The time before plastics

The Long Now foundation has posted a talk about the past and future of plastic.

Most "Paleo dieters" and "CrossFitters" are also attracted to machismo, physicality, modern minimalist design... the best example is the interest in Thor's daughter.  The Scandinavian nations epitomize the type of Bauhaus-n-health-fascism typical of the Paleosphere.

Despite being of Scandinavian extraction myself, I don't appreciate Scandinavia.

One of my biggest difficulties is that my compulsions are insensible to most people.  Although I am attracted to Paleo, I am more of a Chap enthusiast type than a typical CrossFitter.  Anyone who thinks tweed and anachronism is incompatible with the type of "science-y-ness" and physical exertion promoted by Paleo-CrossFit hasn't heard of, for example, Simon Fraser and Bill Millin (who later became a nurse).

One of the great attractions of Paleo is its implicit rejection of modernity.  Although some people might object to this interpretation as a type of ideological "Paleo re-enactment," once one starts questioning many of the bases of the modern aesthetic, such as processed foods and sitting in front of the TV, the turn toward antiquity begins, I think, unless it is derailed by compromise.  As Melissa McEwen has said, after immersing oneself in the Paleo diet debates, one becomes not so much interested in food as in our origins and in the past itself.

Since becoming more interested in Paleo, I've become more attracted to the outdoors and physical activity.  I've also gotten rid of all electronics except my laptop and an electric piano that I can't afford to replace with a baby grand. I pretty much just wear wool and leather and metal now with the occasional bit of cotton.  Plastics are verboten in my world to the extent I can manage.

Susan Freinkel's talk on LongNow is available as an MP3: click on downloads:
Bakelite was invented in 1907 to replace the beetle excretion called shellac (“It took 16,000 beetles six months to make a pound of shellac.”), and was first used to insulate electrical wiring. Soon there were sturdy Bakelite radios, telephones, ashtrays, and a thousand other things. The technology democratized consumption, because mass production made former luxury items cheap and attractive. The 1920s and ‘30s were a golden age of plastic innovation, with companies like Dow Chemical, DuPont, and I. G. Farben creating hundreds of new varieties of plastic for thrilled consumers. Cellophane became a cult. Nylons became a cult. A plastics trade show in 1946 had 87,000 members of the public lining up to view the wonders. New fabrics came along—Orlon and Dacron—as colorful as the deluge of plastic toys—Barbie, the Frisbee, Hula hoops, and Silly Putty.

"NorCal" gin & tonic

Summer has arrived, and with it the desire for outdoors parties.  Is there a healthier alternative to summer's classic drink, the gin & tonic ?

Paleo dieters will no doubt be familiar with the "NorCal margarita," designed to reduce the amount of damage caused by sugar, acid, and cheap tequila that one would get with a regular margarita.  The NorCal substitutes lime and club soda for Cointreau and margarita mix.

The NorCal margarita is a fine drink, but personally, as an Anglophile and gin-o-holic, I prefer to drink the time-honored G&T during the summer.  Gin is a great alcohol, and tonic water and lime slice go perfectly with this booze.  While there are actually a variety of cocktails one can make with gin, only the dirty martini (gin, vermouth, olive brine, olives to garnish) rivals the G&T for enjoyment. But the martini is an autumn and winter drink.

Problem is, tonic water is basically like mixing soda-pop with your gin (in fact, if you're not trying to cut out HFCS, try Pepsi and Beefeater's sometime--a combo that surprisingly works well at the level of Cap'n'n'Coke--yes there should be two "'n"s in that name--bet you never thought of that before, huh?).  So what is a Paleo-conscious gin drinker to do?

The solution is simple and was suggested to me by Hendrick's gin, which encourages a G&T with a cucumber in it.

G&T with cucumber garnish doesn't solve the problem, but why stop at garnish?  Simply make cucumber the mixer, too.  Easy to do with R.W. Knudsen sparkling essence of cucumber.  Just substitute RWK cucumber essence for tonic water.  I tried Hendrick's gin with RWK's sparkling cucumber essence, and it's great.

Although I don't live in Northern California and have never visited Robb Wolf's gym, I'm dubbing this the "NorCal gin & tonic".  You need to find the right balance of gin and cucumber essence for yourself, but you can start off with maybe a 1 part gin, 3 parts cucumber essence ratio and go from there.
  1. 1 part Hendrick's gin
  2. 3 parts R.W. Knudsen sparkling essence of cucumber
  3. cucumber garnish if desired (seems superfluous to me)

The pedant will complain that this NorCal G&T doesn't actually have any tonic in it.  Well, that's true, and if you are set on the sugary stuff, you could try mixing the RWK sparkling cucumber essence with a little Q tonic, or similar artisanal, low-sugar variety.  But I have to say that, while I was expecting the NorCal G&T to be lacking in sweetness, I didn't actually miss the tonic water.  The cucumber essence is bright, fresh, and summery, and that's the quintessence of the classic G&T, too.  Also, if you keep your gin:essence ratio on the high side, the gin alcohols have some natural sweetness.

The biggest drawback to this recipe is that it requires the precise ingredients described.  If you can't find RWK cucumber essence and don't use Amazon, you could try marinating cucumber in Hendrick's or simply adding it to the drink and using seltzer, but I doubt this will turn out as well.

Also, be warned, I tried this recipe with Tanqueray #10 gin, and it didn't really work.  The Hendrick's has a special affinity for cucumber, it seems.

Finally, note that R.W. Knudsen also makes sparkling essence of mint, which suggests the possibility of a NorCal mint julep, although I haven't tried that.

