Month: July 2016

A 90 Hour Fast

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A friend, who tends to be overweight, went on a Forty Day Fast recently saying that  his dad had done that several times, and he himself had fasted for forty days once before. He explained that he continued all of his ordinary activities as an interpreter during his fast, without any difficulty whatsoever.

Maybe he felt so well,  I thought, because normal activity makes more sense for the average mortal person than fasting alone in the wilderness like Jesus, which might awaken dreams and Devils. I had supervised students during  a several week anti-Vietnam war fruit juice fast– like those of Caesar Chavez. Yet these were child’s play compared to my friend’s forty day fast.

Being in that magical age when one can be freely irresponsible, I was tempted to submit myself–  as subject– in an uncontrolled experiment. But it needed a little thought. I decided on 90 hours because I wasn’t entirely convinced my friend was telling the whole story; and I don’t have enough fat to last long without feeding on my frightened proteins; or worse— a fatty little brain that might still be useful afterward.

I’m generally healthy, given the overburden of foolish years; my numbers and chemistries are ideal. (Whatever that means! Time suggests that today’s sacred truths are often tomorrow’s gross errors.) Yet I have type II diabetes, using only the medication that seems to me most rational and effective – lantus with a regular insulin pen for carb flings. My Hemoglobin A1c- , a reflection of average blood sugar during the prior 90 days,  is usually between 5 and 6, not normal, but very satisfactory.  I never have a very low blood sugar since I stopped all the  oral diabetes treatment pills I had used earlier.

Looking over some of the literature on fasting quite superficially, it appeared to me there was some evidence intermittent fasting may be beneficial for humans. But well constructed human studies on longer fasts seem small, and over controlled to the point of –absurdity. Apparently they are not profitable, and worse, troublesome and costly.

Not so in mice i , where “prolonged periods of fasting – repeated cycles of 2-4 days with no food – over the course of 6 months, seemed to  kill off older and damaged immune cells and generate new ones.” Longo and colleagues suggest that such “metabolic changes … as a result of prolonged fasting… for 3 days or longer–drinking only water …reset some components of (the) immune system... the drop in white cell levels trigger(s) a stem-cell based regeneration of new immune cells.” Interesting, especially if you are a mouse. Yet, if my friend could do long fasts why not I? 

Day one began at noon on Monday and ended the next noon. I had cut the lantus  (insulin) in half that morning and had a light lunch. The rest of the day was inconsequential.


Day two began at noon Tuesday: I had slept well, and had waked comfortably that morning, skipping insulin altogether, making breakfast of black coffee to avoid caffeine withdrawal headaches. I was building a fence and had to dig post holes that in the afternoon making sure to drink plenty of water. It was a hot day but the work felt easy, and I felt no hunger at all. The rest of the day I read and wrote, which is my usual thing. I ingested some TV and Netflix.

Day three began at noon Wednesday: Much the same. I stayed with my thrice weekly regimen: light upper body work, about 8500 ft-lb*, and 110 Calories on an elliptical trainer; enough to sweat and get the heart and lungs going. I was not hungry. Not at all. Back to my books to dig up an old copy of Don Quixote, which offered new meaning for me; the aged Don Q set off on his quest after reading too much, and causing his relatives to fret.

*80 lb x 11 per exercise x 6 exercises x 6 sets = 8640 ft lb; that sounds like a lot,  but it only takes a boring half hour or so.

Day four began at noon Thursday: I  cemented  and set five fence posts, being animated and comfortable despite triple digit heat. My GI tract relaxed after it had produced faithfully til day 4. Where did that come from? I read a book just published by Milton, a Peruvian friend. By 10 PM on day three, my fast had already lasted 82 hours; the last 8 hours would be spent asleep. I am an easy sleeper, and that night, like the rest, slept well.


