Month: September 2014

Seven Sonnets

renoir-still-life-with-flowers

The first poem here is an imitation of Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet. They were all composed between 2009 and 2013 (I wrote the first in high school).

I.

I would not compare my love to a clear sky:
Vapid, spacious, and plain as any day
For her blue eyes so lavishly supply
Ineffable love, poetry’s food and clay
Why would I fawn upon the sun or moon?
When her heart can neither wane nor phase
And I know so largely she does not loom
Nor does her visage blind with brutal rays
What could I craft with the red of a rose?
That neither laughs, nor smiles nor plays
For it is with kindred souls that love grows.
Not in my idle, stilted, empty praise
Her lips are timeless, shimmering bliss;
Even the stars are unworthy of her kiss.

II.

Love is not the moment of its conception,
For then a frail fleeting thing love would be.
Nor is love the praise of false perfection
In poets’ odes to unearthly effigies.
Yet, when eyes decide on their desire,
These fallacies like plagues do repeat,
For, for love to live, sight must retire
And let the heart take its silvery seat.
But I have beheld you only in dark night,
When features are indiscernible to eyes,
And dim stars prepare for subtler delight
And higher heavens for lovers to rise.
Blind sight’s insipid looks shall never know
The vivid splendor of your inner glow

III.

Under baneful shade I can feel your lips
For a moment pressed against my own,
And sparks burn bright amidst an eclipse,
Glowing beautifully, but soon they are gone.
In that imagined moment I am unbound
From heaven and earth’s shameful decree,
And I forget, soaring above the ground
That I shall neither know you, nor you me.
Yet my solitude is a welcome fate
When among the gentle glades of gold,
Gilded by the emerald and ivory gate
I envision when your name takes its hold.
Perhaps then knowing you is not the cure,
For then my love would find itself less pure.

IIII.

Imprisoned by your boundless modesty,
You nobly ignore your idolater.
So, he will honor your integrity,
And greet you with an indifferent murmur.
This threat is lifeless, but if it was not
You would not blink, or begin to wonder
What has become of his worthless lot,
Or the pretty words he wrote to assure
You of his adoration of your being;
But a worm in revolt goes unnoticed,
For he can never please his queen,
Although by her he is ever possessed.
Both joy and despair know you are their root,
And you may trample either underfoot.

V.

This witless world always on the advance
Does not feel the dullness of its turning,
Livened only by that rare occurrence
For which we waste our other hours yearning.
Yet when I yearn for you I taste not lust,
Abandonment or dejected envy,
For like a martyr to his God I trust
One fine eve you will appear before me.
With these verses I show my devotion,
Though stood next to you they are not too fair;
Like beads of dew taken from the ocean,
They are mere drops of what I wish to bear.
But lesser passions the years will consume;
And lesser suitors will walk to their doom.

VI.

When I survey the garbled disguises
I have worn over this fleeting sojourn,
Sadness in me suddenly arises
And I am left bewildered and forlorn.
Don the look; I don the look that pleases
Eyes for which I hold the purest disdain,
Yet none deny that this wearing eases
Loveless life: lonely, barren, and mundane.
From you there is nothing I can conceal
Behind facades of bronze, silver or gold;
Naked and bare, I must piously kneel,
And let your desires shape the new mold.
When one of my baser masks offend you,
Remember you know me as one and true.

VII.

Why do I weep with the unheeding winds,
Who care for me only when I imbue
The dreamed wings of a messenger that sends
My hopes and worries faithfully to you?
Why when cloaked in silence do I profess
You can hear the rhythms of my heart-beat,
And in the night when we our minds egress
Tenderly in our dreams our spirits meet?
Why do I kiss your phantom form goodnight,
And insist you are near, holding my arm?
Well, I ask you, does love know what is right
When it knows such knowledge will do it harm?
Let me in my visions continue to feel
What reason would gladly from me steal.

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6 Great Pumpkin Beers

jack

It is the season for all things orange and black. In the fall an otherwise unremarkable member of the squash family rises to the peaks of power before, like Prosperine, unhappily returning to the underworld. I have tried to evaluate the ales here with a variety of palates in mind. However, my reviews are not absolute and do not try to be comprehensive. They merely reflect my impressions from one sampling. Finances, work and liver enzymes prohibit multiple samplings. I did not look at any ratings before trying them as this would undoubtedly have affected my judgement.

