This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,282) on Friday, September 17, 2021.
Around 40 percent of Americans are officially classified as obese, and obesity is linked to all sorts of health problems including heart disease and susceptibility to many other ailments. And obesity, we have been told, comes from consuming too many calories. Cut down on the number of calories you take in and your chances of reducing or avoiding obesity go up.
But now we are hearing that there may be a fundamental flaw in this thinking. Scientists who study these things are now telling us that it may not be how much we eat but rather the kind of foods we consume that make us obese. One study says the blame for obesity is “modern dietary patterns characterized by excessive consumption of foods with a high glycemic load: in particular, processed, rapidly digestible carbohydrates. These foods cause hormonal responses that fundamentally change our metabolism, driving fat storage, weight gain, and obesity.” (Here’s the short article about this study.)
Unfortunately, the high glycemic foods are processed, easily available, and slickly marketed. They are part of our diet, whether we want them to be or not. What all this points to is a necessity to change our thinking about food. All calories are not created equal, and simply reducing their number is not going to help us stem what many call the “obesity epidemic.”
Have a great weekend.
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The infamous Peggy Eaton
Those who assume the presidency of the United States face a tough job indeed. But for those who do so and have never lived in Washington, D.C., it can be daunting because of the insularity and often small-mindedness of Washington’s upper crust social circles. In our times, the Carters, the Reagans, and the Clintons encountered this unseen force.
That force was alive and just as vicious in the 19th century as well, and it did much to stymie the presidency of Andrew Jackson when he was first inaugurated president in March 1829.
Eaton was the wife of John Henry Eaton, a Tennessean and ally of Jackson whom the new president had appointed as his Secretary of War. But Peggy Eaton had grown up in Washington, D.C., the daughter of an innkeeper. She was, by all accounts, beautiful, vivacious, and outgoing. Her father’s hotel was a favorite of many out-of-town politicians, and Peggy was not shy about meeting with them, flirting with them, and expressing her opinions—activities the more matronly of Washington’s social circles frowned upon.
Peggy had attempted unsuccessfully to elope twice when she met Naval officer John Timberlake in 1816 and married him. In the first years of their marriage, Timberlake had made bad business investments and had accumulated a good deal of debt. John Henry Eaton befriended him and tried to help him out of debt, but Timberlake never was able to get relief from his financial burdens. His only choice was to return to the Navy and accept long stretches of sea duty away from home.
During these absences, Eaton and Peggy were often seen together, and the Washington tongues wagged incessantly about the impropriety of it all. In 1828, while at sea Timberlake died. Some believed that he killed himself, depressed over his finances and the failing state of his marriage. Less than a year after his death, Peggy and Eaton were married.
Eaton’s appointment to Jackson’s cabinet elevated Peggy into Washington’s highest social circles, but many of those who were there—the wives of other cabinet ministers, long-time politicians, and native Washingtonians—weren’t having it. They began to actively shun Peggy Eaton, declaring that she was a danger to public morals and vowing not to be in the same room with her. Many vowed, too, that their husbands would also shun John Eaton in the same way.
The leader in this movement was Floride Calhoun, the wife of John C. Calhoun, Jackson’s vice president. Calhoun had his eye on the presidency, supporting Jackson in the belief that he would be able to succeed Jackson after his first term.
This was the situation that Jackson faced when he came to Washington. Jackson accepted the word of his friend Eaton, who said that Peggy had done nothing to merit the ill-treatment she was getting. Besides, Jackson was grieving for his wife Rachel, who had died in Nashville that December. Jackson blamed her death on the vicious rumors that his opponents had spread about her character during the previous campaign. He was not about to abandon another woman to the idle chatter of the social elite.
Those who aligned against the Eatons included many of the cabinet members he had just appointed. They also included Emily Donelson, the wife of his nephew Andrew Donelson, who had come to Washington to act as the official White House hostess. Emily declared that Peggy Eaton was not welcome in the White House, and Jackson eventually sent her and her husband back to Nashville.
The one person in the cabinet who was openly cordial to the Eatons was Martin Van Buren, a widower from New York who, like Calhoun, had his eye on the presidency. Accepting the Eatons drew him into Jackson’s inner circle as Calhoun was slipping away from it.
The controversy over Peggy Eaton persisted for two years until Van Buren found a way out. He and Eaton offered to resign their cabinet posts, giving Jackson the excuse to dismiss his entire cabinet under the guise of “reorganization.” In 1832, when Jackson decided to run for a second term, he chose Martin Van Buren rather than John C. Calhoun for his vice president. In 1836, Van Buren was elected president, and Calhoun was consumed by his own pro-slavery politics.
