Pedro da Costa: How Martin Luther King Helped Shape the Fed's Dual Mandate

Update, January 23, 2019: On the Facebook page for this link post, Charles Steindel says:

Okay, I see the connection with Hawkins and Humphrey--though in both cases I don't know if they needed the memory of Martin Luther King to prompt them to insist on the employment mandate (I don't recall Coretta King being particularly prominent in the runup to the HH Act, though that might have been the case). Furthermore, the Fed had no specific macroeconomic mandate prior to HH, except, perhaps, that related to the 1946 Employment Act. I don't see, then, how the HH shifted the Fed away from a pure inflation target.

Lisa Drayer: Is Fasting the Fountain of Youth?

There are many areas in diet and health where the lack of research to pin things down is scandalous. The lack of gold standard research that could settle once and for all whether sugar is seriously bad for health is a good example.

Fortunately, a great deal of research is being done on the health effects of fasting—periods of time with no food. Lisa Drayer’s CNN article “Is fasting the fountain of youth?” is a useful report on some of this research. The best news is that more research results are on the way. For example, she writes:

Clinical trials are currently underway of IF in patients with various diseases such as multiple sclerosis or cancer to determine if fasting can halt progression. "If you hit cancer cells with chemo or radiation, when the individual is in a fasting state, the cells may be more vulnerable to being killed because they use glucose and cannot use ketones [the source of fuel during fasting]," explained Mattson. Researchers are also currently studying how fasting may impact cognitive performance and the risk of Alzheimer's disease in overweight women.

Fasting and Cancer. The background to the explanation that Mark Mattson (chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging) gives about the effect of fasting on cancer is that cancer cells are metabolically handicapped—it is easy to damage delicate structures within the mitochondria that produce energy in cells. As a result, while cancer cells can still get quite a bit of energy from sugar and from certain amino acids that are especially common in animal protein, cancer cells have a tough time metabolizing the fat and ketone bodies that are produced from dietary fat and body fat. By contrast, healthy cells do very well taking in and metabolizing any fat and ketone bodies that are circulating in the bloodstream. (See “Good News! Cancer Cells are Metabolically Handicapped” and “How Fasting Can Starve Cancer Cells, While Leaving Normal Cells Unharmed.”) Another likely implication of cancer cells being metabolically handicapped that is important to test is the idea that fasting can be used to prevent cancer. I am betting on this myself: see “My Annual Anti-Cancer Fast.”

Fasting and Autoimmune Diseases. An important mechanism by which fasting could help with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis is by giving the body a break from aggravating agents in food. If we understood all of the aggravating agents, avoiding certain types of food might do the trick. (See “What Steven Gundry's Book 'The Plant Paradox' Adds to the Principles of a Low-Insulin-Index Diet” for one theory about particular foods that might aggravate autoimmune diseases.) But even without knowing which things in one’s diet might be aggravating an autoimmune disease, eating nothing gives the body a break from those toxins. (I hesitate to use the word “toxins” because of its use by people advocating “cleanses” that include procedures I don’t believe in, but want to work toward reclaiming the word “toxins” for the rest of us. Below, I try to reclaim the word “cleanse” as well.)

Fasting and Dementia. The proposed research about cognitive performance and risk of Alzheimer’s disease is theorizing that insulin resistance—and the resulting high levels of insulin in the bloodstream as the insulin-producing cells compensate—could have bad effects on the brain. Here, the potential benefits of fasting come because periods with no food are the most powerful way to get to the very low insulin levels that might eventually reduce insulin resistance. Fasting is like a drug holiday from the internal drug insulin, that might be able to restore the effectiveness of the drug at low or moderate dosages. (See “Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon” and “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid.”)

Fasting and Longevity. It would take a lot of time and money to see the effects of fasting on how long human beings live, but researchers have shown that mice live longer when they fast periodically. Lisa writes:

Research involving animals has revealed that intermittent fasting can reduce the risk of obesity and its related diseases, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes and cancer. According to Mark Mattson … research from the 1980s revealed that the lifespan of rats increases substantially when they fast every other day, compared to rats who have food available at all times.

A much more recent study, published this month, found that mice who fasted, whether because they were fed all of their calories only once per day or because their calories were restricted, which naturally caused them to eat all of their limited food at once -- were healthier and lived longer compared to mice who had constant access to food.

Trying to tease out whether fasting is simply a form of calorie restriction is very complicated, according to experts. But "in the absence of calorie restriction, and independent of diet composition, fasting mice do better than non-fasting," explained Rafael deCabo, a scientist at the National Institute on Aging and the study's lead author.

Good Health Effects Beyond Weight Loss: Better Blood Sugar Regulation and Less Belly Fat. The good health effects of fasting are not just about weight loss. In two human trials, those who ate less on some days than others had more improvement in regulation of glucose (blood sugar)—a good sign in relation to diabetes—than those who ate somewhat less, but the same amount every day. They also lost more belly fat—a good sign in relation to heart disease. Lisa writes:

The research behind the popular 5:2 diet -- a type of intermittent fasting where people eat whatever they want for five days per week, then limit their diet to 500 calories for two consecutive days, has also revealed health benefits.

"We published two studies with Dr. Michelle Harvie at the University of Manchester; each included 100 overweight women, and the design of both studies was the same," said Mattson. "We divided them into two groups; one group got the 5:2 diet; the other group had three meals per day but we reduced the amount of calories by 20% to 25% below what they normally eat -- so that the weekly calorie intake of both groups would be the same."

Both groups lost the same amount of body weight over a 6-month period, but that was where the similarities ended. "We saw superior beneficial effects of 5:2 diet on glucose regulation (a risk factor for diabetes) and loss of belly fat (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease) compared to the women eating regular meals but restricting calories," said Mattson.

Fasting and Cellular Renewal. When food intake is low enough, the body looks for old cells it can cannibalize for resources. It breaks apart cells that look substandard for parts. Getting rid of the old junker cells can help avoid problems. When is food intake enough for such cleansing cannibalization to get in gear? The production of ketone bodies from body fat seems to be an important indicator. Lisa writes:

According to experts, a critical aspect of fasting -- which is different from simply restricting calories -- is that the body undergoes a metabolic switch from using glucose to using ketones as fuel, a result of the depletion of liver energy stores and the mobilization of fat. (This switch also occurs during extended periods of exercise.)

"If ketones are not elevated, you don't see the beneficial effects," said Mattson. What's more, these metabolic changes that occur during repeated "cycling" from fasting to eating may help to optimize brain function and bolster its resistance to stress and disease, both of which have positive implications for aging.

According to Longo, the presence of ketones in the blood signifies that on the cellular level, the body is "regenerating" itself, which protects against aging and disease.

"We've published many papers, and the main thing we talk about is multisystem regeneration," said Longo. For example, fasting seems to lower the level of damaged white blood cells -- but when you re-feed, stem cells are turned on, and you rebuild and regenerate new, healthy cells, explained Longo. "You get rid of the junk during starvation -- and once you have food, you can rebuild."

