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December 2003

See the Geoff Hartwell Band Tonight

Loitering in Westchester wondering what to do? My stepson Geoff Hartwell is playing Bedford Hills this evening:

in Bedford Hills

featuring Mike Bram, Rich Kelly,and Chris Burke :-) (9:30-1:30pm)

For questions about dates, locations and bookings please E-mail or you can call Rich Kelly (bassist) at 914 552 0945 or Geoff Hartwell at 914-646-9670

Be sure to check out Bandblast for schedules of local bands and venues (the good stuff!!)

Jean-Jacques, Marble Ave. & Bedford Rd., Pleasantville, NY, 914 747 8191
Tap House Cafe, 13 Adams St., Bedford Hills NY (across from train) 914 244 8591
The News Cafe, Rte.9 & I84, Fishkill, NY, 845 896 7600

Finally an Internet quiz that matters

From Body Burden: the Pollution inside People, an Internet quiz that matters: What environmental contaminants are inside you or around you every day?

Here are my results:

Summary Results

Non-organic produce may contain residues from any of the 500 active ingredients registered as pesticides with the EPA.

The processed food industry adds 3,200 chemicals to food as antioxidants, chelating agents, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers and thickening agents.

Over 5,000 chemicals are used in personal care products such as deodorants, soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics.

Outdoor or pressure-treated lumber is infused with a chemical cocktail known as chromated copper arsenate (CCA) which leaches arsenic , a known human carcinogen.

EPA has estimated that chlorination byproducts found in tap water cause up to 7,000 cases of bladder cancer nationwide every year.

Despite its many nutritional benefits, seafood can also be a source of many classes of contaminants in the human body, including PCBs, the flame retardant chemicals known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), and methylmercury.

Based on the 89 products that you chose, a database of consumer product ingredients lists from U.S. EPA lists 399 chemicals that have been used in those products. This does not include the hundreds of chemicals contained in 9,295 products whose purpose is hidden behind the legal title "Confidential Business Information" (CBI).

No matter what lifestyle choices you have made, chances are that you are polluted with major families of industrial chemicals. We found 10 Organochlorine Pesticides, 7 Dioxins, 8 Furans, and 48 PCBs in our nine study participants. You can also expect that your body buden profile would inclue perfluorinated chemicals (Scotchgard and Teflon) and PBDEs (flame retardants).

November Tabouli

David has gone off to Philcon. The kids and I have stayed home -- if we went, we'd never get the Christmas tree up at the rate things get done around here. I have a longer, deeper post cooking in the back of my head, but this has been a supernaturally busy day. I've had to be extremely organized, and even so I for got to put the dirty diapers out for the diaper service. I gave an hour-long presentation on fossils to Peter's first grade class. First I passed around, trilobites, fossil coral and bones, a fossil fish, a couple of amber necklaces with inclusions, and some stone tools. Then I let them make their own fossils with shells and Playdoh. Then I gave them a set of plastic T-rex bones, declared them paleantologists, and told them to assemble the creature. It was a big hit, but I was horribly late with the cat to the vet, but she got her shots anyway. Then off to grocery shopping and Christmas shopping, all before I picked up Elizabeth at noon. And the whirl isn't over: in a half hour, we're off to the Cub Scouts Pack Meeting.

MEANWHILE, here's a recipe of mine from November of 2001 I've been meaning to drop into my blog:

November Tabouli

This is an extremely nutritious tabouli high in omega-3 fatty acids (from the flax), iodine and other vitamins and minerals (from the alaria), fiber (from the whole grains), iron (from both the amaranth which is very high iron and also the bulger wheat), and niacin (bulger wheat). Also, the bulger wheat/amaranth combo is supposed to have the amino acids to make a complete protein, in the manner of beans and rice. This is what I seem to want to eat in vast quantities right now, a bowl every 2 hours or so.
6 cups of water
1/4 cup flax seed (Arrowhead Mills)
1/4 cup whole grain amaranth (Arrowhead Mills)
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups bulgur wheat (Arrowhead Mills)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup lemon juice (may require less if using fresh lemons; four large lemons seem to do it)
4 large ripe organic salad tomatoes or an equivalent quantity of organic sundried tomatoes chopped into small chunks (sundried chunks should be very small)
bunch of dried Alaria (Maine Coast Sea Vegetables), soaked quantity: about 1/2 a cup
fresh herbs, if available: parsley, basil, rosemary or mint

