Cats Are Useless

Earlier this year I watched a documentary about cats. At one point a scientist type is interviewed and he explains that the concept of cats as rodent control devices is inaccurate. During times of severe rat and mouse infestations, specially trained dogs- not cats- have historically been used. This then poses the question: exactly what purpose do cats serve as part of human society? The answer, apparently, is none. Cats may be cute, funny, devious, cuddly, but in utilitarian terms… they’re completely useless. They’re not even good garbage disposals as they tend to eat only carnivore-friendly scraps. Even worse, cats can be notoriously picky and will refuse even the choicest meat scraps!

Case in point regarding rats is an odd video I came across courtesy of the Staten Island Advance (or as it’s called around here “the ADD-vance”). Apparently there is a group of NYC dog owners who in true historical fashion have trained their dogs- mostly terriers from the looks of it- to hunt rats. They are summoned to infested areas of the city and the rat hunt begins. Take a look for yourself:

Looks like a fun way to spend the evening. Rats weighing more than five pounds are termed trophy rats. There’s a joke somewhere in there about trophy wives, but I can’t find it.

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Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Abortion: Stories Women Tell is an HBO documentary detailing the footing of abortion access in Missouri, a state where restrictive laws render it one of the most difficult states in the nation to obtain an abortion. Women often have to drive hundreds of miles to reach an abortion provider, and within the state are subject to a 72 hour wait period even if the baby is afflicted with a condition not compatible with life.

This is a good documentary, highly watchable, and it makes an effort to allow both sides to speak to the camera. Clinic security guard “Chi Chi” is a character unto herself, snidely telling off protesters- “I wish I could abort HIM!”- she quips of one, and castigating women who churn out babies for welfare (her words, not mine).

We are introduced to soldiers on both sides of the line: clinic escorts who usher shell shocked patients to and from vehicles, pro-life activists who make a veritable career from organizing pro-life events and protesting at clinics. At one pro-life dinner a teary eyed Susan Jaramillo takes the stage like a quasi rock star, telling her tale of abortion woe and destruction. Her books are for sale on a nearby table.

In the documentary numerous women describe their decision to seek out an abortion. Most cite financial distress, a few cite abusive husbands/ boyfriends, one woman sought an abortion when she learned the father of her child was married. A few women terminate pregnancies after the baby is diagnosed with severe anomalies.

I had a lot of sympathy for all people featured, yes, even the obnoxious preachers raining hell fire on bewildered patients stumbling into the clinic. I can see why people hate them, but having known militant pro-lifers myself, I understand where they’re coming from. They truly believe they are fighting the most heinous form of murder known to humanity.

My own views on abortion are not so clear cut. I’m unsure if I’m pro-choice or pro-life. I’ll tell you my views and maybe you can let me know what I am.

I absolutely believe the unborn baby is a nascent form of human life. How anyone could pretend otherwise, even atheists, I cannot understand. As my friend the atheist once said: Everyone who is for abortion was born. Not complicated right?

I also believe, that as a nascent form of life, the unborn baby is precious and deserving of protection.

However: I also believe forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term is tantamount to rape. Pregnancy and childbirth involve the penetration of the mother’s body, both of her uterus and vagina, sometimes other parts- even if the baby is going “out” the body is still being penetrated, sometimes horrifically (yes I know the “horrific” part firsthand). Penetration without consent is rape.

So on the one hand you have the taking of a human life- murder- and on the other hand you have rape. Forgive me if I can’t decide which is worse!

I have one other thought on abortion, and this is something pro-lifers refuse to acknowledge: women will always have abortions. It doesn’t matter how many laws you lay down. Women will seek and obtain abortions even where it is illegal.

Therefore, if you are faced with an inevitable abortion, and you can either lose one life (the baby’s) or two lives (the baby’s and the mom’s), you are ethically obligated to protect the one life you can reach- the mother’s! Why pro-lifers refuse to see this is beyond me. If they successfully outlaw abortion there will be MORE loss of human life at the hands of shoddy purveyors of abortion, not less!

