Monday, 31 August 2015

What 2000 Calories Looks Like (3)

According to Mrs Robinson the GP we should all be eating 2,000 calories a day because diabetes.
Schools need to teach pupils what 2,000 calories a day looks and feels like. It means a breakfast of toast or cereal, a sandwich and zero calorie drink (like water) at lunch and a supper of protein, veg and a portion of carbohydrate like some boiled potatoes. Some fruit and a yoghurt, and you’re basically done for the day. Who eats like that nowadays
This also has to be the most joyless menu ever devised. Mrs Robinson is clearly one of those who believe that good living is dull living, flavourless living, tasteless living. Decent people don’t have fun. Decent people have a sad sandwich in their car between housecalls in nearby villages. With water. Decent people don’t even fry-finish their potatoes because Oil Has Calories.

2,000 calories a day is not a bowl of cornflakes, a home-made ham sandwich with a glass of water, and boiled potatoes, carrots and a thin slice of chicken, with an apple and a yoghurt as snacks. Nope. That would be about 1,000 calories. And it would be a really bad diet. Those morning carbs - eaten at 06:00 - will burn straight off after a stressful commute, leaving you craving something by about 09:30. Those sandwiches for lunch you made at home will suffer the same fate: you’ll be craving by 16:00 or so. Yoghurts are about the most pointless food ever devised. And I defy anyone to eat 500 calories of fruit (excluding bananas) in one sitting. Or even in a day.

Mrs Robinson needs to know what 2,000 calories looks like. She also needs to get some kind of life. In the next post, I will explain how to manage your diet without counting a single darn calorie.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

What 2000 Calories Looks Like (2)

So let’s talk about diabetes. There are two types of diabetes. The first is what your grandmother had: an auto-immune destruction of beta cells in the pancreas that makes insulin production impossible. That is managed by injecting a substitute insulin. This is Type 1 - or as I will prejudicially call it, “real” diabetes. The “not-real” type is diabetes-by-analogy, or so-called “Type 2“ diabetes, and this arises when, for one of many reasons, the body can’t process sugar as well as it used to, and the blood-sugar rises to the point where nasty lumpy sugar molecules can start doing some real damage to various parts of the body. At one point I went along to Ashford Hospital after fasting for twelve hours, was given a litre of Lucozade to drink and had my blood sugar levels measured two hours later. I think it came out at 9 mmol per litre, which meant I had, according to the World Health Organsiation, impaired glucose tolerance, or as the PR people call it “pre-diabetes”. My levels now are around 4-5 mmol / litre. Diabetes mellitus is diagnosed at 11.1 mmol / litre. 

When my blood sugar came down, I stopped getting random infections, often in my nose, my head cleared and my emotions stabilised. Even though I was in the middle of a horrible re-organisation at work, about to be down-graded, and under stress, I felt better. Increased blood sugar isn’t funny, and it’s vaguely scary how little it needs to increase before it has a noticeable effect on my ability to function at the levels needed in today’s working world. Chronic high blood sugar is nasty and dangerous and can really, really mess up your life. But it’s not a disease, it’s a symptom.

Why don’t I want to call "Type 2 diabetes” as a disease? A disease is a chemical process in the body caused by some (usually external) agent, and the symptoms are the results of that process. Stop the process and the symptoms go away - that’s what we call ‘curing the disease’. A disease is usually cured by killing a virus or bacteria, or in some cases, by chemicals that make our own immune system back off attacking a perfectly acceptable part of us. A real condition, such as syphilis is treated with a real medicine with a real chemical effect. This will work despite our body fat, exercise regime, religious beliefs, the state of our chakras, how much exercise we do, or how mindful we are (which is the definition of technology: it works whether you believe in it or not). The only change we usually need to make to our diet is giving up alcohol for the duration. 

