Ancestral Health Part 2
- Created on Sunday, 21 August 2011 16:45
Before leaving the subject of Evolution, I want to emphasize the significance of it. Humans were hunter/gatherers for a long time - for their entire existence up until 12,000 years ago. And, according to Evolutionary theory, 12,000 years is not long enough to bring about genetic adaptations. Therefore, we are still adapted to our original diet, the hunter/gatherer diet. Perhaps I should call it the HUNTER/gatherer diet because that’s how devotees really mean the term. But, what really is a hunter/gatherer diet? It simply means that people ate anything and everything they could get their hands on that was remotely edible, and it was determined mainly by what was growing and living and available in their range of travel. And that’s why hunter/gatherer diets vary so much in composition and proportion. The hunter/gatherer diet really isn’t a diet at all. It doesn't specify anything. We can speak of the natural diet of lions as antelope and zebras. And we can speak of the natural diet of zebras as grass. And we can speak of the natural diet of koalas as eucalyptus leaves. But, the hunter/gatherer diet was just humans being opportunistic about food wherever they were. It had less to do with genetics and more to do with circumstances. Why did the early humans of northern Europe eat so much meat? It wasn’t because of genes or Evolution; it was because of an ice age. There are many theories as to what causes ice ages: variations in the sun’s output and reduced sunspot activity, wobbles in the Earth’s orbit, continental drift, etc. But, it was very unlucky for humans that an ice age had to come along during our early development. There we were losing our body hair, becoming relatively hairless, during an ice age. And why did that trend continue? Why didn’t it reverse? Was it because we started covering ourselves with animal skins? But, we weren’t able to cover ourselves all that well. It seems like Evolution would have “selected” more body hair, but it didn’t. The trend towards less body hair continued despite the ice age. We need to admit that we do not know how and why life developed the way it did on Earth, including human life.
But, let’s move on to our next question for the paleos, and it concerns human protein needs. It is widely agreed among biochemists that most of the calories in food are used as fuel. We use proteins to build and maintain structures and to make various functional compounds, such as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. But our total need for protein isn’t that great. The US government, which is no enemy of the beef and dairy trusts, says that adults need about 60 grams of protein a day, which is about 2 ounces- a little more for men and a little less for women. 60 grams of protein comes to 240 calories, and if a man gets 2400 calories total, that comes to 10% of calories. The government admits that there is a significant “safety factor” (excess) built in to that figure, and other organizations, such as the World Health Organization, cite a much lower requirement.
This issue of how much protein we need has been studied in great technical detail, including rates of enzyme turnover, rates of muscle tissue breakdown from exertion, rates of hormone, and immunoglobulin production, etc. One researcher who has studied it a lot is Dr. Mark Hegsted of Harvard University, and he concluded from his vast work that, based on all the considerations for protein utilization in the body, that humans need .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So I, for instance, weighing 61 kilos, would need 48.8 grams of protein a day.
We know for certain that any amount of protein consumed above the basal requirement gets broken down, deaminized, and burned- either like a carbohydrate (as with glucogenic amino acids) or like a fat (as with ketogenic amino acids). And for now, let’s put aside the whole issue of muscling-up and bodybuilding. Let’s just talk about people like myself: an adult who wants to stay fit and maintain his muscles but not grow them larger. The amount of protein that I need to do that is not very much. And any protein I eat in excess of that is going to be dismantled and burned.
So, we can use protein as a fuel. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that 15% of the amino acid is nitrogenous, and nitrogen doesn’t burn. When that amino group (NH2) gets split off, it immediately tends to pick up another hydrogen (since nitrogen has three hands) forming NH3 which is ammonia. You know how caustic and irritating ammonia is. Burns the nose, right? Well, it burns inside of you as well. The body has to get rid of ammonia pronto, so it combines two amino groups with one molecule of carbon dioxide to form a different substance: urea. Urea is essentially non-irritating. It is a waste product, but it doesn’t burn like ammonia. So, it’s easier to handle. The more protein you eat, the more urea you form. And the more urea you form, the greater the burden on your liver and particularly your kidneys.
If you don’t die of anything else sooner, you will eventually die of kidney failure. That’s because the kidneys are gradually breaking down throughout life. You’re losing nephrons, which are the functional units of the kidneys, and they aren’t being replaced. And when you don’t have enough working nephrons any more, you either go on dialysis, or you get a kidney transplant, or you die. There’s not much you can do for your kidneys, except not to abuse them. You abuse them by taking drugs, drinking alcohol, and by smoking. Excess salt also abuses the kidneys. And excess protein abuses the kidneys as well, since the kidneys have to do the work of eliminating the excess urea.
Carbohydrates burn clean: all the way down to carbon dioxide and water. Imagine if there were cars whose exhaust was nothing but carbon dioxide and water vapor. There would be no air pollution! And even fats burn pretty cleanly. They too, eventually, get down to carbon dioxide and water- but along the way they form keto-acids which can cause trouble- but only if you’re diabetic. But, proteins never burn clean. You could say that proteins make black smoke.
People who eat high-protein diets tend to have higher levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN). Ideally, BUN should be in the teens. I have even seen it in the single digits in people who scrimp on protein. But people who eat high-protein diets are usually in the 20s, and sometimes in the 30s, and I don’t consider it a good thing or a harmless thing. Why should turning the blood more urinous be considered OK?
