Friday, May 19, 2017

Plants

Why is it so late in life that all this knowledge became available? Used to be, if I suddenly want to know how water was transported within a plant stem, I'd fucking have to wait until tomorrow to go to the library. Maybe, if there was a library around. Then I'd have to beg a librarian to look up some book, and then I'd have to fucking go through a whole fucking Van Der Waals "Princaepum of Plants, Vol. XII" and come to page 765 to find the relevant section.

Now all I do is Google it.

WHY wasn't there a Google when I was 8? ALL THIS KNOWLEDGE, and I'm fucking fifty fucking nine fucking years fucking old.

It'll now take me years of reading to find out how properly to take care of plants, whereas if the Internet had been around all my life I could have read up on it little by little.

All this knowledge, and my fifteen-year-old son spends his fucking time PLAYING WAR VIDEO GAMES.

I'd like to WRING HIS SCRAWNY LITTLE CHICKEN NECK.

I mean, I was genuinely fascinated by this stuff when I was 14. I swore I wanted to become a biologist. But I only had one book—the textbook that was given to me in my science class. And no possible way to get another, maybe on a subject that was more interesting to me—because it was TASOK in Kinshasa, Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo.

DON'T GET ME STARTED.

Okay . . .  I get how water molecules are made of two hydrogen atoms, and the electrons buzz around but mostly near the oxygen atom, so the side of the molecule near the hydrogen atoms has a negative charge, which attracts other water molecules like tiny magnets, which makes them able to defy gravity and travel upwards through a plant's xylem, which is made of cellulose, which is the wall of the xylem made from dead cells—making cellulose. So the water molecules fill the niches of the cellulose until they're saturated. Which means that in this way water can reach the top of redwoods.

So good so far.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Revenge of the Trillion Samurai

  J   apan crushed me. It took everything I'd worked for for almost a quarter of a year and turned it  upside down and inside out.

Me, who's been ranting and raving about sugar demons and gluten fasts, me, who's been prebioting and probioting and vitamining and fightamining, me, reduced to eating four cakes a day for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a night-night treat, but not neglecting a sugared "Kwasson" or a "Fruits Bar" in between. All that punctuated with four or five lattes, six teas and bottomless glasses of fuzzy water, pasta or pizza for dinner and what you have is a very, very angry Biome.

The Trillions were up in tiny arms, waving their ciliae and pilli and filaments and flagella and other maddened microbial mechanisms of movement in vehement protest.

My Trillions decided not to give me the hint by making me nauseous, as they knew I might retaliate by downing a particularly disturbing morsel of sushi, so in order to punish me they conscripted their  Japanese brethren, who gave me honourable gallstones as a housewarming present.

The gall!

Upon returning to Montreal, it was not possible to just resume my previous diet straightaway. In fact, I had become so conditioned to the sweet routine in Japan that I have found it almost impossible to dump the sweet stuff, even trying to imitate the drink they made me at one of my favourite café haunts: Honey-lemon sparkling water.

I've been chowing down on the glutenous junk as well: croissants for breakfast (not whole wheat, because I can't find them!) and even regular durum-wheat pasta, because Brigitte doesn't particularly like the whole wheat version.

And the third gut-biome test I sent in, in July, has not come through yet, so I only have those two first tests to go on. The day I got back from Japan I took a sample and sent it in, and I'll be very interested to see what THAT honourable result will be.

But it's definitely time to be ruthless and return to The Diet, in all its tree-hugging, granola-crunching, Save The Whales glory.

But this time, a little more is at stake. Gather round, my merry band of conspirators, because i have some news for you: this will not all be in vain.

Because now there is disturbing proof of what all those doomsaying dieticians and chart-waving scientists have been telling us for decades now: if we pursue healthy lifestyles, we live longer. 

No, not the couple of years you'd expect.. Not even the ten years you might grudgingly concede.

No, if you pursued a healthy lifestyle—whatever that might be—you could expect to add seventeen-point-nine years to your life.

That means croaking at age 88 instead of kicking the bucket at 70. Seventeen years is your reward for all those cakes uneaten, those glasses of single malt undrunk, all those florets of broccoli and cassoulet de wheatgrass sprouts

That is not an unsignificant number, and if you will excuse the choice of words, it's extremely sobering.

