Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Baptists Should Have a Shorter Life Expectancy (I wonder if they do?)

I've been sitting on this important news since it was reported in the July 5 issue of The Economist. But given the indigestion that the economy and politics are causing all of us, now is a good time to fill you in.
You've already heard that red wine can be good for you. Even in Holy Scripture, the Apostle Paul encouraged his protege Timothy to, "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses" (1 Timothy 5.23). This is one part of Scripture I'm happy to obey.
Various studies have supported the conclusion that wine can aid heart health. The significance of the Economist article is that we now know more about why - and we know more about when and how to take this important medicine. Read on (I've bolded some parts for those with attention spans less than 2 minutes):

Of Sommeliers and Stomachs

FINE food sings on the palate, but pairing it with the right wine creates a chorus. Among those in the know, the plum, chocolate and spice flavours of Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Pinot Noirs and Sangioveses best accentuate the rich flavours of red meats. Now, however, a group of researchers led by Joseph Kanner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has discovered that pairing red wines like these with red meat appears to be more than just a matter of taste. If the two mix in the stomach, compounds in the wine thwart the formation of harmful chemicals that are released when meat is digested.

The idea that red wine is actually good for your health is irresistible to the average tippler. But it appears to be true. In particular, red wines are rich in polyphenols, a group of powerful antioxidants that are thought to protect against cancer and heart disease by destroying molecules that would otherwise damage cells. How the polyphenols in wine exercise their beneficial effects, though, has been mysterious. That is because they do not seem to travel in any quantity from the stomach into the bloodstream.

The answer, Dr Kanner has found, lies in the stomach itself. The digestion of high-fat foods such as red meat releases oxidising toxins. One in particular, called malondialdehyde, is implicated in arteriosclerosis, cancer, diabetes and a host of other serious diseases. Dr Kanner suspected that the key to wine’s protective effect is when, precisely, it is consumed. He hypothesised that if the polyphenols arrive in the stomach at the moment when the fats are releasing malondialdehyde and its kin, then this might stop these toxic materials from getting any farther into the body.

To test this idea, he and his colleagues fed a group of rats one of two meals—either red meat from a turkey (a foodstuff shown by previous research to raise malondialdehyde levels in humans) or such meat mixed with red-wine concentrate. An hour and a half after the rats had eaten, they were killed. Dr Kanner then removed their stomachs and analysed the contents. As he reports in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the wine concentrate did indeed reduce the formation of malondialdehyde. It also cut the level of hydroperoxides, another group of oxidising agents that cause cell damage.

Based on these results, Dr Kanner and his colleagues argue that looking for antioxidants from wine in the bloodstream was a mistake; they do not need to be there to be useful. Their research also suggests that the habit of eating fruit at the end of a meal is a healthy one. Many fruits, too, are rich in polyphenols (wine is, after all, just fermented fruit juice). By treating them as dessert, these fruits arrive in the stomach at the point when meat-digestion is poised to do its worst—nipping the problem in the bud, as it were.

Pity the Baptists.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How to Know When to Get Married

Well, I went to a wedding yesterday, and nothing happened that was as interesting as what I offered you last week. Nevertheless, I saw an old friend there whom I haven't seen for perhaps a decade, and we had a great time catching up at Starbuck's afterwards.

Earlier in the week, I was having dinner with a different friend, and the topic of marriage came up. I was reminded of an article I read 15 years ago in Details magazine. It may be the most profound article on marriage I've ever read - surprising, perhaps, considering the marginally sleazy magazine it appeared in and the fact that it was penned by Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes.

Gano's entire essay was brilliant, but I'll limit myself here to what he says about readiness for marriage. How do you know when you're ready? It's simple, really: You should only get married when you're depressed. Read on:

[I]n terms of my opinion and mine only, I will state that it's best to marry when one is depressed. How will one know what one wants - if one wants to marry, if one is ready to commit - if one is buoyed up by a false sense of hope and happiness? To paraphrase a science journal that has since left my grasp: Depression's great benefit is that the depressed subject tends to withdraw attention from wasted enterprises. What a great time to marry!

