Sunday, July 30, 2023

We scream for keto ice cream.

So it's been about two-and-a-half years since I began following a low-carb diet, and it's still helping me to control my blood glucose levels without medication.

The thing is, though, sometimes you want a little something other than protein and veggies. And over the past few years, food manufacturers have rushed in -- as they are wont to do -- to provide junk food that's low in carbs. Low carb seems to be too nebulous a term for these corporations, so instead they've latched onto the term keto. Now you can find bread, ready-to-eat cereal, cookies, crackers, granola bars, and even ice cream, all trumpeting their keto cred. 

But how do they taste? 

Ah, there's the rub. 

Manufacturers use a few standard strategies for making foods keto. One is to rely on fat to boost the flavor, so you see a lot of stuff with peanut butter in it. Full-fat dairy is another go-to. But regular desserts rely on sugar for a lot of their taste, and Americans in particular have been trained to like their food really sweet. Enter sugar substitutes. Some of them taste okay, but some, like monkfruit, have an odd aftertaste. Also, for many folks, eating too much of them -- particularly the sugar alcohols -- can lead to a bout of diarrhea. And you may have recently heard about the World Health Organization's claim that aspertame, which has been used in diet sodas for years, might be carcinogenic. Nobody's banning the stuff yet; I suspect they remember the rush-to-judgment on saccharine in 1981. Instead, the message is to eat sugar substitutes in moderation.

Which brings us to keto ice cream. Some brands trumpet single-digit net carbs in a whole pint, which would seem to encourage people to eat the entire thing at once. But if you're going to maybe risk your health, which brands are worth it? In other words, how do they taste?

I've tried a few now, and I can tell you there aren't many that are worth spending the cash and carbs on. Some are well-reviewed, but I didn't like them because the texture was odd. Most say on the package that they'll be creamier if you let them sit out on the counter for about 15 minutes, but in a lot of cases, they still sort of splintered when I tried to scoop them. A number of them had a weird consistency, almost like ice milk (remember that stuff?), and some had an aftertaste.

Two passed muster. Here is one of them: 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
Nick's is a Swedish company that turns out some pretty decent low-carb foods. I have tried and liked their protein bars. (One of these days I'll do a post on keto bars. Stay tuned.) So when I saw their ice cream in the freezer section the other day, I knew I had to try it. And it's good! The "triple choklad" has a slightly odd taste, but I liked it well enough to buy it a second time. The "salta karamell" not only tastes like salted caramel, but it actually scoops instead of splintering. 

The other keto ice cream I liked is from Mammoth Creameries. This is technically frozen custard, not ice cream -- it's made with egg yolks as well as milk and a sweetener. I tried the lemon buttercream flavor, and I liked it a lot. It's not super-sweet, and the mouthfeel is amazing. Mammoth gets bonus points from me for avoiding the use of unpronounceable ingredients; they use xylitol as the sweetener, but everything else is regular food.

The biggest drawback to these desserts is the price: they are all several dollars more per pint than a premium ice cream like Ben and Jerry's. Mammoth was the most expensive, but Nick's wasn't much cheaper (I only bought two flavors because it was on sale). 

But maybe that's a plus, since we're supposed to be eating this stuff in moderation. Right?


By the way, I'm not getting a kickback from anybody for recommending these products. Which I suspect is not true for the reviewers of the ice cream brands I didn't like. ("Dig in"? Seriously? How do you do that when the splinters skitter across the counter?)


These moments of opinionated blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Teaching pets to talk human.

It's still too hot to write about anything very serious this week. Since I haven't seen the new movie about Barbie yet, let's instead ponder the subject of teaching pets to talk.

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Facebook videos in which cats choose from among an array of electronic buttons to speak words to their humans. There's a cat named Russell who's a master at it, but I've seen other feline adepts, too. To be fair, canine adepts also exist, but I don't watch many of the dog videos. It's not that I have anything against dogs or dog people -- it's that I have a cat.

Anyway, I got inspired last fall and had Tigs ask for a starter set of buttons for Yule. (Well, okay. I asked for the buttons on his behalf.) He's a smart boi, I reasoned, and he's pretty good at getting his point across with gestures. Plus he already knows a few human words: his name, some of his nicknames, "t-word", "lunch", "supper", "outside". I figured he would pick up the button pushing in no time.

Spoiler: he hasn't. 