Soak alaria in a bowl of water and put to side. In a large pot, bring water, flax seed, amaranth, garlic, olive oil, sea salt, and bay leaves to a boil. Add bulger wheat. Turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 15 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Put tabouli in a salad bowl. Add chopped tomatoes. Chop alaria and stir into mixture. Chop herbs and add. Let stand for 1/2 hour or more. Enjoy room temperature or chilled.

Environmental Health News

I discovered a very interesting news web site today, Environmental Health News: is published daily by Environmental Health Sciences, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2002 to help increase public understanding of emerging scientific links between environmental exposures and human health.

Among other things, it carries a report of a study suggesting that Dioxin, not lampreys, drove the Lake Ontario lake trout to extinction.

Definitely worth a daily look.

AND SPEAKING OF THE ENVIRONMENT, how did I miss this Henry I. Miller guy's crazy attempt to exploit West Nile hysteria in order to reintroduce DDT? Sick, sick, sick.

Day 3 without Coffee

This is working fine. I only had a withdrawal headache on the first day. I'm puzzled that this has been so easy. I didn't manage to kick coffee during either pregnancy -- only cut back to about a cup a day first thing in the morning. So why is this working?

Well, first I cut my caffeine intake without trying to quit outright. Secondly, I'm eating a lot better. Or maybe it's the mud baths.

More on Steingraber's Having Faith

I'm about halfway through Sandra Steingraber's Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood. It's a very intimate read. It's full of things I didn't know but also facts and anecdotes that resonate with my own life.

I read her discussion of thalidomide with interest. In June of 1961, my father and mother both graduated from Rice University in Houston, my father with a Ph.D. in physics, my mother with a B.A. in History. Shortly after graduation they got married and boarded the Queen Elizabeth (or some such ship) for England. Upon their arrival, they picked up a brand new, bright red TR3 with a convertable top and set out to spend four months exploring Europe. (Neither had ever been out of North America before.) I'm told that they believe I was conceived in Barcelona, Spain. By the time they got to scandinavia and were shopping for the teak Danish-modern furniture that graced our livingroom for much of my childhood, my mother was suffering from bad morning sickness and was throwing up a lot. My parents discussed whether to go to the doctor and get my mother a prescription for something to help. But these two Texans in Europe for the first time felt timid about trying out European medicine. So my mother went without. I was born in Bloomington, Inidana in April of 1962. When the thalidomine story broke, my parents felt as though they'd dodged a bullet: What was being prescribed for morning sickness in Europe at the time they were there was thalidomide.

Steingraber's discussion of rubella is another touchstone. My brother was born in 1964, the year of the major rubella outbreak. (As far as I know, my mother didn't catch it.) My sister was born in 1967. The rubella vaccine didn't come out until 1969. Steingraber mentions in passing women who'd contracted rubella during pregnancy between 1964 and the advent of the vaccine either going out of the country for abortions or obtaining illegal abortions in the US. (Steingraber's husband's mother aborted her fifth child after having rubella during pregnancy.) It had never occurred to me that my siblings were born against this backdrop. Also, I can't help but wonder whether Roe v. Wade would not have come out differently without the rubella outbreak of 1964.

It also seems to me that the right will never succeed in banning abortion until much stricter environmental laws are in place. Having Faith is a kind of Silent Spring for the unborn. One would thing that really good records were being kept of fetal malformations, deaths and birth defects, etc. and that we would know about it if there were epidemic levels of damage to fetuses. But Steingraber's shocking discovery during her own pregnancy is that no such centralized record-keeping is being done.

People my age were exposed to lots of lead -- lead in paint, lead in gasoline, etc. Lead, and a lot of other things. One thing I hadn't realized was that the lead had squirreled itself away in my bones and was delivered to my firstborn along with calcium from my bones. His blood serum lead levels are good. But I wonder what's in his bones, and what they were at birth. There's one horrifying little anecdote in the book about how pregnancy cures lead poisoning in the mother. (The babies mostly die.)