 

Fall Hornin’ by Anderson Valley

Location: Boonville, California

ABV: 6%

Beer Advocate Score: 85%

Fall Hornin’ has received mostly positive reviews. I sampled it first from the can, then from a pint glass. Made in a solar powered building, the spices are prominent and well blended. This is no doubt a selling point for sustainability enthusiasts. There is nothing artificial tasting, although I myself have no issue with some of the marvelous molecules modern food science has brought us. If you genuinely like the taste of pumpkin this is a good choice. With an IBU of 22 it is bit hoppier than other pumpkin beers, but what you are tasting is likely the puréed remains of some poor pulverized pumpkin. The Munich and chocolate malts are detectable. Anderson Valley recommends pairing it with cranberry scones, roasted root vegetables, steak chili and caramel flan. Oddly specific. I ate a piece of sharp cheddar, not knowing it was one of the recommended cheeses (the other is brie). It was orgasmic.

Johnny Rails by Erie Brewing Company

Location: Erie, Pennsylvania

ABV: 6.5%

Beer Advocate Score: 79%

From the brewery: “a blonde based ale. It is a fruit beer with delicious flavour, a great nose, and the perfect poise of pumpkin and spice.” This is an accurate description. I think many connoisseurs can appreciate the balance of this drink even if it is not what they want from the  style. I noticed cinnamon more than the other ingredients when I took my first whiff and taste. This is a crowd pleaser and cheap alternative to the Dogfish Head. For this remark I expect an angry mob will chase me within a fortnight. It was worth it since it gave me an excuse to use the word fortnight. However, I don’t foresee Johnny Rails utterly offending any of your party guests and, with an elevated but well masked ABV (too low for them to become tipsy after one (or be wary of becoming tipsy), but enough to get them there after two or more), they will quickly become too wasted to care.

 

KBC Pumpkin Ale

ABV: 4.7%

Beer Advocate Score: 65%

It’s BA score is horrendously low. It may not be an award winner, but it does not deserve such a low ranking. Although, I must admit, it is not pleasant to drink a room temperature (though this by no means makes it a bad beer). It is inexpensive and available at Trader Joe’s. I suspect some snobbery has come into play here.  The makers attempted to duplicate pie and, to some extent, have succeeded without using particularly hearty grains. Between the price and the balancing of the spices, I think this deserves at least an 75% at the lowest and an 80% at the highest. It is a pity because while it is good quite good as is, with some tweaking it could be excellent.

 

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Location: Easton, Pennsylvania

ABV: 8%

Beer Advocate Score: 87%

From the brewery: “like a pyramid for a Pharaoh, we set out to make a bold monument for The King of the Pumpkins! This 8.0% ABV pumpkin ale is the mother of all pumpkin ales. It is heartier, spicier, and more ‘caramelly’ and ‘pumpkiny’ than its faint brethren!”  It is significantly richer than the other members of this list. Many people avoid beer because they find it too filling. If you are one of those people, then I do not recommend the Weyerbacher. It is easier to quaff than other Imperial Ales, perhaps partially because of the spices. If you can appreciate a complex and carefully crafted drink then this should be your go to fall brew. Well-received, the Weyerbacher will become a fall fixture for those looking for an October warmer. I regret having tried it in September…September in Florida. Also, what I said about the Johnny Rails applies doubly here. A high and well-hidden ABV can lighten the mood of any would-be bacchanalia.

 

Punkin Ale by Dogfish Head

Location: Milton, Delaware

ABV: 7%

Beer Advocate Score: 89%

“A full-bodied brown ale with smooth hints of pumpkin and brown sugar. We brew our Punkin Ale with pumpkin meat, organic brown sugar and spices. As the season cools, this is the perfect beer to warm up with.” They ended a sentence with a preposition, but I’ll forgive them. It is reminscent of a slice of pie and I would recommend it as a dessert. It is, as DFH claims, stupendous when paired with duck. Much has already been written about this one. No need to add more.

