Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Paleo autoimmune osso bucco

We buy a lot of beautiful grassfed meat from the good folks at Philly Cowshare.

The meat there is not only delicious, but it comes in sealed and labeled packages that serve the dual purpose of protecting the meat from freezer burn while informing you, often months after you made your purchase, what in the world those various cuts o'cow in your freezer are.

Every time we get a cowshare order, there are a couple packages labeled: "Osso Bucco." Finally, with the help of author Tim Ferriss, and his new book, The 4-Hour Chef, I have figured out what the hell to do with this stuff. It's delicious.

By the way, you should buy that book. It's awesome and is not, by any means, just a cookbook.

I would have just followed Tim's recipe to a T, but, as I have mentioned before, my wife follows a paleo autoimmune protocol and doesn't eat tomatoes. Tim's recipe calls for a can of whole tomatoes, so I had to change things up a bit in that regard. I opted for onions. Good call, as it turns out.

I could also pretend that, as a noted sommelier of substantial renown, I carefully made a strategic decision to highlight the underlying sweetness of the carrots and onions and thereby thoughtfully and carefully disregarded Tim Ferris' suggestion of a dry white wine as the cooking liquid in favor of a somewhat sweeter Riesling.

This would, however, be a damn dirty lie (from a damn dirty ape?). I don't know much about wine.

What happened in the vino store went as follows: Brain: "Must buy bottle of white wine." Taste buds: "Hate white wine!" Brain: "It's OK. Just buy cheap dry white, and we leave quickly." Eyes (to brain): "Look, brain! White wine! [Pause] Look again, brain! *Very* cheap white wine!" Brain: "Label says, 'Riesling.' Brain has heard of that before. Oooh... *very* cheap. Will buy."

Upon returning home, I noticed the part of the label that said, "Natural sweetness!" Oof. That's not really dry white wine, is it? Opting for convenience rather than adherence to the undoubtedly arbitrary rules set forth by The Man, I plowed ahead with Recipe Deviation #2 (or #3, if you count the fact that my ossos were beef, not lamb).

The cooking method, however, is purely Mr. Ferriss'. Unlike most osso-bucco recipes, his version involves no searing of the meat before the rest of the cooking, and it generally is just so stupidly easy that even I can crash about the kitchen, distractedly checking Facebook while rocking out to my latest kitchen, er, appliance -- the Bose Sounddock -- and still emerge victorious with osso fully buccoed.

It goes like this:

-- three osso bucco shanks (the cross-section cut that gives you a donut-shaped bone surrounded by glorious meaty goodness) (it could be two, by the way, or four... whatever)
-- enough baby carrots to cover the bottom of your cast-iron Dutch oven
-- one sweet onion
-- four or five garlic cloves, minced
-- some extra virgin olive oil
-- salt and pepper
-- bottle of white wine (dry? not-so-dry? your call)

Then do this:

-- preheat oven to 350 degrees (yes, Fahrenheit; this is America)
-- make sure the meat/bones are fully defrosted
-- chop up the onion and cover the bottom of a cast-iron Dutch oven with the onions and carrots.
-- lay meat/bones on top of the onions and carrots
-- pour in enough white wine to come up to about halfway up the side of the meat/bones. Don't submerge them.
-- drizzle some olive oil on top of the meat. Don't be stingy. You should be using Kassandrinos Imports olive oil, anyway, and it is so delicious that you will always want to use more, rather than less
-- slop garlic onto meat/bones.
-- grind on lots of pepper and then a bit of salt
-- put the lid on that baby, and put it in the oven for two hours.

It's great. The flavors are subtle. The slightly sweeter wine really does work great with the onions and carrots. The marrow inside the bone is amazing with the meat.

By the way, don't t you dare wuss out and fail to eat the marrow, or your paleo card will be revoked.

If you wanted to get all fancypants/adventurous, you could add a lot more spices than just garlic, salt and pepper. But some subtlety might be lost. Not being all that mysteriously subtle of a person, that fact does not bother me in the slightest, but it might bother you. My advice is to make it this way and experiment on the next batch with maybe ground chile peppers, or something equally dastardly/delicious. (No chiles for you autoimmune folks, though.... Sorry).

