Archive for the “Random Musings” Category

When we got the brush-cutting mower we’ve since nicknamed The Beast, Chareva’s first request was that I clear an area around the chicken coop so she could expand the chicken yard.  A day or so later, she put up the electric fence that had previously surrounded Sara’s goats.  The idea, of course, is to discourage raccoons or bobcats from treating themselves to any more chicken dinners.

Here’s more of the fence, from the other side of the coop:

I hope it works.  If it comes down to a choice between losing chickens or killing a predator, I’ll kill the predator.  One chicken produces 250 eggs or more per year.  Rocky Racoon killed four of them, so he cost us 1,000 eggs over the next year — and all we got in return was one raccoon-stew dinner.  The bobcat cost us another 250 eggs per year.  But as several readers mentioned, that bobcat is a beautiful animal, and I’d rather just convince him to go away.

The chickens won’t be wandering the expanded chicken yard until we put some nets over the area.  Hawks aren’t impressed by electric fences.

I got home from work on Friday with about two hours to go before sunset, so I released The Beast and tackled the section of the side field you see below:

That gave me more of a workout than I’d expected.  It’s difficult to appreciate the slope of these hills unless you’re standing on them, but this picture taken soon after we bought the land should give you an idea:

That was the area I cut on Friday, and I found that my usual method of cutting around the perimeter wasn’t possible.  The mower wanted to tilt and turn downhill if I tried cutting across the slope.  So my only option was to guide it downhill, make a 180-degree turn, and go straight back up the hill – over and over.  The back wheels are powered, but there are no front wheels, which means I have to push down on the handles and keep the front slightly elevated, especially when cutting uphill.  It wasn’t quite like pushing a heavy weight uphill each time, but close.  So let’s just say I slept amazingly well on Friday night.  This is the after picture:

Same area, but looking up from near the bottom of the hill:

That left these two big sections of the side field still to be cut:

I figured I’d tackle those next weekend.  I was more interested in clearing the area behind the house, which had grown to look like this:

When I finished my morning coffee on Saturday and starting pulling on my work clothes and boots, it occurred to me that I was actually looking forward to the work.

What the …?  Is that my brain getting all happy about a day of manual labor?

Yes, this is your brain.

But the whole two years we rented a house in a suburb, I never even mowed the lawn.  Mowing a lawn is drudgery.  That’s why I paid a service to do it.  Why the heck is this fun all of a sudden?

I don’t know.  I’m only a brain.  You figure it out.

So I spent two hours pushing The Beast around the area behind the house (only about a third of which is visible in the picture).  Now it looks like this:

I planned on calling it a day after that and working on a music project.  Then my brain started up again.

You know, you still have plenty of daylight left.  You could knock down one of those two sections in the side field.

Why on earth would I do that?

Because you want to.  You know you do.

Look, buddy, I do not want to spend the entire day … holy crap, the brain is right.  I do want to.  Okay, I’ll take down one of those two remaining sections.  Then I’m going inside.

So, despite being drenched under my shirt from the afternoon heat, I took down another section.  Then I turned The Beast towards the garage.

Hey, remember me?  It’s your brain again.  You know, that last remaining section really isn’t that big if you think about.

But I’ve already been doing this for nearly four hours, and it’s ninety-some degrees out here and … okay, I’ll get the gas can.

My muscles were tired and I was huffing and puffing at times as I hit the steeper slopes.  And yet I had to admit:  I was enjoying myself.  I don’t know if was endorphins from the work, the pride of accomplishment, or what Charlie Daniels called Dog-Tired Satisfied in one of his songs, but after spending five hours working outside on a hot, humid day, I felt terrific.

It occurred to me that this is one of the unexpected benefits of living on a small farm.  I’ve been a software programmer for years.  I’m good at it, I like it, and it pays well.  But of course, I sit down for that job (and for blogging).  The whole time I lived in Chicago and Los Angeles, I didn’t even have a yard.  I knew it was important to get some physical exercise, so I took long walks and worked out in a gym.  I still do.  A good workout in a gym is satisfying, but it’s not like this.  It’s not the joy of being Dog-Tired Satisfied.  I get that feeling when I spend a day tearing down a briar jungle, or cutting up a pile of wood, or pounding fence posts into the ground.