So, my question for the paleos at next year’s Ancestral Health Conference is:
Since research, such as that of Dr. Mark Hegsted, has demonstrated a human need for protein along the order of .8 grams per kilo of body weight, what is the advantage in consuming vastly more than that, as people commonly do when eating paleo diets? And even if you think it is harmless, what good reason is there to do it? Why doesn’t it make sense to eat only as much protein as is needed to maintain bodily structure and function, and not use protein as a fuel?
And I’ll close by saying that if they try to argue that vastly greater amounts of protein are needed to maintain structure and function, I will have to hit the penalty button. I am 5’6” and I weigh 136 pounds. And frankly, I am more solid and muscular than most men my age, which is 60. And I eat a plant-based diet that is practically vegan. I eat no meat, no fish, and no dairy. Occasionally, I eat a free-range, organic egg, but that’s it for animal food- and not every day. Mainly I eat plants, including lots of fruits, vegetables, starches, and raw nuts. I AM maintaining my structure and function, and they can't tell me otherwise. I don't claim to be the strongest man in the world, but if there is heavy furniture to move, don't worry, I can handle my end. If you can lift it, I can lift it.
Ancestral Health Part 1
- Created on Friday, 19 August 2011 23:15
The Paleolithic diet enthusiasts held their annual symposium at UCLA this summer. These are the folks who believe we should eat a hunter/gatherer diet- with an emphasis on the hunting. So, they extol meat, fish, and eggs. Dairy is a question mark. Many paleos acknowledge that non-human milks did not enter the human diet until after animals were domesticated. One speaker stated that animal milks did not become a factor in human life until about 7500 years ago, and that until rather recently it involved no more than 35% of the human-populated globe. So, milk products usually aren’t considered good paleo foods. However, it seems that a lot of paleos do consume some milk products, and at this symposium, there were even vendors selling milk products. Another questionable item for paleos is fruit. Some paleos eat tons of fruit, but others conceptually combine the paleo diet with the low-carb diet, and consequently, they avoid fruits or just eat them minimally, or they restrict themselves just to sour fruits, such as berries. Of course, non-starchy vegetables are widely accepted by paleos, while starchy vegetables are shunned. Nuts and oil-seeds are generally seen as OK, whereas grains and legumes are condemned in the harshest terms.
Of course, a big problem for paleos is to determine the right proportion between hunting and gathering. Obviously, there is a big difference between a paleo diet that is 90% animal food versus one that is only 10%. But, it’s accurate to say that paleos generally lean towards higher consumption of animal foods. They’re not talking about living on wild celery like gorillas. No, their model is definitely the Caveman- who left images of his giant prey in the caves of Northern Europe. That’s who they are trying to emulate. And they even depicted it graphically. They showed an image of a couple who looked very modern- not at all like cave people. The man was tall and slender and athletic, and the woman was young and svelte and petite. They didn't look like cave people at all- but more like a guy from GQ magazine and a woman from Cosmopolitan. However, they were unclothed, and the man held a spear, and the women held a basket with some leafy stuff in it. So, I guess that made them hunter/gatherers.
The event was called the Ancestral Health Symposium. They seem to think that “ancestral” is a good word, very sellable, and more appealing than paleo. I am not a paleo, but I am sure I would have found the conference interesting. I assure you that I would have attended every lecture, listened carefully, and even taken notes. And maybe someday I will go.
But for now, I just want to post some questions for them that hopefully they can address next year at their next gathering. And these are honest questions; I am not being cynical. These are things that I think about, and I think that they need to think about them. So, here we go:
Question 1: Throughout the conference, there were many references to Evolution. And even in their printed materials, there were frequent references to Evolution. For instance, Professor Loren Cordain called it “the Woodstock of Evolutionary Medicine.” And the subtitle of the symposium was “The Human Evolutionary Niche and Modern Health.” They also talked about “Studying health from an Evolutionary perspective.” So, the Theory of Evolution is something they lean upon very heavily to justify what they espouse. But what I noticed is that at no place and at no point did they acknowledge the existence of any controversy about the Theory of Evolution.
First, I need to explain that there is evolution, and there is Evolution. Small e and big E.
A person may believe in evolution, meaning that he or she believes that life on Earth underwent transitions and that all life forms are connected, and that vast changes took place gradually over eons of time. But when you believe in Evolution, it means that you think you know how those changes took place, what the motor of it all was. And, what the Theory of Evolution contends is that the changes took place- life evolved- because there were random, accidental, haphazard genetic mutations, and that some of those mindless accidental mutations conferred survival advantages (lucky break) that were capitalized on by the affected individuals, who stuck around longer, reproduced more, and passed the trait or traits on to their offspring. In that manner, the trait was said to undergo natural selection. So, random mutations acted on by natural selection was the motor of Evolution- according to the theory.
Let me assure you that these paleos are definitely talking about Evolution with a capital E. They are definitely Darwinists, or you could say Neo-Darwinists, since modern genetic theory did not exist during Darwin’s time. Neo-Darwinism refers to the way in which Darwinism is taught today. And their whole basis for advocating the Caveman diet derives from the Neo-Darwinist Theory of Evolution.
But some people, including myself, do not accept Darwinism or Neo-Darwinism. We do not think that random mutations, even with the help of natural selection, could account for all the changes that life has undergone on Earth. No way. No how. Not possible. And what bothers me about this first Ancestral Health Conference is that they didn’t even acknowledge the existence of any controversy concerning Evolution. But, the Theory of Evolution is the greatest scientific hoax of all time, and I am not the only one who thinks so. Over 600 scientists and mathematicians have signed a “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” statement, which reads:
"The Scientific Dissent From Darwinism is a short public statement by scientists expressing their skepticism of Neo-Darwinism’s key claim that natural selection acting on random mutations is the primary mechanism for the development of the complexity of life. The full statement reads: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." Prominent scientists who have signed the statement include evolutionary biologist and textbook author Dr. Stanley Salthe; quantum chemist Henry Schaefer at the University of Georgia; U.S. National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell; American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow Lyle Jensen; Russian Academy of Natural Sciences embryologist Lev Beloussov; and geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti, Editor Emeritus of Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum and discoverer of genetic recombination in antibiotic-producing Penicillium and Streptomyces."
