Friday, September 28, 2012

The "wasted" vote

I have told you before that I am voting for Gary Johnson for president. I don't care if *you* do. OK, I would love it if you did, but I won't think any less of you if you don't -- as long as you vote for whomever you really like the best.

And that's the point of this post. No vote is wasted. (Or else, a whole lot of them are).

Think about it. On a purely mathematical/logical level that views a "wasted" vote as defining "a futile act that makes no difference," if you vote for anyone who loses an election, your vote was "wasted." If you hadn't voted, the result would be the same. Indeed, unless the election were decided by one vote, your vote would be "wasted" even if you voted for the winner. The same thing would have happened if you hadn't voted at all.

Really? Well yeah, if you want to get all mathematical about it.

But fuck that. Let's get back to basic democracy. Vote for the guy (or gal) you want to be president.

The funny part about voting for a third-party candidate is that sometimes *both* sides will tell you how you are a traitor to their cause and just helping the *other* guy win. If you go to any libertarian site, the comments from GOPers are overwhelming in declaring that "a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Obama." Among my mostly lefty friends, I am told that a vote for Johnson "is a vote for Romney."

Maybe, just maybe, a vote for Gary Johnson is just.... a vote for Gary Johnson and what he stands for.

See, if forced to choose between Obama and Romney, I would take Obama every time, but there is no "forcing" at all. I have spent most of my adult life voting for the lesser of two evils, and I am tired of it. My vote hasn't made a mathematical difference in *any* of those elections. But it sure did make me feel lousy sometimes (Michael Dukakis? Jebus....) And this time around, when the major-party candidate I like "better" is a guy who swore to me last election that he he was going to let states decide one of the most basic issues of compassionate medicine/freedom that I can think of -- medicinal marijuana -- and then turned around and raided more med-pot facilities than George W. Bush in states that had decided that yeah, medicinal pot is OK with them, I don't feel a lot of compelling loyalty-based reasons to vote for that guy, particularly when the person on the Libertarian Party ticket is, quite literally, my favorite politician of my lifetime -- Gary Johnson, a guy who is truly pro-choice about just about everything. (Go here if you want to read Conor Friedersdorf's eloquent statement of reasons in The Atlantic regarding why he is voting for Johnson, if at all).

So how about this? Do what *you* really want to do. Your vote matters a lot, except that, mathematically speaking, it doesn't matter at all. So vote for the candidate you like the best, and to hell with all that "wasted vote" nonsense.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Peanut butter and paleo

It's an interesting issue. If you are a paleo eater, you know the deal: nuts are cool in moderation, but peanuts are not a nut. They are a legume, and legumes are out. The best reasoning I ever heard for that rule is that when it comes to the stuff that legumes do well -- like contain protein -- they are beaten hands-down by animal protein, and the stuff they do badly, like expose you to gut-irritating lectins, makes them mostly not worth the hassle.

Mark Sisson has dealt with the peanut-butter issue really well. You should read that article. But I thought I would add a thought (or two).

And that thought is this: like most on-the-edge of paleo items, you need to chart your own course. Paleo isn't a religion. Figure out what works for you. For me, the occasional rice and beans don't do me a whole lot of harm, but eat 'em too much and the old "beans, beans" rhyme/song seems unduly apt. Peanut butter seems a little weirder. I ate a number of *jars* of it while hiking in California this summer because it was easy to throw in a backpack, with a spoon, and almond butter was not very available where I was. It was, seemingly, no big deal.

But I am not sure that vacation, with its amazingly relaxed vibe, is the best test. Real life has a few more stressors, and stressors affect digestion. And sure enough, when I decided to dive back into some peanut butter recently -- Whole Foods in-store grind, to be exact -- it was fine for a few days, but, as I ate some *daily*, my skin got a little blotchier and a few zits popped up.

And really, what is a surer proof that there has been a dietary derail than the emergence of the dreaded zitstorm?

So I think, for me anyway, Mark Sisson nailed it: a little peanut butter here and there isn't the end of the world, but I will do better not making it a frequent staple.

Now where is that jar of almond butter? I think it missed me....

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Enjoy the %#*$ out of it."

