Sunday, December 30, 2012

The only thing that ever works for me when it comes to stress management

I have had this mantra -- maybe it's been more like some sort of dorky Official Paleo Drummer Motto -- for a while now that goes something like this: "You can't eat your way out of bad sleep, and you can't exercise your way out of bad eating. So fix things in this order: 1. Sleep. 2. Food. 3. Exercise."

And I really believe that, and try to live by it. If I am sleeping poorly, then, no matter how well I eat, I am not at my best, and exercise might even be counterproductive under those circumstances. And I know from years of allegedly "healthy" eating (Low fat! Vegetarian! Whole grain!) that exercise can only do so much when you are inflaming the bejeezus out of your body with irritating foods.

But I think I need to update the motto.

Because stress management needs to be in the top spot.

And I knew that already, but I think I was sort of melding that into the "sleep" category. But, at least for myself, I think it needs a spot on the list all its own. Right at the top: 1. De-stress. 2. Sleep. 3. Food. 4. Exercise.

It's not that I am a walking ball of tension at all times, but I pretty consistently have what could fairly accurately be described as a "metric shit ton" of things going on at once. And that's cool.... at least until it's not.

But when it's not, it potentially messes up *everything*.Those wise ancient Chinese and their proto-medicinal ways had it right: the digestive system is just hopelessly and completely intertwined with the mind. If I am stressed, acid reflux/GERD shows up. Sleep gets disrupted. I am sure when those two things are out of whack, then proper nutrients aren't being absorbed from food. Then I go to do a CrossFit workout and feel like I have no energy. Add more stress. Stir, repeat and blend into a cosmic death spiral.

It's awesome.

So what's a drummer to do? Mostly -- and by mostly, I mean, basically, it's all I have because it's all that *ever* works -- there's meditation. I simply cannot properly keep stress at bay if I don't meditate, and, once again, I am learning that if I just make the time, preferably right when I wake up and right before bed, to meditate, then everything else falls so beautifully into place that it is almost indescribable.

And, honestly, this kind of pisses me off.

Because, in simple, non-medical terms, what the hell? How can staring at a wall and doing steady abdominal breathing for 15-20 minutes make such an extreme difference in my entire life?

I have no idea.

It borders on new-age whackadoodle nonsense (NAWN). And I do not subscribe to NAWN in any form.

But it works. Calm the mind and you calm the digestive system. Calm the mind and you sleep better. Sleep better and have a calm digestive system and you absorb nutrients from food better. Digest your food better, and exercise will be much more beneficial, as opposed to being another source of stress. On the other hand, fail to calm the mind, and you never get properly started on the whole sleep/food/exercise Axis of Awesome.

It seems like such an easy choice for me, but I forget it so often: calm, peaceful happiness or cosmic death spiral of stress.

OK, so I am hereby resolved -- and I really effing hate new year's resolutions as a general proposition, but whatever works, ya know? -- to meditate every day, twice a day preferably, during the entire month of January. And then, once I am feeling so good that I have reached my happiest state (which is some top-secret blend of Ron Swanson and Tigger that reaches a primo spot on the "charming v. really?" axis that I hope doesn't annoy the living crap out of everyone I know more than I already do when I am not at my, ahem, "best") I will keep on that path past January.

Because a few things seem really obvious, but get lost along the way: your time on the planet is brief; you really ought to enjoy the ride and not let the bad people and things get you down; and when you keep all that bad stuff properly managed, enjoying that ride is a lot easier. Duh. Double duh.

So that's my January plan: 1. Stare at a wall twice a day. 2. Watch everything all fall into place again.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Braised paleo garlic/mango lamb ribs

We get in a rut of eating around here fairly often -- not a bad rut, mind you. We aren't going on candy benders. But we often still find ourselves eating about the same six or so (nutritious, wonderful) paleo meals in a rotation. So I vowed that, Christmas seeming like sort of a special event, I would make something (anything!) for Christmas dinner that broke the usual mold.

Christmas was super-quiet here this year. We skipped the usual trip out to Michigan to visit my wife's family, and my family wouldn't be around until a couple days later. So, what kind of special recipe could I make for me and my wife?

I went to Whole Foods and headed for the meat case. Staring at me (do ribs actually stare?), at a price per pound that I normally wouldn't pay for anything except a delicious distilled product from the Scottish isles, were lamb ribs. Cool. How hard could that be?

The interwebs offered me this recipe. I basically used that person's cooking method, but I totally disagree with the assessment that I read somewhere that the fat is to be avoided. It's delicious and, if you are using grassfed lamb, nutritious as well. But, as often happens, I had to make a few adjustments so my wife's paleo autoimmune protocol wouldn't be compromised.

Or at least not by me. When she opened the bottle of vino ("It's Christmas!!!"), at least the dietary compromise was her own and not foisted upon her.

Anyway, it was delicious, and, like the crap blogger that I am, I forgot to take a pic. And, really, it was so delicious that the window of opportunity for photo-taking was brief. There were no leftovers.

If you wanna relive the moment, it'd go like this:


--racks o'lamb ribs
--garlic, minced
--dried mango, chopped up
--ground black pepper

I am being purposely vague about the amounts because it's a flexible recipe. Our two racks had about eight ribs in each. I used two bags of dried mangoes from Whole Foods, about five cloves of garlic, and the rest in a proportion of 1:1:0.5:1 (cinnamon, cumin, salt, pepper). In other words, use half as much salt as the other three of those ingredients.

