December 31st, 2007

Hemry, _Burden of Proof_ and _Rule of Evidence_

Two more entries in JAG in Space. In the second entry in the series, Our Hero meets his girlfriend's dad, who is a complete jackass. Then, the girlfriend's dad is tapped to run the investigation on Our Hero's ship after a Chief Petty Officer dies in a mysterious, major fire. While Our Hero isn't blamed, he's kinda smeared in the resulting investigation, which results in a recommendation for the person probably responsible, at least in part.

Then someone comes to Our Hero saying, hey, I gave a statement and it wasn't in the report. Our Hero tells the Captain, who authorizes further investigation, resulting in the obvious conclusion: the guy that got the medal is Teh Evil and must be court-martialed. Very compelling circumstantial evidence; no direct evidence that he caused the fire/gave the order that resulted in the fire. Antics ensue.

The third entry is sort of a mirror image. As hostilities between SASAL and the Euro-Americans escalate, Our Hero's girlfriend's ship blows up and she is the only survivor in Engineering. A major refit added some software and hardware that is supposed to help with power distribution. Its design connects it to not only everything that is connected to power, but also all of the controls (including safety interlocks) that are connected to power. Predictably, this results in disaster.

However, it turns out the contractors responsible for this piece of nonsense covered up ALL failed tests during development, and while numerous people comment on how odd it is for something this major to come through on schedule with no significant problems, everyone also accepts the assertion that it couldn't POSSIBLY have caused this disaster. So instead, lacking alternative explanation, and in the absence of any evidence or witnesses (cause they all got destroyed), they blame the Hero's Girlfriend.

Now, this bothers me. A lot. Like, why wouldn't you blame one of the victims, instead, if you're looking for a saboteur? Seems kinda silly. OTOH, the desire for a scapegoat can be overwhelming. On the gripping hand (hey, this is a review of two sf novels), why isn't anyone worried about this SEERS system? First trip out of the yard, the first ship with it installed blows up mysteriously. Would _you_ accept expert witness testimony that this is impossible?

Then again, a lot of people _have_ accepted such testimony in comparable situations. *shrug* Frustrating to someone with my background, but I can't say it isn't realistic because I'm sorry to say I suspect it's _very_ realistic.

Nice in-joke: one of the members is from the ship Dhalgren. Go, Hemry!

One book in this series remains.

I don't know beans

But I will.

I keep meaning to post about my leguminous musings, and I keep thinking I _have_ posted but I haven't. Expect this to be lengthy.

I think somewhere in the back of everyone's head there's some basic information about beans. Like, they make you fart. You eat them with grains to get a "complete" protein. Chili. Pasta fagioli. Caldo verde. Boston baked beans. Refried beans. Edamame. Tofu/tempeh/TVP. Burritos. Frijoles. Pinto gallo. Etc. Occasionally, if someone really makes us think about it, we'll remember that coffee comes from a bean, and chocolate comes from a bean. We know that beans and legumes are somehow related, but may or may not have any detailed idea of what that relationship might be. If we read _Guns, Germs and Steel_ or similar, we may have run across the word "pulse" as applied to food, and may have even concluded that pulses are somehow related to beans and legumes.

As a result of my milk allergy, I have slightly more awareness of The Bean, in that soy milk is a common substitute for cow's milk. Because of my deep and abiding affection for vegans, I have occasionally slid along the path towards vegetarianism, which again has caused me to glance off of bean dishes.

It is, however, not easy to find out about beans. Where do you buy them? How do you cook them? Canned is nice, but the whole sodium thing made that really hard until I discovered Eden's no salt added canned beans line. A friend turned me onto the McDougall cookbook, within which I found my oh-so-favorite black bean sloppy joe recipe. I eventually concocted a no-meat/all-bean chili that I like to have periodically. And Cafe Flora's hoppin' john fritters were impossible to give up and 3000 miles is too far to go for brunch (often, anyway).

While I have not (yet) bought a pressure cooker (at this point, probably just a matter of research and therefore time), I've cooked beans in the crock pot and beans on the stove (haven't yet tried the oven, altho I've heard good things). I stumbled across epazote and that's pretty good stuff, altho I personally think (after last night's black beans) that kombu is better. OTOH, it may just be a matter of cooking the beans long enough.

One might think that all dry beans are created equal, but I'm here to tell you that recent crop organic dry beans can't legitimately be compared to some-aged-crop dry beans that have been kicking around on the shelf for who knows how long. Probably all more or less good for you (especially compared to what you might be eating), but still. The fresher ones cook faster, plump up better, look nicer and taste better. You can buy organic or regular dry beans in bulk online and the shipping isn't even all that crazy.

