Friday, May 30, 2014

A Real American Speaks UP, and Day 25 : 181

Stepped on the scales and saw the needle come to rest at 181 pounds.  Not bad!

I don't watch ESPN so I really don't know who Stephen A. Smith is, but he's in the news.  He's in the news partly because he tells the (sports-related) news, and partly because LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling is in the news.  This is a toppling dominoes story, and how we wind up at this juncture isn't really the point.

This juncture, where Stephen A. Smith hauls off and shares a big ol' piece of his mind, is the point.  And it is brilliant.

In this video, I don't see a black man.  I don't see a racist, a commentator, a flak, anything like that.  I see an American of the highest order.

I have nothing further to say.  This is an act I cannot follow without detracting from it.  I salute you Mr. Smith, and wish you nothing but the best.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Joe the Plumber," and Day 23: 183.5

See that ".5" on my weight?  I went up since the last report.  Except I went up further than that, and am back down to only half a pound above where I was.  And this morning I walked a good long trek from Sweetie's office to downtown K-town, and on to my office.  Yes, that's the long way.  It's still cool in the mornings and the city is really quite attractive while it's still waking up.

Lately in the news we're seeing this kid, one Elliot Rodger, who up and killed a bunch of people before taking his own life.  Frankly, I don't think anyone who really knew Rodger was especially surprised that this happened.

This much of it makes sense, if it can make any sense: emotionally disturbed individual becomes fixated on person or persons as the root cause of his assorted problems.  True or not, this is an understandable paradigm in American culture, and we refer to people who cause problems as "bad guys."  Unfortunately Rodger's mistaken notion was the women in general and the popular, attractive people who might have been his social peers in particular were the "bad guys" in his life, and he whipped out his multiple legally-purchased weapons and started killing the "bad guys."

If I go read about the "bad guys," these essentially blameless people who were killed simply for not finding an antisocial, erratic loner attractive, I will probably wind up very very sad.  And some of them weren't even people Rodger wanted to be attracted to, some were just his roomies.  I guess he though they were in the way.

What's Joe the Plumber got to do with this?  You might remember the guy: asking Obama a question during a campaign rally, Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher was the stalking horse that became an icon of the Republican party and 15-minute media darling of the John and Sarah Show.   It's weird that the guy, even now, is more recognizable under the "Joe the Plumber" nickname than under his own.

Also, he is not now nor has he ever been a licensed plumber, even though he worked as a plumber at the time.  That was a bit embarrassing, and may have been at least part of what cost him his bid for Ohio Representative in 2012.

Anyway, in an open letter published on BarbWire, Wurzelbacher had this to say: "As harsh as this sounds, your dead kids don't trump my Constitutional rights."


Strictly speaking this is indeed true.  He tries - and fails - to soften this amazingly crass blow with words of comfort that come out sounding pretty damned hollow.  After a line like that, maybe it would be better to think better about the whole open letter idea, and maybe not send it.  Oh well, too late now.

And both the parents who call for a serious re-examination of gun rights, and Wurzelbacher in his moment of utter head-slap obtuseness, are right.  I think it's high time we reconsider just how easy it should be for people to have guns, and until such time as the laws are changed, no number of dead kids and mourning parents will override the rights of the American people.  People who aren't mourning also have to have their say.  Rights can, and have, be changed.

I am approaching the point where some of the hand wringing makes sense.  "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."  Well, that may or may not be true, but the fact that so many people have free and easy access to guns doesn't seem to have done the crime rate any favors, so maybe it's time we take another look at how freely people can get guns.  The point of the 2nd Amendment was to help ensure the then nascent US Government not decide to take up any dictatorial practices.  When the people you're attempting to oppress have weapons of their own, oppression takes on a certain deadly risk and tends to die young.

But the other systems in place to keep the government from running away with itself are pretty effective.  I suspect the Damoclean sword of an armed populace might be overkill at this point in our history.  But even more overkill is the capacity to own more guns than you have hands, more ammo than needed to utterly puree the legal hunting limit in your locale, and being able to buy anything more lethal than a toenail clipper when you're seeing a basketball team's worth of therapists and still walk around loose among an unsuspecting neighborhood.

How hard would it be to just start up a database, open to all mental health professionals, and be able to drop in names and SSNs of people who seem just a bit too edgy for gun ownership?  "Warning, dangerous nutcase, no guns for this one.  No machetes or even toenail clippers, either."  A few quick lines on a secure web page that is accessible to mental health professionals and the people in charge of the background checks.  "Whoops, sorry, no bazooka for you."