While Abortion: Stories Women Tell attempts to be even handed, it comes out slanted for the pro-choice side. I’m not sure if this is because the pro-lifers featured are so obnoxious, although one pro-choice SJW type gives a pestiferous rant toward the end of the film, or if it was deliberate. Either way this is one of the better abortion documentaries I’ve seen, and I recommend it to anyone with ninety minutes to spare. It is available on HBO GO as of this posting.

Food Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. In browsing older posts I realized there might be some confusion to new readers as to what exactly I eat. Thus I would like to clarify (don’t worry, I know the world doesn’t hinge on what I eat, but I don’t want to confuse anyone).

Years ago I was a strict vegan. I truly believed this was the healthiest way for a human to eat. I made this decision based on books like Eat to Live, The China Study, and the various vegan websites out there like vegsource (I have no idea if they’re still around). Eating a whole food vegan diet, claimed these books, led to perfect health and slim waistlines.

I have always been thin but I was trying to improve my health- after my 4th child was born I began experiencing recurring and debilitating fevers. Based on testimonials of vegan converts I switched to a completely vegan diet.

It took a while but my health did improve. I didn’t eat only health foods- I loved vegan cookies and desserts, but I did eat mostly health foods, and I completely eliminated sugar from my diet 4 years ago.

Then I got pregnant with my youngest child and despite being low weight, gaining virtually no weight, and eating a “healthy vegan diet” I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I was 190 mg/dL on the glucose tolerance test. I obtained a glucose meter and began testing my postprandial (post meal) blood sugar. I was horrified to find all those “healthy” whole grains and beans were spiking my blood sugar astronomically.

Then I remembered… in the back of my head… a documentary I watched ages ago. I thought it was funny back then but, as a strict vegan, believed none of it. That documentary was Tom Naughton’s Fat Head, where he eats both a moderately low carb/ high fat diet, and later a nearly zero carb/ high fat diet, and not only does he lose weight but his blood work improves significantly.

Against medical advice I immediately began eating low carb. I was concerned about going too low, given I was pregnant [note: I would no longer have this concern today], so I hovered around 50 net carbs a day. A typical day for me eating was as follows: I would skip breakfast then eat a huge lunch. I ate a tremendous amount of lamb and chicken thighs, and of course did not remove any of the fat. I would have a small amount of dried fruit for dessert (dried fruit and some veggies were my only source of carbs). For dinner I would have the same.

My blood sugar immediately normalized below 100 mg/dL no matter how much I ate, and my son was born 6 pounds just shy of 36 weeks. He did not require any NICU.

Well, when they gave me the glucose tolerance test a few months after his birth my numbers were even worse. I was 300 mg/dL! I was now officially diabetic, although it remains unclear if I am type 2 or LADA- adult onset type 1- since I am so thin it may likely be LADA. My well meaning but clueless internist advised me to “eat brown rice and potatoes.” I kept my mouth shut but knew some of my worst postprandial numbers resulted from precisely those foods.

I have been a low carber ever since, even going down to zero carbs for long periods, eating nothing but meat and fat. That’s right, I am still alive despite eating no fiber and eschewing all plant foods. My blood work is perfect. A1C is normal. I’m thinner than ever- not necessarily a good thing, but for those of you who need to lose weight, if it works at my low weight it would certainly work for you. When I was diagnosed with diabetes I was 135 lbs (at 5’9″). After a few months eating very low carb I went down to 120- slightly underweight for my height- and have maintained and even dipped below without trying.

I truly believe eating low carb has saved my life, and quite possibly saved my son’s life. So would I recommend low carbing to any dieters out there? HELL YES! The emphasis on fruits, whole grains and veggies in nutritional circles is ridiculously overblown. I’m not saying they’re bad for non-diabetics, but they are indeed terribly dangerous for diabetics and are not the golden key to weight loss the FDA would have you believe.

