MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en For Lower Back Pain, You Can Skip the Tylenol <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here's the latest from the <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSum&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">frontiers of medical research:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>About two-thirds of adults have lower back pain at some point in their lives, and most are told to take acetaminophen, sold under brand names like Tylenol, Anacin and Panadol. Medical guidelines around the world recommend acetaminophen as a first-line treatment.</p> <p>But there has never been much research to support the recommendation, and now a large, rigorous trial has found that acetaminophen works no better than a placebo.</p> </blockquote> <p>The good folks at Johnson &amp; Johnson will no doubt disagree with extreme prejudice, but I'm not surprised. I suppose different people respond differently, but I've basically never responded other than minimally to Tylenol. It might dull a bit of headache pain slightly, but that's about it. However, there's more:</p> <blockquote> <p>Dr. Williams said that acetaminophen had been shown to be effective for <strong>headache, toothache and pain after surgery</strong>, but the mechanism of back pain is different and poorly understood. Doctors should not initially recommend acetaminophen to patients with acute low back pain, he said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hey! That's right. I had some mild toothache recently thanks to a filling that involved a fair amount of work beneath the gum line. It acted up whenever I chewed food on that side of my mouth, and I found that Tylenol made it go away within 20 minutes. I was pretty amazed, since Tylenol had never really worked for anything else. But it was great for toothache.</p> <p>Anyway, everyone is different, and Tylenol might work for you better than it does for me. It might even work for back pain. It doesn't <em>on average</em>, but that doesn't mean it's ineffective for everybody. In the meantime, maybe the medical research profession could hurry up a bit on that business of understanding what lower back pain is all about, OK? It so happens that I could use some answers on that score.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:24:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 256866 at Twitter Releases Its Diversity Stats. And Boy, Are They Embarrassing. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Twitter today followed in the footsteps of <a href="" target="_blank">Google</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Yahoo</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">LinkedIn</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a> by releasing statistics on the race and gender of its workforce. The company certainly deserves credit for voluntarily making its diversity stats public, unlike, say, Apple. "Like our peers, we have a lot of work to do," Janet Van Huysse, its VP of diversity and inclusion, <a href="" target="_blank">admits</a> on the company blog. But perhaps that's an understatement; Twitter actually lags far <em>behind</em> its peers on some key measures. For instance, only 1 out of every 10 Twitter tech employees is a woman:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Twitter%20gender_0.png"><div class="caption">Twitter</div> </div> <p>In case you're wondering, other large tech companies have significantly better gender diversity (though it's still abysmal compared to <a href="" target="_blank">professions such as law or medicine</a>). At Facebook and Yahoo, 15 percent of tech workers are women. At Google and LinkedIn, it's 17 percent. In 2010, Mike Swift of the <em>San Jose Mercury News</em> <a href="" target="_blank">found</a> that women held 24 percent of computer and mathematics jobs in Silicon Valley and 27 percent of those jobs nationally (though those categories may be broader than how they're defined by leading tech companies, as Tasneem Raja explores in t<a href="" target="_blank">his great piece</a> on America's growing gap in tech literacy).</p> <div><div id="mininav" class="inline-subnav"> <!-- header content --> <div id="mininav-header-content"> <div id="mininav-header-image"> <img src="/files/images/motherjones_mininav/rosie-mini-nav225.jpg" width="220" border="0"></div> <div id="mininav-header-text"> <p class="mininav-header-text" style="margin: 0; padding: 0.75em; font-size: 11px; font-weight: bold; line-height: 1.2em; background-color: rgb(221, 221, 221);"> More <em>MoJo</em> coverage of diversity in tech. </p> </div> </div> <!-- linked stories --> <div id="mininav-linked-stories"> <ul><span id="linked-story-252316"> <li><a href="/media/2014/05/google-diversity-labor-gender-race-gap-workers-silicon-valley"> Silicon Valley Firms Are Even Whiter and More Male Than You Thought</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-253891"> <li><a href="/media/2014/06/computer-science-programming-code-diversity-sexism-education"> Is Coding the New Literacy?</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-254151"> <li><a href="/politics/2014/06/code-charts-tech-pipeline-problem"> Charts: Tech's Pipeline Problem</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-226426"> <li><a href="/mojo/2013/06/silicon-valley-race-gender-problem-income-inequality"> Silicon Valley's Awful Race and Gender Problem in 3 Mind-Blowing Charts</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-256851"> <li><a href="/mojo/2014/07/twitter-diversity-stats-women-race-tech"> Twitter Releases Its Diversity Stats. And Boy, Are They Embarrassing.