Granted, the rollout of the Obamacare website doesn't raise my hopes at all for government-operated databases, but you never know, maybe they can contract the job to some 18-year-old, set him up with a six pack of Pepsis and get things done.

Unless some nutjob comes along and mows him down, too.

So far I think the most positive outcome of all this is it should put Joe the Plumber's future Congressional aspirations on permanent standby.  So that's not all bad.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, and Day 17: 183

Stepped on the scales and rang up 183 pounds.  That's a modest 6 pounds in two weeks.  I'm trying to be more aware of my portion sizes and what's actually in my food, plus doing a fair amount of walking.

Sweetie is down a few pounds as well, and finding, even at this early stage, a surprising amount of extra room inside her clothes.

"Bummer," I said.  "Your pants are too big."

"As bummers go, I don't mind it."

Another thing that's helping me with keeping a better eye on what I'm eating is the relatively new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss.  I heard of this while listening to NPR, listening to an interview with the author, and even in what little I was able to catch before having to go on to other things, what I heard was intriguing.

I've only been reading the book for a few days now, and even so I've already picked up on a few important things: the food industry is perfectly aware of what kind of psychological effects food can have on us, and they exploit those effects to make us want more.

It's the most cynical thing I've ever seen.  It's right there with the tobacco giants, insisting time after time that the clinical trials regarding the possible dangers of tobacco use are "inconclusive," even as they're turning up the nicotine content of their cigarettes to strengthen the addictive qualities.

We all are pretty aware of the addictive qualities of things like narcotics, alcohol, and nicotine.  What we aren't as aware of, due to the sheer ubiquity of it, are the addictive qualities of such simple things as salt, sugar and fat.

There is a "bliss point" for sugar, a level - actually it's a range of levels that fluctuates depending on the presence of other cues, but for the sake of brevity right now we'll stick with the term "point" - at which sugar has the maximum effect without going overboard.  The insidious thing about it, though, is that sugar isn't just satisfying.  It can also create cravings for more sugar, for more food.  And once you've gotten used to so much sugar, the one craving it really induces above all others is the craving for more sugar.

Here's a little tidbit I never imagined before: the body's sense of satiation isn't triggered by calories you drink.  You load up on food and it isn't long before you feel full and satisfied.  That sensation of satisfaction, however, will not be affected much one way or the other by a soda.  If you're having a Coke with your meal, there's a bunch of calories that didn't register, and were taken in whether you felt you needed them or not.

Needless to say, I've radically cut back on how much soda I drink anymore.  I've had one since I started watching my weight, and I had already been ramping down before I started.  That last Coke took me all day to drink, and the first sip tasted pretty weird.

Now all I have to do is cut down on my coffee.  That would probably have a pretty strong effect on my blood pressure.  It's really my blood pressure more than anything that is inspiring this weight loss, but I imagine lightening the load on my knees and hips can't be a bad thing either.

This is me into the book only a couple of chapters, and already the clear sense of conspiracy and cynicism has had me muttering oaths under my breath, marveling in amazed horror at what we have permitted the food industry giants to systematically do to us.

Case in point: Howard Moskowitz, a food industry researcher, is quoted in an interview in Salt Sugar Fat as saying, as a recent graduate from Harvard and looking for work, "I didn't have the luxury to be a moral creature," talking about his role in discovering the mechanism by which food cravings can manifest, and then developing ways to exploit those cravings to retain and expand food product markets.  This tells me that if he didn't have the luxury of being moral, then what was he being?  That only leaves something other than moral.

I wasn't raised to believe that morality was optional.  It isn't a luxury.

I will probably report more on this book as I get further into it, assuming I haven't snapped and started picketing whichever major food manufacturer is closest before I get to the end.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mediterranean Food and Day Six: 187

This morning I stepped on the scales and read 187 pounds.

Today is Saturday, so I don't anticipate much of a workout today, but it's been rainy so I might do a little lifting just to keep my eye in.  If it cools off a bit I might go walking anyway.

Today we all went to Holy Land Market, a little grocery and deli on Sutherland Avenue in Knoxville, TN.  As groceries go it's actually not that great.  The range of products is limited.  But that's actually okay, because it focuses on the stuff that really makes Mediterranean food what it is: unique ingredients that aren't common in Western cooking.  Let's face it, you can get eggs anywhere and if you go to a distinctive grocery for them, you're going to take a bath at the checkout.  So you won't find eggs at Holy Land.  And that's okay.

Actually you might, but I never looked.

What you will find are such exotic (to us) concoctions as Turkish delight and stuffed grape leaves, ghee and seriously affordable cinnamon.