The "cheat." We paleo practitioners know all about it. Unless you literally have a serious medical reason to eat paleo -- and, if you do, then, like my wife, you probably are on the even-stricter autoimmune paleo protocol -- sometimes you fall off the wagon.

My CrossFit trainer has wise words for that moment: "Enjoy the shit out of it."

See, there is more to eating paleo than strict compliance to a set of rules. Yes, that is what we are striving towards, but sometimes you can get wildly stressed out over the whole venture, and sometimes you even crack and succumb to the joys of CoffeeCoffeeBuzzBuzzBuzz (or, if you are foolish and didn't read the Manual of Life that you were handed, some *other* Ben & Jerry's flavor).

If you do -- and mind you, this shouldn't happen, and certainly shouldn't happen often -- at least, for the love of all that is good and right.... *enjoy* the moment.

Savor it. Don't rush your way through that beer, cookie, ice cream, booze, whatever.

Part of the processing of food is determined by your mental attitude. Rush your way through a meal -- and, yeah, I have done that a few times -- and you just don't digest it as well. If you wanna walk the walk as a paleo master with a Zenlike calm, you can't approach your food like it is a battle to be fought.

The same is true of your cheat food. For godsakes, if you are going to venture into that glass of bourbon, at least approach it with some respect and reverence as you enjoy it.

You have heard me say it before: life is short; enjoy the ride. If you are going to fall off the paleo truck, savor every morsel.

And then climb back on. We've been waiting for you.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Indie rock goes gray, to great effect; Mission of Burma and Yo La Tengo in Philly -- a review

I am not sure when it started -- likely somewhere in my mid-forties when I got healthier and my typical bedtime got earlier, and my mornings a little correspondingly early -- but sometimes, not always, I will be on my way to see a band and thinking, "Ugh. I hardly want to bother. Seems like a lot of trouble...." I *never* actually skip the show and stay home, mind you, but the thought crosses my mind, a little more often each year.

So there I was, last Friday night, dragging a bit as I headed out the door to see Mission of Burma -- Boston post-punk legends, and wearers, in my opinion anyway, of the crown that is inscribed "Greatest Reunion in the History of Rock." See, I was a Burma fan in the early '80s. Trouser Press magazine did a review of their classic Vs. album and I got it and was sold. I picked up the EP that had preceded it, and dutifully waited for a tour. And it didn't happen, or I didn't notice it. The band broke up before I ever saw them. Sure, there were some glorious Volcano Suns tours, featuring Burma drummer Peter Prescott, later in the eighties, but the Real McCoy had disappeared.

Or so I thought. Then, back in early 2001 (or was it 2002?), they got back together for supposedly one-off shows in NYC and Boston. And my god, they were amazing. They had lost nothing. In fact, judging by the somewhat sloppy live stuff I had heard from the early days, they were better. Much better.

And they had so much fun that, well, they just sort of kept going and never really broke up again. They are now four albums and a decade or so into a reunion that has been a neverending mindblow of great records and gigs. For my money, The Obliterati is the stone-cold classic of the four newer albums, but every single one is a keeper. The new one -- Unsound -- even heads for shorter, tighter, punkier ground while still retaining that wonderful undulating downright *squiggly* bottom end fueled by the intersection of Prescott's drumming and Clint Conley's bass. And, as always, there are yells and whoops of joy audible on nearly every song. This band's music is, uniquely, dense as all hell -- almost impenetrable on first listen -- and yet infused with a chaotic joy that is palpable.

Friday's gig, at Union Transfer in Philly, was no exception to the simple rule: there is no such thing as a bad Burma show. It was heavy on the recent record, but they took time to hit lots of the rest of the catalog, even playing a handful from The Obliterati, and making sure to leave us pulverized with perfect versions of early songs like "Trem Two," "Red" and "Mica" along with the expected classics like "This is Not a Photograph" and "Academy Fight Song."

They did not disappoint. But one day they actually will stop doing this, so, once again I have vowed never to skip a Burma show, no matter how damn old I get. Because, you know what? They are even older than me and they still are as vital-sounding as ever. Salut, boys. You tore it up.

