Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lies and distortions you may have been told about the healthcare ruling

You, no doubt, have heard a lot of chatter about the U.S. Supreme Court's healthcare ruling this week. You have also heard a lot of misinformation.

I can't possibly address it all, but it let's handle two of the whoppers that are coming from *both* sides.

1. "The individual mandate to buy health insurance was upheld."

No, it wasn't. It was struck down as a mandate -- you know, a command. The Court held 5-4 that neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clause allow Congress to mandate that a person buy something or else pay a penalty (a fine or even, theoretically, imprisonment, although that wasn't at issue here) for noncompliance.

What *was* upheld was what was *always* a given: the ability of Congress to nudge your behavior in a direction by allowing for a choice -- not a mandate -- of "do X or pay a tax," either option being perfectly lawful.

And if you think there's no difference, you are so wrong. In the first instance you are only a law-abiding citizen if you do what the mandate tells you to do -- in this instance, buy insurance. If you don't, you have broken the law, and you pay a penalty for it. In the second instance, you have a choice -- buy or pay a tax -- and neither choice renders you a lawbreaker.

To put in more "normal" or "real world" terms, I presume you don't view a speed limit as anything but a mandate: go the proper speed or pay a fine as a lawbreaker. Or up the ante a bit: a statute criminalizing robbery is a mandate -- the only way to be in compliance with it is not to break it. Rob someone and you are penalized with a trip to jail. You didn't have two lawful choices. On the other hand, here, eIther choice is perfectly lawful. Buy the insurance or pay the tax; it's only if you refuse to do either that you would break the law.

Got it? The *mandate* to buy insurance was struck down. The choice to *either* buy insurance or pay a tax was upheld.

Where the dispute really played out, in the majority and dissenting opinions, was that once the mandate was struck down, the following question arose: could what Congress did here fairly be deemed, instead of a mandate, to be the buy/choose-to-pay-a-tax choice discussed above, or was this so clearly just a mandate that it would be judicial legislating to convert the law from a mandate to a choice involving a tax?

*That* question was answered 5-4 that, yes, there was enough wiggle room in the statute to deem it to involve a choice between getting insurance and paying a tax.

2. "Now Congress can force you to buy broccoli or pay a tax."

The operative falsehood in that phrase is the first word -- "Now" -- as if that weren't true previously. It has always been true. The question this case addressed, after striking down the mandate, was whether this statute could fairly be read to be that type of buy-the-product-or-pay-the-tax choice.

The only groundbreaking aspect of this case, for those fearing mass imposition of broccoli-buying rules, is that the federal government cannot force you to buy broccoli and penalize you as a lawbreaker if you don't do it. But they can (and always could) tax broccoli buyers differently from non-broccoli buyers.

The real-world implications of all of these legalities are profound for a simple, non-legal reason: far more people hate new taxes than hate government mandates. (Plenty of people hate both, mind you). But this legislation never would have passed if it had been called a new tax from the outset. Nor would a broccoli tax. Now that Chief Justice Roberts and four other justices (Kennedy, Scala, Alito and Thomas) have ruled that federal mandates to buy a product or pay a penalty as a lawbreaker are unconstitutional, the only way to pass them in the future is to call them a new tax scheme involving two lawful choices ("buy the product or pay a tax").

And the political odds of *that* happening are slim indeed.

One other point -- but this is more of a case of "I wonder what will happen?" Now that you have a choice -- buy insurance or pay a tax -- will *more* people opt not to buy insurance than under the mandatory scheme when they would have been labeled a lawbreaker and had a penalty imposed on them if they didn't obey the command to buy insurance? It's an interesting question, and if enough people opt to pay the tax, I wonder what the implications are for the whole healthcare system. Time will tell.

UPDATE: The press' failure to "get" the above distinction -- that the mandate to buy, in which buying is the only lawful option, is dead and has been converted into a plan where you have two lawful choices -- buy or pay a tax -- is kind of staggering. Smart lefty guy Eugene Robinson thinks the mandate was upheld, and that there is still a "penalty" for failing to comply with it. Smart righty guy Mark Steyn seems to understand the technical difference, but seems to think that: (a) it is a distinction without a difference, and (b) we are now going to be swamped with new "buy or pay the tax" schemes from a rampaging federal government that has been unmoored from any restraint -- ignoring the fact that Americans hate taxes and that Congress would never have the cajones to actually pass a "buy or pay the tax" scheme that is labeled as such, which it most certainly will have to be in the future (i.e., this was a one-time free pass to Congress limited by a carefully-constructed Roberts opinion, not a license to go wild).

On the other hand, George Will seems to get the intricacies of the whole thing rather well, offering the opinion that, overall, this decision is at least as strong for its restricted view of Commerce Clause power than it is for the approval of the "buy or pay a tax" scheme this one time. And Keith Hennessey (of whom I had, truth be told, never heard before this, but, apparently he is a GOP guy) actually gets into the whole notion that more people may choose to be lawful taxpayers without insurance than would have opted to be lawbreakers paying a penalty.  

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hyperbole Thursday -- a.k.a. the healthcare ruling, a.k.a. what happens when reasonable people let politics get the best of them

You'd swear the world just ended. Alternatively, you'd swear the world came within a whisper of being purposely annihilated by lunatics only to be saved at the last moment by the Good Guys. Or maybe, just maybe, like me, your opinion is a bit more, er, measured.

Today the United States Supreme Court ruled that most of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- the healthcare reform legislation, or "Obamacare" to some -- is constitutional. And a lot of people who ought to know better -- some of them whom I even know personally -- have reacted with the kinds of statements that make me embarrassed even to be involved in political discourse in the small way that I occasionally am.

First of all, read the ruling, including all the concurrences and dissents. You have no business getting on a soapbox about this one until you do. If your answer to that simple demand is that it all is too complicated to read, then may I suggest that it is all too complicated a matter on which to have an  opinion? 

