8 January 2017


0300 by Jeff Hess

I just had a wait! what? moment.

Continuing my Stick with it: a willpower special reading in The Guardian this morning I began with Martha Hayes’ How to quit sugar this year: ‘It’s a lifestyle change, not a diet’ and at the third paragraph I slammed on the brakes when I read:

From the World Health Organisation halving its recommended daily sugar intake from 10 teaspoons (about 40g) to five in 2014, to the UK government’s plans for a tax on sugary soft drinks in 2018, we’ve all had the memo: sugar is evil.

How can anyone get through a day on just 20 grams of sugar? Here’s a bit of perspective: a single sugar cube contains 4 grams of sugar and the Kind, Nuts & Spices, Maple Glazed Pecan & Sea Salt bars I keep in my desk drawer contain 5 grams of protein, are gluten and GMO free, have a low glycemic index and no sugar alcohols boldly proclaim that they contain ONLY [emphasis on the package, JH] 5 grams of sugar.

Now, I select those bars because of the 5 grams of sugar. I thought that was good, but even the half-bar I nibble with my first coffee in the morning contains 12.5 percent of the WHO recommendation. (There is no mention of a Recommended Daily Allowance for sugar on the package because there is no such recommendation.)

So, Hayes snagged me with that third paragraph, and I kept reading and then she dropped the bomb.

Rather than being a solid piece of informative and helpful investigative journalism, Hayes delivers an advertisement for a $115 diet program.

Shame on The Guardian. (I did a quick read of the comments and I seem to be in good company on this.)

Fortunately, I hoped, there was a Guardian Long Read also on the topic of sugar: Gary Taubes’ Is sugar the world’s most popular drug?. Taubes ledes:

Imagine a drug that can intoxicate us, can infuse us with energy and can be taken by mouth. It doesn’t have to be injected, smoked, or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects. Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids, and that when given to infants it provokes a feeling of pleasure so profound and intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives.

Why, Taubes, asks, is that the case?

The critical question, as the journalist and historian Charles C Mann has elegantly put it, “is whether [sugar] is actually an addictive substance, or if people just act like it is”.

The answer, no one will be surprised, is murky.

Certainly, people and populations have acted as though sugar is addictive, but science provides no definitive evidence. Until recently, nutritionists studying sugar did so from the natural perspective of viewing it as a nutrient – a carbohydrate – and nothing more. They occasionally argued about whether or not it might play a role in diabetes or heart disease, but not about whether it triggered a response in the brain or body that made us want to consume it in excess. That was not their area of interest.

The few neurologists and psychologists interested in probing the sweet-tooth phenomenon, or why we might need to ration our sugar consumption so as not to eat too much of it, did so typically from the perspective of how these sugars compared with other drugs of abuse, in which the mechanism of addiction is now relatively well understood. Lately, this comparison has received more attention as the public-health community has looked to ration our sugar consumption as a population, and has thus considered the possibility that one way to regulate these sugars – as with cigarettes—is to establish that they are, indeed, addictive. These sugars are very probably unique in that they are both a nutrient and a psychoactive substance with some addictive characteristics.

As if there’s not enough to turn our hair gray coming out of the election of Donald John Trump, there’s also this Christmas day present from The Guardian: Sugary drink taxes could be threatened by Trump administration, experts say which is important given this New York Times piece—More Evidence That Soda Taxes Cut Soda Drinking—from last August.

I don’t recall where I first heard the message that the three whites—fat, salt and sugar—were poisons but I know that I was still in my teens when the warning was delivered. Those three are also the principle staples that have made the fast-food industry a global success story of death and destruction. (Spurlock continues his fight as evidenced with this bit of guerilla theater just before last Thanksgiving.)

Taubes goes on in exactly the way Hayes does not and delivers a great read. I’ll leave you to ingest the entirety of what he has to say and simply make note of three passages that I found worthy.

Most of us today will never know if we suffer even subtle withdrawal symptoms from sugar, because we’ll never go long enough without it to find out.

I intend to do just this and find out for myself. I spent years of my life addicted tobacco, one of Sidney Mintz drug foods, and I regularly (daily in the case of tea and coffee) the rest.

Sugar historians consider the drug comparison to be fitting in part because sugar is one of a handful of “drug foods”, to use Mintz’s term, that came out of the tropics, and on which European empires were built from the 16th century onward—the others being tea, coffee, chocolate, rum and tobacco.

