Book Review: The Cancer Code

The Cancer Code by Jason Fung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Nobody loves codes as much as iconoclast physician Jason Fung. This is his third code so far. Though it’s easy to suppose they’d be spiritual successors the Robert Langdon trilogy of shitty mystery novels, Doc Fung instead focuses his energy on street-teaming for intermittent fasting and pushing low-carb paleo living without ever saying the word “paleo”, for which we’re all grateful.

Now, full disclosure, I haven’t read the Diabetes Code, but my high IQ and longtime Rick and Morty enjoyment makes me pretty good at recognizing patterns, so I’m still going to take a stab at cracking all three codes for you, right now, to save you the thousand or so pages it would take to assemble the whole picture of “the Wellness Code”, which apparently contains the cancer code, but neither the diabetes nor obesity code. Fung moves in mysterious ways. Coded ways.

Here’s the Konami code to health: Insulin is the devil. Minimize insulin exposure, maximize everything else from disease resilience to longevity to looking sleek and sexual at the beach.

Fung’s money is where his mouth is. I googled him, and he looks pretty ripped, especially for a doctor. He’s not massive or anything, not like that one doctor on Instagram who keeps trying to sell you special rubber bands to use in place of weights. All other things constant, I could beat up Dr. Fung, but I would never, as he inspires me.

The Cancer Code details the sordid history of attempting to treat cancer and its repeated, catastrophic failures. It’s implied that cancer is a disease of civilization, as outside of agrarian societies it’s rare to the point of mythical. Immunotherapy seems to be the most effective, if the least profitable, treatment option, but Jason Fung gently suggests (as most of my favorite practicing scientists, psychologists, and medical professionals tend to) that we don’t know shit about dick and consequently fall back on tried-and-true Hail Marys like radio- and chemotherapy, which poisons everything in hopes of killing the cancer.

Cancer is a disease of irregular cell growth. Normally, cell growth is a pretty good thing, but only if the cells cooperate with what is expected of them within the confines of the tissue they comprise. Cancer is the wires getting crossed and the cells in, say, the liver deciding that cooperation is too chancy and they’ll go it alone from here. The cells revert from eukaryotic function to a more primitive, prokaryotic function, remembered in the DNA from back in the days when each cell was fighting for its own life. And that’s what cancer is. These cells grow and propagate individually as fast as they can, sabotaging and consuming the surrounding cells (who are still being team players). The meme of cellular primeval psychopathy bounces all over the body, setting up satellite colonies, and that’s metastasis. Since these cells only care about individual survival now, the health of the organism isn’t taken into account, and it typically dies, taking the newly expanded cancer empire with it.

So how do we protect against cellular mutiny? As in most nutrition books, the message refines to Michael Pollan’s dietary dictum: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Doc Fung is always pushing intermittent fasting, so that’s step one. After that, low carb. Step 2. Get some exercise, the human body needs to move. Step 3. Voila. You’re… not quite cancerproof, but you just improved your chances enormously.

Here’s the why.

He repeatedly likens cancer to a sort of weed that grows in the garden of your body. The thing is, it needs specific soil conditions and nutrients to take root and strangle out the rest of the garden. The most important of these conditions, these specialized weed-foods, is IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor, released whenever we have an insulin response. The more insulin circulating in our system, the more IGF-1 comes with it. Insulin is pivotal for growth and development, especially for things like protein synthesis, testosterone production, and building muscle. We need some insulin, but we need it to serve its purpose.

Keeping the body perpetually inundated with insulin causes all sorts of stupid, avoidable problems, and it turns out cancer is a major one of them. A nonstop stream of IGF-1 keeps cells growing, and growing, and growing, and as soon as one flips the switch and decides it would do better on its own, baby, you a got a tumor goin’.

Caloric restriction, weight loss, and increased insulin sensitivity all help to shrink tumors, sometimes pushing them into full remission. Cancer needs insulin to grow. Burn the granaries and starve the empire.