Calling something a disease creates the expectation that there’s a cure for it that works whether we believe in it or not. Since high blood sugar has many causes, there isn’t a single cure for it. At best there would be a medicine that reduced blood sugar to normal levels. There is, and it’s called “insulin”. But NICE doesn’t like giving it to people who aren’t Type 1 because it’s expensive… I mean, because they fear the patient will become dependent on it. Instead they hand out drugs with names that end in “formin”, which make a third of the people who take them feel nausea, while a third have problems with their, ahem, married life and stop taking the pills within a month.These drugs definitely do not work. Not like penicillin or ranitidine work. 

The pharmaceutical industry wants you to think that high blood sugar is a disease, because then you will expect to be prescribed a cure, and press your GP for one. It may not happen now, but at least a couple of years ago, there was an NHS bonus for GPs to diagnose you as having high blood sugar, get you on nasty drugs and then find your levels had dropped. That sounds more or less like a bribe to me. Despite that bribe, the NHS no more believes in “Type 2 diabetes” than I do, and suggests exercise and diet as the first approach to managing high blood sugar.

But “they didn’t push the envelope”. The NHS recommends small changes in diet and exercise regime. What the doctors will never tell the poor saps sitting in front of them is that the change must be sudden and fairly extreme. (It is of you’re very obese and get a diet from a nutritionist.) I went on a 1,500 calorie / day diet and hit the gym four times a week. That works because the body can’t adjust to the sudden and dramatic change of regime, and it burns calories and loses weight, especially fat from the abdominal region. The official advice is to make small changes, and rightly so: the parade of long-term un-exercised carb-munchers that GPs see would simply keel over if they tried to repeat what I did. 

1,500 calories is the US Army’s extreme weight-loss diet and you’re not supposed to do it for long (I can’t find a decent link to this anymore and there’s a lot of faddy looking stuff when googling “us army 1500 calories”). It works in conjunction with, oh yes, being a soldier. Not an office-worker. Being in good shape is part of a soldier’s job, as it is part of a model’s or an actor’s. They get support for it. Being in good shape is not part of an office-worker’s job, and they don’t get any support for it. Capitalism doesn’t care about your body-fat, except to sell you gym memberships and fad diets to get rid of it, and the shit that puts it there in the first place. 

As for the 2,000 calorie thing? Turns out that was a classic piece of US governmental bureaucratic fudge. 

We’ll carry on in the next post. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

What 2000 Calories Looks Like (1)

So in the Guardian recently was an article by Ann Robinson, who is a GP, about how schools needed to teach pupils what 2,000 calories “looks and feels like”. She then gave a description of if, which I will come to. But first, let’s address the fact that you’re impressed because she’s GP with a Guardian byline.

GPs are now pretty much gatekeepers to the NHS and health insurance. If UK pharmacists had the powers of continental pharmacists, most people would never see a GP. I have an NHS GP, whom I see if I suspect I may need referring to hospitals or specialists, and if I have a well-being issue, I go see the GP at my gym. GPs are not the repositories of health and fitness wisdom that the NHS and press likes to make them out to be. GPs know absolutely nothing about exercise, fitness and nutrition. I defy anyone to produce a GP (not resident at a gym or sports club) who can deadlift their own bodyweight, and knows the calorific content of a smoked salmon sandwich from Pret. They mostly see sick children, old people, addicts, people with treatment plans for chronic diseases or conditions, and of course, middle-aged people who have let themselves put on weight and have generally gone to the dogs.

GPs, in short, don’t know anything about healthy and fit people, because they never see any. They don’t know much about people who can take advice and stick with it, because they only see them once. What they know about are people who won’t or can’t, for whatever reason, consistently follow a regime of exercise and clean eating for an extended period of time. They see what you and I would call “the hopeless cases”. And then they give healthy and fit people advice. Because that works.