Its history is intimately linked to that of these other drugs. Rum is distilled, of course, from sugar cane. In the 17th century, once sugar was added as a sweetener to tea, coffee and chocolate, and prices allowed it, the consumption of these substances in Europe exploded. Sugar was used to sweeten spirits and wine in Europe as early as the 14th century; even cannabis preparations in India and opium-based wines and syrups contained sugar.

As for tobacco, sugar was, and still is, a critical ingredient in the American blended-tobacco cigarette, the first of which was Camel. It’s this “marriage of tobacco and sugar”, as a sugar-industry report described it in 1950, that makes for the “mild” experience of smoking cigarettes as compared with cigars and, perhaps more important, makes it possible for most of us to inhale cigarette smoke and draw it deep into our lungs.

Quitting smoking took me years and literally dozens of attempts before I succeeded. I expect an experiment with sugar will be similarly trying.

Once we have observed the symptoms of consuming too much sugar, the assumption is that we can dial it back a little and be fine—drink one or two sugary beverages a day instead of three; or, if we’re parenting, allow our children ice cream on weekends only, say, rather than as a daily treat. But if it takes years or decades, or even generations, for us to get to the point where we display symptoms of metabolic syndrome, it’s quite possible that even these apparently moderate amounts of sugar will turn out to be too much for us to be able to reverse the situation and return us to health. And if the symptom that manifests first is something other than getting fatter—cancer, for instance—we’re truly out of luck.

My reading on this topic continues with another Guardian Long Read: The sugar conspiracy by Ian Leslie.

8 January 2017


0000 by Jeff Hess

This morning I’m continuing to read a suite of Guardian articles gathered under the banner: Stick with it: a willpower special. I’ll most likely be commenting on each—see SO, WHAT IF WILLPOWER ISN’T REALLY A THING…?; STEP 1: WRITE… STEP 2: IGNORE THE NEXT STEP…; WHO CAN EAT JUST 20 GRAMS OF SUGAR A DAY…? (more to follow today) below—but you might give it a go as well.

7 January 2017


2100 by Jeff Hess

From Our Revolution:

Our Revolution on Thursday released a video calling for the release of Oscar López Rivera, the longest-held Puerto Rican political prisoner in history. Lopez Rivera, a Vietnam War veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star, has been in prison for over 35 years.

“The first question that often people say is, ‘What did he do?’ Well, he didn’t do anything,” Carmen Yulín Cruz, Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, says in the video. “He didn’t steal anything, he didn’t bomb anything, he didn’t hurt anyone.”

López Rivera is a Puerto Rican nationalist who was convicted of seditious conspiracy for seeking Puerto Rican independence in 1981. López Rivera’s release would be a significant victory for the island, which has been rocked by a decade-long recession and has limited political autonomy to address the situation as a U.S. territory.

“My dad always says, ‘For those that fight, victory will be the reward.’ And that has been my mantra for the past 46 years of my life,” López Rivera’s daughter Clarisa says. “I have fought, I have grown, and resisted. And I keep fighting for my dad to come home.”

At the end of the video there is a simple ask: #FreeOscarLopezRivera Call the White House every weekday at 202.456.1111 until Oscar is free.

Add the number to your speed dial.

I did.

7 January 2017


0600 by Jeff Hess

Since the November election I have heard numerous radio programs and read countless articles about how those of us who didn’t vote for Donald John Trump ought to behave when interacting with those who did. The advice is all over the place, but I find that offered by Jessica Valenti in America: don’t be polite in the face of demagoguery for The Guardian, to be that which resonates the greatest with me. She writes:

As Americans continue to grapple with Donald Trump’s presidential win, it’s a lesson we need to remember more than ever: there’s nothing wrong with shaming people who have done shameful things. And there are few things more shameful than supporting a fascistic bigot.

Where Trump supporters will push back, of course, is Valenti’s characterizing the president-elect as fascistic and a bigot. Maybe he is both, one or the other, or neither. I’m uncertain so far, but I think the distinctions are a smoke screen.

What I am not uncertain about is that Trump is a billionaire interested in only two goals: promoting his brand and growing his wealth. In my mind, those are more dangerous than being fascistic or bigoted because both are detrimental to achieving his goals. (I’m unclear of the difference between being fascistic and being a fascist, but that is a minor point.)