Intermittent fasting becomes a magic bullet in this situation because not only does your insulin sensitivity improve when you phase out snacking, 16+ hours of fasting promotes increased autophagy, which is sort of like defragmenting your hard drive, if your hard drive was your body. Autophagy means “eating your own damn self” and it’s like a concerted effort within your body of looking for dying, damaged, or junk cells, then catabolizing them into component proteins and energy, potentially stopping fledgling cancer before it has a chance to foment rebellion.

It was a truly fascinating book, and a talisman against the 21st century’s answer to the Grim Reaper. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of ironic that he carried a wheat scythe.




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Book Review: Paleo for Beginners

Paleo for Beginners: Essentials to Get Started by John Chatham

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


It could have been a pamphlet.

At no point is the paleo diet ever discussed in any detail, or any reasons provided why it’s a logical, or even sensical choice. This one’s like an arbitrary rulebook that makes vague, buzzwordy reference to things like “blood sugar” and “bad cholesterol” and expecting you to take that at face value, then condemning milk and beans without making any sort of explanation for why that isn’t on paleo.

And then, the “recipes”.

Cook a fish! And some vegetables! Delicious fish and vegetables, serves 4.

Craving steak? Grill a steak! And some vegetables! You won’t go back to eating anything other than meat and vegetables after you try THIS paleo classic!

Do you miss pancakes? Smash a bunch of bananas and eggs together! That’s “batter”, now. Just fry it up in olive oil because butter is dairy! Whatever! Just like the cavemen!

On some dumb.

Two stars because it made me hungry for trail mix, so I made my own trail mix, which rules.



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Book Review: Go Wild

Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization by John J. Ratey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


One of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read. The idea is that humans are wild animals, and for all the trappings of civilization we wrap ourselves in, we’re still running the old jungle OS. We’re primitive creatures with primitive drives trying to force ourselves into the shape demanded by a modern world, and it’s making us fat, sick, and crazy.

The concept is a sort of natural expansion of Freud’s suggestion from Civilization and its Discontents, but less pseudoscientific and quacky. Freud said we’re animals. So did the Bloodhound Gang, in their seminal 1999 treatise “Bad Touch”. According to Siggy, the root of all neurosis is our superego trying to cram our id into the acceptable conduct box, so We might continue to Live In A Society.

Ratey says the same thing in more modern and empirical terms. Evolution programmed us over the last couple million years to exercise constantly, socialize constantly, eat huge quantities of fats, and maintain a state of mindfulness (which is just awareness of our surroundings so we don’t get eaten by bears). Our stress was immediate, and faded as soon as the danger was gone.

Flash forward to the present day. The most physically fit among us exercise seven or eight hours a week. We live in privacy boxes with immediate family or a couple roommates, who we tend to avoid because of how stressful talking to people at work or school is. Most of what we eat is corn and sugar. We don’t have time to be aware of our surroundings due to the constant hyperstimulus beaming a stream of shining blue data from the attention-hog computer we keep in our pockets, directly into our frontal lobes. We are mad at our computers because someone said something WRONG about VIDEO GAMES on the INTERNET, and we maintain a constant high-boil of cortisol because the tried and true tactic of “sprint until you escape” doesn’t work on student loan debt.

The answer? Knock it off.

The first book I read by Ratey was Spark, which changed the way I looked at exercise. I’ve always been obsessive about it (I tend to be hyperactive to a point just south of mania, Jackie Chan snap-kicking out of bed a few seconds before my alarm goes off), but I didn’t realize the effect it has on mental health and hormone profile. Most of what ails you, regular exercise will cure. Present research suggests that in trials for treatment of depression, anxiety, and ADHD, daily cardio worked as well or better than medication in terms of treatment. So naturally, that’s what they lead with in Go Wild: get off your ass and get your heart pumping, remind your body it’s alive.

Then comes groundbreaking life advice like “Zebra Cakes aren’t dinner”, “Sleep regularly”, and “Talk to people you like, in real life”.