So, how could a conference devoted to “Evolutionary Medicine” never even tackle the fundamental question of whether the Theory of Evolution is valid? If you want to believe in it you can, but you cannot be presumptuous about it. There is nothing scientific about that.
So, that’s my first question to the Ancestral Health Society. Why didn’t you address the validity of Evolutionary theory? And are you going to do so next year? And if not, why not?
That is the obvious first question, but I have many more questions for them. Heck, I have enough questions that they could plan their whole next symposium around them, and it would make it very fresh and interesting. So, I hope they get wind of this because I’m really doing them a favor.
This concludes Part 1, but stay with me. We’re going to take this as far as it needs to go.
The Egyptian Mummy Diet Controversy
- Created on Saturday, 13 August 2011 04:49
The finding of arteriosclerosis in the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptians has stirred up a lot of controversy among diet gurus- with everyone claiming victory. These well-preserved individuals were mostly in their 30s and 40s- not very old by our standards. Therefore, to discover advanced hardening of the arteries was quite unexpected- especially since heart disease has long been considered a modern disease.
Adding to the mystery is the fact that tobacco played no role in the disease process. Tobacco was native to the Americas and was not introduced to the rest of the world until after Columbus. So, the Egyptians didn’t have tobacco, which is considered to be a major progenitor of heart disease.
However, the Egyptians did have alcohol, which they consumed copiously, and that included red wine. So, why didn’t it protect them from heart disease, as claimed? That’s an important question in itself, and I wish the pundits would start debating that one.
But, let’s look at the claims. Dr. Michael Eades, who advocates a low-carbohydrate diet high in meat and other animal foods, claims that the Egyptians lived on a diet of fruits, vegetables and stone-ground whole wheat bread. And he states, categorically, that this low-fat, high-carbohydrate, unrefined diet is what clogged their arteries and caused numerous other health problems, including obesity. I find it amazing, considering what people eat today- and I mean all the junk. It seems inconceivable that eating largely of fresh fruits and vegetables could lead to obesity and heart disease- even with the addition of stone-ground whole wheat.
Then, Dr. John McDougall weighed in. Dr. McDougall advocates a starch-based diet. He thinks that starches should comprise most of the calories eaten. Potatoes, yams, corn, other grains, legumes, then rounding out the plate with non-starchy vegetables and a smattering of fruit- that is his ideal diet. Note that Dr. McDougall and Dr. Eades are as polar-opposite, as reverse, as antithetical, as any two diet doctors can possibly be. Dr. McDougall claims that the mummies were of the rich and royalty of Egypt and that they ate a rich diet loaded with animal foods- the very foods that Dr. Eades espouses.
So, what is the truth? To find out, I think we should tap into an unbiased source, someone knowledgeable of the ways of antiquity but with no particular ax to grind. And I can think of no one better than Soledad de Montalvo.
Soledad de Montalvo was a French chef who, some decades ago, was considered the “Julia Childs of Europe.” She appeared on television cooking shows, and she authored many books on French cooking and Continental cuisine. She died in 1987, but she spent the last 10 years of her life in relative obscurity, glued to her typewriter in Switzerland, churning out articles and books of a different kind. She wrote about history- the real history of humanity- with no respect for any of the legacies and institutions that most historical writers hold near and dear. And it culminated in her magnum opus: Women, Food, and Sex in History, a 4 volume set, published in 1988, after her death.
I am fortunate to possess a set of these books, which I have read, and more than once. These books are very well referenced and documented, which is amazing when you consider the primitive conditions under which she worked (without a computer). Soledad was bombastic, irreverent, feminist, iconoclastic, but also highly educated, cultured, and eloquent. These volumes are long out of print, but if you can find a set online, buy it! You won’t regret it. She starts with two chapters about pre-civilized humanity, then goes from there into the great dynasties of the past, starting with Sumer, then Babylon, and then Egypt, and so on.
This is unlike any other history book you’ve read. Most history books are written by vassals of the State. And so, they deal with State issues, such as, who was the leader, who were his opponents, what wars were fought, who won which battle, etc. But, Soledad was more interested in the daily lives of people. What did people eat? How did they live? How were the relations between the sexes? How were children raised and treated? What was the status of women? Hence, the title: Women, Food, and Sex in History.
So, here is what she said about the diet of ancient Egypt. And again, it was well documented.