And then.... came Yo La Tengo. I have told you in painstaking detail my sonic love affair with the music of this amazing little band from Hoboken, and I won't repeat it here. But suffice it to say that the timing of this show was, for me, perfect. I had just read the band's new bio by Jesse Jarnow, had spent hours playing their music after that bio inspired me to go explore parts of their catalog that hadn't necessarily blown me away the first time around, and, by the time I decided to go see Saturday's free YLT show sponsored by WHYY as part of their Connections Festival, I was, well, stoked to put it mildly... as psyched as ever to see them (again).

Good lord, they were great. It was, first of all, one of those gigs where you feel at first like outside forces are conspiring against you. The weather was rainy and awful -- although, thankfully, the predicted thunderstorms stayed away. And the band was late getting onstage because the rain had pushed everyone's set times back a bit at the festival. A few of us wondered, as they took the stage at 9:15 p.m., if the announced end-time of 10 p.m. for the festival would be strictly enforced. If so, it would be a short show. But all those worries went away as soon as they banged and rumbled their way into the faster/louder version of "Big Day Coming."

They were well and truly on fire from the outset. There were the usual instrument switches and near perfect note-sustained segues between songs as those switches took place. They all rotated between guitar and keyboards and drums and bass through "hits" like "Autumn Sweater" and "Here to Fall" as well as through a few new ones off an upcoming album.

And then it got.... completely amazing. And, strangely enough, while my definition of "completely amazing" at a Yo La Tengo show usually revolves around the loud stuff ("Mushroom Cloud of Hiss," anyone?), this particular episode of Yo La Tengo Blows Steve's Mind began with a few quieter ones. First, there was a new one, and then "Black Flowers." I don't recall ever seeing them do that one, in all its Kinks-ish glory, live before, and I was pretty transfixed.

Then they headed into "Nowhere Near," even quieter than the album version because Georgia played keyboards instead of drums. Beautiful, wonderful.... And *then* they turned it up.

There may be better ways to end a show than a quadruple of "Nothing to Hide"/"Decora"/"Tom Courtenay"/"Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," but I wouldn't bet on it. The loud/intense ante was upped on each succeeding song, so by the time they got to "....Hatchet..." it was a 15-minute seething monster of Ira Kaplan's best distortion-ridden lead-guitar work. Wow.

It would have been fine to end it all there. In fact, I kind of expected it. It was a festival. Encores aren't really expected at festivals, and this one was already running late. It was 10:30 at this point. Allegedly, the music was supposed to have ended 30 minutes earlier.

But we cheered, and they returned, and... what? Ira *and* Georgia headed behind the drum kit while James strapped on a guitar and they played "Antmusic." Yes, YLT did an Adam and the Ants cover. God, it was awesome. The show then closed with a couple acoustic ones -- "Griselda" and "Center of Gravity," the latter featuring a drunk birthday boy named Greg. It went something like this:

Ira: "Anyone wanna do like a little maraca thing for us?"

I almost volunteered. Had he said "a drum thing," I would have been onstage in a second, but, instead, a cheer went up from my right, and Ira says, "Oh right. You are the guy with the birthday. All right, come on up."

A few seconds pass while Birthday Boy tries to hoist himself onstage. He is a bit (not a lot, but a bit) intoxicated, and the stage is pretty tall, and there is a moment where he has gotten his head onto the stage, and his ass is sticking into the air and he is struggling, like a toddler trying to get onto a couch for the first time, when Ira quips, "Clearly, this was a great idea."

The place busts up laughing, but the guy makes it onstage. He then introduces himself to the band and Ira tells us his name is Greg. Greg is handed one of those shaker eggs and heads.... for Ira's microphone. Ira dissents, and gives Greg his own microphone, at about navel level so as to make for easy shaker-egging. They begin to play.

Greg is awful. Greg is beyond awful.

The band starts "Center of Gravity" with its groovy little rhythm, and quickly it is evident that Greg is a problem. The song stops and Georgia heads to a snare drum to give Greg some assistance with the beat. James loudly says into a mic something like, "Way to ruin *everything*, Greg!!"

The place busts up laughing again.

But somehow, Greg then gets it. He is in. He is a transformed groovy rhythm monster, so much so that Georgia is able to give up the snare drum and head for the vocal mic.

