Monday, February 22, 2021

Ask a Sea Kayaker

Dear Sea Kayaker,

I am torn between the Pelican Mustang 100X kayak and the Old Town Vapor 12XT. Both have great reviews. What would you suggest for all-day use, and the right combination of quickness and stability?

Jack F, Ventura, CA

Dear Jack,

I really don’t know anything about kayaks—I don’t even own one. I only became a sea kayaker by accident, when I let my teenage daughter handle the paddling and she went the wrong way, heading out to open ocean instead of into the Elkhorn Slough. By the time I realized what was happening, the current was carrying us well away from land and I decided to go with it and head for Hawaii. So I can’t tell you much except this three-person rental clearly isn’t designed for tall people. I have to put my legs out straight or I whack my knees with the paddle. If you’re tall, make sure you account for this when you buy your kayak.


Dear Sea Kayaker,

Is celestial navigation still a thing, or have GPS and computerized systems rendered this ancient skill completely obsolete?

Megan G, Boston, MA

Dear Megan,

There are surely some old codgers who still navigate by the stars, but more as a hobby than anything. If I thought I had any ability to steer this boat amidst these large (and ever-growing) waves, I would probably at least try to determine north based on the Big Dipper. But I can’t steer this boat anyway. Whatever I do here in the back, my daughter does the opposite, and there’s no use trying to explain myself. She doesn’t even know the difference between port and starboard. Navigation is pretty much out the window.

I suppose teaching my wife and daughter celestial navigation would be a way to pass the time tonight, and forestall panic … if I actually knew anything about it. But I never listened to my own father’s lectures on the subject, nor did my wife. In fact, one such lesson ended badly. We were camping with my dad in Utah back in the ‘90s, and about three hours into his astronomy lecture, when our eyes were too bleary to even try peering into the telescope eyepiece anymore, my wife heard a scary noise and turned on a flashlight. “Thanks a lot,” my dad chided, “you just ruined astronomy.” (She’d spoiled our night vision, you see.) I’ve never let her live it down. Maybe tonight I’ll give a really short lesson on constellations: “There’s the Devil’s Skateboard over there, you see, and if you follow that line of stars up—there, you see that cluster there? That’s Dracula’s Harelip.”

Dear Sea Kayaker,

If you have a mobile phone, why haven’t you called for help? Are you, like, dense?

Jill M, San Francisco, CA

Dear Jill,

I didn’t want my phone to get wet, so I put it in the zippered pocket of my jacket. Unfortunately, when I started overheating (in my fruitless effort to row back into the harbor, before I gave up) I unzipped the jacket and didn’t notice that both pockets started dragging in the water. Turns out the jacket isn’t the slightest bit waterproof and my phone is totally wet. I’m waiting for it to dry out before I phone for help. I kind of doubt it’ll be usable before I’m out of cell range … oh well.

Dear Sea Kayaker,

Sailing to Hawaii? Really? Can an amateur sailor possibly achieve that?

Ben F, San Diego, CA

Dear Ben,

My wife’s friend and her boyfriend made it all the way from California to Hawaii in a little sailboat and then, after living there for a few months, sailed back. Everything came out pretty well except that they broke up right after their return. But my wife and have been married for over 25 years and toured cross-country on bicycles, so I think we’ve got this. (And our daughter is totally stoked to be having this adventure.)

Dear Sea Kayaker,

I’m pretty worried about you, and surprised you don’t seem to be completely freaking out. Are there any benefits to being adrift at sea?

Lisa H, Charleston, SC

Dear Lisa,

To be honest, given this endless COVID pandemic, this is a great way to escape the stir-crazy self-exile of home while avoiding the giant hordes that have lately descended upon every recreation area in California. We rented this kayak in hopes of seeing some otters and pelicans, but the place was completely choked with other boaters. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tripadvisor rated Elkhorn Slough one of the best places for people-watching on the west coast. So yeah, the ultimate release from my claustrophobia, not to mention from my misanthropy, is a nice silver lining.

Dear Sea Kayaker,

What music do you have in your head as you drift ever further from land?

Robert M, Avila Beach, CA

Dear Robert,

I’ve had David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in my head for like an hour. I guess it started with that line about “floating in a most peculiar way.” It’s starting to drive me crazy, actually.

Dear Sea Kayaker,

Wait a second here. If you can’t use your phone right now, how are you fielding these questions from your Internet readers? There’s something fishy going on here (no pun intended).

Bruce S, Coos Bay, OR

Dear Bruce,

If you look closely at the address field of your browser, or in network settings if you’re using an app, you’ll notice that instead of “www” it’ll say “wwh,” which is for “World Wide Head.” Connected devices are no longer necessary, as our brains can now pluck TCP packets right out of the air. Don’t feel bad for never noticing this before. The tech giants have rolled this out very quietly, hoping that by the time the naysayers start complaining, the technology will be ubiquitous.

Unfortunately, the Coast Guard isn’t very likely to read my column. They’re pretty distracted with pirates, illegal immigrants, hurricanes, and so forth.

Dear Sea Kayaker,

What about your wife’s phone? Or your daughter’s? Surely one of them managed to keep her phone dry. Forgive me for observing that you’re apparently not very resourceful…

Jill M, San Francisco, CA

Dear Jill,

You again?! Sheesh. Give me a little credit here, the idea did occur to me. My wife’s phone is in the car and my daughter’s is at home. They’re not big cell phone users.

By the way, please don’t write me again. I’m getting creeped out, like you’re a stalker or something. (Though maybe it’s just the sharks circling my little boat ... I guess I’m a bit on edge.)

Dear Sea Kayaker,

Every time I rent a kayak, my butt gets soaking wet and my feet, too. Rowing is really fun, but I can’t stand being soggy for the rest of the day. Do you have any tips for me?

Amanda R, El Cerrito, CA

Dear Amanda,

I’m guessing you’re a teenager. Remember when your parents told you to wear the nice waterproof hiking boots they bought you, that you never wear? Instead of the cute ones you insisted on? And you know those ugly blue one-size-fits-all waterproof pants the kayak rental place offered you, that you declared you wouldn’t be caught dead in? Well, next time, don’t be so stubborn, and make use of these items! My own daughter is surely regretting her choices (though she’d be the last to admit this.)

Dear Sea Kayaker,

My best friend abruptly stopped taking my calls and un-friended me on social media. We’ve been friends for literally decades and I didn’t want to throw that away, so I just kept trying to reach her. Finally her boyfriend answered her phone and said she doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore. I am honoring her wishes, but she (and her boyfriend) are still using my Netflix login. Would it be inappropriate to change the password? That seems passive-aggressive, but then if we’re not even friends anymore, should they really be watching movies when I’m paying for the subscription?

Shari M, Fremont, CA

Dear Shari,

I really think ocean kayaking is for you. Don’t bother taking any classes or anything. Just head out to sea, and leave your phone at home.


A Sea Kayaker is a syndicated journalist whose advice column, “Ask a Sea Kayaker,” appears in over 0 blogs worldwide.

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Sunday, February 14, 2021

Non-Race Non-Report - 2021 Fort Ord CCCX XC MTB

Vlog

It occurred to me that some of my readers might be the types who unconsciously mouth the words they’re reading, as though they were reading aloud, and that others might be the type who turn their entire heads instead of just moving their eyes to track along the lines of text. Either of these types of people might get mocked while reading my blog, and I don’t want that. Meanwhile, still other people (I’m told) simply prefer a video. Thus,  I’m providing the vlog format here, and for everyone else the text follows below.

Introduction

It’s become a tradition for me, at this time of year, to head to Fort Ord in the Monterey area and do a mountain bike race. Normally, I’m a high school cycling coach and this is an opportunity for my riders to watch me suffer. But this year the NorCal League and our team are shut down due to the pandemic, so we didn’t get to go. And this means I don’t get to blog about my wretched, ill-fated race … another tradition stymied.

For a moment, I considered embracing the fake-news zeitgeist and writing a purportedly true but actually totally fabricated race report. After all, as we already knew but formally learned by watching The Social Dilemma, false information is much for interesting than the truth. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Then I considered doing a short story, but in my experience, people seem to prefer their fiction be labeled fact.

What follows is a completely honest report of the race I didn’t do (inspired, perhaps, by a story I dimly recall from the early ‘90s called “We Didn’t,” by Stuart Dybek). In accordance with the high standard set by my bike team for race/ride reports, I focus on the food, and provide the report in various versions, starting concisely before waxing verbose.