In the early 70s, I had a poster in my bedroom wall which said There's DDT inside of me. Inside of me there's DDT. If you could see inside of me, then you'd see DDT. I gather I've passed a good bit of mine on to Peter. However, I'm sure that my DDT load was much smaller than David's. When david was a kid, he and his friends used to run behind the DDT truck when it sprayed because it smelled so nice.

Anyway, this is a marvellous, marvellous book that everyone should read. The trade paperback has a pregnant tummy on the cover because they are marketing it with the pregnancy books. But everyone should read it.


I went without coffee this morning. I'm trying to kick caffeine, since I have a bone density issue which can't be dealt with until I quit nursing, and I don't plan to quit nursing any time soon. Caffeine apparently carries off bone calcium. So I'm trying to replace my morning cup of coffee with goatsmilk cocoa. So now I have withdrawal, though in the grand scheme of withdarawl, caffeine is not a bad one. But I've found myself unthinkingly wandering toward the coffee pot today a couple of times.

David is going to a William Gibson/Margaret Atwood program in NYC this evening. Sweet fellow, he bought a ticket for me, too, imagining that there was some way I might come along. But I cann't imagine Elizabethsettling down happily to sleep without nursing, and I wouldn't get home till late, coming bak from the city. So I suggested a freind who would especially appreciate the ticket whom he might invite along.

Blizzard Ostrich

There's no time like a blizzard to cook ostrich! Here's what we had for dinner:

Blizzard Ostrich

1 lb. ground ostrich
1/3 cup nonfat yogurt
1 small finely chopped onion
1/4 cup white raisins
1 tablespoon almond oil
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon corriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon cillantro

(The seasoning measurements are approximate. Some cardamon would probably have worked well, too.)

Blend ingredients together and form into hamburger-sized patties. I then let them sit for an hour since I wasn't ready to cook them and also to let the seasonings soak in and the raisins soften. (One might consider soaking the raisins in white wine beforehand. That would also do the trick.)

Gently saute (I used almond oil) until medium rare.

It was really good. Peter liked it, though picked the onions out of his. Elizabeth kept asking for more. David and I loved it.


Photographing a blizzard is hard. For one thing, what you're trying to show doesn't hold still. And also, it's likely to blast you in the face while you're messing with the camera. (Officially, we've only got a blizzard warning, but by my judgement the windspeed mostly meets the technical definition of a blizzard. The visibility certainly does.)

Here are some pictures:

Continue reading "Blizzard" »

Breastfeeding in the News; Breastfeeding celebrities, volunteer your services for public service announcements.

Just when I felt like I'd blogged enough about breastfeeding for a while, three different breastfeeding news stories come along. The weirdest of them, and the most problematic, is Breastfeeding driver stuns police. There are a number of versions of this story out there in the news, but the BBC's seems to have more of the relevant details:

Catherine Donkers, 29, was nursing her baby daughter on an Ohio highway while driving at 65mph.

She said she did not stop because she was talking on the phone to her husband and taking notes on the steering wheel.

Donkers is said to belong to a sect which requires her to follow her husband's orders. She was  convicted of breaking child restraint laws. . . .

Donkers reportedly said she fed the baby on her husband's orders to save time.

Donkers and her husband are believed  to be members of an organisation called the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty which instructs that the husband is the head of the family and a wife can submit to punishment only from him.

First of all, I should say that I have breastfed in many circumstances -- while signing a copy of The Hard SF Renaissance, while tying Peter's shoes, while introducing a paper at an academic conference. But never while driving. I could probably drive while doing it. But I have the sense not to.

Now, about Catherine Donkers: This woman doesn't so much need to be arrested or convicted of anything as she needs a deprogrammer and a divorce. She was doing what her husband -- for whom the proper feeding and care of an infant was too inconvenient -- told her to. She needs to get out of this crazy sect and divorce the guy. He's a creep for endangering his wife and child this way.

