office flop) unhappy ending, all you have to do is add "fail to" in front of "achieve."

Yes this is unbelievably basic stuff, but it's this very basic stuff that writers continually fuck up. That I continually fuck up.

Hauge goes on to explain that any story idea can be expressed in a single sentence:

It is a story about a ______ who __________.

Obvious stuff, right? Well, in my experience, MOST aspiring novelists can't formulate that sentence--or at least not without using a run-on.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vitamin D PSA

As school has started again and the rains won't be far behind (at least here in Portland, Oregon, USA), I thought it time to bring up Vitamin D supplementation.

The last few winters, I've suffered from what seemed like a never ending series of colds. From the beginning of November all the way through about March, I was constantly sick. Since I have a four year-old and was under a great deal of stress, I just chalked it up to that.

However, January of last year, I started reading about Vitamin D, and began supplementing with around 2000 units a day using a combination of cod liver oil and D3 oil gel caps (both the specific type of Vitamin D and the specific type of pill turn out to be important). This is actually much less than the Vitamin D Council recommends, but much more than the RDA, so to be cautious, I decided to split the difference.

Lo and behold, I haven't been sick since. And I'm not alone. Cardiologist Dr. William Davis hasn't been sick once in the three years since he started supplementing with Vitamin D.

If you think about Vitamin D in terms of evolution, this all makes perfect sense. We've gone from running around outside in loin cloths all summer long to slathering on SPF 5000 before venturing out to watch the sunset. The older you get, the more you use sunblock, the farther you live from the equator, and the darker your skin color, the more likely it is that you aren't getting enough Vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency causes many more problems than just an increased susceptibility to the common cold and influenza (i.e., cancer, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, and periodontal disease).

But isn't the thought of NOT GETTING SICK AT ALL this winter enough?

If not, check out the Vitamin D Council. Actually, check it out anyway. Here are a few quotes to get you started...
"Because vitamin D is so cheap and so clearly reduces all-cause mortality, I can say this with great certainty: Vitamin D represents the single most cost-effective medical intervention in the United States."

~ Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, Medical Director, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

"I believe [vitamin D] is the number one public health advance in medicine in the last twenty years."

~ Dr. John Whitcomb, Aurora Sinai Medical Center

"This is like the Holy Grail of cancer medicine; vitamin D produced a drop in cancer rates greater than that for quitting smoking, or indeed any other countermeasure in existence."

~ Dennis Mangan, clinical laboratory scientist
Okay, I admit that I have no clue who these people are, but still...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Before and After Pics

It's been awhile, so I just thought I'd throw up some before and after pics showing my progress eating an evolutionarily appropriate diet.

Before...



After...


And if you haven't looked at them yet, I recommend the following appalling NYTimes links...

It's Hip to Be Round
(Ah, Brooklyn...)

and

For Your Health, Fruit Loops


Eileen T. Kennedy, president of the Smart Choices board and the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, can go fuck herself.

Dr. Kennedy, who is not paid for her work on the program, defended the products endorsed by the program, including sweet cereals. She said Froot Loops was better than other things parents could choose for their children.

“You’re rushing around, you’re trying to think about healthy eating for your kids and you have a choice between a doughnut and a cereal,” Dr. Kennedy said, evoking a hypothetical parent in the supermarket. “So Froot Loops is a better choice.”

I think this pretty much sums up why I've stopped listening to mainstream nutritional advice.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Agriculture=Honkyfication

Many readers have had a hard time accepting my claim that agriculture is the root of all evil. I believe that my four part series Missing the Forest for the Field has made a convincing case, but in an effort to be even more convincingesque, I offer perhaps the most damning evidence of all...

Agriculture created white people.

That's right, honkies, crackers, anthropomorphic mayonnaise... whatever you want to call them, these white devils are a DIRECT result of agriculture.

Until recently, scientist thought that populations simply evolved to have lighter (i.e., pasty) skin as they migrated north in latitude. Now it turns out that AGRICULTURE is the cause...

According to the Daily Mail:

People in England may have only developed pale skin within the last 5,500 years, according to new research.

Scientists believe that a sudden change in the diet around that time from hunter-gathering to farming may have led to a dramatic change in skin tone to make up for a lack of vitamin D.