Executive summary

  • We didn’t have our annual team dinner in the windowless back room of the Monterey Brewhouse (slogan: “We’re actually in Salinas”)
  • The GPS didn’t direct me to a lonely stretch of a desolate road in the middle of nowhere only to announce, “You have arrived”
  • No student laughed so hard a French fry came out his nose
  • The portions weren’t so small I had to beg for the shrapnel from my daughter’s plate; after all, she’s off at college now and the meal never happened
  • At the team tent that wasn’t erected in the morning, nobody forgot to bring the coffee, thus the lack of coffee was actual
  • During the non-race non-warm-up, I didn’t fail to secure a student’s bike properly to the trainer, thus he couldn’t literally crash at zero mph
  • All the training I didn’t do never had a chance to not pay off
  • The race did not knock the stuffing out of anybody because there was no race and no stuffing
  • I did not make an endless speech afterward, during which the parents clapped politely and the teenagers suffered silently
  • When I didn’t return home because I hadn’t gone anywhere, I did not pour a beer and toast my own robust good health, nor did I drown my sorrows over the loss of my cycling fitness, though that loss (and my beer) are very real

Short report

Race stats: 0.00 miles (vs. 22.4 last year); 0 feet of vertical gain (vs. 2,362 last year); 0:00 race time (vs. 1:41:07 last year); 0.00 mph average speed (vs. 13.3 mph last year). 

Conclusion: I have no reason to believe I will ever again have the fitness necessary to race a bicycle. As far as I can tell, life will not go on—not in any recognizable way. You might say wait, that’s not true, this COVID pandemic shall pass. To which I respond, perhaps. Only perhaps. Consider these words from the writer Vladimir Nabokov: “At best, the ‘future’ is the idea of a hypothetical present based on our experience of succession, on our faith in logic and habit. Actually, of course, our hopes can no more bring [the future] into existence than our regrets change the past.”

Non-Pre-race Dinner (the night before I didn’t race):

  • Lamb steaks that were deliciously rare because they caught fire under the broiler and had to be pulled out prematurely
  • Mashed potatoes with salted butter and extra salt
  • Sautéed zucchini
  • German-style purple cabbage
  • Rocky road ice cream with hot fudge because what do I need to be fit and trim for?

Breakfast (on the morning I would have raced)

  • Two eggs, scrambled, burnt because I was too impatient to gradually wait for the pan to warm up and instead put a big flame under it so it was too hot—I could tell it was too hot because the butter smoked, and I knew I should hold back the eggs, take the pan off the heat, let it cool, wipe out the burned butter, and start over—but damn it fuck it all I just didn’t care and poured in the eggs in the pan anyway
  • Two slices white bread that I thought would be wheat because the package said “Whole Grain Oat Nut” which was a lie but I was caught off-guard because the bread aisle was disorienting because my glasses were fogged up by my mask and I wasn’t at my normal store, where they require a reservation, a temperature test, a long line, a letter from your doctor, and support a maximum occupancy of like five, and I’m only slightly exaggerating
  • An apple that just wasn’t very good because see above

During the non-race: nothing but half a bottle of water because my legs just kind of petered out halfway up South Park because I’m just so tired from the work week since my colleagues, newbies at teleworking, take all the time they would be commuting and pour it into working more, which in a perfect world would help everybody finish early, but instead everyone just launches more projects, generates more deliverables, and creates an overall culture that brings to mind that study NASA did of spiders given too much caffeine.

Unnecessary glycogen window treat: more ice cream because it’s so rare to have it around the house and even with one daughter no longer around, I better get the ice cream while I can; also a macaron that my daughter made, from a recipe that was incredibly complicated and took like a day but then a) the cookie was amazing, and b) what else is she gonna do with her time?


Full report

To my discredit, I was not very successful in looking around at the start and deciding who the fastest guy was likely to be, because there was no start line and no racers, not even myself. As soon as the race did not start, I didn’t get right on the wheel of the fastest guy, but if I had, he would have passed everybody during the slight uphill asphalt run-up to the dirt. I would have hit the single-track in second position, and then died on the guy’s wheel for a few minutes, and then the single-minded, sport-obsessed, totally unbalanced evil tech titan quasi-retired uber-fit bike bastards would have started passing me. It would have been a long race, four or five laps, and my strategy would have been to pace myself and wait for the guys ahead to start detonating so I could pass them.

If I were in racing form this year, that would make uphills a blast, obviously. I could be at the CCCX race and see a horrible 12% grade looming ahead, and I’d think, “Yeah! Bring it!” I’d look at the guys around me with something like pity. But of course I’m not in racing form; why would I be? I’m taking this shelter-in-place opportunity to develop the physique better suited to my current lifestyle: more like the shape of a Coke botte, or a bowling pin, or those inflatable clown bop bags or a Weeble that may wobble but it won’t fall down. That would stabilize me in my desk chair. Maybe if I can add some flesh to my face, I won’t look so gaunt, and thus so old, and after all nothing below my waist shows on a videoconference so why not develop a big soft woman-y butt? Perhaps an extra fifteen or twenty pounds would give me an air of gravitas.

Anyway, notwithstanding my new COVID physique, the non-race wasn’t too bad. I mean, how bad could it have been? I did find that on the climbs I wasn’t doing that I could, or perhaps couldn’t, put the hurt on any of the people who weren’t there. I’d heard these climbs described as “really long” but they seemed really short, as in actually literally nonexistent. It was a fun race, if only in my mind. But that’s actually overstating things. The race did not exist even in a reverie … this is the first time I’ve thought of it even hypothetically.

It’s been rainy in the Bay Area so there would have been several very deep puddles on the course that we’d have bombed through, sending water gushing up everywhere like one of those amusement park water rides. Oddly, only my trailing foot would get splashed. By the end of the race I would have had a drenched left foot and a bone-dry right foot.

On the last lap of my race, had there been one, I might well saw have seen this guy I’d remembered from the previous years’ races whom I’d have been chasing for the whole race (though most of the time he’d have been too far ahead to even see). His jersey would have said something pompous like “Woodside Beasts,” or some other rival high school team, meaning he’d be a coach too. I’d have started to close in on him on the final climb, right toward the end of the race. It would’ve looked like I wasn’t gaining fast enough and that he’d hold me off, except that I’d have been able to tell he was just dying.

I’d have dug deep, deeper, and deepest, and literally 50 feet from the end of the climb I’d have finally passed him. Damn, what a sucker-punch that would have been! He’d still be pissed off about it! The tricky part would have been holding him off on the fast, technical descent to the finish line. I’m not that great a downhiller because my wife would kill me if I crashed, but I’d have gone for broke, and presently on a narrow single-track section I’d have come up on a young high school girl who wouldn’t have been going that fast. I’d have realized that if I got stuck behind her, the Beast would catch up and surely pass me in the twisty bits near the finish line. On the other hand, there would be no place to pass except the thick bramble alongside the trail. Bramble is a notoriously tricky surface to ride on, because the ground can be really bumpy, even rock-infested, beneath the brush, and you won’t know until you’re on it. You could run over a rock, a beer bottle, a human skull, an empty bottle of hand sanitizer, maybe even a landmine because what the hell, this is all speculation anyway. I’d have taken the gamble, and though it would’ve been indeed bumpy—my bike would have heaved like a bucking bronco—I’d have made it past the girl, returned to the single-track, and never saw the Beast again.

After the finish line, feeling truly shattered, I would have been filled with the sublime feeling of having truly given it everything, so it wouldn’t have mattered how I’d placed—which would be good, because I would really have no idea about that. It’s better that way, I think, to decide how it went without worrying about the more or less meaningless matter of how I compared to those who happened to show up and race my category. Had they actually shown up. And had I.

But instead of being at peace no matter the result, I feel only a gap, a void, a lack, a profound sense of nothingness, the absence of any feeling about the race because there was no race, there was no course, there was no pit zone, there were no team tents or trailers, there was no podium and there was nobody there at all at Fort Ord, in the gentle dunes that would have been the course. Well, to be really accurate, surely there were hawks, and rodents, and earthworms, and it’s possible one or more of these creatures perceived something different this year, no groaning of cars and trucks and racers, no whirring and clunking of chains, no ticking of freewheels, no static-sound of tires on dirt, no cheering, no PA system, no nothing. This year, there was only—to quote the poet Peter Kane Dufault—“one huge hush the whole day.”