Do this:

--preheat oven to 275 degrees
--in a baking dish (lined with foil if you want easy cleanup) put the minced garlic and mangoes down as a bed for the lamb
--in a bowl, combine the cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper and then rub it all over the ribs. Rub it on pretty thick. I really have no idea how much I used, but you'll be fine. Just keep the proportions as described. Lay the racks on top of the mango/garlic bed
--add water to the pan until it covers about one-quarter to one-third of the way up the ribs
--cover the dish with foil and let it cook for three hours
--yes, three hours. You are braising this, and braising takes time
--remove the foil and turn the heat up to 375
--cook for another 20 to 30 minutes until the ribs are browned

The idea here is that the garlic/mango slurry creates a chutney-ish concoction that you then eat with the ribs. It is pretty amazing.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, December 21, 2012

Two simple gun-control suggestions, a.k.a. forget the flashy bans and do something that might really matter

This morning, I heard Donny Deutsch on MSNBC say something like, "I wish people would stop saying gun control and just talk about assault-weapon control." And I thought, "You have to be kidding me." If you are going to do something meaningful to combat gun violence, focusing on assault weapons may miss reforms that are both easier to pass and implement, as well as broader and more effective.

See, as I understand it, an "assault-weapons ban" has all sorts of problems and loopholes and restrictions before you ever get to the part about whether targeting a supposed class of weapons will actually *do* anything meaningful. (A small point on the "meaningful" angle: the Newtown shooter apparently used a .223 rifle that people would now like to ban as an assault weapon. Does anyone think that if his mom hadn't owned that gun, he wouldn't have done the same horrific things with the two semiautomatic, non-assault-weapon, pistols that he had? I don't). There are, by any measure, a whole lot of assault weapons already legally-owned in this country. Is anyone talking about confiscating *those* guns? I don't think so, for a simple reason: if you think deporting 12 million illegal aliens would be not-so-feasible (and you'd be right), try tracking down and seizing all those guns. Then, even if you found them, I am fairly sure that there is a massive "takings" issue under the Due Process Clause for government to confiscate a formerly legally-owned item without fair-market-value compensation. And then, even if you spend that money, what exactly are you banning? There is a mighty definition problem when the word "assault weapon" is bandied about. The classic in-effect automatic/semiautomatic distinction is pretty easy: pull the trigger and how many bullets fire? One? Or more? But "assault weapon?" That .223 rifle sure as hell looks like what lots of folks call "an assault weapon," but Connecticut has an assault-weapons ban that didn't make it illegal. Would gun manufacturers then simply scrap making all the old guns, and make new ones that a ban doesn't cover? Would we then have a dog-chases-cat scenario of government monitoring all new guns to classify them?

In short, an assault-weapons ban sounds like a mess of legalities, definitions, potential compensation issues, and then a question of whether you have actually done anything other than switch the weapon of choice to something else. And, yeah, a high-capacity-magazine ban sounds the same to me -- a boatload of definitional/takings issues with questionable return. As I understand it, the Newtown rifle had a 30-shot cartridge. He fired more than 30 shots, so he reloaded. Do we doubt that he would have reloaded those pistols if he had to?

How about a different, broader focus? How about specifically two things?

First, close the colossally stupid, nearly inexplicable "gun-show loophole" that exempts gun-show sales from background checks. Does that one even require explanation? Has anyone ever figured out the sense of that loophole? Either you need background checks or you don't. I think you do to keep guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally-ill. And if you do, what in the world is the point of that loophole?

Secondly, can't we sensibly require gun owners to lock up their guns if they aren't at home, providing access only to those who have passed a background check? And before your answer is that that law would be ignored, a simple corollary proposal goes with it: you have to report a stolen gun within 48 hours. That requirement could have the result of drastically reducing the number of burglaries in which guns are stolen. Guns that are locked up, particularly in a gun safe, are harder to steal. And the incentive to comply will be strong. If you own a gun and it gets stolen, and shows up in a future crime, it will be obvious whether you reported the theft. It may also be obvious that it wasn't locked up when you weren't home, unless it was stolen out from under your nose. It seems like an easy reform, and one that is not a gross imposition on gun owners. Hell, every gun owner I know has most of his or her guns locked up anyway.

What I think is important in this debate is to remember, first of all, that there is a right to own a gun in the home, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. So, as I have said before, forget going after *that* right. You would be going up against the constitution, as interpreted. Instead, how about focusing on a way to reduce violence with those guns? Nothing is going to lower the homicide rate to zero, but, on the other hand, full background checks for all sales, plus a lock-when-not-home requirement could actually prevent guns from falling into the hands of those who are not legally authorized to have those guns -- criminals and the mentally-ill.

Hey, Mr. Vice President, when your panel of experts gets together, keep the approach simple, and effective.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Paleo dairy-free egg nog, the super-easy version

The other day, I ran across this recipe for a dairy-free/paleo egg nog. And I was intrigued. See, I never really liked traditional egg nog. The milk-shake-y consistency was OK, but the sweetness was always gagworthy. So, honestly, I don't think I have had egg nog in 20 years, or more. And before you tell me that rum or bourbon always helps, I would rather just have the rum (dark, please) or the bourbon. Or better yet, a delicious single-malt whisky from Scotland. But I digress....