Farmed food is lacking in vitamin D and while humans can produce it when exposed to the ultraviolet light in sunlight darker skin is far less efficient at it...

...If the theory is correct it would mean that until this period in history, the ancient inhabitants of Britain and Scandinavia - our ancestors - would have had a dark skin tone.
So the next time "The Man" (i.e., the "White Man") is keeping you down, blame agriculture.

[Thanks to Free the Animal for the link. Although Richard took it in a slightly different direction...]

Even More People

I got a nice comment from John Feeney on my last post. He's actively working (hard) to solve the problem of overpopulation, so if you're interested in the subject, I suggest checking out his site.

Here's just one of his articles for the BBC.

"It's the great taboo of environmentalism: the size and growth of the human population. It has a profound impact on all life on Earth, yet for decades it has been conspicuously absent from public debate."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Missing the Forest for the Fields Pt4

Sorry I've been a bit slow about responding to all the comments in the last post. There's a reason, but then that would require another post to explain...

In any case, most of the comments appeared on Facebook, but I feel it makes more sense to address them here.

First up, Gigi Little said:

Positively chilling.

I've known for most of my life (meaning not including seven years old and sitting in front of the TV watching the Brady Bunch) that overpopulation is a terror to our planet and that we're deep, deep in it - but I don't think I've ever made the connection you have between it and agriculture.

The problem with talking about all this, of course, is man's natural defensiveness. Our innate hunter-gatherer brains, in fact, which are programmed to defend ourselves no matter what. How do you get something like this through to people when there's so much natural resistance?

Fiction, perhaps? A big, powerhouse novel with the unrelenting muscle of The Wrong House, but which allows people to come to the same conclusions themselves, through reading it? Eh? Eh? Just saying.
I think Gigi really nails the "natural resistance" people have when discussing the negative aspects of agriculture (as you'll see in some of the following comments). To be honest, a month or two ago I would have been just as resistant, so I don't want to pressure anyone to blindly accept my theory that agriculture is the central problem of humanity (after all, it's just a hypothesis), but I do urge you to at least consider it.

Next up is Andrea P.

I know you know this, so I feel redundant pointing it out, but the major fallacy of your argument is that all of the grain crops grown in the midwest go to feed our overpopulated planet. Simply untrue. The vast, vast majority of it is livestock feed. In addition there's the major swaths of land devoted to grazing, and the environmental disaster of hog farms, etc. Don't get me wrong, I think meat can be raised more responsibly, but there's no getting around the fact that it takes 10 lbs of grain to get one pound of meat. And that doesn't even address the water issues (i.e. the enormous quantities of increasingly scarce fresh water needed to raise farm animals). I grew up in Michigan and Illinois and knew from childhood that the food being grown all around wasn't for my consumption. But sure, the planet needs fewer people. Read "Maybe One" by Bill McKibben and convince yourself not to have a second kid. The people really stressing the planet aren't likely to need snorkel rice.
I don't really know whether or not the "vast, vast, majority" of grain grown in the Midwest goes to livestock feed (obviously, at least some of it is going to high-fructose corn syrup and other processed garbage). In any case, I think we can safely say that MUCH of the grain is going to livestock.

Other than that, I... agree. Grain-fed livestock is an environmental disaster (and most probably, unhealthy too). We are wasting huge amounts of water raising livestock while simultaneously polluting what little water is left (although, to be fair, agriculture is doing exactly the same thing).

We need to move back to pasture-raised meat, but as always, we run into the problem of overpopulation and demand outstripping supply. I am curious as to how much meat could sustainably be produced by returning prairie land to grass and allowing the buffalo to return. From what I've read, pre-conquest there may have been as many wild bison roaming the country as there are there are cows in feedlots now. (Yes, I know it'll never happen, but let me dream...)

Of course, if we diverted that "10 lbs" of grain from animals to people (and I should point out that the amount of grain required to produce a pound of animal meat does depend greatly on the specific animal), we would almost certainly increase the population--compounding the problem.

Looks like I'm going to have to read "Maybe One" by Bill McKibben...

...or not. Because according to Daniel:
In counterpoint to the Malthusian claim of "too many humans" is the fact that the biomass of the ants of the world outweigh humans. Just the ants. This is a species that creates complex societies, cities, garbage dumps, factories and farms, cemeteries, etc. yet are a net additive force to whatever biome they live in.