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Sunday, February 7, 2021

Super Bowl FAQ - A Guide for Foreigners

Vlog

I have had mixed reactions to my vlogs. One reader indicated that I disparage the vlog format so much that he feels too self-conscious to view a vlog, even mine. Another said that he liked my last post, but didn’t want to watch the vlog version because he would find that embarrassing—as in, he would be embarrassed for me if he watched it. Look, here’s the thing. A friend of mine who’s a successful blogger recommended that I always provide a vlog option, and I trust his advice, hence the vlog below. If you think he’s right, well then, click Play and enjoy. Otherwise, please don’t be embarrassed. Just scroll down for the text. (Or hit Play, close your eyes, and pretend it’s a podcast.)

Introduction

I am no expert about American football. That might make me seem like a poor authority to consult about the Super Bowl. But most Americans are far too steeped in football lore to be of much help to a foreigner. Ask almost any football fan what a “down” is, and you’ll get an answer like, “You know, a down. Like, third down and six, that kind of thing.”

Since albertnet is a truly global blog, with 11% of my pageviews from Russia and 7% from Hong Kong, I thought I’d help the rest of the world understand the whole Super Bowl phenomenon. (I know, I should have posted this well ahead of the game … I just got busy. At least this will help you process what just happened.)

Super Bowl XLIV Frequently Asked Questions

Is this year’s game really Super Bowl XLIV?

Ooh, you caught me. I didn’t know so I just guessed. I was kind of hoping nobody would try to convert the roman numerals. The Super Bowl started in, like, the ‘60s? So we’re at, like, number 55? I don’t actually know. Sorry.

Is Super Bowl one word or two?

It’s two, but most football fans probably aren’t very particular on the spelling (of this term or any other). Just don’t call it the Super Bowel. They might think you’re a wise guy or something.

Has football significantly contributed to the study of linguistics?

Somewhat. It has given us a couple of new heteronyms: offense and defense. In normal usage, these are pronounced “uh-FENCE” and “de-FENCE.” In football, it’s “OFF-ence” and “DEE-fence.” More on heteronyms here.

Does the whole country watch the Super Bowl, or just the states with teams in the game?

The whole country watches, because regional differences aside, the game is just plain American so we’re all emotionally invested in it. I supposed it’s kind of like how France follows the Tour de France even though a Frenchman hasn’t won it since 1985.

What’s the best thing about the Super Bowl?

This is a tough question. Most of the anecdotal evidence I’ve accrued points to the tasty snacks fans get at Super Bowl parties, but lots of people do also love the commercials. I think everyone agrees the game itself doesn’t rank very high because, oddly enough, it’s usually a blowout.


Can everyday fans watch the Super Bowl in person?

Heavens no, you have to be practically royalty to afford a ticket, and that’s during a normal year. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you have to a) be a healthcare worker or b) have naked pictures of God. The promoters have greatly reduced the number of fans they’ll allow in the stadium.

Will this game be a COVID superspreader event?

Oh, very likely when you consider all the Super Bowl parties obstinate fans will insist on hosting across the country. But nobody will know for sure for a couple more weeks.

Is the Super Bowl halftime show totally amazing?

The halftime shows are designed to be amazing spectacles, but just like big-budget superhero movies they’re almost never any good. About the most this show ever accomplishes is some overwrought scandal, such as when Janet Jackson’s boob popped out of her outfit, or when M.I.A. flipped off the audience and was subsequently sued for $16.6 million for “tarnishing the [National Football] League’s goodwill and reputation.” I guess that’s pretty amazing.


Regarding this M.I.A. lawsuit: did the NFL have a valid point?

The NFL doesn’t exactly have a squeaky-clean track record. For one thing, they have come under fire for tolerating domestic violence by their players, as described here. They also have a long history of turning a blind eye to rampant concussions, and as detailed here took great pains to block research on the topic. Their fans, being remarkably tolerant of all this, should be able to handle getting flipped off, and as far as I’m concerned the NFL has tarnished its own goodwill and reputation. M.I.A., in her defense, rightly mocked the NFL for claiming to be wholesome.

Is the football itself really made out of pigskin?

Not anymore, but in the early days it was made from a pig’s bladder.  Details here.

Who is playing in the Super Bowl this year?

I recently learned that it’s the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

What is a buccaneer?

Buccaneers were basically French pirates, except that they were licensed by the British government, who, according to Wikipedia, “legalized their operations in return for a share of their profits.” In some cases the Royal Navy actually assisted them. Wikipedia goes on to say, “Among the leaders of the buccaneers were two Frenchmen, Jean-David Nau, better known as François l’Ollonais, and Daniel Montbars, who destroyed so many Spanish ships and killed so many Spaniards that he was called ‘the Exterminator.’”

Is that a fitting image for a sports team?

Perhaps not, but then, there has been controversy about the name “Chiefs” as well.

When’s the last time your local team made it to the Super Bowl, and were you excited?

Honestly, I can’t recall.

Dude, your San Franciso 49ers were in the Super Bowl just last year! Pull your head out!

Wait, seriously? I must have known that. But really, this kind of thing barely registers with me. Not all Americans are rabid fans. Where popular ball sports are involved, I always root for the opposing team, ever since the San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series and fans ran amok, even setting a city bus on fire. Especially given the pandemic this year, I’m relieved that neither the 49ers nor the Raiders are in the Super Bowl.

You are aware that the Raiders are no longer in Oakland … right?

Wait, what? Oh, yeah … I guess I remember something about them moving to … Vegas, was it?

Originally the readers asking you these questions seemed to be from Europe, but those last few were apparently from testy locals. What’s up with that?

I’ll take questions from anybody, or nobody.

How many Americans typically watch the Super Bowl?

According to Statista, around 100 million Americans watch the big game on TV. Last year it was 99.9 million, and viewership peaked at 114.4 million in 2015. Here’s a graph.


How can you be so uninterested in a championship game that’s this popular?

To be honest, I’m a little bit disturbed by any sporting event that relies heavily upon tribal impulses for its excitement. (This is not limited to football or to America; consider soccer hooliganism in England, which according to this study is “thought to reflect expressions of strong emotional ties to a [soccer] team, which may help to reinforce a supporter’s sense of identity.”) I air my misgivings not as an outsider, but as somebody who has not only tasted but deeply quaffed the thrilling feeling of team identification.

In 1986, for some reason my brother Bryan and I, both still living in our hometown of Boulder, Colorado, decided to watch our home team, the Denver Broncos, in the AFC Championship Game against the Cleveland Browns. As described here, “Broncos quarterback John Elway, in a span of 5 minutes and 2 seconds, led his team 98 yards in 15 plays to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation. Denver won the game in overtime by making a 33-yard field goal.” Bryan and I were elated. We jumped to our feet and did dual high-fives in the air (no small feat for two non-gymnastic cyclists). Then, as the aerial camera pulled back to show the frankly ugly Cleveland Municipal Stadium on a dull winter day, the announcer said something dramatic like, “With this devastating loss, the fans in Cleveland will head home to bleak, meaningless lives, with nothing left to live for.” I shook my head and in a very self-satisfied way reflected on the abysmal, low state of the Clevelanders, and was relieved at knowing myself to be so obviously superior to them.

Then I thought, wait a second! I don’t even like football! I’ve never even been to Cleveland! It was a real wake-up call, and I thought about it again five years later when I read St. Augustine’s Confessions (in the original Latin, if you must know), particularly this passage concerning a young man who, dragged against his will to the gladiatorial games, is determined not to be caught up in them:

A great roar from the entire crowd struck him with such vehemence that he was overcome by curiosity. Supposing himself strong enough to despise whatever he saw and to conquer it, he opened his eyes... As soon as he saw the blood, he at once drank in savagery and did not turn away. His eyes were riveted. He imbibed madness. Without any awareness of what was happening to him, he found delight in the murderous contest and was inebriated by bloodthirsty pleasure. He was not now the person who had come in, but just one of the crowd which he had joined, and a true member of the group which had brought him… He looked, he yelled, he was on fire, he took the madness home with him so that it urged him to return … taking others with him.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually afraid of becoming the kind of rabid fan who gets so worked up he celebrates “his” team’s victory by torching a city bus. But any temptation to submit to this hardwired tribal instinct gives me pause.