"The damaged cells are replaced with new cells, working cells -- and now the system starts working properly," said Longo. This ultimately impacts disease risk, as risk factors for disease decrease when tissues are healthy and functional, explained Longo.

The metabolic switchover during fasting from using glucose (blood sugar) to using ketones as fuel has another likely implication that needs to be more fully tested. Based on my own experience and the experience of others I know, going entirely without food is much less painful if before beginning the fast one was eating in a lowcarb, highfat way. (See “A Barycentric Autobiography.”) In the first few hours of fasting, a big reason is avoiding what I called the “carb rebound effect” in “Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon” and more accurately the “insulin backlash” in “Using the Glycemic Index as a Supplement to the Insulin Index.” But experientially, there seems to be some suffering later on in a period of fasting when one has been eating highcarb. The best hypothesis I can see for this is that a rough switchover from being all set up to metabolize glucose to metabolizing fats and ketones accounts for a lot of that suffering. My notion is that the more one’s body is set to be metabolizing dietary fats rather than carbs when one does eat, the smoother the transition to subsisting off of one’s own body fat during fat. As far as I know, this claim that there is more suffering during fasting for those who are eating highcarb or otherwise high on the insulin index), has not been tested. But it is worth testing. If people’s perception of fasting as very difficult is just a side effect of eating highcarb or otherwise high on the insulin index, then periodic fasting might be a more sustainable practice for more people if it is combined with low-insulin-index eating. (The perception of fasting as very difficult—in a context where most people are eating highcarb—is reflected in researchers’ use sometimes of a “fasting mimicking diet” in which for five days out of a month, people eat between 800 and 1,100 calories.)

In my own experience, fasting in the context of generally low-insulin-index eating is easy enough that an eating window of four hours—implying on average 20 hours of fasting a day—seems relatively easy. And occasionally going an entire day without food beyond that—implying at least 30 hours of fasting even if one eats late in the day before the fast and early in the day after—is not that bad. When fasting becomes as easy as it is when one is generally eating low on the insulin index, then it can easily be used as a tool to enhance health in many ways.

Don’t miss my other posts on diet and health:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography.


Kenneth W. Phifer: Is Death Meaningful?

When I left Mormonism for the Unitarian Universalism in 2000, Ken Phifer was the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He gave beautiful sermons. I am grateful for his permission to reprint one of them here: “Is Death Meaningful,” his June 10, 2007 sermon.

Ken’s sermons “The Faith of a Humanist and “My Sermon” also appear on supplysideliberal.com. And you will find links to some of my own UU sermons here. Also, Noah Smith has a related guest religion post here on supplysidliberal.com: “You Are Already in the Afterlife.”

Below are Ken’s words.


Is death meaningful? 

Is there meaning in the fact that I shall die and you shall die and almost all life forms shall die?

Is there meaning in the decay of the flesh and blood and bone of which we are made, in the end of brain wave activity, in the cessation of breath?

Was the Talmud right when it declared that “whosoever speculates on these four things, it were better for him if he had not come into the world—what is above? What is beneath? What was beforetime? And what will be hereafter?”

How shall we answer Lev Tolstoy’s question: “What is the purpose of this strife and struggle if, in the end, I shall disappear like a soap bubble?” 

In Philip Roth’s recent meditation on death, Everyman, he reminds us that “life’s most disturbing intensity is death,” and that intensity, that inescapable fact of our existence, “overwhelms everything.” 

Knowing from a fairly early age onward that we shall die, that I shall die—I was six when my two year old cousin who bore my name was run over by a car, and even before that I was surrounded by death because I was born in 1938 and tales of war and dying filled the air around me as the Second World War began and then our nation became involved and families I knew in my church sent men off to fight and some of them did not return alive—knowing from a fairly early age onwards that we shall die, we grope, inadequately, for some sort of reason for this cutting off of life. We struggle for meaning in the face of that which seems to negate meaning.

If I am not alive, how can there be meaning? If those I love are taken from me, how can there be meaning?

Milan Kundera, in his novel, IMMORTALITY, comments that “to be mortal is the most basic human experience, and yet we have never been able to accept it, grasp it, and behave accordingly. We don’t know how to be mortal.” 

We don’t know, that is, how to live with death, how to find meaning in what seems to destroy meaning. But we have long tried to do so.

One hundred thousand years ago or perhaps even longer ago than that, human beings began to treat their dead with reverence. Bodies were not left to rot where they fell mortally wounded or mortally ill. They were buried. Rituals were created to honor the dead and ease the sorrow of the living. The continuing connection of the living and dead was asserted, and ways of remembering those who had gone were established. Every known human society has such rituals, and they are at the very least an attempt to place meaningfulness in the context of death.

Among ancient peoples, death was usually considered to be an abrupt, unnatural end of life which would otherwise have continued naturally. Those who did die—by violence or because of a disease caused by magic—simply continued existence in another realm, but one in which the bodily needs of this existence went on. That is why so often food and clothing and religious artifacts and weapons and other necessities of daily life were buried with the deceased. Death was more change—from one mode of existence to another—than it was the end of existence. 

The first evidence we have of humanity understanding death not just as inevitable but as final, the cutting off of existence, is found in the 3500 year old Epic of Gilgamesh. In this epic, the king of a Mesopotamian city seeks immortality only to be forced by the gods into a painful recognition of his mortal limits.

Across the centuries since then, numerous efforts have been made to address the question of human meaning in the face of death. The answers have ranged from the darkly pessimistic to the glibly optimistic. 

Many of the Mediterranean peoples, noting the hardships and corruptions of this life, assumed that such misery would continue for almost everyone after death. The Elysian Fields of the Greeks, the direct ascension into heaven of such figures as Elijah and Jesus among the Hebrew people, and other tales of a glorious life post mortem were exceptions to the dismal fate imagined for most human beings.

For all but a few very special people, death was a gateway into a continued unhappy existence.

To offset the gloomy view of death as a transition to further suffering, four types of theories were brought forward. They were developed in many different cultures across many centuries, but all of them in one way or another offered comfort in the face of death. Death would not be just another round of suffering, but something a little or a lot better than this life.

One set of theories argued that death is the end of pain, the end of suffering, the end of any kind of unpleasantness. Epicurus, for example, argued that death should cause no worry because death is the “deprivation of sensation…(It) is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us, and when death comes, then we do not exist.”

Death may not be sensation but it is also not misery. Death in this view is eternal rest, eternal peace, eternal unknowingness.

A second and very popular set of theories was first stated by Plato. It involves a dualism of the body and the soul. The soul, Plato believed, is temporarily united with the body in this earthly existence. When the mortal flesh has ended its day, the soul is set free. This freedom is a genuine liberation, and is very pleasurable. Modern versions of this dualistic notion are found in the writings of Kant, Bergson, and William James.

There were people who believed in the resurrection of the body. Various Greek mystery cults, for example, held such a view, and the Jewish group that was so instrumental in shaping Rabbinic Judaism, the Pharisees, had a doctrine of the resurrection of the body. Christianity, of course, in almost all of its creed, has from its earliest days held to the conviction that the body will be resurrected at some future point. 

