Friday, May 25, 2012

This is rarefied air, and that's OK: why it's just fine if paleo/primal eating remains a "cultish" thing.

I have heard a lot of talk lately about trying to get more and more people into paleo eating, and I think that's great. I know Robb Wolf has often mentioned attempts at achieving a heavy paleo buy-in from the medical community, and I agree wholeheartedly that support from doctors, nurses, physical therapists, etc. would probably attract a lot more interest in the paleo way of life. I think that's very cool.

And there are a whole bunch of great nutrition-oriented folks like Mark Sisson, Liz Wolfe, Diane Sanfilippo and Mr. Wolf himself, to say nothing of wonderful organizations like the Weston A. Price Foundation, who are fighting the good fight every day trying to get more and more people in on this amazing way to live. And I think that is also very cool.

But then I also hear discussions -- or maybe it is fretting, actually -- about whether paleo is "sustainable"on a worldwide basis, were the whole world to try to eat that way.

And that's when I start to get cynical.

You know....  I hate to sound like a big jerk, but.... I don't care whether it is "sustainable" for the whole world, because, as far as I can tell, the whole world is never, ever going to eat this way in numbers substantial enough to warrant that concern. And this is not pro-America bashing of the rest of the world; I don't think all, or most, of America is ever going to eat this way either.

I look at it this way: almost nothing about me is "mainstream." My taste in music, books, movies, etc. is all offbeat and weird, for the most part. My political stances take so much from both major parties, and some from neither, that I end up identifying most with a group considered by the major parties to be on the fringe (libertarians).

I am a guy who listens to punk rock, likes Hunter Thompson and Douglas Adams books, doesn't identify with any major religion despite living in the most religious society in the western world, thinks a movie had better be weird to hold my attention, works out in what is still a "fringe" style of gym (CrossFit), has never watched American Idol, Survivor, or Dancing With the Stars, and generally doesn't give a damn what you do with your life as long as you don't hurt anyone else.

Should I be surprised or concerned -- or thinking, "What if everyone did this?" -- that the way I eat is out of the mainstream?

I am thinking no, and I am thinking that sometimes those of us who wonder -- or fret -- about this kind of issue quite possibly forget just how far out of the mainstream we are and how unlikely it is that the masses are going to embrace our eating habits any more than it is likely that Kathy Lee Gifford is going to announce that she's always been a big Sonic Youth fan, so this whole Kim/Thurston split really has her bummed.

Today, I noticed that an FB acquaintance mentioned that he had ditched sugary soda for a month. Good for him, but, y'know, in the circles we paleo folks run in, that, well, ain't shit. It's nice; it's a start, but a small one. But whoa...the reaction he got from most of his pals over just this meager step was mindblowing even for cynical ol' me. "Why?" one asked. "I would die," another said. And another noted that he had done the same thing for the past eleven months under doctor's orders, but.... "I miss it, but as long as I have no other dietary restrictions, I can make this sacrifice."

Holy balls. Really? And then I realized, yeah.


And these are not stupid people. They are college-educated folks making good wages doing smart things, and they eat like shit. You know why?

Because most people eat like shit.

And that's what I think we forget sometimes. Most of the country is stuffing in things from packages with ingredients that you cannot find in nature, or else eating at "restaurants" that are feeding the customers delicious-tasting sugar and grains with a helping of processed seed oils.

The paleo world, especially when it intersects with CrossFit, tends to remove us from our figurative isolation tanks that we otherwise would be in, dietarily speaking, and put us in these wonderful, supportive communities of super-effing healthy people who -- to steal a phrase I saw on Twitter and I don't remember where, or else I'd credit it -- "live clean and train dirty."

And I love those healthy communities, but they are not "the real world," and, I'm sorry, but cynical effing me thinks they never will be.

Yeah, just like in some towns there is a pretty cool independent radio station that is more popular than you might expect, there will be places where CrossFit and paleo get more than the expected market share, but it is still nowhere on the level that anyone needs to worry about "sustainability" of this lifestyle for the global masses. And it isn't going to be.

The masses ain't on board. They may come on board in bigger numbers, but, let's face it, most people are not going to ditch sugar, grains, legumes, etc and go paleo. But that's OK.

So.... Celebrate your weirdness, folks. Hang out with your weird friends. Do weird fun things and eat weird, awesome food.

Oh, and celebrate and encourage others to join The Paleo Clan of Weird. That type of work is, as I said, a very cool thing to do. But know that all of this is never going to be a top-40 hit.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The paleofication of the pup nation (feeding dogs raw meat and nothing but raw meat)

So there I was, talking nutrition, exercise, blahblahblah with a friend a few weeks back, and she said, "OK, Mr. Paleo, what do you feed your dogs?"

Aware that she and at least two other friends of mine feed their dogs nothing but raw meat, I knew where this was headed. So, instead of trying to justify lazy behavior, I fessed up to being a fairly anthropomorphic type, and admitted: we feed them dog food from a bag. It is pretty top-notch, y'know for food from a bag, but it is full of grains, not the meat that carnivorous dogs are born to eat. And I really am an anthropomorphic type. Everything else being equal, I would a save a human before a dog. But.... I want to do the best for the dogs and, after a whole bunch of research, I came to a basic conclusion:

It's pretty simple; we would be much nicer to our dogs if we fed them what nature intended.

So, we did some *more* research and, today, we made the leap. Let me introduce you to the players in this game. This is Lydia, age 11, a staff-terrier/lab mix:

This is Holly, a seven-year-old purebred golden retriever:

And this is trouble, er, Ruby -- a.k.a., The Big Rubowski, Rubella, The Rubonic Plague.... She is some sort of hound, age 1. She was billed as a "yellow lab." She is not a yellow lab; she is a hound. She could smell a microscopic drop of blood on an asteroid several hundred thousand light years away. Her nose is unreal; she is a hound. We adopted her last year when she was found, only a few weeks old, with her siblings, in a box by the side of the road in Mississippi:

She isn't *really* trouble, or not much. But she is more than twice as active than the other two combined and she has absolutely no stay-at-home sense. She has been hit by a van, with no noticeable long-term damage; although it is certainly clear post-accident that she will not be attending MIT. Previously, we had high hopes.