The staples of the working class were bread and beer. In fact, they were paid for their labors in bread and beer. Bread was made in all kinds of ways, including the refining of wheat into white flour. Yes, defiling grain goes back that far. Not all the grain was refined- far from it. But they did use white flour to make decadent desserts. Honey was used extravagantly. Egypt was the leading honey producer in the world at the time, yet they still had to import more from other countries, mainly Syria and Greece, to meet the local demand. They also made a sweetener from carob and dates. Butter was highly regarded, as was lard from ducks and geese. Their butter was often clarified, as is done in India. Egyptians also used a lot of heavy cream, which they called smy. They added eggs to their bread, but not chicken eggs because they had no chickens. It was either duck or goose eggs. But, even the poor had access to fruits and vegetables. The annual flooding of the Nile replenished the soils, and they were able to harvest a wide variety of fresh produce- most of the time. Leeks, garlic, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, and celery were staples, and lettuce was considered an aphrodisiac, so it was very popular. Fish and meat were highly prized by all classes, but the poor, more often than not, had to settle for fish. Fish were vastly abundant and easy to catch in the marshes alongside the Nile and also in the irrigation canals that were established for farming. Favorite fish species were the Bou and the Chep, the taste of which most people today would find repugnant, according to Soledad. But, also plentiful were eel, tigerfish, perch, and mullet, including mullet caviar. Turtles were also popular for food and were raised in immense, sprawling concentration camps. There was an annual sacrifice of pigs to the God Osiris, and for two weeks, everyone would gorge on pork daily. These were big public pork roastings where everyone got to feast, and of course, get soused. But the national dish was roast goose, which was seasoned with dill. The Egyptians originated the use of many of the culinary herbs we use today, including anise, dill, coriander, marjoram, and oregano. They were real gourmands. Hippos were eaten, and numerous kinds of cows from all over Africa were brought to Egypt to be eaten.
The slaves and the poor of Egypt had to work hard, and the building of the Pyramids was plenty arduous. The rich, however, were truly indolent. In contrast, there are plenty of rich people today, but most of them work. They’re not digging ditches or driving trucks, but they’re running companies they own, managing real estate they own, overseeing foundations they started, practicing their professions, or what-have-you: they are doing something to stay busy and productive. And, they expect their children to lead useful, productive lives as well, regardless of the family wealth. But, in ancient Egypt, it was a decadent, indulgent, Dionysian culture of the rich, and over-indulging in food was a big part of it. As in later Rome, they had food orgies in Egypt, complete with vomitoriums.
The bottom line is that Egyptians, of all classes, ate a varied and omnivorous diet. They had at least as many choices and variations in their food supply as we have today, and perhaps more. By ancient standards, they were a wealthy people, and even the poor ate well, meaning broadly. The wealthy, who could look forward to being mummified after death, were most certainly not living on fruits, vegetables and whole wheat, as Dr. Eades glibly asserts. And the fact is, neither were the poor- they weren’t McDougalites either. Dr. McDougall likes to claim the peasantry of the world- both past and present- as starch devotees like himself, but I dare say, it’s a bit of a stretch. No native, indigenous population of human beings, past or present, has ever lived exclusively on starches, vegetables, and fruits- none! Before the advent of Vitamin B12 supplements- which were an invention of the latter half of the 20th century- it wasn’t even remotely possible.
So, why was there so much arteriosclerosis among the Egyptian elite? Too much rich food and too much food, period (calorically speaking); were no doubt factors, worsened by physical inactivity. Also, it was a hot climate without refrigeration, and salt was used liberally as a preservative. Also, playing a role was too much alcohol. In so-called “moderate” amounts, alcohol supposedly deters heart disease, but in copious amounts, alcohol clearly and indisputably worsens heart disease, and the Egyptians were big drinkers. They were also heavily into hallucinogens, including mandrake, belladonna, lotus, and henbane. But, there was also the factor of their bad teeth. Sand got into, or was put into, their flour, and the resulting bread wore down their teeth severely- to nubs. That led to serious dental infections and abscesses, and of course there was no modern dentistry. And presumably, their gums also got infected, and we now know that the toxins from gingivitis can trigger arterial inflammation throughout the body. All of these factors combined to produce early arteriosclerosis.
In conclusion, I think it’s fascinating to study the ways of life of various peoples, both ancient and modern. However, the decision about what to eat should not be reduced to just imitating a particular group of people- past or present- certainly not the Egyptians, and not the Cavemen either. It's not as simple as that. Human nutrition is a vast complex subject, and I know I will never be through studying it, and hopefully with an inquisitive and open mind, which is the only way to study it.
Magnesium: Calcium’s neglected sister
- Created on Sunday, 07 August 2011 16:35
We are all used to hearing how important calcium is to the health of our bones and the prevention of osteoporosis. However, it’s well known in Medicine that osteoporosis starts with the loss of the protein matrix in bone and that the calcium loss is secondary. Therefore, osteoporosis is really more like sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting ) than it is like osteomalacia (softening of bone due to unavailable calcium).
But what is less well known is the fact that magnesium is just as important as calcium to bone health. Magnesium supports calcium absorption. Magnesium converts Vitamin D into its active form which facilitates calcium absorption. Magnesium also stimulates release of the hormone known as calcitonin which drives calcium into bones. Magnesium acts a co-factor in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the human body, including those that are involved in new bone formation.
So what happens if you just take calcium and not magnesium? First, it is certain to be much less beneficial to your bones. You are definitely shortchanging yourself. However, it’s likely that you will also do some harm, especially if you take a lot of calcium. That’s because calcium that is unbalanced by magnesium is much more likely to get deposited in the wrong places in your body, such as your arteries, your skin, and even the valves of your heart.
Today, leading nutritional doctors, including our own Dr. Ward Dean, are recommending that magnesium be taken in amounts equal to calcium. For instance, if you were taking 500 mgs of calcium a day, you would also take 500 mgs of magnesium. And for the record, it’s unlikely that any person, male or female, has any good reason to take more than 500 mgs of calcium a day. Remember, you are also getting calcium from your food. A good diet is going to provide at least 500 mgs of calcium, so if you were taking 500 mgs in supplement form, that’s 1000 mgs total, and I dare say that that’s enough calcium for anybody.