In the last few years Holy Land has gotten serious about its deli.  We waited until Son #2 got home from work and went out there for a late lunch/early dinner meal.  The food is fabulous.

At first Son #1 was a bit nonplussed at his choice, a beef brisket plate.  It tasted like American food.  "Except it isn't.  It tastes like American food served in a Med restaurant.  I mean it tastes like what someone would get in an American restaurant somewhere in Egypt, if they have American restaurants."  I never really thought of food that way, that our traditional meat-and-three might have "exotic" overtones in the right setting.  Anyway, he wound up trading nearly half his meat around.  It was a delicious cut of meat, ridiculously tender.  He traded heavily with me, Son #1 is a big fan of goat meat and couldn't get enough of my meal, the goat stew platter.

The goat stew platter has a strongly Indian vibe, there's plenty of curry in the dish and the sauce is a lot like a spicy masala, heavy with potatoes and served over rice.

Sweetie's dish was a shawarma chicken platter, wonderfully spiced and highly varied but she traded fairly early with Son #2 who got the chicken shiskebab, as he isn't fond of the Greek salad that came with it.  Sweetie devoured the salad, and I watched her with some envy. The garlic yogurt dressing that came with that salad was brilliant, and wound up topping gobs of goat and rice on my pitas during the meal.  She had some too, but most of it came to me.

Shawarma is really more of a street food preparation, it's easily moved from place to place.  Shawarma just means the food has been roasted on a turning spit, kind of like gyro meat.  For that matter Holy Land has gyros, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a nice Greek place in the area first.

While we were waiting, Walter - the guy who runs the place - brought us our grape leaves as an appetizer, with a cup of cucumber yogurt for dipping.  Dipping the lamb-stuffed grape leaves is completely unnecessary, but it's fun.  A lady came in with her husband, marveling at the place.

"Is this your first time here?"

"Yes!  I didn't even know this was here.  Is the food good?"

"Is it ever!  Here, have one of these."  And I held up the plate of grape leaves.  She took one a bit doubtfully, and bit into it.

She waved her husband into a chair.  "Sit down.  We're eating here."

Holy Land Market at 3609 Sutherland Ave, Knoxville TN.  You won't be sorry.

I might be, a little bit.  I think I'm definitely going to have to go for a walk, that was a big plate of food.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dallas: The Next Generation, and Day Five: 187

Stepping onto the scale this morning, I looked down at the dial between my toes: 187.  Looked at one way, I've only lost two pounds.  Now, two pounds in a week is pretty good.  Looked at another way, I'm 10% of the way home.

In the 1980s my mom's favorite show was Dallas, as it was for lots and lots of other people, too.  In fact Dallas first aired in '78 and steamrolled through the entire 80s at full chat, not coming to a top-tier finale until 1991.  Along the way were many iconic moments like "Who Shot JR" and "It Was All A Dream," which drove my mom quietly bananas.  She'd been a big fan of the show but that last bit pretty much pulled the drain out of the tub for her.  That weird revelation that Bobby wasn't really dead wasn't enough to put everybody off, though: Dallas' finale is the 15th most-watched TV episode in US history.

That finale took JR Ewing, who was originally not the main character, on a little trip through the Land of What If, a Dallas version of It's a Wonderful Life.  As Ewing is descending into depression, contemplating killing himself, another character walks him through how the various members of his extended family would have experienced different lives without him around.  At the end of the episode, there's a gunshot.

That scene wasn't resolved until five years later!  There was a Dallas reunion movie in 1996, and JR was alive and walking around in that.  In fact there were two more movies over the next few years, and evidently there's either enough retirees with time on their hands and basic cable, or simply that many aging actors looking for work, that Dallas is back with significant elements of the original cast.  Even JR returned.

Except now that Larry Hagman has died in real life, we have to see exactly how Dallas, which was heavily affected by the remarkable gravity of the Hagman singularity, will function in the future without either him or JR.

It Was a Wonderful Life!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Fuel Economy, and Day Four: 188

Walking around the block for exercise last night, no workouts.  Also last night we met Son #2's girlfriend, which was a surprise.  It was a surprise because I didn't know he even had a girlfriend.  One epiphany after another, I guess.  The kid can be closed-mouthed, that's for sure.  Anyway she's a pleasant young lady, suitably nerdy to appeal to not just him but the rest of us, too.  We surprised her with a quickly-made dinner, then they hung out by the fire outside for a while.  When it got dark, he popped back inside.

"Hey, run her home, could I take the Honda?"


"Why not?"

"I have a really good average going on this tank and I really really really want to set a new high."

"I can do that."