I’m doing it a disservice with the pithy summary, but it’s an amazing book, and one I took my time reading because I didn’t want it to be over.

SECOND READ:
Read it again. I was right the first time, although now that I’m older and wiser I can recognize some of the reaching Ratey did in the last few chapters. A lot of the evidence was anecdotal there and instead of providing sources or studies he was like, “Try it! You’ll like it!”

I also found myself getting a little defensive when he talked about his other psychiatrist friend who insisted that PTSD therapy didn’t work and qualified it as “yakking”. So how do you resolve a lifetime of the collected, complex trauma from childhood physical and sexual abuse? Just go ahead and dance it right out. Join a Zumba and all those scars will evaporate. Oh, and slam down a handful of these super special drugs every day, of course.

I was going to write “get fucked, van der Kolk”, but in googling what the hell his name actually is I found out that he initially formulated the PTSD diagnosis and has been researching it for 50 years. He’s an authority, and pretending I know better based on my own anecdotal treatment experiences would be disingenuous, especially considering how often I push physically active coping skills on my clients.

The bleedover is van der Kolk tends to focus on ritualized movement methods within cultures like dancing, shamanic and wildly boolin’ religious practices (Shaker/Quaker style), and ancient Greek theater. A lot of these things included elements of psychotherapy right in them. Catholic confession is the most on-the-nose example, but exercises like shamanic soul retrieval have persisted largely unchanged into modern psychotherapeutic practice, so maybe our man has a point. I’ll give you this round, van der Kolk, and I’ll read The Body Keeps the Score someday.




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Book Review: Spirit Hacking

Spirit Hacking: Shamanic Keys to Reclaim Your Personal Power, Transform Yourself, and Light Up the World by Shaman Durek

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


No one to blame but myself for this one.

Here’s the problem. Conceptually, I think biohacking is cool, because I came up reading extensively on evolution, Zen buddhism, and the aggressive cyberpunk revival of the mid 90s. Unfortunately, the community surrounding it is insufferable. Ditto for things like paleo dieting. It’s the Rick and Morty effect. The show is pretty clever, but you can’t tell anyone you think that or you’ll get grouped in with people who like Rick and Morty.

I’ve got an academic interest in shamanism. I say academic to clarify that, as a white, heterosexual cis American male, if I were to announce that I believed myself a shaman, you would have a moral obligation to punch me in my smug mouth.

The other issue is I’ve pretty much exhausted GoodReads recommendations for books related to books I’ve enjoyed, so I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel, and nothing good is on the bottom of the barrel. That’s why it’s the bottom of the barrel.

Walking into a book called “Spirit Hacking”, linked to both biohacking and shamanism in the Similar Books category, penned by a guy whose first name is “Shaman” should have served as more than enough warnings to deter me. And yet, still, fool as I am, I plodded on.

The forward is written by Dave Asprey. For those blissfully uninitiated, Dave Asprey is the conman behind Bulletproof Coffee, which is the sad tech movement supported by cherrypicked and dummied-up neuroscience studies that encourages impressionable Silicon Valley elites with poorly tuned bullshit detectors that putting Super Special Bulletproof Brand Butter in their Super Special Bulletproof Brand Coffee somehow bypasses the blood-brain barrier to allow them to biohack their entire neocortex into some vague and ill-defined “greater functionality”. The nerds, promised that their brains work the same as computers and that doubling up on this scam will allow them to overclock themselves, they eat that shit right up.

So Dave Asprey writes the intro, and it isn’t an intro, so much as a commercial for his scam, but he also brags about how much money he has and how humble he continues to be, and how many cool spiritual adventures he has been on in his quest to be the perfect man, which, of course, he is far too humble and self-effacing to say that he is. However, you certainly can be, if you buy the right coffee, nudge and wink.

