Less Sugar, High Anxiety

I recently posted about the effects of demineralized water on my equanimity. But lack of minerals may have been only part of my problem. A few months ago, I began eliminating sweets from my diet, which helped me reach my goal. For years I had been rewarding myself at lunches and dinners with cookies, cakes, chocolate bars or ice cream, or some combination thereof. I bought and ate the best organic sweets, but they still contained a great deal of sugar. Statistics from The Diabetes Council indicate that US citizens consume over 126 grams of sugar per day.

A theory goes that we prefer sweetness because it indicates consumable carbohydrates in ripe fruit while sourness indicates unripe and bitter indicates spoiled or poisonous fruit. Refined sugar is, of course, very sweet, and it is difficult to find prepared foods that do not contain refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. As described in The Conversation, it is easy to get addicted to high levels of sugar in your diet:

Like drugs, sugar spikes dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Over the long term, regular sugar consumption actually changes the gene expression and availability of dopamine receptors in both the midbrain and frontal cortex. Specifically, sugar increases the concentration of a type of excitatory receptor called D1, but decreases another receptor type called D2, which is inhibitory. Regular sugar consumption also inhibits the action of the dopamine transporter, a protein which pumps dopamine out of the synapse and back into the neuron after firing.

In short, this means that repeated access to sugar over time leads to prolonged dopamine signalling, greater excitation of the brain’s reward pathways and a need for even more sugar to activate all of the midbrain dopamine receptors like before. The brain becomes tolerant to sugar – and more is needed to attain the same “sugar high.”

After the dopamine receptors have become less available, signalling from normal levels of sugar consumption fails to “reach” the dopamine receptors – until you reacclimate. In the meantime, you can suffer the symptoms of dopamine deficiency. Medical News Today offers a long list of symptoms, but in myself I noticed:

trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep
feeling inexplicably sad or tearful
mood swings
feeling hopeless
feeling guilt-ridden
feeling anxious

I initially chalked these symptoms up to low zinc in my drinking water, but they may have been from low dopamine, or from both. Fortunately I seem to be acclimating, but it was a strange couple of months.

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Goal Met; New Goals

Almost two years ago, I moved back to downtown Baltimore from the suburb of Mt Washington. I had moved out to satisfy my wife, who didn’t like being in the city, but she seemed unlikely to ever come back to live with me for more than a week here and there, so I decided to get closer to work. That meant that instead of commuting ten miles each way by bike or bike & light rail or walking & light rail, I would only be a mile from the office, and closer to everything downtown has to offer: theatres, farmer’s markets, and the occasional political rally.

But in giving up all that daily bicycle exercise, I began to put on a little weight. And then a little more weight. The office had free meals for lunch n learns, and bagels and donuts on Fridays. The farmer’s market had good organic food, but also sweet organic cookies and breads. I was feeling a bit lonely and sad, which I now think had to do with drinking all that RO water, and looked forward to my sweets.

So I decided I needed to lose weight, and first turned to the dieting app, LoseIt, which I had used with some success before. I wanted to lose fifty pounds in 2012, and ended up losing about thirty-five, maybe forty, which I maintained with all that bicycling.

Over a few months, tracking food and exercise got me down about forty again, and then I moved to North Carolina. My new office did throw a lot of holiday food at us, but I generally maintained all through the last Xmas season. But I got tired of LoseIt. Even though it was easier to use as an iPad app, recording the same meals over and over got terribly boring.

I began running again, but just once or twice a week. What really got me to lose the last ten or fifteen pounds was giving up sweets altogether, which was difficult. Whole Foods has all sorts of organic and free trade treats, but I had to train myself to simply not see them. Food Lion has really tasty oatmeal raisin cookies, but likewise, I just stopped even noticing them. I also cut back on restaurant pizza and calzones, which I used as a sort of weekend comfort food and reward for running.

And just a few weeks ago, I went through my cabinets and threw out chips, wheat thins, alfredo sauces … anything with canola oil or trans fats.

So now I have lost fifty pounds, and it feels very good to finally meet that goal. So my new goals are to try to regain some of my foot speed and to get back in the pool with a masters team again.

Reverse Osmosis and Regrets

About a month and a half ago, I was on Facebook, and in a moment of weakness and curiosity, looked at the profile of an old girlfriend. She was the first great love of my life, but left me to marry someone else. I thought I had gotten past that disappointment – I have been married to a wonderful woman for almost two decades – but I saw one picture that brought painful memories flooding back. I had seen pictures of her with her husband before – quite a while ago – but this one was at her daughter’s wedding, and my first thought was, “she really looks happy.”