Enjoy, and, again, all credit to Tim Ferriss for the cooking method and much of the basic recipe. He da man. Buy his book.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Mice, sleep, fat mice, calories and fish oil... Oh, and more sleep

This story is fascinating to me, not so much for the result it revealed, but, rather, for one of the strange leaps of (il)logic that it seems to have inspired.

First of all, read the article. It will explain to you that researchers at the University of Pennsylvania learned that mice who have their sleep disrupted, and consume 20 percent of their calories during their normally restful period, get fat while eating the same number of calories as mice who didn't have their sleep disrupted. Oh, and a subset of the sleep-disrupted mice who ate 20 percent of their calories when they should have been sleeping did *not* get fat when they took fish oil.

So, first of all, we learn that the researchers were "surprised" at the "getting fat" part of the result. Really? It doesn't say why, but I guess they still thought calories-in/calories out? Now I am the one who is surprised.

But, it's one of the "conclusions" that they draw that *really* baffles me. The "fish oil does good things for you" conclusion is OK with me, although perhaps it raises as many questions as it answers. Is it best used as a "treatment" for bad sleep/behavior? What would it have done to healthy mice? Not sure. Just not clear. But it's the next conclusion that seems like it skips a step: "Don't get up and eat in the middle of the night."

Wait a minute, didn't something get missed here? The researchers seem to have ignored the sleep-deprived part of the equation and centered their focus on the eating-when-you-should-be-sleeping aspect.

Look, I am no scientist, but isn't it just as (more?) likely that disrupted sleep patterns were the cause of the obesity and that the timing of the caloric intake didn't have much to do with it at all? If these mice are anything like people, ruined sleep patterns lead to stress, cortisol buildup, disrupted insulin regulation and stored fat. The mantra here and on many paleo sites has been the same for a long time: sleep, nutrition, exercise.

In. That. Order. You can't exercise your way out of bad food, and you can't eat (or exercise) your way out of bad sleep.

The way the body processes food and stores fat is completely different when one is stressed and sleep-deprived. 3 a.m. snacking is not going to be your pal, but it quite likely is more significant that you are not sleeping at 3 a.m. than it is that you are chowing down, especially if the chow is just part of your normal diet. (And this last part is a huge deal -- remember, the mice were all eating the same amount of regular food.... Your 3 a.m. snack binge is likely to be an "extra," not just a standard part of your food intake moved to a non-standard time).

This doesn't seem like rocket science to me. Or at least it seems worthy of a new experiment, one where a sub-category of mice is sleep-disrupted/deprived, but still fed at "normal" times only, with all the mice on the same caloric intake. Let's see what happens to *those* sleep-deprived, non-snacking mice. My bet is that they are nearly as fat as the ones who are eating when they should be sleeping.

I swear that, outside the paleosphere, the single least-common, but most-needed, piece of advice is: go the fuck to sleep, in a dark room, for at least seven hours and preferably up to nine. Somehow, these very smart scientists appear to have skipped that piece of the puzzle and jumped on to other, less-clear conclusions. Color me unimpressed.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Lowell George was right**

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays. It's all gratitude and food. No present-buying/giving madness. Just gratitude and food. And then maybe some more food.

And it's definitely a day when even the most paleo/primal compliant among us probably drop off the wagon a bit. Me? I am 100% positive I am headed for ice cream, maybe 50% positive there will be some whisky as well, and somewhere in between the two that cheese will play a significant role in the festivities.

I am also aware that this is going to not lead to top-notch feelings of health for a couple of days.

I have come to a few sadly adult realizations lately:

-- liquid dairy may be an obvious enemy, but ice cream isn't so great for me either, and, worst of all, my beloved cheese -- even really really good grassfed or raw, which is what I almost always eat -- gets things, er, churning more than they should be.

-- alcohol fucks with my sleep in really direct, obvious ways.

