torsdag 30. september 2010


"The Chinese people have stood up!" proclaimed Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949. A brilliant tactician, the charismatic and singleminded Mao was able to outmaneuver the feckless and vain Chiang Kai-shek for ultimate control of China, with Chiang beating a retreat to Taiwan, where he and that island remained in a funk until his death. As great a general as he was, however, everyone has long known (even and especially on the mainland) that Mao was mercurial, petty, vindictive and insanely jealous, especially of the one man who had the genuine love and respect of the long-suffering Chinese people. I am referring, of course, to Zhou Enlai, whom Richard Nixon referred to as "the greatest statesman of our era."

Around this time last year, I came across the English translation of Gao Wenqian's 晚年周恩來, Zhou Enlai, the Last Perfect Revolutionary, while browsing at my favorite bookseller in Oslo. It is a riveting read. Gao had been chosen to be Zhou's official biographer, but fell afoul of the party when he began to depict Zhou as a human being with flaws rather than as a living saint. Gao was forced into exile and published his book in Hong Kong (whence the traditional character spelling of Zhou's name in the title--just in case anyone noticed). Probably the best example of Mao's pettiness toward Zhou was his deliberate postponement of treatment for Zhou's bladder cancer until it was too late. Mao did manage to outlive the man he relied on and despised by eight months, only to be galled by the genuine outpouring of grief at Zhou's death, which the infamous Gang of Four did their damnedest to suppress. Those of us of a certain age all know what happened to them.

lørdag 25. september 2010

Class in classic Hollywood films

This afternoon the s.o. and I were walking downtown, and while we were discussing relationships between people of different social backgrounds and educations, the Hitchcock film Rebecca came up, one of my favorites actually. I said that this particular film dealt with the issue of romance between social classes. The person who "marries up" always feels a sense of insecurity, in addition to the suspicion that he or she is loved for being "refreshing" or "quaint", and that once this person feels comfortable in the new social role, the "charm" for the other person wears off.

So we decided to watch the film again. This film was perfectly cast, with Judith Anderson as the creepy Mrs. Danvers heading the list (see Susie Bright's description of this character in the HBO documentary The Celluloid Closet), but even Florence Bates as the corpulent nouveau riche vulgarian globetrotter Edythe van Hopper and Gladys Cooper as Maxim de Winter's plain-spoken sister Beatrice Lacey are so good in their roles that one could scarcely imagine anyone else in them. Joan Fontaine is also perfect as Edythe van Hopper's paid companion and the otherwise nameless Second Mrs. de Winter (a non-hammy performance that deserved an Oscar, but for the fact that it was up against Kitty Foyle, the film in which Ginger Rogers proved her range as an actress). Nor can we forget George Sanders as the "favorite cousin"/would-be blackmailer and dealer in fine motorcars Jack Favell, the queeniest heterosexual man who ever lived. Very unlike the male leading role, Maxim de Winter, played by the very butch and very bisexual Sir Laurence Olivier, whose not exactly discreet dalliances with men were what probably put his second wife Vivien Leigh in the funny farm (she should have listened to her mother, like I did to mine: if you love a man, don't try to change him. And girls, this does not only apply to getting him to put down the toilet seat).

torsdag 23. september 2010

Obese children eat too much "healthy food"

In this morning's Aftenposten, Oslo's major daily and Norway's newspaper of record, there was a story about a study which uncovered the "surprising" finding that obese children by and large ate too much "healthy food". Rather than gorging themselves on soda and candy, the fat kids preferred juices and sweetened juice drinks and other high-carb low-fat foods that come with the blessing of the government and mainstream dieticians. The only problem, according to the article, is that these youngsters simply ate too much of it. Like so much reporting on diet in the mainstream media, the assumption, of course, is that purportedly healthy foods are in fact healthy. This is just one of the many unstated assumptions in the article, one of so many that I get dizzy from trying to unpack them.

Did anyone consider whether the overweight youngsters actually ate more of what is supposed to be good for them, not because of some character defect, but because they were hungry? Maybe all that healthy fruit juice and pasta might not be so healthy after all? Speaking as a former chub, I can identify with these kids. I probably drank less sugary soda than the average teenager, but I was absolutely addicted to macaroni. And I have the stretch marks to prove it. The solution to my weight problems has been the paleo/primal diet. In this connection this diet's most important characteristic is the elimination of all gluten grains. In addition, I get over 60 percent of my calories from fat. Not just any fat, either, but butter, tallow and lard (these last two included in the various cuts of meat and sausages I eat).