That's his "I'mma bite you, Mama,
if you try to get me to hit this button
one more time" expression.
Lynne Cantwell 2023
(He did actually bite me, the little shit. But it was during a brief game of "whack Mama's hands". I'd stopped playing, but he wasn't done yet. I told you he was good at getting his point across.)

Some researchers at the University of California at San Diego are taking this phenomenon of button-pushing pets seriously enough to study it. The longitudinal study is tracking 1,600 dogs and 400 cats, many of whose owners have cameras running all day, every day to observe their pets' behavior around their buttons. One of the researchers, Federico Rossano, says he's convinced that at least a few of the dogs are pushing buttons with intent. "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't have evidence that this wasn't random," he says.

As you might expect, there are naysayers. One researcher at the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania is quoted in the article as saying that humans ought to concentrate on learning dogs' innate mode of communication -- body language -- rather than asking them to learn ours. It would be one thing if the dogs in the study were saying something they couldn't express with body language, she says, but that doesn't appear to be what's happening.

But c'mon -- you could say the same thing about the process of learning another human language. You don't immediately get into a deep philosophical discussion with someone who speaks a language you don't know. A whole lot of pointing and gesturing goes on to start with; as you pick up more of the other person's vocabulary, you begin to catch the nuances. Maybe our pets aren't there yet.

I get that people don't want to anthropomorphize companion animals. But isn't that speciesist? I mean, thanks to certain religious teachings, humanity has long fancied itself to be made in God's image, and many folks have taken that to mean that we're a higher life-form than all others -- and that misapprehension has caused the destruction of the planet's natural resources and the subjugation of peoples conveniently judged to be less than human. Even other humans.

And come to find out, we're not the only higher thinkers on this rock. Dolphins are now thought by some to be the second smartest species on the planet -- although this list at How Stuff Works puts them third, behind chimpanzees. Rounding out the How Stuff Works top five are orangutans, elephants and crows. Pigs are sixth, followed by squirrels, pigeons, octupi and rats. Another list mentions African gray parrots as smart cookies, too. (Is it significant that we consider several creatures on this smart-animals list to be vermin? I'll leave you to decide.)

Yes, yes, I've noticed that dogs and cats aren't on the list. But that doesn't mean they can't learn new tricks -- including how to speak human by pushing prerecorded buttons.

I'm looking forward to the results of this study.


To be fair, I haven't been consistent in training Tigs, which I'm sure is the biggest factor in his inability to pick up the concept. Then again, he has me trained pretty well, which is probably all he really cares about.


The water leak recovery is moving ahead. This past week, the contractor closed up the holes in the ceilings and put that texture stuff on the patches. (This apartment has textured walls and ceilings throughout, for good or ill.) This week, they'll be back to paint the bedrooms, closets, and hallway. I ordered the new flooring for the bedrooms yesterday; that should be in by the end of this week. I'm hoping it'll all be done by Lughnasadh (August 2nd, give or take a day), but it'll probably be a few days later. I cannot wait. I'm very tired of everything that was in the office/craft room closet cluttering up my living/dining room.


These moments of cross-species communicative blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay cool, if you can!

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Walking back prehistory.

 Things aren't much calmer for me personally this weekend, but I'm going to do an actual post anyway.

mj0007 | Deposit Photos

That's a Clovis point. Although it's not the first Clovis point ever discovered; the first one was found not far from where I'm writing this -- at Blackwater Draw near Clovis, NM. In 1929, a road crew there ran across a big pile of woolly mammoth bones, and mixed in with the bones were spear points that looked a lot like this one -- clearly crafted by human hands. Subsequent archaelogical research dated the spear points to oh, about 13,000 years ago. That tracks with the theory that humans came to the Americas by way of a land bridge across the Bering Strait around that time, as the last Ice Age ended. So for almost a century, the accepted wisdom has been that Clovis Man was the first human in the Americas.

Which is great, as long as you don't think about the evidence of earlier human occupation that keeps turning up.

Take, for example, this story from the Associated Press this week: Researchers in Brazil have discovered some bones of giant sloths that were clearly worked by human hands and maybe even worn as jewelry. The researchers have dated these bone pendants, and they say they're 25,000 to 27,000 years old -- thousands of years older than Clovis Man.

And then there are the fossilized footprints at White Sands National Park, also not far from where I'm writing this. Archaeologists have used radiocarbon dating to estimate that those footprints are between 21,000 and 23,000 years old -- not quite as old as the giant sloth pendants, but not as recent as Clovis Man, either. 

National Park Service

At the time, White Sands was an inland lake, and the people who left the footprints shared their watering hole with mammoths, giant sloths, and camels. Yes, camels! 