I narrowly made it through that when Shaman Durek hit the scene, reading his own book. Ill-advised. He proceeded to tell me that anybody could be a shaman, and he is a shaman, and he knew he was a shaman because he literally died. He goes on to explain this literal death was figurative, since it happened in a spirit journey or drug trance, so not really what literal means. Then he proceeds to get just, really, irrationally angry. Like he’s ranting about pretenders to the throne and fake shamans, gatekeeping ayahuasca use and railing against shamans who say other people can’t be shamans, even as he says that people who take drugs to become enlightened then get road rage can’t be shamans. Same breath. And it’s a wheezing breath, because as he’s reading his own audiobook, he’s getting genuinely angry again. You can hear it in the voice. Why would I listen to a grown man I don’t know throw a recorded temper tantrum for 11 hours?

I made it to the next chapter, when he started talking about how he knew he was a shaman because as a child he would hug random people and burst into tears. I cold-stopped when one of the sections was subtitled “My heritage is mystical AF!”

That’s enough for me, I think. I’ll continue along my wretched life deprived of my personal power. Sorry, dude. The rest of the book might be a transformative, world-lighting tour de force. After that… performance, I’ll never know.



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Book Review: Breath

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I have a favorite class of book, which I refer to lovingly as “my ungabunga bullshit” that usually consists of nutritional or fitness claims drawing on shaky evolutionary science to advance an agenda that, ultimately and disappointingly, leads to pawning supplement placebos. Despite how insulting to the intelligence these tactics are, I can’t help but love the paleo quasi-science they’re pushing. Pull virtually anything from the Joe Rogan recommended reading list and you’ve got a 1 in 3 chance of stumbling on the kind of literature I’m talking about.

These books usually lean heavily on anecdotal evidence (like the entire Carnivore diet), or what we believe may have been how primitive man lived based on the fossil record and modern hunter-gatherer societies (like the Primal Blueprint or the Awakened Ape), and they universally reference our man Weston Price, peregrine dentist, and his discoveries on the miraculous effects of not eating carbohydrates (Good Calories, Bad Calories, the Obesity Code, anything keto or paleo related, et cetera ad nauseum).

I might sound dismissive, but it comes from a place of love. I like what they’re pushing, but I know the limitations of the science and I resent them trying to sucker me into buying “Primal Calm” sugar pills, especially with them saying, in the same breath, that sugar is the Great Western Devil.

In the same breath, bringing us back to the topic at hand. James Nestor is a journalist with disastrous dentition and a mouthbreathing habit that has left him, to hear him tell it, physically deformed. He looked like a normal dude to me, but maybe that’s the problem. Breath takes the same tone and theme as the rest of my ungabunga bullshit books, but rather than suggesting that the answer is “shit in a squatting position and deny the Demon Wheat”, Breath suggests that all of our problems, as highlighted by Price’s hundred year old tribal dentistry journals, are caused by the fact that we breathe through our mouths (and, to a lesser extent, don’t chew enough).

The science is young, but the few studies he referenced seemed legit. A lot of the book was more of a memoir of him serving as guinea pigs in these breathing experiments alongside crazed foreigners who were likewise convinced that proper breathing was the key to immortality, with the craziest and most foreign being Wim Hof, just for context.

I was especially intrigued by the perfect sociopath with the damaged amygdala experiencing fear for the first time in her life when forced to breath carbon dioxide at greater concentrations than usual, which is an effect mimicked in the body by “overbreathing” or not fully pushing the air from your diaphragm on the exhale. The exercise studies suggesting greater athletic capacity when breathing properly (that is, through the nose and emptying the lungs) were interesting, but highly anecdotal, and relied too much on the emotional language of the participants for my own comfort.

There’s also the whole Mewing thing, the glue that holds this collection of yoga techniques and self-report questionnaires together, and that isn’t empirically tested either.

End of the day, there’s not much in Breath that qualifies as actual science. On the same token, “breathe deeply and close your mouth, you stupid animal” isn’t bad advice. It’s like that folk wisdom you hear so much about.