</a></li> </span> </ul></div> <!-- footer content --> </div> </div> <p>Unlike its peers, Twitter can't <em>entirely</em> blame its dearth of female coders on the talent pipeline: About 18 percent of computer science graduates are women. Instead, Van Huysse points to a slew of efforts to "move the needle" at Twitter, such as supporting the groups <a href="" target="_blank">Girls Who Code</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">sf.girls</a> and hosting "Girl Geek Dinners."&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">As other reporters have noted</a>, major tech firms started releasing their workforce data shortly after I obtained a batch of Silicon Valley diversity figures from the Labor Department and began asking them for comment. But pressure to release the stats has also come from a campaign by <a href="" target="_blank">Color of Change</a> and Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition, which have demanded the stats during a string of private meetings with Valley execs, and last week <a href="" target="_blank">launched a Twitter-based campaign</a> to urge Twitter to make its diversity numbers public. Strikingly, only 1 percent of Twitter's tech workforce and 2 percent of its overall workforce is African-American:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src=""></div> <p>Jackson argues that improving Twitter's diversity isn't just the right thing to do; it's also a good business decision. It turns out that "Black Twitter" isn't just a meme. According to <a href="" target="_blank">a recent Pew survey</a>, 22 percent of African-American internet users are on Twitter, while only 16 percent of White internet users tweet. Meanwhile, usage of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ is roughly the same between Blacks and Whites.</p> <p>In short, Twitter might make more money by hiring more people who reflect its audience. "There is no talent deficit, there's an opportunity deficit," Jackson said in a press release responding to Twitter's data. "When everyone is 'in,' everyone wins."</p></body></html> MoJo Charts Labor Sex and Gender Tech twitter Wed, 23 Jul 2014 23:37:21 +0000 Josh Harkinson 256851 at The Great Third-Pound Burger Ripoff <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_math_phobia.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">This is from a <em>New York Times Magazine</em> piece about <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;version=HpSumSmallMediaHigh&amp;module=second-column-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news" target="_blank">America's innumeracy problem:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One of the most vivid arithmetic failings displayed by Americans occurred in the early 1980s, when the A&amp;W restaurant chain released a new hamburger to rival the McDonald&rsquo;s Quarter Pounder. With a third-pound of beef, the A&amp;W burger had more meat than the Quarter Pounder; in taste tests, customers preferred A&amp;W&rsquo;s burger. And it was less expensive. A lavish A&amp;W television and radio marketing campaign cited these benefits. <strong>Yet instead of leaping at the great value, customers snubbed it.</strong></p> <p>Only when the company held customer focus groups did it become clear why. <strong>The Third Pounder presented the American public with a test in fractions. And we failed.</strong> Misunderstanding the value of one-third, customers believed they were being overcharged. Why, they asked the researchers, should they pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as they did for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald&rsquo;s. The &ldquo;4&rdquo; in &ldquo;&frac14;,&rdquo; larger than the &ldquo;3&rdquo; in &ldquo;&acirc;&#133;&#147;,&rdquo; led them astray.</p> </blockquote> <p>Are Americans <em>really</em> innumerate compared to other countries? Perhaps: Author Elizabeth Green says that American adults did pretty poorly in a 2012 international test of numeracy. The rest of her piece is all about how we could teach math better if we really put our minds to it, but unfortunately, after inventing all the best methods for teaching math we gave up, leaving it to the Japanese to perfect them. I don't know whether or not this is a fair summary of the current state of play in math ed.</p> <p>Still, the A&amp;W anecdote was too good to check, and too good not to pass along. If it's not true, it should be.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> Elizabeth Green tweets that her source for this anecdote is <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1406161812&amp;sr=1-1" target="_blank"><em>Threshold Resistance</em></a> by Alfred Taubman, who owned A&amp;W in the 80s. Here's the relevant passage, after Taubman has called in Yankelovich, Skelly and White to figure out what was wrong with their burger:</p> <blockquote> <p>Well, it turned out that customers preferred the taste of our fresh beef over traditional fast-food hockey pucks. Hands down, we had a better product. But there was a serious problem. More than half of the participants in the Yankelovich focus groups questioned the price of our burger. "Why," they asked, "should we pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald's? You're overcharging us." Honestly. People thought a third of a pound was less than a quarter of a pound. After all, three is less than four!