Is it true that there is a spike in domestic violence every year during the Super Bowl?

I am relieved to be able to say, after some light research, that this is an urban myth. As reported here, a “2006 study published in the Handbook of Sports and Media that examined over 1.3 million domestic violence police reports from every day of the year in 15 NFL cities found only a very small rise in domestic violence dispatches on (or just after) Super Bowl Sunday, but nearly a quintupling of domestic violence police dispatch reports around major holidays such as Christmas.”

What’s the deal with cheerleaders?

Unlike European sports, American sports feature skimpily clad women dancing around to celebrate their team. I suppose this simply provides a welcome spectacle for anybody who has lost interest in the game.

Do bloggers ever feature cheerleaders, for similar reasons?

Look, here are some now!


Is it true concussions are a serious problem among high school cheerleaders?

Yes, as detailed here.

Boy, you really are a buzzkill, aren’t you?

Why, yes. Yes I am.

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Sunday, January 31, 2021

From the Archives - Bicycling Glossary

Vlog

You know what’s a real hassle? Reading! It’s much easier to just kick back, click Play, and let the ocean of words wash over you (and perhaps occasionally pummel you). On that note, below is my vlog version of this post, and if you don’t like it, you can a) get somebody else to read the post to you, or b) just read it yourself as the full text follows below.

Introduction

Lately I’ve been going through a bunch of decades-old Winning magazines, including their special oversized Tour de France special editions, and I have to chuckle at the ubiquitous full-page cycling glossaries. They always have a bunch of terms that no newbie really even needs to learn. For example, “bottom bracket.” When’s the last time a Tour de France stage was won or lost due to a bottom bracket? The other is “bidon.” Nobody actually calls a water bottle a “bidon” except those Velominati clowns. The glossary also claims that “tubs” is a nickname for “tubulars” and I’ve never heard that in my life.

Many years ago, I wrote a (satirical) cycling glossary for the online magazine Daily Peloton. Alas, when DP’s server crashed a few years back, evidently without having been backed up, all my stories there were lost. One by one I’m rerunning them here on albertnet. Look, here’s the glossary now!


Veteran’s Dictionary of Modern Biking Usage – March 13, 2008

A couple of days before the Tour of California started, I checked the official website for a start list, and couldn’t find one. But right away I found the inevitable glossary of bike racing terminology. It had all the normal cycling terms: attack, bonk, etc. (You can tell this glossary was written for American readers because it has “bonk” in it. My wife and I used to ride with her British Reuters colleagues, and one day she told her boss, “I brought a Powerbar in case I bonk.” Her boss blushed and stammered, “I beg your pardon?!”)

This got me thinking about all the cycling glossaries I’ve seen over the years in the backs of race programs and such, and I realized how incomplete they all are, like they’re all quoting from the same out-of-date document. Cycling has a rich oral tradition that is highly regional and evolves rapidly. I fear that some of the newer riders on my (or any) bike club may not be up on some of the more obscure cycling terms, while we veterans may not be familiar with the newest additions to the vernacular. Thus, I created this dictionary.

ABCs: Angry Biker Clothes, also known as costume, strip, uniform, or kit. See Angry biker.

Angry biker: a biker who has a fancy bike, fancy clothes, and usually a stern expression, who really needs to lighten up. In other words, just about everybody on the road.

Arseless: a generic term for your bike, especially the old three-speed you ride to work. [Origin: from a novel by Irish writer Roddy Doyle, shortened from “Arseless Horse.”]

Backwards: slow, especially when you’re supposed to  be going fast; e.g., “Dude, I was so blown, I was going backwards.”

Bald: the condition of a veteran biker’s scalp being hopelessly worn out. Also refers to bike tires suffering the same affliction.

Ballast: the aesthetically ameliorative but physically cumbersome padding that a veteran angry biker tends to develop despite his or her best efforts to remain skeletal.

Basso Lamento: 1. [Music] Also called “descending tetrachord.” A musical scale of four notes, bounded by the interval of a perfect fourth (an interval the size of two and one-half steps, e.g., c-f). 2. The widespread sorrow surrounding Ivan Basso’s admission to doping (or “planned doping,” the lying sack of shit).

Bibs: cycling shorts with shoulder straps instead of an elastic waistband. Popular among juniors who fear being “pantsed,” and among older riders for the comfort and corset-like effect.

Bike porn: glossy bike catalogs that incessantly arrive, unbidden, in your mailbox.

Biker: the preferred term for “cyclist” among crusty old veterans, as they mock the relative newcomers who insist on being called cyclists. Note: particularly senior riders may despise the term “biker,” as they were around when this term was used contemptuously (perhaps because real bikers rode Harleys).

Bike widow: a wife forced to seek companionship outside her marriage, especially during weekends, because her angry biker husband is always off pursuing his suffering centers.

Bitter biker: an angry biker who is also old.

Bleb: the almost, but not completely, broken membrane on a gel packet, when the top has been torn off at just the right point so it won’t dribble out but can be zipped into your mouth. [Etymology: unknown; possibly borrowed from medical nomenclature.]

Blow chunks: to ride very poorly; e.g., “Dude, I totally blew chunks in the time trial.” [Originally a term for projectile vomiting, though this only happens in the minority of cases.] See Backwards.

Bonk: 1. To lose all energy while cycling due to depleted blood sugar. 2. To lose all energy while cycling for reasons you’re still trying to figure out. 3. To partake in a non-athletic but nevertheless vigorous activity with a compatible partner, which is far more enjoyable than cycling [chiefly British].

Break:1. Short for breakaway. 2. A respite from cycling that, when it inadvertently becomes permanent, is called Retirement.

Bulby: see Young Bulb, The.

Carbo-load: to eat a whole shitload of carbs, because you love them and because you can, and because you despise the Atkins craze. Not to be confused with the training nutrition système once used by Bernard Hinault, which just about nobody actually understood.

Cawbun Fibuh: carbon fiber. [Origin: crazy Berkeley-area angry biker who assailed a fellow bike shop customer who was innocently checking out a steel road bike. The crazy biker ranted, “Steel frames suck shit! Cawbun-fibuh! You want cawbun-fibuh”! The crazy biker was eventually asked to leave the store. Neither customer ever returned, and steel framesets are now a rarity.]

Chamois (pronounced SHAM-ee): the soft pad sewn into cycling shorts (originally made of the leather of the eponymous antelope but now almost always synthetic), designed to give angry bikers another thing to complain about. See also Mr. Flippy Floppy, Skid Mark.

CO2 inflator: a malfunction-prone device used by an angry biker to increase his blood pressure, while adding needlessly to our landfills, all because he’s too lazy to use a proper pump.

Coked to the gills: see Lubed. [Etymology: from the short story “The Catbird Seat” by James Thurber.

Crapture: gratifyingly swift evacuation of the bowels, especially right before a race.

Crash hat: bike helmet.

Cripple: a triple crankset, used by angry bikers who are not only weak and worthless, but also shameless.

Cyclo-sportif: a popular type of amateur race popular in Europe. Almost the opposite of an American race; instead of dozens of bikers paying $40 each to suffer for 40 minutes riding around an industrial park, thousands of bikers pay $20 each to suffer for 8 hours tackling some of the more amazing mountains on Earth. The most famous cyclo-sportif in Europe is La Marmotte in the French Alps.

Datas: the arguably interesting but probably valueless information that can be gleaned from modern bike computers and heart monitors. [Etymological note: this odd double-plural form derives from instruction manuals poorly translated from the German.]

Dawn patrol: post-ironic term for a very early morning group ride.

Derailleur: the component on a bicycle which shifts the gears, and which is often used as an excuse for losing a race (e.g., “Dude, I would’ve made the break but I threw my chain!”).

Detonate: to suddenly become unable to pedal the bicycle. Usually the consequence of going too hard for too long on too little training, or from just being fricking old.

Dr. Shimano: The big brother of this guide’s author, a college team’s mechanic known for proselytizing about the superiority of Shimano components.

Flat: The sensation you have at the beginning of a ride that your tire is flat, or you’re dragging an anvil behind you. Formerly used to indicate the state of being overtrained, as if that were ever actually possible within our amateur cohort.

Flats: a popular Berkeley area ride, known to be about the flattest ride in the area as it features only 1,400 feet of vertical gain.

Float: the foot rotation offered by modern cleats, to allow your feet to do any damn thing they want instead of being fixed where they ought to be.

