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A Pair of Unrelated Links

First, a really cool article about structural changes in the brain, brought about by long-term karate training.  Researchers found that, yes, the power behind a karateka's punch isn't determined by muscular strength.  It's the synchronization of movement from trunk to fist.  The cerebellum of what researchers called "karate experts" was structurally different from novice karateka--because of that fine motor control.

That's different from muscle memory, which will permit your muscles to move without your conscious step-by-step instructions.  Developing synchronicity takes time.  Lots of time.  The average black belt participating in the research had about fourteen years of experience.

As writers, it's good to keep this in mind.  There aren't too many stories being put out today that show our protagonist becoming an way-cool-expert warrior in two weeks, thank goodness.  But there are ways to play with this knowledge.  Certainly a strong person playing Hack and Thud with a broadsword can pack a wallop.  But a weaker person with more training can deliver a blow with superior power because of the whole-body movement that has developed.  An untrained fighter has to work harder at being powerful, even if the limbs are moving in the same patterns as the trained fighter.

Alas, some martial arts instructors let their students believe he or she has achieved some magical, otherworldly power to hit harder.  We call that Sensei-Fu.  In truth, it's well-honed body mechanics.

Second, a disturbing article about the possible link between butter flavoring, commonly found in microwave popcorn and such, and Alzheimer's.  The flavoring causes proteins in the brain to form incorrectly and clump together, as they do in Alzheimer's.  As an added bonus, the flavoring crosses the blood-brain barrier and prevents the brain from ridding itself of those bad proteins.

This is one of those things I politely point out when folks tell me Substance X must be safe or it wouldn't be in our food.  In truth, short term studies are usually used to see if the substance causes cancers, hormonal disruptions, or acute poisonings.  If not, it goes on the Generally Recognized As Safe list.  There it shall stay, perfectly legal to add to all manner of products, until a large body of evidence--and the passage of many years--may demonstrate otherwise.  We are all test subjects, truly.

This substance is currently on the FDA's GRAS list with a "1" rating, meaningthe FDA determined there is no evidence to indicate it will pose a hazard.  Oh, and it's the same substance known to cause lung damage in folks who work in factories where it's used.

I'm much more understanding of the FDA's willingness to take risks with pharmaceuticals, because there is a risk-benefit analysis that should be undertaken when looking for the means of bettering and prolonging life.  But this flavoring isn't a vital nutrient or disease fighter.  It's a sales gimmick.

I have no doubt that, in the decades ahead, historians will be linking our rise in cognitive disease with the overwhelming amounts of chemicals we routinely consumed in meals and snacks.

So for heaven's sake, use real butter, and use it in moderation.  I'll take the health risks and benefits of real food over chemical make-believe any day.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 18th, 2012 12:42 am (UTC)
I just finished Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook, which is mostly about developing forensic medical science in NYC, but in the process it goes through a bunch of the really scary stuff that finally (cumulatively) got the FDA the power to regulate anything, like "healthful" radium water. In that context, it almost seems like a sign of progress that we're only dosing ourselves with things that take years to cause major issues. (Still disturbing, though.)

Grauwulf says the SCA heavy fighting equivalent of the karate thing is called "throwing from your toes." In fencing, the main thing that I've seen as a work-up-to skill is actually being able to see and track an advanced fight in realtime (since extra hitting power is discouraged) but that's definitely a hard-learned skill, and for me at least it's the first thing to start going away when I don't use it. It's cool to see that people are actually studying this sort of thing.
Aug. 18th, 2012 01:06 am (UTC)
In that context, it almost seems like a sign of progress that we're only dosing ourselves with things that take years to cause major issues. (Still disturbing, though.)

Yep, and it is progress, and it is disturbing. We've done a wonderful job of addressing acute illness and injury through regulation. But it's the longterm, the chronic stuff, that's coming out now to bite us. Once we get a handle on that, there will be something else. It's when we think We Have Mastered All that we get in trouble.

Very cool on the SCA and fencing stuff! I love to talk similarities. Sometime we will all have to do that at some convention. :) Throwing from your toes makes perfect sense in that context. In karate, we talk of moving from the koshi (essentially the lower back) rather than stepping with the legs.

Tracking a fight...that is hard-learned skill indeed, and I agree it can go quickly when not used. But it also comes back pretty quickly, thank goodness!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Blair MacGregor

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