Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…


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Star Trek episode reviews: Firstborn and Bloodlines

Firstborn

We are getting down to the last few episodes now, and unfortunately this time it’s Firstborn and Bloodlines. While not truly awful, these are some of the more forgettable entries into the TNG canon.

Firstborn is about Worf and his son, Alexander. Alexander doesn’t want to be a warrior, which Worf almost has a conniption fit about. While getting jumped after attending a Klingon holiday together, a warrior aligned with the house of Mogue comes to their rescue. He teams up with Worf to try and get Alexander motivated about becoming a warrior but they fail again and again, and K’mtar finally reveals himself as Alexander from the future–a future where Worf dies because of him, and he’s come back to right things.

You may not know that the original story called for K’Ehleyr to come back and rescue Alexander at the end of the story; only a scheduling conflict prevented Suzie Plakson from showing up. It would’ve been great if she had! Does something about K’Mtar seem familiar? Check out my full review to see why.

Bloodlines

Bloodlines is worse than Firstborn. Firstborn did have some redeeming qualities–they are harder to find in Bloodlines. DaiMon Bok (the Ferengi Picard-hater from back in The Battle), is back and claims he will kill the son Picard never knew he had. It’s pretty lame and predictable, and while we do learn the young man isn’t Picard’s son, we don’t get the closure with Bok the audience might want.

You may not know that the idea for this crappy episode was indirectly Patrick Stewart’s! A producer asked him if there’s any other aspect of his character he wanted to explore, and he said Bok, so they wrote an episode! This episode is tied with two other ones for the least watched of season seven, and who can blame us. Check out more details in my full review.

Okay there are only three episodes left! Next time I’ll be reviewing Emergence and Preemptive Strike, all leading up to one of the greatest series’ finales of all time, All Good Things…


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The most important findings about exercise

 

I said in my last post that dietary changes are only half the solution for better health. Here is the other half. In the course of writing my last article, I came across guidelines coming directly from the US Department of Health and Human Services, who commissioned in 2018 the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. I will share the results of what they found. One way I will limit the scope of this article is these are guidelines for adults. If folks are interested in guidelines for children, adolescents or older adults just leave a comment below and I can speak to that.

What are some dangers of not engaging in regular physical activity? Sedentary behavior increases the risk of “all-cause mortality”, in other words practically every cause of death, specifically cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colon, endometrial and lung cancers.

What is the minimum threshold of physical activity? In other words, how much activity do we need to do before it ‘counts’? The data seems to clear: “Any activity counts. Move more and sit less throughout the day.” In other words there is no minimum threshold, just doing something gives us some benefits. What if one wants the most benefits?

One of the key findings is the recommendation is that adults get 150 – 300 minutes (2.5 – 5 hours) of moderate exercise, or 75-150 mins of vigorous activity per week. Additional benefits are gained if we include muscle-strengthening activity (lifting weights, push ups, etc) at least 2 days each week.

What’s the difference between moderate and vigorous exercise? Use the talk test. During moderate exercise people can talk, but not sing. During vigorous exercise a person can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

Let me break down three kinds of physical activity defined in the guidelines, as they are all important. What are the different types of activities covered?

  1. Aerobic:  brisk walking, jogging, running, swimming, bicycling, etc.
  2. Muscle strengthening:  weights, resistance bands, body weight exercises, carrying loads, heavy gardening, etc
  3. Bone-strengthening: This is physical activity” that produces an impact or tension force on the bones that promotes bone growth and strength. It is also called weight-bearing or weight-loading activity.” Running, jumping rope and lifting weights are examples

One thing to note is that these can overlap! For example bone-strengthening exercises can also be aerobic and muscle strengthening, so we can be satisfying multiple requirements at once.

Okay, now for the fun part. What are the benefits? There are a whole host of benefits! They include:

  • Lowered risk of:
    • ‘All-cause’ mortality
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • High blood pressure
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Bad lipid profile
    • Eight different kinds of cancer
    • Dementia, falls and related injuries for older adults
    • Postpartum depression for pregnant women
  • Reduction of:
    • Anxiety, depression, weight or weight gain
    • Pain of osteoarthritis
    • Disease progression for high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
  • Improvement in: 
    • Cognitive function
    • Quality of life
    • Sleep
    • Bone health
    • Physical function
    • Insulin sensitivity. High insulin sensitivity allows the cells of the body to use blood glucose more effectively, reducing blood sugar

Let’s be honest, Americans do a lot of things right, and but we also do some things wrong. One of them is insufficient exercise. Exercise need not be tedious, or annoying, or something we dread. Find something fun to do, think of the benefits, and try.