This is a chicken:

The idea of this diet is to turn the chicken loose in the yard, and let 'em at it. So we did....

You didn't really believe that last part, did you?

The deal is this: they get *all* their nutrients from the meat, raw. So you have to include bones, organs, fat, skin, etc. The smart people on the interwebs tell me that a mix of 80/10/10 meat/organs/bones is best, but they also tell you not to stress about individual meals. Just make sure the overall mix is close to that.

So the first few weeks are going to be chicken-based. Whole chickens. Everything but the feathers, head, neck and feet. About 2% of ideal body weight per day for the older ones and 3% for the youngster. Adjust accordingly if they get fat or skinny.

So here is how meal one went....

Lydia *destroyed* it. She dove right in, chomped up every bone and left not a scrap. It was no big deal. The other two took more time. They fretted over pieces that were too large, too bony, too whatever.

And then, about ten minutes into the fretting, they flipped completely, tore through it, crunching up bones with every bite, and generally acting like ravenous, carnivorous beasts.

It was pretty awesome. They looked *so* happy.

So I have big hopes. Lydia and Holly are both arthritic, and I know what paleo has done for my creaky joints, so I am hoping it helps them too. The Rube? Maybe she will have an unrivaled long life of meat-filled joy. Overall, I am hoping to have drastically reduced vet bills. Proponents of this diet claim that many people end up spending less on their pets, when minimal vet bills are factored in versus the old high-cost vet bills of the grainy diet.

This is cool. Our dogs are paleo. Even cooler: our dogs are even happier, it would seem.
UPDATE: After six days, I can't say I see huge changes in their coats yet, but their collective breath is much better. They also stay full longer and bug us less at mealtime. But the most unexpected change is that Ruby, the disgusting one, has almost completely stopped eating poop. (The other two never did). She used to use her dog sisters as vending machines for poop snacks, often eating it before it even hit the ground. She would also gleefully snack on it anytime she went outside. Always *their* poop, not hers (I guess *that* would be gross?). But suddenly, she is hardly eating it at all. I read somewhere that poop-eating is mostly about the dog wanting more protein, and I wonder if the meat-itarian diet has satisfied that need?

Anyway, it's awesome.

OK, except for this text message I got from my wife:

"Instead of eating Holly's poop, Ruby is rolling in it. Progress? I think not."

Fortunately, so far, *that* appears to have been a one-time event.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

From sweet to deranged (or not, your choice)

It used to be bad....

Back in the old days of my allegedly healthy, nearly vegetarian diet, I would spike and crash insulin all day long. Have a whole-grain-oriented breakfast, get crazy fucking hungry, have a whole-grain-oriented snack, or even a piece of fruit by itself (hint: fruit by itself is a really crappy snack; it's all sugar and other carbs and does nothing to keep you full.... Fruit is good for you, but by itself, it is incomplete). Get crazy fucking hungry. Eat more grainy "goodness." Get crazy fucking hungry. Repeat. All. Day. Long.

My mood was totally dependent on my hunger. Full equaled shiny/happy and anything less than full was part of a quick descent into "feed or die" crabbiness.

Paleo/primal changed one important part of that: everything.

It's not that a totally empty, hungry me isn't an asshole. Oh, I am. I just don't get there very often. (And I can already hear my friends saying, "But what if we *still* think you're an asshole?" Heh...that's why I love you). The fat and protein of this way of eating keep you full for longer and -- here is the kicker -- you can see the hunger coming from a very long way away, and you have plenty of time to do something about it. You rarely bottom-out into psychocrab city.

Paleo/primal introduces a Zenlike predictability to your eating patterns, and what follows is a higher level of predictability to your life, particularly moods and.... athletic performance.

What I have learned is that if I properly dial in sleep and food, exercise works itself out in wonderful -- and predictable -- ways.

I have been sleeping and eating really well lately. I am still less than two months out of nasty elbow surgery, but I PRd my five-rep deadlift yesterday.

Not just a post-surgery PR, mind you -- the heaviest weight I have ever deadlifted for five reps. and, best of all, I *knew* I was going to do it. Sleep has been nearly perfect. Even when I went out to see a band on Wednesday night, I made sure to schedule my work hours the next day in a way that I still got seven hours of sleep.

So, when I checked our CrossFit gym's website yesterday morning and saw that we were deadlifting, I pretty much *knew* I would PR. And it wasn't extreme cockiness, pride, etc that got me there. It was as simple as: I have been doing everything right for the past few weeks; surgery inflammation is almost gone; fuck this... I am PRing that lift.

It wasn't a massive PR -- just ten pounds up from the previous one -- but it was utterly predictable. Equally predictable was the way I could tell where the rest of the workout was headed. At one point, I turned to the trainer and said, "I have a choice; I can either PR my deadlift, or I can sprint fast in the workout that is coming up. But there is no way I am going to be able to do both. Fuck it. I am PRing this lift and just running as fast as I can afterwards, which isn't going to be crazy fast." And I was right on the money. PRd the lift; sprinted OK, but not as fast as if I had backed off on the lift.

Complete and utter predictability.

When you are talking the holy triumvirate of sleep, food and exercise, predictability is awesome.

And *that*, my friends, is the point of this seemingly pointless ramble-icious ramble. Crazy can be fun when it's the Black Keys throwing down the badass riffs and backbeats on a gathering of the faithful. It's not fun at all when it is your hunger, your mood swings and your athletic performance that hang in the balance.

And best of all, in the closing week of a 30-day challenge at our gym, I am hearing similar comments from folks who have dialed in their own sleep/food habits in a big way.

This is really easy. Get on it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, May 18, 2012

Product review: Tommie Copper compression gear, post-surgery

So, really, it was pretty ridiculous....