</p> </blockquote> <p>So there you go.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Education Wed, 23 Jul 2014 21:19:25 +0000 Kevin Drum 256846 at Glenn Beck Tells Common Core Activists They Shouldn't Mention His Name <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Tuesday, 40&nbsp;minutes into Glenn Beck's nationally broadcast "night of action" targeting the Common Core education standards being implemented in schools across the nation, a North Carolina activist named Andrea Dillon announced live that her state's governor had just signed a law directing the board of education to rewrite its standards&mdash;a step shy of jettisoning North Carolina from the initiative outright. A murmur went through the audience of two dozen or so parents and kids at the cinema in Ballston, Virginia where I was watching, one of hundreds of theaters around the country that was broadcasting the interactive event,&nbsp;dubbed "I Will Not Conform" (a nod to Beck's new book on the standards, <em>Conform</em>). Beck&nbsp;offered a few words of congratulation, and Dillon patted her allies on the back: "North Carolina's got a lot of gumption."</p> <p>It wasn't the biggest political story of the night&mdash;that would be either <a href="" target="_blank">David Perdue's victory</a> in the Georgia Republican Senate primary, or President Barack Obama's consumption of <a href="" target="_blank">multiple cheeseburgers</a>, depending on your point of view. But Tuesday was a big day for opponents of the Common Core State Standards, a set of math and language-arts guidelines adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia in 2010, and, of late, an object of obsession for Beck and his army of parent activists. North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory became the latest once-supportive governor to hop the fence in opposition to the standards. Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker <a href="" target="_blank">called</a> on his state to repeal Common Core, echoing an earlier move by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to extricate his state from the standards. (That effort has turned the state board of education and Louisiana's lieutenant governor against Jindal, and is now <a href="" target="_blank">mired in litigation</a>.)&nbsp;Meanwhile, in Georgia, where Republican officials in the state have previously been staunch supporters of the standards, an anti-Core teacher&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">holds a narrow lead</a>&nbsp;in the Republican primary for state superintendent&mdash;a position with broad powers for Core implementation.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/politics/2014/07/glenn-beck-tells-common-core-activists-not-to-use-his-name"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Politics Education Elections Top Stories Wed, 23 Jul 2014 20:14:44 +0000 Tim Murphy 256836 at Chart of the Day: Oil Is Getting Harder and Harder to Find <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Oil expert James Hamilton has an interesting summary of the current world oil market up today, and it's worth a read. His bottom line, however, is that <a href="" target="_blank">$100-per-barrel oil is here to stay:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The run-up of oil prices over the last decade resulted from strong growth of demand from emerging economies confronting limited physical potential to increase production from conventional sources. Certainly a change in those fundamentals could shift the equation dramatically. If China were to face a financial crisis, or if peace and stability were suddenly to break out in the Middle East and North Africa, a sharp drop in oil prices would be expected. But even if such events were to occur, the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_oil_production_capex.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">emerging economies would surely subsequently resume their growth, in which case any gains in production from Libya or Iraq would only buy a few more years.</p> </blockquote> <p>The chart on the right shows the situation dramatically. In just the past ten years, capital spending by major oil companies on exploration and extraction has <em>tripled</em>. And the result? Those same companies are producing <em>less</em> oil than they were in 2004. There's still new oil out there, but it's increasingly both expensive to get and expensive to refine.</p> <p>(And all the hype to the contrary, the fracking revolution hasn't changed that. There's oil in those formations in Texas and North Dakota, but the wells only produce for a few years each and production costs are sky high compared to conventional oil.)</p> <p>In a hypertechnical sense, the peak oil optimists were right: New technology has been able to keep global oil production growing longer than the pessimists thought. But, it turns out, not by much. Global oil production is growing very slowly; the cost of new oil is skyrocketing; the quality of new oil is mostly lousy; and we continue to bump up right against the edge of global demand, which means that even a small disruption in supply can send the world into an economic tailspin. So details aside, the pessimists continue to be right in practice even if they didn't predict the exact date we'd hit peak oil. It's long past time to get dead serious about finding renewable replacements on a very large scale.