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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for December 2022

Book Review: The Game Café

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Stories of New York City in Covid Time

by Eleanor Lerman

I got an advance reader copy in my mailbox. A collection of nine short stories of people who live in New York – or who are travelling there – in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

So this is a thin book, just under 160 pages. none of the stories actually feels complete. These are people, mostly single, all out of their regular occupations, but hanging on in a city that many have abandoned. Just as you are getting to know them the story ends and a new one begins. There are some common themes: women with long black hair and a taste for goth makeup. People suffering from severe back pain at a time when normal health services are no longer available. The author of the stories has black hair. Quite possibly she has a back ache too. She knows New York. People are attracted to the Village and Washington Square Park. But often find themselves in the less desirable outer limits of the subway service – but they are still in the City.

The epidemic is not over now. Not yet. But the mood has changed from when this book was written. People have stopped wearing masks – mostly. Travel has restarted but gets disrupted. Restaurants have reopened and people are using transit again, but in lower numbers. Management would like everyone to be back in the office but has to reluctantly accept that remote work is what a lot want to continue. Especially in places where the cost of living is high and rising. In the stories the idea that prices have dropped for desirable places pops up now and again but that is not what is happening now. These stories are of a rare time and a unique space. There is something special about New York City. And that magic – dead at the time of these stories – seems to be reviving now.

The pandemic is now far worse in China, which is where it started, and where lockdowns are still being enforced. Other places were not actually in formal lockdown, thought it might have felt like that. Cruise ships are sailing again. The planes are no longer just flying to reserve their spots at the terminals. But the chaos of lost baggage, delays and confusion are more to do with the impacts of climate – no longer “change” but “crisis”. Huge backlogs of cancellations and missed connections. A whole different set of stories, rather than the folks who managed to hang on in the City even if they no longer had their former well paid jobs, in the stories scraping by wondering what happens next while we readers are in what happens next, which is nowhere like “business as usual” no matter how much business wishes it was.

In terms of overloaded emergency rooms, and rising death rates, plus increasing numbers of people who have had multiple infections or who suffer from “long Covid” the pandemic is nearly as bad as it was at the earlier peaks, but now a high percentage have had multiple vaccinations which work – at least for a few months – but deteriorate rapidly afterwards. Public Health officials are still on the defensive. Simple ideas like hand washing and being kind don’t seem to have a lot of impact on an airborne virus that has the ability to produce a continuous series of variations, each being nastier and more virulent than the one before. We would like to think that we can learn to live with it, just as we have with the flu, the common cold and HIV – but that does seem to be an illusion. Nevertheless, there are indoor parties, the theatres and concert halls are open and the tourism industry seems to be back with bang. There is not a shred of this new reality in these short fictions, where time seems to have stopped. We do not mask very much. There are still many open schools that have no modern ventilation or even box fans surrounded by HEPA filters. Kids are getting sick – and not just with covid but all the other childhood diseases which have resurfaced thanks to a combination of political opportunism and vaccine “hesitancy”. Plus, of course, plenty of deliberate misinformation.

I am not sure that this reviewer can actually recommend this book. Some of the stories have already appeared in magazines and would have been timely then. Now? I am not so sure. Actually I wonder if there needs to be the sequels to some of these stories, so we know how these stories work out. If they did. Certainly good writing.

The following is extracted from the press materials that came with the book. I had not read this before I wrote the review above.

“For award-winning author and poet Eleanor Lerman, New York
City remains the most vibrant and important urban center in the
world. The idea that it would never recover from the pandemic was
an affront not only to New York but to cities everywhere struggling
to deal with the effects of coronavirus.
A lifelong New Yorker, Lerman was disturbed by pontifications that
the city was “dead,” that everyone was leaving, that it would never
regain its place of prominence in American life or be able to offer
the remarkable range of experiences that only a city with a diverse
population and a storied history of welcoming immigrants, artists,
workers, and dreamers, both gay and straight, could provide.
As writers do, she turned her feelings into inspiration.

The Game Café: Stories of New York

City in Covid Time by Eleanor Lerman

Mayapple Press

Paperback; December 2022

ISBN: 978-1-952781-13-1

$22.95; 6 x 9; 160 pages

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2022 at 11:09 am

Posted in Fiction, Pandemic

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Book Review: “All the Colour in the World”

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A Novel

by CS Richardson

This was a surprisingly quick read. It caught hold of me and wouldn’t let go. The style is unusual – and initially a bit irritating – but you get used to it. It seems like you are reading about a real person. They are certainly real paintings and I have seen some of them. I almost wished that instead of a novel it was some kind of picture book – or perhaps, since it is an ebook, there could be links to the pictures.

There was a real concern among ex-servicemen of my family and other acquaintances that there would be very little sharing of their experiences, once they got back home. They survived WWII, but knew so many who hadn’t. And then there was always Remembrance Sunday. I got the distinct impression that those who made the most performance at such events were not the ones that came back with PTSD. Who often self medicated, drank heavily and didn’t want to talk about it.

I think now that I will go back and read it again, more slowly this time, and actually look up the pictures.