My wife used to work as a caregiver, and several years ago had to return to her hometown to look after her adult son. Then she began caring for her mother, and now for her aunt, too. Consequently I have lived mostly alone for several years now. Even so, we have a good relationship. Skyping every day helps a lot, and I visit her about once a month. I have, though, moved to a new job in a new state, farther away, and I while I like my new position and coworkers, I do miss the friendships at my old office.

After a few days and fitful nights of this girl living in my head rent-free, and my gut being tied in knots, I told (confessed to) my wife. I prefaced by saying that I had no complaints about her, and really loved her, then recalled Mark Gungor’s very funny but somewhat true Tale of Two Brains video, which I had sent her years ago. I theorized that I had been keeping all my memories of this girl in a box for almost four decades, which for some reason had now come open. My wife is (probably has to be) a very patient woman. We talked about it some more on my next visit, but she was concerned that I seemed especially anxious and needy. ‘Usually,’ she said, ‘you just accept things and move on.’

Now, my wife had also gotten me to buy a book on nutrition, Healing is Voltage by Dr Jerry Tennant. I needed to think about something else, so whenever I woke up with internal chatter, I opened the book. The key idea is that our cells work best at a particular pH level. You may remember from Biology class that a pH of 7 is neutral while lower is acidic and higher is basic, or alkaline. But pH also stands for ‘power of Hydrogen’ or maybe ‘potentia hydrogenii’ and in that it is the reciprocal of hydrogen ion activity, Tennant claims that it is also a measurement of electrical voltage hence, Healing is Voltage.

Our blood and most of our cells should be slightly basic, between 7.34 and 7.45. Seawater is a bit more basic, between 7.5 and 8.4. Urine is slightly acidic at 6.0, skin even more at 4.7 and gastric juices are strongly acidic at 3.5 to 1.5. When the pH of our cells is abnormally low, say 6.48, he says they are ripe for becoming cancerous. When the pH is a bit high, say 7.88, he says our body is ripe for making new cells – which is how we repair ourselves.

Anyway, I’m reading this book, and in Chapter 5: Nutrition is a section called Water. Good water is alkaline, it says. Carbonation, fluoridation and added sugars make water too acidic. I gave up carbonated beverages years ago in favor of bottled water, and in 2010 switched to a Clear2O filter pitcher (like the more popular Britta). In 2016 I began drinking water from a three stage filter from a company called Reverse Osmosis Revolution. This filter did not include a reverse osmosis stage, but it did filter out many contaminants. I was bike commuting ten miles to and from work, so I drank a lot of water.

In 2017 I moved to downtown Baltimore, and switched to a four stage system with reverse osmosis, and began bringing that water to my office, still on my bike. So except for office tea, I was drinking almost entirely RO water. So I figured that was all good. But later in  Chapter 5: Nutrition, Tennant writes:

“… zinc is one of the most important elements in the body. Without zinc, you can’t make stomach acid. Without stomach acid, you can’t digest your food. Without nutrition, the body can’t repair itself. In addition, without zinc, you can’t make neurochemicals like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.”

I was getting a bad feeling that there was little or no zinc in my RO water. I knew that low serotonin levels were often connected with depression, which seemed to be exactly where I was headed. That same day I skyped with my wife and stepson, who in repairing his own precarious health has become a self-taught expert on nutrition. He said that drinking ‘dead’ water was bad, and that he always added a dash of sea salt to his RO water. He may have told me that before, but I certainly heard it this time. I found this article, Demiwater and Health, from a water treatment firm that strongly advised against drinking ‘demineralised’ water.

“The contribution of water to uptake of some essential elements for humans is important because the modern diets are often not an adequate source of some minerals. Moreover these minerals are often present in water as free ions, so they are more readily adsorbed from water compared to food.”

In addition, demineralized water will leach minerals from your body as it passes through your system, and even from your food as you cook it. In avoiding metal and organic contaminants, I was also blocking necessary minerals at a time when – due to running and biking – I needed them the most. And in the subsequent depression, I opened the largest gaping wound in my psyche.

Naturally I began adding mineral-rich Himalayan and sea salt, and some lime juice, to my RO water. I also began taking mineral-rich multivitamins recommended by my stepson. I began to feel better almost immediately.