-- both dairy and alcohol have an exponential sort of impact on me. In other words, one or two alcohol/dairy cheats over a sizable period of say, a month, and I will be okay. It will have a negative effect, but that effect is pretty well contained. But have one of those weeks where every day there is some cheese or some booze, or, better (i.e., worse), *both*, and I will pay for it. My sleep will be disrupted -- waking up maybe three or four times over the course of the night for no good reason -- from the booze, and the dairy will get me via a little (or more) GERD. And those annoyances will pile up for *days* beyond the week of cheating. And then, somewhat sleep-deprived and stomach hurting, I will be more susceptible to stress, and then.... My blood pressure will go up.


And, really, what the hell *is* that little voice in my head that tells me, "Oh, what the heck, big guy.... Have a drink a night for the next ten days and maybe some cheese too every night for a snack, and, y'know, it'll be *fine*"?!?!

I think I may be *finally* aware that it really won't be. In fact, having just gone through a spell of all that nonsense, I am now stunningly aware of how much happier I am in the long run when I keep the dairy and alcohol at bay.

So, yeah, it's Thanksgiving, and I can say with absolute certainty that there will be dairy, booze or both going down the hatch. But -- and here's the big but that will not lie -- I need to tell tomorrow's (and the next day's) voice of temptation, that wants me to turn one day's cheat into another (and another and another) until I leap on the express train to GERD and sleep deprivation, to, um, fuck off.

God, being a grownup sucks sometimes. Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your cheats. Climb back on the wagon tomorrow.

**"It's so easy to slip. It's so easy to fall."
-- Little Feat

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

"So.... What's the dumbest thing you have ever done?"

File this reminiscence under either "preposterously lucky" or that old saying about "there but for the grace of god go I." I was recently contemplating a simple question: what was the dumbest thing that I have done in my fifty years on the planet. I think this is it....

There is this amazing slowdown that time does when 4000+ pounds of Detroit steel and rubber goes airborne, especially when its airborne nature is the direct result of a purposeful decision to place it in that state, double-especially when you are inside that automobile.

When I was a kid, I was not a model of self-confidence, self-assurance, etc. Indeed, one could say that when I got my driver's license at age 16, I probably needed a stern talking-to. I was, pretty clearly, making up for a deficiency in the popularity/self-assurance column of life by asserting my inner Steve McQueen behind the wheel.

And, actually, it was a fortunate thing that I had a pretty good talent for it. A 1969 Buick Wildcat is a monstrous beast to have as one's first car. Enormously long, by any current standards, the damn thing weighed over 4000 pounds and had a 430 cubic-inch V-8 in it (that's over seven liters in Canadian; yes, *seven* liters). The going theory under which some of the more, er, retro parents of the time were operating -- and, let's be clear, no one was more retro and defiantly dorkishly uncool than my dad -- went something like this: "Those goddamn little Japanese tin cans are unsafe death traps. I wouldn't put my kid in one of those. No, siree. Junior is getting a 'Merican mo-chine." And, sitting in the driveway already was a then ten-year-old Wildcat. As the older of two sons, it defaulted to me first.

And let's not overstate my early level of prowess behind the wheel. I eventually got pretty good at whipping that monster around the twists and turns of the back roads of southeastern Pennsylvania, but there was a learning curve that went something like: (1) stop parking in narrow spaces (learned after denting the car to the right of me, whereupon I overcorrected and dented the one on the left); (2) stop driving in heavy traffic or on busy roads, because, Christ, that car was huge and not really up to fast maneuvering in tight spaces (learned via numerous near-misses); and (3), eventually, figure out the back way to *everywhere*. Back roads -- twisting and turning over hill and dale -- became my playground.

See, there is a funny thing -- still true to this day, I believe -- about local Pennsylvania driving: the local cops aren't allowed to use radar. The state police can, but, once upon a time, some (hot-rodding?) legislators decided that the local yokels couldn't "handle" radar. So they limited its use to the state cops. This means something very basic: barring some other technological device -- like those speed strips that are across some roads, or VASCAR, whatever the hell that is -- local speed limits in Pennsylvania are slightly more, er, *optional* than in other states. If you see a local PA cop, you have more time to correct your enthusiastic ways because he has to get up to your speed, behind you, to track how fast you are going.

And, god knows, I became enthusiastic.