Geriatric sports: bonking. [Chiefly British.]

Glycogen windowthe period of 30-40 minutes after exercise during which an angry biker eats gobs of sugary snacks because he has convinced his wife/girlfriend and/or himself that this is actually useful somehow.

Goggles: sunglasses. Used by those who arguably go a bit far in avoiding the use of terms like “eyeshade système.”

Gooseneck: preferred term for handlebar stem, intended to indicate lack of techie-dweebhood. Real old-timers can remember when a stem actually slightly resembled a goose’s neck.

Grind: anything undesirable; e.g., “Dude, those Speedplays are such a grind.” [Etymology: post-ironic mimicry of the Wheels Manufacturing founder’s favorite expression.]

Hardtail: a word used by dorks to describe non-suspension mountain bikes and moreover to demonstrate their utter dorkiness.

Intervals: the increasingly long periods between a veteran biker’s rides. Formerly used to describe some kind of training method that is too distant and painful a memory to recall in detail.

Kitsee ABCs. [Etymology: the widespread myth that expensive clothing can turn you into a great biker, like assembling something from a kit.]

Knackered: Totally exhausted, either through completing a difficult ride or race, or having detonated during a failed attempt.

Light it up: see Throw down.

Lima bean: a frame with compact (i.e., undersized) geometry such that more than a foot of seatpost is showing. [Origin: an area rider’s analysis of these frames: “They’re like lima beans ... I suppose they have a right to exist, but I don’t like them.”]

Lubed: assisted by illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Material: see Ride.

Mech: derailleur (not to be confused with the French “mec,” meaning big thick guy).

Megamix: post-ironic term for an MP3 playlist created for working out on the stationary trainer. [Origin: overheard by an area biker; uttered by some dip standing in line for an early-80s U2 concert.]

Mr. Flippy Floppy: a biking-shorts-related ailment occurring only in males; usually results from geriatric sports.

Muffin ride: an easy ride, whether or not a bakery exists on the route.

Novocain legs: an all-encompassing muscular complacency making it impossible to ride hard, usually resulting from geriatric sports.

Out of shape: a term of deceit used by an angry biker to indicate that he secretly plans to attack you and hopes you’ll underestimate him; e.g., “Dude, let’s go super-easy today because I’m soooo out of shape.”

PCT: peak conversational threshold. The degree of effort beyond which a rider can no longer keep up a conversation, and a useful indicator of who’s got the upper hand.

Plastic: a derisive term for carbon fiber. See Cawbun Fibuh.

Pocket climber: a very lean, slight biker who specializes in hill climbs. Generally used bitterly by someone too heavy to climb well.

Podium: the three-tiered boxy platform that winners get to stand on, not to be confused with a lectern, which is the stand that holds a lecturer’s notes. [Etymology: Latin, from Greek podion, base, diminutive of pous, pod-, foot. Okay?!]

Positive sensations: general feeling of surprisingly plentiful strength. [Origin: countless bike racing news stories; either a popular expression in the European peloton, or a lazy approximation of one or another non-English expression.]

Post-ironic: indicative of a biking term that was mimicked in the spirit of mockery until it gradually evolved into standard usage.

Psyched: caffeinated, especially in accordance with an un-doping regimen. See Un-doping.

Race weight: the weight of your bike without pedals, as if you could pedal without them. [Origin: formerly referred to a rider’s weight during the racing season, before the focus shifted from fitness to equipment.]

Rack: see Stationary trainer. [Origin: short for “torture rack.”]

Rain bike: the second road bike that an angry biker would ride on rainy days, if he actually rode on rainy days. Mainly used when the primary bike has a flat tire.

Recovery: the occasional return to an area biker of one or more of his stolen bikes. Formerly used to indicate restoration of a biker’s physical capacities, back when this was actually possible.

Retirement: the phase of life during which an angry biker pretends he doesn’t race anymore, but actually merely refocuses his competitive impulses on friends and innocent strangers. See Break.

Ride: a bike; e.g., “Dude, just four more months and I’ll be rockin’ my brand-new ultimate super-fly ride!”

Road Look: term that describes a relative novice who is shaming you; e.g., “I was going about as hard as I could and then this frickin’ Road Look dude passes me.” [Origin: from the saddle with “Road Look” printed on the back that came on cheap Fuji road bikes in the 1970s.]

Royal: the coffeeshop at the corner of College and 63rd in Oakland, regardless of what the current owners feel the need to call it. Meeting place for local angry bikers.

School: to shame by outperforming on the bike. See Road Look.

Sew-ups: bicycle tires with a casing, usually made of silk or Egyptian cotton, that is sewn together so that it completely surrounds the inner tube. These must be glued to the rim (ideally with Vittoria or Clément cement known as “red death”). They are gradually going extinct because they’re a total pain in the ass.

Skid mark: discoloration of the chamois caused by sweat—only sweat, I swear!—and the reason for the modern chamois being blue or black instead of brown.

Soaps: See Sew-ups.

Spank: see School.

Spare tube: the contents of a veteran biker’s spare tire. See Ballast. See also Carbo-load.

Stack hat: see Crash Hat.

Stationary trainer: apparatus that enables an angry biker to turn his regular racing bike into a stationary bike; used primarily as a paperweight or conversation piece.

Stuffing: the sum of an angry biker’s physical resources; e.g., “Poor fellow, he’s had the stuffing knocked out of him.” [Chiefly British.]

Système: a fancy word for “system,” used by somebody who is trying to seem sophisticated and Euro; e.g., “Dude, these aren’t sunglasses, this is a highly advanced factory eyeshade système, okay?”

Technova: 1. Overly modern, gimmicky, unproven, and/or shoddy; e.g., “Dude, that aero helmet is so Technova.” 2. Defunct nickname for Dr. Shimano’s kid brother. [Origin: model name of awful Panaracer tires that came on late-80s Miyatas.]

Throw down: to attack, usually foolishly.

T.I. : bike bling; e.g., “Man, Eden is really a high-end shop, so much T.I. there.” [Origin: uttered by an area biker who refuses to divulge what, if anything, the letters stand for.]

Ti (pronounced TIE): See Titanium.

Titanium: one of the most plentiful elements on earth, used for increasing bike industry profit margins.

Toe-clip overlap: the characteristic of a properly designed frame, where the shoe hits the front tire when clipped in to the pedal with the crank in the 3-o’clock position. Lack of toe-clip overlap indicates too shallow a head tube angle. Understanding of head tube angles indicates nerdiness.

Tool: 1. See School. 2. Somebody who unpleasantly increases the pace of your group ride at a time when other angry bikers want to loaf.

Torched: see Wappered.

Tranja [pronounced TRON-yah]: energy drink. [Origin: an episode of the original 1960s “Star Trek” in which the Gentle Ben-looking alien says, “Drink ... it’s tranja. I hope you relish it as much as I.”

Tubulars: see Sew-ups.

Un-doping: the systematic non-consumption of caffeine, designed to create a freakish lack of tolerance for it, so that a single pre-ride NoDoz can instill the effect of an illegal performance-enhancing drug.

Vein: possessed of a specific type of vanity common to bikers with really veiny legs.

Wappered: See Knackered. [Chiefly British.]

Widowmaker: a dangerously rusty bike, or one that has been inherited from a fellow angry biker who is convinced it harmed his knees somehow.

Young Bulb, The: a young rider, especially an enthusiastic one. [Origin: nickname for Paul Kimmage in the early 1980s.]

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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Should You Eat Less Salt?

Vlog

I would love to have an albertnet podcast, but the fact is, I don’t know how. I would have to learn some new platform, and figure out how to make it available to the 4.3 billion users of the Internet, and I simply don’t have the time. Knowing that many people would rather passively listen to podcasts than scroll through large bodies of text, I’m providing the next best thing: a vlog version of the following post. If you aren't enthralled by the sight of me pretending not to read, just close your eyes. Or open another tab and look at pictures of Gal Gadot while you listen. Or bite the bullet and scroll down for the text. Your call.

Introduction

I am not a doctor or nutritionist, nor a scientist of any kind. I’m not in the business of making specific health recommendations to anybody. That said, I think blanket advice from nutrition experts to the population at large can be imprecise. This post examines the question of whether you, dear reader, need to worry about your salt intake. I don’t know who you are, of course, but I aim to slice and dice the question of “who” more finely than other sources you might encounter. I also review here the results of a simple survey I sent out to my cycling friends. You won’t (and shouldn’t) come away with a new approach to your diet, but perhaps with a few good questions and some (low-fat, all-natural, free-range) food for thought.