Which leads to my next question/answer: When does one know that it's time to marry? When one has no hope. When one has given up all hope of ever being able to be happy with someone other than that one special someone, and (now watch this closely) when one also realizes that that happiness isn't even possible with that one special man or woman. Then it's time.

Marriage must be entered into with the proper sense of hopelessness, so that when its own hopelessness arrives it can be welcomed with open arms. Marriage may be a crucifixion of sorts, but after comes the resurrection. Marriage is believing that, despite the cross, there is coming an Easter; the tomb will open.


For my part, I married my best friend. I was motivated by a lot of fear and hopelessness, and I was, of course, depressed. And because I was depressed - not despite it - I don't doubt my decision. I'm glad to take part in continuing to create the mystery of matrimony. It intensifies life. It raises the stakes. It is saying yes to life, to change, challenge, suffering, death. And yes, yes, yes to the open tomb.

- "Balls and Chains," Details, July 1993, p. 62

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Keeping Up Appearances?

I cross paths a couple times each day with a guy in the office who invariably has a cell phone to his ear as he walks the halls.

It occurred to me today that I never seem to hear him actually talking while on the phone.

I wonder if he just walks around like that in order to look important.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not Sure How to Vote? The Bible Has the Answer.

The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.

- Ecclesiastes 10.2

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wedding Ennui

I'm going to a wedding Saturday. Not mine.

Weddings are generally boring. The same thing every time that no one listens to. If they were more like this wedding, however, I would look forward to them (45 seconds):

And think of the great story they will have for the kids.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What Would You Do?

NPR's Morning Edition had a sobering story today about the persecution of Christians in Iraq. You can listen to it here, or you can read a CNN article about the same subject here.

It's not just Iraq where Christians are having a hard time, of course. Most incidents never reach the press and we never hear about them.

Nevertheless, the NY Times, that bastion of liberalism, ran a story yesterday about the persecution of Christians in India. (Last November, I blogged about the hard time Dalits have in India; the NYT story isn't about Dalits, though.) As I read the stories, I found myself wondering what I would do if faced with these situations. What would you do? It's easy to show up at church in America and sing about our loyalty to Jesus and how wonderful it is to be a Christian. The worst opposition we face is usually our own sin and self-preoccupied narcissism. But what if we faced what these Indians face? What would we do? Check these excerpted vignettes, or read the entire story here:

The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”


Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.

Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.


[A] Hindu mob in the village of Nuagaon dragged a Catholic priest and a nun from their residence, tore off much of their clothing and paraded them through the streets.

The nun told the police that she had been raped by four men, a charge the police say was borne out by a medical examination. Yet no one was arrested in the case until five weeks later, after a storm of media coverage.


A few steps from where the nun had been attacked in Nuagaon, five men, their heads freshly shorn, emerged from a soggy tent in a relief camp for Christians fleeing their homes.

The men had also been summoned to a village meeting in late August, where hundreds of their neighbors stood with machetes in hand and issued a firm order: Get your heads shaved and bow down before our gods, or leave this place.

Trembling with fear, Daud Nayak, 56, submitted to a shaving, a Hindu sign of sacrifice. He drank, as instructed, a tumbler of diluted cow dung, considered to be purifying.

In the eyes of his neighbors, he reckoned, he became a Hindu.

In his heart, he said, he could not bear it.

All five men said they fled the next day with their families. They refuse to return.

What would you do?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Have an Evil Twin Brother