However, that recipe was of interest to me because it is coconut-milk based. Coconut milk has a bit of natural sweetness to it, and it's a great source of medium-chain fatty acids and lauric acid (although even better for the lauric acid is coconut oil, but I digress again....)

So, I started looking over the recipe and looking over the contents of our spice rack and pantry. And I decided to make a few changes.

We didn't have honey, and, even if we did, like I said, I am not a guy really motivated by sugar. In fact, overly sweet stuff repulses me, so I decided to go sweetener-free. The coconut milk was going to carry the sweetness load. We also didn't have nutmeg. It also looked to me like that recipe called for absurdly paltry amounts of cinnamon. And finally, to hell with the frou-frou topping. I don't have time for that nonsense. So here's where we ended up, but all credit to the initial idea goes to Primally Inspired, the site that first posted the recipe:


--2 14-oz cans full-fat coconut milk. (Not light. Not some chemically, seaweed-encrusted, soybomb shit in a carton labeled "coconut-milk beverage." Full fat. From a can).

--Six egg yolks. Now, here is where it gets tricky. I would no more ingest a standard-issue raw egg yolk from a factory egg than I would go dumpster diving for food. It seems like a good way to get, as the doctors call it, really fucking sick. However, Whole Foods sells real oh-my-god-yeah pastured eggs, with yolks so orange  that they give you hope for the future of the human race while simultaneously  making you hum this. So I would seriously advise using those, and still, y'know, ultimately, you're on your own on this one, kids. If Chicken Little pooped all over that egg, then you never know. Play smart. Live free. Go make something else if this part scares you.

--a lot of cinnamon. At least a tablespoon. I used a little more.

-- a tablespoon of vanilla extract

--a tablespoon of allspice.

--a tablespoon of "baking spice," which, not being terribly familiar with the "baking" portion of our spice rack, I am not sure whether this is a standard-issue item, or whether it is some weird stuff that just we have. It has cardamom and anise seed in it, among other things. (Kudos to my wonderful wife for the allspice and baking-spice suggestions. I would have punted at: "Fuck it; we don't have nutmeg," but she came to the rescue). If you don't know what this is, then just use more cinnamon and allspice, or buy some nutmeg. Mankind got to the moon years ago; you'll figure this out.

Do this:

(Are you ready? It's tough). Mix everything together really well in a pitcher. (Oh, that was hard). My wonderful wife suggests that a blender might be helpful. I politely rejected this aspect of her advice, free from regret. A bigass spoon worked just fine.

Now, however, you have an executive decision to make. If you are mixing this up for your friends with the primary goal of getting schnockered in a Christmas-y way without the, er, burden of adding booze to each individual glass, then pour however much rum or bourbon or whatever you want into the pitcher and see who can belt out the best version of this after a few schlogs o'nog. I chose not to do this because: (a) my wife doesn't really drink much, and (b) I was afraid I would screw it up; better to add to each glass to get the amount/proportion right. I also learned later that the non-alcoholic version makes a pretty nice topping for frozen fruit, aka, "Christmas paleo egg-nog ice cream." Whoa. Anyway, when it came time for the alcohol-included version for my glass, I used dark rum, because the lighter stuff is too sweet for me. I was, once again, regret-free.

In the end, I dug this stuff immensely. You could mess with it in a myriad of ways: Cinnamon sticks. That fancy topping in the original recipe. Honey if you are a big baby and need it sweeter. Whatever. Have fun, and happy holidays of whatever sort you are celebrating.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why I stopped watching the president's speech last night

There I was, watching the president's speech in Connecticut last night. I was curious to see where he would go with it. But I got thrown off course quickly, and gave up, which is a shame because I bet he said some good things.

See, I don't believe in a god or gods. I just can't wrap my brain around it. I am not hostile to people who do. I believe in religious freedom to the nth degree. I think you should think whatever you want to think about those issues. I have friends who are devout believers in a god (mostly Christians) and friends whose personal belief system revolves, like mine, more around things like science and reason, and doesn't go near issues of the supernatural. And I have a whole lot of friends somewhere in between those polar opposites. It's all OK with me because I believe in personal autonomy. I would never tell you what to think about issues of gods, religion and the like.

So why was the president leaning so hard on the supernatural in that speech, or what I saw of it?

If you are a believer in a deity -- and most of America is, if polls are to be believed -- try and imagine for a minute how utterly shallow and preposterous it sounds for anyone to attempt to comfort someone who is *not* a believer with a statement like, "Well, at least those innocent victims are wrapped in God's loving embrace now."

It's fine for you to believe that, and I have no interest in disrupting your belief system, but there is a decent minority of this country -- and huge swaths of many other Western democracies -- that equate that kind of talk with delusion. Even worse, I am betting -- as a simple matter of numbers -- that somewhere amidst the surviving families of those 26 victims there are people who don't believe in the supernatural.

I wonder what *they* thought when told that their deceased relatives were "in a better place."

I even heard the phrase "God's plan" in that speech.


It's one thing for pastors and other official religious leaders to invoke the supernatural at times like this. It is to be expected. But I think it is ... well, the best word I can think of is "weird" ... for the president to do it as some sort of comforting and inclusive gesture. Sure, it's comforting to the majority, I suppose, but he was, quite likely, standing in front of some non-believers last night telling them that their dead family members were somehow doing better today.

And trust me, unless you are religiously-inclined, you most definitely don't think that.