The Extend Core multi from VRP which I take, and which was designed by Dr. Ward Dean, provides 150 mgs of calcium and 150 mgs of magnesium in each daily dose.
And speaking of food, green vegetables are one of the best sources of calcium- better than milk. By that I mean that green vegetables have a better calcium-to-phosphorus ratio than milk. But guess what? Green vegetables are also a very rich source of magnesium. You can actually see the magnesium in green vegetables. Magnesium is at the center of every molecule of chlorophyll which accounts for the green color. So when you see green, you are actually looking at white: the mineral magnesium. Why does it look green? It’s because of the prism effect which traps that the wavelengths of sunlight that show as green. But, the magnesium itself is white.
The only caveat here is that you should emphasize the low-oxalate green vegetables. Some green vegetables, particularly the spinach family, which includes spinach, beet greens, and swiss chard, are high in oxalic acid which binds calcium rendering it less available or unavailable. Kale, collards, and romaine lettuce are relatively low in oxalic acid and are therefore better choices. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat spinach at all; just don’t make the whole salad out of spinach.
Other unrefined plant foods are also high in magnesium, including nuts (particularly almonds and brazil nuts), oil seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, sesame), whole grains and legumes (which includes peas, lentils, and all kinds of beans). Animal foods are notoriously low in magnesium, and even cow's milk is relatively deficient in it. So, the bottom line is that magnesium is another good reason to eat a plant-based diet.
Judy Garland: Her Tortured Trek Over The Rainbow
- Created on Sunday, 31 July 2011 13:47
I just finished reading Judy Garland: The Secret Life of an American Legend by David Shipman, and it left me feeling very sad for her. What an utterly painful, tragic life- despite her triumphs. The young only know of her as the girl who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and who sang Over the Rainbow. But, Judy Garland was a very diverse and gifted vocalist. Yip Harburg, the lyricist who wrote the words to Over the Rainbow (which was voted the greatest movie song of all time by the American Film Institute), said that Judy Garland had the “greatest voice of the first half of the 20th century.” If you’d like to hear how great her voice was, just listen to her sing The Man That Got Away from A Star is Born. Here it is on Youtube:
What a voice! Who else can sing like that? And it’s amazing because even then, at age 32, she had already been through the wringer.
She was born Frances Gumm in Minnesota in 1922. Her parents were both Vaudeville performers, and they brought their three daughters into the act from the age of 3, including “Baby” as Frances was called. Her father, Frank Gumm, was gay (despite having had three daughters), and as you might expect, it put a lot of strain on the marriage. However, before the marriage ended in divorce, the family moved from Grand Rapids to Los Angeles, mainly because it was considered safer for him. But, like other Vaudevillians, they did a lot of travelling, and it was in Chicago that George Jessel suggested changing the name of the three girls from “The Gumm Sisters” to “The Garland Sisters”. That stuck. Frances, herself, chose the name change to Judy, and it was inspired by the Hoagy Carmichael song of that name.
When her oldest sister left to get married, it broke up the act, and Judy, who was always the most talented of the three, signed with MGM ; she was 13. Then her father died of spinal meningitis, and from then on, MGM essentially became her parent.
(Judy’s relationship with her mother, Ethel, deteriorated after her father’s death, and they eventually became completely estranged. Her mother had to take a low-paying clerical job at Douglas Aircraft to survive, and she even sold stories about Judy to the tabloids to make ends meet. Her attempt to sue Judy for support late in life failed. Ethyl died ignominiously- her body found in a parking garage. She and Judy never reconciled.)
But getting back to young Judy, MGM became like a parent and controlled every aspect of her life, including her food. She tended to be pudgy as a child, and they were constantly restricting what, and how much, she ate. And like most teenagers, Judy rebelled and tried to get the food she wanted. None of it was health food. The problem was that she did not have a movie star’s figure. She was very short- less than 5 feet tall, and she had no waistline. None! So, even in her teens, she had to wear tight corsets in order to project a figure. It’s amazing she could sing wearing them.
But, the worst thing was that they got her hooked on drugs. It started with amphetamines by day for weight control. But that’s a form of speed, so she couldn’t sleep at night. But, there was a simple solution: heavy duty barbiturates, which are knock-out pills. This was a 14 year old child! It was criminal child abuse. Didn’t they know that it would wreck her? Did they even care?
Her first big movie was Broadway Melody of 1938 which was followed by The Wizard of Oz, which of course made movie history. Over the Rainbow became one of the most covered songs of all time, but back then, Americans only wanted to hear Judy Garland sing it. She was the ultimate good girl, which led to her nine collaborations with the ultimate good boy Mickey Rooney, starting with Babes in Arms.
But, it was all a Hollywood mirage. Judy started smoking at age 9, drinking at age 13, and popping pills at age 14. And she was quite precocious about men. She was drawn to older men. Her first serious crush was for bandleader Artie Shaw. But, when he married Lana Turner, who was still a teenager herself and only 6 months older than Judy, Garland was devastated. She sought solace with a musician, David Rose, and at the age of 19, she married him. But, it only lasted a couple of years. She said he was more interested in his model train set than in her.
She met her second husband, Vincent Minnelli, on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis. And incidentally, a song from that movie, and sung by Judy Garland, became a very popular Christmas song and still is: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. I’m sure you know it- it’s very pretty but also wistfully melancholy. Well, it was much more melancholy in its original form. The original first verse went: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last/Next year we will all be living in the past. “ Judy thought that was way too morose, so she changed it to: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/Let your heart be light/Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.” Great improvement.