A lot of guys joke about having an evil twin brother, whom they blame for any number of things. It turns out I really do have one.
Yesterday, I made a business trip from Atlanta to Vancouver, BC, by way of Los Angeles. During my layover at LAX, I went to the Alaska Airlines "Board Room" club to check e-mails, eat snacks, and drink coffee. I put my blue blazer on the chair opposite mine while I worked at a little table.
Then the time came to board my flight. What a delight to have an exit row entirely to myself! Only after the door to the plane had closed did I realize I had left my blazer on the chair in the club. It was too late to do anything at that point, but as soon as I landed in Vancouver, I called the Board Room. The conversation started well, then veered toward the surreal.
"Oh yes," the lady said. "You were sitting in the chair over by the windows and the TV, right? Aren't you the one who called earlier? Someone called and said he left his blazer, so we ran it down to him. He looked at it and said it was his. Are you sure it wasn't you? What was the brand . . . Daks? Yes, that sounds right . . . "
So somebody has my blazer. My evil twin has it.
I called the Board Room again this evening. Also spoke with the baggage room and the person who keeps the "Left on Board" box. No blue blazers to be found anywhere.
I don't know my evil twin's name, but I know his size, and I know he has good taste. I wonder if he knows, however, how old that blazer really is. It might get $5 at the Salvation Army. But it'll cost me more than that to replace it.
(One final note: Everyone I have spoken with at Alaska Airlines has been unusually pleasant. After this incident, I'm not sure I'd trust them to deliver a checked bag to the right destination, but their friendliness stands out. Give them a call just to hear a cheery voice: 1-800-AlaskaAir. Mention Governor Sarah and they might even give you a 10% discount.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Making Our Financial Crisis Look Bush League (no pun intended)

In our preoccupation with the U.S. financial crisis - now democratically spreading to Asia and Europe - we may have forgotten about the goings-on in Zimbabwe.

A bit over a year ago, I reported that their inflation rate was set to hit 100,000% for the year. Now it looks like the economists got it wrong. In fact, the annual inflation rate has now hit 11,268,758.90%. That's the number reported by the governmental Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Check out their website, which will inform you as to the vision and mission of this feckless institution:

Our Vision
To become the financial cornerstone around which Zimbabwe's economic fortunes and developmental aspirations are anchored.

Our Mission
The pursuit of the Bank's vision will express itself through leadership in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of policies and action plans for fighting inflation, stabilisation of the internal and external value of Zimbabwe's currency ...
A few other tidbits from their website:
  • Inflation in the last month has been 839.80%
  • The overnight interest rate is 8500.00%
  • "The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has, as its primary goal, the maintenance of the internal and external value of the Zimbabwean currency. In this regard, the Bank is responsible for the formulation and implementation of monetary policy, directed at ensuring low and stable inflation levels and maintains a stable banking system through its supervisory and lender of last resort functions."
I would have explored their website further, but the pages load so slowly that the price of bread doubled three times while I was waiting.
The people of Zimbabwe are waiting, too. Over 5 million face starvation by the end of the year. My guess is that the great statesman, the near-divine President Mugabe, has food to eat that his people know not of.
Meanwhile, the world does nothing. Why intervene? It's just a bunch of black people who have nothing to offer us.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tough Monday? Things are Looking Up.

This short 20-second video is guaranteed to brighten your day. Watch it several times, and you just may be chuckling all week:

Courtesy of

Friday, October 3, 2008

It is Finished

21 months ago, I purchased the complete works of Bach. 155 CDs. Yesterday I finished Disk #155.

I'm a little depressed.

Listening through Bach was like reading the entire Bible for the first time, with new discoveries on every page (or track, as the case may be). Bach repeatedly astounded me with his mastery, his variety, his profundity, his energy, his joy. The world was not worthy of him, but we are the richer because he lived.

Toward the end of this collection, I became acutely aware that the joy of discovery was soon to be over. Often, I found myself hitting the "Replay" button, wanting to get every last bit out of the last few disks.As Dingeman van Wijnen put it in the liner notes for one of the CDs, speaking of one cantata's amazing closing chorale:

It is one of those moments in Bach where the first hearing brings us the sad certainty that we will never again be able to hear it for the first time.

Never again for the first time. But a lifetime's worth of depths to plumb.

So what's next? Start over? Move on to the complete works of Mozart (whom I mostly hate, 170 CDs) or Beethoven (85 CDs)? While I mull this over, I think I'll revisit some of my older CDs that got neglected during the Bachfest. Perhaps I'll start with Jacques Loussier, who does cool jazz versions of, ahem, Bach compositions. . .