When we first bought the farm and started cleaning it up, cutting away the rusty barbed wire, digging gardens, reclaiming the jungle, etc., I occasionally grumbled to myself that it seemed the work would never be done.

Silly, silly man, my brain replied when I recalled those complaints as I was falling asleep on Saturday night.  Of course the work will never be done.  And if it ever is, you should probably buy more land.  You’re Dog-Tired Satisfied, and it’s the best kind of tired.  Now go to sleep.

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I have to admit, that was kind of fun.  See, what I did with the headline for this post was to look at a couple of observational studies and jump to the kind of unsubstantiated cause-and-effect conclusions so beloved by media health writers – and particularly beloved by many vegetarian zealots.

Take T. Colin Campbell – please.  He and his vegan pals show up in vegan propaganda films like Forks Over Knives and solemnly inform that world that in countries with high rates of meat consumption, people are more likely to die of cancer.  Must be the animal protein causing the cancer, ya see.  (Unfortunately, this unscientific claptrap is persuasive to reviewers like Roger Ebert, who apparently knew a lot about good filmmaking but almost nothing about good science.)

There could be all kinds of reasons other than animal protein causes cancer! that people who live in countries with high rates of meat consumption are more likely to die of cancer.  I’ll give you just one:  Animal protein is expensive compared to other foods, so people in prosperous countries eat more of it than people in poor countries do.  People in prosperous countries also have longer lifespans because of better medical care – which means they live long enough to die from the diseases of old age, including cancer.

T. Colin Campbell, Neal Barnard, John McDougall … I’m sure they’re all intelligent enough to understand that correlation doesn’t prove causation.   I’m also sure they don’t care, at least not when they can dig up a correlation that supports their vegetarian agenda.  That’s because they consider eating animal foods immoral.  It’s a sin, you see, so if they need to tell little white lies in order to stop people from sinning, that’s okay.   Nothing wrong with portraying correlation as causation if it supports the true cause.

So in that spirit, let’s take a look at the studies that inspired my headline.  Here are some quotes from an online article about a study linking vegetarianism to poor health:

Vegetarians may have a lower BMI and drink alcohol sparingly, but vegetarian diets are tied to generally poorer health, poorer quality of life and a higher need for health care than their meat-eating counterparts.

I think the only correct interpretation of that finding is that if you’re going to be a vegetarian, you should also try to stay fat and drunk.

A new study from the Medical University of Graz in Austria finds that vegetarians are more physically active, drink less alcohol and smoke less tobacco than those who consume meat in their diets. Vegetarians also have a higher socioeconomic status and a lower body mass index. But the vegetarian diet — characterized by a low consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol that includes increased intake of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products — carries elevated risks of cancer, allergies and mental health disorders.

Vegetarians were twice as likely to have allergies, a 50 percent increase in heart attacks and a 50 percent increase in incidences of cancer.

Wow.  More physically active, more economically prosperous, less likely to drink, less likely to smoke, and less likely to be fat … yet still more likely to be in poor health, including more likely to develop cancer or suffer a heart attack.  Has T. Colin Campbell been informed of this finding?

The cross-sectional study from Austrian Health Interview Survey data and published in PLos One examined participants’ dietary habits, demographic characteristics and general lifestyle differences.

Many past studies have instead put an emphasis on the health risks associated with red meat and carnivorous diets, but this study points the other dietary direction. However, the researchers do caution that continuing studies will be needed to substantiate some of the rather broad dietary distinctions, associations presented in this current research.

No, no, no, we don’t need to be cautious.  If we find an association we like in an observational study, we can treat it as cause-and-effect and trumpet it from the hilltops … or in a book called The China Study.

Overall, vegetarians were found to be in a poorer state of health compared to other dietary groups. Vegetarians reported higher levels of impairment from disorders, chronic diseases, and “suffer significantly more often from anxiety/depression.”

