Friday, October 30, 2009

The Dead Kenny Gs

You've heard of The Dead Kennedys. Now meet....The Dead Kenny Gs.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I realize this is a bit blogish, but some questions have been consuming me.

Why don't people visit carwashes on rainy days?

When drivers reach for something with their non-steering hand, why does it make passengers more uptight if they do so sloppily and lengthily (i.e. directing most attention to the road) than if they do so swiftly and efficiently (i.e. taking attention off the road)?

Why do even the most sophisticated observers tend to rate local things only locally (e.g. if a Rembrandt were born in Akron, he'd be deemed, even by local experts, "an excellent Akron artist")?

Why do people wait right up next to the baggage carousel even when their bags are not imminent, blocking the way for those whose suitcases are approaching?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How (Perennially) Fat People Diet: Part 8: Hapless Helplessness

In part 1, I described how lots of (perpetually) overweight people approach (perpetual) dieting. We've been going down the list and finding the mistakes (read all previous entries in reverse order). Now we're up to this:
Hapless Helplessness
In spite of relative low daily calorie counts, and the feeling of hardly eating anything (with much of the day spent fasting), the weight never budges. Cholesterol, and perhaps blood sugar and pressure, remain high. There must be a hormonal or metabolic problem; I diet and diet, yet the weight never comes off. There must be something uniquely screwy about my system that keeps me from losing weight. Since my effort isn't rewarded, I eventually come to make less and less effort.
First of all, your daily calorie count isn't so low. Track it for a week and see! Your exceptions - your special occasions, errant binges, and drabs of crappy food gulped down because you're busy, in a hurry, and desperate to put something in your stomach - add up. Also, huge portions of lo-cal foods (eaten because you've literally been starving) are not very lo-cal.

As for the fasting, previous installments have helped explain why food deprivation is self-defeating. Your body is not seeking virtuous abstention. It's seeking a pattern of regular, balanced, healthful meals. Gorging creates problems. Fasting creates problems. The solution is to eat a consistent and healthful diet!

Just about everything I've written so far has a basis in science, but here's something I've discovered for myself: the more you engage in this massively unhealthful war against the body, the more afflictions of obesity will befall you
even if you're not so overweight. Over the past twenty years, I've rarely been more than 12% overweight, and obesity starts over 20%. Yet I've had high cholesterol, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, fallen arches, sleep apnea - the full basket of conditions comprising Metabolic syndrome - normally the fate of obese people. My suspicion is that the more you battle your body with the sort of self-defeating patterns we've been looking at, the more your body falls prey to the ills of the obese - even if you're just mildly overweight. Obesity may be the result, rather than the cause.

Hunger is a core part of our biology. Toying with it is not smart. There are unintended consequences. Best to
use that eat (again) regular, balanced, healthful meals. When in doubt, do the sane, natural thing! I did just that. I started feeding my body healthfully. I lost 40 pounds and all my symptoms went away (except the fallen arches....more on that later).

There is nothing uniquely screwy about your body. Nor is there anything unique about how you've been screwing with your body. Vast numbers of people do the same, and they're all fat. Stop "dieting", and feed yourself a healthy, balanced, consistent diet. Don't worry about the weight; if you eat right and exercise, it will take care of itself...very, very slowly! But you'll keep it off, because the regimen will feel too good to change.

To sum up: it's not a matter of eating as little as you can. It's a matter of eating as cleanly as you can, and with careful fat/protein/carb balance, and in moderate portions at frequent, regular intervals. You couldn't eat 3000 "clean" calories per day if you tried, so calorie counting is unnecessary (once you get your diet stabilized). You'll soon start to feel hungry at mealtimes, even in the morning. You will crave the right things as your body comes to expect them. And your metabolic fire will stoke, improving your digestion, health, and energy levels. Add consistent, non-punishing exercise, and you'll kiss your fat goodbye.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Ola is part of the recent wave of egregiously overpriced but surprisingly good boutique granolas (is "boutique granolas" redundant?).

I also hope to try the much-lauded
Early Bird.

The great film director
Les Blank makes (non-commercially, alas) the best granola I've ever tasted. He's promised to send me a recipe, but for now, there's this laconic comment: "Olive oil is good. Nowadays, I don't cook anything but the organic rolled oats and only lightly roast the nuts, almonds and hazel nuts more than the walnuts and pecans."

Here's a particularly good recent interview with Blank by
Vice Magazine (not much granola content, though).

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Now" is Happening Earlier Than We (Literally) Think

1. A moment occurs.

2. A fraction of a second later, we receive and compile our perceptions of the moment.

3. Another fraction of a second later, we name everything, drawing on our storehouse of previous impressions, ill-fitting though they may be.