Valenti continues:

[W]e’ve heard again and again that calling Trump enablers out for their bigotry is fruitless and wrong-headed. This line of argument, which comes mostly from white men who have the privilege of seeing racism and sexism as a thought experiment rather than a destructive reality, says that “identity politics” hurt Democrats and that the election is proof that feminism “lost”.

Trumpites and misguided liberals are eager to “move on,” insisting against all evidence that Trump’s campaign had nothing to do with sexism or racism. By doing so, they are encouraging Americans to be polite in the face of demagoguery.

But we cannot retreat from this clear line in the sand. Not only because shaming is deserved, but because it is effective, too.

This, I think is her best argument, one she should have played higher in her piece to great effect:

We’re seeing pushback against calling people racist or sexist precisely because everyone understands these things to be shameful. There’s a reason your Trump-voting aunt makes a point, apropos of nothing, to say that the gay couple down the street make such good parents. Or that my conservative cousin posts pictures on Facebook of every person of color she sees at a Republican rally. They are desperate to prove their good-person bonafides, even as they support policies that are horrific.

They know what they are doing is wrong. And it’s our job to remind them of it.

She concludes:

They’ve made their decision already, now it’s time for us to make ours.

Instead of bending over backwards to bolster the self-esteem of bigots, we can make clear that the country we want is unapologetically progressive. We can refuse to normalize bigotry, shaming those who stand with Trump. That is how we build a more just society—not with kowtowing or equivocations, but with strength and truth.

Here, here. The correct response to objectionable speech is never censorship, but rather more speech. We don’t silence the bigots by telling them to shut up, we shine the bright light of justice and honesty on their nasty beliefs and shame them into self-reflection and, hopefully, seeing the light.

7 January 2017


0500 by Jeff Hess

All books are a journey and, like Lau Tzu’s proverbial journey, all books begin with a first word, whether the word is call, it, whether, someone, once or any one of the other millions of beginnings since some long forgotten bard penned hwæt to begin the saga of Beowulf, books are just one damn word after another.

Hannah Booth, writing in How to write a novel this year: ‘I’m surprised at how much time I find’ for The Guarian’s Stick with it: a willpower special, explains:

Apparently, I’m tackling [writing a book] all wrong. Instead of looking for empty stretches, [Frances Booth] says, I need to find regular short spells of time: “Start by finding 10 or 15 minutes, and once you get going, you’ll find a bit more. Even if that day arrives when your diary is clear of every other obligation, if you’re not already writing, you’ll just fill the time with something else.”

[Tony Crabbe] agrees: “It’s less about hours than your attention,” he says. A concentrated half-hour in the morning, when you’re fresh, is more useful than a couple of hours late in the day, when your head is bouncing between other things.

This makes sense. So where do I start? “Just trick your mind into it: with a scene, or a character, to get you going and build your confidence,” says Richard Skinner, author and director of the fiction programme at the Faber Academy writing school. “Just get the words on the page.

As always, my writing mantra is: butt, chair, write.

7 January 2017


0400 by Jeff Hess

I think that if my possibilities are limitless then I’m less likely to do what I want to do: if I can do anything, then I’m likely to do nothing. One example I sometimes use with my students is to suggest that when writing poetry, constraints—certain meters or form such as the Sonnet or the Haiku—actually allow the poet more freedom as a writer.

Emma Donoghue, writing in I have only from 8.30am to 3.30pm to work. It’s a very healthy discipline for The Guardian’s My Writing Day arrives at the crux of the matter when she writes:

My routine in the early years involved reading for an hour or two over breakfast before wondering if I felt like writing that day. That was before I had kids. They are now 12 and nine, and these days I put them on the school bus and run to my computer knowing I have only from 8.30am to 3.30pm to work. It’s a very healthy discipline, especially as within that time you also have to administer a career in terms of answering emails, making travel arrangements and the rest of it, so sometimes it can take a while to get to the actual writing.

Donoghue goes on to offer some common advice to writers—don’t sweat the first draft, start the next book as soon as you finish the current project, &c.—but I think that this awareness of this very real boundary, that she has time to write when her children are in school, is a liberating one. All the other, non-writing tasks are relegated to before 8:30 a.m and after 3:30 p.m. That is just the how her world works.