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Book Review: Deep Nutrition

Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional FoodDeep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A cute doctor’s lengthy exposition about how eating actual food will make you healthy and cute.

Well, maybe not cute, she clears that up in the beginning of the book when she talks about how she was a lanky teenage distance runner who subsisted entirely on spaghetti. It worked well enough to keep her crossing finish lines, right up until it didn’t, and her leg fell apart. Bedridden and busted-ass, she started tweaking her diet and noticed the more real food she ate – meat, vegetables, cheeses, the good stuff – and the less refined sugar and Demon Wheat she allowed into the gangly, crooked temple of her body, the faster her recovery.

Doc Cate threw herself full force into studying the effects of nutrition on the body and, by extension, genetics, and came up with some beautifully problematic conclusions that I will outline with great relish.

The human body was designed to eat a specific kind of diet, and that kind of diet, along with regular exercise and adequate sleep, allows it to grow tall, strong, and hardy, all of which it’s supposed to be. Failing to get the nutrition required by the human blueprint results in errors in genotype and more readily visible phenotype programming.

In utero, these errors can cause catastrophic physical deformity like limbs not working or babies born without eyes or whatever. Shanahan also suggests a causal factor between poor prenatal nutrition and functional/neurological disorders, like ADHD and autism. She justifies this with a quick crash course in genetics.

I’m not smart enough to know real genetics. A psychology degree gives you roughly the same credibility in pure scientific fields as having a Top Member badge on the I Fucking Love Science! facebook, so I was thankful Doc Shanahan laid it out in a way that slack-jawed layfolk like myself could understand.

Coded into your genetic schematics, you have the potential for genes that do virtually everything, and interact with each other to increase or decrease likelihood of things like red hair, height, a full and luscious beard, tig ol’ biddies, et cetera. The coding is there no matter what, but whether or not a particular trait is activated is dependent on environmental factors. She likens it to toggling a switch on and off.

So our genome is full of these on/off switches for things like green eyes, clubfeet, proneness to addiction, or heart disease. Depending on what we eat, how much we move, what kind of movement we do, how much we rest, and how we manage our stress, some of these switches get turned on and some of them get turned off.

In an ideal situation, which is always a hunter gatherer society in this type of books, assuming ready access to a dependable animal protein supply, the toggles for “tall, strong, and hot” are going to be switched on. Most of the toggles for most cancer and heart disease are going to be switched off, and the toggles for diseases like diabetes and arthritis are going to be virtually nonexistent.

Horrifying, right? She goes on about physical attractiveness for most of the book, arguing that it remains one of the most reliable markers for physical and genetic health. Wrongthink in the extreme. You can’t just say uggos are more likely to suffer physical and mental illnesses, rate themselves as less happy, and wind up in jail, no matter what kind of research you’ve got supporting it. It’s 2020, dude. We’re all equally beautiful at any size/shape/mineral deficit.

And for the rest of the book, she issues a throaty, sustained Valkyrie war cry leveled against shills like that vegan doctor (Dornish, I think his name is), the vegetable oil industry, Big Agriculture, and that son of a bitch Ancel Keys.

She’s pretty mad about sugar and grain, which is normal for these kind of books, but she is absolutely livid about vegetable oil. She talks about the effects the trans-fats have on the arterial walls, resembling proteins that we use but functionally serving as trojan horses for compounds we can’t (deadass, it’s just poison), then sticking that along our cell membranes and functionally “deep frying us” from the inside out. And then that gets blamed on healthy foods like butter and meat, because our entire country runs on corn subsidization.

I was going to give it four stars, but I bumped it up to five. She just got so angry about vegetable oil. It was incredible. Damn, queen, you look adequately nourished when you’re mad.

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Book Review: Ishmael

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (Ishmael, #1)Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hugely condescending gorilla bullies the narrator about his affiliation with civilized society and the mythology perpetuated by agriculture.