I’ve been able to maintain a normal A1C without meds, insulin, or exercise (I like to walk but don’t consider it “exercise.”) My blood sugar rarely cracks 100 mg/dL. So I would plead- yes PLEAD- with any diabetics out there to consider a low carb/ zero carb diet. There are countless resources online and just as many books. Atkins is a great place to start. I eat only foods from the induction phase, plus nuts.

We Should Have Stayed in That Cave

[[very mild spoilers season 1 and season 4]]

After much procrastination I finally am watching Game of Thrones. I tried watching the first episode way back when. I thought it was stupid and boring. Too many plot lines, too many characters, the costumes silly. I couldn’t keep anyone straight. So many dark haired men in leather armor! So many women in bad wigs and sumptuous gowns! Borrring.

Then my husband announced we have a temporarily free subscription to HBO, and with it HBO GO via roku. HBO! They have a lot of good documentaries! And indeed I watched a few, including one about a veterans’ suicide prevention helpline. Did you know a US military veteran or active serviceman kills himself at the rate of roughly one man per hour, every day? That’s more fatalities than the recent wars put together. Anyway it was very well done, very sad, but too short. I hate short documentaries. They always make me feel cheated.

But there is no dearth of Game of Thrones. Since I never watched it before I theoretically had six seasons to plow through. It was so stupid last time you watched it (I said to myself)! But maybe you would like it this time around (I also said to myself). After much inner deliberation I pressed PLAY.

I still thought that first episode was stupid, however, Tyrion (the amazing Peter Dinklage) snagged me in his dialogue with Jon Snow. All dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes. Such nuance, gravitas and wry humor in one man! Peter Dinklage, as they say in The Station Agent, is THE MAN! So I kept watching.

I still thought it was silly, perverted, way too violent. Could you please spare me yet another chopped off head? SO much sex. Gay sex, hooker sex, sadist sex, incest sex, underaged sex, interracial sex, rape after rape. I’m no feminist but I shudder to think how women would fare if George RR Martin ruled the world.

Yet… somewhere mid season one I was hooked. It wasn’t just about Dinklage anymore. I was asking my son (a rabid GOT fan) questions. How did Tyrion meet Ser Bronn? Why exactly did Daenyrus kill the black guy? I was in tears over the kidnapped baby dragons, and further along wept as Jon Snow cradled a dying Ygritte in his arms. We should have stayed in that cave Jon Snow

So would I recommend this series to my gentle readers? Uh, not sure. It ain’t exactly family programming, though apparently every family on the planet has watched it. It is a brilliant story, or rather a series of brilliant stories within other brilliant stories, the characters are beautifully villainous and multifaceted, but somehow I’m left with the same feeling as having eaten a sicky sweet, overly rich slice of cake when the credits roll. Gird yer stomachs men, and forward march!

First Comes Love

First Comes Love is a 2012 documentary from Nina Davenport detailing her desire to conceive a child sans husband, as she has failed to find Mr. Right by age 41. Having yearned her whole life for motherhood, she enlists the sperm of handsome gay friend Eric and we’re off to the races.

I watched this documentary twice. The first go-round it rubbed me the wrong way. Nina and her vast social network are cringeworthily solipsistic and emotionally stunted. I began to wonder how this small army of navel gazing intellectuals manage to pull their pants down in the morning to pee. And half of them, including Davenport, went to Harvard! I even stated aloud to my husband: “I can’t review this; it would be too cruel.”

Yet when I watched her film a second time I felt far more empathy for Ms. Davenport’s plight. Despite copious dating, no relationship grows to fruition. She even dates when she’s pregnant, to a charming film critic named John (note to Nina: if you ever read this review, get John back!). I had to wonder if these aging men and women, after so many years of ill-fated prospects, simply lack the ability to connect to one another long term. Nina even has to attend couples therapy with her best friend Amy to navigate their interactions.

