Sunday, December 14, 2014

Megan Fox's "Audit" of the Field Museum's Evolving Earth Exhibit: A Review

Homeschooler and creationist Megan Fox (not the actress) recently "audited" the Evolving Earth Exhibit at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. "Audit" is a strong word: I work for real auditors (CPAs), who are highly educated experts in their subfields and concerned with accuracy (because they can be sued). When they don't know something, they look for the answer. They've also passed the long and difficult CPA exam administered by the State of Colorado. Megan Fox doesn't have the equivalent of any of these qualifications in the field of biology: what she's produced isn't an audit, but a silly video that I'm watching so you don't have to.

Megan Fox at the Field Museum. Image from via Google images.

Fox jumps right in with eukaryotes, which she doesn't know how to pronounce. The exhibit says that at first, all eukaryotes were single celled, and some are still single-celled, implying that others are not.   Fox says this means that eukaryotes have always been single-celled. No: it means some of them have changed. If they changed after becoming single-celled eukaryotes, they might have changed before that, too. The conclusions she draws from her faulty logic--that living things have always been made of eukaryotic cells--doesn't even follow her first premise: that eukaryotes have always been single-celled organisms.

Then Fox goes on an angry, confused, frustrated tirade about how angry and confused she is, and she doesn't want scientists to tell her they know how animals came to exist, because they don't know. At least she loves looking at the fossils--"real science," she calls them. Make a note of that.

The next exhibit discusses changes in the atmosphere 470 million years ago. "How do they know this? This sounds so stupid." Unfortunately, the exhibit did lack the footnotes to scholarly work that Fox was apparently looking for. Maybe the atmostphere just came into existence, Fox says. Maybe aliens did it. It reminds me of Judge Jerry Scheindlin's quip to defendants: "Maybe I did it."

The early plant exhibit draws just as much contempt, along with a demand for a videotape from 470 million years ago, proving that green algae and moss at shorelines were the first plants. Fox snorts at the plant fossils (which she called "real science" just a moment before) as proof of nothing. My layman's guess about the assertion that these were the first plants: algae and moss are very simple plants, and there were no fossils of other plants below the first algae and moss fossils.

Next up for attack is the exhibit stating that it took around 50 million years for plants to evolve from tiny, vascular things to leafy trees. Fox again laments the lack of a videotape from the era and wonders how scientists know it's not 40 or 60 million years ago--that they just want people to believe. Through the video, Fox, apparently a young earth creationist, goes on about the purported lack of evidence and appeal to faith without a hint of irony. The object of her contempt this time: an exhibit stating that plants evolved and that roots allowed plants to grow farther inland, along with an explanation of cladiograms, or branch drawings, to depict evolutionary changes.

Like any good young earth creationist, Fox trots out the gaps argument: where are the missing links between one life form and another that it evolved into? She asserts that every "missing link" found has been a hoax. In fact, many real "missing links" have been found, but there's the rub: every missing link creates more gaps. Let's say you have a fossil from 10 million years ago and another from 20 million years ago. There's a gap. If you find a fossil from 15 million years ago, you end up with two gaps of five million years each. But if you don't find a missing link--and you might not since living things usually decompose instead of fossilize, and things can happen to a fossil over the course of millions of years--there's just no proof that one thing evolved into another. Heads I win, tails you lose.

Moving on to early tetrapods, or animals with four feet, Fox says, "They want you to believe that the fins fell off and they grew feet. That's the dumbest theory I've ever heard in my whole life." It IS dumb and it's incorrect: fins evolved into feet--scientists aren't asserting they fell off. Fox compares this evolution to a Coke can: a Coke can can't fall from the sky with letters in a disarray and right itself. It's a version of the pocket watch argument, the problem with which is that non-living objects don't reproduce and therefore cannot evolve. Again, Fox wants to see the video. As much a I dislike smart-mouthed kids, I'd love seeing one ask her for the videotape of the six-day creation of the earth and all its life forms.

Next, Fox gets to the cool part: the dinosaurs, or dragons as she calls them. She knows they are dragons because one of her children told her so, and the skeletons look like drawings of dragons--artists of the 20th and 21st centuries knew what dragons looked like. Yes, they did. (And Harry Potter apparently belongs in the biography section of the library.) Fox asserts that humans and "dragons" lived alongside one another at one time, waving away the idea that long ago, people might have found dinosaur fossils and drew them and made up stories about them, while scientists performed carbon dating and observed that human fossils don't appear under dinosaur fossils. But no, scientists are covering up evidence (like the "dinosaur cave paintings" she saw in Creation magazine) because it would throw off the evolutionary timeline by hundreds of millions of years.