At the 90th hour: I wake. My only memory of the night is being instructed, a bit tersely, to turn over and stop snoring. Did I dream? I did, but don’t recall; if ever I do a long fast again I will make a note about dreams when I wake. I am still not hungry but restart the lantus dutifully; two hours later I breakfast on granola with milk and fruit. I wonder: Doesn’t that make my fast 92 hours?  Maybe, but  there doesn’t seem to be any difference between the old and new me, except the old one lost 9 lb. During the next 10 days, 7 lb returns. We took no insulin during the entire fast; our blood sugars were constantly between 80 and 100.


Comment: Is there any benefit to a several fast besides transient weight loss? I don’t see much. I don’t recommend  it though my little adventure did get me back to Don Quixote for some new and different insights consistent with my age and condition. Frankly, my fast reminds me of what a much admired old friend, Skeet, said years ago when he reached an advanced stage of emphysema and stopped smoking; on the second day of withdrawal he was asked,

“Do you think you’ll live longer now?”

“( Cough, Cough Cough, Gasp) I don’t know. (Cough, cough) But I sure as hell hope not!”


i Stem Cell Volume 14, Issue 6, p810–823, 5 June 2014 Valter D. Longo et al.



Si Somos Americanos

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Si somos americanos*      

                                         By Rolando Alarcón

Si somos americanos,

somos hermanos señores,

tenemos las mismas flores,

tenemos las mismas manos.


Si somos americanos,

seremos buenos vecinos,

compartiremos el trigo,

seremos buenos hermanos.


Bailaremos marinera,

resbalosa, huayno y son.

Si somos americanos,

seremos una canción.


Si somos americanos,

no miraremos fronteras,

cuidaremos las semillas,

tiraremos las banderas.


Si somos americanos,

seremos todos iguales,

el blanco, el mestizo, el indio

y el negro son como tales             

* in Spanish, capitalization is often different than in English.




If We Are Americans

If we are Americans

We’re family my friends,

We’ve the same flowers,

and the same hands.


We dance the marinera,

resbalosa, huayano and son,

When we are Americans

We are a song.


If we are Americans

there are no borders

we care for seeds,

not a nation’s flags.


If we are Americans

we are all the same,

White, indigenous, mixed,

and black are one.




 I have taken some  little translation liberties like introducing gender neutrality because I feel these are essential and inevitable to t translation appropriate to the times.  Just as when we read we interpret and and translate and recreate and modify word symbols in our mind. What, for example, is a cow?  Whch one, what color, breed, something else entirely? The reader decides.  Among the folk songs of the Americas there are many that express the feeling of discrimination and isolation from the dominant culture… like Angelitos Negros, where the poet asks why there are no black cherubs or angels.


 Alarcón became a music teacher in the 70s,  and was a communist, revolutionary, homosexual, and widely acclaimed poet folk singer associated with wold famous folk groups. His songs are often accompanied by altiplano flute and charango, a small guitar often  built on an armadillo shell. The huayano is an altiplano ONE- two- three step dance. The son is  a generic word for Mexican folk dance.

 Chileans are notorious as poets, miners, and engineers who must build to withstand recurring earthquakes.  The first American woman Nobel laureate was  Gabriela Mistral  Mistral lived in Valle del Elqui, a long  remote Andes valley where the  high air is so clear it has attracted the world’s biggest collection of international observatories. Neruda is another Nobel laureate poet. Rolando  Alarcón was born in Sewell, Chile, an old High Andes company owned mining town, at El Teniente Mine; it is still the largest underground mine in the world ; It operates within one mountain on multiple levels; the rock crusher,  mill, flotation process,  kitchen and restaurant are interconnected by 2500 km of two lane highways in  huge air washed tunnels, with traffic lights; miners enter and leave by train on the lower level. 

The Americas are home to lots of deep or fascinating cultural stuff; like some of my mother in law’s  Gajardo family that includes the first woman engineer in the Americas,   Justicia Espada… Justice Sword  — her parents refused to give their children family names. The  link includes the names of her siblings.  Perhaps those wierd names made them eccentric; see  Gajardo’s Moon   post on this blog.