Once you've read it, does the majority ruling seem akin to the attacks on 9/11? 

Maybe you think that the Chief Justice's somewhat surprising decision to join the majority  is a double-secret piece of double-gotcha plotting from "an evil genius" who actually wants to hand conservatives a rousing political victory?

Or maybe, just maybe you aren't buying all that hyperbole.

I hope you are in that last category. Since I'm a lawyer -- no, we still aren't talking about my day job, and we never will -- I will try to give you a straight reading on the main part of this decision without distortion. Then you decide if it is worth all the yelling and screaming from the fringes. 

The meat of the dispute is the so-called mandate to buy health insurance. The law imposes a "requirement" (its term, not mine) that people be insured by a particular date or else pay a "penalty" (again, its term, not mine).

No one -- or very few anyway -- dispute that if Congress wanted to, it could levy a tax on the uninsured. But this law, on its face, does not present itself as a tax. Rather, it was passed as a Commerce Clause-based restriction on "activities" that affect interstate commerce. The "activity" in question is the act of not buying insurance for which a "penalty" is levied.

Four members of the Court -- Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor -- think that is a fine exercise of Commerce Clause power, effectively ruling that the inactivity of failing to buy insurance is activity enough to be regulated because the omission/act nevertheless affects commerce.

Five members of the Court -- the Chief, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas and Scalia -- think that Congress overstepped its bounds in that regard and that inactivity is not activity. 

Put differently, Breyer and company think it is okay, in this instance, under the Commerce Clause, for Congress to tell you you must pay a penalty if you don't buy an item on the private market. They lost that argument, 5-4.

But.... they lost the battle and won the war because Chief Justice Roberts left his four compatriots from the Commerce Clause part of the ruling to decide that even though Congress called it a "penalty,"
the penalty could alternatively be read as a "tax" -- because, after all, the IRS collects it -- and, thus, since Congress is free to tax the uninsured, what would be, according to five members of the Court, a Commerce Clause violation, is instead a valid exercise of the taxation power.

The four dissenters (Kennedy and company) disagreed. Citing the numerous (18, I think) times that the statute references a "penalty" and the zero number of times it references it as a tax, the dissenters deemed the chief justice's middle-ground position to be saving a statute with an interpretation that simply is not plausible. They also acknowledged what I thought nearly everyone (although apparently not Rachel Maddow) believed/acknowledged, which was that without either a mandate to buy insurance or a tax on the uninsured, the whole statute would have to be scrapped because you can't force insurers to cover people only when they get sick.

So here, in a nutshell, is the holding of the Court, from the Chief's opinion:

""The Federal Government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance. [The statute] would therefore be unconstitutional if read as a command. The Federal Government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance. [The statute] is therefore constitutional, because it can reasonably be read as a tax."

In other words, you have a choice: buy insurance or a pay a tax.
The stigma of the "penalty" is gone. It's a tax.

So you tell me. Is that 9/11-like? Conversely, are the dissenters completely out of their minds and trying to drive us back to the 19th century by refusing to read something that is only (and repeatedly) called a "penalty" as a much more benign thing called a "tax?"

That sort of commentary on both sides is downright embarrassing. What Roberts did here was, undoubtedly, done with political motivation, but it strikes me as the ultimate in Solomonic *centrist* political motivation: split the baby. Rule on one hand that Congress can't force you to buy anything, but, on the other hand, that they didn't do that here. This is, he says, a simple matter of buying insurance or paying a tax. Breyer and company believe that inaction in this arena nevertheless affects commerce, and Kennedy and company think that inaction is not action and a penalty is not a tax.

And I am not saying you can't disagree with any aspect of all that. Me? I am inclined to think that the chief justice probably stretched a bit in reading what was labeled over and over in the statute as a "requirement"-- which, if not met, would cause the levy of a "penalty"-- to be instead a "choice" whether to buy something or pay a "tax." So, horrors(!), I probably think Kennedy and company got the best of a close argument.

But, and here is the real point of all this, I understand that there is more than one way to view this, and I'm not going to hate you for disagreeing with me. I won't compare the chief justice's views to a terrorist attack. I won't tell you that the losing side in the Commerce Clause angle of this was trying to undermine the republic. And I won't accuse the chief of some sort of double-secret right-wing plot.

Maybe you could consider dialing it down too? Please? Because otherwise you are losing all your credibility in favor of shrill hyperbole. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Bulletproofing" green tea? Why yes, I will, and, lo and behold, it's freaking delicious

For reasons that relate more to extreme deliciousness and an inability to steadfastly resist the notion that if X number of something is good, 5X must be better -- rather than, say, any actual *need* for that much caffeine -- my coffee intake has reached levels that the Descendents might envy. If you are not hip to the Descendents, all you need is 36 seconds to fix that:

Anyway, my stomach has recently cried, "Foul," "Hey now!" and, in a Philly accent that would make linguists cringe, "Yo, wha'da *fuck*!?"

I kinda had to listen to that last one. It meant business.

So I put away the big coffeemaker. Its siren song calls out to me too loudly over the course of a day. Instead, I got out the low-acid Aeropress, and vowed to begin each day with a three-shot Americano that I would then "bulletproof" by adding unsalted grassfed butter and coconut oil. After that, no coffee. Tea would be cool. Green tea is full of antioxidants that form a hippie drum circle in your body and chant "Kumbaya" rhythmically to keep away the bad juju. Or something like that.

So, I thought, green tea might get me through each day after that one remaining Americano, do nice things for me and generally let the old upper digestive system heal its bad self for a bit (oh, I am sure the heavier-intake coffee will be back someday).