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Energy Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:46:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 256826 at Lots of Americans Think Obamacare Has Benefited Nobody <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Greg Sargent points us to an interesting new <a href="" target="_blank">CNN poll</a> about Obamacare. It asks the usual question about favoring or opposing the law, with the usual results. The basic question shows that Obamacare is unpopular by 40-59 percent, but when you add in the folks who "oppose" it only because they wish it were more liberal, it flips to 57-38 percent. In other words, if you confine yourself to garden variety conservative opposition to Obamacare, there's not nearly as much as most polls suggest.</p> <p>But then there's another question: Has Obamacare helped you or your family personally? About 18 percent say yes. How about other families? <a href="" target="_blank">Do you think Obamacare has helped <em>anyone at all</em>?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>And guess what: A huge majority of Republicans and conservatives don&rsquo;t think the law has helped anybody in this country.</p> <p>Among all Americans, the poll finds that 18 percent say the law has made them and their families better off....Meanwhile, 44 percent say the law hasn&rsquo;t helped anybody &mdash; a lot, but still a minority.</p> <p>Crucially, an astonishing 72 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of conservatives, say the law hasn&rsquo;t helped anyone. (Only <em>one percent</em> of Republicans say the law has helped them!) By contrast, 57 percent of moderates say the law has helped them or others. Independents are evenly divided.</p> <p>Perhaps these numbers among Republicans and conservatives only capture generalized antipathy towards the law. Or perhaps they reflect the belief that Obamacare <em>can&rsquo;t</em> be helping anyone, even its beneficiaries, since dependency on Big Gummint can only be self-destructive. Either way, the findings again underscore the degree to which Republicans and conservatives inhabit a separate intellectual universe about it.</p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm a little more dismayed by the news that even a large number of moderates and independents don't think Obamacare has helped anyone. In a way, that's more disturbing than the dumb&mdash;but predictable&mdash;knee-jerk Republican view that automatically produces a "no" whenever the question relates to something positive about Obamacare.</p> <p>I guess the lesson is that liberals still haven't done a very good job of promoting the benefits of Obamacare. Maybe that's an impossible task since, after all, it's not as if you can expect the media to run endless identical stories about local folks who finally got health insurance. Still, it's a funny thing. If you passed a law that gave cars to 10 million poor Americans, pretty much everyone would agree that <em>some people</em> benefited from the program. But if you pass a law that gives health insurance to 10 million poor Americans, lots of people think it's just a gigantic illusion that's helped no one. What's more, the number of people who believe this has <em>increased</em> since last year's rollout.</p> <p>Why? Certainly not because they think health insurance is worthless. Just try taking away theirs and you'll find out exactly how non-worthless they consider it. Is it because they don't think Obamacare policies are "real" health insurance? Or that all these people had health insurance before and the whole thing is just a scam? Or what? It's a peculiar view that deserves a follow-up.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Health Care Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:00:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 256816 at Nobody Knows What Makes a Good CEO <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_ceo_pay_performance.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Bloomberg has done a bit of charting of CEO pay vs. performance, and their results are on the right. Bottom line: there's essentially no link whatsoever between how well CEOs perform and <a href="" target="_blank">how well they're paid:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>An analysis of compensation data publicly released by Equilar shows little correlation between CEO pay and company performance. Equilar ranked the salaries of 200 highly paid CEOs. When compared to metrics such as revenue, profitability, and stock return, <strong>the scattering of data looks pretty random, as though performance doesn&rsquo;t matter. </strong>The comparison makes it look as if there is zero relationship between pay and performance.</p> </blockquote> <p>There are plenty of conclusions you can draw from this, but one of the key ones is that it demonstrates that corporate boards are almost completely unable to predict how well CEO candidates will do on the job. They insist endlessly that they're looking for only the very top candidates&mdash;with pay packages to match&mdash;and I don't doubt that they sincerely think this is what they're doing. In fact, though, they don't have a clue who will do better. They could be hiring much cheaper leaders and would probably get about the same performance.