The fourth type of belief about death that was designed to show that death does not destroy meaning is reincarnation. Hinduism and Buddhism are the two most prominent religions that embrace such a doctrine, but there are others, especially among indigenous peoples. It is a simple and compelling idea: How we live now helps to determine in what form we live in the next life. It could be human or animal or in some religions even vegetable. The point of all these transformations is for us to grow spiritually. Death is the mechanism by which we are transformed so that we can grow, eventually to be released from the cycle of growing and all its cares and responsibilities. We shall have attained Nothingness/Oneness/Nirvana.

These are the four main ways in which humanity down to the 20th century has asserted either that death does not destroy meaning or that death is part of a meaningful process by which we are able to go on with some form of conscious existence.

For more than a century, these traditions have been under attack, not because better ideas have been brought forward but because death has come to seem not just horrifying but random, not just needless but in such numbers as to render meaningfulness impossible. 

The poet and critic Sandra Gilbert, in her extended meditation on death, Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve, writes of the transition to another way of looking at death, from expiration to termination. She describes how the 19th century looked at death as an expiration, a breathing out or breathing one’s last, breathing out the soul into another realm of spiritual existence. Termination, on the other hand, is an ending, a cessation of everything.

Gilbert along with many others charts the change from expiration to termination as following the path of our dreadful modern wars. The Civil War began the shift in understanding, 600,000 dead in a huge charnel house of grievous agony and slaughter of brother against brother. Almost for the first time, the murderous nature of war was captured on camera. It was hard to romanticize war—that is, give it a meaning in glory and sacrifice-- after seeing its terrible toll in stark photographic outline.

The First World War added an unspeakable misery to western consciousness by showing us the ease with which huge numbers—millions, in fact—could be killed for no reason worthy of the name. Then came the Second World War with its 60 million soldiers and civilians dead, the new strategic assault on civilians at Guernica and Dresden and Tokyo and Hiroshima, the Holocaust. Death was so ubiquitous, meaning was stripped from it. What has come since has not comforted us—Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, and too many other killing fields.

Wallace Stevens captured this new mood of death as termination, a final closing out of possibility and hope, in his poem, “The Death of a Soldier.”

The Death of a Soldier

by Wallace Stevens

Life contracts and death is expected,
As in a season of autumn.
The soldier falls.

He does not become a three-days personage,
Imposing his separation,
Calling for pomp.

Death is absolute and without memorial,
As in a season of autumn,
When the wind stops,

When the wind stops and, over the heavens,
The clouds go, nevertheless,
In their direction. 

Last September, in a weekly column called, ‘Life, With Cancer,’ Lauren Terrazzano, a Newsday reporter dying of cancer, wrote: “I have seen people like my grandfather live simple but happy long lives. He died when he was 93. On the opposite end, in my job as a reporter, I have seen 3-year olds die at the hands of abusive parents. Nothing really makes sense when it comes to death.”

Is Terrazzano right? Does death really never make any sense? Is death the path into meaninglessness?

For some of us, the traditional answers suffice to bring us a sense of purpose and comfort in the face of death, whether the stoical view of death as eternal rest or the Jewish view of a Messianic Age where lions and lambs lie down together or the Christian and Muslim view of eternal union with God in paradise for the worthy and eternal suffering for the unworthy in some form of hell or the Hindu and Buddhist understanding of reincarnation into another life along the road to spiritual Enlightenment and Oneness. These views are well known and need no further elaboration.

For many, though, the ancient answers do not satisfy and there is no sure answer that does. Edna St. Vincent Millay spoke for the confusion and the courage of many in her “Dirge Without Music.”

Dirge Without Music

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the
love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not
approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the
world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned. 

There is a tension in many of us between the knowledge of our mortality and our resistance to that knowledge. If we cannot fully or even partially agree with Cardinal Basil Hume that “to go through life and think there is nothing after death…is a totally inhuman thought,” we also do not find it especially comforting to dwell on Bertrand Russell’s matter-of-fact statement that “I believe that when I die I shall rot and nothing of my ego will survive.”

Where and how can we find meaning in death given what we know of life, given the human propensity for violence, given our own inability to accept answers that our forebears found sensible, given what we know of the world and how it works?

Whatever our answer, it must be asserted with modesty. There is no hard evidence about death, only our gaze upon it from without. All statements about death are statements of faith. I want to make two such statements.                                                                                                       

First, in an age of relativity, death remains an absolute. An individual may believe in God or not believe in God. An individual may believe in good and evil or not do so. An individual may accept the theories of science about the Big Bang and Evolution or imagine other explanatory schemes for the way the world came into being and the world as it is now came to be.

No individual can deny death.  The fourth century Chinese sage Zhuangzi spoke of death as simply part of the endless cycle of change, flux, what is now becoming something different. Life and death are the rhythm of the universe, the forms of being manifesting in alternative ways. Death is a reality, the most real thing we know.

Not that we do not try to deny death’s ultimate claim on us. Martin Heidegger noted that when we use the phrase that every human being is mortal, we silently add to it, “but not I.” We spend most of our waking and sleeping hours not focused on the reality of death. But it never leaves us.

Sooner or later—and in our media saturated age, it is likely to be ten minutes from now—death will enter our lives. It could be a tv or radio broadcast about the Sudan or the Middle East or an earthquake or a hurricane. It could be a parent or child or friend who receives a bad diagnosis. It could be strange symptoms of our own that cause us to wonder if this is the moment when we get the Bad News.

In a period of history when all the epistemological foundations have been eroded, when all the wounded languages of authority are radically at odds with each other, we are all forced to agree on one fact, the Fact of Death. Death is our Absolute.

That is my first assertion. My second is this: death is necessary.

Death is necessary if life is to be in the form that we are and that we know. To form the complex elements that our bodies are made of requires the death and explosion of stars, sending the atoms that comprise us our way. Robinson Jeffers was right, “the tides are in our veins, we still mirror the stars.” Single celled life forms endure without death, but I suspect they do not have nearly as much fun as we do!

The whole process of change, of mutation and the development of diversity, depends on one generation dying to allow for the changes to spread to more than just the individuals in whom they have first occurred. This requires death, our leaving in order to make room for future generations. 

Jalaja Bonheim states this more graphically: “Life did not intend for us to be inviolable, but to be used for fodder for its workings. We are meant to be chewed up and digested and transformed into the blood and sinew of the world.”

So it is that 60 million of us perish each year around the world. We humans are not alone in our dying. Millions of animals and insects and plants also die every day. We are not alone when we die because life is constantly changing into death everywhere. Transformation from one form into another is the nature of the universe. Death is the mechanism. Death is necessary.

Two things we know for sure about death: death is an absolute, perhaps our only absolute, and death is necessary in our world and for us to be as we are. 

Grounded in these two facts, I believe that death points us towards meaning, and does so in at least three ways.

First of all, death forces us to take life seriously now.