Peggy Eaton herself came to a sad end. Her husband died in 1857, and three years later, at the age of 59, she married a 19-year-old Italian dancing instructor. Once again, she became the center of Washington scandal-mongering. After seven years of marriage, he absconded with much of her fortune and with her granddaughter. She died, poverty-stricken, in 1879.
Of her critics she once said, “I was quite as independent as they, and had more powerful friends … None of them had beauty, accomplishments or graces in society of any kind, and for these reasons … they were jealous of me.”
Bad Blood: the Final Chapter—a podcast, hosted by John Carreyrou
A couple of weeks ago an item in this newsletter said that finally, after four years, Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, was about to go on trial for the fraud that her company had perpetrated on investors and on patients who depended on her blood-sampling technology—which actually did not exist.
Over the years that it existed, Theranos had been capitalized to the tune of $9 billion by investors who believed that Holmes had developed a technology that would revolutionize the blood testing industry. The Holmes-Theranos myth was exploded by investigative reporter John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal, first in a series of articles and later in the book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup.
Since the original stories appeared and the book was published, a mountain of new evidence about what went on at Theranos has come to light, and all that is the subject of a new podcast series Bad Blood: The Final Chapter, hosted by Carreyrou.
Here is the website’s description of the podcast:
She was once the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Now Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the blood-testing startup Theranos, stands accused of leading a massive fraud. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison. But Elizabeth may be able to sway a jury with her charisma, highly unusual defense strategy and the fact that key evidence has gone missing. John Carreyrou broke the Theranos scandal. Now he’ll take you into the courtroom as he examines Silicon Valley’s fake it-til-you-make it culture and the case against Holmes. Source: Bad Blood: The Final Chapter – Three Uncanny Four
This is an important and fascinating story that affected the lives and health of thousands of people. The podcast makes for great listening.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: Joseph Emerson Worcester produced a better dictionary than Noah Webster
This item originally appeared in the newsletter in September 2019.
If any American name is associated with dictionaries, it is Noah Webster.
The name we should remember, however, is Joseph Emerson Worcester.
Webster, whom I wrote about last year, made a fortune by producing the Blue Back Speller and by his determination, in the early days of the Republic, to produce a dictionary that put forward American words with American definition and American spellings.
That he did, finally, in 1828 after years of work, a religious conversion, a refusal to expand his reach beyond New England, and largely fanciful and meaningless trips into the supposed etymologies of words. In addition, Webster was a prickly, difficult personality whose dislike of Samuel Johnson was well known, even though he ended up borrowing many of Johnson’s definitions for his own use.
When his bulky dictionary appeared, it was immediately apparent that an abridgment was necessary, and that was undertaken by his son-in-law, Yale professor Chauncey Goodrich. He invited Worcester, then a Yale graduate student who was working on a dictionary of his own, as a collaborator.
Worcester, unlike Webster, was a thoughtful analyst, careful researcher, and largely free of the religious cant that had invaded many of Webster’s definitions. Worcester knew the field of etymology in ways that had eluded Webster.
Webster died in 1843, and Worcester’s dictionary was published in 1848 to great reviews and wide acclaim. It was indeed superior to Webster’s work, and that should have clinched it in favor of Worcester. It didn’t.
It didn’t because of two publishers, Charles and George Merriam, who had gone to some lengths to buy the rights to Webster’s work. They knew the value of a brand, and they lacked the scruples to protect it honestly. What they did, and what they said about Worcester is chronicled in a new book by Peter Martin titled The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language.
The book has received excellent reviews from the New York Times and the New York Review of Books. Writing for the latter publication, Christopher Benfey says:
A largely forgotten figure in American letters, Worcester comes across, in Martin’s telling, as a far more attractive figure than Webster, moderate where Webster was vehement, liberal-minded in contrast with Webster’s narrow religiosity. Source: Cornering the Word Market | by Christopher Benfey | The New York Review of Books
You can find the New York Times review at this link. That page has a couple of other reviews of books about the language.
If you’re interested in the language, remember Joseph Emerson Worcester and track down a copy of Martin’s book.
Phyllis P.: I have a special place in my heart for work-a-day writers, who put their butts in the chair daily and get at the thing. Besides Bradbury, Vonnegut and contemporaries like King and Mosley come to mind. I depend on their inspiration even as I struggle to emulate their work ethic.
Marcia D.: My Grandfather made me bandsaw boxes. I received one every year until he passed away.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Girl with a violin
Best quote of the week:
Much of writing might be described as mental pregnancy with successive difficult deliveries. J.B. Priestley, author (1894-1984)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The Peterkin family, Bradbury finds his title, Vietnam Voices, and bandsaw boxes; newsletter, September 10, 2021
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