Now let’s turn to the article. Mrs Robinson’s article was a puff-piece for a piece of “research” by Diabetes UK, which is a charity that needs to scare the beejasus out of everyone as a way of raising funds. Here’s a list of its corporate sponsors from its 2014 Annual ReportAbbott, Boots, Bunzl, Bupa, Eli Lilly, Janssen , Lifescan , Novo Nordisk , Royal Mail, SanofiTakeda, Tesco, Truvia, and Weight Watchers.

Novo Nordisk, Sanofi and Takeda especially are heavily dependent on diabetes medications. There’s nothing, of course, wrong with corporate support, and of course it makes sense for companies in an industry to support research charities. What is wrong is to get waylaid by an industry that invented a “disease” out of thin air, then invented drugs that have at best a marginal effect on one symptom, which they then persuade health services all over the world to prescribe. Why do I say that? That’s the next post.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

What My Fitbit Tells Me (So Far)

I have the Fitbit Flex. It counts steps and does a reasonable job of detecting restless sleep. It doesn't detect stair-climbing. The app that comes with it lets me log sleeping hours, food, water and exercise activities and times. It makes some generic assumptions about calorie-burning during those activities. Using one is excellent at keeping me honest about what I'm tracking, and there's a thing that should be called "the Fitbit effect"

My Fitbit will tell me, in about five hours, that I haven’t had a lot of sleep tonight. Every August I get a few nights when I can’t get to sleep. There’s no reason: it just happens. (Written Monday night / Tuesday Morning)

My Fitbit tells me three things: how far I walk each day, how much sleep I’ve had, and how many calories I’ve burned. I tell it how much work I do in the gym. As well as the app, they send me a mail every week with a summary. For the last week in August, I walked just over 5 miles a day, burned just under 2,900 calories a day, and slept for 6 hours and 50 minutes a day. That’s a week at work. The calorie count will include three sessions in the gym. In that week, I didn’t lose so much as a single gram. Burning 2,900 calories a day.

My sleep can vary between just over six hours a day to just over seven hours. I may get the odd eight-hours at the weekend. I’ve never slept more than 7 hours 20 in the week. Bear in mind that the Fitbit knows when you’re being restless and deducts that time. I can be restless for up to 35 minutes a night, rarely more, and almost never less that 10 minutes.

I feel more rested and clear within myself after 7+ hours sleep than I do after less that 6H:30M. Except for tonight (Mon PM-Tues AM), I’ve almost never had to get by on less than 6 hours. On the very rare occasions I get 8 hours, I feel as if I’ve physically wound down and it takes me a while to get going. But that only happens at the weekend.

What do all these stats tell me? That I should stop worrying about getting eight hour’s sleep. It’s not going to happen. I should go to bed when I’m tired and not worry about functioning on six hours’ sleep. I can do that just fine. I get quite a bit of my evenings back doing this. Bedtime at 23:00 is fine, as long as I’m tired. (This is possible because I’ve abandoned the 05:30 wake-up in favour of 06:00.)

I’m getting more than enough exercise every day. No need to feel guilty about that.

I need to look at how many calories I eat during the day, because I’m burning 2,700 - 2,900 a day and my weight isn’t shifting. Logging food on the Fitbit is a bit tedious, but maybe the English food list they have will help. That’s going to be the next project.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Underworld's Born Slippy - Minimalist’s Minimalist Dance Music

Okay, it’s time for some music.

This one is Underworld’s masterpiece Born Slippy, from the soundtrack of Trainspotting and never released on an album. Rightly, it’s their show-closer. It was a HUGE worldwide hit. Live, they do a nine-plus-minute version. And half the time there’s barely anything there. It’s all in the drums, and if you only heard the drums, you would still know this was Born Slippy. There’s so little to this it makes Philip Glass sound like Mozart (“too many notes, dear Mozart”). The only song I can think of with less is Timbaland’s production of Hollerback Girl for Gwen “Legs” Stefani. So settle back, put the headphones on and let your hair stand on end.


Thursday, 13 August 2015

July 2015 Review

Hot hot hot. Especially the 1st, when I spent the afternoon and evening swimming, at a meeting and then had supper in Rosa’s. Any time I moved, sweat poured off me. But these things have to be done.

