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Curmudgeonly Reader

Reading too much daily

Month

March 2017

The Immortal Irishman

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, by Timothy Egan

As someone proud of my Irish links, a history buff, and with an avid interest in the Civil War I’m really embarrassed that this book was the first I’d heard about Thomas Francis Meagher. (Pronounced Mawr.) Especially since part of his story took place geographically so close to home.

Meagher was born in Ireland to a wealthy merchant turned politician. Meagher was educated in Jesuit institutions in Ireland and England and showed early skills at oratory. He loved poetry, spoke five languages,  After leaving university he traveled to Dublin to begin a law career but became involved with writers at The Nation *(including the woman who would become the mother of Oscar Wilde writing as Esperanza) who were involved in the Repeal Movement, which sought repeal of the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland.

Meagher was eventually arrested for sedition and sentenced to be hanged, beheaded, and quartered but was later sentenced to exile in Tasmania. Meagher escaped from there and made his way to New York City in 1852. There he became a lecturer and journalist until the beginning of the Civil War. During the war he formed a brigade of Irish Immigrants called the Irish Brigade and became their brigadier general.  The brigade fought at the battles of Fair Oaks and Antietam.  After the war he was appointed governor of Montana where he died under mysterious circumstances.

Far beyond documenting a fascinating life, Egan goes into depth about the Irish experience in the middle of the 19th century in both Ireland and the United States. He documents the incredible abuse the Irish received at the hands of the British Empire, from pulling the nails of anyone caught playing the harp (which the Irish consider their national instrument) to diverting food during the Potato Famine for export profits rather than helping those starving in their midst. The island’s population decreased by as much as 30% in some counties during the Great Famine, either through death or emigration.

Those who came to the United States faced a growing nativist movement, reaching its peak in the Know Nothing Party, which was mostly anti-Catholic. The Irish were accused of stealing work, adhering to a foreign religion, and were generally considered racially inferior. (Any of this sound familiar?) The heroism of Meagher’s Irish Brigade helped reverse many of the stereotypes but the negative view of the Irish also increased during the New York draft riots.

After the war Meagher thought Montana might be a second home for Irish immigrants, but there he faced continued nativism supported by vigilantes and anti-Catholic Masons. Egan believes that Meagher was murdered by these forces.

Meagher stands out as a tremendous icon of courage, optimism, intelligence, and eloquence despite the many forces that seemed to conspire against him.

The book won the National Book Award and it really is one of the best history/biography books I’ve read in the past year.  The history ranges from the English invasion of Ireland to John F. Kennedy with intriguing characters throughout.

 

Freedom is a Constant Struggle

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundation of a Movement, by Angela Davis

Angela Davis came to my attention in my pre-teens and early teens, mostly when my family was living in the suburbs east of Oakland. I was old enough to know things were starting to shake up the world, especially that part of the country with the “love generation” in San Francisco and Berkeley, Black Panthers in Oakland, riots and demonstrations around the country, and a general feeling of instability among my parents and their friends.  Threaded through much of this was Angela Davis. Communist, feminist, associated with the Black Panthers, wild-haired, gap-toothed, and brilliant. I think even the people who hated her knew the brilliance was there, and that was part of what they feared. My parents were raised in an era when the few blacks they saw were servants or slaves in movies and TV, Amos and Andy, or musicians. Just seeing black people express themselves with anger was unnerving for them. To do it more with eloquence than they possessed was even more intimidating.

Unless you were willing to read alternative press she was also generally smeared on the big three networks and most newspapers of the time. Ronald Reagan, who tried to get her fired from being a professor for her communist thought, and J. Edgar Hoover who labeled her a terrorist and made her just the third woman on the 10 Most Wanted list, surely wanted it that way.

This book is a collection of essays, interviews, and speeches given by Davis over the past few years. As the subtitle indicates two of the major subjects are Ferguson and Palestine. She also deals with the building of movements, feminism, and the history of the black liberation movement.

I was a little leary of taking on this book, mostly because of her long time in the American Communist Party, running as its VP candidate twice. It’s not so much the communism, which I see as a pretty dead political theory, but the stilted language most adherents insist on using. But she broke from the party in 1991 over objections to their support of the anti-democratic coup in Russia. Most of the language seems to have left at the same time.