Its not all about fewer humans, it is also about the 'unnatural' way that we do live. If we just take the commandment to reduce and lessen impact but do so in our current construct, the logical outcome is an admonishment to commit suicide or worse as the final environmentalist position.

Well, Gigi responded to the first part of this comment before I could get to it: "Thing is, the kinds of garbage ants leave around aren't plastic and cigarette butts. Unless they've gotten them from us."

I guess I would add that comparing humans to ants in terms of "biomass" might be just as misleading as comparing them simply in terms of numbers. As a species we are very different than ants, and I'm not sure if it's productive to directly compare their environmental impact to ours. Personally, I see more of a similarity to locusts.

Daniel's point is valid, though. If we can change the way we live, we might be able to survive at a much higher population level. But can we?

[SIDE NOTE: Although have I nothing personal against terrestrial ants, watching the Paul Verhoeven documentary "Starship Troopers" has left me with a pronounced fear of any extraterrestrial ants, and I strongly believe in their immediate extermination.]

As to Daniel's second point(s)--I agree that we need to profoundly change our "current construct," but disagree that "the logical outcome is an admonishment to commit suicide or worse as the final environmentalist position."

While it may seem like a sort of "Logan's Run" approach to controlling the population (i.e., killing off members of society after they age out of their "productive" years) is the most straightforward answer, I'm clearly too old myself to support killing off the olds.

I certainly don't have all the answers when it comes to controlling the population. (Remember, this post was initially about identifying agriculture as the central problem of human, not necessarily coming up with the solution.) But while it's true that I have a fairly apocalyptic view of the world (going so far as to write a novel titled The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse), even I can see that there may be less drastic ways of controlling the population.

Many first world countries now have a birthrate below replacement, which at least suggests it's possible to control the population with out reverting to mass suicide or slaughter.

Elizabeth Hickey had a less drastic idea:

[Full Disclosure: I may have had a child with this woman.]

I've been trying to figure out my angle on this huge, intractable problem, and I think it's education for women around the world, because if women are educated they are more likely to limit their families. It won't change the fact that the way we feed ourselves is unsustainable, but it could bring the worldwide population down and ease some of the stress. I still haven't worked out how I'm going to contribute, so if anyone has any suggestions...

In conclusion, I guess I feel like step one is identifying whether or not the problem really is agriculture. Once that questions is decided, then we can move on to step two (i.e., trying to find if there are any realistic solutions short of mass suicide or slaughter). Of course, if we do nothing, billions of people are going to die anyway...

Good lard, this is a long post. I'll shut up now...

Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Paleo Food

So I haven't had a chance to respond to all the comments on the last post (most of them on my Facebook page), but I wanted to post this video, as it comes pretty close to my own views on "evolutionarily appropriate" food.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Missing the Forest for the Fields Pt3

The photo is one I took of a meadow on Mt. Rainer. As part of Mt. Rainer National Park, it's protected. Although the National Park system was controversial when it was first proposed, I think that most people who visit Rainer immediately recognize that such places of spectacular beauty should be protected.

What they don't realize is how much has already been lost.

Yes, our cities and towns have blighted the landscape with their urban sprawl, but it's agriculture that has truly destroyed the natural landscape. I've read that before European settlement, the eastern United States was so densely forested that a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic to the Mississippi without ever touching the ground. Can you imagine how beautiful that must have been?

How about pre-agriculture Europe or Asia?

As Lierre Keith points out:

Ninety-eight percent of the American prairie is gone, turned into a monocrop of annual grains. Plough cropping in Canada has destroyed 99 percent of the original humus. In fact, the disappearance of topsoil “rivals global warming as an environmental threat.” When the rainforest falls to beef, progressives are outraged, aware, ready to boycott. But our attachment to the vegetarian myth leaves us uneasy, silent, and ultimately immobilized when the culprit is wheat and the victim is the prairie.
Okay, I suspect many of you are getting annoyed with me at this point for relentlessly attacking agriculture. After all, what can we do about it? Since our global population has grown obscene and we've already destroyed the natural landscape, there's obviously no way we can go back to a hunter-gatherer existence--even if we wanted to.

My point is that our environmental and population problems are very real and very big. If we continue to ignore agriculture itself as the root agent causing these problem, all our attempts to solve them will be futile.