This little trip down memory lane is the product of the convergence of a few things: (1) last weekend, my brother and I got together with our buddy Sean for the first time in 30 years; we had a great time (all of us are, dare I say, now responsible citizens who turned out pretty damn well); (2) recently I had driven past Sean's old house, which was the scene of the most thoroughly dangerous, ridiculous (and repetitive) stunt which was pulled in that car; and (3) the fact that this story is amusing only in hindsight because I am a very very lucky man who could very well have ended up dead or in prison.

There's this road that Sean lived on. He lived just past the bottom of a very steep hill. At the bottom of that hill was a small bridge, over a very small creek. That bridge was built, as many are, with a rather large hump in the middle of it.

If you came flying down that hill and hit that hump at 60+ miles per hour in a 1969 Buick Wildcat, said vehicle would go airborne. It would not merely go a *little* airborne. It would go all Dukes of Hazzard/Smokey and the Bandit on you. Four tires in the air for what seemed like a while, and, obviously wasn't all *that* long. But it was one hell of a lot longer than a car is *supposed* to be airborne, which is not at all.

And then it would hit the ground. Hard. And fast. And I must have been a *pretty* good teenage driver, because the road wasn't very wide, and the car didn't always land perfectly straight, so some, um, quick tactical maneuvering was often necessary.

We did this a lot.

And somehow, some way, we (me behind the wheel, Sean and my brother along for both the ride and the encouragement of the driver) never got caught doing this. We never almost killed anyone, except perhaps ourselves. We never beheaded the little old lady who lived at the property right at the bridge and who had to cross the road to get to her mailbox. In fact, we never even came close because she somehow was never outside when we pulled this crap. And I say "beheaded" because, yeah, that's what would have happened; *that* is how airborne we got. Perhaps most amazingly, the *car* took this repeated abuse for a very long time. Until it didn't.

It was a number of years later before we were headed down a busy street (yeah, eventually, I figured out how to drive those), long after we had finally stopped treating the car like a participant in a demolition derby, when it became apparent that the body of the car was suddenly separating from the chassis -- rather quickly at that. At the point I decided that operating the vehicle was impossible, the wheel was turned 90 degrees and the car was tracking sort-of forward, in a kind-of parallelogram shape. When I called for the tow, if you had drawn a line from the rear left corner of the car straight forward, by the time you got to where the front left corner of the car *should* have been, you would have been standing about two to three feet away from where it really was. A parallelogram. I kid you not.

My dad could never figure out what happened.

Anyway, what is the point of recounting all this? I don't know. It really was idiotic behavior. No one -- I repeat no one -- should do this kind of thing, but it actually taught me a few things in hindsight when it was time for my kids -- both boys -- to drive. First of all, that "big cars with giant engines are safer" stuff goes right in the crapper when the driver is a teenage boy. Secondly, know your kid. If your testosterone-filled youth seems poised to get all his self-esteem from showing off behind the wheel, well, you might wanna have a talk and do some figuring about when and where and how he graduates to unsupervised driving. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is nothing like making sure that talk includes an utterly realistic, undramatic, but firm mention of prison to deter a restless youth from acting out behind the wheel. People go to jail all the time for this crap when it goes wrong, and your kid should know that. Me, I am a lucky man. It never went wrong. How that can be, I don't know, but I try to live and learn.... And pass it on.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Sleep, stress and the whole damn ball of wax

CrossFit. I love it. It has done wonders for me. Combined with primal eating, it has transformed my fitness into a more well-rounded beast. But every now and then I have to put the brakes on and regroup.

You have probably heard it from Robb Wolf and other paleo/fitness smart folks: when you are tired and stressed and pushing adrenal fatigue, a balls-to-the-wall metcon is not what you need. You need to get some real sleep, and confine your "workout" to, at most, lifting something heavy, maybe taking a walk, and otherwise eating well and letting your body reset. A fast-paced metcon places heavy stress on your body. When you are well-rested and ready for that kind of blast, it's great for you, because you recover properly. But when you are already beaten down from the cosmic shitstorm of life, the last thing you need is the extra stress of a glycolytic freakshow. You will end up more stressed, with increased cortisol and wrecked sleep.