Yet beneath Nina’s whiny exterior burns a bona fide desire to be a mother, and this is an urge none of us can criticize. After all, the maternal instinct is what transformed us from slimy fish to land dwelling mammals: concerned mother fish flopped in the mud for safer ground to lay eggs, and eventually that led to legs.

And oh does Davenport flop around. Between awkward conversations with the sperm donor, viscerally painful battles with her father- who perpetually hides behind a print New York Times and barks that she “Get an abortion!” after her pregnancy announcement- and her floundering sense of self, I began to feel maternal toward this poor creature and wondered if perhaps I could adopt her.

The filmmaking is choppy, neither here nor there, and the docu is fundamentally not about Davenport’s burgeoning motherhood, but rather her tumultuous relationship with her family of origin. In that respect I was disappointed to see details of pregnancy glossed over: she goes from taxi with sperm donor to suddenly third trimester pregnant, though the birth scene, which handsome Eric decides to avoid but later attends, is not to be missed.

All in all First Comes Love is a confused and confusing enterprise that nonetheless affirms the beauty of motherhood. And despite their flaws, Nina and Eric manage to produce the cutest baby in human history- but you’ll have to watch the film to see him!

Currently First Comes Love is available on Netflix streaming.

Amy

Oh, this is a sad one. Amy is a 2015 documentary by Asif Kapadia detailing the preternaturally talented Amy Winehouse’s rise to stardom and tragic plight with addiction. It’s currently streaming on Amazon.

This was a good but not great documentary, but as with so many less than perfect documentaries the subject matter is sufficiently fascinating to hold your interest. In this case it’s Amy’s wildly intense personality that shines through- by the end of the film it’s clear that when she felt something, she felt it purely, and felt it hard. Unfortunately for her this was coupled with profound alcohol and drug addiction, which the film sets forth in painful detail.

Stylistically it’s a patchwork of home videos (including one of a teenage Amy singing happy birthday) and interviews with her loved ones and associates, including her father and ex-husband Blake Fielder, with whom she shared an amour fou. Their passionate, tormented relationship was fodder for the famous Back to Black album and in many ways would be her undoing.

Another interesting point of the film is that Amy was, inherently, a “jazz snob.” This is perhaps why her music is difficult to categorize. It’s not quite jazz, not quite pop, and before her untimely death she was inclined to branch out to more experimental music forms. It’s quite tragic to imagine the unborn music that died with her.

Her eating disorders- certainly bulimia and perhaps anorexia- are also examined. Her weight fluctuated wildly but by the time she appeared in the United States she presents as all of BMI 16, and I believe she was even thinner when she died of alcohol poisoning. I had to wonder how the constant vomiting, alcohol, and smoking never seemed to impact her voice which was nothing short of a force of nature.

I realized after watching this film that I rarely hear Amy’s music on the radio. This surprises me as her music, while perhaps not for everyone, is timeless. If anyone has a theory for why this is, please share.

So all in all the film is highly recommended. Even if you’re not particularly interested in her life story, you will be once you’ve seen the film. The batterings of her life- family, love, loss, compulsion- are something we can all relate to even on a lesser scale, and illustrate her as quintessentially human beneath an extraordinary musical gift.

Hot Girls Wanted

When I noticed the documentary Hot Girls Wanted on netflix I knew I had to watch it. Of course I love documentaries- I could happily watch a documentary about mold- plus I have a longstanding fascination with sex workers. What makes a woman cross the line to engage in the oldest profession known to man?

Hot Girls Wanted focuses on the internet-spawned “amateur” industry of very young women, most only 18 or 19 years old, trying to forge their way into online porn. Answering an ad in craigslist they are invited to the home of a “talent agent” who rents out bedrooms, and assists the girls in getting shoots. The girls advertise themselves on twitter (which does not censor pornographic content) and most have lofty plans to make it big in the industry.

