A Quick Review of *Why We Get Fat* by Gary Taubes

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About ItWhy We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The best book you can read challenging the received wisdom that obesity is problem of overeating and inactivity.

In Taubes' view, obesity is caused exclusively by the proportion of calories we consume. Contrary to most diet and nutrition advice of the last half of the 20th century, Taubes argues calories from fat and protein are good, but the calories from carbohydrates are responsible for America's ample stores of body fat and its attendant health problems. Exercise, whatever its broader benefit, is irrelevant for weight loss since it stokes the appetite.

This argument is slowing finding cachet, thanks to sugar (or really high fructose corn syrup) becoming the current obesity bugbear. Every food commercial now casts protein as the star. The fear of fat is also receding, though I still often can't find full-fat yogurt in the grocery store amongst all the low-fat added-sugar varieties.

Pity me as I wander the dairy aisle, hoping Taubes views to catch on sooner rather than later.

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A Quick Review of Michael Crichton's Micro

MicroMicro by Michael Crichton My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A sentimental grab on a recent visit to B&N as Crichton was my main man as a lad. The book was perhaps a third written when he died and was finished by another, but unfortunately much is still missing.

In the preface, Crichton makes a point about the unknowable complexity of nature, but the novel doesn't pursue this theme. It's instead "Honey I Shrunk the Scientists...On Purpose so Insects Would Eat Them" The stuff about microbots I found almost comical, in contrast to the suspense I remember feeling when reading about the nanobots in Prey a decade ago.

Characters were never Crichton's strong suit, but these are especially bad. This ends up mattering little, however, because virtually every character has been killed by the end. The villain is so ridiculous that I wouldn't have been surprised if he had tried to kill the micro-humans by frying them with a magnifying glass.

Had Crichton had the chance to finish the book, I suspect we'd have gotten more thematic meat to chew on. Here all we're left with is katydid steaks.

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Jonathan Haidt Stole My Stolen Idea

Here I am, lying in bed, reading a book on moral psychology on a tablet like a modern man. And then this!

I find it ironic that liberals generally embrace Darwin and reject “intelligent design” as the explanation for design and adaptation in the natural world, but they don’t embrace Adam Smith as the explanation for design and adaptation in the economic world.  (Kindle Locations 5371-5375)


If I can appreciate the economics notion that order can emerge spontaneously “as the product human action but not of human design,” surely I can appreciate evolution’s notion that nature’s complexities can emerge without a designer (and vice versa). Yet many, even vaunted members of the scientific academy, accept one and not the other.

How righteous was Mr. Haidt's mind after he read my blog and decided to rip me off without giving me credit! Clearly his 'rider' is justifying his 'elephant' trampling propriety into dust!

Don't understand that last sentence?

Well you have to read the book to understand it!

And you should.




Shadow Baby and the Constraints to Power in Game of Thrones

Update: S3E3 "Walk of Punishment" contains a scene between Melisandre and Stannis that elucidates a key physical constraint to shadow baby, which I had mentioned in #2 below. Before the current season of Game of Thrones began, David Chen and Joanna Robinson of the A Cast of Kings podcast took a look back at season two's storylines. One of the developments they revisit was the introduction of the shadow baby, which many viewers saw as either unwelcome genre-shifting (as my friend Elliot espoused in our podcast) or, in David Chen's case, as incomplete and/or illogical world-building. In David's view, the show gave him no sense of any rules governing shadow baby, and he didn't see any reason why Stannis couldn't or shouldn't use it immediately to kill every high value target in Westeros and easily take the Iron Throne. Both of these views don't hold much water when you get over the jarring weirdness of the shadow baby and look at the facts of the world more dispassionately, however.