It turns out there's a word for "camel" in Keres, the language spoken by members of Acoma Pueblo. Kim Pasqual-Charlie of the Acoma Tribal Historical Preservation Board is quoted in an article about White Sands in the most recent edition of El Palacio magazine as saying, "But how can we have that word if we'd never seen a camel?"

In other words, science is beginning to catch up with the wisdom in Native legends about how they have always been here. Archaeologists and anthropologists have ignored or scoffed at those stories for decades. Now? Maybe not so much. Science is discovering evidence that glaciers advanced and receded multiple times over the eons, and that could have allowed for the peopling of the Americas a whole lot earlier than once thought.

(Then there's the possibility that the Bering land bridge wasn't the only migratory route taken by early humans. There's DNA evidence that Polynesians had contact with South American tribes around 1200 CE, a few centuries before Columbus. And theories of pre-Columbian contact with people of the Americas abound -- although none are early enough to account for those giant-sloth-bone pendants.)

Still, there's pushback from some archaeologists, who want more proof of earlier settlements before they give such theories credit. I get that's how science is supposed to work. But there's also a well-documented tendency among Whites to disbelieve that Native Americans could have had an ancient, advanced civilization on this continent. That's how we've gotten theories that, y'know, savage Indians couldn't possibly have created things like the Great Circle Earthworks in Ohio, or Cahokia in southern Illinois, or Chaco Canyon here in New Mexico. Those things must have been created by a lost tribe of Israel. Or survivors from the fall of Atlantis. Or aliens! 

Because to admit that ancestral Native Americans created those things would require that we also admit how heinous our treatment of modern-day Native Americans has been. It's on par with the way we've treated Black Americans -- and to be honest, we as a society aren't ready to confront that, either, let alone atone for it.


I want to talk about one other thing that was in the El Palacio article. Western society puts a lot of stock in dates: humans came to the Americas 13,000 -- no, 25,000 -- no, maybe even 50,000 years ago. (Yes, there's some evidence for it.) How can Native Americans say they've always been here? Fifty thousand years is a hell of a long time, but it's not forever

In response, the author of the article quotes Dr. Joe Watkins, an archaeologist with Archaeological and Cultural Education Consultants in Tucson, AZ, and a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Watkins observes that Westerners define themselves in opposition to others, in finding what makes them -- us -- superior to others. (See my point about Cahokia, etc., above.) He goes on: "But for us, I believe, history is a way of recognizing connections and relationships, relationships with non-human people. The Western perspective is largely irrelevant. It is beside the point."

He says, "On the Indigenous side, it doesn’t matter putting dates. Philosophically, we were never anywhere else."


If you have an interest in this stuff -- and if you've gotten this far, I have to assume you do -- I encourage you to read the article in El Palacio. I found it fascinating. Here's the link again


These moments of ancient blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Taking a week to breathe.


lineartestpilot | Deposit Photos
I used this graphic a few weeks back for a post about the most recent congressional debt ceiling brinkmanship. But it feels appropriate on a personal level right now. 

I mentioned last week that I was dealing with a water leak from the apartment above mine. Tigs and I spent four days this week staycating (I just now decided that "staycation" can be a verb) at a hotel in town, while I shuttled back and forth between the hotel, the office (for work), the apartment (to let various insurance people and demolition crews in), and the timeshare where my kids were staying -- because of course the leak happened just as I was picking them up from the airport for a one-week stay. We didn't lose much of anything (I am a veteran of moth infestations and leaky rental unit basements, so I store virtually everything in plastic containers), but it's still been disruptive. 

And there's more to come. Right now, there are large holes in the ceilings of both bedrooms, both bedroom closets, the utility closet, and the hallway. The wall-to-wall carpet in both bedrooms is ruined, the bedrooms need to be repainted, and my medicine cabinet is trashed. And of course all the stuff that I'd stored in the closets is scattered around the apartment. In a word, it's pretty chaotic here right now.

In addition, I'm also expecting that my deck will be dismantled this summer to get at a leak on the roof below it that's impacting the apartment below mine. I figure the ceiling repairs and bedroom remodeling will be finished at about the time the deck work begins.

I'm lucky in that insurance will pay for the ceilings and bedrooms, and the condo association will pay for the deck and roof work.

But still, I am not in the best of head spaces right now. Plus I have a lot of extra stuff to do. So I'm taking this week off from blogging. 