It is certainly typical of human beings to put off till tomorrow almost anything that is not absolutely required for survival today. We forget or deny so easily that we shall not live forever. We do not always remember that we do not have all the time in the world to do the things we want and need to do: to love our family and friends, to pursue justice, to improve our skills, to learn something new. All we have is this brief interlude between birth and death that to the longest-lived among us will seem short.

When we older folk lament that youth is wasted on the young, we are in part expressing our own regret at not using the abundant energy of our younger years in more fruitful and significant ways. We older folk know in our own bodies and in the loss of too many friends and relatives that death is always near. When we are young, that is not always clear. To be young is to feel immortal, even if we are not, to feel the energy of the universe, to feel that we can accomplish anything: world peace, an end to hunger, justice for all; to feel that we simply cannot die.

We tarry then, too many of us and all of us in some ways, and youth flies.

When death intrudes upon our lives, we are brought up short, suddenly realizing all that we should have done: to discipline ourselves and develop better habits, to use our time more wisely, to have taken care of those we love more fully and joyously, to have used our talents in more creative ways.

Guilt at our slothfulness almost invariably accompanies the experiences of dying and death, our own dying and death or the dying and death of someone we love.

It is when we come to full consciousness of death—our own and that of others—that we realize that we cannot postpone the search for goodness and beauty. We cannot put off doing deeds of kindness. We cannot hesitate about plunging into the depths of life to find out who we really are. We cannot avoid facing our own selves.

We have all known people who have hidden themselves, hidden their abilities, hidden their desires—perhaps we have done so—until death intruded upon their lives: the death of a parent, a mate, a close friend, or their own diagnosis of a mortal illness. The fact of death wakes them up, wakes us up!, brings them alive, gives them a purpose and an energy that even they never knew they had.

Like ducking one’s sleepy morning head into a basin of cold water, confronting death can be bracing. Even the most reckless or lethargic of us can be charged with a new commitment to responsible living when we see death face to face.

Such an encounter teaches us an important lesson: that immortality is not about an endless stream of days and hours and minutes stretching into infinity. Immortality is about the depth of this moment. It is about living fully in what Karen Armstrong calls “the Eternal Now.”

If time stretched out infinitely before us, what difference would it make when, or even if, we ever did anything? There would always be a tomorrow on which we could turn our lives around, stop being indolent, start doing good. Death reminds us that the only life we truly have is the life we live today, in this moment.

Petru Dumitriu has it right: “If we are conscious of the divine nature of every happening and of every fact, then everything is miraculous.” Every moment of life then becomes full of meaning. Our lives become full of meaning. 

Death as the end of all conscious existence drives us back into life to find or to create meanings to satisfy our hungry souls.

Another way that death points us towards meaning is that it shapes the way we think of life.

Death as the absolute and necessary fact of our existence demands of us an answer to the question: how shall I live in the face of my eventual, all too soon extinction? How we answer that question tells a great deal about our character, our integrity, what we think life is all about. 

How we answer that question describes our philosophy of life, our religion as it were. John Bowker has pointed out, in his study of the meanings of death, that religion began as “an assertion of value in human life and relationships which does not deny, and is not denied by, the absolute fact and reality of death.” Issues of love and trust and loyalty, issues of caring and faithfulness and hope are all bound up in the way we address death, and thus in the way we address life.

Emily Dickinson faced the fact of death and said gently “That it will never come again/Is what makes life so sweet.”  And Wallace Stevens said that “Death is the mother of beauty,” because it teaches us to value the sweetness of life to which Dickinson refers.

But let us take not just the poet’s words, because poets can do tricks with words that may deceive us. Let us look at the life of Nancy Mairs. Nancy Mairs is a woman in her middle years who has contended with multiple sclerosis for several decades. She has been declining in  health for some years. Her husband, George, has had several bouts with cancer. In the midst of these maladies that keep both of them on the edge of mortality, they have also struggled with each other’s adulterous ways. Her description of the pain they have caused each other is almost unreadable.

She knows that facing death frankly is necessary if we are to understand and embrace life. She writes with disdain of “the terrorism of cheerfulness” by which some people feel that they can “grin their way out of death.” That is no more possible, she says, than grumping your way into it.

Mairs recognizes a hard but profound truth: “thoughts of death can darken one’s spirit, to be sure, but they also deepen it.”

That is why and how she can say to George when he reveals his adulterous affair of several years standing as he also tells her of the return of his melanoma, “I can safely promise you that…I will always love you.”

It is out of the depths of her spirit that she is able to see that love, not rage or fear or a sense of defeat, is the strongest, wisest answer we have to the question of death, and the best way we have to live, even when love is very painful and very hard to practice.

When George asks how she could ever believe him again after his infidelity, she tells him that she prefers to do so, because that affirms his goodness. “Belief,” she writes, then “becomes an act of love.” This remarkable love story of a couple who for years have every day faced the prospect of death has been strengthened by their encounters with death. Death has taught them about love.

Nancy Mairs writes: “Coming to death, then, is a conversion experience, a turning away from old angers and infidelities, a turning toward this moment, and this moment, and this, and this. Death has moved into our household—not a welcome guest, oh, no, our courtesy doesn’t extend that far…and its presence, far from rendering us morose, has made us spiritually alert and vigorous. One might almost say we need death in order to live this fully.”

Michel de Montaigne wrote that “one who would teach us how to die would teach us how to live.” Nancy and George Mairs fit that description very well.

How and what we think of death profoundly influences how and what we think of life. As the Mairs instruct us, death can add rich layers of meaning to our lives.

A third way in which death points us towards meaningfulness is by asking of us the question: what did you do with your life? How have you contributed to life? Of what use were you? In answering this question, we shall learn much about what life has meant, at least for us. The sooner we begin to answer it, the clearer and more firm the answer will be.

Because death ends our existence, it matters to us that in some way in our brief span of days we have made a difference. That is part of the anguish and the glory of being human. More than any other condition or event in our lives, death places the question squarely before us: what good have I done? How have I helped? Did I change my world for the better even a little?

Lewis Thomas, in an interview he gave a few weeks before his death, spoke of the importance of usefulness in comprehending life and death. Being useful, he suggested, is far more important than obtaining goods or knowledge. “Contemplate the times when you’ve been useful, even indispensable, to other people,” he said. In that contemplation can be found a plenitude of meaning.

John Lithgow, the actor, in a Commencement Address he gave at Harvard a few years ago, cited usefulness as one of the essential qualities of the happy and successful people he knew. Montaigne thought the value of a life lay in the use that is made of it. Meaning can be found in doing things that help other people, doing things that beautify the world, doing things that need doing.

Consider the experience of  Sadie Virginia Smithson.

She was a seamstress in Johnson Falls, Virginia, who grew to young girlhood before she discovered that she did not belong in the upper crust society of her small town. Upon graduation from high school, she was denied admission into the Laurel Literary Society, the pinnacle of high society in Johnson Falls.. She was turned away because she took in sewing and her father ran the livery stable.

She decided to save her money, take a trip to Europe, return and write a paper about her experience, which a century ago was still a bit unusual for a young woman. This would be the means by which she would be welcomed into the Literary Society. The ladies would want her to come and read her paper there.