So a vegetarian diet will give you mental problems as well.  But as a health writer, I don’t want to rely on a single study to reach that conclusion.  So let’s look at another one.  In this study from Germany, vegetarians were found to have higher rates of depression, anxiety, hypochondria and eating disorders.

Now, if we wanted to be careful, we’d have to consider all kinds of possible explanations.  It could be that people who are sick or depressed or have an eating disorder are more likely to try a vegetarian diet, hoping for a dietary cure.  It could be that more vegetarians are obsessed with being thin, which makes them more likely to semi-starve themselves, which it turns leads to poor health and depression.  Eating or not eating meat may have nothing to do with it, at least not directly.

But I’m not in the mood to be careful.  I more in the mood to channel the spirits of Campbell, Bernard, McDougall, and the other great vegan zealots.  So I’ll just declare that according to the recent research, a vegetarian diet will make you sick and crazy.

Heh-heh-heh … like I said, that was kind of fun.

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After I went from a mostly vegetarian diet to a meat-based low-carb diet and saw my health improve, I swore I’d never swear off red meat. But … uh … (say it ain’t so, Joe) … a run-in with the wrong insect could apparently change all that:

A bug can turn you into a vegetarian, or at least make you swear off red meat. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in people bitten by a certain kind of tick.

A tick? You mean those nasty little critters who crawl up my legs while I’m playing disc golf or working around the property? Oh, no …

This bizarre problem was only discovered a few years ago but is growing as the ticks spread from the Southwest and the East to more parts of the United States. In some cases, eating a burger or a steak has landed people in the hospital with severe allergic reactions.

The culprit is the Lone Star tick, named for Texas, a state famous for meaty barbecues. The tick is now found throughout the South and the eastern half of the United States.

Well, maybe the anti-meat ticks are farther south and east than where I live. So if I just stay in my part of Tennessee …

In Mount Juliet near Nashville, Tennessee, 71-year-old Georgette Simmons went to a steakhouse on June 1 for a friend’s birthday and had a steak.

“About 4:30 in the morning I woke up and my body was on fire. I was itching all over and I broke out in hives. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before,” she said.

A few weeks later, for a brother’s birthday, she ordered another steak. Hours later she woke “almost hysterical” with a constricted throat in addition to hives and a burning sensation. She, too, recalled tick bites.

Mount Juliet?! Holy @#$%, that’s not only near Nashville, it’s north of where we live. So the demon ticks are already in our area.

At the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, “I see two to three new cases every week,” said Dr. Scott Commins, who with a colleague, Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, published the first paper tying the tick to the illness in 2011.

One of the first cases they saw was a bow hunter who had eaten meat all his life but landed in the emergency department several times with allergic reactions after eating meat. More cases kept turning up in people who were outdoors a lot.

People who were outdoors a lot … gulp.

Here’s how it happens: The bugs harbor a sugar that humans don’t have, called alpha-gal. The sugar is also is found in red meat — beef, pork, venison, rabbit — and even some dairy products. It’s usually fine when people encounter it through food that gets digested.

But a tick bite triggers an immune system response, and in that high-alert state, the body perceives the sugar the tick transmitted to the victim’s bloodstream and skin as a foreign substance, and makes antibodies to it. That sets the stage for an allergic reaction the next time the person eats red meat and encounters the sugar.

A reader recently sent me a link to an article about a professor of bioethics who proposed making people allergic to meat to save the planet from climate change. Somebody should investigate and see if this little screwball has been messing around with ticks in his lab.

Doctors don’t know if the allergy is permanent.

Please, God, don’t let it be permanent.

Some patients show signs of declining antibodies over time, although those with severe reactions are understandably reluctant to risk eating meat again. Even poultry products such as turkey sausage sometimes contain meat byproducts and can trigger the allergy.

Michael Abley, who is 74 and lives in Surry, Virginia, near Williamsburg, comes from a family of cattle ranchers and grew up eating meat. He developed the meat allergy more than a decade ago, although it was only tied to the tick in more recent years.

“Normally I can eat a little bit of dairy,” he said, but some ice cream landed him in an emergency room about a month ago.