The argument of the gaps comes up again as Fox looks at the human ancestor exhibits. Of course, she's less impressed with fossil evidence here than she was earlier. Neanderthals are just stocky humans (like Eastern Europeans with those big brows). Maybe Leonid Brezhnev did have a little more Neanderthal DNA in him than most of us, but yes, Neanderthals are genetically distinct from Homo sapiens. 

Asking for evidence and wanting to know how something came to be known are great things--except when they're asked rhetorically with arrogance and deliberate ignorance. And it's amusing when the person asking obviously hasn't applied the same demands to their own pet ideas. A suggestion for readers: look at the video with the sound off. You'll get a free tour of an interesting exhibit.

ETA: Fox is not only stupid and annoying, but she's being sued for being a creepy stalker.

ETA 2: I've been informed that the exhibit is actually called "The Evolving Planet Exhibit." (In fact, it's simply called "Evolving Planet" according the Field Museum's web site.) I thought it was called "Evolving Earth Exhibit" because that's what Megan Fox used in the title of her video. This, from a woman who went on about "words matter[ing]." Did you know that the fact that there's a dinosaur named in honor of J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books (Dracorex hogwartsia) means that dinosaurs were dragons? Lest I be accused of any more inaccuracy, Dracorex doesn't literally mean the animal was a dragon. Dracorex is a genus of the pachycephalosauridae family (part of the dinosaur clade, of course). Pachycephalosaurus means "thick headed lizard." You can't make this stuff up.

After careful consideration, I've decided to leave the blog post title as is. It's more likely to be found in searches.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Gifts for Diabetics and Other Low-Carbers

Having been a low-carber for five years and having a mother with type 2 diabetes, a lot of gifts we get are thrown out: food and restaurant gift certificates, in particular. Almost anything that's labeled "Healthy" or "For diabetics," isn't. If the recipient of your gift is strict about their diet, gifts on the no-no list will end up re-gifted or in the trash. Here's some help in making a good choice.


  • Sweets. There's a reason they used to call it sugar diabetes: it's a disease of disregulated blood sugar. Sugary foods are out.
  • Starches. Starches are made of chains of glucose. The chains break apart in the digestive system, turning into glucose--a type of sugar. Bread, crackers, beans, noodles, potatoes, muffins, cornbread--no. 
  • Sugar-free or "for diabetics." "For diabetics" doesn't mean anything--literally. It should probably say "for diabetes," meaning enough of it, in the right person, will cause diabetes. Sugar-free foods can be loaded with carbohydrates, which raise blood sugar. Some products, like bread from Julian's Bakery, have been found to be deliberately mislabeled and are, in fact, high-carb foods.
  • Fruit. Fruit may be natural--so is radon--but it's full of sugar. Cross the fruit basket off your list.
  • Restaurant gift certificate. Maybe. Check the menu to make sure there's something they can eat: eggs or unbreaded meat for the entree. I once got a gift certificate from someone who said, "I don't know if there's anything you can eat there." And the place was at the opposite end of downtown from where I worked. Gee, thanks.
  • Diabetic cookbooks or magazines. These are full of high-carbohydrate recipes that can make you diabetic.
  • A donation to the American Diabetes Association. The ADA is largely funded by pharmaceutical companies that sell diabetes medications. These businesses have nothing to gain by reducing their customer base, which is why the ADA recommends eating a portion of starchy food (a quarter of a dinner plate) at every meal. That's more than enough to give diabetics blood sugar levels that, experienced day after day, are toxic and can lead to blindness and amputation. I'd sooner make a donation to Al Quaeda. 