When she had saved enough, she took her trip, only to have war break out shortly after her arrival. Being driven from Belgium to Paris in the grim late summer of 1914, she came upon the scene of a battle just concluded. She heard a man moaning for water, and then others crying out in pain. She leapt out of the car and began to offer what succor she could to these wounded and dying men. Refusing to go on with her party, she stayed there, as she later put it, “holding Hell back all night.”

She told her story to a sympathetic listener on the voyage going home. This new friend said that she would surely be invited to join the Laurel Literary Society now, to which Sadie Virginia replied, “But you don’t understand. I’ve been face to face with war and death and hell and God. None of the things I once thought important matter now.”

“What does matter to you, then?” asked her friend.

“God and love and doing things for folks.”

An encounter with death brought a new dimension of meaning into the life of Sadie Virginia Smithson, a dimension of usefulness that gave her life a meaning it could not otherwise have had.

Death points us towards the meaningfulness to be found in usefulness. 

As a public speaker since I was 12 years of age, I have learned that talks of any kind, certainly including sermons, have a soporific tendency for some folks that simply cannot be resisted. Indeed, I recall a young man once telling me that he slept better listening to my sermons than he did at night in his own bed! For this reason, I have made it a practice briefly to recapitulate what I have said so that sleepers will have a chance to evaluate my remarks as well as those who managed to stay awake.

The question of this presentation was: Is death meaningful?

I suggested that that question is fundamental to our humanity, and that for at least 100,000 years we have given various answers to it. Those answers began to change in the last century or so. Wars now made more horrible and more visible because of modern technology drained the faith of many people in the traditional answers to the apparent senselessness of death.

Two facts remain through all the centuries: that death is for humanity and almost all life an absolute and that in our universe death is necessary.

I believe that, regardless of our theology, death drives us towards meaningfulness in three ways.

Death forces us to take life seriously right now. 

Death shapes the way we think of life.

Death reminds us that meaning is found in usefulness.

In these ways death is revealed not as the negation but as the beginning of all meaning.

Joshua Goldstein and Staffan Qvist: The Argument for Expanding Nuclear Power

Link to the article above   . All indented quotations below are from this article.

Link to the article above. All indented quotations below are from this article.

In their op-ed “Only Nuclear Energy Save the Planet,” I think Joshua Goldstein and Staffan Qvist underestimate how quickly solar energy can ramp up if it becomes dramatically cheaper (including becoming dramatically cheaper to install, say by solar collectors that are thin, flexible sheets). Nevertheless, the numbers they point to are daunting:

Any serious effort to decarbonize the world economy will require, then, a great deal more clean energy, on the order of 100 trillion kilowatt-hours per year, by our calculations—roughly equivalent to today’s entire annual fossil-fuel usage. A key variable is speed. To reach the target within three decades, the world would have to add about 3.3 trillion more kilowatt-hours of clean energy every year.

Solar and wind power alone can’t scale up fast enough to generate the vast amounts of electricity that will be needed by midcentury, especially as we convert car engines and the like from fossil fuels to carbon-free energy sources. Even Germany’s concerted recent effort to add renewables—the most ambitious national effort so far—was nowhere near fast enough. A global increase in renewables at a rate matching Germany’s peak success would add about 0.7 trillion kilowatt-hours of clean electricity every year. That’s just over a fifth of the necessary 3.3 trillion annual target.

In any case, why not use more nuclear energy? Joshua and Staffan claim:

… most countries’ policies are shaped not by hard facts but by long-standing and widely shared phobias about radiation.

Here is how they back that up:

1. Other power sources have been more dangerous than nuclear power:

Over six decades, nuclear power has experienced only one fatal accident, Chernobyl in 1986, which directly caused about 60 deaths and is blamed for thousands more over time from low-level radiation. That’s a serious accident, but other nonnuclear industrial accidents have been worse. A hydroelectric dam failure in China in 1975 killed tens of thousands, and the 1984 Bhopal gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in India killed 4,000 initially and an estimated 15,000 more over time. We don’t stigmatize those entire industries as a result.

The 1979 accident at Three Mile Island killed no one. In Japan in 2011, the fourth largest earthquake in recorded history and a 50-foot tsunami together took almost 20,000 lives—and damaged the Fukushima nuclear facility, which leaked radiation. Exposure during the incident contributed to one worker’s 2016 death, according to the Japanese government; the badly handled evacuation of the area, by contrast, is blamed for much hardship and many deaths.

2. Outside of the context of nuclear energy, people’s aversion to radiation is modest, as indicated for example by their willingness to live at high altitudes (as I do in Colorado) or fly in planes:

… we all walk around in a soup of background radiation, giving us an average of about 3 millisieverts (mSv) per year but ranging up to 200 in some places, with no demonstrated harm. 

3. Nuclear waste is overrated as a problem:

An American’s entire lifetime of electricity use powered by nuclear energy would produce an amount of long-term waste that fits in a soda can. All spent fuel from U.S. reactors over the past 60 years would fit on a football field, stacked 20 feet high. Today we store spent fuel at reactor sites in concrete casks (radiation does not escape the concrete) that will be safe for a hundred years. After that, the waste can be burned in reactors that are currently being designed, or it can be buried permanently.

4. New kinds of nuclear reactors will be better.

Joshua and Staffan emphasize how nuclear energy can be made cheaper with better, more appropriate regulation and mass production of nuclear energy plants. But new forms of nuclear power are also likely to be safer and to better deal with the problem of nuclear waste. See the post “Is Nuclear Energy Safe? Well, Which One?” The standstill in building civilian nuclear power plants in the US means that we only have old nuclear power plants outside the military, so our image of nuclear power plants is of the old dinosaur nuclear power plants.

Conclusion.

The emotions surrounding nuclear power are great enough, I suspect many people are afraid to say nice things about nuclear power. For our planet, this is a much, much more damaging form of political correctness than many other forms of political correctness that people worry about. We need more people in the intersection of the sets of people who (a) do not deny the reality of global warming and the value of doing something about global warming and (b) know basic facts about nuclear power like those above, and (c) say every nice thing about nuclear power that they believe to be true.

The view out our window here in Colorado is worth a little extra radiation due to the higher altitude. See “   Miles Moves to the University of Colorado Boulder   .”

The view out our window here in Colorado is worth a little extra radiation due to the higher altitude. See “Miles Moves to the University of Colorado Boulder.”

After Gastric Bypass Surgery, Insulin Goes Down Before Weight Loss has Time to Happen

In “Obesity Is Always and Everywhere an Insulin Phenomenon” I argue that insulin levels are a crucial determinant of weight gain and weight loss. I follow up on this idea in further posts,

and apply this idea in

Today, let me point your attention toward an important study that gives more evidence of insulin’s importance for weight loss. In “Loss of Insulin Resistance after Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass Surgery: a Time Course Study,” Kusal Wickremesekera, Geoff Miller, Tissa DeSilva Naotunne, Graham Knowles and Richard S Stubbs write:

Gastric bypass has repeatedly been shown to improve and even cure type 2 diabetes by substantially improving insulin resistance. … The changes in insulin resistance seen after gastric bypass, which are responsible for the resolution or improvement of type 2 diabetes occur within 6 days of the surgery, before any appreciable weight loss has occurred. 