Why do I care?

Humans need salt. And so does food. As a dumb kid I thought salt just made food salty, but that’s wrong. Salt makes food yummy. As I learned to cook I was astonished at how you can have a dish 99% done and it won’t taste right until you salt it, and then suddenly it can go from edible to delicious. The end result doesn’t necessarily taste salty; it just tastes right.

Now, if salt were utterly, incontrovertibly bad for you, I might consider it a necessary evil. I’m not willing to go without it, despite being sufficiently health conscious that I’ve essentially given up bacon and other cured meats. But the amount of added salt needed for a complete gastronomic apotheosis doesn’t need to be large. Have you ever tried to eat unsalted peanut butter? It’s revolting. I’d rather eat my scabs. Hell, I’d almost rather eat your scabs. If salted peanut butter had twice the FDA’s recommended daily allowance of sodium in it, and cost twice as much as unsalted, I’d still choose it.

But you know how much sodium regular peanut butter actually has? A mere 140 mg, just 6% of the recommended daily value. (Note that trying to go lower than this wouldn’t necessarily be beneficial: humans actually need about 500 mg of sodium a day to conduct vital functions, as described here.)


So why does unsalted peanut butter exist, other than as a specialty product for sufferers of hypertension? I’ll tell you my hunch: many people who buy it are reacting to the vague sense that less sodium is always better for you. And peanut butter is just one example of this phenomenon. It breaks my heart that well-meaning people are eating inferior meals based on rule of thumb that may or may not apply to them.


[Above: this PBJ was such a work of art, my daughter asked for a bite and then made off with half of it. This never would have happened in my household growing up. More on this later.]

Does sodium actually increase blood pressure?

I won’t bother to provide a wide survey of the science on this, but here are the high points of an article from the Harvard Medical School, based on an interview with Dr. Nancy Cook, a professor of medicine there:

  • On average, Americans eat too much salt
  • Whether or not sodium is bad for everybody, vs. only those with certain risk factors, has been a matter of some debate
  • There is a fairly undisputed effect of sodium on blood pressure, and it’s stronger in people with hypertension
  • People respond differently to salt, one to the next

Regarding the mechanism of sodium’s effect on blood pressure, Cook explains, “When you eat too much salt, your body holds on to water in an effort to dilute it. This extra water increases your blood volume, which means your heart works harder because it’s pushing more liquid through your blood vessels. More strenuous pumping by the heart puts more force on the blood vessels. Over time, this increased force can raise blood pressure and damage blood vessels, making them stiffer, which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read that, I didn’t immediately have an “Oh, shit!” reaction. Perhaps my salt intake does cause water retention, but not for long because every time I exercise, which is generally around four times a week, I sweat a lot, and in fact after a particularly hard ride I’ll get these head rushes every time I stand up—a classic symptom of low blood pressure—until I rehydrate. Not that I expect Dr. Cook to base her guidelines on my particular case. Given that a fairly recent CDC study concluded that only 22.9% of Americans get enough exercise, it’s not hard to see why Dr. Cook would advocate for reducing sodium intake when addressing the general public.

Meanwhile, the CDC reckons that “Americans consume an average of more than 3,400 mg of sodium each day,” which is far more than the 2,300 that the U.S. Department of Health recommends. Clearly, overconsumption of sodium is a public health problem in this country.

But does this mean you and I and everyone should all cut down? I think that would be a problematic conclusion. If Americans by and large use too much petroleum and create too much pollution by driving giant SUVs, then yeah, I can try to mitigate the damage by driving a Prius. But if someone eats too much salt and doesn’t exercise enough, I can’t help him by lowering my salt intake. In other words, I may or may not be implicated in this public health crisis. (Again, I can’t fault the article; the safe bet when advising a wide audience is to advocate caution and restraint.)

As is so often the case, there’s a bit of a conundrum here: the people who are concerned about their health and go looking for dietary advice are often not the ones recklessly eating a lot of processed food, fast food, and salty snacks, and thereby creating frightening statistics around widespread hypertension. A good many conscientious folks may heed these general warnings about salt and reduce their consumption, thus depriving themselves of its goodness for no legitimate reason.

My own experience

In brief, I’ve been seeing borderline high systolic blood pressure readings since high school, while my diastolic numbers are always nice and low. Meanwhile, my blood fats (cholesterol etc.) are remarkably good, my body mass index is spang in the middle of normal, and my resting heart rate is in the low 40s. I’ve never had a doctor recommend a change in diet, and over time my systolic reading has come down a bit. I chalk this up to being less of a hothead than I used to be. In general I suspect the benefits of life balance, of stress release achieved through exercise or yoga, and of emotional hygiene such as self-compassion are underrated. Modern life has people working too much, exercising too little, over-consuming news and social media, and then trying to undo all the damage by eating less salt. Nice try.

My survey

I surveyed a bunch of my cycling pals, because they’ve always been an insightful and amusing bunch. Being cyclists, most of them seem to eat basically whatever they want, and they’re all pretty much fit as a fiddle. That said, they take their health seriously, which statement I base on a couple of decades of riding and eating together, and also on their reactions to a couple of articles that have come out about too much exercise possibly damaging your heart. I was curious about my cycling team’s approach to salt so I emailed them this simple question: Do you make any effort to limit your salt intake for health reasons?

Of the 23 responses I got back, 17 were some version of no (i.e., they eat all the salt they want) and 6 were yes (they limit their salt). Of course I got some interesting comments, too:

  • No, but I’m also pretty naturally salt-averse. One of my most frequent complaints about restaurant food is that it’s too salty, and one of my family’s most common complaints about my cooking is that there’s not enough salt in it.
  • No. But then again, I don’t really make any effort to limit my intake of anything. I’m a gluttonous hedonist. What could possibly go wrong with that philosophy???
  • I double down on salt - I’ve got low blood pressure and find getting light headed when I stand up a bit irritating.
  • How can a person cook without salt? It’s my understanding (possibly inaccurate) that salt is only a problem if you have high blood pressure, so not really an issue for healthy people with normal blood pressure.
  • Switched to dry brining with kosher salt. Definitely healthier and tastes better but I cannot speak to any metaphysical benefit.
  • I’m casually aware of salt intake but never limit myself vs. what tastes appropriate. I don’t buy potato chips very often but when I do I want ‘em salty.
  • No. But I know when I’ve had too much and I don’t necessarily enjoy that feeling.
  • No. Well, maybe. I salt liberally from the shaker/cellar, but I do try to be aware of how much sodium certain prepared foods contain, and err on the side of less is better there…
  • Well, occasionally I think about limiting my salt intake but it doesn’t really happen.
  • Yes and yes - Simply put, Salt= Hypertension, Sugar= diabetes. Controlling these substances through diet can extended the life of several organs. It’s no secret that food companies fill processed food with these as a preservative and as a sales angle. We don’t even realize how much is added … I haven’t added salt to anything in years.
  • Several years ago, I went to the doctor and my blood pressure was slightly higher than it used to be, almost 140/70. (Getting older sucks...) Since then I’ve generally cut back on the Mexican and Korean foods, and now it’s back to 120/60. However, if I ride 4+ hours in the heat, then I’ll always reward myself with some Mexican food.

My favorite comments were from the two MDs in my survey:

  • I maximize salt intake!
  • Salt is not a major contributor to hypertension. The processed food that contains a lot of salt probably is. (I spent a 1/3rd of a course in college studying sodium.) However, from a public health perspective, telling the public to limit salt probably has beneficial effects.

Now, there are (at least) two conclusions I could draw from these results. One, I could assume that by not worrying about salt whatsoever, we are consuming huge amounts of sodium and yet somehow getting away with it. On the other hand, we could be well within the recommended range of sodium consumption quite by accident. Granted, we cyclists love us some big, rich meals, but we tend to cook them ourselves. I’ve never known any of these pals to eat fast food, and as health-conscious types we avoid processed food like frozen entrees, “lunch meat,” and snack foods, because of all the other crap in them (trans fats, nitrates, refined flour, artificial flavors, etc.) and because we’re frankly too epicurean. (I get frozen pizza for my kids a couple times a year as a guilty pleasure, and indeed, only the scarcity of it makes it a treat.)