There I was, just a few days out of extremely invasive elbow surgery -- open capsular release with transposition of the ulnar nerve, if you really need to know -- and my heavily wrapped elbow and I were sitting down with a cup of coffee, about to turn on Morning Joe on MSNBC.

But the channel selector was on something else from the night before, probably a network that had a hockey game on, but now it had an infomercial. And the infomercial was all about compression sleeves that aid mobility. And at that moment they were focused on elbows. And at that moment, if I believed in higher powers controlling TV channels, I would have bought right into the notion that this infomercial was on there specifically for me.

Oh yeah, just to push the mounting over-the-top-ness of it all to the breaking point, Montel Williams was hawking the stuff.

It's called Tommie Copper gear.

They showed compression sleeves for (almost) every body part. Elbows, knees, wrists, shoulders (via a shirt), ankles, calves, fingers, wrists. And of course they had guys my age, formerly hampered with mobility issues, leaping around like some sort of faith healer had performed a miracle on them. But nothing of the sort was afoot. Rather, their newfound mobility was all thanks to Tommie Copper.

I was skeptical to the point of laughing.

But I was also a little susceptible to the wily ways of the infomercial at the time. I knew a few things: (1) mobility was my friend; I was supposed to get this arm moving as soon as possible; (2) I wasn't mobile at all at the time; (3) my arm was swollen as hell with fluid, so compression sounded like a good idea, but heavy compression sounded uncomfortable, and so the advertised "light"-feel of this stuff sounded appealing; (4) they were also claiming that copper, infused into the material of the sleeve, aided in healing.

Honestly, that last bit sounded ridiculous. But I liked the other points. I figured the combo of the reduced swelling and increased mobility, if true, was worth the price. The copper-based healing? Uhhhh, whatever. If true, cool, but I wasn't gonna hold my breath on that one.

So I ordered. I ordered two. I figured that if it worked, I was going to need to wear it a lot, so cleanliness issues would arise if I only owned one.

Plus Montel promised me free shipping if I ordered two. I virtually patted his bald noggin for good luck and hit "purchase" on the interwebs.

A few days later, my sleeves arrived. At that point, my elbow was still really swollen, and the stitches were in. I put on one of the sleeves, and....

Holy juicy elbows, Batman. Fluid started draining out like crazy. I ended up swapping the sleeves out every few hours for the first few days. Swelling went down, and the arm just plain felt better with the sleeve on. It drained so much fluid out that I had to actually stop wearing it for a few days so the wound would close fully. Then I started up again. 24 hours a day or as close as I could to that.

I kept wearing them. And, invariably, it feels better with the sleeve on. The swelling is way down now -- almost two months out of surgery-- but if I sleep without the sleeve, I wake up with a stiff, painful arm at some point. If I use the sleeve, mobility is better. If I use it at the gym, it feels better. If I forget it, it feels worse.

So, what's the deal? I have no idea, but I like it. Is the copper actually promoting healing? I have no idea, but my surgeon and my physical therapist tell me I am way ahead of schedule on mobility increases and pain decreases.

I *can* tell you this: the compression aspect of this thing is wonderful. It has a light feel to it, but is clearly compressing the area, and I can move so much better with it on. Drumming, weightlifting, whatever. It is all better with the sleeve on, in terms of mobility. And pain is way down with it on. It is, dare I say, *soothing* to wear the thing.

But, seriously, I have no idea if the copper part of it is doing anything. On the other hand, the only way to find out would be to swap it out for some tighter, non-coppery one, and, um, no thanks. I like this one.

So.... All I can say is that if I were having surgery again, I would wear one of these on the surgical area, post-op, assuming my doc was cool with it. Everything is better with it on.

Thanks, TC. It was a good purchase.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

30-day paleo challenges are easy, but then what?

"And I said to myself, 'I'm never going to do this again.' I finished my drink. It was the last one I ever had....
My goal was provisional and modest: one month without drinking. For the first few weeks, this wasn't easy. I had to break the habits of a lifetime. But I did some mechanical things. I created a mantra for myself, saying over and over again, 'I will live my life from now on; I will not perform it....'
The first few weeks stretched into a month, and then after thirty days, I already felt better physically.... In the mornings, I felt clear and fresh....
But I had one major ally among the regulars [in the bar]: the bearded poet Joel Oppenheimer. A few months earlier, the doctors had ordered him to stop drinking and he'd followed their orders....
'You won't have as much fun,' Joel cautioned me. 'But the fun will really be fun.'"
-- Pete Hamill, from "A Drinking Life"

That book is maybe, just maybe, the best memoir ever written. It is, despite its title, not really *about* drinking at all. It is about living.... Living a very very full life. Alcohol is a prop through much of it -- a near-constant companion of the author, but it is never his raison d'être, even at his lowest. He doesn't quit booze until the very end of the tale, when, at age 37 or so, he just stops cold, tells you about the quitting process in five pages or so, and the book ends.

Like I said, the book's not really about booze, and neither is this post.

But, when I recently went back to A Drinking Life -- and I like to do that.... occasionally dive back into familiar, but amazing, books headfirst, just like I'd turn on Exile on Main Street, or the first Clash album, or (double swoon) Double Nickels on the Dime, just to bask in the glory one more time -- I realized something:

Everything Pete Hamill says about feeling like an outsider once he quit drinking applies to how you feel when you ditch the standard American diet (SAD) and go paleo/primal. You are suddenly like a teetotaler in a bar. There you stand at the post-work gathering, or at your friend's birthday party, or at a restaurant with your buddies, and you are the freak. They are downing pizza and wings and nachos and you are ordering a burger without the bun and dumping it into your side salad while everyone stares as you order extra guacamole, or ask the server for some olive oil.

And you do that in the beginning, likely with the same attitude that Pete Hamill had about quitting drinking: I just need to do this for a month.

And if, like a whole bunch of people at our gym, you are coming up on the end of a thirty-day challenge, you are also approaching an interesting crossroads: do you keep up this paleo stuff or lapse back into the SAD?