And let's not forget, that's seventeen years not being sick, presumably being in the prime of exuberant health, able to take cruises to Reïytvïkken or Tromsø or get in those extra games of shuffleboard at the Residence when all around you are glued to The Price Is Right. I mean, Shady Pines, here I fucking come, dudes!

So when I finally cast off these sugary shackles and re-enter the world of slow, deliberate, Biome-friendly food, it will be in the knowledge that it is for a good cause, that there will be a tangible reward, and that the Trillions will be able to continue having children, and grandchildren, and great grand-children, and great great grandchildren, and great great great grandchildren, and great great great great grandchildren, and great great great great great grandchildren, and great great great great great grandchildren, and great great great great great great grandchildren, and great great great great great great great grandchildren,

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Hell Is a Mosburger

At the bus stop, after saying goodbye to Tai-chan

Yes, Misery is a place. I've done this trip drunk, but that never helped—I lost too many laptops.

One saving grace is the Wifi at Kansai airport—ever since I can remember, going back to even 2005 or so, they always had free, fast and easy-to-log-on Wifi—bearing in mind that back then, 864K Jpegs were actually quite large.

But here I am, in Miseryville.

It would be better except for this persistent abdominal pain—very worrying. It's unnatural. I just can't figure it out, but it's not going away. Right below the sternum, mostly, but sometimes radiating out to the right, right where the upper lobe of the liver would be—or the pancreas, I'm guessing. Oh, and the esophagus. Oh, and the stomach. Fuck!

Well, can't say as how I'm maltreating it, except for the CRAP I AM FORCED TO CONSUME.

In Japan, there is NO SUCH THING as healthy food—unless you're heavily into Japanese food, and that's expensive. If you're forced to eat on the run all the time, in restaurants or from convenience stores, you are royally FUCKED. There is no such thing as whole wheat here, no such thing as a plain croissant. Everything is soaked, spiked, painted, dusted, glazed, SLABBED with sugar. I mean, how can you actually INSERT A CUBE OF BUTTER INTO A PASTRY so it explodes bizarrely into your mouth? Yet they have done that very thing; I am a living witness.

It's just sick—so I'm sick. I'm sick of trying to decipher their katakana—the phonetic way they convert foreign words, so "croissant" becomes "ku-a-sa-n." And it becomes "su-ii-to" (sweet). Then there is the ubiquitous "ku-ri-i-mu ku-a-sa-n" (cream croissant) and hundreds of variations. Whole wheat, unsugared is not one of them.

So fuck knows what this is doing to my biome—if it is indeed my biome.

Last night I was dragged, unhappily to a quite upscale "sushi boat" restaurant, except the fare is not $1 a piece, it's $4 a piece. You are charged by the colour and pattern of the plates you get your food on, and then they count the plates.

I had two maguro sushis and one stick of ebi tempura (shrimp tempura) but the bill for all five of us—three children and two adults—came to around $105. Tai-chan did most of the devouring. I counted 12 plates in front of him . . .

Regrettably, not anticipating this  authentic Nipponese feast, I didn't bring my camera gear, so it is left to your imagination . . . middle-aged men wearing white chefs' hats slicing, patting, assembling dozens of glistening sea creatures, some alive just seconds before, and putting them atop clumps of sticky white flecks of bright white endosperm-wrapped rice, middle-aged women in asceptic white frocks orchestrating the mayhem in a cacophony of fishy, raucous Japaneseness.

It's quite insane.



So as I sit here glumly at a fast food counter at Kansai Intl., my flight a yawning four hours away, some James Taylor Swift songs shrieking on the loudspeakers around me,  I beg you to whisper a sliver of happiness to my quavering, wavering trillions, as they anxiously await the next ugly surprise that is going to plummet down amongst them.


I have to move now—I've been practically squatting here for two hours, charging my Devices. they're going to kick me out pretty soon.

See youse in Vancouver.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tennō Heika, Biome Banzai

Rising Son
  G   reetings from the land of the Rising Son.

I've blogged about my trip extensively here, but I haven't really written anything about where it is that I am dwelling and puttering.

What is this Nara place like, and how is The Biome getting along?

I've shown you movies and pictures, but I haven't described what it is like to step out of my hotel on a typical day in August.

First of all, the temperature hits you. In the hotel, it's a very comfortable 70°F/21°C. When you step into the sun-drenched street, the temperature suddenly jumps to 98.6° / 37°C—coincidentally, human body temperature.