Pub Date 17 Jan 2023 | Archive Date 31 Jan 2023
Penguin Random House Canada, Knopf Canada
General Fiction (Adult) Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

Written by Stephen Rees

December 29, 2022 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Fiction

Year End Donation for Tax Refund

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I am sitting looking at a long list of organizations that send me emails asking for money at this time of year. It starts off with publications. You can claim up to $500 for amounts you paid in 2022 for qualifying subscription expenses. You can find out more about the digital news subscription at that link. (At the time of writing they were still talking about the 2021 tax return on that first link.) I get The Tyee, The Maple, The Narwhal and the National Observer – so that $500 limit isn’t hard to reach.

There should also be some acknowledgment that Canadian not for profit activist organisations are NOT registered charities. One that failed to point this out until AFTER I had sent them money was Greenpeace Canada. So the following are those that while I support them in other ways, won’t give a usable tax receipt: 350.org, Open Media, Lead Now, Sum of Us, Dogwood, Evidence for Democracy, Democracy Watch. And in the US Next City, Oil Change, Inside Climate News, Climate Central, DeSmog, Change.org, Avaaz, Eco Literacy, Stand.earth

So now for the list of the lucky winners

Transport Action

BC Humanist Association

West Coast Environmental Law

Green Party of BC – which gets a different tax treatment as a political party than charities

Amnesty International

David Suzuki Foundation

Georgia Strait Alliance – which currently has issues with credit cards and PayPal but bank transfers still work

SPEC

I have added URLs to each of the organisations’ home page – which is not necessarily a donation link.

Fair Voting BC just sent me an email which says

“A brief reminder that there are a couple of days left to make a donation and get a 2022 tax receipt for supporting the case. To donate, please click . “

Written by Stephen Rees

December 29, 2022 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Green Party, politics

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Fusion Power Breakthrough…Really?

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This is from a press release I got this morning. The message is too long to make it feasible for a Mastodon post (500 characters) but I will post a link there back to this post as I think this is important information. TL:DR version – we don’t need a fusion power source – we’ve already got one – the sun! By the time the technology gets up to scale and comparable cost to solar will be TOO LATE. We need lots more renewables now not in the distant future

Guest post from Garry Cinnamon, of Cinnamon Energy

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have announced a fusion breakthrough using lasers. The future of clean, limitless energy according to Forbes! A game-changer for climate according to PBS!

Using a laser and power plant system about the size of a sports stadium, the experiment generated a net power output of about one megajoule. This fusion power plant can blast the laser about 10 times a week. Sounds impressive.

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but one megajoule is equivalent to 0.278 kwh — about the same amount of energy a single solar panel will generate in an hour from that fusion power plant 92 million miles away.

Press coverage somehow missed the fact that the energy output of this test is de minimis. They also missed the facts that fusion releases vast quantities of dangerous neutron radiation, that this radiation will contaminate surrounding equipment (just like fission reactors), that that we have not yet engineered a way to capture the heat from laser or tokamak fusion, and that there is no good source for all the tritium fuel necessary for fusion (other than more fusion reactors).

It takes at least 20 years to get a new nuclear fission plant permitted and constructed. At this point we don’t even have a working prototype laser fusion plant — that could take another 30 years. Realistically, we’re 50+ years away from getting commercial laser or tokamak fusion power plants working at scale. In the mean time, deploying billions of lowly solar panels is the safest, most reliable and least expensive way to generate the energy we need.

To learn more about the realities of a fusion power breakthrough, please listen to this week’s Energy Show.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 21, 2022 at 11:17 am

Posted in energy

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Join Mastodon

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I left Twitter some time ago. Today I learned that Elon Musk has blocked Mastodon on Twitter. So much for his claimed support for free speech.

I would ask everyone who reads this WordPress post to let their contacts know that joining Mastodon is not actually very difficult – as some misinformers would have you think.

https://joinmastodon.org has all you need

My address there is @StephenRees@mas.to

There is also a Wikipedia page (of course)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastodon_(social_network)

Written by Stephen Rees

December 16, 2022 at 8:24 am

Posted in Mastodon, Social Media

Low nutritional quality in vegetarian meat substitutes

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I have been very unimpressed by the meat substitutes I have tried up to now. I get that we could cut GHG emissions if we reduced meat consumption. However, human beings evolved as meat eaters. We invented cooking. That meant we had more space in our skulls for brains rather than the powerful muscles needed to chew raw foods. This study comes from Sweden, and it is worth quoting in full. Even the 500 characters I now have in Mastodon could not do it credit.

Photo of vegetarian meat. Credit: Unsplash

The availability of foods based on plant proteins to substitute for meat has increased dramatically as more people choose a plant-based diet. At the same time, there are many challenges regarding the nutritional value of these products. A study from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden now shows that many of the meat substitutes sold in Sweden claim a high content of iron – but in a form that cannot be absorbed by the body.

A diet largely made up of plant-based foods such as root vegetables, pulses, fruit and vegetables generally has a low climate impact and is also associated with health benefits such as a reduced risk of age-related diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as has been shown in several large studies. But there have been far fewer studies of how people’s health is affected by eating products based on what are known as textured* plant proteins.