</p> <p>One reason that CEO pay has skyrocketed is that boards compete with each other for candidates who seem to be the best, but don't realize that it's all a chimera. They have no idea.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:51:11 +0000 Kevin Drum 256811 at We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 23, 2014 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p class="rtecenter"><em>US Navy sailors honor <span id="yui_3_16_0_rc_1_1_1406123148702_1478">Pearl Harbor survivor Motor Machinist's Mate 3rd Class Wesley E. Ford at a memorial service at Pearl Harbor. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Diana Quinlan.)</span></em><br> &nbsp;</p></body></html> MoJo Military Wed, 23 Jul 2014 13:51:31 +0000 256801 at That Antioxidant You're Taking Is Snake Oil <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Plants can't move. They're sitting targets for every insect, two- and four-legged creature, and air-borne fungus and bacteria that swirls around them. But they're not defenseless, we've learned. Under pressure from millions of years of attacks, they've evolved to produce compounds that repel these predators. Known as phyotochemicals, these substances can be quite toxic to humans. You probably wouldn't enjoy the jolt of <a href="">urushiol</a> you'd get from a salad of <em>toxicodendron radicans</em> (poison ivy) leaves.</p> <p>But other phytochemicals have emerged as crucial elements of a healthful human diet. Indeed, they're the source of several essential vitamins, including A, C, and E. But according to an eye-opening <em><a href="">Nautilus </a></em><a href="">article</a> by the excellent science journalist Moises Velasquez-Manoff (author of a<a href=""> recent <em>Mother Jones</em> piece on the gut microbiome</a>), our view of how these defensive compounds benefit us might be wildly wrong.</p> <p>The accepted dietary dogma goes like this: The phytochemicals we ingest from plants act as antioxidants&mdash;that is, they protect us from the oxidative molecules, known as "free radicals," that our own cells produce as a waste product, and that have become associated with a range of degenerative diseases including cancer and heart trouble.</p> <p>It's true that many phytochemicals and the vitamins they carry have been proven in lab settings to have antioxidant properties&mdash;that is, they prevent oxidization. And so, Velasquez-Manoff shows, the idea gained currency that fruits and vegetables are good for us because their high antioxidant load protects us from free radicals. And from there, it was easy to leap to the conclusion that you could slow aging and stave off disease by isolating certain phytochemicals and ingesting them in pill form&mdash;everything from multivitamins to trendy antioxidants like resveratrol. "A supplement industry now worth $23 billion yearly in the U.S. took root," he notes.</p> <p>And yet, antioxidant pills have proven to be a bust. In February, a <a href="">group of independent US medical researchers</a> assessed 10 years of supplement research and found that pills loaded with vitamin E and beta-carotene (the stuff that gives color to carrots and other orange vegetables) pills are at <a href="">best useless and at worst harmful</a>&mdash;that is, they may trigger lung cancer in some people. Just this month, a <a href="" target="_blank">meta-analysis</a> published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that antioxidant supplements "do not prevent cancer and may accelerate it."</p> <p>And a <a href="">2009 study</a> found that taking antioxidant supplements before exercise actually <em>negates</em> most of the well-documented benefits of physical exertion: That is, taking an antioxidant pill before a run is little better than doing neither and just sitting on the couch.</p> <p>So what gives? Velasquez-Manoff points to emerging science suggesting that phytochemicals' antioxidant properties may have thrown us off the trail of what really makes them good for us. He offers two key clues. The first is that plants produce them in response to stress&mdash;e.g., pathogenic bacteria, hungry insects. The second is that exercise itself is a form of self-imposed stress: You punish your body by exerting it, and it responds by getting stronger.&nbsp; Leaning on the work of Mark Mattson, Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, and other researchers, Velasquez-Manoff proposes that phytochemicals help us not by repelling oxidant stresses, but by <em>triggering them</em>.</p> <p>Consider that exercise actually <em>generates</em> free radicals in our muscles&mdash;the very thing, according to current dogma, that makes us vulnerable to cancer and aging. But a while after a bout at the gym or on the running trail, these free radicals disappear, replaced by what Velasquez-Manoff calls "native antioxidants." That's because, he writes, "post-exercise, the muscle cells respond to the oxidative stress by boosting production of native antioxidants." And these home-grown chemicals, "amped up to protect against the oxidant threat of yesterday&rsquo;s exercise, now also protect against other ambient oxidant dangers" like ones from air pollution and other environmental stressors, he writes. In the exercise study, the supplements may have interrupted the process, the study's main author, Swiss researcher Michael Ristow, tells Velasquez-Manoff&mdash;they prevent the body from producing its antioxidants, but what they deliver doesn't offset the loss.