But that is only the temperature of the air. In the full force of the sun's rays the temperature must jump to something approaching 113°F/45°C.
Sunset from hotel window, courtesy Tai-chan

It's stupendously, staggeringly, unbearably hot. All your body wants to do is to get the hell out of there.

I would honestly say that of the hundreds of people streaming down the street at 11 a.m., fully 5% are carrying umbrellas. (All of them are women, strangely.)

Some women even have long black sleeve hoses made of what looks like thick wool; why they insist on black is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. That however, is not wrapped in a conundrum; it's obvious that they took a clue from the Arab burqa.

And the streams: the street my hotel is on leads directly from the Japan Railway (JR) station to the park and all the temples and deer. Along the street are dozens. if not hundreds of shops. Convenience stores (Lawson, 7-11), "drug" stores, which roughly correspond to our super-drug marts, minus most of the drugs (these are usually dispensed directly from the hospital under strict supervision, if I recall my aberrant drug usage correctly), small specialty stores, even gambling dens (ostensibly lottery, but probably more).

And among these are dozens of un-describable places, there are some so old-looking that you expect samurais to jump out with swords drawn. Their doors are always closed, it seems, so indeed, there might be samurais hiding within. Nara is impossibly old; one of those cities that goes way back past the Dark Ages and into the era of Rome and true antiquity.

A typical side street in downtown Nara
And the people: well, fully 10% are foreigners, sometimes travelling in gaggles of 20 or more. They all regrettably look just  your stereotypical image of a Western traveller: sunglasses, baggy shorts, backpacks, scraggly beards (men only, thankfully) and I swear that on the first day I came there were two women in full hijabs (head scarves) but in their defense, they looked like they may have come from the Malayan Peninsula. Still, wearing religious garb in Japan is frowned upon, if not met with outright suspicion.

And streaming they are. Lately Tai-chan and I have noticed that quite a number of the Japanese are wearing traitional kimonos—men wear them too, but in dark, unadorned shades of purple or grey. And some of them wear those uncomfortable traditional wooden platform shoes, the geta.

Mike and Kathy (just kidding)
I asked around and it seems that they;re going up to one of the temples to light candles for good luck—it's the Obon season.

I remember that when I lived in Bentenchō, around this time of year there would always be some kind of matsuri, or street festival, with all the traditional stalls and games and foods of yore.

Perhaps that is going on somewhere deep in the bowels of Nara Park, to which I have not yet ventured (yep, been here fifty times and never gone to that famous park. I'm definitely not a tourist.)

So that's roughly what it's like on a typical day here in Docteur Neeque-land. I'm fairly well known by the denizens in the shops I frequent so we all have our various funs and games as I pervasively shatter the myth of the Western schlub, gawking at everything and carrying 100-yen-shop Rising Sun folding fans—awkwardly. My Japanese friends are grateful for the respite of trying to stammer their few known words of English; they treasure being able to talk to a gaijin on their own terms.

And the Biome? Fuck the Biome! I've been recklessly subsisting mainly on cakes and tea and cafe lattes, with a pasta or pizza chaser.

That regrettable repast, Oden
There are no, repeat no, Japanese-style restaurants around here; at least, none that serve recognisably Japanese food. It's all that strange proto-Western fare; deep-fried chicken (kara-age), noodles of many kinds, odd vegetables (oden) and curry-rice (kare raisu) which resembles more a sticky white mountain topped with curry-powder-and-turmeric-drenched perfect rectangles of mystery meat.

These are not all, mind you; there are coffee shops and dessert shops where the only thing on the menu is various sorbets and sundaes (and coffee, of course) but my only vice is the cake shop, to which I Buddhistly go every morning, as they tend to run out of my varieties by the afternoon.

And my Biome is . . . unhappy. I've had a persistent abdominal pain since I've been in Japan. Sometimes it gets pretty bad, but I can't pin it down to any cause—it isn't "triggered" by things I eat or drink. It just seems to come and go as it pleases. I call it "Nara Stitch", as it resembles that pain you get (used to get!) when you ran far with little conditioning.

Never mind; Japan is what it's always been, and the Biome is indifferent. I brought a testing kit along with me but Tai-chan is reluctant to do the test, probably from the Ick Factor, although there really isn't one.

But I shall take the test and see what this strange diet of cake, tea, coffee and white flours (all delicious!) has done to my microbial trillions.