Okay, so if I get bit by one these little demons, all I’d have to do is give up beef, pork, dairy products, and perhaps poultry products. If you hear a scream loud enough to break windows in Georgia coming from Tennessee, you’ll know I got bit by a Lone Star tick.

Up to this point, I’ve been trying to be judicious in my use of Deep Woods Off before working outside. I believe I’ll start soaking myself with it. And washing my clothes in it. And using it for shampoo.

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I wasn’t around last night to write a post.  Sara took her goats to the 4-H livestock show at the county fair early in the morning, and in the middle of the afternoon, Chareva called to tell me one of the goats won his class, then his division.  That meant Sara would be competing for the grand prize in the evening.

So I wrapped up work for the day around 5:00 and took Alana to the fairgrounds to watch.  Here are some short video clips of the day:

Alana and I left around 8:30 PM, but Sara and Chareva had to stick around for the auction.  We’ll make a bit of profit on the goats (although I wouldn’t want to live on it), and Sara took home some nice prize money to put in her “I want a car when I’m 16″ savings account.

So that’s it.  The goats are gone. It was a great summertime experience for Sara, but with school starting up again, plus piano lessons and eventually band-instrument practice, I think she has enough to keep her busy for awhile.

In few more days, she’ll auction off five of her chickens at the fair.  Meanwhile, we’re starting to get small eggs from her flock.  When her 15 remaining chickens start laying full-sized eggs, it will be time to open that egg stand by the side of the road.

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This article about cigar smokers showed up in yesterday’s online edition of  MedPage Today:

Most cigar smokers in America are smoking cheaper, unfiltered versions cigarillos and mass market cigars, a government report showed.

Among the 7% of American adults reporting smoking cigars at least sometimes, 62% said they usually smoked cigarillos or mass market cigars, Catherine G. Corey, MSPH, of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products in Silver Spring, Md., and colleagues found.

“These findings underscore the importance of public health interventions to reduce cigar smoking among U.S. adults,” Corey and colleagues argued. “Evidence-based tobacco control interventions such as increased taxes, smoke-free policies, and public education campaigns should also address non-cigarette tobacco products.”

“Regular cigar use is estimated to be responsible for approximately 9,000 premature deaths and almost 140,000 years of potential life lost annually,” according to a conservative estimate, Corey’s group noted.

Cigarillos are little cigars (think Swisher Sweets) made with tobacco filler, and from what I’ve seen, people tend to smoke them like cigarettes – one after another, sometimes even inhaling.  Bad idea. Premium cigars, on the other hand, are larger and made from rolled tobacco leaves.  Try inhaling one of those, you’d probably pass out.

When we lived in suburban neighborhoods with streets and sidewalks, I used to take long walks three or four nights per week and smoke a premium cigar while listening to a podcast or audiobook.  Now that we live in the sticks, I don’t take those late-night walks.  So I smoke maybe a couple of cigars per month, usually sitting outside at night after Chareva and the girls have gone to bed.  I’ve never smoked them indoors.

By pure coincidence, I happened to stop at a cigar shop the day before the MedPage Today article ran.  Even though this particular shop only sells premium cigars, there was a big sign (no doubt mandated by law) on the door to the humidor, warning me that according to the Surgeon General, cigars cause cancer.

Hmmm … I’ve been hearing that one for years.  I’ve had people inform me that smoking cigars doubles my risk of mouth and throat cancer.  So a couple of years ago, I looked up the actual data.  In honor of the MedPage Today article, I thought I’d dig up the data and share it.  This isn’t exactly diet-related, of course, but it illustrates how government officials have no qualms about exaggerating risks when they want to discourage us from a habit they don’t find acceptable.

The data I’m quoting here comes from something called the Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph.  I have a PDF that doesn’t specify the publisher, but from what I can find online, it was apparently produced by the National Cancer Institute.  The paper is a meta-analysis of multiple observational studies on smoking, mortality and disease.   So let’s dig in.