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The most important findings about nutrition

I’ve been getting into nutrition over the past few years on a slow basis. I can be slow sometimes, especially when it comes to food. I like the idea of eating healthy foods, but any changes need to be slow otherwise I won’t stick to it.

I’ve been learning about nutrient-dense foods, especially when reviewing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, put out every five years by the US Department of Agriculture. I’ll go with their definition of nutrient-dense foods:  “Nutrient-dense foods and beverages provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, and lentils, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meat and poultry–when prepared with no or little added sugars, saturated fat and sodium–are nutrient-dense foods.”

Here’s a sobering statistic:  74% of Americans are overweight or obese. I don’t want to be one of them, and I don’t want you to be one of them! This post is not about how to lose weight or prevent weight gain, at least not directly. Here is a link for preventing weight gain, and here is another one for losing weight if you are interested in that.

One thing I didn’t know is that 60% of adults today have at least one diet-related chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancers (breast in women and colorectal in men), and reduced bone mass and muscle strength.

What’s the long and short of the recommendations for meals?

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
    • Focus on whole fruits
    • Vary your veggies
  • Make half your grains whole grains
  • Vary your protein routine
  • Move to low-fat or fat-free dairy milk or yogurt (or lactose-free dairy or fortified soy versions)
  • Choose foods and beverages with less added sugars, saturated fat and sodium

The three most important dietary principles from the report are singled out, and they are nothing new:  meet your nutritional needs primarily from foods and beverages, choose a variety of options from each food group, and pay attention to portion size. Why are these the main recommendations? Because most Americans don’t do it! From age five to 59 we don’t do well as a nation.

How bad is it? Here is the data:

For total vegetables, only 10% of the population are eating sufficient vegetables, with red and orange vegetables the worst of all.

For fruits, only about 20% of the population are getting enough.

For grains there are wildly divergent results. For whole grains, the percentage of the population is even lower than for red and orange vegetables, only 2% of us are meeting it. Refined grains include white breads, refined-grain cereals and crackers, corn, cream of wheat, pasta, white rice, etc. For refined grains Americans are way, way above the recommended amount–it’s sky high (Pro tip:  refined grain choices should be enriched). Recommended daily intake of whole grains is to be at least half of total grain consumption.

For dairy, it may be surprising but only 10% of Americans are getting the recommended amount.

Protein foods are broken down into categories of meat/poultry/eggs, seafood, and nuts/seeds/soy products. For meats Americans are doing well overall, consuming a bit more meat than is recommended. Seafood is the opposite: only about 10% of Americans are consuming enough seafood (why not, it’s so good!). Nuts is the closest to balanced of everyone that was studied, so we are doing perhaps the best overall in this category.

Dietary fiber is a big nutrition deficit in the United States. I am not making this up, less than 10% of women and 3% of men meet recommended intakes for dietary fiber. This means you and I are probably part of that group! For men between aged 19+, 28 – 34 grams per day is what we need; for women it’s 22 – 28.

Calcium and vitamin D are two nutrients that most adults are not getting enough of. About 60% of women aren’t getting enough calcium (30% for men), and over 90% of men and women don’t consume enough vitamin D! Want to up your intake? Dairy foods and seafood. I’m not a big supplement guy, but I do take 5000 IUs of vitamin d3 and I also take two Tums tablets for calcium every day. You may not know that vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium, so it’s great to get both together.

Now for the “no-no” categories. A quick review will reveal that time and again, sugars, saturated fat and sodium (salt) are the big three in terms of health risk from foods. Let’s take a look

Sugars are not inherently evil, however many of us simply consume too much food with added sugars per day. The biggest source of added sugars? “Sugar-sweetened beverages”, which includes soft drinks, fruit drinks and sport/energy drinks. The number two source is desserts and snacks. The recommendation is to limit intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day. For adult Americans, about 60% of men and 64.5% of women are exceeding their limit.