The problem is, for me anyway, green tea is boring. It tastes like hot water into which someone has thrown exactly three blades of grass or, alternatively, hot water into which a single green Crayola crayon has been dipped -- that is to say .... the flavor equivalent of the noise that this guy made when he did this at regular speed:

Then, I thought to myself.... "Self, why has your morning coffee tasted recently like the java equivalent of the first three Clash albums making sweet sweet love to Exile on Main Street?" And Self answered, "Bulletproofing, duuuuude!"

Self is almost always right, especially when he accents with a "dude" or two (and provides a hyperlink).

And then, stepping outside the bounds of self (in, really, an almost Zen-like way, I tell ya), I wondered what it would taste like if I "bulletproofed" green tea.

I was skeptical. In fact, keeping in mind past mistakes, I assumed I would thereafter be working on a blog post entitled Don't Do This (Volume 2), a.k.a. Taking Another One for the Team.

It was delicious. It was, as the title already lets you know, freaking delicious. Butter (unsalted! grassfed!) and coconut oil turn green tea from the beverage equivalent of some tepid James Taylor nonsense into damn-near close to this:

That is to say, it kicks my ass every time. For the win, kids. For. The. Win.

I may survive this coffee reduction better than I thought.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Music review: Built to Spill, live in Philadelphia 6/23/12

Because my musical sensibilities arise, first and foremost, from the punk-rock
end of things, I am not the first guy that you think of when the term "jam band" comes up. By and large, the (make a high-pitched noise) "neemyneemyneemy" of Jerry Garcia's extended spacey jams -- or Phish's, or Moe's... -- is enough to make me yawn, get angry and leave whatever event is causing me the pain, but there are exceptions.

When Neil Young and Crazy Horse stretch things out, I dig it immensely. The same is true of Built to Spill.

Wait, you think BTS is an "indie" band, I bet. They are, but they are, at this point, an indie band with jam-band sensibilities. They extend *everything* live, and they do so differently, night-to-night, on some songs.

So what's the deal.... What's the difference with Neil and Built to Spill that somehow keep my interest when the Phishy people of the world generally make me irritated and tired? Is it just that Martsch and Neil share the same, er, unusual vocal delivery?

No, I think it is all about dynamics, and really.... what's more eminently "punk rock" than dynamics? The loud/quiet/loud shift has been ruling my roost going back to the Stooges, MC5 and Radio Birdman and continuing through Sonic Youth, Dinosaur, Jr., Uncle Tupelo, Fugazi and countless other bands that shared in common the knowledge that the single easiest knockout punch in rock and roll is delivered by first bludgeoning, then sucking all the air out of the room with a quiet part, and then pow! Your face just melted. The alternative take on this approach is waves of undulating quiet and loud bits that build into a frenzy. It all gets you to the same place -- cathartic musical euphoria.

Both Neil (at least with Crazy Horse) and Doug Martsch of Built to Spill get all of that. They employ feedback, distortion and the juxtaposition of quiet and loud as weapons of tension and release. But BTS has one simple edge over Crazy Horse: where Neil generally takes *all* the solos, leaving Poncho to bang out the rhythm, BTS has three guitarists. And while Martsch takes *most* of the leads, he doesn't take them all, and all three of them, on nearly every song, are contributing different parts that add to the sonic stew. This is no simple matter of one guy soloing while the other strums.

Typically, Jim Roth (born 1962... yay old guys), is slashing and burning chords, while Brett Netson (not to be confused with bass player Brett Nelson) is off in the musical stratosphere, sometimes with sizable help from a wah pedal. And then there's Martsch. Someone -- Elvis Costello, I think -- once said that Richard Thompson can take the listener from Nashville to Beirut in one solo. Martsch is nearly that good as well.

And he keeps getting better. The setlist last night at Union Transfer in Philly was heavy on the '90s, but some of those songs on those albums don't have the rising and falling extended guitar jams that we heard. And the studio versions of the ones that do -- like "Stab" and "Broken Chairs" -- are still meek pretenders to the dynamic glory of the live ones that we heard yesterday evening.

I remember thinking, after an incendiary "Stab," only three songs into the set, that they were going to have trouble matching that. I shouldn't have worried. The next song -- the Halo Benders' "Virginia Reel Around the Fountain" -- was nearly its equal. And "Nowhere Nothin' Fuckup" and "Distopian Dream Girl" got stratospheric on the solos where the studio versions seem firmly locked on the ground. All the while, Martsch, Netson and Roth jumped on and off pedals, controlling the waves of interwoven guitar fury. It was pretty damn mesmerizing.

And then, for the last song of the night, it all got nuts. "Broken Chairs" is eight minutes long on the 1999 album Keep It Like a Secret. It's twenty minutes long on the live album that they released the next year. We didn't quite get twenty minutes, but holy hell it was long, and dynamically intense. The guitars slashed and burned and wailed and howled for most of it, but then -- just when the godawful annoying frat boys in front of me had finally given up their stupid dances, their hugging, their high-fiving, their back-slapping and, yes, their backrubbing (boys, I hope you all are sleeping with each other, because I have seen newly-coupled couples touch each other less than you guys did; it seems like an awful waste otherwise) -- Martsch backed off his solo and Netson took over. In a second, we sonically teleported from 1991 Neil and Crazy Horse circa Weld to 1969 Pink Floyd circa Saucerful of Secrets. Wow. Netson must have ridden that slow-burning, chiming, wah-pedal solo for three minutes while Roth and Martsch gently strummed, lying in wait. And then, teleportation re-engaged, Marsch nodded to Plouf and we crashed back into a Crazy Horse-inspired distortionfest that they drove home to conclude the song.

It had been eleven years since I last saw these guys. It won't be eleven until the next time.

If you want a small, insufficient taste of last night's glory, here is "Stab" from a (strangely, seated) show last year in Braddock, PA, and it is followed by a video of "Broken Chairs" from a Seattle show, also in 2011, that, sadly, does not have that amazing Netson wah-driven solo in it. This one is all Martsch, but it burns fairly white-hot nonetheless.