Maybe "weird" doesn't cut it after all. It is something more obtuse than that, as if he never considered that some of those notions might be grossly offensive to some of his intended audience. And really, when the point of a speech is healing and comfort, you really want to avoid offending.

I basically like the president, and I don't think for a second that any of his predecessors would have been *less* inclined to invoke the supernatural last night. I also don't think he was trying to be controversial or offensive. But, really, in a speech where "inclusion" was more important than ever, I wish he had just stuck to comforting those families for their losses and said whatever else he wanted to say about gun policy and the country moving forward. Instead, he shut out some people; I hope, for their sakes, that none of those people were the surviving families.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown and the aftermath, and finding the negotiable points regarding gun control in the U.S., as opposed to just making more noise

I wasn't originally planning on saying anything about yesterday's awful shooting in Connecticut, except two things: (1) to wish the best for the survivors, their families and the families of the deceased; I can't really begin to comprehend what it must be like to lose one's five-year-old child to a bullet. And (2) to credit a lot of heroic teachers/school-staff and first responders. The tales are still emerging of school-district employees plucking children out of harm's way. It makes you think that maybe, just maybe, the world is not *just* an awful place full of awful people. Nihilistic thoughts don't do much for my mood, but their attraction in times of hideous behavior is, unfortunately, deep and powerful. I'd rather think that most people are better than all that, or that at least some of them are, or, at the very least, that there is an outstanding group of five to ten percent that lead the way to good in times of bad. There was some amazing human spirit shown in Newtown yesterday amidst the correspondingly worst side of one person's humanity.

But then, I got onto Facebook. And I saw a lot of political posturing. My first reaction to that posturing was not a positive one. You might think, person on the left or the right, that your motives are pure and humanitarian when you leap onto this type of tragedy and start suggesting the need for -- or, on the other side, the lack of need for -- legislative solution to some (or all) issues related to guns in the U.S. of A.

And mostly, whether you were coming from the left or the right on that issue yesterday, I will respect the fact that you probably *thought* you were doing the right thing. I didn't find it terribly helpful though. I found it reactionary, in the purest sense of the word. Grab the tragedy and make political hay of it. Even with the best of motives, it was a little gross and unseemly, on both sides of the gun-rights issue.

But, lord knows, that unseemliness is, as the kids say, "viral" today. I have seen variations of these buttons on the FB in lots of folks' feeds today, and, in some instances, they have adopted the button of their liking as their profile photo. Awesome.

So I will give up on the notion of suggesting that we all take a little time out from turning tragedy into political theatre, even with the best of motives.

Instead, I might as well talk about the subject that you folks were all hot to get on yesterday: gun control. But I want to come at it from a little different perspective.

There is a talk-radio guy named Michael Smerconish who runs his show out of Philly. I generally agree with much of his take on many issues. He tacks toward the political center on many points, finding fault with the right and the left. But, most importantly, I like his *presentation* of issues whether I agree with his view or not. His governing motto is: "Angry is over."

Sadly, when it comes to a lot of political issues -- but particularly, maybe more than any other, gun control -- angry is a long way from over. There is a lot of hysteria.

Generally speaking, when attempting to convince those who disagree with you on anything -- but especially hot-button issues -- that they might need to rethink their position, leading with invective isn't going to accomplish anything. So, really, if you think that either "Fuck guns" or "Fuck gun control" is going to be a winning motto, or, more importantly, a way to get the conversation started, you are likely to be wrong.

So let's begin the conversation, instead of by screaming at each other, with a couple basics on gun issues here in the U.S.

-- Despite the wishes/beliefs of the hard left to the contrary, there is -- not because I say so, but, rather, because the U.S. Supreme Court says so -- a constitutional right to own some sort of gun in one's home. You can love that D.C. v. Heller ruling; you can hate it. Your view of it is, however, irrelevant. It is a fact because, like all constitutional facts, the Supreme Court is the last word on such things, and they have spoken. But, before you have a small fit about militias and all that, let's move to the next point....

-- Despite the wishes/beliefs of the hard right, beyond the act of outright *banning* the ownership of basic firearms -- handguns, standard-issue hunting rifles and shotguns (and quite likely *not* military/"assault" weapons) -- most other gun-control measures are fair game for the political process. This means that, democracy being what it is, legislatures at the State and federal level are able to weigh in on what is a desirable, in their view, level of regulating the practical application of the constitutional right to own guns. Again, you don't have to agree; it doesn't matter whether you agree. It is a constitutional fact at this point, because the guys and girls in the black robes say so.

So, believing that pie-in the-sky theorizing and bloviation gets one nowhere without a healthy dose of practicality, I propose the following:

If we are going to debate gun-control measures, let's get rid of phrases like, "Fuck guns," and, correspondingly, "Fuck gun control." First of all, that sort of talk isn't going to do any more than preach to the choir on your side of the issue while simultaneously offending the people you are trying to convince to change their minds. But, more importantly, the ship has sailed on both of those points of view here in the United States. Gun ownership is not only a fact of life; it is a constitutional right. Because the Supreme Court says so. But that right is subject to reasonable regulation. Because the Supreme Court says so.

So let's debate what reasonable regulations are without the invective, but, even more importantly, let's debate it within the strictures of how the Supreme Court has set up the issue for us.

When we do that, we quickly have to take a big point for gun-control advocates off the table: a ban on handguns.

