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One of the things I never understood was the viciousness of certain Americans when France refused to join President Bush’s war on terror 14 years ago.

Referring to the French as ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’ — bouffes-fromage singes capitulaires — was beyond the pale, not to mention renaming French fries as ‘freedom fries’.

If it weren’t for French help during the Revolutionary War, American independence might not have been sustainable.

France spent much more than it gained by helping American patriots. In fact, the country’s national debt ballooned, a situation which eventually contributed to open, bloody revolt — the French Revolution. America pledged future trade with France, but, out of necessity, reneged by 1793 and remained neutral in future conflicts between Britain and France.

France’s motivations for involving themselves in the fate of the former British colonies were to avenge Great Britain’s victory in the Seven Years War and to help America’s Founding Fathers whose brilliance they greatly admired. It could be argued that France and America defined the Enlightenment.

On a practical level, King Louis XVI was concerned that Britain might make certain concessions to the former colonies and that, together, both might unite against French territories in the West Indies. Prior to 1778, the king discouraged his military men from actively helping the Americans. However, the Treaty of Alliance signed that year between France and the United States committed both to achieving America’s full independence, nothing less.

General Lafayette and the French touch

Prior to 1776, the French had been watching American colonists’ independence movement with great interest. They saw it as the perfect embodiment of Enlightenment ideals. A group of French agents began covertly shipping gunpowder to the patriots months before the colonists declared their independence. After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Benjamin Franklin sailed to France in December 1776. He was the toast of Paris, well received wherever he went. Thomas Jefferson was also enthusiastically welcomed on his visits.

By 1777, France was shipping more arms and men to America, although not with the official permission of Louis XVI. The Duc de Choiseul enlisted Frenchmen for army and navy reinforcements. Pierre Charles l’Enfant sailed to the United States to fight with the patriots.

Gilbert du Motier Marquis de Lafayette.PNGSimilarly, the Marquis de Lafayette ignored the king’s orders to not get actively involved and, like l’Enfant, fought with the Americans. He was only 20 years old. However, he had a charming personality and military prowess beyond his years. He served under George Washington and eventually became a combat general. His diplomatic manner helped to legitimise the American cause among Europeans. Wounded in 1778, Lafayette returned to France until he could return in 1780. After the war, he served in France as a parliamentarian for several years. At the behest of President James Monroe, he returned to the United States for a 24-state farewell tour in 1824. He was widely feted during his stay.

Sail Training’s brochure on Lafayette and the reconstructed ship L’Hermione — more about which below — tells us (p. 5):

– Lafayette said of his participation in the American cause: ‘Why not?’ His can-do spirit prompted Americans of the day to call him ‘our Marquis’.

– During his service with George Washington, Lafayette became a trusted, loyal friend of the future first President. He served with distinction, including at the Battle of Brandywine.

– Once he returned to France to recover from war wounds, Lafayette further rallied the French to the patriots’ cause. It was his influence that encouraged Louis XVI to approve France’s formal involvement in the Revolutionary War and recognise the young Marquis as one of Washington’s generals.

L’Hermione and Lafayette’s return

In 1780, Lafayette sailed back to the United States on a new lightweight frigate, L’Hermione.

Lafayette said the ship ‘sailed like a bird’. Less relaxed, no doubt, was the commander, Louis-René de Latouche. Although Latouche was 13 years older than Lafayette, he was already awestruck by the young general’s reputation at home and abroad. He was also very concerned that Lafayette arrive safely in Boston. Describing the journey as ‘agréable‘, he later returned to France where he led a distinguished naval career.

L’Hermione’s arrival in Boston Harbor on April 28, 1780, was met with a 13-gun salute. Lafayette sent word to Washington: ‘Here I am’. The Massachusetts revolutionary council invited Lafayette to spend time with them. Immediately afterward, he went on to meet with Washington and give him the news that he had 5,500 French volunteers and five frigates available.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts revolutionary council asked Latouche to sail to Penobscot Bay in Maine to check on British strength at Fort George. Latouche completed the week-long mission in May 1780, then sailed to Rhode Island. A few weeks later, L’Hermione was attacked and damaged by HMS Iris in the indecisive Action of 7 June 1780.

In 1781, L’Hermione sailed to Philadelphia. Members of the Congressional Congress toured the ship and paid tribute to her.

By then, Lafayette was on the frontline in Virginia. Employing guerilla techniques, he played a pivotal role not long after in repelling General Cornwallis at Yorktown. L’Hermione was part of the blockade in Chesapeake Bay which sealed the victory and forced the British to surrender.

Lafayette returned to France shortly thereafter. It is prescient that his final words to Washington were ‘Remember your adopted son’. The two never met again. Washington died before Lafayette’s farewell tour in 1824.

In February 1782, L’Hermione returned to France. She sailed to India as part of a squadron to help Suffren fight the British.

When peace was declared after that conflict, the ship sailed back to her home port of Rochefort in April 1784. In September 1793, employed in another French battle with the British, L’Hermione was shipwrecked in stormy seas off Le Croisic in Brittany. A court-martial found her pilot Guillaume Guillemin du Conquet responsible. Commanding officer Captain Martin was honourably acquitted.

The new L’Hermione on tour on the East Coast

L’HermioneHermione - Bordeaux pont de pierre - 2014.jpg captured the imagination to such an extent that a team of shipbuilders and sponsors felt the need to rebuild her.

France’s Centre International de la Mer came up with the idea in 1992 and construction began in 1997.

The new ship, pictured at right, launched in 2012 but underwent subsequent rigourous seaworthy trials in 2014 to ensure she could sail across the Atlantic to the United States. Whilst the build is largely faithful to original plans, certain modern modifications have been necessary.

L’Hermione set sail from La Rochelle on April 18, 2015, and arrived in Yorktown on June 5.

Some readers might have already had a chance to see her in Virginia, Maryland or Philadelphia. L’Hermione is docked in New York City over Independence Day weekend then continues north along the East Coast. The Hermione 2015 website has a schedule of dates. Click on the individual cities and towns in the right hand column for a list of events.

Enjoy the weekend!

I wish all my American readers a very happy Fourth of July.

And, without further ado, here’s a toast to the French touch!

It’s been a long time since I’ve tagged a post with ‘Church of Gaia’.

Yet, this syncretic sinfulness remains alive and well.

My reader Underground Pewster recently wrote about prayer petitions from the Episcopal Church’s Blue Book, likely to be used at their General Convention which started on June 25, 2015 and ends on July 3, 2015.

What he cites reads as if it were written by people who have a death wish for humanity (emphases in the original):

Most of what follows comes from the SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS From the STANDING COMMISSION ON LITURGY AND MUSIC (SCLM)

A Litany for the Planet: 

On rocks and minerals that form the foundations for life,
Creator, have mercy.
On volcanoes and lava flows that reveal the power of earth’s core,
Creator, have mercy…

I for one pray that God will show no mercy on volcanoes and lava flows. Was that prayer written by the guys who run the lava flow cruises or helicopter rides in Hawaii?

On micro-organisms of endless variety, the complex and the simple,
Creator, have mercy (
pp 248-9)

I hoped this one would go away when I pointed it out three years ago, but I guess we will soon be praying for multidrug resistant tuberculosis along with botulism, salmonella, and HIV.

Too right! What are these people thinking?