 

Pumpkinhead by Shipyard

Location: Portland, Maine

ABV: 4.7%

Beer Review Rating: 69%

Neither heavy nor watery. Honeyed, but far from saccharine (though some may disagree). Its prominent honey tinge is complimented by allspice, giving it a flavour reminiscent of tea. Malt is tasty and sweet. The overall candy quality of the Pumpkinhead makes it accessible but has alienated its share of connoisseurs and snobs. I can’t imagine even the disparagers of mild bocks finding fault with his cheap but fun beverage. However, like mead or any other sugary libation, I’m not sure if I would want to drink more than three bottles in a single sitting. It is light enough to keep one from feeling overloaded. If you can down bocks and stouts without flinching this one should be smooth sipping. I like the label.

Life Extension and Antioxidants: An Overview

Mitochondria

Mitochondria: so powerful and so fragile.

 The question of whether dietary antioxidants can substantially delay death or senescence is important to both researchers and health enthusiasts. While supplementation is known to increase the average lifespans of test animals and to decrease certain mortality risks  in humans, they do not increase the maximum age of test organisms. They do not make Methuselahs out of mice or men. Denham Harman, the father of the original Antioxidant Theory of Aging, despairingly came to this conclusion when his experiments with several potent free radical scavengers, including butylated hydroxytoluene, failed to produce his desired outcome.

Evidence gleaned from the laboratory forced Harman to reformulate his original hypothesis: oxidative damage suffered by mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells, is responsible for the slowing of maintenance processes crucial to maintaining cellular and bodily integrity. While other organelles and even macromolecules can suffer in the same way, there are a number of reasons to focus on these organelles in particular: mitochondrial DNA does not repair itself as efficiently as the DNA residing in the cell’s nucleus, it is also located near the electron transport chain, which produces a constant stream of free radicals, and, lastly but perhaps most significantly from a practical standpoint, caloric restriction increases mammalian life span. It is conjectured it does this by reducing the mitochondrial workload, which in turn reduces the number of free radicals produced. This, as one can easily imagine, reduces the damage incurred by ATP generation. The question now becomes whether there are compounds that protect mitochondria in particular. Before turning to these still theoretical therapies, it is best to become acquainted with the tried and true molecules.

Ascorbic acid, better known as vitamin C, is famed for its proclivity to neutralize roving free radicals.  The relationship between heart disease and low vitamin C levels is well established. Men with the lowest levels of vitamin C have a 2.4 fold risk of dying from a stroke compared to those with the highest levels.  Likewise, protection from cancer and dementia has been demonstrated. Vtamin E displays similar properties. One of the most interesting properties of both E and C is the reduction of LDL oxidation and risk of atherosclerosis. Normal amounts of these vitamins and beta carotene can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, but there seems to be no benefit to exceeding recommended allotments. Participants in a Dutch study with the lowest vitamin E intake were 70% more likely to develop the disease compared to the highest. It good to note here that those who consume nutritious foods the most often are likely health conscious in other ways, although researchers try their best to remove unwanted x factors. Large amounts of these vital molecules can have a prooxidant effect. In lab animals absurd amounts of E and C cut life short by 26%. Although, extra C and E appear to prevent mitochondrial damage after intense physical activity. This data may not translate directly to humans, but one must keep Paracelsus’s immortal maxim in mind: the dose makes the poison. Most people receive their fair share of both from their diets. Bagchi found that grape seed proanthocyanidin extract (GPSE) was 60% more effective. Dihydroquercetin, one of the flavonoids present in grape seed, synergizes with vitamin C by donating electrons back to the oxidized molecules. Dihydroquercetin and its relatives are receiving more attention than ever in their natural and extracted forms.

 Flavonoids hold a prominent place in the popular mind. Catechins, a type of flavonoid in tea, decreases oxidized LDL. This compounded with its calming qualities, is the likely explanation for its heart benefits. By volume tea contains considerably more flavonoids than fruits of vegetables. Those with the highest levels of flavonoid intake were the least likely to develop lung cancer, moreover, these compounds can inhibit tumorigenesis in its initiation and promotion stages. Many of these studies are done with large quantities of phytochemicals than a person would likely consume from unextracted plant material, but some meaning can be extrapolated from them. It is unclear as to how well, if at all, various flavonoids cross the blood brain barrier, yet in animal studies they appear reduce inflammation and to prevent cognitive decline. Midlife tofu consumption increases one’s risk for Alzheimer’s. It is likely something in the whole food, not the soy isoflavones themselves, that caused this unexpected result. This is yet another reason to stay away from soy products. The stilbenoid resveratrol has also captured the public’s attention in recent years. Most likely because it is found in red wine and, to a lesser extent, chocolate. Fueled by this, marketing and the then lauded research coming from the lab of Dipak Das, resveratrol, seemed poised to take center stage. Fortunately for science 12 of Dipak Das’s studies were found to be fraudulent. There is no evidence to support taking supplemental resveratrol for any reason. There is considerably more evidence for red wine itself, and although there is the possibility of overindulgence for those with alcoholic tendencies, an occasional glass of Mourvedre will likely do more good than harm.