Vincent Minnelli was an up and coming director, and he was gay, and Judy knew it. And, she didn’t mind because she thought it would give her the freedom to have affairs with other men while married. And the fact was: Judy was bisexual. In her wedding photo with Minnelli, there is a woman in the line, Mary Aster, who had been a lover of Garland’s. Judy liked the idea of being married, but she never went for monogamy. Her attitude about sex was wild and cavalier. She relished having as many lovers as she could- of both genders. But, Judy and Vincente did have a child together, Liza Minnelli. The name “Liza” was inspired by the George and Ira Gershwin song of that name.
In 1946, Minnelli directed Garland and Gene Kelly in The Pirate. By then, Judy’s lifestyle was having visibly destructive effects. She did not look good. She was only 24, still young enough to play the ingénue, but she looked much older. The makeup task of suiting her to the role was more challenging than that in The Wizard of Oz, where she was a 16 year old playing an adolescent. Judy had her first nervous breakdown during the making of The Pirate and she was placed into a psychiatric hospital for several weeks. She completed the film, but shortly afterwards, she made her first suicide attempt by slashing her wrists. Over the years, she would have many suicide attempts. It goes to show that you can’t dose yourself with mind-altering drugs day and night without sinking into hellish depression. MGM responded by putting her into Psychoanalysis, which was very popular in Hollywood at the time, but unfortunately, it did her no more good than it did Marilyn Monroe.
That trend continued and worsened with subsequent movies. She completed Easter Parade with Fred Astaire, who was always very patient with her, but she slashed her neck once during the making of it. She barely got through Summer Stock with Gene Kelly, which was interrupted by another trip to the psych ward. Because of her deteriorating mental condition and severe drug abuse, she lost her roles in Annie Get Your Gun, Showboat, and The Barkleys of Broadway (which fortunately resulted in the last great teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers). And then, during the making of Royal Wedding, which also starred Fred Astaire, she was summarily fired by MGM- not just from the movie but from the whole studio.
That brought vast changes in Judy’s life. She and Minnelli got divorced. She got a new manager, Sid Luft, who eventually became her third husband. And since no movie studio would hire her because of her erratic behavior, she turned to live concerts to make money, starting with a big production on Broadway, and then a big show at the Palladium in London. Then, she and Sid got married, and Liza came to live with them, as did Sid’s son John. Then, Judy gave birth to their daughter Lorna, named after a character from the Clifford Odets play, Golden Boy. But through it all, the tantrums, the breakdowns, the drug abuse, and the suicide attempts continued. She would get so exhausted performing that they would keep ammonia capsules handy to revive her when she felt faint.
In 1954, Sid worked out a deal with Warner Brothers for Judy’s movie comeback in A Star Is Born. It was plagued with all the same problems as before, but at least her weight was at a good level, and though there were a lot of costly delays thanks to Judy, the picture got finished and was considered excellent. Judy was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and she was the presumptive winner. So, it was a shock when the Oscar went to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. Groucho Marx called it “the biggest robbery since Brinks.” Judy was disappointed, but she had her new baby boy Joey to console her. His name was taken from the old standard, “Happiness is just a thing called Joe.” So, all her children’s names were inspired by show business.
Despite rave reviews, A Star is Born was a flop at the box office and lost a ton of money. So, there were no movie offers after that, and Judy turned to television.
The night before her first television special, she overdosed on sleeping pills, and in the morning, she could not be aroused. Sid carried her to the bathroom and put her in a cold shower. That woke her up, but she was unable to move her body. They called her doctor who recommended loading her up with tea. So they did that, and she slowly started coming around. By the time, they got to the studio, she could walk, but she still couldn’t talk. So, they went through the rehearsal dry- with no singing. By the time the show was to begin, she did have her voice back, but the first two songs came out a little garbled. But, by the end, she was able to sing normally.
Despite declining health, Judy was very productive in her last decade, the 1960s. Her concerts were well received on both sides of the Atlantic, culminating in her Carnegie Hall performance which was described as “the greatest night in show business history.” Her television series ran for 26 broadcasts and was exceeded in the ratings only by the very popular Bonanza. And she made three movies in the 60s, including Judgment at Nuremberg, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. But through it all, there were numerous hospitalizations: for acute hepatitis (liver), cirrhosis of the liver, acute pyelonephritis (kidney), spastic colitis, repeated bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia, and life-threatening drug overdoses. Once, someone with a photo of her having her stomach pumped at a hospital in London after a drug overdose blackmailed her for $50,000, which she paid. Years later, it was found to be her own manager. Her divorce from Sid Luft was probably the longest in history, dragging on for years in court. She had to hire 24-hour bodyguards for her two children with him- lest he kidnap them.
After her television series ended, she began a world tour in the company of a young man, Mark Herron, an aspiring actor whom she met at a party. The first stop was Australia, where the Sydney concert went well. But, the Melbourne concert was a disaster. She was late getting there, and she seemed to be drunk. The audience was brutal, and she fled the stage within 40 minutes. She hurried to Hong Kong, but the bad press followed her. There, she made her most serious suicide attempt yet by overdosing on Seconol. It put her into a deep coma which lasted for days. She was said to be “clinically dead.” Specialists from the US were rushed to Hong Kong to try to save her. And she did come out of it with her doctors saying that she would never be able to work again. But, they were wrong.