Better Choices

  • Homemade low-carb goodies. Yes--but make sure they're actually low carb. An apple pie made with Splenda still has a flour crust and fruit. (Remember the part about starches and fruit being bad for blood sugar?) On the other hand, a pumpkin pie made with canned or fresh pumpkin (not "pumpkin pie filling"), Splenda, a nut crust and heavy cream or coconut milk instead of sweetened condensed milk should be low carb. For cookies, breads and pastries, get a recipe book like Cooking with Coconut Flour (and don't use any sugar, honey or maple syrup--use Splenda). You cannot swap regular flour with coconut flour or almond flour; you need a recipe written for those ingredients. A word about sweetness: someone who has been on a low-carb diet for a while has probably seen their taste for sweetness ratcheted down. I typically use half the sweetener called for in recipes, except when making cookies: baked goods need the whole amount for the texture. To get an idea of the right level of sweetness, eat a square of Dove dark chocolate. 
  • A low-carb food basket. A basket of smoked salmon, avocados, hard cheese, olives and nuts--ain't no way this will be regifted.
  • Wine. Maybe. A lot of us enjoy it, but it interferes with some common medications and blood sugar levels for some people. If you're not sure about it, find another gift.
  • Restaurant or coffee shop gift certificate. Again, maybe. Make sure it's a place they'll like to eat or drink and that it's convenient for them to get to. Places with the word "grill" in the name are best: there's something they can eat there and it's hard to screw up a hamburger. But I've seen it done! I've found that my taste sensitivity to everything has gone up, and bad food and coffee aren't merely bad, they're dreadful. Choose carefully.
  • Books and magazines. Low-carb enthusiasts are aware of all the new books out there. But for a newbie, Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution and Blood Sugar 101 are indispensable for diabetics. Dana Carpender has written many low-carb cookbooks with carbohydrate counts for the recipes. Long-term low-carbers are often avid readers--an e-reader or gift certificate to Amazon or Barnes and Noble might be a great gift.
  • Donation to Heifer International. The very poor often subsist on low-nutrient, high-carb, grain-based diets. Heifer International (fka The Heifer Project) provides needy people with livestock and training to care for the animals. The people they serve get the benefit of a more nutritious diet from the animals' milk, eggs and meat, more fertile land, and income from wool and extra food.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stress + Lack of Nutrients Led to Tooth Decay

It's been a stressful year: my father rapidly declined and died, and my mother ended up in the hospital and then in a nursing home for a while. While she was staying with me for a few weeks, a relative told the county I was starving and stealing from her. (Of course, the county determined this was a load of horse shit.) Lately, the same relative has been meddling in my mother's financial affairs, making messes as fast as I can clean them up.

From the time early this year when I was doing a lot of work on my parents' house (e.g., insulating their attic), I wasn't taking my vitamins regularly or eating liver and oily fish weekly. A few years before, I started what I called the cavity-healing diet to heal my teeth; surprisingly, it made my TMJ better.

Given my gum graft surgery last summer, I should have really been diligent about the diet, but I wasn't. I ended up with redness in the area of the graft, roaming TMJ, and the beginning of a cavity between two molars.

My new dentist (Dr. Michelangelo retired) said he liked my plan to take better care of myself and--get this--said he wanted to give the cavity time to remineralize. My last dentist said cavities couldn't do that. The dental hygienist recommended more brushing in the red area on my gums to get rid of the bad bacteria and using high-fluoride toothpaste on the cavity. She also said that stress hormones can affect your gums. Other than the small cavity and redness in one area, my teeth looked good.

This was a few weeks ago. The extra brushing helped within a few days--the gum graft area felt better and the redness went away. Paleolithic people--and even people with good teeth in Weston A. Price's day--may not have brushed, but people did get some cavities. Even Turkana Boy--from 1.8 million years ago--may have died of an abcessed tooth. And there was a Cro-Magnon skull with only one tooth; the others were lost, but the area healed. So eat low carb, nutritious foods, but brush your teeth, too. I use a Sonicare and let the brush do the work--no need to apply pressure.

I've gone back to eating oily fish (salmon patties) and liver every week, too. Result: no more TMJ. I thought that too much caffeine was causing my TMJ. It might not have helped it, but since going back to my old diet, coffee, tea and cold water don't bother my teeth or TMJ anymore.

I've been more diligent about taking my vitamins every day for about a couple of months now. I seemed to have burned through a lot of magnesium, since I have to take more of it now.

For daily inspiration to take care of myself, I started reading the Living Stingy blog. The author says people have a duty to take care of themselves; to get out of the car before your friend with a problem drives it off a cliff; that saving the world is the bailiwick of looneys. (Remember Lierre Kieth, who adopted a vegan diet to help save the planet and the animals, only to permanently damage her health? Her web site boasts of how many times she's been arrested.) I especially love his checklist for activists who want to save the day: "Does the day need saving? Are you really doing what is right for the community or just stroking your own ego? Do you have your own shit together?" (Come to think of it, a few nutrition bloggers would do well to consider the checklist, too, along with one or two busybody relatives.)

