Archive for October, 2010

Diet, Willpower and Ulcers

October 29, 2010

This recent post on Kevin Drum’s blog motivated me to put some thoughts down on the obesity epidemic. I work with people who study obesity and type 2 diabetes for a living. And there is nothing, and I mean nothing, simple about this. Some people’s metabolism, cravings and consumption are in harmony and they maintain a steady weight. Others are out of balance and these three things work in concert to provide a steady weight gain. The percentage of people who fall into this second category increases every year.

Some people think it is simply increased access to food, less exercise, etc but there have been demographic groups who had abundant access to food and were quite sedentary (think royalty and their courts) and the percentage of morbidly obese people in those groups were significantly lower. We simply don’t really know what is pulling our natural harmony out of balance. Could be psychological as so many think. Could be some new substance in our diet. Could be the lack of some substance we used to get. Could be that one or more of the components of our appetite regulatory system has been damaged or destroyed (what if a side effect of taking broad spectrum antibiotics is that it kills a bacteria that produces something vital for this chain – pure speculation there, but interesting). Some people think it is a symptom of an infectious disease and have some (not enough) evidence to back that up. And lest you dismiss that last one, remember that forty years ago the incidence of stomach ulcers were increasing every year and it was blamed on psychology, our modern lifestyle, stress, the foods we were eating. Everyone knew this, it was simple. And then it was discovered that better than 90% of such ulcers were caused by a bacterial infection and cured with a round of antibiotics. Today the epidemic of ulcers is a distant memory.

Curse you Grant Lawrence!

October 23, 2010

So I’m in Shanghai at the beautiful JW Marriott, 53 stories up in the clouds, looking out at torrential rain left over from a typoon that smacked Taiwan pretty bad and I think to myself, ‘I should work out’, so I change into my still damp workout clothes and head down to the fitness room, and start up the old iPod and click on my normal workout companion, CBC Radio 3. I settle into the rowing machine, 20 minutes, 2:30 pace, no problem. But it’s the 2010 Polaris Music Prize broadcast and this year it’s really good, so I’m getting into it. 15 minutes later I realize sweat is running into my eyes, I’m huffing and puffing, and I’m doing a 2:08 pace. ‘Slow down’ I tell myself and I do but it doesn’t stick. 2:30, 2:20, 2:10 and all because Broken Social Scene, The Sadies and Radio, Radio ( gotta love the way they say that ) are driving me on. So why am I cursing Grant Lawrence? Because as I write this my back is killing me. Rowing is really the full body workout, even on a rowing machine, including something like a power sit-up. You do a power sit-up for twenty minutes and see what your back says to you five hours later.

OK. Maybe it’s not Grant’s fault. Curse you Canadien Independent Music!

Shanghai Impressions

October 17, 2010

I’m in Shanghai for a few weeks and first, giant, takeaway: China is not up and coming. China is here. Massive infrastructure, very modern city. Great roads. This is the Chinese equivalent of Chicago: city of broad shoulders and tall buildings. Except with well paved streets. Wide streets. Perfectly paved. Imagine if Manhattan had tall buildings from Downtown to Midtown to Uptown. And that it was as wide as it was long. There are literally thousands of buildings 35 stories or taller here. Three years ago there was 2000 of them, lord only knows how many today. When someone is building, say a 40-50 story residential building here, they build 10-20 of them at a time, so as to make efficient use of the specialized machinery and the builders. I’ve seen a half dozen such complexes around the city under construction right now, with a bamboo scaffolding infrastructure feathering their sides. And lest you think bamboo means primitive, we’re talking 15-20 stories at a time. Try doing that with steel. I wonder if this isn’t like NYC or Chicago during the real boom years, when labor was cheap and the sky was literally the limit.

In another city, Shenyang, I really noticed the old versus the new. The old were rectangular blocks outfitted with flashing lights, reminding me of a 1990’s era Japanese stereo system. But in Shanghai there are serious architectural efforts. Just like any other city, they range from the ridiculous to the sublime. And, just like any other city, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone agrees with my statement but picks different buildings to fall into the “ridiculous” and “sublime” categories. There is the Atlanta “buildings with things on top” brigade, and the “simple but elegant” contingent. The Shanghai World Financial Center at 101 stories, has the world’s tallest observation deck (Chicago natives: the Willis (Sears) tower is shorter but has 108 floors – its antenna does not count). It is a striking-but-not-ridiculous building that would hold pride of place in any city in the US. The building I’m staying in, the JW Marriott, is a d**med fine building, boasting the highest library in the world. And that describes the hotel exactly (occupying the 33-59th floors): the highest part is a wonderful, well lit library with comfortable chairs, rather than a trendy bar.