There are some important ideas in this book. Building and maintaining political action (community organizing if you prefer) and working with people with opposing viewpoints. There are insights into why responding to Black Lives Matters with All Lives Matters carries racist weight, diversity in the feminist movement, and capturing the momentum of popular movements. This is from a woman who’s read thoroughly into history, was a child in Birmingham, Alabama, during the beginnings of the civil rights movement, and has been deeply or tangentially involved the civil rights movements around the world for most of her life.

Even if you know you’re diametrically opposed to her world view it would be a worthwhile book to look into. She’s a powerful spokesperson for the reasoning (not just the emotion) of the movements she’s been involved in. The book isn’t a diatribe but a researched discussion of a perspective that is often dismissed as directed only at the benefit of a few, not a drive to benefit and free all people.

She also freely discusses the divisions and differences within movements on the left and why Barack Obama’s election was not the beginning of a post-racial era. If you’re political at all this is a must-read.

 

The Girl from the Sea

The Girl from the Sea, by Shalini Boland

Next to serial killers amnesia is probably the mystery/thriller writer’s best friend, which is interesting as they’re about equally improbable.

I don’t mind a good trope. I would be a poor sci-fi fan without being patient with time travel, alien invasion, escape from dying earth, and the dozens of other well-worn trails walked by sci-fi writers. There are only so many ways to make a story, so much so that Kurt Vonnegut gave a great talk honing some down to line graphs. (You can see it on YouTube and it’s worth watching as a reader or writer.) I suppose my surprise is that lots of mystery stories have a thread of reality. People do get murdered, important items do get stolen, married couples do experience infidelity. It happens daily. Serial killers and amnesia are, I suppose, mystery exotica, and the reader generally at least understands the concept and can identify with it in some way. No one wants to meet that stranger with violent intent. No one wants to wake up with a complete lack of knowledge of one’s existence to date. (Or, there may be some who fantasize that it might happen as an escape from a crappy life.)

In this book a woman wakes in an English hospital with no knowledge of who she is and a bump on her head. It’s pretty lucky that these bumps never strike the language center or it would really disrupt the flow of the book. She’s told that she was found washed up on a beach. Local police interview her and take her fingerprints but her amnesia is so severe that she doesn’t even recognize herself in a mirror.

In a short time she’s introduced to a boyfriend she can’t remember, but who has pictures from their time together, and she returns home.

As the story develops she begins to learn more about her pre-amnesia life, about her family, the people she’s interacted with, and especially herself.

I will not offer any spoilers and much beyond this point would do that. I will say that if you’re a budding mystery writer here’s a tip: don’t make the person responsible for most of the mayhem nearly flawless while all those around that character seem to be hiding something. It makes them stand out as the probable bad guy.

For me, this failure spoiled the book for me starting about halfway through. In addition, much of the book hinges on the premise that a person with amnesia not only forgets everything but also gets a clean slate on personality.

This is a so-so book. I gave it three stars at the vendor I bought it from. Nothing about Roland’s book says she’s a bad writer or lacks potential for better. This book should have been talked through with a better editor and could have been fixed nicely with another rewrite.

 

I Go Keto 2², Sugar Hell

Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustain Weight Loss, by Joel Fuhrman, MD.

So all this started when I posted a review of a book on Ketogenics and a friend recommended (strongly) that this book was a better option. It is an excellent option and I appreciate the caring advice. However, that turned into a reflection on my own experiences with weight gain and loss, followed by an actual look at the book itself, until we get here with what I promise will be the last post on this issue. Diet science is as complex as the food we eat with its hundreds of components.

Those who developed and promote the Paleo diet did nail one thing of some importance: we spent millions of years co-evolving with our food. And prior to our creation of tools and organized hunting we were a second- or third-level predator. We lived on green stuff, roots, fruit when it was in season, and bone marrow because that’s what was left when the lions and hyenas were done. The creation of weapons for hunting raised us to top predator level, to where humans could make their own kills and scare away competitors. Since then our food has been “evolving” at a much faster rate than we have.

We’ve been separate species from Homo Erectus for about 60,000 years. Extracting sugar from its source plants (sugar beets and sugarcane mostly) became efficient in the 18th century. With it came evils both moral and tangible. Slavery was one. Sugarcane is grown in hot climates and African slaves were considered the perfect agricultural tool for harvesting.

