The Hacking of the American, Robert Lustig, MD, MSL

The title is what grabbed me about this book.

The  book is about the difference between pleasure and happiness. Lustig argues that they are different and that people frequently confuse them. He also proposes a model for how they are defined by our biology and environment. Pleasure is driven by dopamine (the reward pathway). Happiness is driven by serotonin (the contentment pathway). While acknowledging the limitations of current research he does present evidence from a number of studies (primarily animal and correlation studies in human populations) that make a compelling case for the model he presents.

The first half of the book is devoted to describing the model and how it works. He argues that we have evolved with both pathways interacting in healthy ways that reinforce each other. He also talks about what can happen when our physiology deviates from that healthy interaction. On the dopamine side, this can lead to addiction. On the serotonin side, depression.

In the second half of the book he talks about how big businesses (food, pharma, media, etc.) have manipulated the dopamine pathway to keep us coming back for more and making them more money. He ends the book with suggestions for how to fight against this manipulation.

I found the book interesting and helpful. It aligned with many things I have been learning about health since I’ve been working to improve my own health since retiring. Some of his suggestions I have already been doing and I will try some of the others. If you are interested in this topic I recommend this book

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What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton

<rant>
When this book first came out I kept hearing people on both the right and the left saying that Mrs. Clinton should not have written this book; that she should have just gone away. These people are terribly misguided (i.e., full of shit). Like it or not, Mrs. Clinton is an historic figure and one that will be remembered as the first woman presidential candidate in United States history. Further, being a presidential candidate is far from her only accomplishment. This book documents her experience of this part of history, which many pundits delight in speculating about. In the end, though, that stuff is just speculation. Mrs. Clinton is the one who went through it. All of it.
</rant>

“What Happened” is a combination of Hillary Rodham Clinton recounting her experience of her failed presidential campaign, her ideas about what she would have attempted to do were she to have won the election, and also her attempts to make sense of the elections result. All of which I found interesting.

The book opens with her experience of the Trump inauguration and why she and her husband chose to attend it. It then backtracks to her concession speech.

She then writes about the campaign. Why she decided to run, how the campaign started and progressed, including a typical day on the campaign trail. Also about aspects of being a woman in politics and life including things that have inspired and motivated her.

She doesn’t exclude herself from blame in how she ran her campaign but she also recaps the outside events and forces that also contributed to her loss. Most of those external forces were already known to me through my reading and other media venues but they may not be to other readers. It’s a good summary based on the time the book was written although we do know that a lot of the investigation into the election is still ongoing.

The book ends with an attempt to understand why “What Happened” happened and her hopes for what comes next in her party and the country.

I enjoyed the book and feel that it’s an important book to read if you care about our country and current events. Recommended.

MMT One Week In

Back at the end of May I finished Dr. Joseph Mercola’s book “Fat for Fuel.” At that time I mentioned that I might try the program (called Mitochondrial Metabolic Therapy or MMT) the book recommends in July. Well, I did start the program a week ago and so far the results have been great. One of the things that was attractive to me about the program is that you measure all the food you eat and you measure results as well. I’ve tried other health programs, for example, Whole 30 and while the results were positive I always seemed to hit a plateau. With MMT I can see more of what’s going on based on the measurements and can adjust. I believe this will be more helpful moving forward.

In preparation for the program I learned how to measure my blood glucose (which turned out to be no big deal) and my percentage of body fat. The former is something you track as you move on with the program in order to adjust carb intake. The percentage of body fat is used to calculate lean body weight which is used to determine the target amount of daily protein. I also had to buy a food scale because you have to weigh all the food that you consume. This was a bit annoying at first but after a week I’m used to it and it’s also no big deal. You enter that information into an online tool and it computes for you your macronutrient and some micronutrient totals from the food you eat. The tool also has valuable information on each food you entered. For example, if you have too much protein in a given day you can see the top sources of protein and make adjustments. There is also a list of allowed foods and a discussion of non-allowed foods.

MMT is a high-fat diet. After a week I’m used to it but I have to admit that I used to be indoctrinated in the idea that dietary fat is bad. Now I feel bad if I’m not eating a lot of fat. The thing that was new to me was restricting protein. I’m starting to get used to that now too.

So what were the first week’s results?

Weight: down 17.8 pounds
Morning blood glucose: from 97 down to 77
Blood pressure: I was already pretty good on this. Today: 116/80
Ketones: ….

Ketones are an interesting topic and one of the main points of MMT. When your body switches from burning glucose to burning fat it produces ketones that are then used for energy by the body. This is a much more efficient energy source than glucose. MMT wants you to measure ketones on the program. There are three main ways to measure:

Keto sticks – you pee on the sticks and they turn color to indicate the presence of ketones. This is considered the least reliable way to measure. One issue is that after you become fat adapted the sticks may not register.

Breath Analyzer – you blow into the analyzer and it measures ketone presence in your breath. This is preferred over sticks but still not the gold standard. It does have the advantage that once you buy the device there are no further consumables you have to buy.

Blood meter – you take a drop of blood and input it into the meter. This is the most accurate way to measure but the test strips are cost prohibitive. On Amazon, each strip costs about 6 dollars. That can run into some real money.