For instance, I just read this BBC piece on "snorkel" rice today. The headline is "Snorkel rice could feed millions," and it's about how a newly engineered type of rice could greatly increase yields in flood-prone areas.

Now at first glance, that seems like a good thing. How could feeding people be wrong?

But if we first accept that agriculture is humankind's central problem, then we have to reconsider. The history of agriculture has again and again shown that any improvement in yield results in a subsequent increase in population (i.e., more rice, more people). Most likely, snorkel rice will increase the population (not just feed people already alive) and add "millions" to our already obscenely overpopulated world.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want people to starve. But unless we take a broader view than just "it's good to feed people," all our advances in "sustainability" and agriculture are just going to add to population growth. Introducing snorkel rice without finding a way to simultaneously halt (or preferably reverse) population growth is just adding to the problem.

The more people, the more people there are to starve to death when the environment collapses.

Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Monday, August 17, 2009

Missing the Forest for the Fields Pt2

The guy in the picture is John Jeavons. His Biointensive approach to agriculture goes WAY beyond simple organic farming in terms of sustainability and efficient use of land. I also have him to thank for the bounty of vegetables I'm eating this summer from my minuscule backyard garden.

But even John Jeavons does not claim that agriculture can be 100% sustainable. Modern industrial farming depletes the land at a phenomenal rate. Top soil that took thousands of years to develop can be plowed away in less than a hundred years (and as the Dust Bowl proved, sometimes much less than a hundred years). Jeavon's techniques attempt to minimize this soil degradation and maximize the caloric content of harvests in order to feed the world's growing population.

In terms of agriculture, I feel that Jeavon's approach (despite being EXTREMELY labor-intensive) is about as good as it gets. And as I said, I use many of the techniques myself (although, in an admittedly half-assed way).

But what if we stop thinking "in terms of agriculture?"

Pre-agriculture, the topsoil of the Great Plains was not only sustainable, IT WAS ACTUALLY IMPROVING. Bison and other game populated the land "in almost unimaginable numbers" (at least according to the anthropologist Melvin Konner), living off the vegetation and, in the case of predators, other animals. Far from depleting resources in the manner of high-density feedlots, the animals fertilized the soil with their feces, urine, and (when death came) bones.

And the people who lived there? They ate both the vegetation AND the animals.

So before making the claim that eating meat is not sustainable, it's important to understand that it WAS sustainable for almost the entire history of humanity. Whereas, agriculture (conventional, organic, Biointensive, or otherwise) has NEVER been sustainable.

I suspect at this point that many of you want to counter with the argument that with seven billion people walking around, there's no way we can abandon the fields and go back to hunting bison. Well, you're right. But then again, since agriculture isn't sustainable, NEITHER IS THE CURRENT WORLD POPULATION.

If we use more Biointensive-style agriculture techniques and switch to more "calorically-efficient" vegan diets are we really going to save the environment? Or, instead, will the Biointensive/vegan approach just allow the world's population to get even bigger and thus LESS SUSTAINABLE?

Agriculture and population are inseperable issues. Agriculture is what caused the population explosion, which in turn, drives the need for more agriculture. Every time there's an "improvement" in agricultural techniques (such as the introduction of chemical fertilizers) there is a concurrent increase in population. Without the "Green Revolution," would India have ever topped a billion people?

So when people say that a grain-based diet is more sustainable than an animal-based diet, you have to ask what they're trying to "sustain." The ludicrous overpopulation of Homo sapiens that is causing catastrophic irreversible damage to the global environment?

(Continuing... In the mean time, I urge you to read the introduction to Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability. And thanks Gigi for the comment. I'm glad I haven't alienated all my vegetarian friends... at least not yet.)

Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Missing the Forest for the Fields

Lately, I've been positively bombarded with links to articles discussing how meat consumption leads to Global Warming and/or Environmental Collapse.

While it's true that the people sending me these links are mostly vegetarian (i.e., not entirely unbiased when it comes to eating meat), I think they have a good point. Eating meat most certainly does contribute to the environmental degradation we are currently experiencing (and I should note, HAVE BEEN EXPERIENCING FOR THE LAST 10,000 YEARS).

The problem with the anti-meat argument is, I believe, one of missing the forest for the trees (or fields, as I so wittily used in the title to this post).