In the new study from Chalmers, a research team in the Division of Food and Nutrition Science analysed 44 different meat substitutes sold in Sweden. The products are mainly manufactured from soy and pea protein, but also include the fermented soy product tempeh and mycoproteins, that is, proteins from fungi.

‘Among these products, we saw a wide variation in nutritional content and how sustainable they can be from a health perspective. In general, the estimated absorption of iron and zinc from the products was extremely low. This is because these meat substitutes contained high levels of phytates, antinutrients that inhibit the absorption of minerals in the body,’ says Cecilia Mayer Labba, the study’s lead author, who recently defended her thesis on the nutritional limitations of switching from animal protein to plant-based protein.

The body misses out on necessary minerals

Phytates are found naturally in beans and cereals – they accumulate when proteins are extracted for use in meat substitutes. In the gastrointestinal tract, where mineral absorption takes place, phytates form insoluble compounds with essential dietary minerals, especially non-heme iron (iron found in plant foods) and zinc, which means that they cannot be absorbed in the intestine.

‘Both iron and zinc also accumulate in protein extraction. This is why high levels are listed among the product’s ingredients, but the minerals are bound to phytates and cannot be absorbed and used by the body,’ says Cecilia Mayer Labba.

Iron deficiency among women is a widespread, global problem. In Europe, 10 to 32 per cent of women of childbearing age are affected** and almost one in three teenage girls at secondary school in Sweden***. Women are also the group in society most likely to have switched to a plant-based diet and to eat the least amount of red meat, which is the main source of iron that can be easily absorbed in the digestive tract.

‘It is clear that when it comes to minerals in meat substitutes, the amount that is available for absorption by the body is a very important consideration. You cannot just look at the list of ingredients. Some of the products we studied are fortified with iron but it is still inhibited by phytates. We believe that making nutrition claims on only those nutrients that can be absorbed by the body could create incentives for the industry to improve those products,’ says Ann-Sofie Sandberg, Professor of Food and Nutrition Science at Chalmers and co-author of the study.

The food industry needs new methods

Tempeh, made from fermented soybeans, differed from the other meat substitutes in the amount of iron available for absorption by the body. This was expected, as the fermentation of tempeh uses microorganisms that break down phytates. Mycoproteins stood out for their high zinc content, without containing any known absorption inhibitors. However, according to the researchers, it is still unclear how well our intestines can break down the cell walls of mycoprotein and how this in turn affects the absorption of nutrients.

‘Plant-based food is important for the transition to sustainable food production, and there is huge development potential for plant-based meat substitutes. The industry needs to think about the nutritional value of these products and to utilise and optimise known process techniques such as fermentation, but also develop new methods to increase the absorption of various important nutrients,’ says Cecilia Mayer Labba.

Production of plant proteins

  • Most existing plant-based protein products on the market are based on protein extracted from a cultivated plant, such as soybeans, and separated from the plant’s other components.
  • The protein is then subjected to high pressure and temperature, which restructures the proteins, known as *texturization, so that a product can be achieved that is meatier and chewier in combination with other ingredients.
  • Chalmers’ study shows that the nutritional value of meat substitutes available today is often deficient depending on the choice of raw material (often imported soy) and processing conditions (content of anti-nutrients), and on additives (fat quality and salt).
  • A meal containing 150 grams of meat substitutes contributes up to 60 per cent of the maximum recommended daily intake of salt, which according to the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations is 6 grams.

* The protein is restructured by high pressure and temperature.

** Milman, Taylor, Merkel and Brannon: Iron status in pregnant women and women of reproductive age in Europe. Am J Clin Nutr 2017; 106 (Suppl): 1655S-62S.

*** Riksmaten Adolescents Survey 2016-2017, Swedish National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) report series no. 23, 2018. Swedish National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) 2018.

Read the full article in Nutrients: Nutritional Composition and Estimated Iron and Zinc Bioavailability of Meat Substitutes Available on the Swedish Market

The authors of the study are Cecilia Mayer Labba, Hannah Steinhausen, Linnéa Almius, Knud Erik Bach Knudsen and Ann-Sofie Sandberg. The researchers are active at Chalmers University of Technology and Aarhus University.

The study was funded by the Bertebos Foundation, the Swedish Research Council Formas and the region of Västra Götaland.

————–

Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, conducts research and education in technology and natural sciences at a high international level. The university has 3100 employees and 10,000 students, and offers education in engineering, science, shipping and architecture.

With scientific excellence as a basis, Chalmers promotes knowledge and technical solutions for a sustainable world. Through global commitment and entrepreneurship, we foster an innovative spirit, in close collaboration with wider society.The EU’s biggest research initiative – the Graphene Flagship – is coordinated by Chalmers. We are also leading the development of a Swedish quantum computer.

Chalmers was founded in 1829 and has the same motto today as it did then: Avancez – forward.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 8, 2022 at 5:53 pm

Posted in nutrition

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