It can't happen, not because I say so, but because that is exactly what was rejected in the Heller case. So forget it. That's gone. Put away all the studies that cite Canada and Europe and the sensibility of handgun bans. Sensibility has nothing to do with it. We live in a post-Heller nation where basic gun ownership, including handguns, is a right guaranteed by the constitution. You don't have to like it, but if you want to talk gun control in the U.S., you have to accept it and move on to the next point.

When you take handgun bans off the table, what are you potentially left with in terms of gun control? A lot, in a sense. You can talk about restrictions on military-style weapons, types of ammunition, sizes of clips and magazines, background checks, etc. and *that's* when you finally (Finally!) get to the only viable areas of debate, but I say "in a sense" for a reason: I am not actually sure that most of those restrictions really *do* anything (although really strong background checks are, in my opinion, probably the best of the bunch).

And, correspondingly, I'm not sure that they *don't*, either. I think it is a fair point of debate. I know that, at least as I understand it, at least one of the weapons used yesterday was an AR-15 that is illegal to own in Connecticut under their state assault-weapons ban. If that's true, that wasn't a very effective ban. Would it be more effective if it were nationwide, i.e., federal? I don't know. Do stats bear out that the prior federal assault-weapons ban reduced the number of gun deaths, or did it just switch the lethal weapon of choice from an illegal assault weapon to a constitutionally-protected handgun or shotgun? I don't know that either. What about those background checks? Lord knows, El Al hyperscreens its air passengers on the spot in this, The Computer Age. Couldn't we do that with a gun purchase? Again, I don't know. But *these* are the points, all of which focus on effective *and* constitutional gun-control measures, that need to be debated and researched.

And they need to be debated calmly and rationally within the bounds of Heller. So, lefty friends, let's excise the phrases "Fuck guns" and "Ban all (hand)guns" from your negotiating stance. Righty friends, let's get rid of "Fuck gun control" at the same time. There is going to be *some* level of gun control in this country and, yet, it isn't going to be as much as the left wants. That's a cold hard fact. So let's focus on efficacy within the legal bounds that the Court has set up for us, and leave the invective at home. I don't know if a reasonable solution is out there, but I *do* know that there is no other way that there is a chance of finding it.

UPDATE: as it turns out, that AR-15 was legally-owned, i.e. not covered by the assault-weapons ban, which begs the question of what kind of ban that was anyway. It also points out a sad truth that trying to ban weapons by description is a tough thing to do effectively.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

20th century American bloody mushroom cult (Concert review: Yo La Tengo at Maxwell's December 11, 2012)

In another post (and another), I told you all about my love for Yo La Tengo, Hoboken's finest contribution to the annals of indierock. For the serious YLT junkie, there is no gig-going opportunity greater than the eight-night run that they do, most years since 2001, at Maxwell's in their hometown for Hanukkah. From my home in the wilds of rural NJ, Hoboken takes a little effort to get to. The easiest way is to pretend you are headed into the Holland Tunnel (into NYC) and then basically hang a left at one of the last possible opportunities before being sucked into the Big Apple. Right, the Holland Tunnel -- what a freak show *that* ride often is -- but when YLT, and particularly YLT at Hanukkah, is the reward for slogging through heavy traffic, the trip is well worth it.

So what was I to think when yesterday's traffic was nearly non-existent, and the painful ride was, well, painless? After a delicious festival of meat and greens at Dinosaur BBQ in Newark, I sailed into Hoboken without a hitch, parked in a nearby garage for the ridiculously bargain price of $10 and waltzed into Maxwell's to meet my friend Kyle. Were the gods of karma warning me that tonight's show would be a snoozer?

I refused to believe it. Yeah, a few years back, I had drifted away from YLT just a bit. The glory of their '90s albums had given way to an overwhelming quiet in the first half of the 2000s that didn't quite excite me like their earlier stuff. But, ever since 2006's  I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass and 2009's Popular Songs, YLT were, to quote Frank Constanza, "back, baby." Both of those records contained a few longer, noisier, glorious anthems that the early 2000s records had lacked. And even the quieter songs on them had a certain groove that seemed to be lacking just a few years earlier. But, oh... Those.  Noisier.  Ones. Double-emphasis on "glorious."And of course, in September, I had just seen that wonderful Philly gig. All of this added up to a refusal in my mind to think that I hadn't suffered enough in traffic to see a great gig. Hell no, they were going to rule.

But, really, how often does one enter a gig of *any* band with such high hopes and have them completely fulfilled? In my experience, not often. Call it the exception. Call Yo La Tengo maybe (just maybe) the best damn live band out there right now. Call it all whatever you want.
It was, very simply, to quote my friend Kyle at her first ever YLT show, "totally amazing."

Indie/jangly/psych kids Real Estate opened. I could complain that I wish they had a little more distortion in their weapons cache, but, damn, if they didn't shimmer nearly perfectly. They won huge points with me for keeping their set to a manageable length and for not copping a rockstar vibe at all. I liked 'em. Then Todd Barry -- yeah, the very funny comedian -- came out for a short set (YLT Hanukkah shows always have a comedian on the bill) and he was very very funny. I am no connoisseur of comedy, but I dig edgy, sarcastic, brutal and funny. He was all those things. Nice work, sir.