To that end, I've started telling the mess makers they need to help straighten out their own messes. Things had gotten to the point that I didn't have my own shit together: I was neglecting a diet I knew I should have been on, vitamins I knew I should have been taking, and ending up with the beginning of dental problems. Fortunately, it's probably early enough to turn things around.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Feeling Lousy after Thanksgiving? Tips to Make you Feel Better

Feeling stuffed, gassy or bloated? Got acid reflux? A few tips from someone who suffered from upper GI problems for years:

  • Go for a walk. Don't strain yourself--a leisurely stroll is fine. If your blood sugar is up, a little exercise can help lower it, and walking helps your GI system get things moving. 
  • Take an antacid if you have a sour taste in your mouth. If your throat is burning, mix a half teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and drink it. (This is also an antacid.) If this happens to you often, you should probably cut back on the carbs. 
  • If you're gassy, it'll just have to wear off. Again, though, if this happens often, eat fewer carbohydrates. Dietary fat doesn't produce gas, protein produces a little or no gas, but carbohydrates can produce a lot of gas. 

Why do so many people feel lousy after Thanksgiving dinner? Partly, it's from eating too much. But as I've written before, Thanksgiving is a carbohydrate orgy. Not everyone is suited to eating a lot of carbohydrates--we evolved on a diet where meat (not grains) played an important part (see this and this). For some people, too many carbs cause GI problems and wonky blood sugar.

What to do if you don't want to feel lousy and gain weight through the rest of the holidays? Get a book on low-carb diets, read it through, and follow it to the letter. My favorite is still Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution from 1972; the latest edition, though, is The New Atkins for a New You. Why do you need a book if you just need to cut back on carbs? Low-carb diets don't work with standard low-fat, low-salt, low-calorie diet advice. You need fat and salt (among other things) on low-carb--and you don't have to count calories. A good book by someone who treats patients can also help you troubleshoot problems.

What would you eat at a holiday meal? Any kind of poultry with the skin. Any other kind of meat with the drippings. Buttered green beans, olives, pickles, and celery with cream cheese. Coffee with heavy cream for dessert. If the meal is a joint effort or you're hosting it, there are many recipes out there for low-carb desserts and rolls. I've now enjoyed five low-carb Thanksgivings without acid reflux, a stomach ache, needing a nap, or leaving the table hungry, and without the carbage. I don't feel like I'm missing anything. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Inexpensive Grass-Fed Beef? Yes!

People tend to complain about the cost of grass-fed beef and other high quality food, but I recently bought aged, grass-fed Angus from Sun Prairie Beef in Yuma, Colorado for $3.60 a pound. The catch: it was the bits box.

The bits box--my order was for back ribs, cheek, tongue, shank and soup bones--has actually been a great deal. I've cooked everything but the soup bones, and it's all been better than supermarket beef. In fact, my new favorite cut is tongue--a favored part for hunter-gatherers and a delicacy in some cultures. I threw it in the pressure cooker for an hour with water, tamari and pepper and had a wonderful dinner an hour later. Just peel off the skin when it's done; it has the texture of meatloaf and tastes like a roast, but moister. I had leftovers, too: the tongue weighed 3.11 pounds. And it made the best beef broth I've ever had.

The cheek had a unique texture--the fat turned soft and creamy in the pressure cooker. It tasted a little gamey, but some vinegar and thyme improved the flavor. (Hat tip to Scandinavian Classics by Niklas Ekstedt.)

The shank tasted really beefy--not strong or gamey, just more flavorful: beefy beef. The ribs were great--it's hard to believe they were odd bits. I sprinkled both the shank and ribs with Worcestershire sauce and roasted them at 350 until they smelled done.

Liver and heart are also available for the bits box.

If you're in Colorado or a neighboring state, give the bits box a try if you're adventurous or need to save some money.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Girls: Eat a Steak!

One study after another over the past few years has shown low-carb, high fat diets to be good for correcting weight and lipids. Other studies have found iron deficiency is very common in women. So why do so many young women in the paleo community advise limiting red meat (high in iron) and animal fat and eating lots of vegetables instead?