The risks of smoking in the paper are expressed as risk ratios.  In case you’re not familiar with what those mean, here’s the lowdown:  Suppose in a control population of non-smokers we want to use for comparison, 10% of all people end up with heart disease.  That’s what we’d consider normal, so we assign that a risk of 1.0.  Now suppose that among cigar smokers, 12% of them eventually end up with heart disease.  That’s 20% higher, so we’d say their risk ratio is 1.2.  Or we could say for every 1,000 non-smokers, 100 will end up with heart disease, while for every 1,000 cigar smokers, 120 will end up with heart disease — 20 additional cases per 1,000 cigar smokers.

Got the idea?  Good.  On to the data.

We’ll start with the big one: all-cause mortality.  Everyone dies, so I assume they’re talking about premature death.  Cigar smokers as a group have a risk ratio of 1.12.  So that looks kind of bad, doesn’t it?  (Among cigarette smokers, it’s far worse.  The premature-death risk ratio for them is 1.66.)

But who are these cigar smokers?  If it’s the people puffing away on a dozen cigarillos per day, I’d say we can partly blame the cigars, but we might also be looking at people with bad health habits in general.  Not a lot of health-conscious people make a habit of smoking Swisher Sweets.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people like me out there too — health-conscious people who smoke a premium cigar now and then.  In fact, based on the fellow cigar smokers I’ve known, I’d say most people who smoke premium cigars smoke one per day, if that.  After all, we’re talking about a $10 cigar.  Unless you have money to burn (literally), you’re not going to smoke your way through five or 10 of those per day.

The paper doesn’t distinguish between good cigars and cheap cigars, but fortunately it does split out the data by the number of cigars smoked per day, and also by age group.  And that’s where it gets interesting.

For all-cause mortality, here are the risk ratios by age group for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day:

35-49: 0.70
50-64: 1.10
65-79: 1.02
80+: 0.97

Holy smokes, Batman, look at that low risk ratio among the 35-49 age bracket!  If we saw that result in a study of whole grains, there would be headlines splashed all over the media telling us that A DAILY SERVING OF WHOLE GRAINS REDUCES RISK OF DEATH IN MIDDLE AGE BY 30%!

But we’re talking about cigars, and the Surgeon General doesn’t want us to smoke cigars, so this interesting bit of data remains in the research closet, so to speak.

I’m not suggesting cigars prevent early death, of course – and I’m certainly not encouraging anyone who doesn’t already smoke cigars to start.  My guess is that people in the 35-49 age bracket who smoke a cigar or two per day are more well-to-do, and people with higher incomes tend to have better health outcomes for all kinds of reasons.  But I think we can safely say that smoking a cigar now and then isn’t killing people in that age bracket – and probably not in any age bracket.

Here are the risk ratios for lung cancer among men who smoke one or two cigars per day, divided by the age brackets available in the data tables:

50-64: 0.83
65-79: 1.27
80+: 0.66

CIGARS PREVENT LUNG CANCER IN MIDDLE AGE, OLD AGE, STUDY SHOWS

Okay, just kidding.  That spike in the 65-79 group is interesting, but again, given that cigar smokers in the other two groups have lower rates of lung cancer than non-smokers, I think we can safely say smoking a cigar per day doesn’t cause lung cancer.  The combined risk ratio for all groups, by the way, was 0.90, which means we could say that smoking cigars lowers your risk of lung cancer by 10% — which again is what we’d see in the media if we were talking about whole grains or soy milk.

Here are the risk ratios for coronary heart disease – once again, these are only for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, not people who puff away on a dozen cigarillos.

50-64: 0.72
65-79: 0.97
80+: 0.99

Another media headline you’ll never see:  A CIGAR PER DAY PREVENTS HEART DISEASE IN MIDDLE AGE

You get the idea.  But let’s look at the big one, the disease several people (including my mom) warned me about after learning I smoke an occasional cigar: cancer of the esophagus.  We’re talking about men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, and I smoke maybe two per month now, but for the sake of argument I’ll assume these risk ratios apply to me:

50-64: 1.86
65-79: 2.62

So that’s why I’ve been warned that those Macanudos are doubling my risk of throat cancer.  But as I pointed out in my Science For Smart People speech, whenever you’re presented with a relative risk, the question you want to ask yourself is: What’s the absolute difference?  In other words, how many actual extra cases of esophageal cancer are we talking about?