UPDATE: Apparently "Broken Chairs" *was* 20 minutes long. Here is a video of it (from the Philly show) with poor lighting but good sound. They head for Pink Floyd around 6:43 and crash their way out of the mist at about 13:12. Not for everyone, but I am swooning.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Splitting the clean and the snatch -- making the Olympic lifts accessible for the mobility-challenged

Part of CrossFit is Olympic lifts -- clean, jerk and snatch. But some of us -- mostly CrossFitters of a, er, certain age -- aren't flexible enough to catch a clean or a snatch in a full squat position. It's a scary thing. This is a good demonstration of a power clean (without the full squat), followed by a full squat clean (I am not the Steve in the vid):

I can do a power clean, but I can't get low enough fast enough to catch a full squat clean that low. In fact, even my power clean doesn't go as low as that guy's.

The same is true, even more so, of the snatch. This is a power snatch, without the full squat:

I can handle that, but I can't get very low for the catch, which then limits how much weight I can snatch. This is a full squat snatch:

Notice how crazy low she gets to catch it? I just can't get down there that fast after pulling up so hard. So, I have been stuck for months at the same max weights for those two lifts because all I can do is power clean and power snatch, and I have maxed out. It is a little frustrating. So I started poking around on the fabled Interwebs and, lo and behold, I learn that a very few lifters still use the old-school "split" technique for these two lifts (on the other hand, lots of people split their jerk -- that is a whole different story).

I particularly ran across these two videos. the first is fabled lifting coach Mike Burgener working with an older CrossFitter named Jacinto Bonilla. Bonilla's shoulder mobility is limited enough that he doesn't squat snatch well. How about the split snatch? Check this out:

And then there is CrossFit Games veteran Josh Everett, who splits on a snatch as well:

And then, even less common, is the split clean, which this guy does:

So, last week I went in all fired up to try the split snatch. And this week I have twice worked on a split clean. The results?

Well, using the split technique, I have easily gotten back to my old "power" PRs for both lifts, but, more importantly, because the speed of my squat is such crap, I actually can get lower much faster using a split. This means that two things happen: (1) my bar speed going up is way quicker because I am more confident about my ability to catch it, and (2) I don't have to pull the bar up as high because I can get lower faster by splitting. This means that my old PR weight went up easily. Drawbacks? None, it seems, except that my body is not yet 100% adapted to catching a flying barbell in what is an asymmetrical position. I split with my left foot forward (like I snowboard) and so my left glute and hip are getting more pressure, strain, etc than my right. It is all just a matter of muscle memory and playing it smart by training at less than maximal loads. I *know* I can PR both these lifts by splitting. But I am going to hold off for a bit while I practice them at a heavy, but not maximum, weight. I want to get my body used to the weirdness of the split catch.

But it has "big payoff" written all over it for me over the long haul.

Should you do it? Probably not, as both Burgener and Everett tell you. This is an old-school variant on lifts and it is inefficient if you are otherwise mobile. Only the mobility-challenged might gain a benefit from splitting either a snatch or a clean. But if mobility is hindering your squat clean or squat snatch, you may want to take a crack at splitting either or both of those lifts. Just play it smart and get your body used to the new movement before you try anything at near-max weights, Hercules.

And never stop learning.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A quick thought about excessive heat and exercise

I am a CrossFitter but I do it for my health, not to compete in the CrossFit Games, or to "be a badass," or any of that chest-thumping nonsense. I also remember one of the many things I used to hate about the old days of "chronic cardio" at the old globo gym: dehydration so profound that I would have to resort to ibuprofen all summer long just to keep the headaches at bay after a morning hour or so running on a treadmill. It was like I could never catch up on hydration. It didn't help that I was running six days a week.

One of the many things I love about CrossFit is that the shorter, less-frequent, sprint-style metcon workouts just don't leave me dehydrated like those old globo-gym sessions did. And the overall results are better. I am stronger, faster and, yes, better hydrated and happier this way.

But there is a limit, for me anyway. I ran into that wall yesterday, or, to make my metaphor more accurate, I saw the wall coming and I maneuvered around it.

I couldn't make it to the morning workout, when temps were more civilized. By the time the late-afternoon workout rolled around, it was 97 degrees F (36 C, for you rest-of-the-world-ians). But (thumping chest....) I am a CrossFitter! So I went to the gym anyway. (And, no, it's not air-conditioned; it's a bigass warehouse).

We were scheduled to deadlift for a while and then do a sprint-ish metcon that was intended to last about 12 minutes or so. But holy flippin' Jebus, I was drenched after the warmup. Then I worked my way up through some deadlifts to a solid set of three at 345 pounds (157 kilos) -- a good twenty pounds off my current three-rep max, but it seemed heavy in the heat -- and I was, well.... done.

Or, more precisely, with appropriate metaphoric reference to George Clinton, I was "standing on the verge of getting it on" -- where "it" is some serious dehydration.

So, I avoided the badassness of it all and called it a day when the deadlifts were done. I left my compatriots to sweat some more, and I drove home, gulping water and a protein shake (SFH!) as I went.

And I am glad I did. This morning I feel freaking fantastic. Not a sign of dehydration. So, what's the point of this? Listen to your body. You may be the type of uberstud who can go full-throttle at 97 degrees. Go for it, duuuuude. But you may not be, and if, like me, you hear the voice of reason telling you that maybe it's stupid effing hot enough that you are already sweating profusely through every pore so just some heavy lifting and a walk sounds like enough exercise for the day, listen to that voice and do what makes sense for you.

This isn't the CrossFit Games. It's life. Don't confuse the two.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sausage and kale. It's crazy delicious.

Once again, it is time to begin a "recipe" with a simple disclaimer: it's not really a "recipe" when it's this easy, but it sure is an astoundingly effing great idea.

The idea? Sausage with kale. "With" as in "cooked together so the kale picks up all that sausage-y flavor."

Guess what the ingredients are?