4. Then we subconsciously assess what needs to change re: that thing that just happened (and is therefore inherently unchangeable).

5. Then we consciously brood, summoning up memories of similar moments so we can add this one to our ongoing internal narrative. This step absorbs some of us for minutes, hours, even days.

By this point, the moment is long past, and fresh reality is unfolding. But we live in a perpetual lag behind "now", tediously post-processing as we go.

A reed blown by the wind all day never complains about the agitation, because there's no post-processing. The reed doesn't recognize any separate thing called "wind", and so it doesn't gauge whether it wants more or less of it (as if there were a choice!). And the reed doesn't add the memory of each new gust to its baggage - its story of woe. The reed just experiences itself - insofar as a reed registers experiences - as endlessly dancing.

It's possible to work backward from the lag, back to the now. One trick is to literally "come back to your senses", which will pull you back from the naming, thinking, and judging to the point of raw perception (#2). In so doing, an exhilarated feeling of liberation (from the tedium of all that post-processing) will arise. And once you experience that feeling, you'll forever thirst to edge back further and further, to the fresh Now - the only reality.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama/Cheney '12!

Let's face it. Obama's a smart, highly-principled guy who needs to grow a pair in order to push through his promised changes, rather than dilute and eviscerate all his policies in a naive effort to make them more palatable to a party which will rail against literally anything put in front of it anyway.

But it might make more sense to outsource the role to a past master of the art of pushing political agendas through Washington. And so I'd like to be the first to call for a split party ticket with the optimal balance of balls and high-mindedness:

Obama/Cheney in '12! Let's hear it! Wooooo!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

I've been doing a lot of research on CFLs...those twisty compact fluorescent bulbs which green people hope will soon replace incandescents, but which leave the rest of us bathed in blueish, headache-inducing light.

If you want more incandescent-ish light from a CFL, the trick is to find bulbs of a lower color temperature (which paradoxically throw "warmer" light). Most CFLs are 3300-5000K, but Sylvania makes good "warm light" CFLs at 2700k. Check them out!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Safire Obit

The obituary column at The Economist, always a highlight, really outdid itself with this William Safire eulogy, bursting with clever language tricks in tribute to Safire.

Read more terrific Economist obituaries here, and order a best-of compilation from Amazon here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Foodiots Redux

There's been discussion of my Foodiots essay in a thread on Chowhound, raising some points made elsewhere on the web by folks who don't read real careful.

For one thing, I obviously wasn't talking about chowhounds (by which I refer not only to denizens of, but to a type of eater generally). I'm talking about foodies. And I've always been creeped out by foodies. "Foodiots" are just the latest iteration of a type that's been around for decades (they were once called "gourmets").

I was asked, amid that Chowhound discussion, to more clearly explain the distinction I draw between foodies (a.k.a. foodiots) and Chowhounds. I'll reprint my response below. First, though, I'd invite you to read the comments posted to my essay here in the Slog. I've written more at length on the topic there.

Ok, foodies versus chowhounds:
Simply put, there is a vast amount of money spent in the creation of tastes...for food products, restaurants, chefs, cookbooks, brands, yadda. Same in realms like fashion, cars, travel, music, etc. That money isn't all directly pushing product; cottage industries have sprung up (e.g. entire niches of journalism and publishing) to suck money out of that same tap and extend its influence by proxy. It's like a huge "show", fueled by marketing money, and it inherently tends to ignore the vast realms of deliciousness that won't or can't pay to play. It's contrived, and it's about "sizzle" rather than "steak".

For foodies, the stuff pushed at them via this shiny spotlight is exciting! They're just DELIGHTED to hear about the latest star chef, to buy the big new cookbook and eat at the hot new restaurant. They buy lots of stuff and they buy INTO lots of stuff. They are the manipulatees targeted by a marketing machine (and its legions of intermediaries and beneficiaries), and they revel in it, sucking down manufactured, highly commercialized opinions like nectar. They eat where they're told, they follow trends, and they allow their tastes to be made for them. They are passive and shallow. They are foodies.

Chowhounds understand that conventional wisdom is bought, period. They love food, so they've sort of self-identified as foodies, but always felt alienated by the shiny food scene; often disappointed by (and disconnected from) food media, conventional wisdom, and the various Big New Things. They intrepidly make their own discoveries and draw their own opinions about things.

They're accustomed to dodging all sorts of misdirection; they focus on the high and low shelves in groceries, they look past the gringo fodder offered by restaurants of other nationalities. They appreciate fine ambiance and decor and service, but they're not hypnotized by it. They're trying to find treasure, and have learned to never expect it to be thrust upon them. If they do it long enough, they start to notice that the sort of thing they're into at any given time tends to catch on years later. Chowhounds are a type, and they've been around for a long time. Not all chowhounds have even heard of this site. But they're out there.