Meanwhile, lobbiests once again triumph over the very young: Breastfeeding Ads Delayed by a Dispute Over Content:

Federal officials have softened a national advertising campaign to promote breastfeeding after complaints from two companies that make infant formula, according to several doctors and nurses who are helping the government with the effort.

Take a moment now to donate money to your favorite presidential candidate running against Bush. Perhaps it's time to up my monthly contribution to Howard Dean.

And in Australia, there is a fuss over a television personality, Kate Langbroek, breastfeeding on the air: Australian breastfeeds live on TV. While she didn't expose her breast, the very act of using her breast for what it's for instead of, say, to sell cars is apparently shocking to some. (This happened in September, but I only encoutered the news story yesterday.) Anyone who has seen me regularly at conventions with either of my children as infants knows that I breastfeed without hesitation in many public situations including on panels. What I find shocking about the new story is that Langbroek is allegedly the first celebrity to breastfeed on TV. Since I rarely watch TV, it had not particularly occurred to me that no celebrities had breastfed on TV. (Surely, someone like Madonna had done this if noone else had? And what about that woman who as naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair?)

Here's what I propose: Breastfeeding celebrities, volunteer your services for public service announcements to encourage breastfeeding. While I'm not nearly famous enough to qualify as a celebrity, I volunteer.


Anyone else?

Second Snow

This is supposed to be a NYRSF workweekend, but none of our staff managed to make it here yesterday to work on the magazine and I doubt they'll be making it today. I heard something about a blizzard warning last night, but we don't seem to have one this morning, though we're in for a whole lot of snow in the next 18 hours.

Snow flakes, Pleasantville, New York, December 6, 6:44 AM. Taking this picture involved standing barefoot in the snow for a moment. (I stood on the heat vent to get warm afterwards.) The picture came out a lot differently than I'd expected.

I thought there was enough light for a snowscape shot and had turned on the outside floodlights to make sure. The camera didn't think so and instead flashed, picking up the falling snow rather than the fallen snow. I couldn't have done this on purpose if I'd tried.

And this was taken at 7:04 AM:

Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd.

Sandra Steingraber's Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood came in the mail yesterday. It's really good. I've only just begun to read it. But checking the index for references to methylmercury, I happened across a passage I have to share:

Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd. There is, however, one shred of good news concerning mercury ingestion: Unlike lead, methylmercury persists in human tissue for a matter of months rather than years.

Avoiding fish both during pregnancy and in the year preceding conception is protective against prenatal exposure.

But even if we all planned our motherhoods with this much foresight, an approach to fetal health that relies on nutritional sacrifices by mothers is still unsound. Cutting back on fish is not like forfeiting cigarettes and beer. Fish is good food. It is low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin E, and selenium. It is also  a leading source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Fish oils prevent blood platelets from clumping together, which lowers the risk of stroke. For many women, pregnancies and lactation fill significant years of their adult lives. Deciding between protecting the babies' brains and protecting their own cardiovascular health is not a choice they should have to make. [See the fuller context on Amazon]

The months right before I became pregnant with Elizabeth were the period of heaviest tuna consumption of my life. Mostly, I have never been too keen on canned tuna. But in October of 2001, I became very ill. My illness lasted until February of 2002: just when I became resigned to being sick for a long time, I mysteriously got well. I was pregnant, and pregnancy has reset my rambunctious immune system which had spent the previous four months attacking various of my bodily systems. While I was sick -- probably because of omega-3 depletion -- I craved tuna, really craved it. I would go to make a tuna salad. I would open the can, intending to put the tuna in a mixing bowl and add other ingredients. Sometimes the tuna never reached the bowl at all, but got eaten straight out of the can, so strong was my craving. Given this, I would expect that at the moment of Elizabeth's conception, my mercury levels were probably at their highest point for my entire life.

One other point, inspired by Steingraber's mention of cardiovascular health in the passage: in our culture, and indeed in our household, women do most of the cooking. As I recall, during my pregnancy I did even more of the cooking than usual because of the strength of my food whims. So not only was I cut off from much fish as a source of nutrition, but David's fish intake also dropped substantialy. His cardiovascular health is much more of an issue than mine. And it is apparent that changes in our diet may have contributed to the sudden rise in his cholesterol levels and the necessity of an angioplasty. Husbands' health is also compromised by this sort of policy on mercury emissions.