"I will live my life from now on; I will not perform it."
"You won't have as much fun. But the fun will really be fun."

Those are the two lines that stick with me the most.

See, I am not going to pretend that, if you keep this up, you won't miss the pizza and wings. You will. But you also won't miss the weight that falls off (or maybe fell off already), the flab that's been replaced by muscle because you have been hitting the iron instead of the keg. You certainly won't miss being told by your doctor that you are bordering on (or maybe well into) Type-2 diabetes, and, if you are my age, you will not miss aching, swollen joints in the morning, reduced energy and the craziness of hunger brought on by grain-induced insulin spikes and crashes.

If "fun" is stuffing whatever the hell you feel like into your mouth at every turn, then no, you won't have as much fun. But I swear to you that the fun that you have really will be fun. There are not only filling, delicious meals, full of meat, vegetables, fruit and good fats. There is renewed energy, good health and just plain *feeling better*. There is everyone in your workplace (or on your softball team or in your church group or wherever) wondering why they keep feeling like shit everyday and you seem to be bouncing, full of life and vitality.

You can return to mechanically going about your days like most of America, eating cereal, bagels, donuts, cake, pasta, or you can actually live. You have ditched that crap and actually found out what you are capable of. Or, more likely, you have ditched it and only begun to scratch the surface of what you are capable of.

You can live your life to its fullest instead of performing it in the way that so many people do. While they are stuffing in the cookies and snacks, wondering why the "diets" never work, and generally being miserable, you can continue eating until you are full, barely snacking at all and feeling better than you ever have.

Keep it up. The fun will *really* be fun.

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The Paleo Drummer Facebook page, maybe some T-shirts and gratuitous Black Sabbath references

I have a lot of blog traffic these days, ever-increasing it seems, for which I am grateful to you, the reader. Strangely, the number of "likes" on my Facebook page creeps forward at a glacial pace. (Hint: glaciers are slow, slower than even your alcoholic friend Bob, weighted down with chips and 12-packs of Keystone Light).

If you enjoy the sort of, um, "wisdom" that spouts forth from my brain on these pages, even more of the same sort of nonsense can be found over there.

Think of hitting that "like" button as a big, utterly painless virtual hug to someone you probably didn't want to hug anyway, but who will really appreciate it. And no, I won't try to "friend" you, stalk you or otherwise have non-paleo-drummer encounters with you.

*And* I make it absurdly easy for you by giving you the widget at the top of that column over there ------------------>>>>>

Oh, and thanks to the person who gave me the Paleo Drummer T-shirt idea. I like it. I like it a lot, actually. I like it even better when I think about doing a "100% of profits go to charity" deal on them. But the design can't just be OK, meh, etc. It needs to be The First Four Black Sabbath Albums of T-shirts.

("Why is it called El Niño? That means 'the child.' So the weather person wants you to be scared that a child is about to affect the weather. They need to rename it 'The First Four Black Sabbath Albums.' If you heard *that* was part of your weather pattern, you'd wake right the hell up and pay attention." -- Henry Rollins (paraphrased from memory))

So this T-shirt idea may take a little time. There is only one absolute guarantee so far: the first run will be black. Probably the second run too....

But back to that FB page for a moment.... Go like the thing, please?


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book review: The Power of Community: CrossFit and the Force of Human Connection by Dr. Allison Belger

Timing is everything.

Last week, right at the same time that I had just planned to crack open Dr. Allison Belger's book -- The Power of Community: CrossFit and the Force of Human Connection -- we got word that my brother-in-law had taken his own life. He was just a few days short of 46 years old, and he died alone.

I didn't know Brian terribly well. He lived several states away and we saw him once or twice a year at family gatherings at holidays. We got along well, though, out of a shared sense that almost anything was fair game for humor. He was a smart, funny guy, and you should know by now that smart and funny are my people. But, over the twelve years that I knew him, you could see a light beginning to fade in the past few years. Unemployment in a bad economy and the depression that resulted took their toll on him.

And what I kept hearing from his friends and family this past week when they would talk about him is how he had withdrawn into himself, and how their best efforts to get together with him in recent years were usually rejected by him -- not rudely, but rejected nonetheless.

At one point my wife, who, obviously, was crushed by her brother's death, and I both agreed: this is all sad proof that everyone needs people. I don't care what your community is, but you need one. Brian withdrew from all of that, and it can't have helped his depression.

I have known a number of people over the years who have just kind of checked out of society. And it never has worked out well.

I think some of us lose our way when the subject of community comes up because there are those of us for whom the single greatest source of community in the USA -- a church or other religious house of worship -- doesn't hold any attraction. In fact, I have little doubt that a large portion of the new membership in many houses of worship is in attendance not merely for the spiritual angle that they get from it, but also for the sense of community that is admirably present in those organizations.

But what if, like me, joining a church isn't likely to be in your future plans? Is the inevitable result a lack of community in your life unless you are otherwise fortunate enough to have some professional or military organization to help you get that sense of belonging that we all seem to need?

Well, it is certainly not the only way, but what about CrossFit?

My wife and I belonged to a standard-issue globo gym for nine years. During that time, I believe I can count on two hands the number of people with whom I ever had a conversation at that gym, and can count on about three fingers the number to whom I regularly said hello, and with whom I routinely had any more than the most mundane conversation. The regular old gym is a weird place of insular behavior committed in large numbers. It's like everyone walks around wearing those "cones of silence" from Get Smart.

CrossFit gyms are nothing like that. We all know each other at our local "box." If a newbie walks into a CF gym, it is a pretty strong likelihood that within moments that person will be approached by and then engaged in a conversation with someone -- maybe the gym owner, but maybe, if the owner is a busy trainer tending to other things, just one of the clients. See, unlike all those other gyms, at CrossFit we regular members actually want you to join. We want to let you in on the secret: that hard, intense group workouts foster goodwill and community. That part of what makes this so awesome is the people. And that those people aren't just going to end up being your workout partners. They will end up doing charity events with you, running 5Ks with you, watching your dog when you're out of town and playing volleyball at your house.