Honestly, the Recommended Daily Value of sodium, 2,300 mg, seems pretty generous. I tallied up the amount of sodium I get from my typical lunch, and found no cause for alarm. Lunch is often my biggest meal of the day, and it’s invariably a big burrito (basically homemade but with canned refried or whole beans and store-bought tortillas). Look, here’s one now.


I just read some labels and have calculated that one of my big-ass burritos contains about 1,400 mg of sodium. Of the US Recommended DV of not more than 2,300 mg, that leaves just 900 mg free for dinner (since I don’t eat breakfast). This is probably okay because my wife does most of the cooking and seldom resorts to things like canned beans. Besides, even if I’m a bit over the guideline, I’m a big guy and my daily caloric intake is very high—some would say legendary. But I guarantee I’m far from the 3,400 mg of sodium that the average American takes in, without even trying … that is, without compromising the tastiness of my food.

According to the CDC, “Most of the sodium Americans eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant foods. Only a small amount comes from salt added during cooking or at the table.” A Harvard medical school article concurs: “At least 75% of the sodium in the average American diet comes from processed foods, such as cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, burgers, and sandwiches.”

This makes perfect sense, of course. Food is big business, and if sacrificing the health of consumers is what it takes to ensure shareholder value, so be it. Take the case of Campbell’s soup: they were famously required by the FDA to desist using their old slogan “Soup is good food” because their soup had too much sodium to be called “good.” More recently, Campbell’s experimented with lowering sodium, but then reversed course when sales dropped. As described here, their new CEO announced at an investors’ meeting, “For me it’s about stabilizing [sales] first.” Campbell’s contends that “the proposed nutritional principles ‘describe products that manufacturers will not produce because children and teens will not eat them.’”

Obviously we can’t stake our health on the companies that pander to philistine tastes. But that doesn’t mean when we cook at home we should gild the lily and err on the side of blandness. If anything, that will just tempt us to eat out more. And with restaurants, of course, all bets are off.

Conclusion

Again, I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but I think I can you give this bit of advice: before you automatically seek to lower your sodium intake based on the general messaging we get from the FDA, CDC, etc., find out what your own blood pressure is and ask your doctor if you’re at any risk. And if you do have a need to keep an eye on your sodium intake, do so with precision, by reading labels and knowing what goes into your food. It could well be, for example, that a person with mild hypertension could still afford the amount of sodium in regular peanut butter, and doesn’t need to be shaking Mr. Dash on his or her dinner.

Appendix A – salt in peanut butter

I grew up eating a lot of PBJs. My mom was a great cook, but these sandwiches were atrocious. The bread was fine, and the jam (generally homemade) was great, but the peanut butter was awful. It was a brand called Deaf Smith, and as detailed here, it was the first organic peanut butter on the market. It came in a giant plastic bucket—it had to be at least a few gallons—and it looked like a cross between diarrhea and that old-fashioned Dijon mustard with all the seeds in it. It was a roiling, gritty, grainy, wet mess and we called it quicksand because if you lost your grip on the knife (which happened a lot because it’d get oily), the knife would quickly sink and you wouldn’t see it again until you eventually got to the bottom of the tub and there’d be like five knives there.

But you have to understand, my brothers and I were not picky eaters, and all this would have been completely forgivable if Deaf Smith didn’t taste so damn bad. It was just awful. We suffered through those PBJs because we had to—we were growing boys, after all—but it was just so gross. As soon as I moved away from home I switched to Skippy and discovered that peanut butter could be delicious.

A few decades later, though I’d moved on to natural, non-hydrogenated peanut butter, usually Adams or the Trader Joe’s brand, I was still totally digging it. And then one day my wife bought unsalted by mistake. The horror! It tasted exactly like Deaf Smith! Completely disgusting—I was right back in my miserable elementary school lunchroom! This was an epiphany. I realized that there had never actually been anything really wrong with Deaf Smith except the lack of salt. This omission was totally unnecessary and surely not why my mom chose that brand. She has always maintained that salt won’t hurt you if you don’t already have high blood pressure—it can only exacerbate it. She probably chose Deaf Smith simply because it was organic and available in bulk. So why did Deaf Smith eschew salt? Probably because they were a bunch of hippies and salt seemed evil to them somehow.

Postscript to this sad tale: a year or so later I mixed up a fresh batch of Trader Joe’s peanut butter (yes, this mixing is a pain in the ass and I do miss the hydrogenation of Skippy at times), and then made a PBJ. Yuck! Foiled again! Staring, enraged, at the label, wondering why my wife would poison the family again by buying more unsalted peanut butter, I realized this jar wasn’t actually labeled as unsalted. It was their organic variety, which had just 40 mg of sodium per serving, vs. 140 mg in the normal version. I guess they decided those who like organic food automatically want less sodium. I wrote an angry email to Trader Joes, which I’ve just found and reread. It ends, “When this jar is empty I will probably remove the label and burn it in effigy.” (In fairness, Trader Joe’s did apologize and gave me a refund.)

Appendix B – fact-checking the Deaf Smith tale

I fact-checked the bit about Deaf Smith peanut butter with my mom, to confirm that lowering our sodium intake wasn’t her goal in choosing it. This she corroborated, but she denied that we ate it that much. “I got it from the co-op, and hadn’t tried it before,” she said. “I think I only bought it once, and had no idea it wouldn’t be salted. It probably just seemed like we got it a lot, because it took so long to get through that giant drum.”

I thought this might have been wishful thinking … after all, no mother wants to admit she tortured her offspring for a protracted period. So I asked my brother Bryan. He responded, “It was just for a time as I recall, we didn’t really like it because it was so natural, and it separated so badly that the last few gallons of it were like concrete.”

My brother Max had a host of other memories around the Deaf Smith. “As I recall, the Deaf Smith was from ‘the co-op,’” he told me (via text). “That’s where those ginormous cylindrical loafs of Colby and Colby-Jack cheeses came from as well. I think there was more than just one five-gallon tub of Deaf Smith that came through [our household]. The Deaf Smith was really good in rice crispy squares. I remember that! When we complained about the Deaf Smith mom would laugh … for some reason she just didn’t believe that we really hated it.

“Remember the story of how Deaf Smith became deaf? He was a San Francisco kid and he had to take the trolley to school. One day he was a little running behind, as they say, and the trolley was already taking off. He ran up to the trolley and a man, who was just trying to be helpful, used the young Smith’s ears as handles to haul him up onto the trolley and he was deafened.”

At this point I replied, “I do not remember that story. Is that from the archives or did you just make that up?” Max’s answer: “True story as I remember it. I recall feeling that we had to eat this peanut butter because mom felt sorry for Deaf Smith. It may have been that the man ‘boxed’ his ears to punish him for his tardiness. I remember asking Mom what that meant, boxing the ears. I guess it was common back then for men to box the ears of wayward youths. As she described it, boxing the ears involves essentially punching a kid in both ears at the same time with the fists turned inward so the contact with the ears is made with the fleshy part of the hand between the wrist and bottom knuckle of the pinky finger.

“I recall that she may have been unsure whether the man dragged him up by his ears or dragged him up and then boxed his ears, but either way it resulted in two sure things: Smith became deaf and there was nothing more for him but to make peanut butter.

“Everyone who buys this product feels a bit guilty and a bit absolved simultaneously. I always tried to like the Deaf Smith out of guilt for the human condition. I’d think about the trauma that that kid endured, having his life ruined by some a-hole on the trolley, and how he had to crush peanuts for the rest of his miserable existence.

“It had to have been a miserable existence. If he had made any sort of meaningful recovery, he might have put some sugar or at least some salt in the peanut butter. It was almost as though he accepted being boxed in the ears. As though he deserved it for being late. That peanut butter was practically a punishment. Austerity in a five gallon tub.”

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Friday, January 15, 2021

A Wide Net Approach to New Year’s Resolutions

Vlog

A couple of successful bloggers have advised me that my posts should always include a vlog version. I think this advice totally makes sense if the blogger is really good looking. As for myself, I’m a bit skeptical anyone could really enjoy this, but I’ll do my best. Tip: the below vlog is also a podcast if you don’t look. And it becomes a regular old blog if you scroll down.

Introduction

In years past in these pages, I’ve offered general suggestions on how to formulate New Year’s Resolutions. Well, it never worked … the closest I’ve had to getting a comment like “this changed my life!” is “This unique in fact perhaps even a very good arrange that i believe it or not in fact really enjoyed looking into. It is not necessarily consequently routine that i range from the substitute for verify a precise detail. trusted medicine.”