</p> <p>Yet phytochemicals found in whole foods&mdash;"the hot flavors in spices, the mouth-puckering tannins in wines, or the stink of Brussels sprouts"&mdash;may work on our bodies much as exercise does. Velasquez-Manoff writes: "Our bodies recognize them as slightly toxic, and we respond with an ancient detoxification process aimed at breaking them down and flushing them out."</p> <p>To bolster his case, Velasquez-Manoff cites the example of sulforaphane, the compound that gives broccoli and other members of the <em>brassica</em> family of vegetables&mdash;such as Brussels sprouts&mdash;their sulfurous smell when they cook. It's what's known as an "antifeedant"&mdash;i.e., it's pungency discourages grazing (and makes many people hate Brussels sprouts, etc). Unlike many phytochemicals, sulforaphane isn't an antioxidant at all, but rather a mild oxidant&mdash;that is, it mimics free radicals and thus under the old dietary dogma, we should avoid it. And yet...</p> <blockquote> <p>When sulforaphane enters your blood stream, it triggers release in your cells of a protein called Nrf2. This protein, called by some the &ldquo;master regulator&rdquo; of aging, then activates over 200 genes. They include genes that produce antioxidants, enzymes to metabolize toxins, proteins to flush out heavy metals, and factors that enhance tumor suppression, among other important health-promoting functions. In theory, after encountering this humble antifeedant in your dinner, your body ends up better prepared for encounters with toxins, pro-oxidants from both outside and within your body, immune insults, and other challenges that might otherwise cause harm.</p> </blockquote> <p>In this theory, what causes cancer and general aging isn't oxidative stress itself, but rather a poor response to oxidative stress&mdash;"a creeping inability to produce native antioxidants when needed, and a lack of cellular conditioning generally." And that's where the modern Western lifestyle, marked by highly processed food and a lack of physical exertion, comes in.</p> <blockquote> <p>[The National Institute on Aging's] Mattson calls this the "couch potato" problem. Absent regular hormetic stresses, including exercise and stimulation by plant antifeedants, &ldquo;cells become complacent,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Their intrinsic defenses are down-regulated.&rdquo; Metabolism works less efficiently. Insulin resistance sets in. We become less able to manage pro-oxidant threats. Nothing works as well as it could. And this mounting dysfunction increases the risk for a degenerative disease.</p> </blockquote> <p>While this emerging view of phytochemcials is compelling, Velasquez-Manoff acknowledges that it isn't fully settled. For one thing, it's unclear why isolated phytochemicals in pills don't seem to work the same magic as they do in the form of whole foods. Here's Velasquez-Manoff:</p> <blockquote> <p>Proper dosage may be one problem, and interaction between the isolates used and particular gene variants in test subjects another. Interventions usually test one molecule, but fresh fruits and vegetables present numerous compounds at once. We may benefit most from these simultaneous exposures. The science on the intestinal microbiota promises to further complicate the picture; our native microbes ferment phytonutrients, perhaps supplying some of the benefit of their consumption. All of which highlights the truism that Nature is hard to get in a pill.</p> </blockquote> <p>But human nutrition is a deeply interesting topic precisely because it resists being settled. As Michael Pollan showed in his 2008 book <em>In Defense of Food, </em>humans have adapted to a wide variety of diets&mdash;from the Mediterranean and Mesoamerican ones based mostly on plants, to the Inuit ones focusing heavily on fish. The one diet that hasn't worked very well is the most calibrated, supplemented, and "fortified" of all: the Western one.</p></body></html> Tom Philpott Food and Ag Health Top Stories Wed, 23 Jul 2014 10:00:12 +0000 Tom Philpott 256746 at Contact: Gene Ween Grows Up <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/14.05web.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Ween co-founder Aaron Freeman in Brooklyn. </strong>Jacob Blickenstaff</div> </div> <p></p><div id="mininav" class="inline-subnav"> <!-- header content --> <div id="mininav-header-content"> <div id="mininav-header-image"> <img src="/files/images/motherjones_mininav/contactgraphic_0.jpg" width="220" border="0"></div> </div> <!