The titular Ishmael puts out an ad in a newspaper encouraging starry-eyed idealists who want to save the world to come to his darkened office, whereupon he talks down to them both for the ongoing ecocide of their species and their mistreatment of the Jews.

The narrator is a monke masochist and eagerly returns day after day to receive another telepathic lambasting from a pompous gorilla who, we are repeatedly assured, smells “meaty”.

Ishmael tells him that every society has a creation myth, and humanity’s prevailing myth of evolution, while correct, is organized so that creation is complete with the coming of man. Man is the reason for the creation, the world is man’s to conquer, and these are the reasons man is such an absolute asshole to ecology in general.

That’s the Takers mentality, or the people who opted in to the agricultural revolution and all the grody little kinks to our individual and collective psychology it brought with it. The Leavers are the isolated bands of humans who opted to keep living in accordance with nature, and they’re doing just peachy keen, as they had been for 2 million years. At least, they were peachy keen, until the Takers’ unrelenting destructive grabassery threatened (and continues to threaten) an extinction-level event.

There was a cool little Biblical analogy spun in there, where the story of Genesis is an allegory written by the Semites (Leavers, nomadic herders) and co-opted by the Caucasians (Takers, agriculturalists from the fertile crescent. Don’t be alarmed, this is before Caucasian was synonymous with white) after the smoke cleared.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the belief that the eater can distinguish exactly that, which was otherwise left up to the gods. When the first farmers started stockpiling grain, they were no longer at the mercy of the fates. They knew what was right. Their way was right, and anybody who disagreed was in for a good old fashioned reckoning.

Like any good fledgling empire, they expanded recklessly. They ran across the Semites, ancestors of the Hebrews, who were pastoralists, and they started killing them because they needed the land. The Semites, as you can imagine, were baffled.

This brings us to Cain and Able. Able represents the Semites, favored of God, his very chosen people, and Cain represents his murderer, the increasingly militarizing Caucasians, decidedly not their brother’s keeper for the first time in recorded history. And guess what that makes the mark of Cain?

The gorilla teaches the narrator that every civilization before us has crashed and burned, empires keep turning to ash, and we’re next in line, with the added bonus of destroying most of the environment.

“What do we do?” pleads the narrator.
“Knock it off,” says his instructor.
“How?”
“Destroy industrialized society and go camping again.”
“No,” says the narrator, “I mean what do I do, personally?”
“Teach 100 people.”

Cop out! Raise awareness? Come on, Ishmael. Nut up and advocate ecoterrorism. We’re all thinking it.

In the end of the book, Ishmael dies of pneumonia before the narrator can rescue him from the carnival sideshow. This was the masterstroke, in my opinion, because he didn’t need to die. When the narrator offered to help him, he insisted he wouldn’t live “off anyone’s largesse”. He didn’t even tell the narrator that he was sick.

He was trying to ignore it. He was too proud to change what he was doing, too proud to reach out for help, and it wound up killing him.

The same way we’re killing the world.

Hooooo, don’t it just give you chills? Five monke out of five.

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Book Review: The Primal Blueprint

The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless EnergyThe Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy by Mark Sisson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another ungabunga paleo supremacy book winds up in my reviews, big surprise, but this one left me really conflicted, probably because the author was so flagrantly Californian.

The Good:
Our mans is a successful ultramarathoner, lifelong athlete, and current health coach, so he knows his stuff. He explained the function of insulin in a way I finally understood, after half a dozen books have tried with varying levels of success. (I still had to copy a paraphrase down in my sketchbook for it to fully land, though. Real science is hard.)

The laws of the primal blueprint are as instinctive as you’d expect of something called “the laws of the primal blueprint”. Eat food, don’t eat not food, exercise intelligently, sleep, play, use your brain, put down the goddamn nintendo and go outside. Conceptually solid. Mom was right. Outside of that, it’s the usual awakened caveman shtick — move how evolution intended, wheat and sugar are the devil, manage your stress, and everything will fall into place.