A chowhound lives to go investigate some random unfamiliar nabe and try to make finds, which they brag about and evangelize (which is why this site fit quite nicely). A foodie, by contrast, lives to try all ten of the Zagat guide's top 10 restaurants (and probably blogs about the "adventure").

To me, it's a pretty clear distinction. And I find that most of the people who fail to grok it are foodies, who naturally feel less than flattered when the mirror's held up. What makes me happier than anything is when foodies (or even non-food lovers) get a whiff of the chowhound (not necessarily Chowhound) spirit and discover their true calling. This web site is the most effective engine I could think of to achieve that transformation. I've also been pleased that lots of food lovers who felt alienated by the big shiny hypnosis machine have been able to gather here and find kindred spirits.

Here's a "
Tale of Two Chowhounds", a piece I wrote at the very dawn of this site, to explain the credo. Please give it a read, the real world examples therein explain what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Mrs. Howell is disconsolate upon hearing the news about Gourmet.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thought for the Day

The only thing standing between poor people and happiness is their misconception that money would make things better.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How (Perennially) Fat People Diet: Part 7: The Bipolar Diet

In part 1, I described how lots of (perpetually) overweight people approach (perpetual) dieting. We've been going down the list and finding the mistakes (read all previous entries in reverse order). Now we're up to this:
Special Occasions
The above regimen is quite unpleasant. It leaves one feeling vaguely but deeply discontent, battling endless cravings, and experiencing a sour sort of near-hunger which eating never quite satisfies. As the long day of fasting rolls on, there's a light-headedness and lack of energy. Mood swings are the norm. Consciously or not, this is accepted as penance for being fat, and this penitent, sacrificial feeling, in and of itself, ought to translate into lost weight!
To preserve sanity, there are periodic "special occasions" when one goes off the diet in a limited way. Lasagna, steak, cupcakes...eating like a human being again. Such meals are perceived to have been "earned" via prior sacrifice. But while they may satisfy emotionally, they don't leave the body feeling satisfied. Rather, there's a sense of unwellness, which the mind seizes upon as shame. And so the harsh regimen of fasting and the gym hammering is resumed with an attitude of even more sour aggression.

There may also be binge periods of a few days or more where one falls totally off the wagon. That's to be expected amid months or even years of dismayingly fruitless dieting.

As I've explained, the crashes, the cravings, the deadened-yet-strangely-unquenchable hunger are the result of poor dieting choices. There is a middle ground between bingeing on chocolate cake and torturing your body with a cycle of starvation and glycemic overload. The middle ground consists of giving your body what it needs: regular, consistent, modestly-portioned meals made from healthful simple ingredients in an appropriate ratio of protein, carbs, and fat.

Destroying your health and disrupting your metabolism via a punishing diet is no better than gorging on Twinkies. If you give your body what it needs, you'll never want to change back, and eating in a way that makes you feel bad will no longer seem like a "special occasion".

The word "diet" has evolved to have two nearly contradictory meanings:1. a habitual eating pattern, day in and day out, and 2. a temporary regimen of deprivation undertaken to lose weight. It's widely acknowledged at this point that diets, in the #2 sense, don't work. Their effects are as temporary as their measures (which makes good sense!). Weight lost from temporary measures tends to be lost only temporarily (according to a scientist quoted in that last link, "at least one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and the true number may well be significantly higher.")

Our bipolar diets - cycling between periods of poor quality over-eating and poor-quality under-eating - are lunacy. Why not just eat sanely forever? You'll feel great, and you'll slowly, gradually, lose the weight. And it can still be delicious (more on that later).

Meanwhile, if you at some point find yourself snarfing a gigantic bag of Cheez Doodles, remember that
nothing is ever shot to hell. The cure for imbalance is balance. Don't starve or punish yourself after eating crap. Don't feel guilty. Just return to your diet (in the #1 sense); feeding yourself good healthful things three or four times per day.

If you're eating right, your body, which is
only trying to accommodate you, will quickly (we're talking days,rather than weeks or months) come to love, even crave, the right things.

Continue to Part 8

Miracle Farm

One of the best food finds ever:

Organic Farmstand in East Islip, NY
169 Washington Street
East Islip,NY 11730

This is a lush, ultra high quality organic Sicilian farm in the midst of a typical suburban subdivision in East Islip, Long Island. Chard with character. Broccolini as luscious as fudge brownies. Perfect soulful heirloom tomatoes. Great breads and pies baked in a barbecue. And they're open for a few more weeks.Congratulations, Paul Trapani (who posted the find to Chowhound).

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