I read Curationism: How Curating Took Over The Art World and Everything Else by David Blazer; The True Story of the Fabulous Killjoys; Jose Saramago’s Death at Intervals; The Philosophy of Andy Warhol; Adam Warren’s Empowered Unchained V1; Hot Naked Kittens: Stories by Delicious Tacos; Andy Clark’s Being There.

Sis and I had Supper at Mosob on the Harrow Road, where were complimented on how well we cleared the good stuff off the plates without filing ourselves to bursting on the soft Eritrean bread.

I had meetings with solicitors, the family IFA, my nephew and Sis about wills, investments and powers of attorney. All of which is a little more attention-taking than you might think. And fitted in an emergency visit to the orthodonist.

Spontaneously, I bought a neat Hugo Boss rectangular watch and went to talk to Number Six in trendy Dray Walk, opposite Rough Trade Records, about a square Tsovet I liked. This is called “distraction”. And I probably needed it.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Movies I Have Seen An Unhealthy Number of Times

(Inspired by Hadley Freeman’s book on 80’s movies, some of which she’s seen way too many times, and most of which were written and directed by John Hughes. None of mine were.)

The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1974) Loosely based on the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, Elliott Gould shambles his way through early 1970’s Los Angeles. The photography, by Vilmos Sigmund, is gorgeous, and the script, by Leigh Brackett, has a memorable line or exchange in every scene. I saw this twice in the week it came out at the Odeon in Exeter, and haven’t stoppped watching it since. The critics didn’t like Altman’s Marlowe when the film came out, but as time has passed, this movie has become a legend. It’s flip, cool and has a great payoff at the end.

Dog Town and Z-Boys (Stacey Peralta, 2001) I once contemplated a post called “Everything I Know About Excellence I Learned From This Movie”. I didn’t write the post, but I probably used the thought as an excuse to watch it again. Tony Hawk, or whoever the New Guy is now, can do tricks that the original Z-Boys would never have thought possible, but the point is, these guys were the first to work out how to do an arial spin out of a swimming pool. There were no half-pipes in your local council playground like there are now. And they were better then than almost all the kids at the park or even on the South Bank are now. Above all the story is about how to get good at something, and the importance of looking good while doing it.

The General’s Daughter (Simon West, 1999) From the opening shot you can feel the heat, the humidity and the weirdness. John Travolta is a maverick undercover army policeman who happens to be there when the General’s daughter is found dead. Showing a total lack of judgement, the Army puts him in charge of the investigation. He gets teamed up with Madeline Stowe as a fiesty female detective, with whom he had an previous affair. “Brussels. We’ll always have Brussels,” Travolta reminds her. James Woods as a gay PsyOps colonel, a bondage dungeon, a painting cat and a bunch of great lines, plus an outstanding performance from Travlota. “My father was a drunk, a womaniser and a gambler: I worshipped the man” he tells Woods with all sincerity. Great lines, glowing photography, fantastic sets, and justice triumphing at the very end.

Grand Prix (John Frankenhiemer, 1966) In fifty years, nobody has made a better film, or produced better live-action footage, of motor racing. And that includes all the on-board cameras in Formula One for television. The 1960’s were the last decade of gentleman’s motor racing: the season was about ten races long, with most in Europe, one in America and one in South Africa. The film’s version of the Italian Grand Prix was eerily prescient of the actual 1967 race, when Jim Clark lost a lap and made it all back up to take the lead, and John Surtees in the Yamura Honda really did win by overtaking out the last corner before the finish line. Everything else is pretty much fiction. Frankenhiemer followed the actual F1 circus from race to race, and many real racing drivers make cameo appearances. I watch it when I’m feeling down, and it never fails to lift me up.