Upon regaining consciousness, Judy was informed that her sister Suzy had succeeded at committing suicide in the same manner in Las Vegas, although probably using a different drug. Then, Judy was determined to marry Mark Herron, who happened to be gay. They went through two marriage ceremonies in Hong Kong, but the legitimacy of it was in question because her divorce from Sid Luft had not been finalized. They topped it off with a third ceremony in Las Vegas, but that was only six months before they divorced, with each accusing the other of extreme violence.
But, in November 1964, Judy proudly did a live concert with Liza in London which was well received. Afterwards, Liza announced her engagement to Peter Allen, a musician friend of Mark’s, who, like Mark, was gay. Judy approved of the marriage. But by the time of the wedding, Judy and Mark were already divorced, and it was Liza’s father, Vincent Minnelli, who escorted Judy to the wedding. They hadn’t laid eyes on each other in 16 years.
The last few years of Judy’s life were very sad and miserable. She was sick, unable to work. But, she did so anyway because she had to. She was broke and had debts galore, including being hounded by the IRS. In 1967, she was offered a small role in Valley of the Dolls, mainly because the story was based largely on her life. But, she didn’t get along with the actress playing her, who was Patty Duke. And mentally, she wasn’t up for it; she couldn’t remember her dialogue or take direction. They had to let her go.
By then, Judy was truly a basket case. Her younger children, Lorna and Joey, went to live with their older sister Liza and her husband. All Judy could do was take whatever small gigs she could. But, her voice was gone; her health was gone; her money was gone; and most of her friends were gone.
Three months before she died, Judy married her fifth husband, a young nightclub owner from London, Mickey Deans. Yes, he too was gay.
On the evening of June 21, 1969, in his small London apartment where they lived, Judy and Mickey had a huge argument, and she went storming out. He watched television for a while and then went to bed. The next morning, a phone call for her awoke him. He looked for her and found that the bathroom door was locked. He shouted and banged, but there was no response. When he finally crawled in through a window, he found her sitting on the toilet. She was dead, and rigor mortis had set in. She was 47 years old, and $4 million in debt. The autopsy revealed that she had died from an overdose of Seconal. The coroner said that it was “accidental,” but many believe that she finally succeeded at committing suicide.
I think the lesson of Judy Garland’s life is that you can’t pharmacologize basic biological functions like eating, sleeping, and wakefulness without inviting ruin and disaster. And starting such nasty interventions early in life, as she did, guarantees that you are never going to have a normal life. That’s why it was such a crime what Louie B. Mayer and the other MGM execs did to her.In one respect, it’s better today: the studios aren’t so powerful. They don’t own anybody any more. But, the mindset of our culture is still very drug-happy, and there are still plenty of doctors willing to prescribe drugs, and of course, illicit drugs are readily available. And, talented stars are still dying tragically, such as River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy, and most recently, Amy Winehouse. The solution has to begin with a change in attitude about drugs- by individuals and by society at large.
- Created on Monday, 25 July 2011 16:29
I have been asked to weigh in on Global Warming, and I can tell you that I am opposed to the dogma of Global Warming. I realize that I am not a climatologist, but there are certain facts that are indisputable. One is that world temperatures peaked in the 1990s and have been cooling ever since. Here in Central Texas, we have been getting progressively colder winters. Last winter saw record-breaking cold (13 degrees) and more sub-freezing days over the course of the winter than in 50 years. Two, over Earth history, temperatures have fluctuated a lot, but there is no consistent correlation with higher CO2 levels, i.e., there have been warm periods with lower CO2 and cold periods with higher CO2. So, other factors are always involved. And one of them is number three on our list: sunspot activity. Sunspot activity is in decline, and we are approaching what is called a “solar minimum.” This is not in dispute. And solar minimums are associated with decreasing temperatures, including ice-ages. And speaking of ice-ages, we’re due for one. Most inter-glacial periods last for 10,000 years. Ours has already lasted for 11,000. So, we are overdue for an ice-age, and it is now known that the transition to an ice-age can take place very quickly.
But, what if the fearmongers of global warming are right and it comes true? It would by no means be an unmitigated curse. Yes, there would be the coastal flooding problems, but there would be time to prepare for that. But what about the boon to agriculture? Think about all the immense swaths of untapped virgin farmland across large stretches of Russia and Canada (the two largest countries in the world) that would become arable because of longer growing seasons. It would be a boon not just to those two countries but to the entire world as food became plentiful and cheap.
Remember what we are talking about with global warming: we are talking about more solar energy reaching the Earth. And solar energy is the ultimate source of all energy on Earth with the exception of hydropower which harnesses gravitational energy. But all the rest comes from the sun, directly or indirectly. So, would it be so terrible if we had more of it?
But again, unfortunately, it looks like there is a greater chance of global cooling than global warming in the decades ahead, and I truly regret it.
Politically, I urge you to vote against anything and everything that pertains to governmental attempts to combat global warming. It’s all part of the march to tyranny, in my opinion. That doesn't mean that you should not be conservative about your fuel use, your so-called "carbon footprint," because there are other reasons to do so which are valid, such as reducing air pollution. But indubitably, the global warming mantra is part of the statist, globalist, power-driven mentality that is the enemy of humankind.
- Created on Sunday, 24 July 2011 01:59
People ask me how I can stand the summers in Texas. But, I tell them that it’s no problem for me because I have watermelon, and I have swimming. I swim practically every day in the summer, usually in the late afternoon. And it completely relieves the oppression of the summer heat. I was a competitive swimmer in high school, and I have been swimming ever since. Swimming is my favorite fitness activity- that along with bicycling. And I swim all year long, although not nearly as much in the winter. Here in Austin where I live, there are public pools that are open all year, including ones that are non-chlorinated. My rule is that if it’s sunny and in the 60s, I’m good to go for swimming, whether it’s December, January, or February.