Saturated fats are certainly okay in low to moderate amounts. There are quite a few sources of saturated fats, but what are the biggest culprits? Sandwiches, which includes burgers, tacos and burritos. The number two source is again desserts and snacks. Trans fats are the worst of the worst: The National Academies recommends that trans fat and dietary cholesterol consumption be “as low as possible without compromising the nutritional adequacy of the diet.” The recommendation is that intake of saturated fat should be limited to less than 10 percent of calories per day by replacing them with unsaturated fats, particularly polyunsaturated fats. For adult Americans, 76% of men and 71% of women are over their limit.

Sodium/Salt is actually an essential nutrient, so we do need it. A lot of foods have sodium in them, so there are multiple sources that can increase your sodium intake. Number one is again sandwiches, followed by rice/pasta/grain-based dishes, vegetables, pizza, meat/poultry, chips, etc. The recommended amount for adults is 2300 mg/day, for teens 1800 mg/day, and 1500 mg/day for kids. How bad are Americans about their sodium intake? For adults, 97% of men and 83% of women are over the limit!

Alcohol is different than the other categories in that we don’t need any alcohol to be healthy. In terms of serving sizes, let’s review that a 12-oz drink of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol (80+ proof) are all equivalent. The recommended amount is not to drink at all, but if so to drink in moderation. This means 2 drinks or less per day for men, 1 drink or less per day for women. Remember that alcohol in any amount has been shown to increase risk to several types of cancer. About 66 percent of adults ages 21 through 59 report alcoholic beverage consumption in the past month, and of those, approximately half report binge drinking, sometimes multiple times per month.

The big takeaways for me are to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy, and to cut down on sugar, salt, saturated fats. It might not feel like anything new, but did you know things are as bad as we’ve learned? You may consider making just one change, and see what happens.

Nutrition is only half the solution when it comes to improved health, however. The other half is what I write about in my next article.


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Star Trek episode reviews: Genesis and Journey’s End

Genesis

Hey, four episodes done in one month! As busy as my life is, somehow I’m doing it. We are closing in on the last episodes of the series, this time with Genesis and Journey’s End, both of which are fairly enjoyable episodes.

Genesis is caused by Dr. Crusher doing something to Barclay’s defective genes which causes the Enterprise crew to de-evolve. The behavior of the crew gets increasingly erratic and idiosyncratic, but Picard and Data are off the ship at the time, chasing a photon torpedo due to Worf’s defective targeting system. When they get back it’s up to them to save the ship and survive the monsters everyone has turned into, in this horror-themed entry. I find it an entertaining episode.

You may not know this is the first episode Gates McFadden (her first name is actually Cheryl–check out my season one overview to see why she goes by Gates) gets to direct an episode! She had been wanting to ever since the first season, but being a woman made it difficult. Spot the cat indirectly saves everyone by birthing some kittens, but did you know that Spot changed gender? Somehow he became a she, and I share the full story in my full episode review.

Journey’s End

Journey’s End is a completely different kind of episode. Featuring the return and final destiny of Wesley Crusher, the backdrop is Picard and the Enterprise having to be the bearers of bad news to a colony of Native Americans: due to a new peace treaty with the Cardassians, you’re going to have to relocate to another planet whether you like it or not. Wesley is moody and unhappy, and resigns from Starfleet, going on a vision quest and realizing what he is meant to become in this episode. Meanwhile Picard has to find a solution to the colonists, who adamantly refuse to leave.

You may not know that for DS9 fans out there, this is the episode that marks the beginning of the demilitarized zone while will feature in that series. It’s also this episode that leads to the formation of the Maquis, which TNG will be returning to in just a few episodes. One of the actors in this episode appeared way back in the TOS episode A Private Little War, and I also detail why we don’t like admiral Nechayev, in my full review.

Alright, two more down, and only a few left to go! Unfortunately the next two aren’t really worth writing home about. Next up to be reviewed are Firstborn and Bloodlines. I know I know, they suck, but we’ll get through them together. See you in September!


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The dangers of blind loyalty to political parties

This is one of those things that’s been in my head for a while and needs to come out. This kind of feeling is what led to my initial post on the Iraq War, of which I’m very proud. This is something I’ve been passionate about for decades, and as the political polarization of this country worsens, I just need to say my peace. I suppose it is a rant, but it’s also socially relevant.