Yup. Sausage -- you choose what kind, but choose well; factory pork is shit; we chose three pounds of some Italian sausage from the meat counter at Whole Foods, so at least we know Porky was reasonably well-treated before they zapped him -- plus kale. We usually go for the "Dino" kale, but this time got something else (organic). Two bunches.

Chop up the kale. You would be smart to leave out those big vein-y stalks in the middle of each leaf. They are a little chewy. Cut up the sausage. It cooks better that way. Before all that cooking starts, it looks like this:

Put the sausage in a pan on medium-low heat. Cover the pan. Don't rush this operation. It will take 45 minutes to an hour to cook. When it goes in, it looks, unsurprisingly, like this, before you cover it:

Sausage has a hell of a lot of fat in it. There is no need to butter, oil, grease, etc. the pan. It'll throw off enough fatty liquid that eventually, when cooked, it looks like this:

Guess what all that vaguely gross-looking liquid is gonna do? Steam the kale. That's what.
Throw the kale in there (yeah, a seriously bigass pan or Dutch oven is helpful). Right on top of the sausage. Cover it all up. Before it is covered, it looks like you've overdone it a bit in the kale department:

And then it cooks down, and you realize that all you've overdone is the awesome. This takes 15-20 minutes on low-ish heat. Stir the whole thing up, and you're done:

The sausage tastes like sausage. The kale tastes like sausage. You're welcome. Now stop telling me this cooking stuff is hard or that you don't know what to cook.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, June 18, 2012

Just go read it... It's that good.

It's not about paleo eating, working out, even music, just life on the big blue orb, and what the Celibate Rifles once called the "The Turgid Miasma of Existence." It's by one of my favorite bloggers, who outdid herself this time around. It's called "Farewell to a Friend." Good one.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My two-year anniversary of joining a CrossFit gym

In early 2010, my son Kevin, then a college soccer player, kept going on about this new gym he had joined, CrossFit 215, and how they were kicking his ass in all the best ways, particularly in the area of strength training. At the same time I was going to a standard-issue globo gym -- running a lot, lifting a little -- the same one I had been going to six days a week for the previous seven years. There was not any real structure or programming to my gym attendance, but it sure was regular. There also wasn't much progress in my fitness. I was in better shape than the average 47-year-old at the time, but just not feeling strong or at the top of my game. I was sore, run-down and beginning to wonder about scaling back on the constant pounding of distance running.

Then it all changed: Kevin invited me to come watch him at an in-house competition at his CrossFit gym. I did, and my mind was blown. I had two thoughts: (1) I could *never* do this, and (2) wow, I wanna do that.

So I started following (or trying to follow) main-site CrossFit programming, but at my regular gym. Two things about this were particularly comical in retrospect. First, it is just fucking *nuts* trying to do a CF WOD (workout of the day) in a globo gym. You end up running all over the place. There is no setting up the barbell near the pullup structure, for instance. The barbells are way over there, and the pullup bars are over here, and you just don't do that stuff. So you look like a spazzy freak as you sprint from spot to spot. Second, I had no real idea what I was doing. For instance, I taught myself how to clean. Jesus, *that* was a horror story of reverse-curling.

A couple months passed. I liked CF, but I knew enough about it to know that I didn't really know enough about it. I looked online for a local CF gym, thinking that a healthy dose of coaching was what I needed, and there was one and only one: inconveniently located and just not feasible for me to join for that reason.

But I kinda cyber-stalked them, comparing their WODs to the main-site ones, and learning that they did extra lifting work before their main metcon. This seemed scary, intense and, well, just really fucking hard. But I kept paying attention, and I noticed they were holding a couple of Olympic-lifting clinics. So I went.

Oh my god.... I got my ass handed to me. I was correct when I thought I needed coaching, but, wow, was it a sobering experience. Granted, I was the only non-member at the seminar, so these people all had far more training under their belts than I did. And they could not have been nicer about welcoming me in. But I was truly awful. I learned a lot, but mostly I learned about how awful I was, particularly in the area of mobility.

Here, however, is where it got interesting. For some reason, despite feeling weak, fairly humiliated and generally older than dirt, I was psyched to keep trying. And I really don't know why. I guess that somewhere amidst the reality check, I saw a glimmer of hope that I could "get" this stuff. I saw my son getting really strong. I saw men and women at that local CF gym who were just flat-out killing it. And so I redoubled my efforts, and, deciding that my globo gym was not the best setting in which to practice certain lifts, I got a barbell and weights through Craigslist and set up shop in my garage. Yeah, I was still doing some "cardio" at the globo gym, but I was lifting at home, and trying to get better at this CrossFit routine.

Then, exactly two years ago this week, I noticed something on the CrossFit main site: there was a new CF gym in our area. . It still wasn't super close by. Well, to the extent I could tell where it was exactly -- the address wasn't listed online, just the town, and it appeared to be at the owner's house -- it wasn't super close by. But, judging by the town, knew it had to be at least a *little* closer than the other one. Then I noticed that I recognized the trainer/owner's photo from my previous cyberstalking of the other CF gym. Apparently this guy Justin McGinley had set up a new CF gym from his garage. That seemed a little small/weird, from the perspective of a globo-gym member, but not terribly unusual for CrossFit. Home CF gyms were pretty popular, and I knew that some of the best affiliates began in garages. I emailed him. I got the secret address, and I was headed there.

One workout -- June 21, 2010, to be exact -- and I was hooked. Deadlifts were something I had always wanted to try for the couple months that I had been doing CF on my own, but my wife was still recovering from back surgery for a bulging disc, and, with memories of the horror of my self-taught cleans resonating in my head, I was gunshy to try them on my own or else risk heading into back surgery myself. So I was thrilled when they were part of the first workout. Justin provided a ton of great coaching that day, and I knew I was in the right place. I also knew that I *loved* deadlifts. I quit the globo gym, and joined Cross Fit Aspire, run by Justin and his wife, Alycia. It also didn't hurt that Justin was a bass player and we incessantly talked music that first day.