On to the main event.... Now, I've told you that I like YLT at their most earthshatteringly aggressive/loud. But I really *do* dig the quiet Velvets-y bits in between. I just don't want them to dominate the show. The setlist was, dare I say, perfect in striking that balance (and thanks to Jesse Jarnow at the Frank and Earthy Blog for the setlist; Jesse is The Man for all things YLT, including Big Day Coming, his book about the band, which I reviewed here):

Spec Bebop
We’re An American Band
The Crying of Lot G
20th Century Boy (T-Rex)
Out the Window
The Point of It
The Summer
Don’t Have To Be So Sad
Double Dare (acoustic)
Big Day Coming (fast)
Nothing To Hide
Mushroom Cloud of Hiss
Burnin’ For You (Blue Öyster Cult) (with Todd Barry on drums)
Our Way To Fall (with Martin Courtney of Real Estate on vocals)

I have always thought of Spec Bebop as a little bit of a filler song on 1997's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One -- a nice lead-in to We're An American Band (a YLT original, not a Grand Funk cover), but still a bit of a lesser beast in the formidable company of the rest of that wonderful record.

I swear..... I will never think that again. See, last night the drummer for a band called Oneida -- with which I am, at the moment still unfamiliar, but that moment isn't going to last long -- named Kid Millions, sat in with YLT for the whole main set. Wow. Just total effing wow. He was the perfect addition. He played around, under and with Georgia when they drummed together. But never drowned her out or walked on her. The man had subtlety and groove to spare. When James hit the button on an iPod to start the set with a jacked-up (in volume) track of the drum part from the album version of Spec Bebop, I thought, momentarily, "WTF? You have two drummers up there already!!" But, I was so wrong. Georgia and the Kid layered all over and around what was already playing and it was a tribal groovefest to which James and Ira added keys and bass, respectively, to let us know that this was no early-'00s quiet set.


We were off to the races. And it was a dynamic race at that. We're An American Band got so intense in its rising and falling waves of power that Ira, having switched to ear-shredding guitar for that one, was bleeding from his hands by the time the song finished.

Things got a little quieter for Lot G, but that was -- along with Don't Have to Be So Sad -- one of the early '00s songs that benefitted a lot from the extra drumming of Kid Millions. It swung; it grooved, just a little more than before, and the rest of the band responded in intensity. The VU would be so proud.

The last time I saw YLT do 20th Century Boy was New Year's Eve 1999.... wearing gorilla suits. Yes. Really. It was very funny, but I had kind-of assumed that was a one-off cover, y'know with the timeliness of it at the time. But no. In the YLT Hanukkah tradition of "we're much more likely to cover it if there was a Jew involved with the original" the band resurrected the cover to great effect. James owned the vocal. And then they blasted through Out the Window, both drummers grinning giddily through much of the whole thing.

Things got quieter for the next three, but, as I said, "quiet" never equated with "dull." These songs were gorgeous and perfect (except maybe I remember a bit of a skronky keyboard on one, but no matter....).

And, for godssakes, even the transition songs were perfect. Double Dare is usually an electric stunner, but its acoustic-y version was intense, but not loud. It had all the power, but none of the growl of the original.

And then came that growl.... OK, more like a *howl*....

I kid you not when I say that the closing four songs of the main set were a perfect ever-building wall of  attack and power. The full-on electric version of Big Day Coming is, I believe, the song I have seen YLT do over the years more than any other, and it just keeps getting a little more bold, a little more ballsy. Put two drummers on it, and it gets bigger, stronger, faster. And they ran it straight into Nothing to Hide which then, just like in Philly a few months back, ran right into Decora. And I remember thinking, "This is all so crazy that I think we're gonna get a Mushroom Cloud of Hiss tonight." And, damn, if Decora didn't end and James launched into a booming, speeding bassline of, yes, hissssssss.

If, as they are not at all prone to do, YLT were to ask me what one song of theirs I would want them to play, the answer is simple: Mushroom Cloud of Hiss. I went a little nuts.

In case, you aren't familiar with it, it goes like this:

It thunders; it roars; Ira screams his head off and turns colors that could lead the casual observer to call 9-1-1. It is awe-inspiring. And it is extra beautiful with two drummers pounding the effing bejeezeus out of it, and then, on the no-drums part, both grabbing guitars to add to the feedback, leaping back to their drum kits to finish it all up.

It *had* to be the last song of the main set. It was that great.

And it made me extra happy when I realized that it hadn't been played at last year's Hanukkah run because Ira was coming off a rough illness and played a lot of songs sitting down. Mushroom's intensity was more than could be asked for last year. This version made up for that in spades. Wowzers. A stunning return to physical form.

I have seen a bunch of cool Hanukkah-show encores, involving Ray Davies and David Johansen, among others. But seeing the band get back onstage and, with Todd Barry -- yes, the comedian -- on drums, blast through a Blue Oyster Cult radio hit, well, that was just as ridiculously perfect (nice lead vocal from James on it as well). The show then ended with an understated, intense take on Our Way to Fall with the lead singer of Real Estate helping out on backing vocals. Perfect.

And it was one for the record books. My only regret was that I wasn't able to get tickets for another night. *That''s* how fast these things sell out. I'll be anxiously awaiting the new album and a 2013 tour. What fun.