By the way, I'm surprised at how little comment my remarks on mercury emissions have attracted. Really people, you should get upset!

Black Hole Rain?

This is tricky for me to visualize, or perhaps just a bit difficult to wrap my scienfictonal mind around. New Scientist:

Exploding black holes rain down on Earth

Are mini black holes raining down through the Earth's atmosphere? It is possible, says a team of physicists. They think this could explain mysterious observations from mountain-top experiments over the past 30 years.

Fiction as Usual

There are a couple of lovely paragraphs at the end of the Washinton Post article, The Bird Was Perfect But Not For Dinner: In Iraq Picture, Bush Is Holding the Centerpiece:

Some of the reporters left behind at Crawford Middle School, where they work when Bush is staying at his Texas ranch, felt they had been deceived by White House accounts of what Bush would be doing on Thanksgiving.

Correspondent Mark Knoller said Sunday on "CBS Evening News" that the misleading information and deception were understandable, but that he had been "filing radio reports that amounted to fiction."

"Even as President Bush was addressing U.S. personnel in Baghdad, I was on the air saying he was at his ranch making holiday phone calls to American troops overseas," Knoller said. "I got that information from a White House official that very morning." [italics mine]

Apparently, the reporters following the president's movements don't mind being spoonfed PR releases and propaganda as long as their stories are not demonstrably false. It seems to me that these reporters were in the business of fiction as usual, except that the administration had the bad grace to pull back the curtain and expose them.

New Species of Prehistoric Mammals

Peter's going to love this Washington Post story:

Six New Species of Prehistoric Mammals Discovered in Africa

Five of the new species are Proboscidea, or "trunked animals," the report said. These included three species of Palaeomastodon, four-foot-tall one-ton mammals with short trunks and tusks on the upper and lower jaws:

"They probably seemed like weird-looking pigs," said University of Michigan paleontologist William J. Sanders, another member of the team. The Chilga discoveries are the most recent palaeomastodons ever found. The animals apparently went extinct in Africa and never crossed to Eurasia.

The team also discovered remains of a new species of Deinotherium, another short-trunked animal with downturned tusks on its lower jaw. The Chilga fossil -- the oldest deinothere ever found -- was "about halfway between a large pig and a small hippo" in size, Sanders said. Deinotheres migrated to Eurasia, dispersed widely and evolved to elephant size before dying out about 1 million years ago, he said.

Chilga's fifth trunked animal was the earliest known species of Gomphotherium, a one-ton ancestor of modern elephants, which migrated to Eurasia and spread everywhere on Earth except Australia and Antarctica.

And finally, the excavators also discovered the largest and latest example of Arsinoitherium, a fearsome-looking beast with two divergent horns in its forehead. Before the Chilga discoveries, scientists speculated that the arsinoitheres lost a battle for habitat with the later-arriving Eurasian rhino, with which it shares a resemblance -- but no relation.

Howard Dean on Mercury Emissions

I checked Howard Dean's website to see if he specifically mentions mercury in his discussion of the environment. Here is his statement:

Forty-four states and territories had issued fish consumption advisories for mercury, warning citizens to limit how often they eat certain types of fish because the fish are contaminated with mercury.Ý A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in January 2003 found that 1 in 12 women of childbearing age has mercury levels above EPAÅfs safe health threshold.Ý Children of women who were exposed to high levels ofÝ mercury during pregnancy have exhibited a number of developmental problems.

To reduce these health threats, one of the first actions Dean will take as President is to reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, mercury, and carbon dioxide by fully enforcing the Clean Air Act and seeking new legislation to further strengthen that law.Ý (In contrast, President Bush has dramatically weakened clean air safeguards and proposed so-called ÅgClear SkiesÅh legislation that would actually allow more power plant pollution than current law.Ý Bush also refuses to curb carbon emissions that cause global warming despite his pledge to do so in the 2000 campaign.)Ý A Dean administration will also protect our health by directing the EPA to accelerate adoption of health-based standards for other toxic air pollutants.