Dozens of medical problems began to develop for sugar consumers as well. Consider a toothless George Washington as exhibit A of one of the earliest visible effects of sugar consumption.

Today the average American consumes between 99 and 126 grams of sugar per day. That includes sugars added into foods including sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and fruit sweeteners with fructose. That’s between 2.5 and 3 soft drinks per day for every man, woman, child, infant. And that’s just the straight stuff. The human body normally carries about 5 grams of glucose in the blood stream. Excess of that, when the body isn’t active and needing what cell mitochondria make from glucose, ATP or adenosine triphosphate, the excess gets converted stored as lipids in fat cells for later use. The stuff that helps the body manage that is insulin.

This does not include, by the way, sugars from starches. When these are eaten enzymes in the body clip pieces of these long hydrocarbons to make usable sugars for the body to use. So the number of grams of sugars from all carbohydrates may be much higher.

For the raw sugars the body sees no difference between a slurpee or a grape or a spoon of honey. In every case the body knows it’s digested a sugar and it spikes the body with a dose of insulin. The final result is known as “metabolic syndrome“, which medical science is happy to tell us it doesn’t fully understand but if you’d like to send them some grant money they’ll investigate further. The long version is available with multiple footnotes at the handy Wikipedia link provided above. The short version is that the constant ebb and flow of insulin from substances that represent .0001% of our evolutionary time on earth play hell with every other part of our body, from the biome in our gut to scarring of the veins and arteries which call on dietary cholesterol for healing. Further, the tumors that begin to form from all the other substances now added to our food, either directly or from bleedthrough from the packaging, thrive on serum glucose. Many of these, when starved of sugars, will stop growing or reduce.

So when any diet — and by diet I mean lifelong eating program and not a temporary weight fix — recommends daily carbohydrate intake of higher than 50 grams per day I cringe a bit. And saying that it’s healthy because it’s fruit really doesn’t fix the problem. As an example a cup of spinach has .8 grams of carbohydrates while a small banana contains 22. A teaspoon of sugar is about 4 grams and sugar has a 1:1 carbohydrate ratio, one gram of sugar has one carbohydrate. True, there are some foods with a high glycemic index, which means the sugars are tightly bound in starches or with fibers, so that insulin is less inclined to spike, but your body still gets them. The higher the intake of sugars the higher the risk of metabolic syndrome, which includes follow-up fun like high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, arrhythmia, alzheimer’s, depression, and the list goes on.

We evolved as eaters of plants and animals, not much removed from our chimpanzee and bonobo cousins. We often continued evolving in isolated pockets of population so that those from Tibet adapted enzymes to easily digest yak butter and milk, while those in Japan, with an ocean of seafood around them, are largely lactose intolerant due to the lack of the needed digestive enzyme. Many cultures, including a majority of those living in North America and Europe, came from people who discovered the easy food resource of grains, built cities around that agriculture to protect and exchange, and radically changed their eating faster than their bodies could adapt. We are million-year-old organisms with a diet created around 10,000 years ago.

The conclusion I’m shooting toward is that when Fuhrman in Eat to Live states that animal protein and saturated fats lead to cancer and heart disease (he never says “causes” because correlation≠causation) one has to ask “In what context?” Is this a culture that cooks the hell out of meat or brines meat to increase nitrates? Is it a culture that also (like the USA) has a high intake of sugar AND dietary fat? Tibetans’ national drink is butter tea: tea, salt, and melted butter. They have a low sugar intake and are very long-lived. Americans eat a double-cheeseburger on bread with sugared ketchup, deep-fried potatoes with salt, and a giant Coke (when just 12 ounces contains almost 9 teaspoons of sugar). When Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald’s in Super-Size Me the doctors working with him urged him to stop after 15 days or risk permanent liver damage.

Science is great. Context is king. Knowing the human body exhales carbon dioxide is great. Using that as a reason why climate change is a hoax is idiocy. Nutrition is not much different.

I’m done. I’ve written way more than I intended and I have books I have yet to tell you about. Thanks for your patience.

I Go Keto III, A Tale of Two Books

Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustain Weight Loss, by Joel Fuhrman, MD.

Q: But wait, this is a book site. What about the book?

A: The book? The book is great. I think it’s generally accurate and will probably help many people. But before we talk about food, let’s talk about feces!