Revisiting that breakup was painful, but probably for the best in the long run. I called an old friend, who was all-too-familiar with the situation, and told him that once I got past all the denial, anger and bargaining that I should have done thirty-odd years ago, I felt that I had a better idea of what actually happened.

Another article I ran across divides our reasons for failure into a pyramid. At the top are tactical fails. I inherited the really bad habit of stonewalling from both my parents, and for some reason my girlfriend always let me get away with it. I remembered several times in college when she should have dumped my sorry ass. She did have the unproductive habit of citing past grievances during our arguments, which of course led to the silent treatment, and so on. My wife says that I still do that, sometimes, but that we do seem to discuss the important issues.

Next down the pyramid were strategic mistakes. It occurs to me that I didn’t have a strategy; I thought, “we were in love and love was everything.” I got a lot of interesting projects at work, but was very bad at managing my money. I also relied on her for my social life.

And at the base were mistakes of vision. My vision was that I wanted to be a creative architect, try lots of things and eventually have a family, though due to family divorces I was hesitant about marriage. Her vision was different in that, I think, she expected to marry someone very hard-working and financially successful, like her father, and she didn’t want to wait until her thirties. After one particularly bad phone argument she reconnected with a classmate who was already very successful. I tried to win her back, but she just didn’t seem to respect me any more. They got married, and I went into denial for over three decades.

As I told my wife and my friend, I am still grieving a bit, but feel that I am finally ready to let go of the resentment. More importantly, I feel more determined to make my marriage even better.

Bait

My wife’s grandson nailed it on Facebook last week. Someone was griping about Baby It’s Cold Outside, and he said that it was just bait. Meaning, it was trolls trying to get clicks and sew discord by attacking something people seem to like. Like Christmas, or Xmas, or people who write Xmas instead of Christmas. I have it on authority that religious students regularly abbreviate Christ as X, so I suppose it’s not that bad if I do it, too.

I’ve been going through the rounds of Xmas movies again this year to get myself in the mood. First I watched Love Actually. It has as tenuous a connection with Xmas as Die Hard, but both of them always make the lists of best Xmas flicks. I hadn’t seen LA in quite a few years, and I had read a critical review a few days before – actually a re-review by a critic who seemed perplexed that it had become a Xmas classic. The critic claimed that the falling in love in LA was way too simple, and didn’t show any of the work involved in relationships. I’ve been guilty of falling in love way too fast myself, but I still enjoyed the film. Even though I still adore Emma Thompson, I had a bit more sympathy for Alan Rickman as her husband tempted by provocative coworker Mia (Heike Makatsch). Not that it has ever happened to me, of course.

Then I found a DVD of Holiday Inn at Target. This bluray includes the original black and white version, a colorized version and a film of the 2017 Broadway version. Holiday Inn, which features all the major holidays, always makes the Xmas lists, too, but is always flagged for a blackface scene. Apparently most broadcasters, except Turner Classic Movies, cut that scene out, but it is kind of important to the plot.

Jim (Bing Crosby) wants to hide Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) from his amorous former partner Ted (Fred Astaire), so he resorts to blackface for the Lincoln’s Birthday show number. During Bing’s song, they briefly cut to Jim’s servant Mamie (Louise Beavers), singing to her two children about Lincoln freeing the darkies. And Linda appears dressed as a pickaninny. In 2000 Spike Lee took flak for a parody of the minstrel show and blackface in Bamboozled, but it wasn’t terribly surprising to someone who saw Amos n Andy on network TV in the 1960s to see them as part of a mainstream show.

What I found sad was that by Thanksgiving, when Linda had left Jim for a career in Hollywood, Mamie served the very lonely Jim a turkey while she and the kids ate in the kitchen. Wouldn’t a lonely man want any sort of company at his table on Thanksgiving? Not if it was black folk, no. Not in 1942, anyway.

Netflix still has White Christmas, which is often seen as a remake of Holiday Inn since they both feature Bing singing Irving Berlin’s song at an Inn in Connecticut. But Bing has a great singing partner in Rosemary Clooney, a great dancer in Vera-Ellen, and the versatile Danny Kaye to help move things along. Mamie was replaced by stalwart character actress Mary Wickes. My favorite number was Snow, but I had forgotten that I’d Rather See a Minstrel Show and Mister Bones is in White Christmas, too. The minstrel scene isn’t in blackface, but there is an interlocutor, and a bone man, and traditional minstrel costumes interpreted by the great Edith Head. Again, this was 1954, so seeing remnants of minstrelsy wasn’t that unusual. I’m not sure when I learned that Danny Kaye was actually born David Kaminsky. Irving Berlin was openly Jewish, but those who performed his music had to adopt anglo names.