Basquiat (Julian Schnabel, 1996) I came out of seeing this movie when it was released and felt more alive than I had for several years. It was the mid-Ninteties and I was in early recovery, but I saw a lot of other movies then that didn’t have that effect. The film alludes to Basqiuat’s drug-taking, but doesn’t get the sheer scale of his debauchery and chaotic behaviour. You have to read the books for that. Schnabel was making a film about Basquiat’s art and the art scene in New York at the turn of the Eighties, so I’m with him on leaving out Basquiat's excess. My favourite passage starts with Anina Nosei visiting Basquiat’s flat and looking at his drawings, and moves on to him producing his first great works in the basement of her gallery. Apparantly, Basquiat’s estate wouldn’t let them use originals, so Schnabel and his assistants re-created his paintings for the movie. Compare this with the documentary, Downtown 88, and it looks glossier, but has the same feel. Schnabel did a good job.

The Great Contemporary Art Bubble (Ben Nicholson, 2009) I liked Dan Flavin’s stuff before I did my O-levels. I have the catalogue from the Kinetics exhibition at the Hayward Gallery (I think half London went to that one). For some reason I lost track of art in my thirties and then made a concerted effort to catch up again in my Forties. I have been on the Contemporary Art Society coach tours. What changed in the time I was away was the importance of the art market, especially for contemporary art. The major buyers are hedge funds, investment houses and other rich people, plus own-account art traders, and for them, it’s a business. They could lose a few million on their holdings of, say, Gerhard Richter, but then they could lose just as much on their holdings of General Motors or HSBC. And Ben Nicholson does a top job of taking us round the players in the market circa 2008, most of whom are still major players and artists now. There’s lots of art on display, lots of interviews and the odd bit of self-indulgence. Just the sort of thing I like.

Last Seen Wearing (Inspector Morse S2) (Edward Bennet, 1988) In which by some miracle, a bunch of English actors and film crew channel the exact cynicism of Raymond Chandler to perfection. The cast is ridiculous, from Suzanne Bertish at her most controlled, to a young Liz Hurley, and John Thaw playing Morse at his most depressed, cynical and despairing. “Well, they put me on these things when they smell a corpse. One file... anyone. Two files... Ainly or McKay. I'm the three file man... No, she's dead.” Set in the well-off upper-middle classes and oozing with Morse’s dislike of them, in the end, it’s about a man pulling himself out of his own despondency and solving the case. It’s about privilege and dishonesty and a side rip to London where we can see a flash West End estate agent showing tenants round Chelsea Harbour. (Cutting edge stuff at the time.) “We ought to be able to arrest him for his taste, but we can’t,” comments Morse.

Civilisation: The Skin of Our Teeth (Kenneth Clarke, 1969) He wouldn’t be allowed to get away with this episode now. Clarke was the last of the great Hegelian art critics, for whom “culture” meant Greece, Rome, the Catholic Church, and above all the Renaissance. In this episode he looks at the coastal and island Christian communities of the post-Roman days, and it’s the light and images of those islands and beaches that triggers a whole bunch of childhood memories of English coastal holidays for me. Was Clark right? Did Western civilisation survive because of these isolated monasteries? No. Mostly it survived because the Arabs in Constantinople preserved and developed the literary legacy of Greece and Rome for hundreds of years while the European world seemed to be suffering a minor Ice Age that sapped the life out of it. Love or hate Clarke’s thesis, the imagery of this episode conveys the beauty and spirituality of those remote locations.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell,1994) Every scene has a great line. It looks fabulous and everyone is pretty. The prettiest people have the most problematical love lives. Yep, it must be a Richard Curtis movie. It’s basically a contemporary costume drama starring Hugh Grant looking gorgeously foppish and English, which is why the rest of the world loved it, with a sharp portrayal of the love life of an attractive young man about town, which is why I loved it. The critical scene is “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”, in which we see Grant’s previous girlfriends, who are the most shallow, shrill, awful bunch of women ever collected round one table. Without that scene you’re going to spend the whole movie wondering why Grant hasn’t been snapped up by some well-bred Eight. With it, you know what he’s avoiding. And if you haven’t had a morning scene like the ones with Andie McDowell in the country pub or the Ritz - but maybe not in such glam locations or with Andie McDowell - then, my friend you do not know the bitter-sweet tastes of love. The most gorgeous shot in the whole film is looking downstream on the Thames just before we cut to Grant and McDowell in her hotel room. (“I think I can resist you: you’re not that cute”. Yea right.)