UPDATE: if you were obsessive like me, and so inclined, you could go here and follow the link to  download the entire show, quite legally with the permission of the band, for free. It's all great, but the main set is downright hypnotically and/or chaotically beautiful from Don't Have to Be So Sad onward. Wow.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The boy looked at Johnny (and the girl was even better than the boy): Neil Young and Crazy Horse with Patti Smith in Philadelphia, November 29, 2012

I have previously raved on about my love for the new album from Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Psychedelic Pill is a return to (ragged) glory, not perfect, but nevertheless a shining testament to the joys of the Horse in all their dynamic rage. To say that I was eagerly anticipating Thursday night's show at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly would be a gross understatement. It held the promise of the unrestrained, albeit longwinded, triumph that was the Weld tour in the early '90s. Sing a little, jam a lot, sing a little more, jam a lot more.

You don't pay Neil and the Horse to be succinct. Nor do you ever expect them to follow the rules, maaaaaan. And if a band devoid of an editor and flouting convention at every turn was all a concertgoer was in search of, then Thursday night's show delivered in spades. But, sadly, I left the arena with somewhat mixed feelings.

Overall, it really was a very good show. The setlist -- fairly static from night to night this tour, except for a rotating cast of encore songs -- went like this:

Love and Only Love
Born in Ontario
Walk Like a Giant
The Needle and the Damage Done
Twisted Road
Singer Without a Song
Ramada Inn
Cinnamon Girl
Fuckin' Up
Mr. Soul
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)

Encore: Like a Hurricane

And, lord, they were soaring through those first few. Like a number of his similarly-aged contemporaries on guitar (Ted Nugent, despite his sometimes wretched mouth, comes to mind), Neil has continued to grow in epic bounds as a lead guitar player since the 1970s, leaving far in the dust the guy who did the minimalist solo on the title track of On the Beach for a feedback/volume/overdrive/distortion-driven approach that sounds a bit like Lee and Thurston from Sonic Youth channeling Hendrix and Leeds-era Townshend. He really and truly has his shit together in this department. And the three longer songs of the first four (Love..., Powderfinger and Walk....) were drenched in rising and falling waves of distortion-riddled power on the solos. And those solos went on and on with highs that screamed and lows that thundered and rumbled. And it really was glorious. Yes, raggedly glorious even. (You may see what I did there; yes, again).

And then... Walk Like a Giant ended. Or at least, it should have. But it didn't. Long after the solos (and the singing and the continued solos) died down, and even after the three or four minutes of noisy pounding that bring the tune to its close on the recorded version had ended, the feedback and drones went on....

And on and on and on.... And then, in the cheesiest display of cheesiness ever, while the band droned, roadies launched paper and plastic bags into the air to be blown across stage by big movable fans. See, kids, a storm was coming, or, with all the panache and skill of a third-grade school play, that's what Neil wanted you to think. So the band droned more and more and the roadies threw trash into the air and, oh god make it stop.... I didn't check the time, but it had to be at least ten minutes of pretty senseless feedback. Mind you, this wasn't the sort of feedback-within-a-solo feedback that, well, kind of rules when wielded appropriately. This had all the subtlety and control of, well, things that have no subtlety and control. My metaphor-maker cannot hope to convey to you how dull this was.

And I really *like* expertly-employed noise, but this was pointless. Worse, it was lengthy and pointless.

But, yes, that episode of "What the Fuck, Neil?" eventually came to a close, and there was, on the video screen, "rain" (remember, a storm was blowing through) and eventually Neil did the Needle... solo acoustic. And that was fine (and brief). Twisted Road, with its paean to the Dead and Roy Orbison, was also done (quite fine, albeit not earthshatteringly, thank you) solo acoustic and then, perhaps (but not definitely, because I haven't told you about Fuckin' Up yet), I witnessed a potential award winner in the category of The Stupidest Thing I Have Seen Onstage In A Very Long Fucking Time.

Neil did a new song called Singer Without a Song. It is pretty dull. I like him at the piano -- The Bridge, L.A., etc -- but this was nothing like those. This was just dull. And, OK, everyone gets a dull song. But then dull morphed into stupid. For most of the song, a not-at-all-unattractive woman wandered the stage with a guitar case in hand. She never went near a microphone.

See, she was (get this....) the, um, singer without a song.

Just fucking kill me now. The third-grade-play antics of the close of Walk Like a Giant had, at this point, devolved to first-grade. Really, dude? You paid a hot-looking woman to wander the stage to prop up your atrocious new song? Ugh. The glory of those first few tunes had nearly completely faded.

Ramada Inn followed. And I thought it had a super-laconic start.... like overly-laconic. And, tainted by the nonsense of the previous section of the show, I was getting jaded. I might have even been getting cranky. I might have even told the dancing -- no, make that jiggling and undulating and repeatedly bumping into me -- enormous man next to me, in what my wife would call my "annoyed voice" and sporting what my kids would call my "Clint Eastwood face," and while drawing an imaginary line in the space between us, something like, "DUDE! You need to move the fuck over. Now." He may have moved a lot.

And then Neil, always a giver and a taker, saved the day. Motherfucking hell, the solos in Ramada Inn were gorgeous and dangerous and awesome. I mean he just *attacked* the guitar. And Poncho followed him wherever he went, slashing and driving the rhythm guitar when needed, and backing way the hell off when not. It was inspirational, and, yes, concert-saving, especially after what had immediately preceded it.