I opted for the breath analyzer. The brand is Ketonix. It indicates the presence of keto bodies by a series of flashing colors on the meter. I actually bought my Ketonix a long time ago and would periodically test my ketone levels. Until I was on the program my readings were always in the green range (low ketones). After two days on the program I have been consistently in the yellow range (moderate ketones). This is an indication that I am becoming adapted to burning fat rather than glucose for energy.

What does a typical day look like for me? Well, first thing in the morning I have a cup of bulletproof coffee. This allows me to go until noon before I have my first meal. My first meal is pretty much the same every day:

2 duck eggs
slice of liverwurst
slice of bacon (based on feedback from the online tool I have cut down from 2 slices to 1)
handful of broccoli sprouts
1 tablespoon of coconut oil

Based on macronutrient content this is almost the perfect meal for the program.

My second and last meal of the day is at around 4pm. That meal is more variable but usually consists of some form of animal protein and a bunch of some kind of veggie with butter on it. For dessert either herbal tea or golden milk and a handful of pecans.

My macronutrient breakdown for the first week on the program:

82% fat
13% protein
5% carbohydrates

I haven’t felt this good in a while. And I hadn’t really been feeling bad but now I feel even better. Pretty happy with the first week of MMT. On to week 2!

 

The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols

It’s no secret that expertise is under attack. Look at the last presidential campaign. When I saw a blurb for this book I figured it would be a topical read. I was right.

Nichols’ polemic deals with the reasons, institutions, and habits that are contributing to the death of expertise. They include the 24-hour news cycle, the internet, social media, higher education, talk radio and it’s spawns, our modern tendency towards confirmation bias rather than curiosity, and others. He also deals with the issue of what happens when experts are wrong including when they are looked to for things that are out of their areas of expertise and what should be done.

The book ends on a depressing note. It doesn’t seem that there is a way in America for us to fix this and, Nichols intimates, it may just destroy our system of government.

I agree with most of what Nichols says in this book (maybe my own confirmation bias?). But seriously, it’s an important book that I recommend.

King Crimson, Chicago Theater, June 28 2017

This was my first time at an event at the Chicago Theater – a really beautiful venue. And seeing my favorite band made it a great night.

Downtown Chicago is kind of a hike for me, living as I do out in the far western boonies. I planned to be there early to grab a bite which I did at the Michigan Avenue Shake Shack. Not a bad burger.

Doors opened at 6:30 for a 7:30 show start. The band is known for a policy of no photos, no recording and there were signs posted to that effect but getting people to not use their phones prior to and during the show was a losing battle for the ushers. It was like a game of whack-a-mole and they were outnumbered. This morning I saw a pre-show photo posted to Facebook.

This incarnation of Crimson added a member from their previous show in Chicago in 2014 so there are now 8 members. They are all excellent musicians so the band had a lot of firepower and it was on display this evening. The show consisted of two sets with a 20-minute intermission.

The first half opened with the familiar Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 1 followed by Neurotica. This was my first time hearing this band do any tunes from the 80’s lineup of the band. The third tune was one of the newer ones that I didn’t recognize but following that was Cirkus, a great tune from the Lizard album and then the title track from the same.

The remainder of the first half of the concert consisted of Fallen Angel, one of my favorite songs from the Red album (70’s lineup) which made me think of John Wetton, KC bass player who passed away recently; Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2, and Islands. All in all a great first half.

The second half opened with Pictures of a City followed by Indiscipline, another song from the 80’s lineup and done in a unique way. The original version of the song featured Adrian Belew (not a member of this lineup) speaking most of the song. But for this performance, Jakko sang the words to a melody. It took me a while to get used to this. Indiscipline was followed by The ConstruKction of Light and then Easy Money, which was a great crowd pleaser.

Then came The Letters which has some very quiet sections during which the audience (apparently thinking the song was over) started applauding. Slightly annoying for me but a great tune with a particularly great ending.

Then there were a few songs that I wasn’t that familiar with (I need to listen more to Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind) Followed by Level Five and their traditional closer, Starless.

The encore tunes were Heroes and 21st Century Schizoid Man (with an impressive drum solo from Gavin Harrison).

This version of King Crimson is such a great band. And they proved it by handling tunes from all eras of Crimson extremely well. I know these guys are getting up there in years but I hope I will have a chance to see them again in Chicago.

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes…

At the beginning of the year I set myself some tasks for 2017. One of those was to write every day on this blog. Recently, though, I’ve found myself at a loss for what to write. You may have seen some one-sentence blog pasts as of late. This, to me, is a signal that I need to re-evaluate and so I have. And as a result of that re-evaluation I gave myself permission to end this task.

Robert Fripp (kind of a hero of mine) writes about endings in the context of  Guitar Craft:

“There are different qualities and & kinds of ending: the finish, the conclusion, & the completion….

“When a process is finished, something is lost. When a process concludes, nothing is lost but the process is at an end. When a process completes, the end is a beginning. Something is gained from the process which becomes available to energise & envitalise the new process underway.”

 

To me, this feels like a completion. I feel that I gained all I could from the task of daily writing on this blog. And I still have the idea of writing something every day but I will not do it on this blog or in public. I have already started that and I’m approaching it much along the lines of “morning pages,” described in Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.”

So what next for this blog? Well, I will still post book reviews here and maybe some other reviews as well (live music events I have attended, for example). I don’t rule out other posts that I may be moved to write as well. In those cases, they won’t be driven by a commitment to put something, anything, up on the internet but will be driven instead by the topic and my thinking on it.