Dean should take the mercury issue and run with it. This is a clear-cut case of the administration favoring a few lobbiest and campaign contributors over the interests of the nation's mothers and infants. This is about as much about motherhood as an issue gets.

Selling the Right to Emit Mercury into My Breastmilk

One item on today's to-do list is to make a doctor's appointment to get my mercury levels checked. Since David's angioplasty in June, we have substantially increased our intake of fish, especially coldwater fish rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, this despite rising concerns about unsafe levels of mercury in the fish we eat. I had been thinking about this problem and had decided to have my mercury levels checked, and probably Elizabeth's too. Mine probably won't be elevated because I'm nursing and would therefore be passing dietary mercury on to the baby.

So you can imagine my upset when I encountered this article in this morning's news:

U.S. Proposes Easing Rules on Emissions of Mercury

The Bush administration is proposing that mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants should not be regulated in the same way as some of the most toxic air pollutants,  reversing  a stance on air pollution control taken by the Clinton administration in 2000. 

. . . The agency is suggesting   that mercury emissions be removed from the most stringent regulations of the Clean Air Act that have been used to limit  the most toxic air pollutants. Among those are asbestos, chromium and lead, which have been known to cause cancers and neurological disorders.

. . .The upcoming regulations have been the subject of intense lobbying by utilities that argue the rules would force them to switch to more expensive fuels or install  costly  equipment on power plants to reduce the amount of mercury being spewed into the air.

"If you were to regulate mercury in an overly inflexible way, the result would be substantial fuel switching from coal to natural gas," said Scott Segal, the spokesman for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry group formed by some of the largest energy companies. The group welcomed the looser interpretation for mercury. "The Clean Air Act is flexible and pragmatic enough to have different reservoirs or authority for dealing with mercury,"  Mr. Segal said.

Under the  proposal submitted  to the White House last week,  power plants  would be able to buy and sell the rights to emit mercury into the air. A similar trading of emission credits is currently in use to handle sulfur dioxide, the pollutant that is a component of acid rain. In addition, the agency's  proposal would push back the effective date of the new regulations to 2010 at the earliest.

Let me be blunt: Rising levels of mercury in the environment are a serious and growing problem our supply of foods which provide DHA, an Omega 3 fatty acid essential to brain development. ANYONE WHO IS BREASTFEEDING, PREGNANT, THINKING ABOUT BECOMING PREGNANT, OR WHO KNOWS ANYONE WHO MIGHT should be REALLY UPSET about this proposal! I'm planning to write to the White House, the EPA, and my congress people today. You should, too.

* FDA: Mercury Levels in Seafood Species
* The situation is even worse: Mercury  In Fish -- The FDA Knows And Doesn't Tell!
* And see also that radical leftist propaganda rag, The Reader's Digest.

Alice in Nutritionland

I was going to wait with this one, but a health article in this morning's New York Times in lowering kids' cholesterol has me sputtering: Prevention Can Start Young, Studies Suggest; but How?

About eight years ago, after learning that her husband, Rod, suffered from elevated cholesterol, she started having their children's cholesterol checked, too. Bryce, at 16 their oldest child, went on a low dose of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs three years ago. Alyssa, 14, has also gone on statins. Eight-year-old Brady is not on medication, but he, too, joins the family in a diet low in fat; to the Youngquists 2 percent milk tastes like heavy cream.
. . . Dr. Daniel Bernstein, the pediatric cardiologist who treats the Youngquist children, says he uses the medication only cautiously. He put Bryce on statins only after a cholesterol test revealed a reading close to 300.

Why does this make me start muttering to myself? Lowering bad cholesterol is a reasonable enough goal, but nutritionally, the situation in much more complex than just lowering fat intake and taking the right drugs. And these people are lowering cholesterol and fat intake in kids whose brains are still growing. Cholesterol is what insulates the nerves. Fat is what most of your brain is made of. I find the description of this family's diet and medications very worrisome.