I think most rational people would agree that in order to find a solution to a problem, it's first necessary to identify the problem itself. For instance, I've been fat most of my life. I tried any number of cure (in fact, I tried EVERY number of cure), but it was only once I learned that I was insulin resistant that I was able to succesfully lose weight. Without addressing the central issue (i.e, insulin resistance), all my previous attempts at losing weight were ineffectual at best and downright disastrous at worst.

When it comes to the Global Environmental Collapse we seem to continuously come up with "solutions" that fail to address the central problem--whether it's banning fluorocarbons to save the ozone layer, recycling plastic to minimize landfills, or abstaining from meat to slow Global Warming. Yes, these "solutions" address some of the symptoms of environmental degradation, but in terms of the central problem, their benefits are negligible. After all, IT'S A BIG FUCKING PROBLEM.

So what is the central problem?

Well, up until recently, I would have said that the problem was overpopulation. But it's finally dawned on me that overpopulation is indeed another SYMPTOM and not the actual problem itself. The problem is...

Agriculture.

(Obviously, I'm going to continue with this post, but in the mean time, I urge you to read Jared Diamond's short essay "The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race." In fact, I COMMAND you to read it.)

Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why Rite-Aid Should Sell Crack


Imagine if not just marijuana, but ALL street drugs were suddenly legalized tomorrow.

What would happen?

First, it would rapidly cause the price of drugs to plummet. After all, the reason drugs are expensive is simply because they're illegal. Legal poppy plants, coca plants, and marijuana plants grown on an industrial scale would make the cost of maintaining an individual's drug habit negligible.

Second, the drop in drug prices would then drastically reduce most drug-related crimes, would empty out our overcrowded prisons and provide needed space for truly violent offenders, would eliminate most gang-related violence, would globally devastate organized crime by eliminating its principle means of earning money, would end the reign of brutal drug cartels in places like Mexico and Columbia, and would cut off the funding for the Taliban and for the many terrorist organizations that support themselves through drug production and sales.

Of course, there might also be a small downside…

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How Not to Lose Weight Eating 1200 Calories a Day

The comments I received (both on the blog and in person) on my last post "How to Lose Lose Weight Eating 5000+ Calories a Day" really shocked me. Since I was already shocked that I'd managed to lose 50 pounds eating 5000+ calories a day, I guess that leaves me doubly shocked. In fact, I'm starting to feel like the monkey in that Peter Gabriel song...

To recap:

MolBachman has been eating 1250 calories a day since January. While she has lost 20 pounds, SHE'S BEEN EATING ONLY 1250 CALORIES A DAY SINCE JANUARY! And people think dieters have a lack of willpower...

Headwaste spent months eating 1200 calories a day WHILE TRAINING FOR A MARATHON and failed to lose weight. Crazy? Well apparently it's not entirely uncommon. This is from EXRX's piece on the Starvation Effect:

"A 51 year old patient complained of a 15 lb weight gain over the last year despite beginning a strenuous triathlon and marathon training program (2 hours per day, 5-6 days per week). A 3 day diet analysis estimated a daily intake of only 1000-1200 Calories."

PJ said:

"I ate a solid month of 1200 calories a day and didn't lose a single pound. Since I weighed 400# at the time that's just insane."
My opinion? THAT IS INSANE!

So I went back and looked up Ancel Key's study on starvation diets in Good Calories, Bad Calories. It took place during WWII using conscientious objectors.

Subjects consumed an average of 1570 calories a day or roughly half of what they were used to consuming (they were all young men). They did lose weight, but not nearly as much as would be expected by the calories in calories out theory. They also had an incredible list of side-effects. I'll quote a few...
"Nails grew slowly, and hair fell out... Pulse rates were markedly reduced, as was the resting or basal metabolism... Reflexes slowed... They described their increasing weakness, loss of ambition, narrowing of interests, depression, irritability, and loss of libido as a pattern characteristic of 'growing old.'"
But it gets worse.

Five of the subjects succumbed to "character neurosis" (two "bordered on psychosis"). At least one of the subjects was commited to the psychiatric ward with talk of "suicide and threats of violence."

Even though there was a calorie restricted "rehabilitation diet" at the end to try and keep the subjects from gorging (during which one subject's "personality deterioration culminated in two attempts at self-mutilation"), when the subjects were finally allowed to pig-out, they ate a whopping 8000 calories a day AND WERE STILL HUNGRY DESPITE BEING PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO EAT MORE.