So this year, I’m taking the cast-a-wide-net approach: I’ll just throw a ton of suggested Resolutions out there and maybe a few will grab you. It’s kind of like the speed-dating concept.

Personal brand

Stop worrying about cultivating your “personal brand.” Consider that every so often a winery tries to produce a really special wine but loses their nerve at the last minute, and releases it under a fictitious label, only to see that wine win all kinds of awards. Shouldn’t your intrinsic value, if any, also speak for itself? 

COVID tents

Do you live in a community that sets up outdoor tents to get around the pandemic-instituted prohibition on indoor dining? This is exactly like tenting a house for termite mitigation, except instead of fumigating with poisonous methyl bromide they let diners bring their own coronavirus-rich CO2. This practice is pretty much Kevorkian. They should call them Superspreader Tents. Don’t go in there.


Shampoo

Stop reading the instructions on the shampoo bottle. This product is just not that complicated. Really … you’ve got this.

Physical comedy

Stop syncing up your loud belches and/or bursts of flatulence with fist pumps, as if you were cranking them out. Family members witnessing your little spectacle probably don’t find it nearly as funny as you do. I suppose you could resolve to do this only when you’re alone, but really … ask yourself if that makes any more sense.

Hacks

Stop calling things “hacks” that don’t represent a major circumvention. If you use yogurt instead of butter in box mac ‘n’ cheese, that’s not a hack. That’s a tweak. Using the uncooked elbows for your kid’s art project, and then using the powdered cheese mix as a propellant in an improvised explosive device—now that’s a hack. I hasten to point out that I don’t advocate building IEDs. For that matter, I don’t advocate box mac ‘n’ cheese.

Eating

If you find yourself short of breath while eating, you might be going too fast. Another sign is if you keep getting grains of rice or short bits of noodle caught in your nasal passages. Considering eating a bit more slowly.

Crickets

Crickets themselves are fine. But saying “crickets” to draw attention to a general lack of response to something someone has said (e.g., a joke) is both hackneyed and stupid. Just be frank: “Clearly nobody is very impressed with you. I hope you feel bad about yourself. I, meanwhile, am quite clever.”

Mute button

Did you know that the COVID pandemic has sped up global digital transformation by at least ten years? Wait, come back, I’m sorry, I was blathering ironically!

But seriously: we might as well face the fact that videoconferences aren’t going anywhere. So how about mastering the mute button? So you know at all times whether you’re muted or not? So you don’t ever have to say, “Sorry, I was talking on mute”? And nobody ever has to say, “Bob, you’re muted”? And so nobody hears you bawling out your kid or your pet? Practice a lot, do drills, hold a clinic, I don’t care what it takes—just become aces at this because things are really getting annoying.

Timing

When you pee, stop timing the operation by counting in your head, “One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand …” unless your doctor has recommended this.

Cleaning the drain

When you scoop the wad of hair out of the bathtub drain before your shower, stop throwing the wet clump at the tile wall where it will stick. If you’ve been doing this for fifteen years and your family members still haven’t taken the hint, they’re not going to. Just throw the wad away, or better yet, recycle it.

Zeal inflation

If every single thing you recommend is the most amazing thing ever, you may be overdoing your enthusiasm. Consider ratcheting it down a bit: instead of “Oh my God, you have got to try their burger,” consider something like, “I really think you should try the burger.”

Veganism

Look, vegans, I grant that you have the moral upper-hand. But please, no meat-shaming. Meat is just a weakness I have. Besides, by insisting on grass-fed beef I’m helping to create a market for it, to gradually shift the ranching industry. What example are you setting? Carnivores just think you’re crazy!

Pizza

Stop eating pizza with a fork and knife, even if it’s deep-dish. Consider that Miss Manners gives you her blessing to eat asparagus with your fingers. Pizza is finger food. So what if you make a little mess? That’s what napkins are for.

When you order takeout pizza, ask them to cut the pie into 12 slices instead of just 8. This makes it easier to share and may slightly increase your chances of having leftovers. (Note: this is not a “hack.”)

Bedtime

Make a playlist of calm, mellow songs to listen to before bed. This probably won’t keep your dreams from featuring hard rock or heavy metal soundtracks (which is likely a sign of too much stress in your life) but it’s worth a shot.

Names

When emailing a colleague you don’t know very well, whose name is Michael or Christopher or Elizabeth, stop fretting about whether you should be addressing him or her as Mike or Chris or Liz. If this person can’t put his or her preferred name in his or her auto-signature, that’s not your problem. Also, if you have an Aussie colleague who has always gone by Mick but suddenly wants to go by Michael, probably in an effort to be taken more seriously, don’t give him the satisfaction. Keep calling him Mick. You’re grandfathered.

Filling

When you fill a carafe or bottle, and the rising water makes a slightly flute-y whooshing sound that gets higher in pitch as the level rises, stop pursing your lips as though they were making the sound. This is ridiculous and if your fiancée saw you doing this she’d break off the engagement.

What do you do?

Have an unhelpful answer all staged up for when someone asks you what you do for a living. Some examples:

  • I do bratwurst rehab.
  • I do PR for a money laundering firm in the Caymans.
  • I stuff envelopes for a blockchain startup incubator in Bangalore.
  • I’m a cattle buyer for Office Depot.
  • I refurbish gnome ornaments.

Then, turn it around with a more direct version of the same question: “What good are you?”

Dressing

When you put on a jacket over a sweater, hold down the cuffs of the sweater sleeves with your ring and middle finger. Otherwise, the sleeves will get all bunched up. If you don’t grasp what I’m saying, watch any child put on a jacket. They’ve all figured this out for themselves; what’s your problem?

Proud parent

Stop humble-bragging about your kid(s). Humble-bragging is still bragging. In fact, answering a simple question honestly can still be bragging. If somebody asks where your kid is going to college and the honest answer is “MIT,” you cannot answer honestly without being boastful. And don’t settle for a dodge, either. If you say “near Boston” that’s still bragging because you know what the next question will be. The only acceptable answer is “He’s enrolled in the DeVry Technical Institute,” even if it’s not true.

Bucket list

Stop using the term “bucket list.” It’s lame. And no, adding air quotes doesn’t help. Just stop. We don’t even need this phrase because nobody is actually very interested in things you hope to do during your lifetime. Get over yourself.

Vlogging

Before you record your vlog, do a 10-second trial recording and scrutinize it to make sure you don’t have a weird, wiry, paper-white hair growing right out the edge of your ear, or conspicuous dandruff on your dark garment, or anything else that’s grossly human. Also, as you record, resist the temptation to periodically moisten your lips with your tongue, which makes you look like a frog. In short, don’t make your vlog any more painful to watch than it has to be.

Superstitions

Stop beating yourself up over indulging a silly superstition, like not putting a hat on a bed just because you watched Drugstore Cowboy back in 1989. Yes, superstitions are silly, but as habits go they’re pretty harmless, so why waste brain cycles worrying about it? Just don’t embroil others in your superstition. Keep it to yourself.

Fever?

If you need to sneeze while using an oral thermometer, take the dang thing out of your mouth and cover your face completely. Trying to keep the thermometer in and just cover your nose isn’t going to work—no kleenex can withstand that kind of focused spray. Yes, you’ll have to start all over again taking your temperature. That’s just how it goes.

Cheers

Stop fretting about using “cheers” to sign off an email even though you’re not British. We Americans stole the rest of their language; why shouldn’t this expression be fair game too?

But seriously

Here are some less flippant suggestions:

Epilogue

Is there actually any point in this annual ritual? Has anybody ever stuck with his or her Resolutions? Well, I looked back at my own from last year, fearing the worst, and was surprised to find that I’d stuck with some of them … sort of:

#1: Get a colonoscopy … it’s time – Done!

#2: Work with a physical therapist – This was supposed to be for my back as a preventive thing. I did end up working with a physical therapist, quite a bit in fact, but because I broke my collarbone. So … done? Sort of?

#3: Research 401(k) catch-up contributions – I actually looked into these, discovered it’s kind of complicated, and decided to leave well enough alone. Done? Ish?

Here’s a Resolution my brother Max suggested last year, which was prescient to say the least:

Be alone with someone else who likes to be left alone and leave each other alone.

Nailed it!

Further reading

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