-- linked stories --> <div id="mininav-linked-stories"> <ul><span id="linked-story-255666"> <li><a href="/media/2014/07/contact-puss-n-boots-norah-jones-sasha-dobson-catherine-popper-no-fools-no-fun"> Puss n Boots</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-255441"> <li><a href="/media/2014/07/contact-holly-williams-hank-country-music-legacy"> Holly Williams</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-254381"> <li><a href="/media/2014/06/contact-hendra-ben-watt-everything-but-the-girl"> Ben Watt</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-253316"> <li><a href="/media/2014/06/contact-producer-joe-henry-interview-invisible-hour"> Joe Henry</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-252881"> <li><a href="/media/2014/05/contact-interview-photo-gabriel-kahane-the-ambassador"> Gabriel Kahane</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-252426"> <li><a href="/media/2014/05/contact-photo-jolie-holland-wine-dark-sea-interview"> Jolie Holland</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-251906"> <li><a href="/media/2014/05/contact-photo-interview-nashville-country-songwriter-rodney-crowell-emmylou-harris"> Rodney Crowell</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-251116"> <li><a href="/media/2014/05/contact-jill-sobule-dotties-charms-photo-interview"> Jill Sobule</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-247801"> <li><a href="/media/2014/03/contact-tom-petty-heartbreakers-benmont-tench-you-should-be-so-lucky"> Benmont Tench</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-244541"> <li><a href="/media/2014/01/contact-leyla-mccalla-langston-hughes-carolina-chocolate-drops"> Leyla McCalla</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-243496"> <li><a href="/media/2014/01/keith-tex-jamaica-rocksteady-reggae"> Keith &amp; Tex</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-242361"> <li><a href="/media/2014/01/contact-irish-singer-songwriter-declan-orourke-interview"> Declan O'Rourke</a></li> </span> <span id="linked-story-239901"> <li><a href="/media/2013/11/snapshot-bluegrass-guitarist-michael-daves"> Michael Daves</a></li> </span> </ul></div> <!-- footer content --> </div> <p>As Gene Ween, <a href="" target="_blank">Aaron Freeman</a> was the co-leader of the long-lived alternative cult band Ween, which he started with friend Mickey Melchiondo (a.k.a. Dean Ween) when they were middle-school students in New Hope, Pennsylvania. In 2012, after more than 25 years of recording and touring, Freeman left the group as part of his effort to get sober.</p> <p><em>Freeman</em>, out this week, is his first album of original songs since leaving the band. It is an openly biographical and personal album that nonetheless utilizes Ween's ability to inhabit numerous styles and eras of pop music. The musical reference points of post-Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney ("All The Way to China"), Donovan ("Black Bush"), and Cat Stevens ("Golden Monkey") indicate inspirations that helped carry Freeman through his escape from addiction. I photographed him in Brooklyn, and we spoke again by phone from his home in Woodstock, New York. The following is in his words.</p> <blockquote> <p>Going through the Ween breakup was really tough. Getting sober was a whole different thing. So there were two levels of it.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>For me it's a lot of patience, because I honestly didn't know whether I was going to write again. When I write, it always kind of happens all in about a three- or four-week period, where I'll just go into the zone. A lot of musicians talk about that. I think Bruce Springsteen said that no matter what's going on in your life, it's important to keep that one little radar up, because you don't know when the universe is going to hit you with stuff to write. I really stuck to that concept, and I just waited, and waited, and waited. I would write little things, and record them on the voice memo on my iPhone, little scattered ideas. Then it came.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>Last summer I was just sitting around, doing my thing, and then all of a sudden I picked up my guitar and boom! The obvious thing would be to put pressure on yourself, like, "Is this record going to be good? It's the follow-up to 27 years of Ween, and now I'm doing this&mdash;what if it sucks?" When I finally got to the point where my subconscious could free itself of that, and it took a while, the songs started coming. I'd go into my room&mdash;the typical fucking artist thing&mdash;and scream and play my guitar, then come out six hours later, frazzled hair, not showered. My wife and son would look at me like, "Oh hey, he's out. Do you want any food?" And I'd be like, "Aaaagh, gotta go back in!" That's how I worked.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>I'm thinking, "If I get one song, at this point in my life, that'll be fucking amazing for me and my journey." That one concept led to a whole record. I'm really proud of it, and really grateful I wrote it. It's stripped down, no bells and whistles to it. I just wanted to go in, pay attention to the songs, get 'em on tape, and then move on.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>No matter what goes on, I've written the songs that I love. They're not very complex. I like to keep the words simple so they're not too identifiable, and so they'll last longer. I'd like to think that a kid could listen to it, or a bunch of old bums gathered around a trash can fire keeping themselves warm, they would both fully get it.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>One of the things I've wanted for years, especially during the last five or so years of Ween, was more honesty. For me, it wasn't getting sincere. We'd just put on our token songs that were kind of goofy, like "<a href="" target="_blank">My Own Bare Hands</a>." Toward the end, it was just kind of&hellip;mundane. It would distract from the best parts of Mickey's and my music.