And those garage-gym days were a riot. Morning punk rock in the garage. Freaking out the neighbors with our barbell/kettlebell/sprinting-past-the-bus-stop antics. Double freaking out the neighbors with a costumed Halloween WOD on the front lawn. Dropping kettlebells so hard onto that front lawn that I think the divots are still there. Driveway burpees. Driveway lunges. Oh, did I mention the driveway has a bit of an uphill slant to it? Doing overhead lifts in the low-ceiling garage and having to make sure not to pulverize the garage-door opener. Learning that when the deadlifts get heavy, sometimes the "floaters" pay a visit and you do a quick blackout and mentally regroup. Whoo.... There were lots of fun lessons, and sweat and hard work.

It was really great. And then, slowly but surely, membership soared, and the gym moved to what seemed like an enormous warehouse, and then membership soared again, and the previously-enormous warehouse seemed really crowded, so the gym moved down the road to a really enormous warehouse.

And it is still a lot of fun.

See, here we are... Two years later, and my time at CFA has really been life-changing. Despite bearing down like a freight train on my 50th birthday next month, I am in way better shape than when I arrived, have gone from metabolically deranged (and not really knowing it at the time) to paleo/primal eater/advocate (and, yeah, annoyingly opinionated blogger), and I still have so much to learn. My overhead lifts still suck; deadlifts are still my favorite thing to do in a gym. I am still trying to work through, over and around mobility issues. I do not yet have muscle-ups or double-unders, and who knows if I ever will. But my squat mobility is thousands of times better than when I arrived. And I am still "pretty fast for an old guy." And I love it. It is a great community, full of supportive amazing people. My wife Jamie joined CFA in 2010 less than two months after me and has become one of the strongest women at the gym. And membership keeps growing; the "community" feel does too (Friday night grilling!) and it has never been more fun.

And, really... I cannot believe I belonged to a globo gym as long as I did. Thanks for two great years, Justin and Alycia. That is a hell of a gym you have going there.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

No whey, dude (SFH Pure Whey Protein powder)!!

I think I have made it clear already, but I will say it again: I have no nutrition credentials. I am just a guy, about to turn 50, who has adopted (and adapted) this paleo/primal lifestyle in the last couple of years, and, as a result, feels stronger, faster, sharper, etc. than when I was 40, or maybe even 35. In fact, yeah... 35. But I am always looking for those little tweaks to streamline it all a little more, so I have more days like this, and fewer like most of those other 50-year-olds have.

I have used protein powder -- mostly various forms of Muscle Milk -- over the last few years as a post-workout whack of protein, but, ever since I went full-on into this primal groove thang, I have omitted it from my life for the simple reason that there is a bunch of crap in there, particularly soy lecithin, that just seems like an inflammatory agent of death, doom and destruction. It is also from standard-issue factory, grain-fed dairy, and, well, we all know about how bad that is, right?

But... (a big but, and I will not lie)... I don't feel as good post-workout without protein powder. If I lift heavy shit, my body needs a substantial whack of protein right away, more than I can shove in any other way (whey?).

So what gives?

Here is my solution of late: SFH Pure Whey powder.

It is as "clean" a protein powder as I have seen, from grassfed cows, with no gluten, soy lecithin, evil agents of death, etc.

And here is the real kicker besides the absence of negatives: it makes me feel effing fantastic. One (or two) scoops of this about 30 minutes after a workout, and I have just ingested 25 (or 50) grams of muscle-building/repairing protein, and that "wiped out" feeling begins to leave. And then I can prepare a *real* meal full of fat, good carbs and more protein, eat it maybe 30 minutes after the powder, and be full, happy and awesome for hours. I don't recommend using this as a meal substitute, but, rather, as an ace way of ingesting a heavy volume of protein as fast as possible post-workout. It isn't replacing anything, just adding in more good stuff.

This has all has turned into a winning strategy for me over the last ten days or so.

Of course, you may have dairy, or other, issues, and your mileage may vary. But it is doing wonders for me. As always, find your own path through these things. But it is something to consider.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Some days, the small victories get you through

Two months and change past elbow surgery and the biggest drag in the gym is trying to go overhead with a weighted barbell. Today we were doing push presses from the rack in threes, and I *knew* what the problem was going to be -- the downward part of the lift, where you have already put it up there and are bringing it back down. For some reason, *that* is the aspect that is still giving me the most pain. So I adapted -- walked away from the rack, set up a barbell on the floor and decided to do some moderately heavy power cleans followed by a split jerk. This allowed me just to toss the bar down to the ground (the miracle of rubber bumper plates) from the top of the lift. Victory. Made my day and the day had barely begun.

It is a strange mixture of confidence, enthusiasm and faith in yourself that allows you to throw that bar up there, dive under it and catch it. I love it and despise it, almost simultaneously.

Here is the lift, done by someone else, at a heavier weight, but you get the idea.

This, on the other hand, is Devo (wow, does this sound old, and fairly ridiculous).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rolling Stones -- The Brussels Affair (Live 1973)

I don't spend much time plugging classic-rock bands or albums. The Who and the Stones generally don't need my help. But I will make a quick exception for something a little out-of-the-ordinary in the stunning department.

The Brussels Affair is an amazing document of a band riding the crest of a wave of awesome. This was the Mick Taylor edition of the Rolling Stones, the same one that had run off a string of records -- Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out and Exile On Main Street -- that were so five-star, drop-dead amazing that 1973's Goat's Head Soup seemed like a mediocre record in comparison at the time. If they put that one out now, it would be considered the greatest return to form ever in the history of rock and roll. Context is everything.