Nothing here I can argue with, and nothing I would argue with even if I could. This is how I keep my house in order, and it’s why I’m such a little fuckin’ ray of sunshine.

The Bad:
It’s a pyramid scheme. The clown name-drops his personal line of “primal supplements” constantly throughout the book. With names like “Primal Probiotics”, “Damage Control”, and “Adaptogenic Calm”, and at a measly $30 to $50 a bottle, you know you’re in good hands. Primal pill supplements! You know, like australopithecus used to order!

Or if you want to take it the rest of the way, how about becoming a “Certified Primal Health Coach”? That’s right, for a one-time payment of $4,495.00, Sisson will tell you the 10 steps to being a functional person again, then print you a little diploma. Hopefully he sprang for some Captain Caveman clipart, but I’d be hesitant to try to juke around Hannah Barbera’s copyright, too.

Now that we’re a nice round $5k in the hole, we can truly begin our Primal Adventure (note: actual Primal Adventure packages sold separately).

Most of the science in the book held up, but I took issue with the exercise part. Again, I’m sure we are all gawp-mouthed and astounded. Sisson presses for maintaining a heart rate between 55 and 75% of your max HR for the “comfortable pace” movement, which he advocates to get as often as you can. That, two days of weightlifting a week, and 20 minute HIIT sprints every other week and you will be a marvel of primal athleticism! You will be Caesar from Planet of the Apes, but smooth and sexy!

Thing is, I’m in good shape, and I can get my HR up to 55% walking my dog. And my dog is real slow, fellas. He’s huge.

But, benefit of the doubt, I tried that for a week. It was a massive drop-off from my normal regimen of what he would call “chronic cardio” and I would call “a pitiful 20-minute run every morning”. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but that week I barely lost any weight (half a lb) as compared to my consistent 2 lb/week loss I’ve maintained since January. I was also grinding my molars down to nubs with all my excess pent-up energy, because 3-5 hours of brisk walking a week is not an exercise regimen, as any extant hunter gatherer society will tell you.

Now, granted, I lost those 40 lbs following the primal blueprint, but only incidentally. If you exercise, sleep enough, and eat primarily meat and vegetables, you’re going to get healthier and trimmer no matter what. Even if you don’t spring for the year’s supply of Primal Fish Oil.

Sisson spends the whole book talking about how buying into his program will improve your generalized fitness, not only your health but your non-specific athleticism. Grok (the cringe-inducing fictional caveman he chose to represent primitive man in his contrasts between diet and lifestyles in the prehistoric and modern worlds) had to be ready for anything, so he had to be well-rounded. He achieved this by following the 10 laws, and they made him not only healthier and happier, but spry right up until the end of his days.

There’s some truth to this. You don’t need to be an anthropologist to see the difference between a modern hunter-gatherer elder and the shuffling ghouls that Westernization has inflicted on the rest of the world as a perceived inevitability after retirement.

So I was willing to buy it, right up until Sisson talked about how he busted his leg and wound up in traction for six months playing Ultimate Frisbee (which of COURSE he just referred to as Ultimate) in his early 50s.

All this can be yours for the low, low price of $4,495.00.

The only other gripe I had was all the middle-aged woman yard sale jokes he polluted the writing with, but honestly, after tallying the rest of the issues, it feels petty to take a star off for that.

Two stars. One for explaining insulin to me, the other for confirming my bias.

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Book Review: Civilized to Death

Civilized to Death: What Was Lost on the Way to ModernityCivilized to Death: What Was Lost on the Way to Modernity by Christopher Ryan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was a big fan of Sex at Dawn, but that was more specialized. This one is wide-ranging and deeply disappointed with the absolute state of the place.

The take home, as is usually the take home in my beloved unga bunga bullshit books, is that the more civilized we became, the further we got from ourselves, which is why the modern world is such a seething morass of anxiety and rage. Ryan draws from the left-field guesses about our origins that constitute anthropology along with modern studies of hunter-gatherer tribes to conclude that we probably enjoyed like a lot more when it was simple and we were living in accordance with the animal drives embedded with us over the millions of years it took for us to turn into hairless apes.