My own writing time is restricted from when I rise, typically before 4 a.m. until I leave for work at around 8 a.m. I’m worthless as writer after about 10 a.m.

Knowing that helps me. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

7 January 2017


0300 by Jeff Hess

Six years ago I lost 80 pounds, dropping from an obese 265 pounds to my high school weight of 185 pounds in about six months. I accomplished the feat principally by eliminating junk and fast foods from my diet. I kept the weight off for more than four years, but over the past two years my weight has slowly crept back up until this morning I weight 225 pounds, five pounds over the obese line for my height. I attribute most of this to stress.

One of the books I read six years ago, at the suggestion of one of my doctors at the Veterans Administration here in Cleveland, was Roy Baumeister and John Tierney’s Willpower. I’ve blogged quite a bit about the book and I have my copy sitting in front of me on my ready-reading shelf right now. Over the last few years I’ve also read counterclaims by researchers unable to replicate the results of Baumeister’s studies and I’ve resisted taking those reports to heart because, since the book was a central part of my success, I formed an emotional connection to the book.

This morning, I think, I’m ready to let go and think about alternatives. Oliver Burkeman, exploring the question in How to keep your resolutions (clue: it’s not all about willpower) for The Guardian, writes:

Some scholars argue that willpower is better understood as being like an emotion: a feeling that comes and goes, rather unpredictably, and that you shouldn’t expect to be able to force, just as you can’t force yourself to feel happy. And, like happiness, its chronic absence may be a warning that you’re on the wrong track.

Is willpower not even a thing then?

Lurking behind all this, though, is a more unsettling question: does willpower even exist? McGonigal defines people with willpower as those who demonstrate “the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult, or when some part of [them] doesn’t want to”. Willpower, then, is a word ascribed to people who manage to do what they said they were going to do: it’s a judgment about their behaviour. But it doesn’t follow that willpower is a thing in itself, a substance or resource you either possess or you don’t, like money or muscle strength. Rather than “How can I build my willpower?”, it may be better to ask: “How can I make it more likely that I’ll do what I plan to do?”

Burkeman offers a number of what I think of as trite suggestions, before concluding with what I think may be the vital message, the bit I’m going to be thinking about this weekend:

The most important boost to your habit-changing plans, though, may lie not in any individual strategy, but in letting go of the idea of “willpower” altogether. If the word doesn’t really refer to an identifiable thing, there’s no need to devote energy to fretting over your lack of it. Behaviour change becomes a far more straightforward matter of assembling a toolbox of tricks that, in combination, should steer you well. Best of all, you’ll no longer be engaged in a battle with your own psyche: you can stop trying to “find the willpower” to live a healthier/kinder/less stressful/more high-achieving life—and just focus on living it instead.

Think systems, not goals.

5 January 2017


0800 by Roldo Bartimole


Cui bono? It’s always been my question: Who benefits? Who pays?

I long ago concluded the answer. The nauseating growth of inequality proves the question and answer appropriate.

The trail of deception in Cleveland has been long and will get longer unless the public demands some accounting. Not likely.

The problem is two-fold. One, we forget what happened yesterday. Too busy living. Second, the people and institutions we depend upon to keep informed are so sensitive to power they don’t even report the carnage, certainly not with the openness required to penetrate the avalanche of bullshit that the media throw at us. The Plain Dealer has become a shell of itself but even in its better days it was fearful when we needed fearlessness. It genuflects to power.

So, I have to do it again and again.

I know it gets repetitious. But bear with me a bit as I go back to make the present seem more understandable. We cannot ignore our past.

“C’mon,” as President Obama says, meaning, “It’s too obvious. You have to know and see what’s happening.”

It’s quite disturbing how the people who hate government so vigorously use it so often to their benefit.

How many know that the Gunds put a $600,000 apartment into what was then the Gund Arena, utilizing their free loges. It was uncertain for a time whether they’d own up and pay the $600,000 cost. They were so used to getting so much free. They did pay because the Gateway chairman at that time, Craig Miller, was honest. What a rarity.