And it's all great. Greg is grooving. Then he is grooving *and* moving. Then, most of the way through the song, Greg's groove and move overtakes whatever is left of his good sense, and he begins to join in on backing vocals. Mind you, his shaker-egg mic has descended to crotch level, so, rather than raising the mic, Greg is shaker-egging into it while bending over 90 degrees at the waist to add "Ba-da-bah!" backing vocals.

It is ungodly funny. It is also awful. Which is even funnier.

The song ends. Everyone cheers. Greg has had the time of his life and shakes Ira's hand and hugs Georgia. More people laugh.

Greg heads offstage from the direction he came, but not before Georgia stealthily and strategically repossesses her shaker egg by snatching it from Greg's unsuspecting hand.

It was a perfect ending to a perfect show. Thanks, YLT. You never ever disappoint me live.

"Black Flowers":

"Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind." Ira throws down:

"Antmusic," with the four-armed drummer:

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Heartrate variability and the EmWave2 (a review)

I am finally, mentally speaking, back to the real world after an unbelievably great hiking vacation with my kids in the Eastern Sierras in California. Read the last bunch of posts for more on all that, if you are interested in tales (and pics) of stomping around the mountains.

So, what have I been up to? Trying to re-orient myself to CrossFit and lifting, first of all. Hiking a whole lot of miles with a pack on is a great time, and it certainly was made easier by all my CrossFit training and general strength training, but not touching a barbell for almost three weeks made for a rude return to the gym. All that hiking was pure endurance work, not strength training, and the damn barbell felt very heavy upon my return. I am working hard on containing the ego and trying to train smart, meaning not pushing too hard too fast to get back to form, but there is always that damn ego, pushing the other way. "You can lift more than that," it whispers to me, switching to yelling if the whispers are ineffective. It is the old battle, winnable only if I double down and fight that ego-driven crap.

So the usual meditation practice comes in handy, but lately I have upped the meditation ante -- into the previously (for me, anyway) unknown realms of heartrate variability..

Defined as simply as possibly, heartrate variability (HRV) has little to do with your overall heartrate and everything to do with the overall changes between beats, the so-called beat-to-beat interval. The operation/intersection of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems -- and particularly one's ability to calm oneself out of stress through breathing and other meditation-based techniques -- determines how high (good) one's (HRV) is. Stressed-out or depressed people have awful HRV.

So you would think that a person who practices Zen-based meditation would have good HRV. Good HRV is a strong indicator of overall nervous-system and cardiac health, as well as psychological health.

But I wondered. I *think* I can get pretty far into The Zone when I meditate, and it certainly helps my sleep and mood. But how is my HRV?

Pretty damn good, as it turns out, but not perfect.

See, I had some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, so I picked up an EmWave2, which measures and tracks HRV. It even operates at different degrees of difficulty, which, I assume, is just a function of a higher level of sensitivity to HRV as the difficulty levels increase.

I plugged it in and, well, kinda kicked ass at the lowest level. I was able, through pretty simple meditation/breathing techniques, to get my "high coherence" (best) levels at about 95% of my overall time on the machine right off the bat. But when I bump the difficulty level up a bit, it becomes (surprise!) more difficult. And then I really have to zero in on creating that empty mind that the Zen stuff teaches you to strive towards. It is very cool, and, no surprise.... My scores are way better when I am not stressed. Even cooler: when I *am* stressed, I can usually breathe myself into lower stress and higher coherence pretty easily.

I am, ultimately, of two minds about this device. I highly recommend it if you can afford it. It is both a great measuring stick, for a meditation practitioner, of how one's HRV (and resulting health) is affected (and improved) by basic meditation techniques, and a way for the non-meditation person to begin meditation practice in a way that is -- because it's on the computer and can be enhanced with games, music, etc -- designed to be "easier" and more "fun" than staring at a wall. But my second thought is that you shouldn't break the bank to get one of these things. Standard meditation practice gets you all the same results. You just won't be able to measure them so quantitatively. Don't worry about that; you will still feel the difference.

Bottom line: I like my EmWave2 a lot and will keep using it as a way to measure the "success" of my meditation practice, but if it got stolen, I would be fine and would keep on meditating like i was before. Me and the wall.

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