And I am pretty well there. There is no one particular source of stress in my life, just a well-aligned group that we will call work + managing-the-life-of-my-elderly-dad + college-admission BS for my younger son. Add to that a slightly disrupted sleep schedule and there I was, about to head out to the gym tonight when I realized, stifling the 37th yawn of the previous few minutes, that a bruising high-speed metcon was not really going to help matters. It was going to completely wreck me.

So, despite having it on today's to-do list, I didn't go to CrossFit tonight. I am going to take it easy and start tomorrow with just a heavy back-squat session. Maybe on Sunday I will lift a little more, and, in the meantime, get a little extra sleep, hit the meditation a little more intensely than usual and try to get the ship of life back on course. It works every time, as long as I notice the warning signs.

And I can welcome myself, once again, to the difference between CrossFit at 50 and at some much younger age. Those of us whose youth is in the rear-view mirror have to listen to our bodies just a little more intently, or face the adrenal-fatigue consequences. Yeah, Warren Zevon once sang, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." True story: he's dead.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Paleo FX 2013 is coming

Last year's inaugural Paleo FX conference was, by all accounts, both a hoot and a great learning experience. Three days of speakers and food and speakers and food and, oh yeah.... It's in Austin, and I have, somehow, never been to Austin before, despite its vaunted status in the live-music world.

Well, for Paleo FX 2013, which has recently been announced, I am not going to miss out on the fun. The conference is, once again, being held in Austin, from March 28-30, 2013. Their website gives all the details, and there is even a contest that will refund the winner's ticket cost for one lucky early-bird ticket purchaser.

The list of speakers is stunning, and I have a feeling that they aren't even close to being done adding names to it.

It's going to be a blast.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Angus King. Let there be rock.

I can take credit only for the idea, not the execution of it, which was done by my buddy Jason.

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Thoughts on election 2012: personal freedom does very well; authoritarianism does not

Yeah, Nate Silver is very very good at what he does. There is just no other way to put it. My electoral prediction got five states (and Maine-2) wrong. So much for intuition -- rather than cold stats-- playing any viable role in what can now be deemed the Silver Era of politics. Well done, sir.

That is most of what I have to say about the presidential race. I am fine with Obama winning. As a simple matter of trust, I prefer it to Romney, whose views on very basic issues have been so far all over the map that I still don't know what they are. But I also think that words like "compromise" and "leadership" are going to end up being more important than the identity or party affiliation of the winner. I voted for Gary Johnson with a hope that somehow, some way, he might garner enough votes in some states to ensure ballot access in the future for libertarian candidates. Not sure that happened anywhere, but something *much* more important occurred last night in the area of personal freedom.

Look at the U.S. Senate races last night. In almost every single one, the candidate that was less willing to leave you to your conscience in your most personal decisions -- whether to have a kid, whom to marry, etc. -- lost, and lost big. Atavistic candidates with names like Mourdock, Akin, (Tom) Smith, (Tommy) Thompson, and (George) Allen got thumped. If the word "rape" came up in the election, the social-conservative candidate lost. Good.

The country is slowly changing for the better in the area of personal freedom. More voters every election want to keep government out of the bedroom.

And *that* is just wonderful.

Add to the personal-freedom list the victory of marijuana-legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington (but, sadly, somehow, not Oregon), med-pot initiatives in Massachusetts and Arkansas, and gay-marriage initiatives in Maryland and Maine.

I simply cannot remember another election where personal freedom did so well in so many states across the nation.

And, even with all those victories, it is far from a perfect situation. The Obama administration has been awful on med-pot issues so far. Let's hope they wake up and smell the, er, coffee, and back the hell off individual states and their decisions on drug regulation/legalization. And just watch the Republican Party -- which should be taking a hard turn away from social conservatism and into leave-us-alone libertarianism on personal-freedom issues -- eat its own over the next four years. Instead of supporting reasonable candidates like Scott Brown and Linda McMahon and Chris Christie, there is still going to be a significant segment of that party that will insist, unbelievably, that they lost for not being authoritarian *enough* on issues of personal freedom. Over the ensuing months, you will see the likes of Sarah Palin and Bill Bennett spouting nonsense that says that all the GOP needs to do is double down on social conservatism and they will succeed.