I know, your favorite. But really. You are crawling with more bacteria, particularly in your gut, than you have human cells in your body. You are the known universe for billions of generations of bacteria, yeasts, and other interesting critters. Thus the fascinating medical technology of the fecal transplant. In this medical procedure the patient is cleaned out of stuff existing in the colon and this is replaced with donor poop. The technique is used for several medical conditions but there’s been growing interest in using fecal transplants for weight loss.

Think about what this means. This means that an obese person can be cleaned out and have their intestinal micro universe replaced with the biome of a thin person with a high metabolism and begin to see weight loss results. We can, and may, debate about why this works but the point is that when your ancestors traveled to the USA or wherever you’re reading this they brought more than their funny clothes, language, and DNA. They also brought a caravan of microbes that, through kisses, spit washes on faces, dietary habits, and accidental infections (people walk by me while I’m scouring my shopping cart down despite the fact that 72% or more have fecal matter on them) have passed these microscopic plants and animals on to you. You are carrying around the descendants of bacteria that were hovering near the appendix of your great grandmother.

In short, when anyone says there is a universal health statistic or diet plan they are basically starting with a bullshit premise because there’s more going on in your body than some consistent and predictable reactions. Even pharmaceuticals should be diversified because something as basic as gender differences can cause them to work differently.

Fuhrman’s book is filled with good general advice and some creaky ideas as well. There is also a bias or two about other non-Fuhrman-designed health plans.

The good ideas are that foods that come from the ground are generally better for you than other foods. Fuhrman specifies this by stating that there should be a preference in the diet for “nutritionally dense” foods. For example, broccoli is low in calories and carbohydrates but rich in phytonutrients, macronutrients, and protein. Green leafy vegetables (except for iceberg lettuce, it’s basically green water) are reliably good sources of a wide range of nutritious things that are good for you. Want to know who else says this? The Atkins Diet, the Mediterranean Diet, and (gasp) the Ketogenic diet. Basically you can’t go wrong on having a head of romaine lettuce for lunch on nearly any diet.

Where the diets part ways is on the specific impact of fats and animal proteins when taken in isolation from other foods. Fuhrman’s book has excellent documentation, as these books often do. Even health and diet books that others in the field of the author will later tell you are certain death lurking on a plate document their claims. Where the fork meets the plate is interpretation. We’re not talking a peer reviewed paper we’re talking about popular diet/nutrition books. The problem with almost every health study relating to food is that it relies on self-documentation by the participants. In a perfect world a study could be done with, say, voluntary prison populations in which isolated but racially-mixed groups could be put on a specific diet regime with a control population and tested weekly for changes in blood chemistry, urinalysis, and maybe even stool samples to find out what exactly happens when someone goes on a specific diet plan.

Most modern diet plans rightfully work to restrict sweetened items, whether the sweetener is fructose, sucrose, or high-fructose corn syrup. I’ll do another posting on some of the whys. If I have any gripe about Fuhrman’s plan it’s his reliance on fruit as a nutrient source. Sugar is sugar, whether it’s grown in a plant or produced in a beehive or clipped from a starch by enzymes after eating.

Cutting animal proteins is not a big issue on any of the diets. Fuhrman restricts them more than most and that’s fine. There are a lot of modern thinkers, including philosopher Peter Singer, who believe meat is unethical, principally because producing it has a high carbon footprint. The Ketogenic diet keeps proteins of any kind to 20% of caloric intake, but there’s no restriction on where it comes from as long as carbohydrate levels are kept below 5% of calories. When I did Atkins (with good results) in my 40s I was always surprised by opposing views of the plan that didn’t describe what the plan really called for accurately. It’s like arguing religion with people who really don’t know what religion is about and have never read past a few chapters of Genesis.

I’m sure for most of the people who take Fuhrman’s approach there will be beneficial effects. Fuhrman, as far as I can tell, has never done a blind research study on his diet. He’s a doctor recommending eating plans to his patients based on his reading and has gotten a great deal of positive feedback from those patients.

My own plan is that I may see how it does for me if the Ketogenic, in which I’ve invested some time and work into getting into and maintaining ketosis, does not help. I’m due for a physical in June and have enough history with this doctor to compare several years of fasting blood tests. Meanwhile my crisper is filled with baby spinach, raw broccoli, kale, and hearts of romaine to go along with the high fat moderate protein Ketogenic diet.