Placebo, extra strength

An Etsy artist/entrepreneur has started selling "Placebo".  If he were smart, though, he would have actually TradeMarked something, like Mindafa or Brainorphine.  It's a clever idea, even though it's only a joke.

h/t BoingBoing

Off the grid

Eric Valli has a very interesting collection of photo stories, including High Himalayas, Jungle Nomads, Children of the Dust... Shown below is an image from Off the Grid, about people who live disconnected from modern society.  Is this Paleo re-enactment or something else altogether?

The Nurture Assumption review

On this Mother's Day, I'd like to direct everyone's attention to The Nurture Assumption, a book by science writer Judith Rich Harris about the mistaken notion that parents have much influence on their children's outcomes in life, at least in the field of personality development.

I got the idea to review this book on this day by going to church with my mother.  Predictably, the homily/sermon focused on "what your spiritual legacy will be," with special emphasis and examples from the legacy of mothers.  Mothers were doing this and ruining their children but then improved themselves and everything was okay.  Or mothers did that and saved their children from a future of emotional and financial destitution.

It's tempting to believe these anecdotes.  Everyone seems to be able to see evidence of them with their own eyes.  As Harris states in the very title of the book, our culture's default assumption is that nurture is somehow responsible for children's outcomes.  But as Harris takes pains to point out, a lot of science is about examining our assumptions and observations in the light of testing and evidence.  And her message is that, when the evidence is examined critically, there isn't much support for the notion that mothers, or fathers, have much influence on their children's personality development.

Readers of this blog who are Paleo dieters will no doubt be familiar with Dr. Kurt Harris (no relation to the author) and his emphasis on ranking different sciences' validity in constructing dietary advice.  Epidemiology is a relatively weak way to find things out about the human body compared with studies in physiology and biochemistry.  When you, essentially, take surveys instead of doing interventional studies, you open yourself to all sorts of confounding problems creeping into your results.  Science journalist Gary Taubes points out much the same thing in Good Calories, Bad Calories.

The point of The Nurture Assumption is much the same.  Harris was an author of textbooks in developmental psychology, but after years of writing textbooks, she had started noticing problems with the research she was citing in her books.  The upshot is that, if you throw out all but the gold-standard studies in developmental psychology, it appears that most of the influence on children's development is genetic.  And the rest is not attributable to parenting styles.  She suggests, then, the non-genetic remainder is attributable to another influence--peer groups.

Her theory rests on several contentions about the brain and the course of development.  For example, she says that, contrary to the assumption that children's brains are trying to figure out how to be successful adults, they are in fact trying to figure out how to be successful children.  She also contends that it is an important part of development for the brain to be able to identify the group to which it belongs and its status within that group.  Both these characteristics make it much more likely that children identify with and look to their peer groups for their ultimate personality development rather than to their parents, who are adults and not part of their group.

Harris examines what's wrong with studies that suggest nurturing is important, reviews the evidence from more robust studies (like those of twins raised apart) but also shows how her ideas are consistent with what we know of our paleo ancestors and other hunter-gatherer groups today.

The biggest obstacle to people assessing her theories fairly is the very strong and persistent tendency people have to confuse, mix-up, or ignore correlation and causation.  The recent hullabaloo over the Mother's Day TIME magazine cover article provides a perfect example:

I was riding in the car the other day when there was a talk radio show on about attachment parenting.  The interviewer asked who attachment parenting appealed to, and the interviewee answered that many of those doing attachment parenting were people who were very concerned that their children grow up into empathetic adults.

So, let's say that these empathy-valuing parents choose attachment parenting and raise some empathetic children.  What does that prove about attachment parenting?  Absolutely nothing.  It is just as likely--actually, I suspect more likely--that empathy-valuing parents pass on empathy-valuing genes to their children.  Mixing up the effects of genetics and parenting styles would be textbook human observational error, and so in the context of the research and analysis Harris presents, I am strongly inclined to favor her theory of genes + peer influence.

good read for HCPs

I wouldn't say this book blew my mind, but I did have one of those "everything makes a lot more sense now" moments.  This is definitely a book that health care professionals should read.  In addition to specific errors the health care system has made in the past, like blaming mothers for autism, the health care system has a general stance of advice-giving to the population at large that is probably largely irrelevant when it comes to the field of pediatrics.  I'm not talking about physical disease here, but child-rearing advice.  Even if you, as an HCP, are unconvinced by The Nurture Assumption's case, it worth knowing about Harris' theory and talking a more skeptical attitude to whatever child-rearing theories you do hold.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo isn't really a great day for eating paleo.  Probably a better day for cheating.  To me, cheating isn't really a big issue in paleo since I've lost my taste for many sugared things, grainy things, starchy things, etc.  However, I do love Mexican food.  It's the only time I have any interest in corn products, for example.  Corn tortilla chips with salsa are outstanding.  And margaritas are one of the best drinks ever.  But it's always instructive to re-visit the NorCal Margarita, which I think is a great hack.

Here's the recipe: 

  1. 2–3 shots of 100% agave tequila. 
  2. Juice and pulp from one lime. 
  3. Shake it all up with some ice. 
  4. Add soda water to taste. 

I personally will be having a traditional margarita with freezer-cooled 1800 Reposado and Cointreau, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and no salt or ice. Delicious. Feliz Cinco de Mayo.

Paleo for Geeks

There is a new book out called Fitness for Geeks, which advises intermittent fasting, resistance exercise, sleep, and meat, fruits and veggies.  In other words, a Paleo plan.

Now there is also a weight loss website for geeks and a crowd-sourced book.

(For a real Geek weight-loss book, however, check out Sayonara, Mr. Fatty!.)