Insulin resistance is when many cells in the body have become somewhat “deaf” to insulin; the insulin-producing cells then respond by “shouting”: producing more insulin. Because not all responses to insulin are equally tamped down, the extra insulin increases the incidence of insulin side-effect. Even though it is produced by one’s own body, insulin must be considered a drug, and high doses cause trouble.

This link and those above will take you to the full abstract. Unfortunately, the article itself is behind a paywall, but going through the University of Colorado Boulder’s library website allows me free access. I consider the following paragraph the centerpiece of the paper. In order to understand it, you need to know the definition of “humoral”: relating to the body fluids.

There is abundant evidence from many centers indicating that type 2 diabetes can be cured by gastric bypass and by other forms of bariatric surgery. That this is achieved before appreciable loss of weight is an important clue to improving our under-standing of insulin resistance. Whereas obesity is conventionally thought to produce insulin resistance, it may emerge that obesity is another manifestation of insulin resistance. Put simply, insulin resistance may cause obesity, not vice versa. It has been postulated that gastric bypass improves diabetes through influences on the entero-insular axis, through a humoral effect. Our understanding of the changes in insulin resistance following surgery has been assisted by the documentation of marked falls in plasma insulin levels within days of gastric bypass.

Let me unpack this. It says that surgeries in the general category to which stomach stapling belongs can cure type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is basically a bad case of insulin resistance in which key cells have become so deaf to insulin that even if a lot of insulin is produced, they aren’t responding to the insulin enough. This is a bad situation!

The authors say explicitly that insulin resistance may cause obesity, as opposed to obesity causing insulin resistance.

What causes insulin resistance? High levels of insulin.

How can insulin resistance be reduced? Low levels of insulin.

How can insulin levels be reduced? One drastic way to lower insulin levels is gastric bypass surgery. It isn’t fully understood how gastric bypass surgery does this. Another way to reduce insulin levels and hence lower insulin resistance is to fast—that is, to eat nothing for a while. This effect is big enough that the authors worry in the paper about the reduced insulin resistance comes from the fact that people can’t eat for a while after gastric bypass surgery. Fasting is something you can do at home without having to go to the hospital!

Somewhat strangely, the authors write as if having some kind of operation is the only thing that would ever lead individuals to fast:

Without a sham operation being performed on severely obese individuals, it will be hard to resolve the role of fasting on insulin resistance in these patients. However, sham operations can be performed on animals, and experiments in a non-obese diabetic rat model support the hypothesis that the loss of insulin resistance is related to surgical bypass of components of the gut.

But many people are trying out fasting as a way to improve their insulin resistance.

I think of fasting (drinking water—and tea or coffee if desired—but not eating) as the most important idea I have come across for weight loss. It also has other health benefits. And if you are eating food that tends to produce relatively little insulin (see Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid), my experience and that of others I know is that fasting will be surprisingly easy. Or to put things another way, fasting gets a bad rap because people think of the agony of fasting in the wake of eating sugary food and other food that ramps up insulin. (Another factor in a low-insulin-index diet making it easier to fast may be that a low-insulin-index diet tends to be high in healthy fats, which makes the transition to burning one’s own body fat easier.)

A good place to start in putting these ideas into practice is last week’s post: “3 Achievable Resolutions for Weight Loss.” If you try these ideas, please let me know if they work for you—and even more importantly if they don’t work for you. I want to understand what works in practice, and hearing about things that didn’t work is a key way to get there.

Don’t miss my other posts on diet and health:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography.

John Locke's Argument for Limited Government

In Chapters VIII-XI of his 2d Treatise on Government: Of Civil Government, John Locke makes his central argument for limited government. In Chapters VIII and IX, he argues that governments arise out of a situation with no government, and so derive their powers from the intentions of those in that initial situation of no government. In Chapters X and XI, he lays out his views on the most basic rules for appropriate government constitutions.

Below, I give links to all of my posts on these chapters, as well as links at the bottom to the aggregator posts for earlier chapters. Of the posts on Chapters VIII-XI, the most important five are these:

  1. We Are All Born Free

  2. Defense against the Black Hats is the Origin of the State

  3. The Public Good

  4. The Only Legitimate Power of Governments is to Articulate the Law of Nature

  5. No One is Above the Law, which Must Be Established and Promulgated and Designed for the Good of the People; Taxes and Governmental Succession Require Approval of Elected Representatives

Here are all the posts on Chapters VIII-XI:

Chapter VIII: Of the Beginning of Political Societies

Chapter IX: Of the Ends of Political Society and Government

Chapter X: Of the Forms of a Commonwealth

Chapter XI: Of the Extent of the Legislative Power



Links to posts on the earlier chapters of John Locke's 2d Treatise can be found here:

Posts on Chapters I-III:  John Locke's State of Nature and State of War 

Posts on Chapters IV-V:  On the Achilles Heel of John Locke's Second Treatise: Slavery and Land Ownership

Posts on Chapters VI-VII : John Locke Against Natural Hierarchy


Links to posts on later chapters so far:

Chapter XII: Of the Legislative, Executive, and Federative Power of the Commonwealth

Chapter XIII: Of the Subordination of the Powers of the Commonwealth

Chapter XIV: Of Prerogative

Chapter XV: Of Paternal, Political, and Despotical Power, considered together

Chapter XVI: Of Conquest

Chapter XVII: Of Usurpation

Chapter XVIII: Of Tyranny

Chapter XIX: Of the Dissolution of Government




Peter Conti-Brown: Can Trump Fire Jerome Powell?

Peter Conti-Brown is my coauthor on a paper in progress about negative interest rate law. I am grateful to Peter for permission to make his latest Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Can Trump Fire Jerome Powell? It’s a Political Question,” a guest post here. Here it is:


‘This is a challenging moment for central banking,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said shortly after his February appointment. He wasn’t kidding. Weeks later, President Trump launched the first in a series of broadsides against the Fed. In recent months Mr. Trump has called the central bank “crazy” and “a much bigger problem than China.” The conflict has been mostly confined to harrumphing. But last month Mr. Trump told the Journal: “Let’s see what happens with Jay Powell.” Can he raise the stakes by forcing the chairman out?

He isn’t the first president to ask the question. More than 50 years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson had a similar conflict with Chairman William McChesney Martin. No one wanted more guns and butter than LBJ, and Martin, predictably for a central banker, stood in the president’s way. He saw Johnson’s program as a threat to price stability.

In 1965 Johnson asked if he could fire McChesney. No, Deputy Attorney General Ramsey Clark answered in a memo—for two reasons. First, members of the Fed’s Board of Governors “are appointed for a 14-year term and may be removed from office by the President only ‘for cause.’ ” The term “cause” was limited to “neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.” Because the Fed was independent, “lack of confidence or disagreement with policies or judgment” wouldn’t be enough.