They will not; last night proved that they will fail in a majority of states, even otherwise very red ones, when they focus on the bedroom instead of the wallet.

Look, there is still plenty of room for reasonable disagreement between the parties on a lot of issues, particularly those involving economic freedom and regulation. The GOP now has a golden opportunity to focus on those topics and leave the bedrooms alone. On matters of personal freedom, the bus isn't just moving; it has moved, to a better and better place.

Last night was, overall, a great one.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Something I learned today

Things I was told today:

1. If you vote for Romney, you are dumb.
2. If you vote for Obama, you are dumb.
3. If you vote third-party, you are dumb.
4. If you are still an undecided voter, you are dumb.

That's an awful lot of dumb.

Just vote for the candidate you like the best. For me, that's Gary Johnson. For you, it may be someone else. Whatever, dude. Tune out all the "dumb" talk, and go vote. And take a small step toward being heard.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dat bold election prediction

So.... Here we are two days from the presidential election. Using a, er, sophisticated blend of reading just about every political site you could think of, plus some sort of gut-level intuition that has gotten me pretty good results in the past (e.g., I got every state right in 2000 except NH, which, of course, meant I got the overall election result *wrong* because NH's four little electoral votes made the difference), it's time to make the pick.

(By the way, I am not going to set forth a pick for every state for you, because we *all* know who is going to win *almost* every state).

There are a vaunted nine states that really matter and appear to be, more or less, truly in contention. They are, in no particular order: Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada (by the way, pronounce that first "a" like the one in "cat," not the one in "almond"... Really... It isn't debatable like "Missouri" v. "Missourah"). There is also one potential swing *district* because two states -- Maine and Nebraska -- split the allocation of electoral votes partially by congressional district. Nebraska, this time, is beet red, but the more rural district in Maine, district 2, is a bit closer, so it makes the swing list along with the aforementioned nine states.

You could also throw in, I suppose, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, but they are Obama states that only recently have been labeled "swing"-ish, and I don't think Romney has quite enough gas in the tank to win any of them (although PA may be closer than anticipated). Missouri used to be a swing state too, but is now, on the presidential level, red as can be, so that is off the list too.

Of the nine swing states, and one swing district, here are my picks:

Romney wins: Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Iowa and Maine-2.

Obama wins: Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin.

When you add up all the votes, I think that is going to be a popular-vote victory for Romney, and a 270-268 squeaker for President Obama in the electoral college.

Of course, this prediction could all go to hell very easily. First of all, I suppose that Pennsylvania could shock most of the pundits and go for Romney. On the other side of the coin, Iowa, New Hampshire, Maine-2 and Virginia could all go Obama; I just think there has been enough of a change in mood since 2008 in those formerly Obama states -- or, in the case of NH and Maine-2, enough favorable memory of Romney as the reasonably moderate governor from a state nearby -- that Romney will squeak out wins in those. Colorado is another funny one. I ended up calling it as solidly, but narrowly, Romney, but the presence on the ballot of a marijuana-legalization referendum could boost Obama's numbers, or maybe even boost libertarian Gary Johnson's in a state where Johnson's vote totals could well exceed the margin of victory for the winner. And then there is Wisconsin, which has been flirting red in a bunch of presidential elections in a row, and is Paul Ryan's home state, but I think, when the chips are down, it will again go blue like its colder, bluer neighbor to the immediate west that still holds Hubert Humphrey in saintlike regard.

In the "surer bet" category, Ohio and Nevada seem solidly in Obama's corner as do Florida and North Carolina for Romney.

It's is going to be great fun on Tuesday night. I hope I can stay awake long enough to know the result. *That* is the least-sure bet of all.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Angus King, the soon-to-be most powerful man in Washington?

The way the numbers play out, there is a very real chance that one seat may control the battle for majority-party status in the U.S. Senate.

Here is my quick dorky political-junkie thought for the day: on Wednesday morning, the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate may be the independent senator-elect from Maine, former governor Angus King.