As for the shadow baby representing a shift in balance from pseudo-medieval historical fiction to fantasy, remember that the very first scene in the show involves both reanimated corpses, i.e. wights, and another race of otherworldly beings identified as White Walkers. The last scene of the season involves a woman not only surviving a raging conflagration but also emerging from the ashes accompanied by dragon triplets (which for my money should've been named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). While the shadow baby seems more overtly mystical to some people, its conception is just as grounded in the physical world as anything else, as I'll outline below. Given these two seminal season one bookmarks and other events in between, shadow baby doesn't represent a departure in realness.

David's criticism about a lack of rules is less understandable to me, especially given that he has watched each episode at least twice. Really his concern isn't about a lack of rules per se, but that the show presented a weapon and provided no limits to its power, which in turn weakens the show's dramatic tension. Here's a refresher of the relevant events (note this is TV only); see if any limits or rules regarding the shadow baby jump out at you:

S2E2 "The Night Lands"

  • Melisandre sees Stannis fretting over his situation map, and tells him she sees how to defeat Renly. But to do that, he must give "all of himself" to the Lord of Light. She promises him a son, and and their lovemaking scatters the war pieces in fiery symbolism.

S2E4 "Garden of Bones"

  • Melisandre: "Look to your sins Lord Renly; the night is dark and full of terrors."
  • Stannis calls on Davos to row the 'Red Woman' ashore: "No one must know what you do, and we'll never speak of this again." Davos says there must be  'cleaner' ways;  Stannis replies, "None that win wars."
  • Davos rows Melisandre ashore in the cover of night. She says things like "a man is good or he is evil" and "shadows...are the servants of light; the children of fire." No doubt this is idle rowboat chatter, however.
  • Melisandra reveals her swollen belly and births a shadowy creature as the flames flare in Davos' lantern.

S2E5 "The Ghost of Harrenhal"

Shadow Baby

  • Later that night, the shadow creature appears in Renly's tent, stabs Renly through the heart, and disappears, having ignored everyone else.  The creature also displays a pate with a distinctive sheen.
  • Davos confronts Stannis the next day and says, "Nothing is worth what this will cost you, not even the Iron Throne." Changing tack, Davos councils Stannis that his men are uneasy with Melisandre's foreign religion and that she should not be a part of the attack on King's Landing. Stannis acquiesces to this advice.

When reading over that list, are you left with the sense that the use of Shadow Baby to start killing people wholesale is desirable, let alone possible? Several constraints appear to me:

  1. Religious constraints: Shadow baby doesn't touch anyone else in the encampment and seems to die like a honeybee after delivering its sting. That and Melisandre's comments to Renly, Davos, and Stannis imply that shadow baby is a single-purpose weapon against specific, 'sinful' people.
  2. Physical constraints:  The  shadow baby is the process of copulation, gestation, and birth. It seems there's at least a few days in turn-around for shadow baby production and if anything the show presents it as something that can't happen regularly  Consider also that the 'baby' is in fact a shadowy version of a full-grown Stannis, not some amorphous blob like its TV forebear the smoke monster, implying it's more a part of Stannis than merely his progeny.
  3. Environmental constraints: Melisandre is rowed ashore at night (which is full of terrors). Any one of the following could be inferred: shadow baby can't travel during daylight; shadow baby can't travel across long distances; shadow baby can't travel across water.
  4. Cultural/karmic constraints: Even if you want to dismiss the first three as speculative, this one is explicit and thematically important: over and over Stannis' use of the the Shadow Baby is presented as a dirty tactic that will lose him respect from his men and perhaps even bring retribution from the gods Stannis has forsaken; even if we don't know what form these costs will take, Davos explicitly says they will outweigh the benefits.

It would be hard for a repeat watcher like David to miss Davos' warnings, so I suspect he's dismissing them as unimportant because they're not binding. This misses both the reality of soft constraints in the real world, but more importantly, it misses one of the key ideas about power the show puts forth. According to Varys, "Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick--a shadow on the wall." In the world of Game of Thrones, power isn't measured by the size of your army or your purse, but how everyone else perceives you. That's what puts shadow baby in a corner.