As for their motivations, most express a desire for a quick escape from their parents; at upward to $1000 per shoot they amass sums of money that, from their teenage vantage point, appear vast. Some express a desire to feel “liberated” or “free.” Miriam Weeks, aka Belle Knox, the Duke University student who famously financed her tuition by working in porn, waxes poetic about the feminist empowerment she experiences on the set.

However all that glitters is ultimately not gold for these women. While the docu does not necessarily have an anti-porn bent, it starkly illustrates the paradox of supposed female empowerment against the degradation they are subjected to at work, including abusive fetish acts, and uncertainty about their contractual obligations if they’re not comfortable with a particular request by a producer. The film also exposes the heartrending conflicts of young women trying to come to grips with their choices, while remaining loyal to the values of family and loved ones.

In terms of raunchiness the film is relatively tame, at least considering the subject matter. There is some brief topless female nudity, and non-nude clips from disturbing “abuse” videos. So if you’re looking for titillation you’ll come away disappointed, as the film focuses on the psychological and logistical factors in the lives of fledgling porn actresses.

One thing that amazed me is that none of these women seem to be on birth control, and, filming in Miami, they don’t use condoms (which are mandatory in films executed in Los Angeles). One girl blithely describes getting “paid extra” for Plan B at Walgreens! This makes me think porn stars are not the most forward-thinking bunch, and are probably not considering the long term implications of their career choice.

Fed Up

I finally got to watch the much touted documentary Fed Up, co-produced by Katie Couric, yet another film about the obesity epidemic in the United States and its supposed causes. Maybe because the film was so hyped I had unrealistic expectations, but I came away disappointed because not only is this a poorly executed documentary, but we get the same confusing and contradictory information that The Weight of the Nation and A Place at the Table offer.

Fed Up decides to place the obesity blame squarely on junk foods and the sugar they contain. “Sugar is immediately converted into fat!” quoth the film. Gary Taubes (who is surprisingly dorky and a tad creepy, that disappointed me too) is briefly interviewed… why I’m not sure, because the film doesn’t explore, much less endorse, low carb diets. And once again we’re told that “real food-” lovingly grown organic fruits and vegetables- will keep the populace thin and fit.

There have already been several refutations of the “science” presented in the film, such as this one by Harriet Hall. To be clear, no one, including me, is claiming sugar is a health food, only that sugar cannot be pinpointed as the sole cause of obesity over the past 30 years. I’m increasingly convinced that the junk food vs. real food debate is status signaling not based in real science. To call pizza junk, while enjoying your quinoa-cherry tomato-goat cheese salad signals to everyone around you that you are erudite and classy, even though both dishes are the same at a nutritional level: grain, tomato, cheese and olive oil. Even the first lady famously scoffed at the notion of tomato sauce in pizza being considered a vegetable, and Couric makes the same mocking reference when interviewing a senator in Fed Up. Yet the few tablespoons of sauce on each pizza slice contain at least an entire tomato (remember sauce is reduced in volume during cooking, so is essentially compacted tomatoes), and cooked tomatoes are considered healthier than raw tomatoes due to their increased lycopene content. Tomatoes are technically a fruit anyway, but I digress.

Another food in the Fed Up cross hairs is infant formula. It’s too sugary! Babies are being conditioned to inhale junk food! Couric must not have breastfed her kids, because human breastmilk is extremely sweet with a higher sugar content than cow’s milk. Out of curiosity, I’ve tasted a couple drops of breastmilk over the way too many years I’ve spent breastfeeding, and it tastes like sugar water. In short, babies are supposed to consume sugar, and infant formula manufacturers are copying the content of human milk.

Those issues aside the film just is not good. The pacing is choppy, neither here nor there, and bounces between different pundits seemingly randomly. The obese children featured in the film, while heartbreaking, are not examined in depth nor are their diets. We get glimpses of what they eat and see a few grocery trips, but it’s unclear how much of exactly what kinds of food got them to their large girth, nor what factors compel them to overeat. If the film had dropped its preachiness and instead examined their histories exhaustively, it would have been better overall and more informative.

Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course

Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course is a surprisingly enjoyable 2002 film featuring Steve Irwin wrestling crocodiles, chasing perenties, and handling venemous snakes in unscripted takes that were later written into an espionage thriller. If it sounds cheesy, it definitely is, but somehow it all fuses into a funny, family-friendly movie.

crochunter

Irwin’s ebullience is contagious as he sings the praises of Australian wildlife. We also get to meet his soft spoken American wife, and his real-life pet dog Sui who died in 2004, 2 years before Irwin himself died in a stingray accident.

I had no idea Irwin ever starred in a feature length film. My now-teenagers loved Animal Planet as toddlers, so I’ve seen more than a few Crocodile Hunter episodes. While Irwin was a superb naturalist, he was, above all, a circus style showman and clearly relished the role. He was criticized by animal rights groups for his theatrics with dangerous animals, and was universally hissed for feeding zoo crocodiles with his baby son tucked in the crook of his arm. However, I was hard pressed to label him a buffoon during the breathtaking Collision Course scenes where he deftly and enthusiastically handles snakes, tarantulas, and crocodiles. There is a particularly astonishing sequence midway through the film where Irwin chases a 12 foot crocodile through swampy waterways, wrestling it onto his boat; it’s worth watching the film for that scene alone. There’s even a cute rendition of Crocodile Rock over the end credits, performed by the Baha Men.

An interesting idiosyncrasy of the film is that it was filmed with two different aspect ratios- one for the “documentary” scenes and another for the “movie” scenes. On a widescreen TV this leaves a dark “frame” around the former with the latter appearing as a typical movie. But the best thing about this film is that it’s perfectly family friendly, with no sex or significant violence- so if you have little kids in the house, grab some popcorn and hit the couch. Collision Course is available on netflix streaming as of this posting.

The Great Monkey Chase

Nomads of the Rainforest is a 1984 documentary about the Huaorani people, an indigenous society dwelling in the rainforest of Ecuador. When this documentary was filmed 30 years ago, the Huaorani had only recently abandoned a life of constant infighting; up to that point fully 70% of Huaorani men died prematurely in spear attacks from rival groups. The Huaorani are the tribe famous for killing five evangelical missionaries who visited in 1955. Today, Huaorani men spend their days hunting while the women weave hammocks and tend small garden patches, and the children care for household pets such as monkeys and harpy eagles.

Like most indigenous cultures, the Huaorani devote a massive amount of time to the procurement and preparation of food (compare this to Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals). The best part of the documentary begins at 42:00 when the camera follows the 60 year old tribal patriarch as he embarks on a wild monkey hunt. Armed with a blow gun and poison darts, he tracks the monkey for three hours, expends 30 darts at targets ten stories above him, more than once climbing trees just as high- all this for 20 pounds of monkey meat. Watching him hunt, it occurred to me that he was probably expending more calories catching the monkey than he would obtain from eating it, as the monkey would be divided between his extended family back at the hut. With the women growing casava, peanuts, corn, plantains, sweet potato, and turnips you almost had to wonder why the men bother chasing wildlife in the first place. I guess it keeps them out of the women’s hair, and with spear attacks a thing of the past they have to pass the time somehow.

The more I learn about indigenous Amazonians, the more I am struck by how remarkable it is that my paternal great uncle emerged alive- much less unscathed- from his stay with the Yanomamo so many years ago. The Amazon has historically been referred to by explorers as “Green Hell;” not only do visitors face violent and unpredictable tribes, but the vast assortment of poisonous and carnivorous wildlife stands poised to maim and/or eat you at any moment.

Nomads of the Jungle is available in full on youtube, but be forewarned that as with most documentaries about indigenous people, the film contains nonstop nudity. At least Huaorani moms are spared the toil of three loads of laundry a day.