And it gets worse. The Blue Book promotes syncretism — combining Christianity with other religions’ deities — strictly anathema. In this case, the Episcopal Church has a prayer to the Native American Great Spirit, Gitchi Manadoo. It can be found in the Blue Book on p. 243 in “Prayers of the People Honoring God in Creation”, Form 2. Briefly:

[Gichi Manidoo,] Great Spirit God,
we give you thanks for another day on this earth.
We give you thanks for this day
to enjoy the compassionate goodness of you, our Creator.

Whoa!

Underground Pewster investigated further and discovered the following information on native-languages.org. Two brief excerpts follow, with more on Pewster’s admirable post:

Gitchi Manitou is the great creator god of the Anishinaabe and many neighboring Algonquian tribes. The name literally means Great Spirit, a common phrase used to address God in many Native American cultures.
As in other Algonquian tribes, the Great Spirit is abstract, benevolent, does not directly interact with humans, and is rarely if ever personified in Anishinabe myths–

Also:

It is Gitchi Manitou who created the world, though some details of making the world as we know it today were delegated to the culture hero Nanabozho.

Hmm.

We do need to be careful about whom we are addressing our prayers and supplications. Although certain tribes consider the Great Spirit and the Christian God to be the same, He is not.

Another thing Episcopalians would do well to remember is that (emphases mine in purple):

the same SCLM geniuses who are foisting Gitchi Manitou on us are the ones who prepared the liturgies for same sex marriages

Underground Pewster followed this post up with a round-up of Episcopalian Summer Solstice services which appeal to their inner Druid.

To show the falsehood of such services, Pewster has helpfully provided a lengthy quote from St Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions, part of which is cited below. Those unfamiliar with Augustine’s personal story should note that he came to Christianity well into adulthood after years of libertinism and paganism. This is part of what he wrote about Creation:

I asked the earth; and it answered, “I am not He;” and whatsoever are therein made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the creeping things that lived, and they replied, “We are not thy God, seek higher than we.” … I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars: “Neither,” say they, “are we the God whom thou seekest.” And I answered unto all these things which stand about the door of my flesh, “Ye have told me concerning my God, that ye are not He; tell me something about Him.” And with a loud voice they exclaimed, “He made us.” … I asked the vast bulk of the earth of my God, and it answered me, “I am not He, but He made me.”

As Christians, it is essential that we remember the Creation story in Genesis, Jesus’s references to God as Creator in the Gospels and keep St Augustine’s quote in the forefront of our minds.

May we never fall into the trap of syncretic worship and break the First Commandment.

Harriette Thompson, aged 92 and 65 days, completed the 2015 San Diego Marathon in an impressive 7 hours, 24 minutes and 36 seconds.

She made world news. Some have questioned why the ’65 days’ has to be added. The San Diego Union-Tribune explains that:

The previous oldest woman to complete a marathon was 92 years, 19 days old.

The oldest male to run a marathon was India’s Fauja Singh who completed a 2011 Toronto marathon at the age of 100.

Thompson lives in a retirement home in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a former concert pianist.

She is a mould-breaker in many ways. The Union-Tribune had a more in-depth profile of her on May 30, 2015.

Thompson, born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was the only daughter. Her four brothers — all older than she — tormented her when she was growing up, especially when she played the piano.

She began playing the instrument at the age of four and was performing by the time she was seven. As a teenager, she rode her bicycle to and from lessons: a 26-mile round trip.

As an adult, she gave three recitals at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

She attended Dickinson College in Carlisle and enjoyed rollerskating to class. The Dean of Women told her that ladies did not engage in that type of thing. Undeterred, Thompson said it was the best way for her to get to class on time!

She married a man named Sydnor who became a judge in North Carolina. Together, they had five children. When the children were old enough, Thompson took them to spend a year in Austria on two occasions. She wanted them to learn German and explore European culture. Sydnor stayed behind. Before his death earlier in 2015, he said:

She’s absolutely independent.

Sydnor battled cancer for a long time before his death on January 27. Despite Thompson’s independence, she cared for and deeply loved her husband. She is so grateful that he died in peace, without pain.

She began walking in marathons at the age of 76, when she was involved in the church choir. One of her friends said she was taking part in marathons for charity. The rest is history. The 2015 marathon was her 16th. She raised $90,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Thompson is no stranger to cancer herself. She has suffered both jaw and skin cancer. Several family members also died of the disease.

When many of us are sitting around moping, let us remember the excellent example of Harriette Thompson. For those of us who are able, let’s get up and get moving!

Food Republic — an eclectic site for people who enjoy dining — interviewed the British restaurant critic A A Gill in May 2015.

Gill is someone one either respects or loathes in equal measure.

I quite enjoy his reviews, especially his acerbic wit.

Absence of French classics

He told Food Republic something with which I can deeply empathise (emphases mine):

I sometimes just take stock and think, what is it that I’m missing? Because I eat everything, and I eat everywhere. And what is it that I haven’t had for a bit, that I’m missing. And the thing that I miss most now is classic French restaurant food. Bourgeois food, haute cuisine. And nobody’s making it in France, or very few people …

I really miss the French food that most of those of my generation who grew up loving food and being interested in food — that was where we started. And it’s very difficult to find … now.

Hear, hear.

Gill is around my age. When we were growing up, the big middle class family restaurant experience was eating classic French food. It didn’t happen often, at least in my family, and was reserved for once-in-a-lifetime occasions. Dad saved up and Mum chose the restaurant.

I don’t recall the ‘heavy sauces’ that so many complain about. I doubt if those people ever set foot in a French restaurant. That’s just another cliché spouted by those who know no better.

Gill is right to say that few restaurants in France feature elegant classics of Escoffier’s era.

French food has gone global. They even have food trucks now. Recently, they had national — wait for it — burger week! Whatever next?

World’s ‘best’ restaurants?

What compounds the problem, especially for French classics, are notional global best restaurant designations.

The most recent appeared on June 1, 2015: The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. The Telegraph reported:

The avant-garde Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca has won back the World’s Best Restaurant crown.

The restaurant in Girona is owned by three brothers – Joan, Josep and Jordi – and is famed for cutting-edge, playful dishes that still pay homage to classic Catalan cooking.

Hmm. I’ve eaten Catalan cooking in Barcelona. Classic Catalan cuisine is succulent roast kid, suckling pig and beautifully grilled prawns.

Have a look at the photograph accompanying The Telegraph article. It’s clearly some sort of molecular cuisine.

A gushing review in the paper from October 2014 proves it — and has accompanying photographs:

After more than a dozen courses, and almost as many glasses of wine, my tasting notes had become somewhat perfunctory. “Pig – delicious” was all I could manage for what was perhaps my favourite dish; “all the prawn” was the enigmatic description of another; while some had vanished from the record books altogether. With pork disguised as fish, ceviche hidden beneath the frozen face of tiger, and puddings that pulsate, it’s easy to get lost in the moment at a place like El Celler de Can Roca.

There’s more. After pre-prandials and amuse-bouches:

An “autumn vegetable stock” came next, cooked with the sort of precision you expect from the disciples of molecular gastronomy (“80 degrees for three hours”). It was crystal clear, with an unusual, almost gelatinous consistency, and bursting with 10 or more individually distinguishable flavours.

To follow was perhaps the most eye-catching dish – Leche de Tigre, a lobster ceviche topped with a disc of frozen lime branded with the image of a growling tiger. It, like many of the dishes, pushed the boundaries in terms of texture, but – thankfully – was less quirky when it came to flavour, with the sharpness of a classic ceviche.

The photo of Leche de Tigre — Tiger’s Milk — makes it look positively revolting. See for yourself. I would be unable to eat that. It is evident that some sort of chemical has to go in it in order to produce a semi-coagulated result.