Well, Allison Belger -- a practicing psychologist, co-owner of four CrossFit gyms and a CrossFit Games competitor -- wants you to know all that too, but she went the extra miles and wrote a book, and it's sort of a quiet little masterpiece.

See, by and large, I like books like that Matt Foreman one I just reviewed -- the kind that, with great humor, self-effacement and very little subtlety, grab you by the throat, or some more sensitive part of the anatomy, and haul you into the tale where the author is often the protagonist and he or she simultaneously cracks you the eff up and imparts great life lessons amidst joyfully nutty behavior, possible debauchery and good times. In those books, the reader leaves feeling un-subtlely empowered and awesome, and generally high on life.

I like punk rock for all the same reasons.

But Belger's book -- The Power of Community -- is nothing like that. First of all, she is not the star. She has cred -- in the fitness *and* psychology worlds -- out the wazoo, mind you. But she is almost entirely telling the tales of others. And all of those stories head for a common ground -- that CrossFit is so much more than a fitness program; rather, is an empowering community.

It may be that right around now that you, the more cynical reader, is, amidst gentle vomiting noises, wondering where your gleefully cynical paleo drummer has gone, replaced, apparently, by some sort of Up With People bot-person Bono clone.

No, I'm still here, and yet, despite having a seemingly over-developed cynicism gene, I *really* like this book. Like I said, it goes about its job quietly and, dare I say, academically and brilliantly. So it's a little different than my usual fare. But by the end, you'll be beset by a burning urge to go give things a shot at a local CrossFit box, or, if, like me, you are already a CrossFitter, you will head to the gym with even more enthusiasm and hope there are people out there who maybe have lost their way in life a little in the area of "community" who might join you.

Much of the book is spent profiling others. In the early chapters of the book, the focus is often on members at one of Belger's gyms who have experienced any number of catastrophic events in their lives. The tales of how the members at that gym rallied behind fallen colleagues are inspiring. But where the book really took off, from my perspective, was when the stories switched focus from that one gym to a myriad of examples of extraordinary efforts by CrossFit gym owners around the country -- people who have started organizations like Steve's Club, the Disposable Heroes Project and others which have as their goals not merely helping their friends, but reaching out into the communities and using CrossFit to advance the lives of others.

I recall during one of the early chapters thinking, "Wow, that's a hell of a group of people you have at that one gym in San Francisco." But by the end of the book, instead, I was marveling at how CrossFit gyms and members *all over* are creating communities, often ones that go far beyond the walls of their gyms. Some of the most moving stories focused on recovering addicts who have used CrossFit not as a substitute addiction, but instead as a reason not only to never relapse themselves, but also to help others clear that hump forever.

It's powerful stuff. Like one of Belger's gym members says in the book, "I love CrossFit. It lets the rock 'n' roll live inside me, in a healthy way. I am more rock and roll power cleaning than I ever was doing a Jagerbomb." Or, as a special forces captain told CF founder Greg Glassman, "We've learned through CrossFit the formula for camaraderie, and I can now duplicate it anywhere. It's agony coupled with laughter." And in a group dynamic, the community that results from that agony/laughter hybrid is amazing and impressive.

Get Allison Belger's book. It won't have you laughing as much as Matt Foreman's, but for flat-out inspiration it is tough to beat.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Why I'm voting for Gary Johnson for president in 2012

I don't do overtly political posts very often. It's more likely, if I touch politics at all, that I do it from the sidelines, as a casual -- but *very* interested -- observer of the side show from either party.

But I am coming to a realization: I am well and truly sick of voting for Democrats over Republicans for president because they freak me out less than the other side, especially when the other side doesn't really freak me out all that much more than they do.

I have explained before. I lean pretty well libertarian. I am, to use a phrase I wish I had thought of, "pro-choice about everything." I generally believe in personal and economic freedom, and think the first option in drafting any bill ought to be to favor liberty and encroach upon it only when necessary to further a very specific, well-defined goal. On the other hand, I never have really embraced Ron Paul. I don't know much enough about the Fed to get all whackadoodle over it like Ron Paul does, and all that racist stuff in his old newsletters gives me great pause before I would ever even consider voting for him. (Plus, I do not, for the life of me (pun intended) understand anti-choice libertarians, but that's another topic for another day... Or probably not).

But this year the Libertarian Party has nominated former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson for president, and I have found, after reading a lot about Gary Johnson, that, unlike Obama or Romney, I agree with almost every single point of his platform. He appears to truly be "pro-choice about everything."

That never happens. Usually, because when the chips are down I will choose personal freedoms over economic ones if forced to do so, I end up voting Democratic for president as a "lesser of two evils" type of situation. I don't like government in my bedroom or my wallet, but the former offends me even more than the latter. And, if you forced me to choose, I would pick Obama over Romney if only because I don't have a freaking clue what Mitt Romney stands for. That fairly moderate guy who was governor of Massachusetts? I could vote for him. But this version of the Mitt? He seems to run to the moralizing wing of his party at every turn for solace. But President Obama? I would love to have a beer with him, y'know if I actually drank beer anymore, and I think he is plenty smart and even mostly well-meaning (although, to digress, what the *hell* is up with the raids on medical marijuana facilities, sir?), but I truly do not believe he thinks the national debt is a very big deal.

And I think he is so very very wrong about that.

If the president had wanted to seize the moment, save the day, and maybe even be the Greatest President Everrrrrrr, as the kids say, he would have gotten behind Simpson/Bowles, which had as its selling point the fact that it caused pain all around *and* fixed the problem, and ridden that nasty bill into the end zone through the mud, muck and mire. To victory.

But he didn't. He has been kind of a crappy leader on this point. A nice guy. A good guy. I don't question his patriotism, his citizenship or any of that. But I don't think he is taking this debt problem seriously.

And Mittens? I don't know who the hell he is. Really. I think he wants to be president so badly that he would say or do anything to get there.