What right did the Gunds have to construct essentially a hotel room for themselves within a public building? It wasn’t in the arena plans. But who cared? They were Continue Reading »

5 January 2017


0700 by Jeff Hess

Years ago, when I learned Hebrew and began to read the Torah, I was struck by the key passage in Genesis where Adam is given stewardship over the Earth and how this conflicted with the King James translation which substituted dominion for stewardship. This was a time when England was stretching its reach and seeking more and more control over world trade. Having a Biblical justification made perfect sense to those living in the early years of the 17th century, but that error has echoed down the centuries to give us our current battle over Global Warming/Climate Change. Hayhoe strikes just the right note here.

4 January 2017


0500 by Jeff Hess

Ralph Nader, in Ready for the Jawboning Presidency of Donald Trump, writes:

All signs point to Donald Trump becoming a jawboning president without equal in American history. That is, jawboning by exerting rhetorical bombast focused on people, corporations and institutions, with massive media propulsion behind the very personal presidency he will establish. It will be a natural daily extension of his boundless, easily bruisable ego.

Trump has embraced these tactics as both a candidate and president-elect. He went after Carrier Corp. (a subsidiary of United Technologies) and Ford Motor Co. for shipping jobs to Mexico, after Boeing for charging too much for the new Air Force One and after Lockheed/Martin for over-pricing its F-35 fighter planes.

Previous presidents, knowing they have the “bully pulpit,” have generally been averse to the sort of jawboning that singles out specific firms and persons. President Harry Truman did take on a newspaper columnist who criticized his daughter, Margaret’s, singing skills. President John F. Kennedy went after U.S. Steel and referred to price hikes from the industry as “a wholly unjustifiable and irresponsible defiance of the public interest.”

But generally, presidents do not want to be seen as bullies, preferring one competitor against another or frittering their presidential authority by getting Continue Reading »

3 January 2017


1200 by Roldo Bartimole


The Public Square debacle that now portends severe financial distress for public transit in Cleveland again underscore the damaging effect of an agenda set by the elite forces of the Greater Cleveland Partnership and foundation money sources.

The $32 million Public Square project, which turned into a $50 million (as far as we know) deal, with public and private funding was a hurry-up deal.

When THEY want something, THEY want it. NOW! And THEY get it, using public resources.

A “master stroke,” the Plain Dealer called it.

THEY have the power to grab public resources to use for what THEY want

Badly thought out, it left Superior Avenue dividing two sections of the Square. Or well-thought out, THEY didn’t care the consequences. THEY wouldn’t suffer them. The powers that be now want to correct their errors that by closing Superior Avenue and forcing RTA to run buses on different routes. Shift the suffering.

With the decision to revoke the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority historic use of the street bisecting the two sides of the square, thus damaging a deal Continue Reading »

2 January 2017


1800 by Jeff Hess

The next four years are going to be tough, but already people who want to prevent the billionaire oligarchs from trashing their country are standing up and taking action. The People’s Climate Movement is just the beginning of a broader mobilization to come.

From 350.ORG comes this message:

Dear friends,

New year, new resolve. Time to mark your calendars for April 29th, 2017.

That’s the date of the People’s Climate Mobilization, a major march in Washington, D.C., when we will come together with hundreds of thousands of people to reject Trump’s attack on our communities and climate, and push forward with our vision of a clean energy economy that works for all.

Sign up to be part of it here, and connect with others near you who will be taking action in the run-up to April.

We believe that in this moment of division, turmoil, and fear, it’s important to put forward an alternative vision that inspires and connects. If we don’t put Continue Reading »

1 January 2017


1200 by Jeff Hess

The Socrates Café I moderated for a number of years once spent an evening discussing the differences among craft, art and Art. We did not arrive at an answer—we almost never did—but the discussion was enjoyable. I think that Georges Simenon arrived at a definition that could have added much to our discussion.

The Paris Review: “The Art Of Fiction No. 9” with Georges Simenon:

INTERVIEWER: You probably have had as much experience as anybody in the world in doing what you have just called commercial writing. What is the difference between it and noncommercial?