By the end of the "rehabilitation diet" (i.e., before they were allowed to eat whatever they wanted), the subjects had gained 5% in weight and had 50% more body fat.

Does cutting your calories to 1200 a day seem like such a good idea now?

Of course, I know damn well why people are severely cutting calories (I've done it myself in the past). Since all the advice we've ever been given on diet by the mainstream media is wrong, we've grown desperate. But since these diets MAKE YOU GAIN FAT in the long run, I really can't see why anyone should be on them.

Sadly, if you've already tried the starvation approach, your metabolism is probably a wreck and you need to find some way to jumpstart it. Jim Purdy commented:

"I've been experimenting a little with eating 5 or 6 very small meals daily, consisting only of an extremely high-fat mixture of avocado, peanut butter, pecans, walnuts, flaxseed, and olive oil."

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this approach will help get his metabolism going again.

I personally suspect that low-carb/high-fat/high-protein along with heavy strength training is the way to go, but then again I have no real proof (that's just what I've had success with).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How to Lose Weight Eating 5000+ Calories a Day

My wife has been playing around with FitDay lately. It's a free online way to list everything you eat in a day and see what the nutritional breakdown is.

After seeing her fat/carb/protein breakdown, I got curious. Ever since I started what I call the Evolutionarily Appropriate Diet (i.e., paleo, caveman, hunter-gatherer... etc.), I've refrained from counting calories--after all, if what I'm eating is "appropriate," I shouldn't need to. But since I've been uping the intensity of my weight training this summer, I have worried a little about whether or not I'm getting enough protein.

In any case, I typed in a few days to see roughly where I'm at. It turns out that I'm eating more than 5000 calories a day.

Today was 5,238. Yesterday was more. That pigout day I had last week came in at 6150 calories. And I've been pretty much eating this way the whole time I've been on this diet--in other words, I've been rapidly losing weight while eating 5000+ calories a day.

Gary Taubes explained in Good Calories, Bad Calories that not all calories are the same, but the idea that I could be eating like this and still losing weight just floors me. The "caloric balance" calculator on FitDay (which takes into account exercise levels, etc.) suggests that I should be gaining 3.6 pounds a week. Instead I've lost a total of 50 pounds from my all time high.

Need any more proof that a calorie is not just a calorie?

Just so you know, my breakdown for today was 72% fat, 15% protein, 8% carbs, and 5% alcohol (or will be once I crack open the Old Crow). That might seem low for protein, but with the total caloric intake so high, I'm getting more than a gram of protein per pound of lean body weight.

I may experiment by slightly cutting back on a few of the fattier things (I ate a whopping 1561 calories worth of nuts and 514 of heavy cream today) and adding a little more protein, but then again, I may not.

After all, I'm losing weight on a 5000+ calorie diet. What more can I ask?

[NOTE: If anyone wants to try out FitDay and post their numbers in the comments, please do! (You can post anonymously or make up a fake name if you want.) I'm really curious as to how many calories others are eating...]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Would Hit That and So Should You

Does it strike anyone else as funny that we're obsessed with maintaining erectile dysfunction in the elderly (all those ads for Viagra, Cialis…etc.), while at the same time we do everything we can to thwart healthy "erectile function" in teenage boys.

Let's put aside the fact that "abstinence" programs don't work at all and only seem to succeed at spreading STDs and causing unwanted teen pregnancies…

…Actually, YOU CAN'T PUT THAT ASIDE. Just as with the War on Drugs, it's utterly illogical to defend a course of action based on what you hope it will achieve, when it's obviously failed to achieve that goal in practice.

Our sexual response is the result of millions of years of evolution. We get horny as hell in high school, because WE'RE SUPPOSED TO GET HORNY AS HELL IN HIGH SCHOOL.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Functional Fitness

I posted earlier about whether to pursue aesthetics or athletics in the gym. Since then I've been on a search to define what a 38 year-old like myself can reasonably expect to achieve in terms of fitness.