I happen to like Angus very very much. I am sure I don't agree with him on *every* last issue, but he is a moderate, socially tolerant, fiscally conservative, reasonable guy who could very well lead the charge on sensible issues like finally implementing Simpson/Bowles.

And here is the kicker: he hasn't declared whether he is going to caucus with Dems or the GOP. The strong money is on the Dems, but Angus is an independent-minded crusty Mainer who will know how to negotiate that decision into a positive benefit for the country. Don't bet the farm on which way he decides to go; it is nowhere near a sure gamble.

Brew the coffee. Prepare awesome snacks. Pour a delicious drink or two. Election night is going to be a total hoot.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fixing a forward lean on the back squat

I am not a strength coach, or any kind of coach. Hell, I am not even particularly strong, but I make lots of mistakes and try to learn from them. So here's a solution that worked for me to a fairly common problem.

The problem: when a back squat gets heavy, the lifter has trouble maintaining an upright position, back on the heels. Instead, the lifter begins to pitch/lean forward. This is, to use a technical term, fucking scary, because it makes it much harder to ditch the bar if you fail the lift.

The solution -- completely and totally stolen from Greg Everett at Catalyst Athletics,who *is* a strength coach and made this suggestion on one of Robb Wolf's podcasts: front squat more. A front squat forces you to adopt a more upright position or you will lose the bar.

This was an amazing fix for me. For a few weeks, every time a back squat was part of my gym's programming, I front squatted instead. Boom. Problem solved. Next time I back squatted, I stayed significantly more upright. That upright position has allowed me to push my back squat numbers a bit and even finally allowed me to have the confidence to ditch a back squat behind me when I failed it, which was never ever an option previously. I always used to use a spotter when it got heavy.

Like I said, I take no credit for this idea at all. It came straight from Greg Everett, but I have passed it on to a number of people at our gym, each of whom had never heard the advice before, so I figure there might be a reader or two who could put it to good use as well.

Have fun. Lift big.

*pic/diagram is from this site.

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Album review: "Psychedelic Pill" -- Neil Young and Crazy Horse

I am a cynical bastard and I don't have too many heroes. Neil Young -- particularly, but not exclusively, with his band Crazy Horse -- is one of my very very few musical heroes. But before you think that fact destroys my objectivity about the man's music, well....let's just say that it has been a *really* long time since I truly loved one of his albums.

In the 1970s, just about every Neil Young album was killer. I mean.... if you hold a gun to my head and make me pick my absolute favorites of his '70s stuff, I will head for the ditch a bit and name Tonight's the Night, On the Beach, Time Fades Away, Rust Never Sleeps and Zuma, but, damn, nearly *everything* he released in that decade -- -- save the tepid Journey Through the Past soundtrack -- is several cuts above the drivel of most bands' outputs these days. Can you imagine if some overrated bozos like Kings of Leon released something as good as even American Stars 'n Bars (which has its moments, but isn't near the top of the Neil canon)? God, the critics would be falling over themselves. There are very few indisputable facts in rock and roll, but this is one: Neil Young was pretty much unstoppable in the 1970s.

The 80s? Welllllll... they started OK, and then Neil had his famous row with Geffen Records, resulting in him releasing some really awful nonsense that was so bad that you had to think its suckage was intentional as a passive-aggressive middle finger to the industry (Landing on Water, anyone? Nope, me either).

Then, just when I thought he might have, artistically speaking, left the building for good, as the '80s rolled into the '90s, came Neil's Big Comeback #1. Freedom was a definite keeper, and Ragged Glory and the live album (Weld) that followed, were five-star-out-of-five journeys into the distortion-soaked/jam-heavy genius that is Crazy Horse at its best. It had to be obvious: Neil could crank out near-perfect records at will and he was just messing with us for that awful mid-'80s stretch. In fact, sometimes he was even *better* than in the 1970s. Listen to the glory of the Weld versions of both "Powderfinger" and "Cortez the Killer" and bask in the realization that Neil and the Horse circa 1992 were at the very very top of their game.