Second, because of the curious governance structure of the Federal Reserve, Martin wore two hats: He was a governor and the chairman. As chairman, he had a four-year term that lacked explicit statutory protection. But the lawyers wrote that since that term “is prescribed by the statute it is reasonably clear that, once designated, the chairman cannot be removed” before the end of that term. Johnson didn’t pursue the issue, and Martin served until 1970, outlasting Johnson by more than a year.

That sounds like good news for Mr. Powell. Unfortunately for him, a lot has changed. For one thing, the Supreme Court has repeatedly limited Congress’s ability to restrict presidential control of independent agencies. In Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (2010), for example, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court that “the President cannot ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed if he cannot oversee the faithfulness of the officers who execute them.”

The PCAOB, a body created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, is different from the Fed. But the high court’s recent decisions and present composition suggest a skepticism toward the administrative state. Brett Kavanaugh, probably the federal judge most skeptical of limitations on presidential power over administrative agencies, will likely move the court strongly in an antiadministrative direction.

Further, the lawyers were probably wrong in 1965 about the implications of the chairman’s four-year term. In 1976 Congress passed a law establishing a 10-year term for the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As with the Fed chairman, that statute does not expressly prohibit the president from removing the FBI director at will. Under the Justice Department’s logic in 1965, it would follow that the president lacks the authority to fire the FBI director except for cause. But both Bill Clinton and Mr. Trump fired their FBI directors before the term expired. The Fed is different from the FBI in a lot of ways—but probably not in this one.

Mr. Trump, Mr. Powell and the public are unlikely to see a judicial resolution to this question. Waiting on the Supreme Court to resolve uncertainty about the control of the Federal Reserve would be devastating for the Fed’s credibility and inject substantial uncertainty into the global economy. In the face of such turmoil, either Mr. Trump or the Fed would blink. In other words, despite all kinds of law around the Fed, conflicts between the central bank and the president are always and everywhere political phenomena.

We’re now entering the second act of this drama. How the play ends depends not only on Donald Trump and Jay Powell, but Congress and the political process. If Americans and their representatives embrace Mr. Trump’s campaign against the Federal Reserve’s independence, no law will protect it.

Mr. Conti-Brown, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, is author of “The Power and Independence of the Federal Reserve” (Princeton University Press, 2016).


3 Achievable Resolutions for Weight Loss

A week after New Year’s Day, many people have already abandoned—or even forgotten—their New Year’s resolutions. So now is the time for some resolutions that will work better.

Let me suggest three resolutions for weight loss that work well together and have three helpful features:

  1. They each have a bright line for whether you have done them or not.

  2. They each are separately helpful, so even if you fail on one or two, the other one or two will still make a big difference, and you can feel good about that.

  3. Each one, if you ever temporarily fall off the wagon and fail to do it on one occasion, has a fallback activity that will put you ahead.

Here are my three suggested resolutions, along with the fallback activity if you fall off the wagon, that will help you get back on the wagon.

Go Off Sugar. This one is simple and powerful. Stop eating sugar, except for a very limited list of exceptions that you have laid out in advance. (For example, most days I eat a few squares of chocolate bars that are 88% or more in cocoa content and so hopefully don’t have much room left for sugar in them. See “Intense Dark Chocolate: A Review.”)

One of the most powerful benefits of the determination to go off sugar is the knowledge you will gain from reading food labels to see how high up sugar is on the list of ingredients for each type of processed food. In addition to reading labels for processed food, you will want to read “Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid” or a sense of where other kinds of food fit in. My post “Letting Go of Sugar” has some helpful hints, including this link, which I repeat here: "56 Most Common Names for Sugar You Should Know."

Fallback Activity: If you do eat sugar, notice how you feel in the next couple of hours. My prediction is that you will feel a bit hungry and may well crave more sugar. If you are eating sugar all the time, such feelings will be so frequent in your life they will hard to notice as anything unusual; but if you manage to avoid sugar most of the time, then you have a chance to notice the effects of sugar in making you hungry. Noticing the effect that sugar has on you will make it easier to get back on the wagon and easier to remember the cost of eating sugar when you face your next temptation.

Choose and Keep To an Eating Window Shorter than 16 Hours a Day—With Appropriate Exceptions. One of the biggest causes of obesity is eating from getting up in the morning to bedding down at night. If you choose an eating window shorter than 16 hours a day and only eat within that window, you will be on your way to improved weight and improved health. (As long as you avoid sugar and the more problematic nonsugar sweeteners, coffee and tea are fine outside of that window. On the more problematic nonsugar sweeteners, see “Which Nonsugar Sweeteners are OK? An Insulin-Index Perspective.) Even if you choose an easy eating window of 15 hours, that will make you more aware of your sunup to sundown eating patterns. And if the eating window you have chosen starts seeming too easy, you can try a more ambitious eating window. One tip here: For healthy adults who are neither pregnant nor nursing, it is a myth that one needs to eat breakfast. The “Cui bono?” question of who gains from fostering this myth is easy to answer!

Note that the value of eating as a social activity means you should sometimes make an exception to your eating window policy. When you set your goal, it is a good idea to lay out the maximum number of days in the year with which you will make exceptions if there is a good reason, and what count as good reasons.

Fallback Activity: If you end up eating outside your eating window, try to think of what might make it easier to stick to that eating window that you can experiment with, going forward. Would shifting the time of the eating window in the day help? Would drinking coffee, tea or fizzy water (club soda or carbonated water made with Sodastream for example) during the time outside the window help? Does it help if your last meal or snack at the end of the eating window is especially low on the insulin index? (Again, see ““Forget Calorie Counting; It's the Insulin Index, Stupid”)

Come Up with an Inspirational and Informative Reading Program to Help with Weight Loss. It is important to be regularly reminded of the principles of weight loss, particularly since there are plenty of companies out there that can increase their profits by steering you wrong. It also helps to get ideas and inspiration. Many traditional religions have adherents listen to at least one sermon every week to help them stay on the strait and narrow. Weight loss is difficult enough that most people trying to lose weight will need at least that much in weight loss inspiration every week in order to succeed. There are many great things to read about weight loss. I have the links to all the diet and health posts I have written so far down below (which refer to the diet and health books I have found most valuable), and I am sure you can find many other great things to read online and in the bookstore. Not everyone has the same perspective I do; I hope you will at least consider my perspective along with the other perspectives you read.

Fallback Activity: If you realize you are behind on your reading goals, just take a moment to try to remember the ideas in the last few things you read and think about how those ideas might help you. In line with the principles I discuss in “The Most Effective Memory Methods are Difficult—and That's Why They Work,” this will do a lot to get those ideas into your long-term memory, where they can stick around and help you in the long run. Indeed, this fallback activity is so valuable, do it even if you are keeping up with your reading goals: at that moment you feel the glow of having achieved that goal, take a moment to remember and think about some of the ideas in the last few things you read.