They remind me of the Intelligent Design crowd: people who recognize intellectually that the creation story in Genesis is a myth, but emotionally aren't ready to abandon it or make waves with friends and family who still believe. Some of the authors say (credibly) that they have or had an eating disorder; others seem to want to keep on being nice girls who don't eat too much or too richly and don't want to lead others astray. At least, that's how it comes off to me, someone from a blue collar family who grew up in the 80s when priss was an insult and a lot of girls went to McDonald's for lunch.

What no nice paleo girl would eat--even if it didn't have corn oil or milk.
But given how many women are iron deficient and have bad skin--just look around--advice to limit red meat isn't helpful. I know what it's like to have both: seeing nothing but blemishes when you look in the mirror, and being in the prime of your life with the energy of an old woman. The answer is to eat some red meat (among other things). If you want to pull out all the stops, have some liver or pate (dairy-free if you have acne--there's a great recipe in Freakin' Fabulous by Clinton Kelly). Click to enlarge the picture--it shows 120% of the percent daily value of Vitamin A--which is great for your skin and the basis of some acne medications--and 25% of iron in just two ounces. It's also chock full of other vitamins and minerals that you won't get from a salad.

Animal fat is cheaper than "good" vegetable fat, too. I last paid $2.99 a pound for pastured lard--and $10 a pound for coconut oil and a buck apiece for avocados.

Lard is healthy: the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania saw practically no heart disease back when lard was their go-to fat. (Authorities chalked up the Roseto "paradox" to their close-knit community. Never mind that close-knit communities don't seem to help Indian reservations, or that one person's close-knit community is another person's town full of gossips and busybodies.) ETA: This doesn't mean that lard is protective--but given all the "paradoxes" of groups of people who eat high-fat diets and have low rates of heart disease, the diet-heart hypothesis isn't the slam-dunk it's made out to be. In any case, young women are unlikely to have a heart attack. And as recent studies have shown, high fat diets that aren't high in carbs won't make you fat--they'll help correct weight.

The evidence about the benefits of vegetables is mixed. 

Plant-based diets are often touted as healthy, and yet many plants contain clever protective chemicals, carefully crafted by evolutionary forces over millennia, to serve the needs of the plant, rather than to nourish the human body. Many of these compounds are potentially toxic to animal cells, and include naturally-occurring pesticides, mineral chelators, and antibiotics.

See this video by Dr. Georgia Ede.

Little Shop of Horrors? The Risks and Benefits of Eating Plants — Georgia Ede, M.D. from Ancestral Health Society on Vimeo.

Mixing low-fat and vegetarian myths with paleolithic science seems to have created the Reformed Church of Vegetarianism. It may be better than the old beliefs, but given the lack of nutrients and false foundation, it ain't science and it ain't optimal.

Monday, November 3, 2014

GMO Initiative, or Right to Know Colorado Law: More Paper Pushing, More Risk?

The owner and operator of Denver Urban Homesteading, a small farmers market where I shop, opposes the proposed food labeling law:
Obviously Denver Urban Homesteading and its farmers do not support the use of genetically modified food. And we support the concept of labeling. However, this law has no exception for small markets. We will have to follow the same rules as multi-billion dollar supermarket corporations what with labeling, keeping affidavits, etc. AND WE CANNOT DO IT! Anyone who has come into our market knows we operate on a shoestring, and we fear that the shoestring will break if we are forced to hire another person to make sure we comply with this law. Or maybe we should just give up the free Chicken Swaps, Honey Festival, etc. so I can spend my time labeling instead. Additionally, a violation is a criminal offense. That's a lot of risk for a husband-wife team. Those who have followed our travails know that we challenge government over raw milk issues, re-use of egg carton issues, and now (for the last four years) intellectual property issues, and we do it to benefit our customers and to benefit society. But this law will give a vengeful bureaucrat one more tool in his or her arsenal to use against us when our next challenge comes up. 

BTW, I have spoken to the owners of several small ethnic markets where we shop who are opposed to this law. Obamacare doesn't kick in until you have 50 employees, and the ADA until you have 15. But this initiative will require labeling by every blessed soul who sells food in this state. Maybe it is time to come up with a labeling law that will not crush the many small markets in this state, otherwise we risk driving markets like ours out of business leaving us to rely even more on giant supermarkets and big agriculture. My Russian wife, who was born and raised in the USSR, told me that even the Communists didn't try to regulate farmers markets. - James Bertini
ETA: the initiative failed by a wide margin.