I think this old song is timely because it enunciates  some current attitudes of many  pan-american and pan-african indigenous peoples; and  those of many of the world’s transnational millennials, who want to live like one-world citizens.  Further, perhaps there is some sort of connection between  the sentiments expressed in the folk  poem, and those of  that stunning political pyromaniac, The Bern,  and  with those of  Moisés Naím, in   The End of Power) also reviewed on this blog.



Little Things

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It’s not the Persian carpet, the house , car or jewels,

but the little things that whisper or suggest

even when they’re silent what I little know,

of where, when, why, who or even what about her life gone by:


Her medicine chest, kitchen and pantry, bedsheets and closets;

eleven hard drives in a plastic ziplock — meticulously destroyed.

An unspent bullet  in still stale air and cluttered dark.

A crochet hook, sewing kit, items for recycling.


Old  photographs, TP and paper towels;

Bank statements, letters, perfume, and lotions,

Detergents, linens, a dog dish and bird feeder–  half full.

A mail box, still alive,  when emptied, cries out

for a little more,  until rewarded with delicious junk mail  and collection letters.


Pills, notions, lotions,  purses, shoes, clothes,

and a hundred hand written pages from a lined spiral notebook

filled with fear and voices speaking in silent audibles.

Dry plants, and flower beds, disconnected sprinklers, old hoses and garden tools.


Cruel little things speak in their sharp edged forked foreign tongue.

Sad little things  that hint of little pleasures, big plans, and hope of love.

I follow the footpaths through the underbrush of her tangled troubled life.

I walk there barefoot aware and wary of thorns, adders, asps, and broken glass.


The little things leave weeping little cuts that still wait and want to heal.

The Impossible Naturalist

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‘We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred? ‘                   Richard Dawkins




As soon as he could count it was clear

he was the mathematically impossible winner of a life

in this galaxy, star, earth, in this time,

here at a center of this civilization.


So soon as he could read and reason it was clear

he was the impossible winner of other lotteries:

culture, language, technology, and history;

he would demarcate the borders of infinity. 


In puberty, at the rising of the numinous,

fearless, fevered and foolish as youth can be,

emboldened by Darwinian science, and Learning, he  planned to steal

candy from the bloody jaws of God.


But this miracle child of blind Chance

stole only the shared lone eye of the three blind Fates.

Now, cherishing it like his own newborn child,

he sings joyously, though chained to the walls of Time.


Yet then recalls that for science nothing is certain;

to doubt is the only law and commandment.

He chants and sings and looks through his stolen eye,

and only fears to see an Eye look back.


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I “Turn him to any cause of policy,

The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,

Familiar as his garter” (ShakespeareHenry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47)



She goes most any where she used to go,

with help and  planning, going slow,

and can do most things she used to do

but very little that’s really new.


She blindly watches TV ‘breaking news‘,

where talking heads spew tired words and views;

yet walks with help  at ninety three,

as lone and lonely as old age can be


who loses loved ones almost every day,

whose loyal  foes have even  gone away

to that mausoleum in the mind,

invisible, unknown and undefined.


The history she lived- redacted- gone,

her universal truths now considered wrong,

she’s wantonly outlived her life;

and none else recalls its joys or strife.


She searches neuronal tangled time

for some meaning in the  paradigm

that she lives on  here, on and on

after shared memory is  long gone.  


She vainly queries her  past to find

Why loved ones leave, but leave her behind;

Asks aloud a question no one hears:

  “Why do I live so far beyond my years?”


But her old cat curls and purrs, and then

that oral history student comes again

about an Occam’s Razor essay;

Or the Gordian Knot? – she cannot say.


The  visit fills her shadowed room with light

like sunrise in the middle of the night;

The young know light’s speed’s so  fast

it untangles the  future from the past.  



*The title refers to tangled neurofibrils sometimes seen in the brain in very advanced age. The poem is about a very old woman in a nursing or rest home affected, perhaps, by such tangles. Occam’s razor refers to a problem-solving principle attributed to  William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), It can be stated as Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. The Gordian Knot is a legend of Phrygian King Gordium . It is often used as a metaphor  for solving an intractable problem (disentangling an “impossible” knot) by “cutting the Gordian knot”):