We’re living in overcrowded Skinner boxes. We were never meant to see this many people, let alone see them every day. We were never meant to intake this much data. We’re highly adaptable, which is why we’re still alive as a species, but this is a freshwater fish in a saltwater tank situation. The adults are miserable because they eat things that aren’t food and spend all their time doing fake things that they don’t care about. The children are doomed because they’re kept confined and medicated to oblivion if they behave like children, especially during the federally mandated eight to ten daily hours of Sitting Still and Doing Math that constitutes early education. Being forced to live so counter to our instincts causes that civilization discontent Freud was popping off about, which leads to anxiety, rage, madness, an increasingly worsening world that makes the next generation suffer all the more.

Most jarring for me was the chapter on death and dying. Ryan champions a sort of stoic, honorable acceptance of death, reflected in primitive societies where the old, feeble, useless, or potential liabilities would take it upon themselves to functionally commit suicide by nature. Horrifying for us to consider, until you take a closer look at the state of the health care industry. A full 33% of the health care budget, 33% of all money that pertains to medicine in America, goes toward the 5% of people in the health care system who are going to die that year. It’s a huge money funnel dedicated to prolonging the process of dying. CPR, ventilators, chemotherapy, all these last ditch “well, something has to work!” efforts don’t heal the sick. It’s a racket, a ritualized worship of pain that ends up bankrupting whole families for generations.

It’s hard to read books like this and hope that the end isn’t well and truly nigh, especially in light of the Corona outbreak. So many people are hyperventilating at the prospect of things “never getting back to normal!”

Why would you want things to go back to normal?

I’ll see y’all in Thunderdome.

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Book Review: The Human Swarm

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and FallThe Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall by Mark W. Moffett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An exhaustively researched analysis of human tribalism and the evolutionary underpinnings of in-group selection, cultural identifiers, and racism, for some reason put together by a tropical biologist who specializes in insects.

Humans are unique in that they can pass other, strange humans on the street without it becoming an ordeal. Very few social animals are capable of ignoring one another due to instinctual acknowledgement of potential competitors. We’ve adapted to being able to disregard strangers, but that’s not the same thing as acceptance, and our monkey-mind still has us giving preferential treatment to those we deem to belong to our group/tribe/band, which is usually divided along lines of nationality, religion, and ethnicity. You’re invited to feel guilty about it, but the full gauntlet of implicit bias psych tests demonstrate that shades of bigotry come standard with the human portfolio, and no amount of re-learning can shake the heuristic from its root.

Neither does this give us carte blanche, so to speak, to be 12-year-old Call of Duty gamers. This reflexive identification with others like us at the expense of others not like us only registers for a few milliseconds before our higher reasoning circuits kick in and we’re able to make up our own minds. That initial impression could color the rest of the interaction, but it’s up to us and our utilization of the orbitoprefrontals as to how. It’s like a balloon popping. There’s no getting around the startle reflex, but then it’s your choice to either laugh it off, or to curl up into a corner and shriek until sedated.

A lot of the book was about hunter-gatherer societies, which I consider to be my jam as I am a major proponent of being joined in the shrub by my brethren. They tend to exhibit the usual human level of xenophobia, scaling in severity dependent on how violent their societies are, but with the exception of cross-tribe exchanges, usually of women, as a means of avoiding the incest taboo. They are avoidant of leaders as we know them, suggesting that human rulership is a relatively recent development; the anthropologists all agree that in these close-knit tribal communities, humility is the coin of the realm, and braggarts are smacked right tf down by everyone else. It’s common for the tribe to heap praise on the hunter who bagged tonight’s dinner, while the hunter is apparently expected to say things like “No, this was the smallest one there!” and “I was just lucky”, stuff like that. Self-aggrandizement is viewed with either suspicion, best case, if not outright scorn.

We’ve come a long way.

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