And, by the way, I live in New Jersey. Combine the fact that one vote never decides a presidential race with the fact that if the president needs my vote to win New Jersey, he is in very deep doodoo for the overall race, and I have decided something:

I am voting for the guy I like the best. And that, right now, is Gary Johnson.

Go to his website. Look at his platform. I agree with most of it, much more of it than I have ever agreed with anyone on. (I am not sure about the Fair Tax, but at least it is better than a tax code so large that no one but a tax lawyer can truly decipher it). He believes in government leaving us the hell alone to live our lives except in very well-defined, limited circumstances.

He also looks like he tells the truth. Every time. Ask him what his position is on anything and he will tell you. No obfuscation. No political "figuring."

You can tell me that I am "wasting my vote." That's crap. Yes, it is extremely unlikely Johnson will win a single state, let alone the presidency, but, as I just explained to you, my vote in New Jersey is pretty well "wasted" anyway. At least a vote for Johnson is a statement of principle, and at least It does something to advance a political agenda in which I believe very strongly, particularly a serious approach to debt reduction that puts aside ego and pet projects and self-interest in favor of actually getting something done, so there's, y'know, maybe actually a positive balance sheet one day, instead of doom followed by gloom. In fact, maybe it is somehow possible that if enough people vote for Johnson, whoever wins this thing will realize there is a disaffected center in American politics that would like to see a solution, not more problems, when it comes to the debt. And then, maybe, just maybe, Simpson/Bowles will reappear.

If I vote for Obama, I know what I am voting for: more of the same, which means no real progress on the debt. If I vote for Romney, I have no idea what I am voting for, and that is terrifying, and utterly unacceptable.

So I am ordering the Gary Johnson bumper sticker. I am putting it on my car. And I am voting for the guy I like the best.

When you pull the lever for whomever in November, I hope you can say the same.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book review: Matt Foreman -- "Bones of Iron"

I like smart. I like funny. Smart + funny = big win.

File Matt Foreman's book, Bones of Iron, under "big win."

A simple caveat: if you don't ever lift a barbell, I am thinking Matt's book is going to bore you, perhaps to acts of violence. Indeed, you may already be kicking the puppy now just from this review. Stop it, and move on to something more interesting, and less violent, if that's the case.

However, if you have ever -- even a little -- experienced the joy of the iron,
you can find a lot to like here. You might even find it a bit inspirational.

Bones of Iron is written from the POV of a guy who "found himself" (my term, not his) by powerlifting in his teens and then moving on to Olympic weightlifting where he found great success as both an athlete and a coach. He transitioned from a shy kid into a brash one and then into an adult, and the twists and turns of it all, and his ultimate progression into a good guy, mentor and coach had a lot to do with his choice of sports and those who influenced him along the way. And he tells you the whole story, but in the context of a collection of articles originally written for the Performance Menu, the journal at Catalyst Athletics. You could bounce all over it, just reading articles that piqué your interest. But the book is best tackled start to finish.

There are three sections: Training, Competitive Experience, and General Athletic Experience. But the whole damn thing addresses all three areas and does so in a way that not only would hold the interest of a competitive weightlifter, but also me (a relatively crappy weightlifter, but one who gets a world of good stuff out of the sport). Best of all, even when Foreman deals with a coaching- or competition-related topic that you might otherwise think would be too specialized for the average gym goer, he manages to do so in a way that not only is engaging, but actually informs even the lunkheaded, like myself. For instance, an article about coaching is addressed, on its face, to coaches (durrrr), but even the not-so-bright athlete can glean info from the same article that will assist in picking a coach or trainer, or in choosing whether to retain one when there is "trouble."

And, most importantly, Foreman is smart, funny, self-deprecating and self-aware. It's a good combo for a writer and he wears it well. Plus he has cool frames of reference (e.g., an article entitled "Third Snatch From the Sun" that ends with the line: "It's as simple as standing next to a mountain and chopping it down with the edge of your hand.")

And if he didn't have me sold with Jimi, the Bo Jackson references a few pages later got me -- an Oakland Raiders fan since the days of Daryle Fucking Lamonica (yes, that was his middle name) -- hook, line and sinker.

Foreman never gets preachy, but you know where he stands, with appropriate hyperbole: (from "Fatties") "This doesn't mean that making our kids dig ditches in the back yard for eight hours a day in their pre-teen years is going to solve all our sport and social problems, but it couldn't hurt anything."

He waxes nearly poetic about what might not inspire others to verse, but its *his* passion, dammit, so he can delve into "the spiritual principles of squatting," throw in a Marley (Bob, not the dog, not the Christmas Carol dude) reference, and get out alive and intact, spewing life-affirming wisdom.

And if you *really* want inspirational, buy the book and read the one called, "So runs my dream, but what am I?" No, I am not going to tell you anything about that one, except that it almost made me cry *and* want to go lift something heavy, all within the same page.

It's a good trick.

Buy the book.

If you do, you will get to bask in lines like this:

"Hey, this is like the awkward stage children have to go through. You're like the little boy who came to school and found out the hard way that the cool kids don't pull their pants all the way down around their ankles when they pee at the urinal."

And you can read white-hot/on-target rages against selfish "new school" athletes and parents who have no respect for other competitors or the sport:

"If you just got back from Dick's Sporting Goods and you're excited to give little ten-year-old Tyler a shirt you just bought him that says, 'I'm number one and everybody can lick my butthole,' so he can wear it to youth wrestling practice tomorrow, then I guess we probably have a difference of opinion. But here's some food for thought. What if Tyler shows up to wrestling practice with his cocky new shirt, and then he gets pinned in sixteen seconds by some tough little Mormon kid? At that point we can safely say that Tyler is NOT number one, and that shirt is gonna look pretty stupid. Don't humiliate your kids."

And he is always unfailingly plainspoken and clear. He gives you "The basic blueprint for not becoming a jerkoff," which Foreman then readily admits he has violated with impunity in the past.