I wanted a bean cookbook, because the recipes I was seeing in general cookbooks were a little repetitive, particularly in the types of beans (and for whatever reason, they didn't use a lot of black eyed peas, which I love. And now have a 25 pound bag of. I could just keep making those fritters, but I'd like to branch out). There aren't very many bean cookbooks out there (like, maybe three. If you think you've found more, several are probably the same book by Aliza Green under various printings/titles). This is somewhat amazing, considering how many whole grains cookbooks are available -- even one by Betty Crocker.

I'd like to take a moment and just contemplate the post-Atkins landscape: it includes a whole grains cookbook with the Betty Crocker brand on it.

Some years ago, I got curious as to what would happen if we all woke up one morning and started eating the way the food pyramid said we should eat. My first question was, is there enough of the right kinds of foods for us to do that? I never got past that, to things like, would we be healthier, because _there isn't_. Contemplate that for a while. The USDA and everyone (except Atkins, South Beach, etc.) is basically producing advice for us to eat in a way that's totally incompatible with the food supply. And we wonder why that advice isn't working. Duh.

In thinking about beans, I thought, how many beans are available for people to eat in the US? About 6 pounds. Assuming that's dry weight, and assuming a serving size of 1/2 cup cooked, that's about 36 servings. Not really enough to have any real impact, hunh? There's a guy at the University of Kentucky whose done a bunch of research on various diets (let's just say: not a fan of Atkins) who fed some men 1 1/2 cups of beans a day for three weeks. Their cholesterol dropped by 19%. While there was certainly some replace-something-else effect, for the most part, the rest of their food pattern was left intact. That's really a helluva result, considering how many people are taking statins because changes to their eating patterns were ineffective.

Not too long ago, some researchers put together the "portfolio diet" to try to reduce cholesterol through dietary changes. They proposed 4 changes: swap meat for soy (not beans in general, probably because soy "products" are "convenience" foods and because soy is a "complete" protein on its own, unlike other beans), get lots of fiber (psyllium drinks, oat bran, okra, eggplant), plant sterols (think Benecol and the like instead of butter and margarine), and nuts. About a third of their participants got about a 20% reduction in cholesterol starting at about 2 weeks. Another third saw a 15% reduction. The rest didn't get much out of it, possibly because of non-compliance. Depending on who you talk to, this is either a simple swap in an ordinary diet, or an incredibly onerous, near vegan undertaking.

Given what Anderson saw by just adding 1 - 1 1/2 cups of beans to an otherwise unmodified diet, ya gotta wonder why that sucker doesn't work better than it does.

There will be more in further posts. Trust me. ;-)

New Year's Resolutions (some beans)

It is New Year's Eve, the last day before the Resolutions kick in. Already, store shelves are filled with diet and exercise and other self-help media (hey, it's not just about the books and magazines -- don't forget the yoga and pilates tapes, er, DVDs). Last year, I didn't make any. Previous years, I have sometimes made resolutions. I remember one year, one of my resolutions was to get better at level changes (this would be sort of a technical thing applicable to martial arts in particular, and sparring sports in general -- it's about how fast you can switch between up high, in the middle and down low). I tend towards the hyperfocus; by the end of the year, my instructor had spontaneously commented positively on how well I was doing with that attribute.

This year, I have a freaking spreadsheet of resolutions, because I'm trying to do something that is pervasive and difficult to research: I want to switch from a healthier-than-average diet-and-exercise lifestyle to:

increase beans
increase whole grains still whole
increase whole grains milled at home
increase greens
increase fruits and vegetables
move, in general, to a plant based diet (decrease animal products)
increase exercise

But I don't want to do any of the programs I've seen out there, mostly because of the increase-beans element, which is, as you will note, on the top of the list. (Yes, Virginia, it is possible that this is a pregnancy-induced food craving that will pass. This is not to say that I am pregnant. But the last time I was pregnant, I did indeed switch to an all-bean diet and was totally unable to consume meat for months.) If you happen to know of a good book or program oriented to the (entire) above list, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

dietary research, and dietary changes

I've been doing a little digging around about the glycemic index (part of the research for the New Year's Resolution). I was pleased to discover that the University of Sydney has a really great website with access to the research and a lot of information about GI and GL. Amazingly, it has a memorable name:

http://www.glycemicindex.com/

I'm still not sure what I think about glycemic index and glycemic load, other than that I continue to be absolutely certain that this country's researchers have done an inadequate job of participating in the work done in this area. This is a major organizing principle of nutrition and metabolic research in the rest of the English speaking world and we seem to mostly ignore it or treat it like some kind of wacko fad. Strange.