Swimming is surely one of the best exercises. It sets your whole body in motion and uses all of your muscles- although the upper body much more than the lower body. And, swimming is truly a natural movement. Swimming is a primordial activity, meaning that it was something that prehistoric humans (who were anatomically the same as you and me) were doing tens of thousands of years ago. It’s significant that American researchers found primitive people in the Amazon swimming the front crawl. And, Australian researchers found primitive people on the Solomon Islands swimming the front crawl as well- half a world away.
Today, it is common to refer to the front crawl as the “freestyle” but that’s really a misnomer. It started being called the freestyle because in competitive swimming, when you have a race in which any stroke is permitted, the crawl is the stroke that everyone chooses to swim because it is the fastest and most efficient stroke. But, the crawl is a much better description of what the stroke involves.
Let’s pursue that idea of crawling through the water. We know that when a baby crawls, it is a natural activity that is mediated instinctively. No one has to teach a baby how to do it. And it involves the same brain centers that control the natural cadence of walking. Swimming the crawl is to aquatic locomotion as walking is to terrestrial locomotion. Am I saying that swimming the crawl is as natural and instinctive to a human as swimming the dog paddle is to a dog? Not quite, but close.
Swimming does good things to your body. For one thing, it stretches you out, especially when you swim the crawl. When you reach that arm forward, you are stretching the distance between your hand and your feet. It’s the only common exercise I know of that does that. There was an episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer began swimming in the East River because the YMCA pool was too crowded. And he said, “An hour in that chop, and I come out two inches taller.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the general idea is true.
And swimming does good things for your mind too. It’s a stress reliever. When you swim the crawl, the natural cadence of the brain takes over. You focus on the movement. It takes over your mind. And of course, your whole world is different. You’re in this aquatic environment which is very stimulating and very different. Get into the water and start swimming the crawl, and do it earnestly. I don’t mean strain yourself, but really try to cut through the water diligently. Then see if you can worry, fret, and fume about something at the same time. You can't. It's impossible. Swimming clears your mind. You come out of the water mentally refreshed and renewed.
When I swim in natural water, such as a river or creek or lake, I feel closer to my ancient human roots than at any other time. In Austin, we have the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and with good Spring rains, the creek fills with fresh, soft rain water, and it’s fabulous to swim there. The college kids go there to mix and mingle and drink beer. But, I go there to swim. Sadly, there were no Spring rains this year, and the creek remained dry as a bone. But, I am already hoping for next year.
What I Do For My Teeth
- Created on Sunday, 17 July 2011 21:25
I was prompted to write this piece after reading that the majority of Americans don’t see a dentist even once a year. And if they are not seeing a dentist, it means they are not getting their teeth professionally cleaned. I have my teeth professionally cleaned every 4 months, and I have the dentist examine my mouth once a year, which includes 4 bitewing x-rays, to see between the teeth. The total cost of this care per year is about $350.
Americans need to realize that oral decay, and particularly chronic gingivitis, can ruin your health. The link between rotten gums and heart disease is proven. The infective process in the gums leads to the dispersion of plaque-inducing, inflammatory molecules throughout the blood stream, causing heart attacks. Gum disease increases your overall risk of dying- by a wide margin. You are a ticking time bomb if you have bad gums.
Obviously, prevention relies on sound nutrition and good dental hygiene at home. Green vegetables, beans, and raw nuts are the best foods for teeth-building, and they comprise a big part of my diet. And although I’m a big fan of fruits, and I eat my share, the fact is that fruits do not serve your teeth as well. If your diet is too high in fruit, your teeth will definitely suffer. The sugars in the fruit are, obviously, an issue, and so are the fruit acids, which can dissolve dental enamel. In moderation, fruits are fine, but don’t eat fruits at the expense of vegetables and other plant foods. Grains, too, are not considered the best for your teeth. As I said: vegetables, beans, and nuts are where it’s at when it comes to building strong teeth.
As regards dental hygiene at home, I try to brush after every meal, and I floss thoroughly at least once a day. Sometimes, I will floss twice a day. For instance, if I have had oatmeal, I will floss immediately afterwards because oatmeal tends to accumulate a lot between the teeth.
Keep in mind that I have a goal: to live a long life and never require dentures. Dentures are one aspect of aging that I would like to skip. To do that, it’s going to take superior nutrition and diligent dental hygiene. But, knowing how important it is, I am up for the task.
A recent study found that not only do millions of Americans forgo dental care, but millions live in areas that are underserved by dentists. “A severe shortage of dentists in rural and minority areas is contributing to the persistent and systemic barriers to oral health care,” the report noted. The economic downturn is also taking a toll. It is estimated that 5 million American children are not seeing dentists at all because of their parents’ lack of money. And, the report said that two-thirds of American seniors do not obtain adequate dental care due to insufficient income. This is really a tragedy. And yet, they keep telling us that we are the richest country in the world.
"We have the lowest ratio of dentists to population that we have had in 100 years," says Shelly Gehshan, who directs the Pew Children's Dental Campaign. "This is a serious problem that leaves 40 to 50 million people out of reach of a dentist at any given moment."
I urge you to make your teeth a priority. The few hundred dollars I spend each year on professional dental care is worth every penny, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s a paltry sum, so why worry about it. Besides, I economize in other ways; for instance, I don't buy medical insurance. I say, get your priorities straight, and your teeth are a priority.