And there are other similar restaurants on this world’s best list.

French food then takes a hit. The French media ask, ‘Why is our food so bad?’

But that’s not the question nor the conclusion to draw.

Classic French food is excellent. As A A Gill says, we see too little of it.

The problem is that most award-winning restaurants are those that favour molecular cuisine — or, if you prefer, molecular gastronomy.

All the rage

I spoke with someone a few weeks ago who makes a living by charting culinary trends for restaurants and cafés.

He told me, ‘That’s what people want.’ I countered that we are persuaded to think we want it. It isn’t our choice.

The media message is, ‘If you want to be hip and cool, you’ll seek molecular gastronomy.’

People pay hundreds of dollars/pounds/euros for a multi-course tasting menu. After that, I’d be in search of a McDonald’s, and I haven’t had one of those for, erm, 20 years.

For me — and countless others — restaurant food should offer a) a recognisable, goodly portion of protein, b) a satisfying yet creative sauce and c) easily identifiable vegetables.

Remember the interests behind the push for molecular cuisine: big business, always big business. There are companies which make the necessary chemicals for this type of dining experience. They can branch out from commercially processed food to top restaurants. The result is that consumers see chemicals as good, interesting and elegant.

A further result is that we will be able to buy them for use at home. We’ll also have accompanying cookbooks to match.

This means more money for the manufacturers of said chemicals and additives. Ker-ching!

Bucking the trend

French food critic Périco Légasse, who also writes for the newsweekly Marianne, had something to say about the 2014 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards.

After the list appeared, he said that the Danish winner Noma — also known for molecular cuisine — was responsible for 63 diners becoming ill from badly-done ‘chemical combinations’.

He also accused sponsors Nestlé and San Pellegrino of an ‘anti-French campaign':

There is a political will to denigrate French cuisine.

Couldn’t agree more.

In another article, this one for Marianne, he reported on what Olivier Roellinger, chef of the three-Michelin Cancale, and equally esteemed Joël Robuchon of Fleury-Michon thought.

Roellinger said:

Molecular cuisine is a lure for people who don’t really know that much about food to begin with. It’s really [like] selling wind. And who’s financing this lobbying? A syndicate of industrial flavouring companies … It’s absolutely abominable.

Robuchon, even though he admires Spain’s award-winning Ferran Adria, went further:

Additives aren’t good. I’ve done everything to avoid using them at Fleury-Michon. In today’s molecular cuisine we find additives which aren’t even allowed in industrial food processing. I am 200% against molecular cuisine, for the good reason that I work with health and industrial services encouraging the elimination of acidifiers, colourings and additives, some of which have secondary effects.

In 2010, the Italian government banned the use of certain chemical additives and liquid nitrogen in molecular cuisine. The current status is unknown as the 2010 law was only in force for one year. It is unclear whether a new law has replaced it.

Cook and Food Network presenter Alton Brown, an American, had this to say in 2011 (emphases in the original):

Every generation develops tools. And the tools are a wonderful way to explore the possibilities of the world and of creation. I use some emulisifiers. Yes, there’s xantham gum in my kitchen. Why? Because I’m tired of shaking up a salad dressing. You know, it’s practical things. Is it really cool to be able to make corn flakes out of peanut butter? Sure, it’s a great trick. But it’s a novelty, by and large.

My worry about molecular gastronomy, especially with young cooks, is that they will try use it replace knowing how to cook. Food. Show me you can cook a chicken breast, properly. Show me you can cook a carrot, properly. Now do it a hundred times in row. Then we can play around with white powders.

It’s an interesting skill set, it’s an interesting bunch of tools. You can’t live on it. It’s not food.

He later clarified his position:

Just to set record straight: molecular gastronomy is not bad…but without sound, basic culinary technique, it is useless.

Natural or harmful?

To be fair, a number of additives with odd sounding names are perfectly natural — some come from seaweed — and have been used in mass-produced food for years.

Science Fare has a lengthy list with explanations of each popular molecular gastronomy ingredient.

India’s Mid-day has an interesting interview from May 2015 with chef and food stylist Michael Swamy who explains that just because something is natural does not automatically mean it is healthful to eat.

It all rather depends. Swamy discussed the freshwater basa fish, a new trendy yet inexpensive protein in India. He warned:

The fish is highly toxic and has a high amount of lead.

Swamy had this to say about molecular gastronomy (emphases mine):

One meal is equivalent to your one year’s quota of toxins as you only consume chemicals. The other day, someone told me that they had something called a bubble kulfi, which had dry ice. Everyone knows that dry ice is very poisonous but it is still added to cocktails and so on.

Swamy is correct. Laboratory assistants who work with liquid nitrogen — dry ice — in a clinical or scientific context wear gloves when handling the tanks. It can burn.

In 2012, Time magazine reported on a young Englishwoman who had to have her stomach removed after drinking a cocktail with dry ice. The then-teen suffered the horrendous consequences:

after drinking a Jagermeister cocktail made with liquid nitrogen at a bar in northern England.

The article goes on to explain the uses of liquid nitrogen in a medical setting — freezing warts, removing cancerous cells — as well as in a culinary one — ice-cream making.

The issue is knowing how to handle it for human consumption:

The main point is that liquid nitrogen must be fully evaporated from the meal or drink before serving, said Peter Barham of the University of Bristol’s School of Physics. It can safely be used in food or drink preparation, but it should not be ingested.

Barham and another scientist told the BBC:

Professor Barham adds that just as no-one would drink boiling water or oil, or pour it over themselves, no-one should ingest liquid nitrogen

Science writer and fellow at the Royal Society of Chemistry John Emsley says if more than a “trivial” amount of liquid nitrogen is swallowed, the result can be horrendous. “If you drank more than a few drops of liquid nitrogen, certainly a teaspoon, it would freeze, and become solid and brittle like glass. Imagine if that happened in the alimentary canal or the stomach.

The liquid also quickly picks up heat, boils and becomes a gas, which could cause damage such as perforations or cause a stomach to burst,” he says.

Conclusion

Imagine.

A large number of molecular gastronomy fans are probably people who enjoy working out at the gym and regular detoxes.

Little do they know what they are ingesting and what the long term effects of those substances are.

What struck me were the following points:

– Joel Robuchon saying that some of these ingredients aren’t even legal in industrial food production;

– Michael Swamy’s warning that one of these dinners can give you a year’s worth of toxins in just one evening;

– The possibly fatal dangers of liquid nitrogen in the hands of someone who does not understand what he is doing when preparing a new kind of cocktail.

Caveat emptor! Consumer be warned!

A dentist of whom most Britons have never heard but will have by the time this post appears is Dr Chris van Tulleken.

The lucky specialist is presenting a two-part series for the BBC called The Truth About Your Teeth. The first part aired on Thursday, June 4, 2015. The second episode will appear on June 11.

The Telegraph gave his top ten tips for oral hygiene, which first appeared in a recent edition of the Radio Times.

In principle, I agree with most of what he advises. However, there are areas of disagreement:

– Brushing before we eat is going to distort the taste of our food. And not rinsing toothpaste? Hmm. Is toothpaste powerful enough to kill residual bad bacteria? Personally, I prefer the traditional way of brushing then rinsing, which removes whatever nasties have been in one’s mouth.

– Smokers have the highest proliferation of gum disease? Pull the other one. I know of many non-smokers — and never-smokers — who have a problem in this area. Why not discourage us from eating too many sugars and carbohydrates which create plaque?