Except.... Maybe his omnipotence wasn't so obvious after all. What followed those perfect years of the early '90s didn't ever measure up to the standard that the Ragged Glory/Weld combo set. Sure, there were definite keeper moments on Sleeps With Angels, Broken Arrow and Mirror Ball, his collaboration with Pearl Jam where the boys from Seattle took on the Crazy Horse role, and, in doing so, lost some of the groove but sped up the stomp. And, hell, I even liked some of Greendale, even if its story line was delivered in an ungodly clunky way and even though the decision to stick rhythm guitarist extraordinaire Frank "Poncho" Sampedro on keyboards instead of guitar for that whole record was an inexplicable mistake that robbed the Horse of much of their oomph. Yeah, post-Weld Neil was all right. But the excitement was usually dwarfed by the yawn.

See, post Weld, there never was that start-to-finish genius album. In fact, I had pretty much given up on a return to the glory days when I heard the standards/covers album, Americana, that Neil and the boys released earlier this year. It was, oh, okay, I guess. It had some of the Crazy Horse loud/soft, jam/sing, crank-up-the-amps-and-the-pedals-for-the-sheer-joy-of-the-ruckus glory, but, for godsakes, it has "Oh Susannah" and "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" on it and, for me, that was about all I needed to know. I listened. I gave it a chance. I hated almost all of it, and I hoped that somehow this year's tour -- the first for the band since Greendale and the first for me since Broken Arrow in 1996 -- would focus on something, anything rather than that new record.

Then, mid-summer, the announcement came from Neil: there is *another* new 2012 album from Neil and the Horse. To be released on October 30, it's called Psychedelic Pill, and it's all originals. My hopes went up a bit, but not *too* high.

Said hopes had taken a real hit with that Americana record.

Well, I am happy -- no, make that completely effing thrilled -- to tell you that Psychedelic Pill is a great record. It is the bastard son of Ragged Glory, crossed with all sorts of other bits from across Neil's career that leap out at you and then fall seamlessly into the swirling guitars. And god, those guitars swirl. It's like longtime producer David Briggs (R.I.P.) came back to fit all the pieces together into a maelstrom of rising and falling layers of guitar.

Half of the tracks -- "Walk Like a Giant," "Ramada Inn," "She's Always Dancing" and the opener "Driftin' Back" -- could fit right in with the "sing a little, jam a little" ethos of Ragged Glory's best. "Ramada Inn" also has touches of Neil's storytelling vocal style from Greendale, but where that album fell flat in the dynamics department, this one roars on the instrumental passages.

The shorter, less-jam-based, tracks are no slouches either, and each hearkens back to another chapter of the Crazy Horse history book. "Twisted Road" is a trip down memory lane to the first time Neil heard "Like a Rolling Stone" -- not all that lyrically removed from "Days That Used to Be" (from Ragged Glory). "Born in Ontario" sounds like a cousin to the title track from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. "Psychedelic Pill" (the song) reeks of all the best parts of "Cinnamon Girl," and "For the Love of Man" could be a grittier track on Harvest Moon.

Another stroke of brilliance is the sequencing of this record. It is an "album" in the best sense. While its individual tracks are top-notch, its whole is so much more than the mere sum of its parts. Sure, the long songs alternate with the shorter ones; that's easy. But, even better, for my money, those longer songs keep improving as the album progresses. So, yeah, opener "Driftin' Back might start to wear on you a little (27 minutes *is* a bit much), but "Ramada Inn" tightens things up, "She's Always Dancing" a little more so, and, by the time you get to the raging, stomping, crashing fire of "Walk Like a Giant," you have loaded up the van, turned up the volume and headed for what Neil once called the place "where the pavement turns to sand." And then, when that one ends in a wreck of pounding drums and feedback, there's the "clean" version of the title track to take you into the sunset.

This record is not quite the picture perfect brilliance of, say, Tonight's the Night or On the Beach, but, man oh man, for a nearly 67-year-old guy who has, once again, discovered that he is at the top of his game when backed by the lumbering behemoth that is modern-day Crazy Horse, it is truly as close as you are going to get to Neil's Big Comeback #2. Get on it. I can barely wait for the upcoming tour -- with its setlist freed at this point from all vestiges of that Americana record -- to thunder into town. This band is, still, the real deal.

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