By all means get and follow this book’s advice if it’s an attractive or reasonable option for you. Diets should meet certain criteria:

  1. It works
  2. It works without doing harm
  3. It’s adaptable to your culture, body type, and preferences
  4. It’s portable so you can follow it even traveling to foreign countries with maybe a few things in your bag to help
  5. It doesn’t break your budget to follow
  6. You can maintain it comfortably for life

Eat to Live does most of this well and anyone squeamish about other diet plans as being too extreme should check this out.

Meanwhile, let’s wrap things up with a talk about sugar.

 

The Castle of Otranto

The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole

This is a book from the 1700s that I never would have picked up if not for reading about it in another book. In Liz Moore’s The Unseen World the main character Ada gives David, her father, a copy of this book for Christmas because it has become a favorite of his. I’d heard of Walpole but this book never came up in any of the English lit classes I sat through.

I didn’t research it until after I read. It’s from around 1764. Walpole was a member of Parliament and the son of a prime minister. He was also a fanatic for the Gothic era, building his own Gothic castle around 1750. This book is considered one of the first gothic horror books written (I thought Jane Eyre was the pioneering work but apparently that’s considered more in the gothic romance genre) and was an inspiration for some of Poe’s approach. It’s written under the pretence of a translation of a book from Naples written in the 1500s and discovered in the library of an English manor house.

It’s a creaky book but it’s a short, easy read and I’ve read books with more outlandish plots (Mr. Lovecraft) though this has some distinct twists all its own.

At the beginning the lord Manfred and his wife Hippolita are about to marry off their ailing son Conrad to the beautiful Isabella. However, Conrad is crushed by a gigantic marble helmet that falls from the sky. There are hints to this in a prophecy about the castle that “the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it”.

Manfred was really hoping for a continuation of the family line. So much so that he tries to convince the bishop that since Hippolita was a close relative that he should be granted a divorce so that he can marry Isabella himself. A peasant named Theodore helps Isabella escape the lusty clutches of Manfred. She escapes to a cave located beneath a church.

Much swordplay ensues, secret identities are discovered, rightful and more romantic matches are made, and characters are shamed or married in karmic order. More gigantic knight parts also mysteriously appear.

Those with Beavis and Butthead senses of humor will snort at lines like “he stared at her ejaculation.” It’s a museum piece of a book but interesting to see that there have been some reversions to Walpole’s style in the last century. Poe and du Maurier elevated the style, Lovecraft cleaved to it as did many horror magazine writers of 100 years ago. There are inexpensive books, very inexpensive Kindle versions, and at least four versions at Audible. If you’re a fan of the genre this is a must-read.

 

I Go Keto Redux, Another Country Heard From

Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustain Weight Loss, by Joel Fuhrman, MD

After my posting on the book Keto Clarity I received a note from a friend (actually two, one on Messenger and the other on Facebook) suggesting/urging that I read a book that he uses as a nutritional guide called Eat to Live. As we’ve known each other for nearly 40 years I saw it as a kindness with my health in mind. Because of that I bought and read it, trying to keep an open mind. This is a book with nearly a 180 degree eating approach from Ketogenics and it brought up many ideas and issues for me. I’ll try to deal with some here and may even do another post to discuss things further.

In this post I’d like to start by getting a little personal and making some confessions that may make you a little uncomfortable. That’s okay. They’ll make me a little uncomfortable, too. These are the things that build friendships.

I was an only child raised mostly by my mother (my father was an executive for a large corporation and traveled  for several weeks out of every month. Other family was often hundreds of miles away. Mom was a compulsive reader, too. She taught me to read when I was four, mostly so that she wouldn’t have to read to me and distract her from her own reading. When I went to first grade I could read well above my grade but didn’t know my ABCs. I had no idea that letters came in any particular order or that there was an associated song.

Somewhere along the way mom picked up information on nutritionist Adele Davis, who for some of you, if you know of her at all, may be as distant a figure as John Harvey Kellogg who at least had a book and movie written about him. I would contend that it’s largely because of Davis that we have a vitamin section in nearly every store and she was a pioneer in best-selling books on nutrition. And we know publishing well enough to know that book success breeds imitation faster than an outhouse breeds flies, with about as much public benefit.

Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit came out in its first edition a year before I was born and reached my mother a short way into the Kennedy administration. As mom and I largely lived in isolation I was her laboratory. We learned the importance of greens, we learned to open all the windows to cook beef liver (high in B vitamins), we drank some really obnoxious stuff called Tiger’s Milk Powder that was mixed with milk and mom would drop a raw egg into it for extra protein.

I was a skinny kid. I was skinny until we moved to California when my pictures start to show a double-chin. California seemed foreign, the schools and their kids were different, sunshine at Christmas was different. Even though we had a pool I started gaining weight. Mom panicked and started taking me to doctors. I was put on several diets. The last I remember was the Grapefruit diet, which involved mostly eating grapefruit, coffee, and tiny thin steaks for several meals. On the third day after eating lunch I threw up in the kitchen sink. I was 11. I have not eaten a grapefruit since.

I didn’t get skinny again until high school when my diet consisted mostly of Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and illegal amphetamines. (See also the post on Kerouac’s Big Sur.) I left high school weighing 175 at 6 feet tall and with a 32″ waist. I still felt fat and body image had become a serious issue.

Since, as I aged, I found a talent for various kinds of office work, sit-down jobs rather than jobs that required exertion, my weight often fluctuated. I was probably at my healthiest (low fat high muscle mass) when I was doing Nautilus for three days a week. But jobs changed, schedules altered, weight came and went.

So I bring you here, dear reader (assuming you made it this far with me), mostly to let you know that when it comes to dieting, dieting books, books on nutrition, nutrition ideas, nutrition science, nutrition zealotry of all stripes this is not, I guarantee, my first rodeo. That is not to say, while the bull is spinning fresh out of the chute, hearing a friend or stranger in the stand yell encouragement or advice isn’t appreciated. It’s just that I’m on the bull and you’re not. But objective advice and coaching is welcome and accepted.

So the next edition on this book and how it compares to the other book I review and my thoughts relative to both will come in the next post. Thanks for sticking with me this far.

I Go Keto

Keto Clarity: Your Definitive Guide to the Benefits of a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet, by Dr. Eric Westman and Jimmy Moore

I’m not your mom. I’m not a doctor. I’m just somebody who went to the doctor and found I was back at my peak weight and it made me mad. I’d been working out and dieting without “too much” cheating. I’m built like just about everyone in my grandmother’s family and at an age where I don’t burn off calories just by watching TV like I did in my 20s.

I made an appointment with a trainer to talk about diet and showed him a food diary. He pointed out some problems and offered two suggestions, either Paleo or Ketogenic. I knew a little bit about Paleo but the little I knew about Keto was mostly a remnant of Atkins, which worked for me in my 40s. Because Amazon can read all your cookies this book popped up on my “you might be interested in” list and I picked up a copy. I began applying some of the principals and, once I was brave enough to face the scales again, had lost 10 pounds since the doctor appointment and lost another 5 on a weigh-in a week later. Whether this will continue is anyone’s guess but this was a convincing book in several ways.

While it carries a doctor’s imprimatur most of the writing is done by Jimmy Moore, who has a podcast with several hundred episodes all about Ketogenics.

The concept actually surprised me. Unlike “protein” diets (which still require quite a bit of greens if you do them right) this diet really turns the nutritional pyramid upside down. It’s generally designed so that 75% of calories come from fats. And we’re not talking those sissy omega-3 fats either. Saturated fats are king. Coconut oil, something I hadn’t heard of called MCT oil (medium chain triglycerides), butter. Most of this reads like a cardiologist’s nightmare, especially when you hear Moore talk about “fat bombs” to increase ketosis, such as a slice of cheddar cheese wrapped around butter. Another 20% of calories from proteins. You could do this diet fairly easy as a lacto-ovo vegetarian. I think you’d struggle as a vegan. The remaining 5% comes from carbohydrates, normally 50 grams or less per day.