– Cucumbers instead of mouthwash? That’s a new one. An old-fashioned clove formulation is the historical and best anti-bacterial mouthwash, better than mint, which was no doubt developed for those who can’t stand the taste of clove.

However, his most offensive comment was this:

Dr Chris van Tulleken told the Radio Times that Britain had become “internationally renowned” for having “really lousy” teeth – and so suffered more health problems.

Yes, the British are known for crooked, misshapen teeth as anyone who has watched The Simpsons will attest.

Decay: US versus UK

Yet, the American site FiveThirtyEight says the opposite: a recent OECD report shows British teeth are in better condition than their American counterparts.

Excerpts follow:

In the past year, about seven in 10 people in Britain visited a dentist, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Only four in 10 Americans did the same.

There’s a better way to settle this: data on tooth decay (that stuff that you get after plaque builds up and before you enter a world of pain).  According to the OECD (so we’re only considering developed countries), 28 percent of adults in England have tooth decay. Compare that to a jaw-dropping 92 percent of adults in America with tooth decay. The British should be smiling. 1-0 U.K.

A lower amount of decay means you’re more likely to keep your teeth. Sure enough, British mouths, on average, have almost a whole extra tooth compared to U.S. mouths. (I know, but you should wait until you get home to count them.) 2-0 U.K.

Where I disagree with the journalist is this statement:

In the U.K. the National Health Service pays for “all clinically necessary treatment” and even non-necessary treatment is heavily subsidized

I’ve lived here for well over two decades and have never had a dentist who accepts NHS reimbursement or NHS subsidy for dental work. Even in average neighbourhoods where there is a need for such dentistry, there are none to be found. It’s a difficult and lengthy process for dentists to receive government reimbursement, so most have refused to accept patients wishing to use an NHS programme for treatment.

This means that nearly all of us pay privately, contrary to what the FiveThirtyEight article says. The downside is, of course, that a number of needier Britons extract their own teeth when necessary, pliers being a popular dental instrument. Every now and then a newspaper article on the subject appears. The patient, usually a man, appears fit and healthy, just cash-strapped.

Enamel regeneration

Another topic of concern is preventing enamel erosion. We know it cannot be regenerated as such — once it’s gone, it’s gone — but layers of appropriate minerals can be brushed on daily to help allegedly protect what is left.

A newish Unilever product, available in the UK, is Regenerate. Regenerate has two aspects. One is a serum (£30+) and an accompanying toothpaste (£10, approximately).

The serum is a bit beyond my budget and, apparently, that of other British consumers as well. We buy the toothpaste, which should at least help.

The Mail tells us that the two main ingredients which help to delay further enamel deterioration are calcium silicate and sodium phosphate.

Another toothpaste — which doesn’t require an accompanying serum — is the old favourite Sensodyne, which is approximately half the price of Regenerate. It has the same ingredients and a new release is called Sensodyne Repair and Protect.

One advantage Regenerate has is that children under the age of 12 can use it. Sensodyne’s instructions advise against using Repair and Protect on little ones under that age.

I have tried Regenerate and have now bought Sensodyne Repair and Protect, which I shall report on in future.

A tube of Regenerate has lasted me eight months. I only use it once a day. It seems pricey until one realises that only a hazelnut-sized dab needs to be used. It’s a dense toothpaste which lathers quickly and brushes well.

An additional note is that one should rinse one’s brush out well under hot water afterward after each use, as some residue collects on the plastic underneath the bristles.

I do not know if it has made a substantial difference, but I shall compare results with the new Sensodyne paste.

Despite claims from the makers of such toothpastes, some people say that products said to be combatting enamel erosion might not be patching up occlusions in the enamel at all. They may be merely densitising nerves.

The jury is still out. Unilever has already been called to account for an advertising claim about Regenerate.

A 2006 study on enamel erosion found that certain acidic drinks and, oddly enough, brushing, may exacerbate the problem. Even notional tooth-friendly drinks might be harmful.

Whitening products

Tooth-whitening pastes have been around for decades.

But do they work? Could they be harmful?

This Quora response tells us:

If it contains in the ingredients any “abrasives” or “particles” or more importantly “hydrated silica” ; then yes …

Hmm.

Overzealous brushing might not make our teeth whiter, either, but lead to enamel erosion.

One toothpaste which I have used with decent (not perfect) results is Blanx. Blanx intrigued me because it has all natural ingredients, such as Arctic lichen. Still, one almost has to use it daily to see improved results over time. It’s £6.30 a tube.

Conclusion

Navigating the dental drama has become a real topic of our time. On the one hand, how fortunate we are to be dominated by such a luxury worry. On the other, how deplorable that we now judge others by their orthodontia, especially the whiteness!

Yet, no over-the-counter toothpaste is 100% perfect. The search for the Dental Grail continues.

Western breakfasts have been dominated by cereal for decades.

How many of us knew that the Seventh-day Adventist sect indirectly influenced the rise of carbohydrate consumption through their practice of vegetarianism?

Seventh-day Adventists

The Seventh-day Adventist founders and early members were originally Millerites. William Miller, who lived in upstate New York, predicted the end of the world between 1843 and 1844. He was the Harold Camping of his day. Yet, our Lord tells us (Matthew 24:36):

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

After it was obvious that Miller had erred seriously, many Millerites returned to their original denominations. Others adhered to a form of Adventism, holding that

Daniel 8:14 foretold Christ’s entrance into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary rather than his second coming.

They believed this event was imminent.

Into this they combined legalism — obeying Mosaic dietary laws and encouraging vegetarianism — and other views that distinctly counter the New Testament, e.g. Saturday worship, the death of the soul and annihilationism. One of the four founders of Seventh-day Adventism, Ellen G White, whilst against women’s ordination, nonetheless was the group’s great prophet. Her writings continue to influence Seventh-day Adventists today.

They formally established themselves in 1863 in Battle Creek, Michigan. Later, their headquarters moved to Maryland and is currently located in the city of Silver Spring.

The Kelloggs

John Harvey Kellogg was a Michigan native. In 1860, when young John was eight years old, he and his family moved to Battle Creek. His father opened a broom factory in the town.

Kellogg earned a medical degree from the New York University School of Medicine in 1875. Having returned to Michigan, he practised medicine at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, which the Seventh-day Adventists owned. He was a committed Seventh-day Adventist and lay preacher. He was formally censured in 1878 for expressing panentheistic ideas — that God is alive in everything — and, in response, he gave an eloquent speech on the compatibility of the Bible and science. The General Conference accepted this and the matter was closed.

However, Kellogg continued with his panentheistic beliefs and voiced them openly at the General Conference of 1901. In 1902, the Battle Creek Sanitarium was destroyed by fire. Possibly sensing a connection between the two, Ellen White told Kellogg not to rebuild it. He saw differently and was able to take control of the board of directors.

In 1907, Kellogg wrote a book called The Living Temple, proceeds of which were to go towards rebuilding the sanitarium. After White read the book’s panentheistic sentiments, Kellogg was disfellowshipped from the Seventh-day Adventists.

The 1994 film, The Road to Wellville, explores Kellogg’s days at the sanitarium. He promoted cereal rather than eggs and meat for breakfast, a regular exercise regimen, sunbeds as well as specialist baths and enemas. What he advocated and practised is mainstream today: high-carb foods with fiber, thought to be better for intestinal health than animal protein.