Helllooooo Prevotella! Goodbye Firmicutes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Japanese Microbiome Calls: 共生生物どうぞう!(Welcome, Symbionts!)

  T   he Japanese microbiome must be vastly different from the Western one.

Contrary to popular Western beliefs, the Japanese don't dine on sushi for breakfast, have sukiyaki for lunch and then grill a nice Steak Teriyaki for dinner, all accompanied by their sticky rice.

What they actually eat is so vastly different from us (but catching up, no doubt about that!) that I can't even describe it to you. It involves lots of vegetables you've never heard of and treats that would make you puke.  And yes, there is lots of rice.

The thing is, they do eat rice often, but not in large quantities. Their microbiomes love the extra sugars and carbohydrates, but they're extremely complex carbohydrates with multiple compounds that benefit the microbiome in ways vastly different than our slice of all-dressed pizza.

But yes, I'm going to make my two-week stay in Japan yet another experiment—because I live to be a guinea pig. (Moru-motto in Japanese—their fucked-up interpretation of the word "Marmot." They use this to talk about all lab animals, irrespective of species.)

I will take a sample the day before I leave—conveniently on a Sunday again—and then eat my "Japanese" diet while I'm there for two weeks. The day I come home I'll take another sample.

Regrettably, I won't be eating sushi and ramen every day. Because the area around my hotel, in downtown Nara, is populated by Italian and hot dog places.

This chain café is everywhere in Japan and serves great hot dogs. I won't be eating them, but my son, Tai-chan, loves them. I might ask HIM to take a sample. Now that might be interesting! I think I'll take a kit with me to Japan . . .
There are no places that serve the so-called Japanese food that everyone is familiar with. There is no steak teriyaki—there is something called teppan-yaki (鉄板焼き) but it's frequented by high rollers and you'd better be ready to flash a wad before entering. Sushi places are also for high rollers. The average Japanese go to places like robata-yakis which are fairly cheap and you can drink like a fish.

I will not be drinking like a fish. In fact, I will not be drinking at all—and my biome cheers.

But back to my biome, and my test results. It's all very curious—and unsettling.

Let me explain: I did my first test at the second week of the grand experiment—for two weeks I had been eating my regular diet, allowing all sorts of things like whipped cream and cake and Clamato, all sorts of other things I don't consume any more. It was meant as a control—in other words, went my thinking, this will be the bad test, the one which will show how fucked up my diet really is.

So when I went to do the sample, I actually used two test "kits," which actually are small vials containing some sort of preservative clear liquid. The idea is, you swab a small tissue (provided) with your "contribution sample," and then swish the tip of the swab in the vial containing the liquid. You screw back on the top, shake it up, and voilà. It's ready to ship.

Thing is, they provide a "spare" vial—I guess just in case you screw up the first sample.

Well, I didn't screw up the first sample, but I contributed to the "spare" vial, with a swab from the same sample on the tissue that I had used for Sample One. So if you're following, the Spare vial should have contained roughly exactly the same quantities and kinds of bacteria that the Main vial contained.

Except it didn't.

When I got the results of my first test, I kind of ignored the fact that they'd done a complete test on my Spare sample as well—when I finally came to the realisation that I actually had two sets of results from the same test, I was naturally expecting the results to be identical. I mean, the swabs had come from the exact same sample on the tissue. How different could the results be?

Well, take a look. I'm not sure which one is the Main sample and which is the Spare, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is how different they are from each other. (Right-click to open the images in a new window; then magnify.)



For example, look at the "Diversity percentile." It differs by an incredible 8%. If that is the case there, how much should I trust the figures on all the other pages?

Then, I got the results from my second test. When I did the second test, it was three weeks after the first test, to the day. The first of those three weeks, I had radically eliminated everything from my diet. No sugar—at all. No dairy, at all, No gluten, at all. I was truly deprived, for a week.

The second and third weeks before Test #2, after the week of the Great Purge, I started with the pre-and probiotics—Prebiotin powder in kefir for breakfast, with a probiotic pill containing 50 billion bacteria, and the rest of the day with very careful and measured reintroduction of only the healthiest comestibles that I could come up with. Viz. lots of broccoli, lots of fruits and nuts and no added-sugar anything. At the end of those three weeks I did Test #2, in exactly the same manner I had done the first test.

So I was expecting radically different results.

What I got, however, was just a puzzle . . . (remember, the dates on these tests are not the dates I took the samples—they're about a month delayed).