SIMENON: I call “commercial” every work, not only in literature but in music and painting and sculpture—any art—which is done for such-and-such a public or for a certain kind of publication or for a particular collection. Of course, in commercial writing there are different grades. You may have things which are very cheap and some very good. The books of the month, for example, are commercial writing; but some of them are almost perfectly done, almost works of art. Not completely, but almost. And the same with certain magazine pieces; some of them are wonderful. But very seldom can they be works of art, because a work of art can’t be done for the purpose of pleasing a certain group of readers. [Emphasis mine, JH]

Found in my electronic chapbook

Most of my career as a journalist involved writing for and editing magazines in, what is known as the business press—periodicals focused on specific commercial and industrial segments. While I, and I think everyone else, pretended to honor the Chinese wall between church and state, we rarely succeeded. We were, under Simenon’s rubric, writing commercially. There were moments of art buried in the work, but that producing art was never the goal.

31 December 2016


0500 by Jeff Hess

31 December 2016


0400 by Jeff Hess

The lineup of social action/political events for progressives in Cuyahoga County over the next two months is nothing short of jaw-dropping amazing. One of my 2015 predictions (and, frankly hopes) for the years to follow the election of Donald Trump as President of The United States of America, was that President Trump would energize progressives in ways that have not been seen for more than a century. If the list of events below are any indication, that is exactly what is happening.

I’ll be attending the Southwest Regional Meeting on Tuesday, January 10. You should pick a meeting and attend. Right now I’m thinking that the local is more important than the national, and that’s where I’ll be putting my money, but you might want to consider Our Revolution in your plans as well.

The four Regional January Membership Meetings all have the same agenda. The intent is to have smaller group settings and provide a meeting location close to where you live.

Agenda items include:

1) CCPC in 2017
2) Working inside and outside the County and State Democratic Parties
3) CCPC endorsement of candidates in 2017
4) Emergency response teams when Trump becomes president.

All meetings are from 7 to 8:30 pm.:

Southeast Regional Meeting—Tuesday, January 3 Cuyahoga County Public Library Southeast Branch 70 Columbus Rd. Bedford 44146.

Northeast Regional Meeting—Thursday, January 5 Frederick and Berler Law Office 767 E.185th St. Cleveland 44119.

Southwest Regional Meeting—Tuesday, January 10 Steve Holecko’s House 14035 Claremont Ave. Middleburg Heights 44130.

Northwest Regional Meeting—Thursday, January 12 CCPC Westside Office 11910 Detroit Ave. Lakewood 44107.


Kasich Veto’s Freeze on Renewable Energy Standards! If you missed this Christmas Miracle you can read the story here. A Special Thanks to those of you who made calls to the governor urging him to do the right thing and although this is hard for us to do we must also do the right thing and thank Governor Kasich for doing the right thing.

Columnist Brent Larkin also does the right thing. If you’ve read his columns over the years you know that this is rare event and a Christmas Miracle itself. In the column here Larkin suggests that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert should pay for all of the cost of the Quicken Loans Arena renovations instead of splitting the cost with Cleveland and Cuyahoga County taxpayers. CCPC agrees and wants to take action on this. What do you think?

Trump does not do the right thing. His appointments to cabinet level roles in his administration are horrifying. His nominees have promoted white Continue Reading »

30 December 2016


0800 by Jeff Hess

I can’t recall the last time I got a restful eight hours of sleep. If I get a solid six hours I’m ecstatic because most nights I hit five, maybe five-and-a-half hours and can then choose to either stare at the ceiling or get up and write. By mid-morning I’m drowsy and need a nap. If I’m home, that’s great, but if I’m at work that’s not an option. I take a nap when I get home but that’s really not working for me. I’m talking with my doctors at the Veterans Administration and a sleep study is in my future because the lack of sleep is affecting my ability to maintain a healthy weight.

Over the past year I’ve read a lot on the topic (I’m not alone) but all the strategies—herbal tea, cool rooms, no screen time after dinner, taking Melatonin, &c.—haven’t produced the result I need. All of that is prelude for why I jumped on Dr. James Hamblin’s writing in How to Sleep for The Atlantic this morning. Hamblin is an M.D. who got up close and personal with sleep deprivation during his residency. He writes:

Sleep experts often liken sleep-deprived people to drunk drivers: They don’t get behind the wheel thinking they’re probably going to kill someone. But as with drunkenness, one of the first things we lose in sleep deprivation is self-awareness.
In a high-school science-fair experiment in 1964, a 17-year-old stayed awake for 11 days. Since then, standards for science-fair safety have changed.