Melatonin, a hormone critical to regulating circadian rhythms, is a powerful antioxidant which contributes to sleep quality, bone health, heart health and readily crosses the blood brain barrier. Melatonin improves symptoms in Alzheimers patients, possibly by protecting neurons from beta-amyloids. The importance of quality sleep is not disputed and surely some of the benefits melatonin provides come as an indirect consequence of its somnambulant powers. It is not a miracle drug; melatonin inhibits the secretion of testosterone and prolonged use could in theory shut down endogenous production. Further trials are required before the proper amount to take nightly is determined, likely this will be largely dependent on each person’s needs. In this case personalized medicine and cellular monitoring devices will be a boon. Glutathione (GSH) has been given a number of titles to denote its princely status among common antioxidants. Like melatonin it is made by the body and although it is used intravenously by medical professionals to treat infertility and side effects from chemotherapy, its efficacy when taken orally was and still is doubted. This erroneous and unfounded assumption has been debunked in studies with humans and rats.  While GSH deficiencies are linked with a number of diseases and increased mitochondrial damage, it is hard to say when or who requires supplementation without a blood test. It is also not known yet whether above average levels of plasma GSH delay senescence or not. Although the fact that additional GSH is linked with decreased mitochondrial wear and tear. It has even been proposed as a therapy for diabetics for this reason. Will there be a way to effectively eliminate mitochondrial deterioration without compromising the integrity of the whole organism?

The idea of targeting mitochondria is not entirely new. MitoQ, a modified ubquinone, has been through clinical trials. It was given to patients with advanced Parkinsons and to people with hepatitis C. Why this was done and who thought MitoQ would be of any use  to these sample groups is not clear. Predictably, the placebo and control groups in the Parkinsons study showed no difference. It showed some promise as a therapeutic for those with liver disease, but much more work needs to be done before MitoQ is hailed as the savior of humankind. Lipophilic cations and SS-peptides assist in shuttling the compound to the mitochondria. Members of the latter group may be useful in the treatment of heart disease, but it is still to early to say. Anything remotely related to anti-aging research, even if it has real and immediate medical applications, is shunned by the establishment which to this day considers biological aging, something that is neither universal nor inevitable, an irreversible consequence of the laws of thermodynamics. It is agonizing to endure such stupid arguments rooted more in folk wisdom than in hard science. It is even harder to endure more so when the sources for these proclamations do not come from the fringes but from the lofty peaks of the ivory tower itself. Within the next decade, however, these drugs are likely to experience an explosion in research and in use. A nearly universal solution to human disease with no drawbacks is simply too good to pass up. Such a compound will not cure death, but it will buy us all a little more quality time.

 

 

 

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Bagchi, D., A. Garg, R. L. Krohn, and M. X. Tran. “Oxygen Free Radical Scavenging Abilities of Vitamins C and E, and a Grape Seed Proanthocyanidin Extract in Vitro.” Res Commun Mol Pathol Pharmacol.(1997): n. pag.Http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/. Web. 4 Aug. 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9090754>.

 

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Carpe Diem: A Translation of Horace’s 11th Ode

renoir

Do not wonder long, Leucone, for no man can know his fate,

Nor what the gods have planned for you or me.

There are no answers in the numbers of Babylon

Or in the foolish divining of palms and tea leaves.

Better to endure whatever life brings! For whether

Jove will bestow many more winters or only this one,

Which even now wears cliffs away with the Tuscan sea,

Be wise, strain the wine and curtail your distant dreams.

For even while we speak time spitefully flees:

Seize the day! Trust little in the morrow.