I’m deeply concerned about the politicization of issues that are not political, and the tendency for citizens to vote for the political party an individual identifies with, utterly regardless of who the candidate is. I’ve said since my 20s that it doesn’t really matter who the candidate is, for most Americans if they are a Republican they will vote for the conservative candidate, and if they are a Democrat they will vote for the liberal candidate. I’ve gone to extremes in my example–if Gandhi were running in an opposing party, and Hitler were running in ours, we would most likely vote for Hitler. That may sound ridiculous at first, but take a few minutes and really think about what it would take for you to vote for a national candidate for office that was in the party opposite your own. Then try to remember the last time you did it.

My political stance has developed and evolved over the course of my life. I take my stance from a gentlemen I respect, a previous prophet and president of the church to which I belong. In an interview he said “… you can’t divorce private behavior from public leadership. I don’t think it is asking too much of any public officer to stand tall, be a model before the people, not only in ordinary aspects of leadership, but in the manner in which he conducts himself.” When asked how he voted he said: “I voted for men and not for party.” When asked if he’s voted for men in both political parties his response was, “yes sir.” This is my view on how we should all approach a candidate.

It is the most extreme members of political parties that are the most vocal, and can sometimes have the most influence. This is articulated well in the nonpartisan documentary Patriocracy and I highly recommend it. Don’t be an extremist, extremists on both sides of the political spectrum are dangerous, and in my view they are the problem. Extremism has led to the downfall of empires. Too far to the left and you get communism, and Stalin. Too far to the right and you get fascism, and Hitler.

One of my favorite moments in recent political history occurred during the Obama-McCain presidential election of 2008. At a McCain rally one of his supporters had the microphone and said they were scared of Obama being elected because he was associated with terrorists, and another supported said “he is an Arab.” McCain pulled the mic right out of her hands and corrected her. Here a link to that event. After McCain died, Obama spoke at his funeral. These are examples of the kind of integrity I admire.

Let’s look at some issues over the past 30 years, starting with Sesame Street. Both political parties have had problems with Sesame Street. In the last 10 years conservatives have bashed it for being “liberal indoctrination”, and liberals have bashed it for affirming that “Bert and Ernie are not gay.” This is a show that has stood for wholesome entertainment along side such classics as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood since the 60’s. It’s essential to become aware of how loyalty to a party can unduly bias one’s opinion, even on things that are irrelevant to politics.

Climate change, which used to be called global warming, is another prime example. This issue has been discussed since at least the 1990’s, and consider the implications: the weather was politicized. The weather! Can anything be more in the realm of highly trained scientists and not political parties? Yet it happened–those who accepted and championed it and those who denied it tended to fall along party lines. I still don’t understand how this divide could have happened, yet it did. Again, political parties can unduly influence us, even with issues that are not inherently political.

More recent examples are plentiful, and I’ll choose the most glaring one: the COVID-19 pandemic. A plague was politicized. Certainly, 2020 was a Presidential election year and everything tends to be politicized in those years. Emotions tend to run high, but take a moment and reflect on what the political left and right tended to do. One side wanted us quarantined, scared at the prospect of death, while the other wanted us out in public mingling and have us more worried about an infringement on our ‘freedom’. Both political parties exercised undue partisan influence on public opinion instead of people thinking for themselves, and it led to deep divisions at a time when we should have been coming together.

Do I support belonging to a political party? Of course. What I do not support is blind loyalty. I think we should give serious consideration to instead prioritize first the character of the candidate and second issues they say they support. I realize I am asking you, the reader, to take the road less traveled by doing so. Most people like to be reductionist: we want things black or white, good or bad, and no in-between. Our party are “the good guys”, their party are “the bad guys.” Unfortunately that is not reality. Let me use an historical example to strengthen my point: Alexander Hamilton endorsed Thomas Jefferson for President instead of Aaron Burr in the 1800 election, even though Burr was a member of his party and Jefferson was a long-time political opponent. He backed Jefferson because he felt he was more “trustworthy” than Burr.

I’ve done what I can to try to present this article neutrally. Let us keep in mind there was a long period of time when we could talk to each other and look for areas of unity rather than division. Let us promote peace, courtesy and respect without fearing we all have to think the same.