So instead of starving these kids and putting them on treadmills to "slim them down", why don't they try eliminating the grains and fruit juices (fruit juice is to fruit what crack and powder cocaine are to coca leaves), cutting down on the remaining carbs (no potatoes to start with, but all the broccoli slathered in butter that they want) and otherwise reintroducing real food, like eggs, meat and full-fat plain yogurts and cheeses, into these youngsters' diets?
These kids have already tried the food pyramid. Maybe that's what's making them fat (ya think?) I know that if I ate according to the food pyramid, I'd look like it. Time to try something else, I would say.

fredag 10. september 2010

I trust my heart to...pastured butter

I am currently in the US on my first visit since I got my new Norwegian passport (no hassles at immigration, by the way). It has been fun seeing family and friends, but I am dismayed by the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome. At O'Hare, by the gate, I could only count four men who were not at least 15 pounds overweight, and there were only two of us non-fatties who looked to be over 50.
I also can't get over the fact that practically all of my peers are on some statin drug or other. One, who is not rotund by any means, bragged at lunch about how his total cholesterol (TC) has now been lowered from 200 to 150. I didn't want to pop his balloon by pointing out the cancer risk, but I did say that 200 is not an unsafe level and that I thought that the drug companies were merely manufacturing illness to expand their customer base for "treatment".
The day before, I had lunch with another former colleague, and while he ordered a "low-fat fajita" something or other, I ordered a "Mexican omelet" and a side order of bacon (hold the toast - forgot to tell them to make the omelet in butter - I could taste the "heart-healthy" vegetable oil, luckily the sour cream made up for any polyunsaturated fatty-acid (PUFA) nastiness). I'm sure he was thinking that, with my 32-inch waist, I could eat all the eggs, cheese, bacon and sour cream I wanted, whereas he needed to watch his weight by eating low-fat. Well, as someone who struggled with a gut since the age of 11 and had no choice but to "watch my weight" (all I had to do was look down!), the opposite is the case: I look and feel the way I do because I eat cheese omelets with sour cream and would not touch a chicken fajita with a barge pole, unless it contained free-range dark meat, was sauteed in lard and I ate it with a fork, leaving the flour tortilla for the compost.

lørdag 4. september 2010

Diet and exercise

Another topic I will be blogging on from time to time is the two-headed beast of diet and exercise. Since my father died of severe MI when I was eighteen, the prospect of sudden cardiac death has hung over my head like the sword of Damocles. I am now the same age as he was when he died, though I have a far different diet and exercise regimen. After trying various philosophies of training and eating, I have found the best results from the so-called "primal" or "paleo" diet and training program. I do rather heavy weight training three times a week, and on a fourth day either a 30-minute run with five or six 30-second sprints, or when the weather turns colder, 20 minutes on the stationary bike with five or six 30 second sprints. Otherwise I walk to work (about 30 minutes each way) briskly and, on the way home, mostly uphill.
Yesterday I spent most of the day walking around downtown Chicago, where I am in town visiting my brother, and stopped in at Border's on Michigan Avenue to buy Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish for another nephew (whom I will be seeing later today). While I was there, I browsed the health and exercise section, looking for Gary Taubes's Good Calories, Bad Calories, to buy for my brother. It was not in stock, but Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint was. I did not have to think twice. I am especially keen on my brother changing his workout routine from repetitive and boring "chronic cardio" to "lifting heavy weights" (as Mark Sisson recommends). However, compliance will be harder for my brother than for me. Just by walking to work I get the low-impact aerobic exercise that we are evolved to perform. I can run 10 K in a reasonable time, but I choose not to.
I remember reading somewhere that the residents of Manhattan were on average the healthiest of all Americans. This does not surprise me, since for New Yorkers, their feet are their major way of getting around (even including the subway). It is no accident that "New York music," the soundtrack for scene-setting in Manhattan, has a quick beat (BUMP-bada-bump-bump BADA-BADA-bump-bump, BUMP-bada-bump-bump BADA-BADA-bump-pump) because that is how fast New Yorkers walk (and if you are a gawking tourist from Iowa sauntering along Fifth Avenue looking up at the skyscrapers, you're liable to be mown down). I mention this, because yesterday I noticed that the people walking along Michigan Avenue at around noon did not walk like New Yorkers, but like people who mostly amble from the parking lot to the mall. Of course, you do get "New York walking" in Chicago, just during rush hour while folks are headed to and from the train. As it was, I had to weave through the strolling suburbanites on my way down Michigan Avenue back toward State Street. Pick up the pace, people!