Also, if the family's on a low-fat/low-cholesterol diet in the first place and their kid comes in with a cholesterol of 300, it isn't coming from cholesterol in his diet. It's coming from his body's reaction to the mix of fats he's eating -- your body manufactures more cholesterol than you eat.

David has been on a low-cholesterol/low-fat diet for nearly two decades. (Nonetheless, he required an angioplasty in June.) Since I have for the most part seemed to require no particular diet, I have mostly eaten what he's supposed to eat. While his diet was a substantial improvement over what he ate before he changed his eating habits, I'm coming to understand that both of us are dealing with its unanticipated longterm consequences.

I should say, first, that for most of my adult life I have had a body mass index between 15 and 16. (The normal range starts at 18.5 or 20 depending on the chart.) Other than when I was pregnant, the only time when I've had something approaching a "normal" quantity of body fat was when I was sickest in my life. I have a peculiar metabolism which peculiarities clearly involve either fat storage or fat metabolism. It runs in the family, back three generations, forward one. No one in the medical profession has ever seen it necessary to probe the nature of my peculiar metabolism, beyond establishing that my weight is stable and I do not have an eating disorder. It is an extremely convenient metabolic oddity, in that I've never had to diet with the intention of losing weight in my life. The few times I've dieted with the intention of gaining weight, it hasn't worked.

I won't go into too much detail involving our health histories, but instead will cut to the chase -- where the family diet went wrong and what that means: David carefully researched cholesterol and diet two decades ago when he formulated his diet. He replaced butter with Shedd Spread margarine, stopped eating red meat, replacing it with chicken and turkey, tried to eat more coldwater fish, switched to nonfat milk, stopped eating eggs, etc.

His cholesterol dropped by a large amount. His doctor was impressed. He lost weight. He felt better, had less indigestion, etc.

At the time he did his research, the health hazards of partially hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids were not well known. The margarine he chose, which seemed to be the most healthy one on the market at the time he did his research, carries more coronary risk than the butter it replaces.

While eliminating the kind of red meat available in the grocery store and in restaurants cut his fat intake and indeed lowered his cholesterol, it had the unintended consequence of focusing the longterm diet quite tightly on chicken and turkey, which are higher in arachidonic acid than the beef they replaced. Arachidonic acid is one of the precursors of the prostaglandins that cause inflammation. In general, chicken and turkey was a good thing, but our diet became too focused on these two foods. During my pregnanacies, I was advised to steer clear of fish because of possible mercury contamination, so we ate less fish. It is now clear to me that many of the various health problems I've had involved a depletion of Omega 3 fatty acids leaving me vulnerable to inflammation. Both of us have had problems with arthritis and joint pain.

What makes me angriest at the moment is the realization in retrospect that the reason why I had six weeks of contractions before delivering each of my children was that their growing brains had depleted my Omega 3s. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable I was at the end of my pregnanacies. Why didn't anybody figure this out? Why didn't anyone tell me that grass-fed beef is high in Omega 3s (that come without the mercury risk)? Pregnant women are told to take their prenatal vitamins and not to use any other dietary supplements unless instructed by their doctors. I did what I was told.

Regarding David's angioplasty, I think what set the stage for it was dropping coldwater fish from our diet during my pregnanacies. The Omega 3s offered protection against the other flaws in what we ate. If we had known that there was a wider range of sources of animal protein available to us, both of us would have been healthier.

Hence, I worry about the longterm health of the kids in the NYT article.

Elizabeth woke up, so I have to stop now and get on with my day.

For those who've been following my sunrise reports, not much color in today's sunrise. But it snowed last night, so I took a picture anyway. Maybe I'll post it later.

The Golden Age Exchange

I direct your attention to Cheryl Morgan's review of The Golden Age at Emerald City by John C. Wright and Wright's response on Fantastica Daily.

Since I count both Wright and Morgan as my friends, am married to the book's editor, and have not read the book itself, I shall not offer further comments except to say that the exchange raises interesting issues about writing and reviewing.

UPDATE 12/5/03: David tells me John Wright had a heart attack and bypass surgery and in just home from the hospital. Get well, John.