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>This record is very autobiographical, it's like a journal for me of things that I was <em>really</em> into in the last year or so&hellip; spiritual things and severe, gut-wrenching love songs.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>That first song, "Covert Discretion," is absolutely typical of me. There's always been a whole bipolar thing going on with me: I&rsquo;m pretty shy, or soft spoken, and then there's the other part. A friend who does astrology told me, "You're a Pisces, you're totally water, and then you've got this fire planet." A lot of stuff at the end of Ween was just brutal. I have to write about that stuff, or else I feel like I&rsquo;m not being honest. If this is a song that calls for fucking brutal honesty, then the most important thing is to do that, and take it so far over the edge. That's what people love about Ween, they love the honesty and not being scared to go there.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>I was susceptible to hard-core addiction because my personality is that way. I think a lot of addicts, serious addicts, have that. They go full throttle and then they are coming down and they are trying to deal with it in a quiet way. It's typical: I was either fuckin' naked with a cowboy hat on looking for cocaine all night or I was just completely quiet in my room. And that's a scary way to be.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>The most wonderful thing about recovery is that you learn to maintain a steady way of being. There is always stimulus, whether it's positive or negative. Buddhist philosophy really dives deep in to that: You sit with it, you meditate on it, and you let it pass. It is really difficult because you've never done that before. In the early stages of recovery, I'd have to go up to my room and just sit there in so much fuckin' agony and just wait, recognize it, and let it pass. I had this mantra: Just be accountable. I wanted to be accountable for more than a week. It seems so simple, but it's easier said than done.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>In rock music, you don't have to be accountable for anything! [<em>Laughs.</em>] It didn't matter as long as I got on stage. For many years, I was fooling myself into thinking that I was going to lock myself away in my dressing room and help myself, and I never did because deep down I wanted to party just like everyone else was.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>I think if this album sounds more derivative in certain ways it was because I was more clear-minded. I leaned on music that I loved. There's a lot of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, XTC, and David Bowie&mdash;the things that I hold dear. The whole point of this record was to chill the fuck out. For some reason something made me want to record doubled vocals on almost the entire album, which is awesome. I've always had this weird desire to conquer and make perfect double vocals. To get spiritual on you, I really let the universe dictate how this whole thing was going to turn out.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>If the music sounds like something I'm influenced by, I accept that and try to make it as sincere and honorable as it can. If it's going to sound like John Lennon, I'm going to fucking make it sound like John Lennon. I'll never say, "Oh, this kind of sounds like a Lennon song, so I better make it sound different." That's not the way I look at music. I consider myself as kind of a vessel of all these beautiful things that I've always heard, and I let it go through me. Of course, it always has my stamp on it, my creativity, but it honors what I love.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>Fortunately, I've had the ability to never think too much about where I'm going. In Ween, my thing has always been: It doesn't matter what kind of song it is or where it goes as long as it's a good song. That's what Mickey and I always adhered to.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>The foremost thing is just writing music, and I've been very lucky to have 25 years of that under my belt. The Ween audience is very loyal and they're great. I want to keep making music for them. I don't want a big, bombastic career. I've been through that. If people want to come, they come. If they don't, they don't. I want to do great live shows, because I love performing, and I hope to write songs and maybe have other people pick them up, and make a living off of doing that.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>But we'll see. I have to pay the bills. When I lost Ween and decided to get sober, I had to embrace the fact that my income was going to be a tenth of what it was, but it was still worth it. I really believe if you do the right thing and you make yourself accountable and available, then good things will happen.</p> </blockquote> <p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src=";color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/14.05.20_FreemanE10web.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Aaron Freeman </strong>Jacob Blickenstaff</div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Media Interview Music Contact Wed, 23 Jul 2014 10:00:11 +0000 Jacob Blickenstaff 256641 at