His patients came from the upper and middle classes. They included President William Howard Taft, George Bernard Shaw, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison among other luminaries. It is no wonder that cereal and carbs became staple foods.

Kellogg’s brother, Will Keith Kellogg, sold brooms — probably his father’s — before joining him at the sanitarium. Together, they pioneered the manufacture of flaked cereal.

In 1897, the two founded the Sanitas Food Company and produced whole grain cereals. Their partnership broke up when the two could not agree on whether to add sugar to their products.

In 1906, Will Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company which we know today as the Kellogg Company.

Kellogg cereals

John Harvey Kellogg invented Corn Flakes in 1878, although he called them Granula. In 1881, he amended the product name to Granola. Because of a problem with patent rights, he then adopted the name Corn Flakes.

After he and Will argued about the addition of sugar, with the latter leaving to start his own company, John focussed his efforts on developing soy products.

Their rift lasted for decades. They fought in court over the rights to cereal recipes.

Near the end of his life in 1943, John wrote a letter to Will seeking to mend fences, but John’s secretary never sent it. Will received it only after John’s death.

Eugenics

Whilst Will established his W K Kellogg Foundation in 1930 to give back to society, was careful to add nutritional information to his product labels and bred Arabian horses in his spare time, John founded the Race Betterment Foundation.

John’s Race Betterment Foundation was the nucleus for the eugenics movement in the United States. He supported segregation, believing that intermixing with other races and with immigrants would weaken the gene pool. That said, he and his wife raised several black foster children. They had eight foster children and none of their own.

He published the periodical Plain Facts, which was anti-smoking and against masturbation. He also promoted sexual abstinence in marriage. In his early days, at least, he feared a food shortage, hence his promotion of more plentiful foods such as grain products and nuts.

The Battle Creek Sanitarium closed during the Great Depression. John moved to Florida where he opened a new clinic. He remained famous until his death.

Both Kellogg brothers are buried in Battle Creek’s Oak Hill Cemetery, not only near their parents but also two of the co-founders of the Seventh-day Adventists, Ellen White and her husband James White.

Charles William Post

Although not a Seventh-day Adventist, Charles William ‘C W’ Post was one of John Kellogg’s patients, started his own cereal empire and, interestingly, is also buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery.

Originally from Illinois, Post’s early career involved selling and manufacturing farm implements. He had a gruelling schedule which caused him to have a nervous breakdown. In an attempt to recover, he and his wife moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to help develop a new community called Riverside. There he became a real estate developer.

However, in 1891, Post suffered a second nervous breakdown. He believed strongly that digestion had an effect on a variety of health ailments. He toured Europe in search of a cure for himself. Finding none, he returned to the US and sought John Harvey Kellogg’s help.

Whether he visited the factory or was a patient of John’s, Post was intrigued by Kellogg’s cereals.

In 1895, he founded Postum Cereal Co. His first product was a cereal-based beverage called Postum.

Later developing more cereals, more about which below, Post plowed much of his earnings into developing more property in Texas, in Garza and Lynn counties. He also planned a new city, Post City. It became the Garza County seat.

As a successful business owner, Post was opposed to trade union disruption of work and the coercion that accompanied it.

Despite his fortune, Post continued to experience bouts of ill health. In 1913, he cancelled his public engagements. In March 1914, he was thought to have appendicitis and was sent on a nonstop train from his home in Santa Barbara, California, hundreds of miles away to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Accounts differ as to whether the Mayo brothers operated on Post. One says they determined they could do nothing for him and a 1955 biography of Post’s daughter says they performed a successful operation.

On May 9, 1914, Post took the decision to end his own life. In great pain, he shot himself fatally.

His only child, Marjorie Merriweather Post, aged 27, inherited his company and his fortune. She became a household name and married financier E F Hutton. She later sold her huge New York estate, Hillwood, to Long Island University. In 1954, the C W Post Campus opened. The year marked the centenary of his birth. The campus has 8,500 students and 100,000 alumni.

Post cereals

After the success of Postum, C W Post then developed cereals. He premiered Grape Nuts in 1897. The name was derived from the fruity scent produced in the manufacturing process and the crunchy texture of the finished product. A legal hiccup occurred in 1907, when Collier’s Weekly, a popular American magazine, took exception to the claim that Grape Nuts could cure appendicitis. Post retaliated by slurring the author of the article. The libel case came to court in 1910. Post was fined $50,000 — a huge sum in those days. The decision was subsequently overturned and Post withdrew the advertising claims.

In 1904, he came out with his own brand of corn flakes. He called them Elijah’s Manna then renamed them in 1908 to Post Toasties.

John Kellogg accused Post of stealing the Corn Flakes recipe from the Battle Creek Sanitarium safe.

Brother Will probably said, ‘Told you so’. Before John showed Post the flaked cereal manufacturing process, Will warned him not to. Not surprisingly, he wanted their unique process kept secret, even though John gave factory tours to anyone who was interested. Post’s rapid success was another factor in Will’s decision to open his own company in 1906.

Postum Cereal Co. became Post Cereals, which evolved into General Foods.

Conclusion

I was most surprised to discover how much influence Seventh-day Adventist teachings have had on Western health.

The result is that we are inundated with carbohydrates in the form of grain and soy products, which could well be adversely affecting not only our physical but our mental health. I wrote about this last week and will continue to do so in future. I cannot help but wonder if this provoked Post’s physical and emotional maladies.

Another interesting fact came to light whilst I was researching this entry. The Seventh-day Adventist George McReady Price is the father of the modern Creationist movement. He was inspired by a vision Ellen Price had.

Hmm.

There’s a question mark in the title only because we have no significant proof yet from a majority of our experts in the medical community.

However, I have been on the ketogenic diet — eating plan — for well over a year now and am enjoying it. Even with an extremely stressful month-long episode six weeks into it, I still woke up feeling as if I could tackle what lay ahead of me on those days. Not perfectly, admittedly, but with much less emotional upset than expected.

Thank goodness.

The physician and author, Dr Michael R Eades, might be on some of your online reading lists. In a post from 2006, he explores reasons for the Western rise in obesity.

We are told we are fat because we don’t eat the right kind of foods and don’t exercise enough. Around the time Eades wrote this in the US, we in the UK were receiving constant announcements from the Labour government’s Health ministers saying we should be breaking out into a sweat every day. Gentle housework and 15-minute walks wouldn’t cut it, they told us.

With that in mind, it was interesting to read what Eades had to say nearly ten years ago:

What if cutting calories and running yourself ragged exercising don’t work because, well, you’re not overweight because you eat too much and don’t exercise enough?

He then cites a paper saying that any beneficial link between diet and exercise is ‘largely “circumstantial”‘ and cannot be applied to every person. Factors which also need to be studied include lack of sleep, smoking cessation, pesticides on fresh food which can harm our endocrine systems, demographics and so forth.

The one that caught my eye, and the only one Eades did not debunk, was the following one (emphases mine). It concerns the benefits of a high-fat diet on the brain whilst reducing carbohydrate consumption and prescription medicines. MD — mentioned below — is his wife, Mary Dan Eades, also a physician:

Factor # 5: Pharmaceutical iatrogenesis

Iatrogenesis, the causation of a state of ill health brought on by medical treatment, is indeed a cause of weight gain. Multiple drugs commonly given for a host of medical disorders have weight gain as a side effect. Antihistamines, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, blood pressure medicines, diabetic medicines, steroid hormones, mood elevators, birth control pills–all have been shown to cause weight gain to varying degrees. The authors make the case that there has been a huge increase in the number of people taking these drugs–especially the antidepressants and mood elevators–over the same time period as the obesity epidemic has been developing. Once again, I think there may be other factors afoot that cause both.