While I'm not yet at the level of Damien Walters, I feel that if I continue to eat a sensible diet and walk briskly for thirty minutes three times a week, I should be able to perform at his level in no time...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Shame of the Fourth Estate

Chain of events:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest put out another list of the worst restaurant foods (yes, they're still using this scare tactic), ABC decided to do a decidedly slipshod investigation into said foods, and Dr. Eades (of Protein Power fame) tore the investigation to shreds in a wonderful post.

So first I'll give you the ABC piece where two reporters dare to eat deep-fried mac and cheese:



Second, I'll urge you (no COMMAND YOU) to look at Dr. Eades rebuttal.

The three biggest points for me were the fact that...

1) It goes unmentioned in the ABC piece that they ended up eating 3.1 cups of sugar each! And they're blaming "sluggishness" on fat? What about the carb coma?

2) Apparently ALL blood looks like that after a meal (i.e., fatty). Saying it was an abnormality caused by excess saturated fat was a blatant lie on the part of the physician.

3) And last, the arterial narrowing shown by the ultrasound is a NORMAL response to a giant meal.

Now, I'm not going to recommend you eat any of these foods (they're garbage), but this kind of "journalism" is just criminal.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

First, I want to thank Lisa Dahl for guest blogging while I vacationed in the Great White North. (She did such a great job that I'm now trying to convince her to be a regular writer for the blog. I urge you to put the thumbscrews on her too.)

Second, some updates:

Since I had the opportunity to hike around a seriously buggy lake, I again tempted the mosquitoes, and again got bitten with no lasting bumps or itching. I am therefore forced to unscientifically conclude that my "evolutionarily appropriate diet" really is the cure for mosquito bites (at least for me). I'm hoping to hike up Zigzag mountain (next to Mt. Hood) sometime soon, though, and give it a definitive test (that trail is positively lousy with mosquitoes).

I also had the opportunity to run barefoot on a Vancouver Island beach with my niece and nephew--a la Chariots of Fire. I'm now convinced there really is something to the barefoot movement. It just felt natural (a lame adjective, but accurate). Of course, now my calves are killing me...

And last, trying to eat the aforementioned "evolutionarily appropriate diet" while traveling was really really really hard (did I mention really?). I mean, I thought it would be hard, but it was HARD--not to mention expensive.

Every freakin' restaurant serves a ginormous serving of carbs with a little scrap of protein. Add to that the impossibility of cooking your own food without a kitchen (I don't eat processed food), and... well, IT WAS HARD. I really wish I had a solution to this problem, because I love to travel.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Factual errors on the Internet? No way...

Selwood must be so jealous that a bit of blogging intrigue happened while he was away. It's the internet at its mass-culture best: where information is pushed to the top because so many eyes, ears, and brains are involved. Of course, that is also the method used to create rumors that can ruin lives and political campaigns, but I digress...

A post I made about a beautiful set of photos about the real estate bust has turned minorly scandalous over at the venerable paper The New York Times. I put an edit update at my original post to explain. Thanks to Simon Owens of Bloggasm for the tip, and to Mr. Selwood who is indeed reading his email while away.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Better hide it with cash

I was listening to NPR this afternoon and heard a surprising piece on how credit card companies are monitoring our buying behaviors. They are not only keeping tabs on how much you are buying, but also what you are buying - actually itemizing your purchases. Very Big Brother. And in a new twist of invasion of privacy, they are rating your purchases to decide whether you are too risky a customer to them based on what you're charging to your card. Basically, the thinking goes if you are either 1.) bargain shopping or 2.) comforting yourself, those could be signs that you have lost, are going to lose, or fear losing your job and that they should cut ties asap.

The top 10 things not to buy with your credit card? Find out here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I don't know what you're talking about


I know I'm in the minority here, but I don't understand the superstardom we as a society bestow upon famous people unless they also manage to do something substantive in addition to just being entertaining. There seems to be unspoken rules about when a public figure falls from grace, when you can hold them to the impropriety, when you are supposed to just wish it never happened, and when you can finally acknowledge – out loud - that, yes, they were guilty all along. It doesn't matter if everyone knows the truth from the start, to be a part of society comes with the expectation of periodically putting on blinders.

And it's not just that we act this way with celebrities; it happens in all spheres of society. The mortgage crisis? Cigarettes and tobacco? A no-fat but all-carb diet? Eighties fashion?

Yet the lone wolf is always given a hard time. That's why I'm not saying nuthin'.