Sunday, February 19, 2023

Drinking Water is Just a Part of Hydration

You Can Actually Dehydrate Yourself by Drinking More Water

Everyone knows that drinking 8 glasses of water a day is recommended. It’s like a law or something… but is it a good idea? 

After all, a lot of laws are bad ideas. 

Are you “hydrated” by drinking 8 glasses (64 ounces, or two quarts, or 1/2 gallon)? What does it really mean to be hydrated? Do you know? 

The first point worth making here is that the first 40 years of my life, nobody told us to drink water as if you live in the desert or run a marathon every day. Drinking when you’re not thirsty just seems odd and counterintuitive — your grandma probably wouldn’t recommend it, and our grandparents were mostly smarter about nutrition than we are. 

If we all still ate like they did 100 years ago — meat, potatoes, soups and stews, vegetables — we absolutely would not be going through an epidemic of diabetes and overweight kids today. They did not overthink anything, while we overthink a lot of things.

In any case, somehow, we survived. Were we mildly dehydrated some of the time? Possibly. But we ate better, for the most part, and because hydration is about nutrition too, more than just drinking more water, it’s hard to say for sure. 

Being hydrated means having the right balance of electrolytes to keep enough water in your cells where your body needs it. Keeping your blood volume normal so you don’t feel faint from low blood pressure. Etc.

What are electrolytes, anyway? Electrolytes are essential minerals like potassium and sodium that facilitate passing water into and out of your cells.

Yes, sodium. It’s an essential mineral, so be careful with recommendations to avoid or restrict it. In fact, many experts identify the “problem” with sodium as too little potassium. 

Drinking 1/2 gallon of water a day might be a good idea depending on several other factors, but here’s the part they don’t tell you — you need those electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc) too. 

Too much water without electrolytes can actually dehydrate you by flushing electrolytes from your cells.

Dehydrated can also mean decreased blood volume which lowers blood pressure and can cause you to pass out. It also deprives your internal organs of the vital water and minerals they need to work right. Etc.

Low sodium in the blood is called hyponatremia and in severe cases it can actually be fatal.

And when discussing hydration it’s important to note that if you’re like most people, you drink too much soda pop, diet soda, coffee, tea, fruit juice, energy drinks, alcohol, or other liquids that act as diuretics and actually dehydrate your body unless you counter them with water and electrolytes. It’s not that you cannot have any of those things, but consuming each one requires consuming more water with electrolytes — are you doing that? 

Water is good for you, but like anything else, too much is actually bad for you. Your goal should be hydration — balanced and sufficient electrolytes — not just water. 

Thursday, February 09, 2023

European History Leading Up to WWI

It’s a giant mess, and that explains a lot

The usual explanations for the causes of World War I — alliances and imperialism — can be confusing because they stop well short of the full set of conditions that led up to the sudden outbreak of war in Summer 1914. 

It always sounded strange to me, probably because like most people in this day and age, and until I started digging into this on my own over the last couple of years, I had no real concept of the level of European chaos and conflict — especially the ruling class vs the ruled, and between ethnic groups — that fed a constant system of discontent for centuries, creating a powder keg ready to erupt at any time. 

One of the biggest players in the late 19th century was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which also serves as a good example of the kind of ever-present ethnic and tribal conflict and ruling class power struggles that has always defined Europe.

Keep in mind, this was known as the “civilized” world.

Austro-Hungarian Empire 1848 - 1922 


Layered on top of that, this mess of international alliances and protection of global imperialist interests.

The First World War and International Relations 1900 - 1920

Thursday, February 02, 2023

So … How Did We Ever Turn to a Groundhog … to Predict Weather?


Well if you guessed “newspaper stunt adapted from a Christian holiday but with ancient pagan roots too”, award yourself 10 points.

It’s complicated.

The first Groundhog Day in America was a newspaper stunt in 1887:

The first Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney was the brainchild of local newspaper editor Clymer Freas, who sold a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters—known collectively as the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club—on the idea.

Who knew that there were groups of “businessmen and groundhog hunters”? I sure didn’t.

In any case German settlers in the area brought it with them from the homeland, where the Germans had adapted it from an ancient Christian celebration called Candlemas.

What is Candlemas?

Wikipedia says it’s about bringing the baby Jesus, just a few weeks old, to the temple for purification:

It is based upon the account of the presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22–40. In accordance with Leviticus 12, a woman was to be purified by presenting a lamb as a burnt offering, and either a young pigeon or dove as sin offering, 33 days after a boy's circumcision. It falls on 2 February, which is traditionally the 40th day (postpartum period) of and the conclusion of the Christmas–Epiphany season. While it is customary for Christians in some countries to remove their Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve), those in other Christian countries historically remove them after Candlemas. On Candlemas, many Christians (especially Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and Methodists) also take their candles to their local church, where they are blessed and then used for the rest of the year; for Christians, these blessed candles serve as a symbol of Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World.

If you’re now wondering how in 1400 years a Christian holiday evolved from purifying the baby Jesus at the temple to “let’s use a rodent to predict the weather”, you’re not alone. 

But wait, there’s more!

February 2 is basically (almost but not quite) the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, and so of course there was a pagan ritual associated with it: Imbolc dates back to the 10th century BC among the Celtic people, celebrating both the the midpoint of Winter and a Celtic goddess Brigid who later became a saint in the Catholic church.