I hope to be back at it next week. In the meantime, here's a picture of Tigs -- who, like me, is happy to be back home, however chaotic it is right now. 

Lynne Cantwell 2023

These moments of messy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Inequality rears its ugly head again.

What the hell -- I'm not trying to sell books anymore. Might as well stop pretending that I don't talk about politics here. 

This week's Supreme Court decisions -- particularly the one that invalidated President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan -- are what got me going this time. I have a personal stake in this: I still owe the government for one of the PLUS loans that I took out for my daughters to go to college. I made a decision before I retired to take about $30,000 out of my savings to pay off most of them, leaving a balance of just under $10,000 -- which would have gone away, if the Supreme Court hadn't decided this week to screw over 40 million Americans.

I paid off my own graduate school loan. I've paid off three-quarters of what I owed on the PLUS loans. Now I'm retired, living on a reduced income. And still there are people out there who would call me a deadbeat because I hoped for a little relief. 

But that's just one instance of how the Supremes screwed over regular Americans this week. There was also the decision that ended affirmative action in college admissions and the one about how people can refuse service to gay couples who want to get married (even if the situation is completely hypothetical, no one has been harmed, and the business isn't even set up yet!).

There's a lot to unpack with these end-of-term rulings, and I don't have the bandwidth to give it the space it deserves. (My apartment's in an uproar due to a plumbing leak in the unit above me, and I have a crazy week ahead that has now been complicated with insurance adjusters and whatnot.) But my brain has been doing its random association thing ever since the student loan order came down Friday, and the result was a rant that I posted to Facebook yesterday:

Everybody in my age cohort, by which I mean Generation Jones (mid '50s to 1963 or so), got fucked. 

We entered the work force in the mid to late '70s, just about the time when trickle-down economics took over -- when conservatives launched their long game to make money, and keep it, by gutting the middle class. We literally never had a chance. 

But at least we still had the opportunity to get an undergrad degree before college tuition went through the roof. My kids really got hosed -- they had to take out loans to afford college and graduated into the Great Recession, when there weren't jobs easily available to them so they could pay them off.

The American Dream worked for the Boomers because they had years of earnings before this shit started. That's why they think we're whiners. They never had to live through what we're living through financially.

Am I pissed? You bet I am.

I wrote about Generation Jones last year. Basically, it recognizes that those of us born between, oh, 1955 and 1963, give or take, have very little in common with the Baby Boomers we're lumped with demographically. We grew up watching the Boomers go through the Vietnam War and their reactions -- Woodstock and the Summer of Love as well as antiwar protests -- and internalized their values. Then the Boomers grew up and enjoyed, at least for a while, the postwar economy that supported the middle class the way it had their parents. Jonesers, meanwhile, came into the workforce right about when the gravy train ended thanks to Reaganomics. 

There are links supporting all this in the GenJones post I've already linked to. It looks like the link to the graphics from Inequality for All is dead, but here's the graphic that really got me when I watched the documentary (which I have stolen from a review of the doc at Zero Anthropology -- apologies for the quality of their screen grab): 

After 1977, Reaganomics and its trickle-down bullshit kicked in, and the hill to prosperity became harder and harder to climb -- hitting Jonesers and GenXers especially hard, because we feel cheated out of the American Dream that many of us lived as kids.

But see how the graph begins to fall off on the right side of the graphic? It assumed that the 2010 figure was the high point of inequality and that it would start coming down, but that was wishful thinking; income inequality continued to grow through the pandemic. However, awareness of inequality has also continued to grow. And while the Supreme Court's decisions this week seem to be aimed at cementing the disparities, by keeping down the people that should, y'know, be kept down (like Blacks and LGBTQ+ folks and basically everybody who ought not to have been granted access to an education that allowed them to think for themselves and question the oligarchy) -- and particularly when it's paired with last year's Roe v. Wade decision and its gleeful (on the part of evangelicals) aftermath --  it also feels to me like the final gasp of a dying worldview. 

It seems like we ought to be at a tipping point when the Supreme Court starts issuing decisions on bogus cases to enforce a draconian worldview that most Americans don't subscribe to. I hope we're at that tipping point. 

I've been disappointed on that score before. And yet, my hope for a turnaround abides.

It sucks to be living through this timeline. We may not begin making progress toward equality again for many years. But at some point, the pendulum has to swing back. It always does.


The Biden administration is already working on a Plan B for student loan relief, although it won't be immediate or as far-reaching. And it may not help me, so I'm not going to wait for it. Guess it's a good thing that I went back to work...


These moments of ranty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!