Conclusion. Please let me know how well these suggestions work or if they don’t work at all! An overriding principle beyond anything I say above is that you need to be experimental. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else—either a variation on the theme or something entirely different.

One of my contentions is that what we have been doing as a society for the last 50 years hasn’t been working well, as evidenced by the upward trend line of obesity almost everywhere and among almost every group. So as a society, we need to experiment with other approaches than what the bulk of people have been doing.

Don’t miss my other posts on diet and health:

I. The Basics

II. Sugar as a Slow Poison

III. Anti-Cancer Eating

IV. Eating Tips

V. Calories In/Calories Out

VI. Other Health Issues

VII. Wonkish

VIII. Debates about Particular Foods and about Exercise

IX. Gary Taubes

X. Twitter Discussions

XI. On My Interest in Diet and Health

See the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" and the podcast "Miles Kimball Explains to Tracy Alloway and Joe Weisenthal Why Losing Weight Is Like Defeating Inflation." If you want to know how I got interested in diet and health and fighting obesity and a little more about my own experience with weight gain and weight loss, see “Diana Kimball: Listening Creates Possibilities and my post "A Barycentric Autobiography. I defend the ability of economists like me to make a contribution to understanding diet and health in “On the Epistemology of Diet and Health: Miles Refuses to `Stay in His Lane’.”

Christian Kimball on Middle-Way Mormonism

Although his spiritual journey has been different from mine, my brother Chris has also wrestled with the question of what to think of Mormonism. One of the other guest posts by Chris that I list at the bottom is “Chris Kimball: Having a Prophet in the Family, which makes clear why neither of us could escape that question. Below are Chris’s words:


There has been an unusual flurry of talk lately about “Middle Way Mormons.” The Salt Lake Tribune (Peggy Fletcher Stack); By Common Consent (Sam Brunson); Wheat and Tares (a series); and even Times and Seasons ran a piece.  I commented, I provided background, I was quoted, but I have resisted doing my own “how it is” counter-essay until now.

I am a “Middle Way Mormon” by everybody’s definition.  It is not my label—I prefer “Christian who practices with Mormons.”  But it’s better than the alternatives on offer. This is not a to-be-wished-for designation—a high ranking Church leader sympathized with me about “living on a knife edge.”  It’s just a label for a modern reality.

Somewhere in the middle of all the commentary, George Andrew Spriggs observed that “successful Middle Way Mormons . . . undercut the traditional boundaries and truth claims about the church.”  This observation challenged me to describe the church I belong to.  I have tried this before, and the reaction has been “no—doesn’t exist, you’re wrong, that isn’t a thing—just no.” Because of this history, exposing myself this way is scary.

This is long.  This is personal.  This is my opinion.  For today--although reasonably stable for more than 20 years now.  This is also my life, the real stuff.  Reportage, not polemic.  You should not be like me.  You have been warned.

* * *

As a Christian who practices with members and at the meetings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes my choices come down to tradition and a hymnal. At the same time, I am officially a member of the Church.  I haven’t resigned.  I value my baptism.  I take the sacrament with intent.

So what is this Church I belong to?  As I see it.  As I live it.

I view Joseph Smith as one of the religious geniuses of the 19th century, a man who had a theophany, from whom and through whom several books of scripture came to be, who experimented and collected and assembled a religious vision. And a prophet, in the sense of receiving the word of God and a charge to speak it.

Not necessarily a good man.  Not right all the time.  Not necessarily true to his own insights.  Not always consistent.

I view founding a church, restoring priesthood, organizing ordinances and sacraments, and developing temple practices, as 19th century syncretic work by well-meaning men choosing from among existing Christian traditions.

I view the Book of Mormon as a 19th century creation.  I read it as scripture.  I find the subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” the most correct and useful description.  The Church uses the Book of Mormon as a ‘proof of history.’  I don’t find value in that approach.  The Church does not (very much) rely on the Book of Mormon for administration or theology.  But I do read the Book of Mormon for theology and Christology and more.  What I read impresses me as certain versions of New Testament Christian, Pauline, and even Trinitarian traditions, with flourishes.

For better or worse, I don’t find much value or spend much time with the Doctrine & Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price.  I try to remain conversant, but in the limited sense of staying relevant in the community and not as a religious or devotional practice.

My understanding of prophets is that their job is to speak the words God gives them (not to speak “for God”).  In that vein I consider Joseph Smith and other Church leaders as prophets.  My operating assumption is that when a person is called to be a prophet, a tiny percentage of his or her words will turn out to be God’s words, they won’t necessarily know which are which themselves, and they may not understand the meaning or relevance of the words they are directed to say.

As a practical consequence, I apply a 50/50 skepticism even to statements labeled “the word of the Lord,” which looks like a cafeteria approach to General Conference talks and to the Doctrine & Covenants.  For example, I view D&C 1:30 as an exaggeration, D&C 22 as the natural human expression of a restorationist mindset, and D&C 132 as a mistake—a confusing version of a Joseph Smith insight driven by a mixture of Bible study, wishful thinking, and domestic conflict.

Because I understand prophets (historically) to be mostly misunderstood outsiders with a revolutionary message, I think the Church’s practice of combining the prophet and president roles is problematic.  I look for other prophets in addition to Church leaders.

I do not have a sense of divine destiny about the Church.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the survivor of a series of existential crises.  A succession crisis.  A crisis over polygamy.  A crisis over financial viability.  A crisis over the participation of men and women of relatively recent African descent.  We tell the survival story after the fact, but I don’t view survival as predetermined.  I can imagine the Church failing any one of the past crises. I can imagine the Church failing the next one.

I see the Church in crisis now.  It is dealing with challenges to an identity myth built on a heavily manipulated white-washed history, alongside a theology built around eternal gender essentialism which makes it difficult to incorporate principles of feminism and to include non-binary persons in the Plan.  I do not know whether the Church will survive. More accurately, I don’t know what the survivor will look like and how I will relate to it.

The Church offers a rich selection of Sacraments (ordinances) and a variety of rituals, which belong in a Christian practice and which I appreciate and celebrate.  Not as unique or indispensable, but as valuable and inspiring.

On the other hand, embedded in Church practice are secret loyalty oath covenants, and an interview and disciplinary system serving up bishops as judges, that make idols of the institutional Church and its human leaders.  I reject and avoid these parts of Church practice.

I view the institutional and administrative practices as built on good intentions (“guided by the spirit”).  Most leaders are sincere and trying to do right.  I have seen some frauds and some thieves, and too much abuse—ecclesiastical, emotional, sexual—but the most common sin of Church leaders is sucking up (managing up or making the boss happy or working for the next promotion).

I observe that good intentions are not the same as decision by principle, or decision by consensus or vote, or decision by systematic observation and experiment.  Good intentions do not guarantee results.  I do not see evidence of unusual foresight in Church decision making.  I do not see a better than ordinary record of good decisions.  I do see some very bad decisions.

Finally, the Church has almost nothing to do with my lived and living experience with God (the real thing, not doctrine or description, philosophy or religion) or my personal devotional life including my prayers.  I consider them separate worlds.