"Don't be offended, but I don't think you can."  I hold my own hypermiling skills in some regard and so far have the very best mileage performance of anyone in the family.  When you're beating the EPA's estimate for your car by 20% or more, you must be doing something very right.  I'm currently the #11 truck on the trucks leader board, and the #21 hybrid car, and the competition is tough.

Getting 20% over EPA also makes me think all those people who wanted their money back from Honda for "overstated" fuel mileage estimates weren't trying.  Again, like my revelation regarding my own health, they're abdicating responsibility to entities outside themselves, another instance of the pop-a-pill mentality, that there is a quick, painless solution to every little ill and you don't need to invest time or energy on your own part to keep things performing at some arbitrary level.

I work at my mileage numbers.  My truck is currently below 30mpg and that just galls me.  Am I working at dragging that back up, you'd better believe it.  It has held a moving average over 32mpg in the past, and I want it back up there, pronto.  The tough part is that sometimes Son #2 - the only other one in the family with an interest in hypermiling - works a mere three miles away.  Right about the time the engine is getting warm and starting to deliver good economy, he's parked.

Breakfast this morning: some backsliding.  But the Panera cinnamon rolls are soooo good.  Ye gods, look at all those calories.  Well, I guess that's enough of that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Personal Epiphany of Health Care

The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines "epiphany," besides the obvious Judeo-Christian meaning, as a moment of sudden understand in a new or clear way.

Sitting at the pharmacy drive-through window, hearing that the doctor's office had failed to call back to confirm a refill request on my blood pressure pill, I came to a moment of sudden understanding in a new and clear way.  I had ceded responsibility for my own health.

At 46 years old, I'm about 5-10 and right at 190 pounds.  That's a little heavier than I like.  In fact, it's a lot heavier than I like because I can remember being much younger, a shade taller and about fifty pounds lighter.  Granted this height at 140 is pretty skinny, but this height at 170 felt great.  I could run, jump, lift heavy things, all that stuff.  I could fit into 34-inch-waist pants.  There haven't been any 34" pants in my bureau for a while now.

Now that I'm in 36" pants and sometimes sucking in a bit to get them snapped, I have been feeling a bit depressed.  It takes extra effort to get off the couch and walk around the block, it takes a certain amount of will to say "no" to the second bowl of chili that is just so good but I don't actually need it.  It takes a certain combination of pessimism and optimism, pessimism that even though I am happy in the moment of the second bowl, in the morning I will be unhappy when I cannot get the pants snapped, optimism that nothing is irreversible.  I don't have to be stuck at 190, I may have trouble snapping the pants now but that doesn't have to be permanent.

One day, I can get back into 34" jeans.

I am certain that a fair portion of my need for a prescription medication to control my blood pressure is, at least in part, my weight.  And there I was, fuming at the back of my mind that for whatever reason, my doctor hadn't called in the refill.  Now, I know that weight isn't everything and that skinny people have high blood pressure, too.  But I also know that weight is a contributing factor in a lot of cases, and it's a factor over which I have complete control.  But I wasn't controlling it, and harboring a quiet anger toward my doctor when, in fact, I could actually take positive steps to eliminate my doctor's influence on my health and, by extension, my peace of mind.  It doesn't feel good to have something so basic held in control by someone else.

So here I am now, stating these facts:

Day 1 (Monday 05/05/14)
Weight: 189 pounds.  I had a ham-egg-cheese sandwich for breakfast, missed lunch, cold cut sandwich for dinner.  Spicy pickle relish on the sandwich, big flavor, small calories.

Walked around the block, lifted a few modest weights.  15-lb dumbbells, 3x10.  Sit-ups and push-ups.  I hate push-ups.  But I'm not keen on man-boobs either, so push-ups it is.

Day 2 (Tuesday 05/06/2014)
No weight.  Scrambled eggs for breakfast, large hoagie at lunch.  Green beans, onion, corn on the cob and smoked sausage for dinner.  Tasty!  Went easy on the butter, counter to my instincts.  My big thing about the butter is the salty taste, so I salted the corn instead.  That worked great.  Walked around the block.  No workout at all.

Day 3 (Wednesday 05/07/2014)
Weight 188.  We're on our way!  Breakfast at Chick-Fil-A.  Skipped the fries.  Lunch was leftover from dinner, no corn.  Delicious.

That's it for the moment.  It's the middle of my workday so I'll follow up.  I'm determined to actually beat this thing.  I'm not grossly obese or in terrible condition, but I can feel myself becoming more complacent.  More than anything else, that complacency is the most dangerous part.  I don't think it's good to be comfortable with having surrendered so much of my own life to the control of others, and I intend to take it back.