Notice how my "Diversity percentile" has plummeted—exactly the opposite of what I thought would occur. Even my "Wellness match" is disturbingly reduced.

How can this be?

But don't take my word for it—take a look for yourself (link and password in my mass email of this post. (Email me here if you want the link and password).

I took Test #3 a couple of weeks ago and am waiting for the results. But it takes a keen eye and a head for figures to analyze the results—a degree in microbiology wouldn't hurt, either.

But the Japan trip opens up a new realm of possibilities. Can I really radically reshape my microbiome just by being in another country?

Results at juu-ichi-ji!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

We're Surrounded

  I   t's always puzzled me: these scientists on this rabid quest to find life on other planets. What are you gonna do, guys, when you find the life? You're gonna fuck it like you've fucked the life we have.

And we have so much life! We have life on every square millimetre of this planet—and all the way to the edge of space and to the bottom of Earth's crust, there is life. In fact, you could say that Earth is just one huge organism, which it is—in the Great Oxygenation Crisis cyanobacteria came along and produced oxygen, which killed 99% of the life that was living at the time, because they were all anaerobic. In other words, the bacteria destroyed the lungs of the planet and changed them into oxygen-loving lungs.

And then, the life adapted. The huge amounts of oxygen in the air enabled giant life forms to evolve; giant dragonflies the size of small eagles.

So why don't the scientists turn their attention to the enormous amount of life we have right before our very eyes—in fact, ALL OVER our very eyes.

I was cleaning some cilantro just now and thinking about what I was holding in my hands: a magnificent edible plant with its own unique character that evolved over millions of years to be this way, to taste this way. And only this plant tastes like this; for reasons that no one can possibly know.

And what will they find on Mars? They won't even find the smallest protein or amino acid, and they surely won't find a bacterium. But why do they care? Why not study Earth and all its magnificent progeny?

All life came from bacteria, billions of years ago—and viruses.

People, even knowledgeable people, seem to get very confused when confronted with bacteria and viruses. They really don't seem to know the difference, so they ask for antibiotics when they get a cold. This is ridiculous, as is the notion that if you're wet in the cold, you'll catch a chill. The cold does't give you a cold; viruses give you a cold.

So what is the difference? If I had to qualify bacteria and viruses, I'd have to say that bacteria are tiny animals with no brain that are simply surviving for one purpose: to reproduce. Collectively, they form a brain, like a vast beehive. They're aggressive, but careful. They want only to live, to reproduce.

Viruses, on the other hand, are simply brainless bundles of proteins that are wrapped in bad news. There are actually disputes as to whether or not they can even qualify as being alive. Perhaps they're more like vitamins, or minerals. Non-living but reproducing nonetheless.

But they aren't too concerned about protecting their hosts; they don't care if their host dies; they just want to reproduce until they can't reproduce any more.

Bacteria and viruses survive side by side, but they're like the Irish and the Italians in 1920s Chicago. They agree to disagree, but they divide up their turf peaceably, because it's business.If they went around just killing each other, they'd all starve.

I've just received the results from my second biome test, and they're extremely puzzling. They're not at all what I expected.

But that's for next time. Do the study on the difference between bacteria and viruses, and remember: you are literally swimming in an ocean of invisible life. Don't worry about aliens.

They'e already here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Deadly New Virus Warning

Asparagus Syndrome victim
  I    rarely comment on things that are not biome related, but I feel the need to point out a dangerous new virus that seems to have originated in Japan.

It goes under various names, among them "TinyHead virus" and "Head-shrinking virus" but with a bit of sleuthing, I have identified the true culprit to be a cellular-phone virus originating from something called "PokemonGo v.1.0."

I have, for the sake of pronounceability, renamed the virus "Asparagus Syndrome."

Asparagus Syndrome is characterized by the rapid fashion in which victims are overwhelmed with spontaneous microcephaly (shrinking of the head) and an  overpowering urge to keep a cellular communication device six inches from their face at all times.

The main risks from Asparagus Syndrome are not caused by the disease itself but rather by injuries sustained from walking into stationary illumination installations (SIIs), more commonly known as lamp-posts.

If you suspect you have had any recent contact with a Japanese person, Japanese people or products originating in Japan, the CDC recommends either avoiding the usage of all cellular communications products, or as a last resort an emergency head transplant, available at most witch doctors' nationwide.