I have to admit that I cried towards the end of the film. They were honoring old General Waverly played by Dean Jagger, and it just made me think of my father who passed away this year, and how I used to watch these movies with my whole family before everything became bait, and we all became divided.

My Old School

And I’m never going back … to my old school.

One day when I was about fourteen, my parents gave me a brochure from the Georgetown Preparatory School, in Garrett Park, Maryland. This was before Tom Brown’s School Days was on television, and I had no notions about private schools. All the kids I knew and all the kids on TV attended public school. But my father had gone to a Jesuit school in New York City, and thought that I would do well under the same sort of tutelage.

To be accepted I had to take the Secondary School Aptitude Test, the SSAT, and be interviewed. I always loved taking standardized tests; to me it was like a day off school. At the interview they asked what sports I played. I knew almost nothing about team sports other than baseball, which I had played badly, but my Mom offered that I loved to swim. They let me in.

Now I read about Georgetown Prep as an elite school. There were some guys from wealthy families, and some diplomat kids, but a lot of the guys were from striving middle class backgrounds like me. Some had to work in the dining hall to help pay their tuition. It wasn’t Eton, or even Choate. I somehow knew we were better off than Cardozo, but I never felt that we were very different than the other schools we swam against: St Albans, Sidwell Friends, Good Counsel, Bullis, Bishop Ireton, Gonzaga.

I certainly got that classical education at Prep: we took Latin, Calculus, read books by DWMs, and dreaded Speech class. There were no dummies in my form, and I think that not wanting to look bad in class spurred me to try harder than I would have at public school. We were also made to sit down and do three hours of homework every evening, whereas at home I probably would have watched a lot more TV. We were also encouraged to do team sports, which led me to the swim team. All of that was good.

But Prep was all-male, so public school would have offered far more interaction with girls. A few young ladies from Stone Ridge attended our science classes. They were the source of many fantasies, but I never spoke to them. A lot of private school girls attended our mixers, but I was too terrified to talk to them. In four years I think I met two girls through Prep. I was staying overnight with a classmate, and his mother’s friend brought her daughter, who I now remember as looking like Martha Plimpton, sort of awkward/pretty. She played her guitar and sang Joni Mitchell’s Clouds for us. We were not on each other’s wavelength, but I wish I had tried harder. Later I was at a school play, and sat next to the sister of a classmate. She was pretty. We talked quite a bit, and she was very nice, but I had no idea what my next move might be. The next day her brother teased me about my great romantic encounter. And that was the end of that.

So I read that current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is accused of trying to molest a 15 year-old girl from Holton-Arms, at a party. I didn’t go to parties at day student’s houses, but I heard some bits about them. We had a minor sensation after one of my classmates punched one of my swim teammates over a girl, which I believe happened at a party.

Kavanaugh and Gorsuch attended about a decade after my time. GP seems to appreciate the notoriety of alums in the highest court in the land, but people on twitter now refer to it as that, “creepy little all-boys school.” Democracy Now! quotes journalist Sarah Posner:

“It is becoming abundantly clear, even by the account of Kavanaugh himself and Mark Judge, that there was an environment [at Georgetown Prep] that was out of control, quite frankly. And lets be very clear and fair here. We are not saying that every student at Georgetown Prep acted this way. But according to this article in The Washington Post this morning, which I again urge everyone to read, this was a very prevalent atmosphere there—the drinking, the drugs, the abuse of girls from neighboring high schools.”

Did anyone else ever watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High? I’m not defending it, but I have to believe that drinking, drugs and abuse of women could probably have been observed at almost any high school, public or private.

I was not in favor of appointing Gorsuch (or Garland) and I think Kavanaugh is an even more troublesome candidate. I just hope people realize that many of us at Prep were not smug rich kids, or heavy drinkers, or would-be sexual predators.

Robots Need Power

I’m seeing a lot of articles predicting a future determined by Robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI). I grew up watching animated cartoons and live action shows featuring both metal robots and human-looking androids. Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy featured a robot intended to replace the inventor’s dead son, and in The Living Doll, Julie Newmar played Rhoda the Robot for laughs and sex appeal. Since this was fiction, both robots had lots of unexpected personality, and we related to them as sympathetic characters. But at the same time, children’s TV shows often used robots as villains because a hero could destroy scads of them without coming off as a callous killer, or running afoul of the TV codes against violence.