I have also been attempting to improve my understanding of "good" vs. "bad" fats. I'm not happy about what I'm finding. Yes, I get that trans fats are bad, but some of the major crusaders in that area seem to think that saturated fats have been unfairly vilified. I find that basically implausible. I would particularly be interested in something written by current researchers in the area who are careful to factor in _how_ a given oil is produced (that is, how much heat/cracking it has been subjected to). Ideally, they'd also be looking at whether or not GE/GM sourcing had any impact on the resulting oil (cause I'm betting it does, and I'm equally certain that information is going to be a bit tough to come by).

A lot of this is intended to feed into changes I'd like to make over the course of this upcoming year (see New Year's Resolution post). I'm also very wary of making big changes to diet for a very simple, and difficult to plan around reason: I know a lot of people who used to be macrobiotic/vegetarian/vegan/etc. who got sucked into the high-fat/high-protein craze of the last decade. Now, I recognize that this kind of stuff is cyclical -- I've read a lot of food history and I know that what I'm proposing to do is every bit as follow-the-trend as anyone who hopped on to the South Beach, Zone, Atkins or other wagon when it came to town. Heck, there's a Betty Crocker whole grains cookbook. I've been doing a little asking around of those people/people who know those people, trying to understand why the change happens, because while we are indeed all buying T-shirts that cover our hips now, and hip young kiddies are buying jeans that fit close to the ankles and kinda bunch up there, I like to think there's a little more to it than that when it comes to food.

Here are the current theories for why people USED to be whatever, and aren't any more:

(1) Social Effects: They used to hang out with a lot of people who were whatever, and now they don't hang out with those people, maintaining it interferes with their new social context so they gave (most of) it up. Could be vegetarianism. Could be a low-fat lifestyle with a lot of artificial sweeteners. Could be macrobiotic. Whatever.

(2) Too Damn Much Work: Anything that is impossible to get as a convenience food, or go to a restaurant and eat is at risk of being done in by life/work/children/etc. balance issues.

(3) Poverty: Surprise, surprise. Some people used to eat beans because they couldn't afford meat. They can afford meat so they won't have the beans. Ditto with some people who once had a big garden (altho that's a huge amount of work and time as well). Etc.

(4) Craving (missing something in their eating pattern?): Over the years, I've been told repeatedly by then-recent ex-vegetarians that they had just an incredible meat craving and once they started eating it, they couldn't go back.

I believe, quite firmly, that if someone else runs into a situation, I will too. So here's my plan for dealing with this you-start-but-then-one-day-you-stop problem:

(a) No hard-and-fast restrictions. No "bad" foods. No "illegal" foods. Etc.
(b) Follow the craving (you knew this was coming).
(c) Be lazy: it's all well and good to spend exorbitant amounts of time doing the fun stuff of learning about how to do something, but once you're just doing it day in and day out it had damn well better not take much time or energy.
(d) Make it adjustable -- whatever I'm eating had better be at least potentially interesting to the people around me. Altho I'm perfectly happy to set up a don't-socialize-over-food rule. I have in the past in the interest of weight loss and I found it to be a good one.

Pinto gallo and chocolate pie (beans)

Did I mention this? Maybe in passing.

In yesterday's cooking frenzy (bread, chocolate tofu pie, chicken broth, black beans, rice, etc.), R. requested pinto gallo. So we made some. We had the black beans. We have a rice cooker. There were bell peppers and onions in the fridge, and New Mexico Red and Cumin on the spice racks. Even cilantro! Also eggs, altho I had one and R. did not. Turned out tasty. Tasty enough to make a second time today. I asked R. if he wanted any and he said he was about to ask for some.

Dead easy meal, which is probably why it's the traditional breakfast in a bunch of places south of us.

Here's Alton Brown's version of a classic:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_14312,00.html

Honestly, tho, a package of chocolate chips, a package of silken tofu, a little vanilla for flavor and a blender and you're in business. You don't even need a crust; you can serve it in custard cups as a heavy mousse or a light custard. That coffee liqueur business is a little silly, imo, and the honey is strictly unnecessary and turns a naturally vegan dessert (assuming reasonable chocolate chips) into something that is, at best, vegetarian.