The Brussels Affair was recorded live in (durrr) Belgium on that 1973 Tour supporting Goat's Head Soup. Jagger does a great job on this record, but Mick isn't the real star here. It's the rest of the band that makes this so worthwhile: Charlie and Bill hunkered down, riding the groove, while Keef and Mick Taylor slash and burn over top of it. The setlist is all Beggars Banquet and thereafter. Translation: their finest stuff. And the Goat's Head Soup material that takes up the middle part of the set holds its own with the classics. As great as "Midnight Rambler" and "Gimme Shelter" are on this one, it may be the extended jam on "Heartbreaker" that stands out as the absolute winner.

This is a killer document of a band at their primal, fluid best. If you have never owned one of the many bootlegs of it that have surfaced over the years, head over to that link above and spend the paltry $4.99 that they are charging for the U.S. Or the rest of the world can head here to buy it. Get on it.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

The return of the booze (post)

I didn't really plan on talking about (the paleo- or non-paleo-ness of) alcohol again, but I was at CrossFit tonight and a member who I hadn't seen in a long while asked me: (1) if I had done the recent paleo challenge at our gym (answer: no, because I eat this way all the time; plus, you may recall that paleo challenges are (sometimes) dumb); (2) whether I was the guy with the blog (er, yes, and she did not begin running away, so I guess that is a good thing?); and (3) whether I was still *not* drinking alcohol.

Hmmm, so I figured I would update you all on that last topic, because we all seem to love our drinks very very much. Me too.

Having spent almost all of the last three months alcohol-free, the deal seems to be this: I am not anxious to start *regular* drinking ever again. It messes with my sleep, my insulin regulation, my gym performance, and every other aspect of my life. Other than obvious deliciousness, especially in the single-malt-whisky department, there is no positive, it seems, only negative. The difference is not necessarily dramatic, but the effect of booze on me is insidious. It gently fucks with all the above and clearly does so cumulatively. And if it gets cumulative enough, its effect *can* be more dramatic -- return of Raynaud's symptoms, etc. -- and not all that gentle.

Again, I don't care what you do. This isn't a speech and certainly isn't a morality lesson, but the regular ingestion of booze just ain't a positive for me. I have had exactly four drinks over the past three months. Two were on March 23 at a bar -- a pair of awful, sweet, shitty margaritas (yeah, I got a second. Why? I have no idea) -- and the other two were a couple glasses of some pretty spectacular Amontillado sherry that our server at a Philly Spanish restaurant recommended as perfect to go with the many plates of meaty goodness that we got at my wife's birthday dinner earlier this week.

Both times, I felt pretty far into the "off" category the next day -- sluggish, a little grumpy, definitely not starring in anything at CrossFit other than The Unabridged Story of Suck.

So here is where I am with this stuff: the key word is "regular." Alcohol for me is like .... chocolate cake. I will still have it every now and then, but not often, and when I do, every freaking time, I will have to calculate the ratio of deliciousness to next-day-crapwichiness and make that call on the fly. I am stronger, faster, sharper, more productive, nicer, less crabby, and generally more awesome when I don't drink.

And really, no big surprise there. Like the vaunted hunk o'chocolate cake, alcohol is just a giant insulin spike waiting to happen. And giant insulin spikes fuck me up in the areas of mood, appetite and gym performance.

So yeah, not drinking is, for me, just another part of effective paleo/primal eating. Do it right, and I feel better. Mess it up in a shortsighted moment of "ooh, shiny" and I will invariably be on the low road for a bit.

Lesson learned again. Repeat as needed.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Just go buy the album.... good lord....

Japandroids are a guitar/drums duo from Vancouver that kick so much ass live that they make the Black Keys look dumb (and I like the Black Keys a lot). This is from the new album Celebration Rock. Get on it. Tour coming soon to a city near you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I can has muzik, dood....

You are a functioning adult. You have talents and interests. You have a job, maybe even a career in mind. You manage to feed and dress yourself with regularity.

Why are your communication skills so poor?

This topic has been on my mind lately thanks to Craigslist, specifically thanks to the Musicians Classified.

See, I'm trying to start a band, and I don't want it to be boring. In fact, I have some fairly specific ideas. So, I ran this ad:

"Drummer -- with 30+ years of experience playing punk, garage, goth, even Americana -- is looking to do something a little different: a trio with a *huge* groove. I'm thinking something like Morphine (sax, bass, drums) but it could be more Minutemen too (guitar, bass, drums). I don't have a rigid notion of where this'll go. All I know is that I don't want to do a standard-issue rock band. I want a groove and an edge. If you think you might fit the bill, or have a similar vision, email me and we'll figure it out. A solid bass player is critical. The other instrument could be a sax, a guitar, whatever can handle the lead. You tell me. Let's do something cool. (And, BTW, I don't care how old you are, whether you are male or female, etc. Just bring the talent and the willingness to push the musical envelope a little). "

The first email response I got? Don't worry... This won't be taxing; you only need a few brain cells to focus on it:

"Play guitar here. Would be cool to get together for some jamz [yes, he used a "z"]. Hit me up if interested."

And then I got a few more, none of which were any more detailed, articulate, etc.


Not one made an effort to either: (a) "sell" the person's talents, or, frankly, even describe them, or (b) attempt in any way to relate to my ad, y'know, maybe by telling me why a Morphine-ish band, or at least a bass-heavy/groove-heavy one, sounds cool to you.

Put differently, and a bit more bluntly, maybe you could indicate to me why the fuck you bothered to write to me, and why the fuck I might be interested in trying to play music with you. Music tryouts are an undertaking which are, by and large, a giant pain in the ass for you and me. I have to book/rent a practice space and we have to coordinate schedules, figure out what songs we are playing, practice them beforehand (although maybe *that* is an assumption I shouldn't make), etc. You would think that, even out of self-interest, you would want to make sure to find out more about me to see if I am worth *your* time.