MD and I have always noticed that at the same time the bookstore shelves were laden with books on low-fat dieting they were also filled with books on depression. I don’t think this is a coincidence. The brain is a fat dependent organ composed primarily of fat. An enormous number of scientific studies have shown that people who don’t get enough fat nor enough cholesterol tend to develop depression and/or anxiety. MD and I have seen this first hand. Ten or so years ago we participated in a clinical study for an anti-obesity drug that worked by inhibiting fat uptake in the gut, thereby putting patients on a low-fat diet irrespective of how much fat they actually ate. One of the big problems we had was that the patients on the drug became depressed, anxious, or both, went to their regular doctors and were given prescriptions for antidepressants or anxiolytic medications. One of the guidelines of the study was than anyone who took one of these medicines was disqualified from continuing. We fought this problem continuously, so we know that low-fat diets cause mental problems. During the past 20 years the average fat consumption has fallen about 25%-30% as the obesity epidemic has surged, leading, I’m afraid, to a whole lot of antidepressant prescriptions. I would have to say that the increased drug use doesn’t cause obesity, but is, like the obesity epidemic, a consequence of a sea change in the American diet.

What about antihistamines, blood pressure medicines, anti-diabetic medicines? Same thing. When people get fat, they have more allergies, asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes. The dietary changes cause both the obesity and the attendant problems requiring drug treatment.

So, we have the real probability that high carb, low fat diets can affect our moods. We also know that our brains need fat in order to function properly. Lack of fat can produce moodiness and depression, which leads to prescription drugs that can also cause weight gain.

I agree with mechanical engineer Lori Miller who has also been on the low carb, high fat diet for a year when she wrote a post about it in 2011, ‘Lousy Mood? It Could Be the Food’, excerpted below. Details about the book cited can be found here:

Since I started my low-carb, saturated fat fest almost a year ago, the old problems evaporated. I can’t remember the last time I needed to stop and regroup. I believe the high-fat diet has had everything to do with that.

Psychotherapist Julia Ross says in her book The Mood Cure, “… much of our increasing emotional distress stems from easily correctable malfunctions in our brain and body chemistry–malfunctions that are primarily the result of critical, unmet nutritional needs.”(2) She recommends, among other things, eating plenty of good fats and protein. “Our clients generally love the way they can come alive on their omega-3 foods and supplements.” (3) Saturated fat, Ross explains, is needed for vitamin and mineral absorption, skin health, blood sugar control, brain health, and cancer prevention, to name a few things. It’s an important part of her cure for patients with eating disorders(4), something Dr. Robert Atkins had been doing for years.(5) Ross also recommends eating enough food and including vegetables.(6) (I noticed years ago that eating a salad improved my mood.)

Sweets and white flour starches tie for bad mood foods #1 and #2 in Ross’s book.(7) (Remember my Coke & bagel diet?) Dishonorable mentions go to skipping meals, low-calorie dieting, low-fat diets (“firmly associated with depression”), low-protein diets (“low energy and low-mood”), and pre-packaged food.(8)

So far, everyone offline — bar SpouseMouse — thinks a high fat, low carb eating plan goes against common sense and, more importantly, received wisdom. ‘I need my breakfast cereal,’ ‘Bread is very important for a nutritional profile,’ ‘We need to eat pulses’, ‘I always feel better after cake’ and so on. All of this is rubbish. A small amount of carbohydrate from green and cruciferous vegetables will suffice.

In February 2015, Time magazine came out with another article — they published two in 2014 — saying that low-fat guidelines should never have been issued or encouraged in the 1970s.

Alice Park’s article explores a study done in Scotland which states:

Reporting in the journal OpenHeart, Zoe Harcombe, a researcher and Ph.D. candidate at University of the West of Scotland, and her colleagues say that the data decisionmakers had in 1977, when the first U.S. guidelines on dietary fat were made, did not provide any support for the idea that eating less fat would translate to fewer cases of heart disease, or that it would save lives

The problem, as Harcombe notes in her study, is that advice was “arbitrary. The 30% wasn’t tested, let alone proven,” she says. In fact, some data even contradicted the idea that the fat we took in from food had anything at all to do with the artery-clogging plaques that caused heart disease. In one study, men who were fed copious amounts of high-fat foods (butter, eggs, portions of cream and the like) did not show higher levels of blood cholesterol, suggesting that the fat from food had little to do with the cholesterol circulating in the body and produced by the liver

The American Heart Association, fortunately, is taking this on board for their own revised recommendations.

The most important thing is to eat whole foods, not necessarily organic, but helpings of fatty meats and oily fish that you need to prepare at home. Cook a selection of vegetables or prepare a salad to accompany them. Leave out the potato, pasta, rice, couscous. Add plenty of butter or cheese and cream to sauces. Sauté in duck or goose fat, lard or beef dripping.

Also: Drink lots of water during the day — three or four large glasses. Salt your food, and supplement potassium with Lo Salt or Lite Salt. Otherwise, you might well end up feeling weak and faint.

Not only will your hunger pangs disappear for hours on end, but your mood and outlook will improve immensely.

As for exercise? Only the gentlest will do, as a hard workout may cause the body to retain water. In any event, when there is no weight loss, one will lose inches.

Disclaimer: This is not intended as blanket medical advice. When in doubt, check with your doctor.

More of my posts on the ketogenic diet can be found on my Recipes / Health / History page:

Low-fat, high-carb diets increase depression

Does low animal fat intake increase hostility or depression? (a hypothesis)

Fat and a balanced mind (low-fat diets can imbalance serotonin and nerves)

Depression and anxiety: the perils of a low-fat, high-carb diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression

Depression and cancer: more evidence against a low-fat diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression (also epilepsy related [Dr Richard A Kunin’s paper])

High-carb, low-fat diets might cause Western diseases (cancer related)

Low-carb diet a migraine remedy

Low-carb, high-fat diets regulate testosterone, cholesterol levels

Ketogenic diet and gout risk — tips for success

Resources for the ketogenic diet

Dietary advice: the old ways are the best (my own story on the ketogenic diet)

CB064044Disturbing news comes via the Episcopal/Anglican site Stand Firm, which recently explored the discrimination against Christians in the Middle East, specifically, their exclusion from refugee programmes.

A S Haley, who wrote the Stand Firm article, refers us to Philo’s Project which documents the State Department’s refusal to help Christians (emphases mine):

According to a March 26, 2015 article in Newsweek, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in their ancestral home of Iraq prior to 2003. Now the number of Christians is estimated at anywhere from 260,000 to 350,000, with near half of that number displaced within the country. Newsweek explained that Iraq’s remaining Christians have mostly fled north to safer areas under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. “But now ISIS is threatening them there, too.”

[The Rt. Rev. Julian M. Dobbs, bishop of the Diocese of CANA East (Convocation of Anglicans in North America)], accompanied to the State Department by humanitarian Sir Charles Hoare, 9th Baronet Hoare of Annabella, County Cork, informed State Department officials of a plan by one well-known Christian international aid agency to provide safer housing for Iraqi Christians. Christians are trying to survive in unfinished concrete buildings – such as shopping malls – in the Christian enclave of Ankawa rather than in the UNHCR camp with the other refugees, because they are even threatened by some of the Muslim refugees.

The organization purchased used military tents from British troops in Afghanistan to set up on land that had been provided by the local authorities.