If you check the diet on Wikipedia (which medical students often use for study, I’ve learned) you find that the diet was first developed in the 1920s to help children with epilepsy, and that it worked fairly well. The basic idea is that carbohydrates are used by the body to create glucose which causes insulin levels to jump all over and is stored as fat when the body has more than it needs. When the body is robbed of carbohydrates, like our ancestors experienced every winter, the liver transforms fats into ketones, which are used efficiently by the brain and other organs and are a good source of energy. Ask an Inuit, living winters on whale and seal blubber while rarely experiencing heart disease or cancer. Your liver is as happy to drain your own fat stores as it is to use whatever you ate recently. Since the chubby side of my family all hailed from either Sweden or Norway I figure that I’m genetically pre-primed for the diet of someone who doesn’t see green or sunshine for half the year or more. Add the exercise instincts of a compulsive reader and it’s a wonder I could pass through my own front door before now.

Jimmy Moore offers his own experience as someone who had reached 400 pounds when he began using the plan. He also has the passion of a convert, which many diets like this seem to engender. I was at a church lenten soup dinner next to a lady in her 80s tonight. She’s diabetic and says her granddaughter nags her endlessly about Ketogenics. I don’t normally tell people what I eat, other than avoiding starches and sweets, because I don’t want to come across as a fanatic. According to Moore this eating plan can prevent Alzheimer’s, cancer, general inflammation, depression, and a dozen other ailments that seem to have become more common. Some contentions made sense to me, others seemed to need a little more science.

I can say now that eating the plan seems strange and, sometimes, messily greasy. I’ve picked up a few recipe books as well. I’ll review those and keep updates going of my progress as I go along.

 

New York 2140

New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson

The more I read Robinson the more I enjoy and appreciate him.  In the tradition of Heinlein he has definite ideas of how the world should be run. I think he’s a better writer than Heinlein in several ways. Heinlein, for example, liked the tool of OGWATA. (Old guy with all the answers.) Sometimes it was a pipe-smoking dad on Mars, in The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress he uses Professor La Paz to describe the intricacies of the Heinlein world view.

Robinson can be nearly as didactic as Heinlein with a few more subtleties. There are two major threads in New York 2140. The most obvious is a view of a world radically altered by climate change. This, fairly naturally, reflects on decisions made in our own time. An even heavier hammer on our own time, however, is laid on the 2008 financial crisis and the decisions, good and bad, that were made to rise out of that crisis.

The general overview of the book, with its many characters and parallel plot lines, is that a major chunk of the Antarctic melted faster than anyone expected. Instead of a continuingly gradual increase in sea level there’s a very sudden increase flooding most of the islands of Manhattan and Long Island. Even drenched, however, New York City maintains its allure to millions, who now consider their city to be a new American Venice. So much so that new buildings are built on the underwater bedrock that was once Central Park. Like New York of today, however, there’s prime real estate and less desireable buildings built on the weaker soils which now begin to tilt and collapse as their foundations crumble.

With the climate changes comes increasing weather problems including hurricanes of much greater strength.

There are several story lines and some have a great deal of charm. A pair of orphaned boys guided by a book and map collector and the belief that they can recover a sunken gold treasure left by the British during the Revolution. A young financial trader who sees an opportunity to trade in equities of distressed real estate futures similar to what brought the 2008 crash. An airship pilot named Amelia who broadcasts her travels and adventures, including trying to relocate polar bears to the Antarctic to try to save the species.A police woman trying to keep order in an increasingly bizarre political and environmental situation. A building manager trying to maintain and protect his building from ferocious weather. And a coop member of the building, and the ex-wife of the head of the SEC, who is fighting off a hostile takeover bid of the property.

I read the Mars Trilogy and Years of Rice and Salt by Robinson. Since then he’s clearly read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century and some others (I’m guessing Joseph Stiglitz) and has some hard ruminations on our times and the even worse economy of 2140. I, being a former union thug and happy progressive, enjoyed it. Sci-Fi fans of the Sad Puppy inclination will probably pull their hair out. Fine with me. I have all my hair and will enjoy looking better at conventions. I sense that there will be some with aptitudes for science and engineering who may feel overwhelmed with talk of quantitative easing, nationalization, and rent seeking. Anyone with sympathies toward Occupy Wall Street will appreciate a trashing of a growing financial oligarchy and increasingly militarized and privatized security forces.

Any reader of the book will get some excellent stories and very appealing characters. You’ll also get environmental science, mineral science of New York, snippets of the history of New York, a look at the economy of 2008, a refresher on economics, and some happy story endings. Robinson is a thorough researcher. You may not dig his politics but you have to admire his ability to bring together a broad variety of ideas into a single book.

 

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