It’s this way of thinking—that you can power through, that sleep is the easiest corner to cut—that makes sleep disturbance among the most common sources of health problems in many countries. Insufficient sleep causes many chronic and acute medical conditions that have an enormous impact on quality of life, not to mention the economy. While no one knows why we sleep, it is a universal biological imperative; no animal with a brain can survive without it. Dolphins are said to sleep with only half their brain at a time, keeping partially alert for predators. Many of us spend much of our lives in a similar state.

I see this acutely in many of my students and have mentioned my observations to others who have said they agree, but don’t know a solution. Hamblin continues:

Statistics are tough to interpret. Isolated studies are tougher. That’s why the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society convened a body of scientists from around the world to answer this question through a review of known research. They looked at the effects of sleep on cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, cognitive failure, and human performance, vetting each paper based on its scientific strength.

The consensus: Most adults function best after seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Going to sleep and waking up at consistent times each day is valuable too. When we get fewer than seven hours, we’re impaired (to degrees that vary from person to person). When sleep persistently falls below six hours per 24, we are at an increased risk of health problems.

So, at six hours, I’m fucked, but at least I think I know I’m fucked, but maybe not:

Around the time of [17-year-old Randy Gardner’s 1964 high school science project where he stayed awake for 264 hours], the U.S. military got interested in sleep-deprivation research: Could soldiers be trained to function in sustained warfare with very little sleep? The original studies seemed to say yes. But when the military put soldiers in a lab to make certain they stayed awake, performance suffered. Cumulative deficits accrued with each night of suboptimal sleep. The less sleep the soldiers got, the more deficits they suffered the next day. But as with my own residency experience, they couldn’t tell that they had a deficit.

I think many of my students are in the same boat, they don’t know how badly they’re preforming as a result of lack of sleep and I have to wonder if scholastic expectations are compromised to allow for the deficit?

Then Hamblin tells me that I’m a sixer:

This finding has been replicated many times over the intervening decades, even as many professions continue to encourage and applaud sleep deprivation. In one study published in the journal Sleep, researchers kept people just slightly sleep deprived—allowing them only six hours to sleep each night—and watched the subjects’ performance on cognitive tests plummet. The crucial finding was that throughout their time in the study, the sixers thought they were functioning perfectly well.

What about supplements (like the melatonin I mentioned or, my drug of choice, caffeine? Hamblin is not impressed:

What is clear is that supplement overuse can be dangerous. Melatonin is crucial to the functioning of the most finely tuned apparatuses in the body, and David Dinges is especially concerned about its use by young people. As he put it, “No child should have a melatonin supplement—or a caffeinated drink—without a doctor being involved.” Adults, he says, “at least might make informed decisions.”

The delicate word there is informed. Many people seem engaged in a daily arms race between wakefulness and unconsciousness, using various products to mask and manage poor sleep habits, and ultimately just needing more products. Spray-on caffeine followed by spray-on melatonin. Or alcohol, which only further messes with our physiological rhythms.

Hamblin concludes with advice that I’ve read and tried to no great benefit:

[W]hen possible, here are a few simple ideas that many experts recommend. Try to keep a somewhat constant bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends. Keep caffeine use moderate, even if you don’t feel like a nighttime coffee affects you. The same goes for nightcaps. (Not necessarily a joyless suggestion—maybe you can meet a friend for a beer at 4 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.) Use screens judiciously, too. Remember that even on night mode, a phone is shooting light into your brain. Have sex with someone instead. Or, sometimes preferable, read something on paper.

So, I’ve been up for close to six hours today and I’m ready for a cuppa.

30 December 2016


0300 by Jeff Hess

Mano Singham is always cogent and insightful, but today he’s hit a particularly high note in The white norm error. He writes:

There is a peculiar tendency in America with many phenomena (and maybe it exists in other countries too), that when the data are disaggregated by race, to see the statistics for whites as the norm and use the statistics of minorities as a measure of the problem. I made this point strongly in my book The Achievement Gap in US Education where I said such a way of thinking led to people, even well meaning ones, proposing solutions to the educational system that were misguided. Looked at in that way, they see nothing fundamentally wrong with the educational system (after all, whites are doing ok) and the problem lies with the black community for not taking advantage of the educational opportunities. I argued that there were fundamental problems with the entire system and that white students were also not being served well. As a result, they were underachieving but black students were underachieving even more, thus leading to the achievement gap. But by seeing the levels of white achievement as acceptable, the real problem of widespread underachievement were being ignored and wrong, and even harmful, measures being proposed

We see something similar with the drug problem. As long as it was seen as a problem that affected mainly urban, poor, communities of color, we saw a severely punitive response, a ‘war on drugs’ with harsh police tactics, vigorous prosecutions, and massive criminal penalties. But as the realization has sunk in that white people, especially in rural areas, are in the grip of a serious drug epidemic, the focus has shifted and people are talking about it more in terms of it being a medical problem that requires treatment not merely punishment.