These military tents have sanitary facilities. They are cool in summer and warm in winter. However, there is the problem of transporting them from Afghanistan to Iraq. Neither the British nor the US government intends on doing that, even though it involves only one military aircraft to transport the tents:

So instead, the group is working to raise some $778,000 to transport the tents to Iraq by land. Dobbs revealed that the State Department advised him against setting up emergency housing for Christians in the region, saying it was “totally inappropriate.”

Even worse:

Also inappropriate, it seems, is the resettling of the most vulnerable Assyrian Christians in the United States. Donors in the private sector have offered complete funding for the airfare and the resettlement in the United States of these Iraqi Christians that are sleeping in public buildings, on school floors, or worse. But the State Department – while admitting 4,425 Somalis to the United States in just the first six months of FY2015, and possibly even accepting members of ISIS through the Syrian and Iraqi refugee program, all paid for by tax dollars, told Dobbs that they “would not support a special category to bring Assyrian Christians into the United States.”

The United States government has made it clear that there is no way that Christians will be supported because of their religious affiliation, even though it is exactly that – their religious affiliation – that makes them candidates for asylum based on a credible fear of persecution from ISIS. The State Department, the wider administration, some in Congress and much of the media and other liberal elites insist that Christians cannot be given preferential treatment. Even within the churches, some Christians are so afraid of appearing to give preferential treatment to their fellow Christians that they are reluctant to plead the case of their Iraqi and Syrian brothers and sisters.

Meanwhile, Americans are paying for some very interesting things where refugees are concerned (H/T: Stand Firm):

17.   Welfare use is staggering among refugees. Welfare usage is never counted by officials as part of the cost of the program. Yet, when it is included, the total cost of the refugee program soars to at least 10-20 billion a year.

As some Americans are pushed off of time-limited welfare programs many refugees are going on to life-time cash assistance programs. For instance, 12.7% of refugees are on SSI – a lifetime entitlement to a monthly check / Medicaid for elderly or disabled. This rate of usage is at least 4 times higher than the rate of usage for SSI among the native-born population and is reportedly rising from these already very high levels.

Permanent and intergenerational welfare dependence has been allowed to take hold to a significant degree in some refugee groups.

Find latest welfare usage among refugees here (latest data available is from 2009): https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/orr/fy_2009_annual_report_to_congress.pdf

Find table TABLE II-14: Public Assistance Utilization Among refugees who arrived during the 5 years previous to the survey 57.7% are on government medical assistance such as Medicaid, about 25% have no health insurance at all, 70.2% are receiving food stamps, 31.6% are in public housing (an additional percentage is on a public housing waiting list), and 38.3 % are getting cash assistance such as TANF or SSI.

The figure of 57.7% dependent upon government medical assistance is actually an undercount since it excludes children under 16.

18.   Medium size towns, such as Bowling Green, KY, Nashville, TN, Ft. Wayne, IN, Boise, ID and Manchester, NH, are serving as the main reception centers for the refugee program.

19. Refugees are not tested for many diseases, such as HIV.  Refugees are a major contributing factor to TB rates among the foreign-born. TB among the foreign-born now accounts for about half of the TB in America.

20. The money the U.S. spends bringing one refugee to the U.S. could have helped 500 individuals overseas in countries where they currently reside.

21. It has never been reported in the U.S. that 47% of loans made to refugees for transportation to the U.S. are unpaid leaving an unpaid balance of $450 million. This amount – slightly out of date, does not include interest or an unknown amount that has been written off. We will announce the new balance as soon as it is available.

Surely, all this could be better organised and managed? I imagine something similar is going on in the UK.

To cap it all off, Stand Firm‘s A S Haley tells us that church agencies are making money by working with the US government in receiving refugees:

Refugees designated to migrate to the United States are advanced travel money by an arm of the U.S. State Department. They land here, and are placed in the hands of (among other agencies) Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), which helps them relocate into specific communities, find jobs, and settle in. Then EMM sees that they repay their travel advances to the Government, and pockets one-quarter of its debt collection proceeds for its trouble.

It’s a nifty racket, and ensures that annually over $300,000 comes into the Episcopal Church’s coffers, to help with its bottom line.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Government reimburses EMM for all of its other refugee relocation expenses, to the tune of some $14 million annually

It turns out that a good portion of the refugees EMM is assisting are not just any refugees, but are Muslims from some of the countries to which America has sent troops, bombs or both: Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and (soon) Syria.

… EMM is one of nine major Government contractors engaged in making money to bring in refugees from these war-torn countries, in which the United States has militarily intervened. Five others, along with EMM, operate under the aegis of major American religious denominations: the Church World Service (an umbrella organization), the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the evangelically connected World Relief Corporation.

This is much worse than I could have ever imagined. Meanwhile, our Christian brothers and sisters are left to languish under the very real pain of death.

Until a few days ago, I’d never really thought much about the piano.

My maternal grandparents had an upright, which my late mother and aunt learned how to play. My late paternal aunt owned and played a Yamaha baby grand. I could read music and play a bit myself.

However, lifting the lid off the piano reveals a world of science and nature many of us haven’t contemplated.

The French newsweekly Marianne recently reported on the intricacies of the piano, from sound to brand dominance (‘Un Steinway, sinon rien?’ [‘A Steinway or nothing?’] by Emmanuel Tresmontant, 24 – 30 April 2015, pp. 80-83).

Hundreds of manufacturers, now gone

There was a time when every Western nation — even a US state — had its own piano manufacturer. Wikipedia has a nearly complete list here. (My grandparents had a Gulbransen, not included.)

Very few of them are still in business. A handful of survivors have moved production to the Far East.

The French manufacturer Pleyel was the most recent to stop production. That was in 2013.

Interestingly, around the time Pleyel was winding down, a new company in England, Cavendish Pianos, launched. Named after the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Cavendish being their family name — and partly financed by them — the company makes five models from uprights to grands. They are located at Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire and use the county’s finest expertise, wood and wool in manufacture.

However, most of us know only the Steinway and Yamaha brands. And there’s a reason for that. More in a moment.

What classical composers used

The Marianne article tells us that in the 19th century, Paris had over 100 piano manufacturers (p. 81).

The pianos were made in various shapes depending on the sound desired: pear, pyramid, cube and even a giraffe! Some pianos were able to indefinitely carry the sound of one note played until the person playing lifted his finger. If you try this today, you’ll be disappointed. The sound fades out even with your finger on the key.

Pleyel pianos were developed by the classical composer Ignaz Pleyel. He introduced the upright model to France in 1815. This piano was developed from models popular in Britain at the time. By 1834, Pleyel et Cie employed 250 workers who constructed 1,000 pianos each year.

Chopin composed and played on a Pleyel, said to have a singing sound quality. Liszt used a piano made by rival Erard, thought to have been even better in tonality. Pleyel bought Erard and another pianomaker Gaveau in the 1980s.

Today, only a few models made by these companies and others around the world exist. The classical pieces we hear today from other pianos lose some of the earlier subtleties in the original compositions.

Steinway’s world dominance

These days, most concert pianists play a Steinway, the leading brand of piano.

French music critic Alain Lompech explained Steinway’s evolution, which began in the 1800s (p. 81):

The genius of Steinway & Sons, founded in New York in 1853 by Heinrich Steinweg, a German, was to take the best innovations of the other manufacturers and integrate them in a harmonious unit. At the first Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867, Steinway took three gold medals from Pleyel and Erard. The most unbelievable bit is that Steinway pianos are made the same as they were in 1880! Nothing has changed since the patents were granted. It’s an absolute miracle.