And, yes, everything I just said applies to the "real" world too. If this is how you approach a fun endeavor, like a band, what the hell do you do when you are trying to get a job? Or get into a school you want to attend? And do you often sit around bitching that your job/life sucks and that you can't figure out why you can't find something better? I do not envy hiring coordinators who deal with this juvenile shit all the time.

But, there's a silver lining to this cloud: it seems that there *are* good people out there who will crush your shitty efforts with real ones.

Amidst all this tomfoolery, I got two coherent, articulate reasonable responses from two bass players. One of them even plays sax. It appears that we are getting together soon. Both of them respond to questions in a prompt and detailed way. They even ask appropriate questions, and, get this, I respond to those in a prompt and detailed way. We talk about bands, influences, experience, etc. and exchange mp3s of songs to practice.


So here I am, still stunned by the stupidity of the majority of the responses I got, and, yet, *really* excited at the musical possibilities of the trio that is just beginning to coalesce.

I really hope that none of this hits home for you in a negative way. In other words, I hope you are way beyond the morons who starred in this tale. Because, trust me, if you are not, it will be a futile search that you are engaged in as you try to "get together for some jamz."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Paleo Drummer stickers at Cafe Press, with all profits going to charity

I just set up shop at Cafe Press, selling a number of different Paleo Drummer stickers. The link for the store is here.

All profits will be promptly donated to Steve's Club, a charity benefitting at-risk urban youth with programs focused on weightlifting and functional fitness.

It's a great cause. Get on it.

And yeah, there will eventually be T-shirts, but I want a killer design.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 1, 2012

Two steps forward and one step back

I should start this with a caveat: this one isn't terribly profound, and it is a nearly spontaneous burst of anger and frustration, the result of reading stupidity elsewhere. So you could skip it, and your day might be more interesting. Or you can jump onto my train and see where it takes you. I like to think you will just think I was preaching to the choir.... Or, as a wise man once said, "I didn't mean to take up all your sweet time. I'll give it back to you one of these days."

By and large, I think the U.S. is a nicer place than it was forty-some years ago when I was a kid. I grew up in a (nearly completely) white suburb of Philadelphia, and, by the age of eight or so, I had already heard at least fifteen different racial epithets for black people, and I heard them on a regular basis at school -- a Catholic school, mind you, where, at least allegedly, we were learning the teachings of a guy who, I am pretty certain, never used any of those terms. Most of them I would bring home for translation to my parents, because it took a long while for that shit to compute for me. And by "compute," I mean " make any sense at all as a word." My parents were 1960s Hubert Humphrey liberals, not possessing a shred of antipathy to blacks, and they taught us from an early age that everyone was the same regardless of skin color. So my young mind in first grade at age five was worse than blown when I first heard the word "nigger." (And yes, we are going to be grownups here and use the damn word and not pretend that its mere mention will set our ears on fire). I simply didn't understand when I first heard it that it was used out of anger and hatred. 'Cause I was five. Five-year olds don't get hatred unless they were taught it, and I wasn't. I just thought at that moment that it was another word for black people, used by my friends at school.

And then I got home, used it casually -- because I didn't know any better -- and got the reaction from my parents that you would anticipate. Good for them.

By age eight or so, it was different. I understood the fact of racism. God, I heard that stuff all the time, right down to some (white) kids calling other (white) kids a variety of anti-black racial epithets for not being as white as they were (whatever that meant). But it still was a mindblow, just in a slightly different sense than at age six. Now I understood that hating people for what they are existed, but I still didn't "get" it.

Fast forward....

I heard an interview on NPR (I think) a number of years ago with a white-supremacist leader who had turned the gunsights of his rage away from blacks, and onto gays.

Because it was easier.

He said something like, "If I go to any street corner in a major city in America and start saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger,' people will slaughter me. America has largely moved on on race issues, and my point of view has lost. But I can still say, 'Faggot, faggot, faggot,' and only a few people will object out loud. A bunch more will secretly agree with me, and some will even step up and vocalize their agreement."

And I remember thinking that he was dead-on correct about that sad fact.

And yet, that *was* a number of years ago, and the bus seems, in many ways, to be moving forward. I see same-sex couples holding hands, even kissing, in public, in the *suburbs* now. It's wonderful. It's like they are, y'know, just like everyone else who is in love.

Because they are.

See, I just don't run in circles where people hate other people because of the answer to Bo Diddley's question**. I have friends from all over the political spectrum, but, as far as I know, none of them would comment on a picture of Freddie Mercury and say, "That faggot was probably the best singer of all time."

But a friend of a friend on FB just said exactly that.

And I'm not focused on the merit of his musical critique.

I also understand that what you joke about in private with your friends is much different from what you would say in public.

This was in public.

So I said something.

It's early still and he hasn't noticed yet. We will see where this goes....

And I guess the point of all this -- besides the obvious, "What the fuck?" -- is that sometimes we get cloistered in our little worlds and forget that there are some serious bigots out there. And they need to be called on their shit.

Notice, I said that they need to be called on their shit. I did not say that they need to have a sharp metal spike gleefully driven through their skull. Because, as much as that sort of well-directed violence might initially give me deep satisfaction on a level that Henry Rollins might envy, King and Gandhi had the better of *that* argument. Confront 'em with kindness. Just ask the simple question: "What did you say?" or its equivalent. And let them "explain."

Usually the answer is going to either preposterously and obviously demonstrate their foolishness to the world, or they will fall back on some selective interpretation of a religious text that makes it clear that when they decided to "strictly" follow scripture, they seemed to overemphasize the anti-gay stuff and missed the equally preposterous parts about no premarital sex, not eating pork and how people with crushed genitals aren't welcome in the place of worship***, to name but a few.

But ask the damn question, because this stuff never changes without the shove in the right direction from the right people.

That's all I have for today, folks. Be nice to people. Have fun.

**"Who do you love?"
***You think I am kidding? Oh, it's in there. Look for it and you will find it.

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