So, just buy it. Everyone will win. You'll love it. Matt Foreman will get a little coin from the deal, and if you and he end up not getting along, post something on the Catalyst Athletics Facebook site and I am sure he would be glad to help you out by following his own advice: "If you [and your coach] have any tough times, try using an exercise where you both sit down and write a poem about each other. That sounds like a special way to share feelings of happiness. Just don't start your poem with the line, 'There once was a man from Nantucket.'"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Profiles in courage. A report from the bottom of the leaderboard at CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regionals

I have a pretty harsh sense of humor. I can be a cynical bastard. My cynicism can be a bit much, really. I try and keep a lid on it, but, yeah, lids break sometimes....

In keeping with that, my sense of awe and wonder may be a little less developed than yours as well. It takes a lot to impress me.

Conversely, however, when I get impressed, look out.

Once my mind gets blown and I get in a full-on state of "Holy shit, did you see *that*?!?!" let's just say that *all* my cynicism disappears in one giant flush and I stand there, figuratively (or even literally), slackjawed and stunned, perhaps even a little misty-eyed, mumbling Zen-based profundities on the miracle of life on the big blue orb that we call home.

Like I said, it's all a bit much, but -- like a decent 400m sprint for an old guy -- sometimes it's all I got.

Which brings us to yesterday's events at the CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regionals.

I know what you are thinking: I am about to tell you how awesome, amazing, etc. some of the top-flight athletic performances that I saw were. Yeah, to name a few, Ben Smith is a superhuman cyborg. He should be disqualified from all future competitions because he clearly is mainlining the blood of alien babies who died at Roswell. No one could possibly be that good. But he is. And, on the women's side, Jenn Jones is flat-out killing it too. And I could spend a whole lot more space telling you about twenty or more mindblowing feats of strength, mobility and Terminator-like instinct from the likes of twenty or more other individuals and teams. (Speaking of teams, we should consider scrapping the entire Department of Homeland Security in favor of employing CrossFit Greensboro to do the job. Maybe it wouldn't even require the whole gym, just the male/female pair who did the DB snatch event (#3) yesterday). These are scary, awe-inspiring people.

But everyone else is focused on them. So you don't need me to do that.

Instead, I am aiming my truly awe-inspired thoughts today a lot lower on the leaderboard.

I was there specifically to watch my son's team from CrossFit 215. They were a "bubble team," ranked in the very last spot for regional qualification. They had a great attitude: they qualified and they were going to do their best to kick ass, but it was all in the pursuit of fun. They were going to be in the second heat of Team Event Three.

And, whoa.... Team Event Three yesterday was murderous: one-arm dumbbell snatches at 100 pounds for men, 70 pounds for women, and the athlete had to alternate arms for each rep. The full workout was one man and one woman for each team, three rounds of ten snatches each, punctuated by a 100-yd sprint at the end of each round for each person. So it went something like: man snatches 100-lb DB five times on each side, sprints 100 yards and then woman does her round at 70 pounds and then sprints, and back it goes to the guy. Three total rounds for each person. To move on to the next event, each team had to finish one round apiece for the man and woman or else the team would be cut from the competition. The pressure was on.

So, there I was, pre-first heat, shooting the proverbial shit with Steve Liberati from Steve's Club. (And let me digress and say that if you are not supporting the work of Steve's Club through a purchase or donation, you ought to get a move on and get it in gear. They are doing more to help urban teens than the government or almost anyone else). We had just finished talking when I noticed the first heat of Team Event Three had gotten under way. My son's team wouldn't be up until the next heat, but this looked like it could be awesome, and I watched. The guys mostly powered their way through the first ten snatches, did their sprints and passed the figurative batons off to their female teammates.

It was then that it all got inspiring. I said something to Steve like, "Holy shit, look at *this* woman dig in." And he saw what I meant, and we never said another word, instead watching the workout intently.

There were quite a few women athletes destroying their portion of this workout, but some weren't. And, during heat one, I happened to be standing near one of the latter at the time, and it got riveting.

A 70-pound DB snatch would give me serious pause. I am a guy, 6'3"-ish, about 175. Thirty of them, alternating arms -- the amount required of each *female* team member -- sounds brutal, probably impossible for me, particularly just out of elbow surgery as I am right now. (I am not even going to talk about the men's weight... Yowch). But in the hand of what was probably a 5'2" tall woman who, even well-muscled as she is, couldn't weigh than 120 or so? Double yowch.

The word "daunting" came to mind.

I don't know what team she was with. I don't know her name. But, holy hell, this woman had guts.

Let's begin by saying that the weight was heavy for her. But here's the thing: she didn't seem to care. She spent, no lie, most of the twelve-minute cap on the workout trying to get one snatch. One. Get that one and there would be a whole lot more to go. One. She needed a bunch more just to get her team past the one-round cut. One. That's what she fearlessly kept working on.

I would have quit about 30 seconds in.

She didn't quit.

It was quite possibly the most inspiring thing I have ever watched and certainly the most inspiring thing I have ever watched live, in-person.

I swore at various moments -- and, granted, I'm a little pro-elbow at the moment -- that her elbow was going to twist off. At other moments, I thought that the dumbbell was going to leave a melon-sized indentation in her skull as it crashed down repeatedly, just missing her noggin, on failed attempt after failed attempt. Then her arm did this wacky wobbly thing on a few attempts in a row that led a whole bunch of us to think that her wrist, elbow and shoulder might all petition for a new, nicer owner.

And. She. Just. Kept. Trying.

And she was missing these snatches by the narrowest of margins, meaning that she was spending colossal amounts of energy on each attempt.

Yet, she *looked* about as unfazed by all of this as she could. I would have slaughtered several fuzzy newborn kittens one minute into this ordeal. After two minutes, you would have been able to hear me yelling a list of words featuring the letter F a few counties away. And after no more than three minutes I would have thrown the DB through the wall and quit.

She didn't quit. She just kept at it.

For probably 11 minutes, she soldiered on. Failed violent attempt after failed violent attempt. When it had to *really* get gnarly -- from the physical perspective, but particularly the mental one -- was when she *had* to realize that even if she could get one, two, even three completed reps, she wasn't going to get ten and her team was going to get cut because she was running out of time.