Analyses of what should be done following the recent election of Donald Trump have taken a similar turn. Trump received most of his support from white people, including a majority of them who were women and those with college educations. But his strongest and most enthusiastic support came from rural, white, poor, America and this has resulted in Democrats wondering how they should tailor their message to try and appeal to this demographic.

But thanks to reader Norm, I read this fascinating article by someone who emerged from just that milieu and understands the thinking and who says that we should not try to find ways appeal to that group because their problems stem from their determination to retain outmoded ways of thinking and values. What should be done instead is launch a concerted attack on the backward, racist, Christian ideology that prevents that group from entering the modern world.

Like the author of the Alternet piece, I too emerged from that rural, white, poor, America where the uncle of a friend once remarked: I may be a poor farmer, but at least I’m not a damn nigger. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to enlighten my urban progressive friends to what the people I know are feeling in white, working-class, fly-over America. Now I can send them to Forsetti’s Justice.

29 December 2016


0600 by Jeff Hess

27 December 2016


1500 by Jeff Hess

As I predicted months ago, the inauguration of Donald John Trump as president of The United States Of America will galvanize Americans behind Our Revolution.

Ralph Nader, writing in Tripwires for the Trumpsters, offers a taste of what he thinks is coming:

The Trumpsters are coming to town—led by a failed gambling czar, corporate welfare king and major tax escapee—and they are hell bent on unmaking Washington, D.C.

With all three branches of government dominated by Republican members of Congress and Republican appointees—due to a mixture of abysmal deficiencies in the Democratic Party and the interloping luck of the atavistic Electoral College—the wrecking crew of Trump’s nominees to high cabinet and other positions brings with it a host of politically perilous baggage.

First, the Trumpsters have vowed to dismantle various government programs. They are determined to severely limit the protection of labor, replace public schools with taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, and drop regulatory protections in the health, safety and environmental fields, among others. Acting without the requisite legal authority is of little concern to Mr. Trump.

Having sworn in their oaths of office (to “faithfully execute the laws of the land,”), they will find themselves quickly sued, exposed in the mass media and opposed by the law-abiding civil service. It will be a whistleblower’s field day. Trump will have serious trouble binding himself to the rule of law and the Constitution.

Second, the Trumpsters will establish more secretive government, led by their very secretive boss (note his refusal to reveal his incriminating tax returns); too much secrecy always gets government officials in trouble sooner or later, from legal trouble to media trouble to citizen revulsion over the resultant corruption scandals Continue Reading »

26 December 2016


1100 by Jeff Hess

This Ralph Nader essay was originally written on 7 October but I’ve allowed my email inbox to explode and the piece was lost in the crush. Nader, in Trump—Betrayer in Chief, writes:

Let’s say you’re inclined to vote for Donald Trump largely because you dislike Hillary Clinton and are fed up with government messing up and serving Wall Street over Main Street. You’ve heard all the things said about Trump and it doesn’t make any difference because he says with absolute confidence that he is going to shake up Washington and “make America great again.”

Why not try this experiment to bring matters down to earth where you live, work and raise your families? Suppose you’re souring on your two friends, who have been increasingly disrespectful. Along comes a person who wants to be your friend and protector and make your life great again. He reassures you because he says he’s quite well-to-do and always tells you how smart he is in all ways.

Day after day, he tells you about his successful life, his determination to address many of your concerns about health care, safety, uppity newcomers, and he promises to lower your taxes and get your neighborhood roads fixed. He emphasizes that he’ll stop the closing of a factory where you work that is planning to flee to China and make sure no more jobs in your community move to low-wage countries. He never says how, but that’s OK because you believe him. He’s like a father figure ready to Continue Reading »

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