I could add a whole bunch more that fall under ‘slightly less obsessive’: The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979), An American In Paris (Vincente Minelli, 1951), The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963), Heat (Michael Mann, 1995), A Few Good Men, (Rob Reiner,1992), Thirteen Days (Roger Donaldson, 2000), Any Given Sunday (Oliver Stone, 1999), quite a few more I can’t remember right now, and of course the entire post 1980’s contemporary films of Eric Rohmer.

What if anything on earth links all of these films? The leading character is usually an attractive single man, who is an outsider with something to prove to himself if not to others. The main obstacle to achieving his goal is his own temperament - there’s a sequence in Grand Prix with James Garner and Toshiro Mifune about exactly that - and once he learns to overcome his own weakness, he gets the girl (Four Weddings), wins the Championship (Grand Prix), solves the case (Last Seen Wearing, The Long Goodbye), wins the trial (A Few Good Men). That’s one theme.

The other is about deciding to commit oneself. In The General’s Daughter, Travolta has to decide to be a policeman first and an Army man and maverick second; Basquiat has to decided to come out hiding when opportunity - in the form of Annina Nosei - comes visiting, and then throwing yourself headlong into the work; Dogtown (and The Great Escape and The Warriors) is about the unexpected rewards of excellence achieved for its own sake, and the value of having a bunch of Bros dedicated to the same thing.

An American In Paris is almost the opposite of all this: it’s a film is about a bunch of modestly talented middle-aged dreamers who will never really make anything of themselves (except the French stage star, who has, if that’s your idea of artistic success). It’s about and for all the middle-aged men who haven’t quite succumbed to the living death of normal life but can’t really break out into the life they want. It says that if you do that, you’ll have to wait for Leslie Caron to change her mind at the last moment and come rushing back to you. Which is why those are called “fairy-tale endings”.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Four Panoramas in London

I'm starting to like the panorama feature on iPhones and more recent cameras. For one thing, it's a lot closer to how I see the world. My peripheral vision when not focusing on a screen is darn nearly 180 degrees. Looking at a regular photograph, even landscape, always feels like looking through a window.

From top to bottom: one of the Pen Ponds in Richmond Park; Primrose Street; Spitalfields Market; Millennium Bridge, view upstream.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Why the UK Taxpayer is NOT Making A Profit on the Lloyds sale

It seems that everyone is delighted with the continuing sale by the Government of its once 43% stake in Lloyds Bank. If all goes well, say the journalists, prompted by the Treasury, “the taxpayer” will make a £7bn profit on the sale. Well, no, not exactly. You see, the sales are to the large institutions. They get their money from the trees that grow in their basements, or the Chinese, or maybe Russian oligarchs. No. They don’t. They get their money from you and me, UK pension scheme contributors. Which means we, through the institutions, are buying those shares for our pension schemes, at a higher price than we did when the UK Government used our tax monies (or loans guaranteed by our tax monies made by institutions who had previously got the money from us) to buy the shares from the market back in 2008.

In other words, we’re paying twice, because the Treasury isn’t going to return the money it used to by those Lloyds shares the first time. We’re not making a profit of £7bn, it’s the Treasury. Are we going to get a one-off rebate of £7bn / 30m taxpayers = £230 next year? That would be a NO.

Do the Treasury know that the they are making £7bn from the taxpayer? I’m almost certain they do. Do the journalists? I’m almost certain they don’t. Gotta be worth that £13.50 a week subscription.