She kept going. I don't know how.

Finally, the timer sounded the cutoff at 12 minutes. I was relieved. Honestly, she looked like she wanted to keep trying.

I'm sure it was all a crushing disappointment to her, but you wouldn't have known it. Not more than 30 minutes later -- a period of time during which I would have still been beating something to death somewhere if this were me -- I was walking through the top part of the stands and saw her laughing with friends.


She was easy to identify from the mega bag of ice tied to her arm. I risked being rude and interrupted her for just a second: "I want you to know that was the bravest damn thing I have ever seen. You should be really proud of yourself for grinding that out."

She laughed again and thanked me.

I didn't tell her that, thanks to her, I am going to keep my complaints to myself in the gym for a *very* long while.

A small postscript: this particular heat-one drama played itself out similarly for a number of women in this heat and others, including in the individual events. My son's teammate at CrossFit 215 struggled mightily through the first 10 reps of this workout, and got out of it alive, even somehow making her 11th and 12th reps her best of the day. That was an inspiration too, as was every other competitor who struggled -- failing or succeeding -- with this workout. I focused here on this particular athlete because she was the one whom I observed go through all this agony first. I also saw much of it from a vantage spot on the floor that got so crowded on subsequent heats that I went into the stands, so I can accurately report her great attitude during and after all this went down. Absolutely no disrespect is intended toward anyone else who also gutted out this nightmare workout, succeeding or failing. You are all heroes, much tougher than me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, May 4, 2012

The "Happy Diet".... Whoa.

So I saw a post on Facebook today, detailing a guy's "happy diet." I would never identify him here, but I will repost the contents of the alleged "happy diet," because, as the kids say, "OMFG":

8oz Orange Juice
Special K with skim milk

Morning Snack
8oz V8 juice
100 Calorie Pretzel Pack

Special K Honey Nut Bar
8oz V8

Afternoon Snack
100 Calorie Pretzel Pack
Diet Pepsi

Handful of pistachio nuts
5 Martinis


For the purposes of this discussion, let's ignore that level of boozing. I am not really concerned about that, not because it isn't a problem to drink that much, but whatever, y'know? You all "get" that already, I am sure. In fact, I bet he does too and just chooses to do what he does because it makes him "happy." Cool. I am down with happy.

I will even ignore the hideously processed nature of basically all of it except the pistachios and maybe some of the salad. Again, you get that. I am focused on the word "happy."

The non-booze part of it makes him "happy?" Oh my god.... There would be piles of dead people in my wake all day long from the insulin spikes and crashes. That "diet" is almost nothing but carbs and sugar. There is nothing to fill you up or keep you full. Breakfast is sugar, grains and sugar plus some minuscule amount of protein from the second sugar (skim milk). When he gets hungry, he pours in V8 and pretzels? Quite the filling protein and fat there. Lunch? No better. Afternoon snack... No better plus battery acid (Diet Pepsi). And nuts for dinner. Ok, those *probably* kept him full for longer than anything else, but the booze would have wrecked that. (But again, forget about the booze; I suppose there is arguably some "happiness" in there somewhere). All this is is a ton of carbs and snacks, made up of carbs. Why do you think you need those snacks? This is like a starvation POW diet with martinis.

Dude, I fear for those around you.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Time for football "protective" gear to do a small-scale disappearing act?

It's a damn shame about the death of Junior Seau. He was a hell of a football player, and I say that as an Oakland Raiders fan since I was seven years old. My team never had Junior on the squad and we were worse off for it, as the pic above demonstrates.

And I, like everyone else, have no idea if he had a brain injury from years of football, but, whether he did or he didn't, the powers that be in the NFL and other football governing bodies are going to be forced into some decisionmaking about equipment in the future, because a lot of people are getting seriously hurt playing this game. And it is a great game, but we should be striving to make it as safe as possible without changing its core.

Two simple facts: players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever, and many, if not most, defensive players have learned how to use their protective gear, especially, but not only, their helmets, as weaponry to inflict pain and damage on their adversary.

A simple proposal to consider -- and when I say "consider," I mean "consider," not necessarily adopt, but I think it needs to be part of the thought process: how about scaling back the gear? Significantly.

See, here's another simple fact: despite resembling, respectively, a schoolyard fight and a prison riot, rugby and Aussie-rules football don't have anywhere near the level of injury involved as does American football. And that's true even though our football players dress like Robocop. But those players in those sports don't wear much gear beyond a mouth guard and a cup.

I think we American footballers have to start considering losing the Robocop look in favor of something closer to the old-school leather helmet, shoulder pads and cup. Yes, really.

No one knows how to tackle the old-school way anymore. The classic wrap-and-drop tackle has given way to smashing the man down, often using the pads and helmet as destructive devices. This morning I heard Willie Geist accurately describe the typical NFL game as involving a neverending series of "small-scale car accidents." That nonsense would stop if the defensive player were afraid of ringing his own bell if he "tackled" like that.

The theory is really that simple. Take away the "weapons" and the safety factor goes way up. And let's be serious; I am not proposing turning the NFL into Wuss Camp. This would still be a hard-hitting game, but one in which the perpetrators of the hard hits would have to pay a mighty price if the hits are delivered the way they are now. You aren't likely to spear a guy with your helmet if the helmet is one of those little leather contraptions.

Think about it, NFL. If you do it, everyone else would follow. If not, figure out a better solution, but for eff's sake, do *something* because the game we all love is doing serious damage that it needn't cause.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


It is a very busy week, and I just haven't had time to jump on here. And with CrossFit regionals coming up this weekend -- going to watch my son compete on the team from CrossFit 215 -- there is a pretty strong possibility that, no matter how clever, witty and/or charming I'm feeling between now and then, none of that will take the form of a blog post until Sunday.

So, go read some other fun blog until then, or let's put on some Foo Fighters and take a little drive:

Talk to you soon....