I later read Asimov’s stories about robots programmed to obey three embedded laws to ensure human superiority. In other science fiction stories, robots were often a threat, often superior to, and sometimes hostile to humans. Think of the giant robot, Gort, in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

And now we are being warned that robots are going to take away our jobs. We are also being warned that computer systems using AI are going to manage our lives. I’ve been skeptical of both of these ideas, but there is no doubt that each is happening in the short term, though in limited ways. Robots are used in manufacturing, in check out lines and may even drive us around in cars. AI seems poised to permeate internet marketing and inventory operations, even to monitor our every shopping whim.

But unlike Commander Data, these systems require electricity. Right now we create most electricity by burning fossil fuels: coal, oil, natural gas, and some by splitting atoms in nuclear power plants. We generate a negligible amount of power with wind and solar, but not enough for industrial robots or AI server farms.

And there’s the rub. Almost everything we do to generate power creates more of the greenhouse gases that drive man-made climate change. Are the oligarchs going to cut back on electricity to combat climate change? Not willingly, I suspect.

To make up for dwindling conventional oil reserves, we have increasingly turned to the mining of tar sands, hydraulic fracturing , and ‘clean’ coal. Hanford, Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima have damaged any public feeling that reactors are safe, but more importantly, less famous reactors around the US have frightened away investors by being persistently unprofitable.

Yet, a smattering of recent OpEd pieces advise the US to retool and try again with nukes. A Yale Environment 360 article reframes the well-known nuclear disasters as acceptable risks compared to those associated with extracting or mining fossil fuels. Wired Magazine predicts that Next Gen nuclear designs – many using molten salt – will be inherently safer than the ones that failed so famously.

I’m not happy about it, but given the dismal reports from the oil markets, I do expect that the US will turn to nuclear power again in the near future.

 

The Creeping Known

Comet TV showed The Creeping Unknown a few weekends ago. I remembered this old black and white British sci-fi flick from when I was a kid, but had forgotten a few details. According to wikipedia, TCU was the American name of The Quatermass Xperiment, a 1955 film version of a popular 1953 BBC series called The Quatermass Experiment. Hammer Film Productions changed the title to emphasize its X-Certificate, which was not the American type X-rating but the old British Board of Film Censors’ X for too much sex, violence or coarse language. There is no sex or coarse language at all, and the violence is extremely tame by today’s standards, but after reading the script, the head of the board sent Hammer a letter advising that the film might be too disturbing for even an X.

Maybe they were reacting to one scene – I still remember being scared by it – in which the still human-looking Unknown comes upon a friendly young girl playing with her dolly. Turns out the young actress was Jane Asher, who nearly married Paul McCartney, but was lucky again. Other than that there is a bit of implied violence as two or three people and a lot of zoo animals are killed by the Unknown off camera.

People react emotionally to violence against children … sometimes. Mass shooters kill children and we hear, “thoughts and prayers.” US police shoot dark-skinned children and we hear, “well, all lives matter.” The US has been killing Middle Eastern men, women and children with drone strikes for decades, and we hear almost nothing. Israel has been killing Palestinian men, women and children for decades, and we hear that they were a threat. Saudis have been bombing Yemini men, women and children and we hear how great it is that Saudi women can drive cars now. But recently the resistance has been clutching their pearls over Trump’s executive order that immigrants be separated from their children. So we’ve seen wrenching images of children crying and kept in cages. And Rachel Maddow cried.

All of this is loathsome, as is Trump’s strategy to use the suffering of these children to make his immigration bill seem more palatable. But right wing Trumpists and left wing Sandernistas correctly point out that rough treatment of immigrants didn’t begin with Trump. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was created in 2003 following the Homeland Security Act of 2002. So George W Bush, Barack Obama and the current President have each had purview of the agency. Obama did not urge separation of children, but under his administration from 2009 to 2016, ICE deported a record 2.4 million immigrants, earning Obama the nickname “Deporter-In-Chief.”

The separated children issue appears to have been effective. Trump was forced to back down on his policy, or at least to appear to back down. And some photographer will win a prize for his photo of a weeping little girl. But I suspect that the Resistance is doing itself no good in the long run. They continue to search for some tangential issue to trip up Trump, instead of criticizing him as the useful idiot of the oligarchy. Because the resistance is also part of that oligarchy.