I found some data on esophageal cancer in another paper put out by the National Cancer Institute.  In the U.S., the incidence rate of esophageal cancer for white males is 8 per 100,000 per year. That number, of course, includes smokers of all kinds, including heavy cigarette smokers.  The NCI didn’t list the rate among non-smokers, but from what I can find elsewhere online, it appears to be around 1.5 per 100,000 per year.  Smoking 1-2 cigars per day more or less doubles that risk.

So here’s the absolute difference:  Among non-smokers, 3 in every 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  Among men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, 6 in 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  That’s one extra case of cancer per year for every 67,000 men who smoke a cigar or two per day.

I think I can live with those odds … no matter how many signs the Surgeon General tries to make me read as I walk into the humidor.

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Random thoughts that don’t belong in a From The News post:

Safe Starches Didn’t Cause Weight Gain

When I wrote a series of posts explaining why I was moving more towards a Perfect Health Diet, I said I’d report back if I gained or lost weight as a result.  I haven’t gained or lost, so I’ll report that instead.

I was at 198 lbs. when I started adding some safe starches back into my diet some months ago.  I was at 198 lbs. when I went to the gym last week.  So while I know from experience that keeping my carb intake at or below 100 grams per day level prevents me from gaining weight and makes it easier to lose weight, it’s simply not true (at least in my case) that the fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.  Below a certain level, there are no additional benefits for me that I can see or feel.

I don’t consume 100 grams of safe starches every day, by the way.  Some days are almost zero-carb because I just happen to have a taste for meats and vegetables.  Sometimes I have a potato with breakfast or dinner, sometimes I don’t.  Other days I’ll end up having a potato with lunch and another one with dinner.

Tonight’s dinner was two cheeseburger patties (from a grass-fed cow), broccoli with butter, and a medium potato with butter and sour cream.  My glucose peaked at 130.  Not bad.  Potatoes are on my menu, but rice isn’t.  I’ve found that it doesn’t take much rice to push my glucose over 200. Since I find rice basically tasteless, that’s not a good tradeoff.

Exercise Didn’t Cause Weight Loss

When Dr. Mike Eades told me during the making of Fat Head that exercises like walking, aerobic dancing, etc., don’t induce weight loss, I couldn’t believe it.  He sent me links to some research to overcome my resistance.  I’ve since read quite a bit more on the subject.  Yes, we’d all like to believe an hour on the treadmill helps burn away the fat – because by gosh, it just feels like that kind of effort should be rewarded – but it simply isn’t the case.

Here’s a recent example: when I weighed myself at the gym before Jimmy Moore’s recent visit, I was at (surprise) 198 lbs.  During his visit, we walked 27 miles in six days.  (I consumed my normal diet that week, by the way.)  I went to the gym the Sunday after he left and found that I weighed … wait for it … 198 lbs.   All that walking, no change whatsoever.

I still can’t believe all the hours I wasted on a treadmill back in the day …

Comedians With Asperger’s

Since I’ve been both a comedian and an indie filmmaker, some young comedians sent me information about a documentary they’re producing – which I found intriguing because all four of them have Asperger’s.  Here’s the trailer:

They’re asking for donations to cover post-production costs.  (Yeah, I know all about those costs.)  I just made a donation.  Please consider doing likewise by visiting their IndieGoGo page.

Wow, that’s a lot of eyeballs

Speaking of indie films, when Fat Head was released in 2009, one of the clips I put on YouTube was an edited version of the section titled Why You Got Fat.  I haven’t checked the stats in a long time.  Take a look:

Nice.  Very nice.

Chicken-Killer Stew Part Duex?

What was once Sara’s flock of 25 chickens is now a flock of 20.  The raccoon that ended up in our stew pot killed four of them.  Something else nabbed another one last night.  Chareva noticed the tarp over the top of the hoop-house had been ripped open, apparently so some critter (most likely another raccoon) could grab a chicken and pull it out between the bars.

So she spent a good chunk of the afternoon covering the hoop-house with wire mesh.  I did my part by re-baiting my raccoon trap.

Come on, Rocky Raccoon, I double-dog dare you …

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