Philippe Copin, arguably one of Europe’s best piano technicians, told Marianne why Steinway dominates the market (p. 82):

Steinways distinguish themselves by their capacity for resonance. They can project sound in concert halls with 3,000 seats, which had never been done before. Steinway also knew how to accommodate from the start the demands of composers such as Liszt, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov who needed more percussive pianos: a fortissimo from Prokofiev does not have the same impact as one from Mozart or Beethoven.

Copin adds that few professional pianists know how to get the best from a Steinway:

They don’t know how it’s made and how this affects its timbre. Most often, they all ask for the same thing: that their piano be adaptable and allow them to play all repertoires … In order to respond to all these demands, it has been observed that only one brand can meet them: Steinway! Add to that that a grand piano for concerts costs €140,000 whatever the marque. You then understand why there is so little diversity.

Marianne points out that other manufacturers ended up trying to imitate Steinway to meet the demands of pianists. For example, the sound from the Austrian make Bösendorfer started out as ’round and soft, deep’ (p. 82). Not so long ago, concert pianists complained that Bösendorfer wasn’t powerful enough, so the maker altered its hammers in response, resulting in a ‘hard and metallic’ sound.

Incidentally, Yamaha bought Bösendorfer in 2007.

Musicologiest Ziad Kreidy told Marianne that he is sorry the original sounds which distinguished one piano manufacturer from another are history (pp. 82, 83):

… to satisfy demand on a global scale, piano manufacture has become extremely automated and standardised.

Modern pianos have such heavy, sonorous and rich basses that it’s impossible to respect the pedals played, for example, by Chopin in some of his Nocturnes.

This also holds true for Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3:

On a modern Steinway Beethoven’s instrumentation is impossible to achieve. A too-insistent resonance ruins the sound and the interplay becomes cacophony. On an old Pleyel, by contrast, you had only to respect the pedal indications for the melody to unfold naturally.

He went on to say (p. 83) that, previously, each manufacturer had their own notion of tonal

warmth, clarity and the natural which made the reputations of Pleyel and Erard, handmade by passionate artisans, depositors of a savoir-faire completely lost now …

With these instruments, as rare as they are fragile, we enter into another poetic universe. The sound is natural, round and golden, as if it were amber.

Concert virtuoso Alain Planès was fortunate enough to play a 1836 Pleyel which he said sounded

totally authentic … exactly as Chopin intended.

He was also able to record Debussy’s Préludes on an 1897 Bechstein which left his heart pounding with excitement.

Yamaha, the only real rival

Marianne noted that, whilst the Italian manufacturer Fazioli and the German Bluthner still make ‘excellent’ pianos, Steinway’s only real rival is Yamaha, especially with their newest model, the CFX (p. 82).

Only time will tell.

Hammers and wool

Modern Steinways have much harder hammers than the old, beloved makes of piano (p. 83). This affects the sound quality, making it bold, percussive and heavy.

Another factor contributing to sound is the sheep’s wool felt used on the hammers. Alain Planès said that the late, great pianist Rudolf Serkin who died in 1991, surmised that modern felt is considerably different to that of the old days:

He thought that today’s sheep are badly nourished, that their wool no longer has the same quality as their ancestors’ and that this, naturally, has a direct influence on the sound coming from the piano.

An interesting theory, one which might be true.

It is interesting to note that the earliest covering on piano hammers was leather. Felt replaced leather. The first piano felt manufacturer was JD Weickert, based in Leipzig:

In 1847 the first felt for piano hammer was made in Germany by the Weickert factory. This felt was successful[ly] tested and used by the piano factory J.G. Irmler. Piano Felt Factory J.D. Weickert was the new name of the company.

The existing and newly founded Piano factories at that time caused an increasing demand for Piano Felt. Even today well-known companies as Steinway, Blüthner, Bösendorfer , Ibach, Bechstein or Rönisch were already customers of the Felt factory. The factory had to increase the capacity and had to add on new facilities. The number of staff increased by 50 in year 1860 to 350 employees at the beginning of the 20th century.

In the late 19th century, The Guardian tells us:

more people were employed making pianos in London than in any other manufacturing business.

Highly technical

None of us doubts that manufacturing a piano is an involved process.

So is being a piano technician. Philippe Copin spent ten years training at Yamaha’s factory in Japan. It can take a highly trained technician up to two days to properly tune and adjust a piano before a major concert (pp. 81, 82).

This video describes some of what is involved in adjusting individual key’s temperaments:

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on Boston’s Timothy Gilbert and his piano patents from the 19th century, which were very technical and highly successful.

The technology and mathematical calculations behind piano hammers is discussed here, complete with illustrations.

Today, at Cavendish Pianos, owner and founder Adam Cox told The Guardian that:

With each piano made up of as many as 20,000 parts, the suppliers include hardwood sawmills, feltmakers and a hand-spinner of piano strings, all within easy reach of the ex-cowsheds.

“China and the far east have many advantages but we can beat them,” says Cox, whose favourite statistic is a reminder of the glory days of British piano sales.

Whilst many reading this will say, ‘Keyboards get the job done, too,’ Cox says:

Keyboards and the like had a novelty but people are realising their limitations compared with a real piano.

When it comes to music, nothing’s grander than a grand — or even a standard upright piano! Expensive, yes, but well worth it. And now we know what’s under the lid.

Interviewers sometimes ask jobseekers questions which are beyond the pale.

Graduates and others looking for a new employer would do well to research what cannot be asked at a job interview.

An article dated April 29, 2015, revealed questions that British graduates have been asked, among them:

Can you flirt with customers to make them stay longer?

Do you get PMT?

Can you wear more makeup next time?

Are you planning on having children soon?

In the 1990s, it was still acceptable to ask about prospective children. I’m of two minds about it, because, whilst it is intrusive, I knew a woman who started a job only to become pregnant within a year, then return to work after maternity leave and, shortly thereafter, announce she was expecting another child. There was nothing the employer could do. After all, one cannot fire a woman for having children. Nevertheless, other employees began to write her out of the everyday work picture and resented her for ‘playing the system’.

As for the others — and there are more in the article — instead of getting angry, the applicant should discern that these types of questions reveal more about the employer than illegality or inappropriateness. Working in such companies is bound to be stressful and unpleasant.

The UK Government has a site which briefly explains what employers can and cannot ask when interviewing. However, women should be as honest as possible with regard to children and childminding arrangements. An employer generally will expect — at least silently — that a newly-wed woman of childbearing age would stay at least a year before becoming pregnant.

An American site, PayScale, has a helpful list of what is disallowed in interviews along with constructive ways for the applicant to respond. Citizenship is one example. Whilst it is illegal for employers to ask if an applicant has US citizenship:

If the intent is to find out if you are authorized to work here in the US, then that is the question you need to answer — that you do or do not have a work permit.

Their article states that questions with regard to arrests and/or convictions are legal in certain states. Those applying for a security-sensitive job should be aware of this and explain their own circumstances, if applicable.

In short — instead of getting defensive or testy — the applicant should evaluate why certain questions are being asked. Often, the employer has a reason. Be polite and, where possible, give a considered response:

as the interviewee, it is up to you to gauge the intent behind the questions and answer accordingly. You could also choose not to answer.

Anything offensive, such as the British questions, should be ignored or gently laughed off. One would be within one’s rights to terminate the interview politely. Tell them they’ve just lost an excellent prospective employee.

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