And Cinnamon Girl was, truly, a beautiful thing. Hell, I wouldn't have really guessed that I ever needed to hear that one. It's a perfectly good song, but I have heard it a lot. But they hit it hard, really hard. Ralph the drummer seemed to take a particular joy in throwing in the "Whoo!" more than once during the solos. They were giggling and having a great time.

And Fuckin' Up followed. And, see, I feel like I have a special bond with this song. My brother and I used to play this in a band in the early '90s, and, because there is, you know, potty talk in the lyrics (OK, in the title, even), no one but the most devoted Neil fans knew at the time that it wasn't our song. Said potty talk prevents it from ever being played on the radio. And it really is a thundering beast of a tune. And, traditionally, the Horse has a blast with it, extending it a bit with juvenile bluster. I always love it.

And for most of it -- OK, for the whole song as written -- it was great. But then juvenilia lapsed into double-dumbness. Much like on Walk Like a Giant, the extendo-ending became as long, or in this case longer, than the song. For eight minutes or so, Neil and Poncho devolved into third-rate disco funksters who sang about, yes, fucking up. And then it ended. And then it started up again. And my friend David loudly declared, "Neil, you are losing me!" And I had to agree. I have nothing, in theory, against twenty minutes of Fuckin' Up. I have a lot against twelve or so of those minutes having almost nothing to do with Fuckin' Up (except lyrically involving the word "fuck" over a barely-funky funk beat).

And then, well, Mr. Soul and Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) saved the day again. Both were blistering and savage, riddled with distortion and feedback-choked solos, and I wondered to my jaded self how Neil manages to save the day so often. Whether it is this show, or, well, his career, it is always an up and down ride with the old man. You, apparently, have to put up with interspersed nonsense every time. It's just that this show was, on the whole, awfully heavy with the nonsense. For a 2.5-hour set, counting the furious, longwinded, heavy-as-hell, pretty sweet take on Hurricane that was the encore, I think a good 45 minutes was crap. Boring crap. The rest was varying degrees of brilliant.

Adjust that ratio a bit and my take on the show would be significantly more positive than it appears.

And maybe, just maybe, Neil kind of got his ass handed to him by opener Patti Smith that night.

Patti went to high school just outside of Philly. She has a special bond with the area, and you could tell right from the outset that she was digging the hell out of this gig. She came through the music business in the mid-'70s when she had to scratch and claw and fight to get every break. It was an absurdly male-dominated business at the time, and she did it her way, not theirs. The four albums from Horses through Wave that constituted her early career are compelling, urgent records that you really ought to own. And then she took an enormously-long break to start a family, and, eventually, bury her husband, former MC5/Rendezvous Band guitar genius Fred "Sonic" Smith. After Fred's death, Patti then dove headlong back into music, and, while the albums have never been as great as those first four, she is, at age 65, still one hell of an energetic performer.

And she has two sides: there is the poetess/priestess/hippie/flowerchild who dominates much of her later work, and then there is the venom-spitting punk. Both made well-timed appearances on Thursday night. The set looked like:

Dancing Barefoot
April Fool
Beneath the Southern Cross
It's a Dream
People Have the Power
Land >> Gloria

Barefoot started the proceedings with a happy yet insistent urgency. God, that riff is timeless, and the band rode it home. And Patti kept telling us how great it was to be in Philly. And for most of the set, she was a dancing, vibrant performer that hid her age well but mostly worked the poetess portion of her persona. She was beaming, but here and there, the intensity grew. Fuji-San started quietly and boomed by the end. So did Southern Cross. It's a Dream? Meh. It's a weak Neil song (from a a weak record, Prairie Wind), and it went nowhere. Then People Have the Power did what it always does: made me think, "Great verse, way too goofy chorus," but I know that some people really dig it, and the band certainly got into it. The intensity was back.

And then, holy shit...
A strange shift in personality came over Patti. Gone was the hippie kid, and out came the punk. Yup, the same one I saw rip through a savage version of "Rock and Roll Nigger" (from the Easter album) a few years ago in Camden, NJ that could have stopped time right then and there. She took off her shoes, opting for a barefoot stomp. She spat. The guys in front of me looked at each other like they never saw a girl do that. And she started chanting: "The boy was in the hallway...."

Land is one of those songs that everyone should know. I knew it before I ever knew it, hearing Ian McCulloch insert many of its lyrics into live versions of early Echo and the Bunnymen songs before I had ever heard all of Horses (I was a little slower to embrace NYC punk than the stuff from England that I had jumped on back in '77 and '78). God, it was spectacular. I tried to hold down my excitement until I was sure they were really going to do it rather than just use the opening poetry to launch into something else. And man, did they do it. Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty, on guitar and drums respectively, have always been able to lay down a galloping beat better than, well, maybe anyone. And they galloped with style, and ferocity. And Patti did the Watusi. And then, just when I thought it couldn't get any more intense, they sent the gallop of Land straight into the gallop of Gloria. Seamlessly, perfectly and, oh man.... G-L-O-R-I-A....

It was, really and truly one of those "I am so glad I just saw/heard that because that was Top Ten of All Time-worthy" moments.

It was *that* good.

So, when you read my Neil review, and think, "That jaded, cranky, perfection-demanding bastard just insulted my hero and expects too much out of an aging rock star," remember that I had *just*, moments before, seen an aging rock star do it exactly like it was intended to be.

Rock on, Patti. Rock on, Neil. Just remember, old guy, that, occasionally, less is more, and intensity is not the same as just making more noise.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad