Wednesday, April 30, 2008

VO2 Max Test

video
So I got to do a VO2 max test on the treadmill this morning. Up above is a little video shot with my cellphone by our exercise physiologist... it's only a few seconds long and a bit blurry on the blogger video thing, but it hopefully can help illustrate what's going on.

The weird thing I'm wearing is headgear with an attached mouthpiece and two-way valve, so my inspired air comes from the room, but my expired air goes to a device for measuring respiration as well as gas analyzers. I'm also hooked up to a 12 lead ECG so that they can make sure I'm not going to keel over an die for one, but also so that I can know my max heart rate.

The basic idea is to go from a moderate work load (I started at about 5.5 mph and no grade, which is something I feel very comfortable with on a treadmill) and keep moving up the grade and speed (mostly grade goes up to keep people from falling off the treadmill) while watching the person's oxygen consumption... when the workload increases but oxygen consumption does not, then you've reached your VO2 max.

If I didn't already know that I have really gotten past being "just" overweight onto the threshold of obesity, then looking at the numbers of this test make that a obvious certainty. My untrained, and very out of shape, VO2 was actually a very respectable 4.2 liters per minute... but because a seven foot man is going to consume more oxygen than a four and a half foot woman, even if that woman is a marathon runner, VO2 is pretty much always reported normalized by weight. Then, because I'm about 6' and 221 lbs right now, and thus at least 20-40 lbs overweight (according to BMI anyway)... my VO2 is 42 milliliters per kilogram per minute, which is on the low end of normal for my age, but if I can drop 10 kilograms (i.e. 22 lbs which is my goal right now) that equates to a %10 increase without even accounting for training effect. So that's a little extra motivation to get me to the next test I hope to take in 6 months after some good training and (hopefully) serious weight loss.

I haven't been planning on changing my diet for calorie reduction purposes(I do mean to eat better though), but this is pushing me towards that a bit. The most obvious thing to do is to cut down on the Belgian beers, but I do love me some Tripel, so that is not a path I will embark on lightly... I think I still plan to see where I am in 6 months and then think how radically I need to alter my diet.

Another note... my max heart rate is actually 171 bpm, and not my age predicted maximum of 189... so that means I've been working much harder than I had been thinking... so that's kind of encouraging, actually.

Eddie Izzard - Stripped

So last night Anna and I jumped on the Red Line to Park Street to catch Eddie Izzard's second show of his American Tour at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. Now, I pretty much hate the Orpheum as a place to see a show... it's too large, it's run down, and at least 75% of the seats are terrible (and with music at least, you don't even want seats because it screws up the vibe so badly)... which is, I guess, pretty much the case with every old theater from a million years ago that survives to be the "step-down-from-the-arena" venue. Regardless though, if it wasn't so big with so many terrible seats, there is no way I would have been able to get tickets to the show, since I found out about the show a month late... so for that, at least, I am thankful, since Eddie Izzard is probably my favourite comic these days (though I am no connaisseur of stand-up, to be sure).

Our seats were in the first row of the very tippy top section of seats in the left balcony... which meant plenty of legroom, though, thanks to the angle, our view of the stage was obstructed by railings and people's heads, requiring some odd body positions to actually see much at all. Presumably our situation was better than the people behind us. With many comedians, it wouldn't really matter if you could see or not, but Eddie is actually a pretty physical comedian... not in the falling down sense... but he uses facial expressions and gestures a lot for effect, that made some bits a little mysterious from the rafters. It seemed obvious that a video screen mounted up high with a single camera would have alleviated all that, but I don't really know what that involves, so maybe it's prohibitive in expense/effort. But anyway, if anyone reading this is seeing the show in another city and sitting in the way back, I hope they've deemed to add it for your enjoyment.

Now, I don't want to make it sound like the show was ruined by not being able to see well... it most certainly wasn't, as the man does tell actual jokes and doesn't just make funny faces for two hours. The general theme of the show was religion, and how it really just doesn't make any sense. (Probably not a comedy show for Creation "Scientists") He sort of takes you on a tour of the history of the earth, from 4.5 million years ago to Moses with his usual numerous digressions. I don't think I'll say much more than that as I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

So despite the bad seat, I did really enjoy it. Pretty classic Eddie, and I look forward to the HBO special or whatever.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama Repudiates Wright

I hadn't written anything about Obama's former pastor Reverend Wright's return to the spotlight this weekend, because all I had seen was his PBS appearance which seemed fine and reasonable... I mean the man's reputation had been pretty heavily trashed, so it's not like the guy needs to hide under a rock, right? I didn't bother to check out any of his other appearances... but... well... it seems he sort of put on a show yesterday. Still standing behind Farrakhan, the categorization of American foreign policy as terrorism, and that AIDS is a plot of the US government. Honestly, it's hard not to conclude from that display that he's pretty much throwing Obama under the bus for his own time in the spotlight.

It really seemed that Obama was going to have to do what he has refused to do up to this point... finally sever all ties to Reverend Wright.

Well today in NC he pushed back as hard as he can:

The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.

They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I might not know him as well as I thought, either.

I don't know what difference it will make, but it seems it had to be done.

LATE UPDATE:
Here is the Q&A

Recession Diet

via Ezra Klien, The New York Times had an article over the weekend about changes consumers are making in response to higher food and fuel prices that had the following anecdote:
Ms. Dunaway, a homemaker, used to splurge on the ingredients for homemade lasagna, her husband’s favorite, before food prices began to surge this year.

“Now he’s lucky to get a 99-cent lasagna TV dinner, or maybe some Manwich out of a can,” she said. “I just can’t afford to be buying all that good meat and cheese like I used to.”

I don't know how widespread it is for people to switch from homemade meals to processed food to save money, but it's certainly not a good sign if it's common. I've never really liked too many frozen entrees, besides pizzas, so I'm not sure how the pricing works... but I had always sort have assumed that if you used coupons effectively and had a reasonable size freezer to buy in bulk when meat was on sale, you would do much much better than someone who bought a lot of processed food. I presume that's still the case, but perhaps there are cheap "food-like substances" out there that trump whole foods... as I've mentioned before, I'm a fairly extravagant shopper when I cook, and I've never really focused too much on the cost because I have always compared it to eating out every meal (which was most of my twenties)... now, however, it's making me feel sort of irresponsible and wasteful... so, especially with my Farmer's Market project, I'm going to work harder to be more conscious of costs.

However it takes me most of my brainpower to just focus on being able to cook something... I've only just started to be able to think about side dishes that are green and leafy... so this might be a slower transition, but I'm hoping "it all just works out" with buying local food that is in season.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Grand Theft Auto IV is the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio."

So sayeth Jack Thompson. Now, Jack Thompson has been suing the GTA guys for pretty much ever, so I wasn't expecting a good reaction from him... but comparing a video game to polio was a bit of a surprise. What set him off was a short video on IGN(NSFW obviously) showing the main character getting "serviced" by hookers and then shooting and/or running them over in a sex and violence rampage... pretty much straight up Jack Thompson bait... though also something you've been able to do since like the second game(but not in HD!)... so I'm not terribly moved. I would think any responsible parent knows what they're getting into with a GTA game at this point, and has made a decision as to whether or not their kids can handle it. From what I understand there isn't anything more perverse than has been in previous versions, but it's probably going to break all sorts of sales records and thus be big story in the mainstream media for a while.

But anyway, so far the video game press is universally full of praise... and my copy has shipped from Amazon and is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday, though we are going to see The Kills that evening, so I won't get much play time until Thursday... taking a "personal day" is an intriguing possibility, but probably one to be resisted. *sigh*

I'll post my thoughts when I finally get to play it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ravens' Draft

This appears to be it:

And here he is.

When anyone says "cannon arm" I get a little tick, but hopefully this cannon is better than the last.

At least he has a high completion percentage, which if I remember correctly, relates to Pro success more than anything else.

Baby Elephant!

His name is Samson, and you can read more here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shellac Interlude



Unrelated, but WTF did Chuck D see in Flavor Flav?

Music Tax for Internet Users?

Reihan Salam has a very interesting article over on Slate about a recent Big Music plan advanced by Warner Music Group to staunch the blood from their disastrous anti-Internet policies. The idea is to charge your ISP $5 a month for every user(a cost they would pass on to you, natürlich), that would then allow you to download any music you want DRM free. Not such a bad deal, really. However, as Salam notes, not everybody is a fan:
Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has condemned this idea as a "music tax" and "the music industry's extortion scheme." Though the proposal is not technically a tax—rather, it's a call for "voluntary blanket licensing agreements"—it will certainly feel like one. And instead of paying for roads, schools, and bombs, you would be helping to keep record executives in cigars and the finest silks. As Arrington argues, there is good reason to believe that this huge pot of money will turn the music industry into a lazy near-monopoly that lives off of fat royalty checks. Once the majors get this guaranteed revenue stream, won't they just spend all their time scheming to increase the fee from $5 per customer per month to $7.50? There's also the small matter that not all Internet users listen to or download popular music. If this plan somehow goes through, millions of moms and dads who pay for Net access so junior can browse Britannica Online will find that they are subsidizing the hedonistic lifestyles of America's most-tattooed singing sensations.

Hmmm... when you put it that way, I'm not sure I like the idea of subsidizing Industry Fat Cats. An automatic $5 a month from everybody using the internet amounts to HUGE welfare for an incredibly broken system... despite the fact that I don't steal music(since college anyway) and have really come to hate the inconvenience of DRM-ed music, I can't see getting behind this proposal... especially since it doesn't seem to mention doing anything different for the artists.

What other options are there Mr. Salam?
Apple reportedly wants to pay the majors $20 per iPod or iPhone to access all the songs in their catalogs. The majors want Apple to cough up closer to $80. In practice, this all-you-can-eat plan could mean a few different things. By paying an extra, say, $100 when you buy an iPod, you could have access to everything sold on iTunes. (Or, perhaps iPhone users could pay a subscription fee for the same deal.) While the details are still hazy, the upshot is that owning an Apple product would become even more appealing. The nice thing about this deal for the majors is that the labels earn less than $20 per iPod in download sales now, so anything above that would be gravy. The not-so-nice thing is that it would further entrench iTunes as a musical monolith. Are the major labels sure they want to become Steve Jobs' lackeys? Right now, iTunes controls more than one-fifth of all music sales in the United States. If Jobs gets his way on all-you-can-eat, that share will grow and grow until the labels will never be able to say no to him again. Cue maniacal cackling!

Effectively put the entire Music Industry under the control of Apple? I know Anna is probably a fan... but NO THANKS!

Got anything else?
Instead of a fake music tax, the best solution might be—sorry, libertarians—for the government to step in with a real music tax. In the book Promises To Keep: Technology, Law, and the Future of Entertainment, Harvard Law School professor William Fisher devised an ingenious reward system that levels the playing field for artists. At first glance, it looks a lot like the music biz extortion scheme. The feds would levy a small tax on all broadband subscribers. Musicians, signed and unsigned, would register their creations with the U.S. Copyright Office, who would then set up a massive Nielsen-style sample of music listeners to track the popularity of different songs. The more your song is played, the more you get paid. The revenue from the tax would be parceled out to the copyright holders.

This is, by far, the most fair proposal I've heard of to move the music industry into the 21st century... but it's very equity is what makes me think that it will never ever ever happen. I'm having trouble seeing how cutting Steve Jobs and Big Music out of the revenue stream is going to be politically viable. I guess places like Warner Music Group own the copyrights for their catalogs, so they would still be getting paid... but you have to wonder how much incentive there would be for a new artist to sign over their copyrights to one of these major labels(which I'm sure is part of Reihan's plan), so it's difficult to see why the labels would support it. I certainly like the idea of this plan, but I'm not sure it's a very realistic one.

Hopefully I'm wrong.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Eating like a Luddite


In his book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan lays out the following premise at the outset:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

He then spends the rest of the book explaining and defending that premise, and how it relates to all the myriad of health problems brought on by the "Western Diet" (high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and animal protein). It all starts with a rather brutal take down of "nutritionism", or the ideology that focuses on looking at food as a sum of its nutrients. A "nutrionist" in Pollan's view, is someone who believes that all you need to know about something you eat is the nutritional label on the back. Pollan effectively argues that this is a misguided approach that has actually caused health problems instead of solving them. The primary example of this is the idea that consuming a lot of dietary fat gives you heart disease, which was pushed on all Americans 30 years ago despite being backed up by very little data. Pollan cites two major unintended consequences of this strategy, 1) People ate a lower percentage of fat, but ate more carbohydrates and thus obesity went up 2) Trans-fats replaced saturated fats in "low fat" items like margarine, only to be proven vastly more deleterious to cardiovascular health. Now of course, trans fats are getting banned all over the place, and it doesn't seem like eating a low fat diet does anything at all. However, Pollan's target isn't the "Lipid Hypothesis" (unlike fellow science writer Gary Taubes), so he goes on to discuss the perils of the "Western Diet" in general... everything about how the industrialization of food has been so bad for us and how nutritionism become complicit in that. The real money to be made, after all, is in processing and packaging of foods... in increasing yields at the expense of nutrition... or adding a new health fad micronutrient to your Cheetos so that you can slap a label on about how healthy they are now. It certainly seems like something has gone wrong when Fruity Pebbles and Doritos are screaming out all of their health benefits and the fruits and vegetables are sitting all alone in the corner. He goes into a fair amount of detail about the particulars of refined carbohydrates and the issues of feeding the animals we eat the same our own awful diet(double whammy!), that is all very convincing.

In the end, his discussion of nutrition is mainly to argue that attempts to cure the Western Diet of it's numerous deleterious health affects via changes in ratios of macro- and micronutrients has not been effective(probably the opposite, in fact) and may never be, no matter how many more studies we do. He doesn't explicitly state that nutrition science is a waste of time, but you certainly get the sense that he feels that way... and even if he doesn't, it seems likely he wouldn't be impressed if they ever did break down all the essential nutrients and put them into pill form or whatever. His point is that no matter the mechanism, which nutritionists can ponder as long as they like, the incontrovertible fact is that the Western Diet is very very bad for you. So don't eat it. This doesn't help someone interested in public health figure out how to make Americans less obese, but it can be extremely useful and essentially foolproof for an individual interested in a healthy diet. This is where the Luddite, sort of anti-modern, concept of Pollan's manifesto is the most apparent. He's seems to clearly feel that if all just went back to living like our Great Grandparents, then we and the world would be in much better shape. Now, I think anyone who has looked at the problems we face in the environment and public health knows that we are never going to be able to put the genie back into the bottle and go back to some sort of fantasy pastoral wonderland... which is what a fair number of Pollan's critics focus on. However, I don't think he would deny that his approach is not going to save the world, and I don't think he really cares. If nutrition science and government agencies can save our planet and make everyone healthy, then good for them... but I think he'd still advise people to approach food from a Luddite, old skool, traditionalist viewpoint, because he sees more to be gained from a such a relationship with food than nutrition. And really, why not eat the best way we can while we wait for the nutrition scientists to save us... we might even end up as happier people in the bargain.

To this end, the latter third of the book is focused on simple rules to help one avoid the perils of the Western Diet, in the context of the original proclamation that started the book... such as "Eat Food"... by which he means actual whole foods, not "food like substances" that your Great Grandmother wouldn't even recognize as edible. Generally, he advises us to stay away from the middle isles where the "New! Improved! Healthy!" Cheetos hang out and just focus on fresh vegetables, frutis, meat, and dairy... and making sure anything processed that we do buy, like bread, only has a handful of ingredients that we can easily recognize and pronounce. One of the easiest ways to comport to this rule is to stick to one of the numerous traditional diets that have existed for hundreds and thousands of years. Pollan reasons, pretty solidly, that if they were as bad as the Western Diet (only a hundred years old or less) then they wouldn't still exist. The "Not too much" rule is mainly about making food culture changes, such as: spending more time preparing our meals and at the table, not eating alone, not going back for seconds like the French, etc. Our culture's need for a better relationship with food and return to family dinners is certainly an idea that I think few would argue with. The harder part is agreeing to the point where you are willing to spend much much more time getting, preparing, and eating your food than we currently do... but he makes a compelling case for trying. The final rule, "Mostly Plants" is more than just eating fruits and vegetables. He encourages viewing animal protein more of as a side dish to the green leafy veggies, instead of the main attraction. In addition, he makes an issue of getting away from fruits and vegetables produced through industrial farming, and getting your produce (and meat) from local farms; all of this based on the very strong arguments he made against the industrialization of our food he made earlier in the book.

All in all, a very enjoyable book that is worth the read, though you'd probably be better served picking it up from the library, since I don't think it is something you need to come back and refer to constantly. It is, however, a good book to lend out to others (my boss has my copy right now) since it is a short read and very well written. I was actually already familiar with most of the arguments in the book, and was already planning to make the move towards more local foods and more fruits and veggies... so it wasn't exactly earth changing for me, but for someone who is really focused on nutritional labels at the expense of enjoying food, this could really make an impact, as it is the best written presentation of these kinds of ideas I've yet seen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Nervereding Primary

I made Fish Meuniére last night with some fillets from Trader Joe's in order to keep myself distracted from political coverage... however it's a pretty straight forward recipe (salt/pepper fillets, dredge in flour, cook in butter oil/combo, brown some butter for sauce) and so I was pretty much done when the polls closed. Whoops.

Anyway... a 10 point win for Clinton. Not as bad as I thought it would be, but certainly not as good as I'd hoped it would be in my heart of hearts. It means pretty much as Josh Marshall says: Status Quo. Clinton did what she needed to do to move things onto the North Carolina/Indiana primaries, but in essence she's even further away from the nomination because she didn't net a very big delegate advantage (12 to 16?), and that was the biggest chunk left. She also won by over 200k votes, but from what I remember, that was nowhere near what she needed, even if you count Florida... but Terry McAuliffe says otherwise. Oh, I see... he must mean if you also count Michigan, and yet don't give Obama any of the "uncommitted" votes despite the fact that he wasn't on the ballot, and then don't count caucuses that didn't provide vote totals(IA, NV, ME, WA)...

Uhm whatever. Certainly I'd love for Obama to erase even that completely preposterous 121,943 vote "lead" of Clinton's imagination with solid North Carolina and Indiana victories... but nobody is stupid enough to buy that, are they? I guess we'll find out, but at this point all I see is delegate counts.

Onward to Guam, and more Democratic Primary excitement!!!oneone1!!1!one


*sigh*

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pennsylvania Primary Meaningless Prediction Post

I'm going to try to not pay too much attention to the coverage today and tonight, as this Primary thing has been going on too long and I think it is breaking my spirit.

Pollster's poll of polls, shows Obama behind 49.4% to 42.8% with a margin there of 6.6. I would certainly love to see Obama lose Penn by less than 7 points... but I find it terribly unlikely, as that would assume (beyond the polls being accurate - obviously dubious) is that the estimated 8% undecided break evenly for each candidate. From what I understand, the "undecideds" in Pennsylvania skew demographically towards Clinton, so I find it much more likely that they break overwhelmingly for her and push her margin into the 12 point range. Of course the Obama counter is whether all these New Democrats that registered last month break overwhelmingly for him and cut that margin back down below 10.

What will happen? I don't know, but I promised a prediction in the post title, so I'll say 10-13 point Clinton win. I'm just not feeling much good momentum for Obama, and it seems that this primary must go on forever to punish me.

So wish me luck on playing video games (maybe WoW with a buddy from High School) or working on my review of In Defense of Food for the ole' blog instead of watching talking heads online or hitting refresh every 30 seconds on TPM or whatever.

Beer Blogging: Dogfish Head Red and White


Had one of these bottles of Red and White by Dogfish Head over the weekend, and enjoyed it enough that it seemed worth getting again to blog about... so here is a short review where I will endeavor not to sound too much like a beer snob. (Like these people)

From the Dogfish Head link:
A big, belgian-style Wit brewed with coriander and orange peel and fermented with Pinot Noir juice. After fermentation a fraction of the batch is aged in Oregon Pinot Noir barrels, and another fraction is aged on oak staves.

It's definitely got the coriander spice of a Witbier, but with significantly more of a citrus smell and flavor than a Hoegaarden or Allagash White. It kinda brought to mind what would happen if a Magic Hat #9 was taken to the next level. It also, thankfully, wasn't too sweet, as the citrus was well balanced with the alcohol content(10%). The only aspect of the Pinot Noir I could detect was a bit of tartness in the aftertaste.

I thought it was pretty refreshing and drinkable despite being on the high alcohol content side. The smells and flavors of summer were quite nice on a fine spring day after a dreary winter.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What Would Jack Bauer Do?

via Andrew Sullivan, Phillip Sands reveals from his new book "Torture Team" :

· Senior Bush administration figures pushed through previously outlawed measures with the aid of inexperienced military officials at Guantánamo.

· Myers believes he was a victim of "intrigue" by top lawyers at the department of justice, the office of vice-president Dick Cheney, and at Donald Rumsfeld's defence department.

· The Guantánamo lawyers charged with devising interrogation techniques were inspired by the exploits of Jack Bauer in the American TV series 24.

· Myers wrongly believed interrogation techniques had been taken from the army's field manual.

Emphasis mine. I have always joked that Republicans were watching too much "24" when they came up with a lot of this disgusting nonsense... but I don't think I ever imagined that it was actually true. Some Ivy League lawyers decided to trash our international reputation and sacrifice our values because they saw it on Tee Vee?! Awesome. I guess it's better to laugh about how ridiculous that is than to cry about it.

UPDATE: Here is a direct link to the Sand's article that talks about how a fictional character created by a right wing activist became a source of ideas for torture techniques at Gitmo.
Beaver told me she arrived in Guantánamo in June 2002. In September that year there was a series of brainstorming meetings, some of which were led by Beaver, to gather possible new interrogation techniques. Ideas came from all over the place, she said. Discussion was wide-ranging. Beaver mentioned one source that I didn't immediately follow up with her: "24 - Jack Bauer."

It was only when I got home that I realised she was referring to the main character in Fox's hugely popular TV series, 24. Bauer is a fictitious member of the Counter Terrorism Unit in LA who helped to prevent many terror attacks on the US; for him, torture and even killing are justifiable means to achieve the desired result. Just about every episode had a torture scene in which aggressive techniques of interrogations were used to obtain information.

Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, "he gave people lots of ideas." She believed the series contributed to an environment in which those at Guantánamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline - and to go further than they otherwise might.

Under Beaver's guidance, a list of ideas slowly emerged. Potential techniques included taking the detainees out of their usual environment, so they didn't know where they were or where they were going; the use of hoods and goggles; the use of sexual tension, which was "culturally taboo, disrespectful, humiliating and potentially unexpected"; creating psychological drama. Beaver recalled that smothering was thought to be particularly effective, and that Dunlavey, who'd been in Vietnam, was in favour because he knew it worked.

The younger men would get particularly agitated, excited even: "You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas." A wan smile crossed Beaver's face. "And I said to myself, you know what, I don't have a dick to get hard. I can stay detached."

Lovely.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Baracky

via Reihan Salam

Sorry for posting endless videos today, but this is pretty phenomenal, so I had to share. I don't know why all the funny and creative people love Barack Obama, but there is certainly no doubt who is winning the YouTube war.

Comedic Aftermath Video Extravaganza

The Daily Show in THREE parts:



That last bit about Obama dealing with substantive issues, was pretty painful... right in the gut.

Colbert's take on it was better (and more Obama friendly):


And here is the bigger news, Hillary Clinton making a quel surprise! stop on the Colbert Report:

A fairly clever riff I must say... and I tend to find these kinds of scripted appearances by politicians to often be painful beyond words... but I only barely cringed there, so a net positive for Senator Clinton.

And now for Senator Obama:

I was sort of frightened by the fact that he was 12 feet tall. Man, he's got a big smile... but a pretty good performance, and he even got to be on message and not really self effacing like Hillary Clinton.

Alas, it appears I've turned into a shill for Comedy Central.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Not so tired today

via Ben Smith at Politico, Obama talks about the debate in North Carolina:

Honestly, it would have been nice to see more of this kind of energy and humor on display in his responses last night... but whachagonnado?

I'm honestly fairly confident that this is really the way to pivot off of the inanity of last night, and perhaps even make it a net positive. Too much to hope for? Probably, but this guy has indeed brushed off everything thrown at him so far... so maybe ABC carrying water for the Republicans poses no danger. I mean, he's got some skills with the whole politics thing.

And a point was made by a right wing nutjob (I don't care to link to the Weekly Standard, but here is Sullivan's take on it)... after the blow back from enraged Dems at ABC, will a moderator dare do anything like this in the general election? I seriously doubt it. If Obama succeeds in making some lemonade from ABC's lemons here, he may be sipping that lemonade while playing catch with softballs from here until November. Just a thought(hope).

UPDATE: And it appears I rolled a 1 on my Pop Culture Saviong Throw...

The Unmitigated Travesty

Via TPM, here is a short clip reel of the low-lights:


I had kinda been thinking that maybe everybody was just overreacting... heat of the moment yadda yadda... but whoa, I stand corrected. Really... can you imagine a Republican debate where the first 50 minutes were about McCain's role in the Keating 5, whether he hates Catholics as much as his supporter Bob Hagee does, favors for lobbyist Vicki Iseman and rumored infidelity with her, etc.? Truly terrible.

Post Debate Chatter

I missed the debate last night, because a) we were still cooking the Soupe au Pistou, and b) ABC had a ridiculously draconian blackout policy and no streaming feed (on the main site). I did eventually find the local Philly ABC station streaming the debate, but it was only for the final "wrap up" question about what they would say to a roving band of unpledged Superdelegates... which was lame, and only confirmed that Obama looked really tired.

By most accounts I've seen, it seems the only thing I missed was the opportunity to get angry enough to throw something at my monitor. Thankfully, via the wonders of the internet, I can let Andrew Sullivan stroke out for me and just read the aftermath. The first hour was apparently what journalists like to call "process questions", which is a euphemism for "Right Wing Talking Points cribbed from the Weekly Standard". Some people think those kinds of questions are important, and those people are idiots.

From what I can gather from all the roundups is that the take home message is that Obama lost narrowly, so that sorta means he won, because Clinton had to change the narrative. Got that?

It seems the real question in impact is whether the backlash against ABC from Dems translates into votes for Obama. I suspect it will, because "new politics" is Obama is all about... and, according to Nick Beaudrot, Obama's "this stuff is a waste of time" points were very well received by the people with the dials.

Obviously, we won't really know until Tuesday, when Pennsylvanians go to the polls... but anything less than a 10 point loss has got to be seen as a net win after all the pounding Obama's taken the last two weeks, right?

UPDATE: Here are some more scathing critiques of ABC's "unmitigated travesty" of a debate that I cribbed from Will Bunch (who has my favorite response so far). Tom Shales at the WaPo, Walter Shapiro at Salon, and Niall Stanage at the Guardian.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Comedy Blogging

I bought tickets for Eddie Izzard's new Stripped Tour last night. The tickets were expensive, the seats are bad, and ticketmaster took two pints of blood in service charges... but I'm still pretty excited, since Eddie Izzard is one of my favourite comics... probably the only one I can think of that I'd spend over $120 for Anna and I to see.

Tickets have been on sale since March 16th, but there were still a couple available in Boston since he's here for three nights and those nights are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday... but it may still be worth a look if you are interested and didn't realize he was coming to town.

And for those unfamiliar with Eddie Izzard's genius(gasp!), I leave you with the Lego version of his Star Wars Canteen bit:

The Economics of being a Foodie

I recently posted about rising food prices, which is not something that looks to abate soon, and apropos of that, here is an interesting article today in Slate, by Sarah Dickerman, called The Extravagant Gourmet... which touches on a lot of things I've been thinking and reading about food, and my relationship with it. It's a short, and fairly good article, so go read it.

Though not exactly fond of "saffron infused" whatever, my cookbook authors of choice, Cook's Illustrated, are, indeed, completely oblivious to cost. Their focus is on "the best" ingredients for a recipe to fit their vision, and if that means using a more expensive cut of meat then they are more than happy to do it. Being that I am still a novice cook and tend towards following recipes religiously, this means I tend to spend a lot of money when I cook... even when you're cooking la cucina povera(poor food), as the article puts it, Cook's somehow makes it cost at least $30 (granted this can often last several days and many meals, so it's not so bad, but it's also not "budget"). Now obviously, I can get intrigued by $13 dollar chickens, so glass houses and whatnot... can't exactly blame my cookbooks for all my culinary extravagance.

However, beyond that, the article touches on two things I think are interesting and want to explore more in the coming months and weeks:
The time seems right for a mainstream voice (better yet, voices) to marry the pleasures of the table with the reality of a reduced budget, perhaps by using what we've learned from the food revolution. Michael Pollan has already made a big splash this year by recommending that people shy away from packaged products and eat less meat—two steps that are not only a grassroots vote for a new kind of food system but that will help save money. It's possible, after all, to economize without reverting to a freezer full of Tex-Mex lasagna (one of those "mock-ethnic dishes that American dieticians love," as Jeffrey Steingarten puts it). A new home economics could harness seasonal ingredients and real ethnic flavors; it could weave a lusty appreciation of food with a sober appreciation of the grocery dollar.


The first thing is Michael Pollan's new book, which is linked in the above quote, and whose overarching theme of "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."(this is also a great article, but a little long) I find quite intriguing. I'm still waiting in digital line at the library to get my hands on the book, though I am pretty close to breaking down and just buying it, so I don't have much to say about it... but in the linked article, you'll find him rail fairly effectively about how poorly the focus on nutrients, like dietary fat, which WHOOPS! may not make that much difference, has served us. I am sympathetic to this argument, and would like to explore it further once I have finally read his book. In addition, the "mostly vegetables" portion of Pollan's mantra reminds me that, though I live with a Vegan, we haven't been cooking as much together lately, and my diet has been pretty animal protein focused. Something we will rectify tonight with Provencal Vegetable Soup au Pistou... but I really need to start thinking of meat as more of a side dish than I have been.

The second issue, is "seasonal ingredients", which reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which is about a family's attempt to live only on locally produced foods. It is very interesting book, though I admit to getting bored with the proselytizing and never finishing it, that brings up a lot issues about the environmental costs of buying asparagus in December and about how Americans as a group have really no idea where there food comes from and what's involved with getting it on the table. I mean, if you don't have a garden, do you really have much idea of when different vegetables are in season? I don't, at least, but if you are interested in being environmentally and economically responsible, then buying local in season produce is the only way to go. To this end, I am making it my summer project to patronize Cambridge Farmer's Markets(looks like I can start going after we get back from Jamaica at the start of June) and plan to report back here on how it goes.

If you want to put a silver lining on the global crisis rising food prices could cause... at least Farmer's Market produce might seem reasonably priced in comparison... though I assume that's small comfort to a Bangladeshi rioting over the cost of a cup of rice.

Anyway, I'm going to see if I can do my little part and eat locally and nutritionally. We shall see.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Garmin Training Center


It's probably time I post a full on review of the Garmin Forerunner 305, since I've had a few weeks to use it now... but I haven't gotten all of my thoughts together (some bad, mostly good), so I'm going to post a bit about the included software as a sneaky way to discuss my interval workout that I tried (and liked) yesterday.

The software is pretty basic and disappointing, I'd say... though I'm not comparing to any other kind of training software (as I've never used any), just to what I'd like to be able to do with my own data. You can graph up to four variables at once in different colors: pace(minutes/mile), speed(miles/hour), heart rate (beats per minute), cadence(rpm), grade(%), and/or elevation(ft). To plot heart rate and cadence you need the heart rate monitor and foot pod(optional accessory) respectively. They can be plotted vs. distance or time and that's basically it. You can zoom in or zoom out, but can't actually set the axes range or zoom into a box you draw. You can use a "selector tool" to see exact value of a variable like "pace" and where the data point is on the map, but even if you have four variables plotted, it will only show you the value of whatever you have plotted in the first slot... which seems like a big oversight... why not show me everything in a pane or something? Why make me switch the variables if I want to know what the exact values of my heart rate and pace were at a certain point in the course? In addition, the ability to compare runs to each other is very poorly implemented. It's great that you have the ability to compare any two activities, but for some reason, even though part of (my) attraction to the watch was the ability to set an arbitrary course using the GPS that you could race against your virtual self on... there is no inherent way in the software to compare how you were doing on a section of the course to past performances. You can look at, say, your pace vs. distance on two different runs of the same course (or two completely unrelated activities) but for some reason the comparison comes up in a very very tiny little window, and it seems obvious that you'd want to compare it visually on the map to see how you did compared to your best or ideal run on a certain hill or whatever.

Which brings us to the map, for which it only takes a second to see that it is pretty awful. According to Garmin, a good portion of my run occurred on the surface of the Charles despite my not being Jesus... and besides obvious inaccuracy, it's just really ugly and lacking in detail. I can understand why such a map would be fine for a car navigation system, but this is a device that is meant to allow people to run on trails and in parks with accuracy approaching a track... so wouldn't you think they'd want something more than rough street locations?

On the less visual aspects, the statistical totals it provides are pretty comprehensive and I don't really have a problem with them at all... can't guess what else I'd want here:

So, as an example, you can see for my 4 minute run/1 minute rest interval workout, I clearly lost steam as I went through the repetitions... not exactly a surprise since I'm woefully out of shape. However, though the picture doesn't show it, my overall pace even with the rest time was actually better than I had been managing with the pain in my legs. It felt like a good workout and spared my legs for the most part as I build strength up in them... and the heart rate responses support the idea that my pace slackened because I'm just not in good shape, not because I wasn't working hard.

Getting back to the software, I should note that there is also a workout section that I have yet to use (I think I need to be much more fit before I can get much out of it). It seems pretty nice as it has a wide variety of running and cycling workouts that you can pretty fully modify and then download into your watch. This allows you to do things like ladders out on a trail or on the street, where traditionally you'd need to be on a track.

In addition, MotionBased is a website owned by Garmin (soon to become Garmin Connect with new and improved features) and it has much better maps and has some interesting features that are absent in Garmin Training Center... so perhaps, especially with improved features coming at the end of May, you don't even need to worry about what Garmin Training Center really does... maybe everything you want is web based, and your PC ends up as just extra storage space. We shall see.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Set your TiVOs

Michelle Obama is apparently going to appear on The Colbert Report Tuesday April 15th... so set check your local listings and what-have-you. For those bereft of cable, like myself, we'll have to wait until Wednesday morning to watch via intertubes. As big fan of Michelle Obama and a somewhat less big fan of Stephen Colbert, I look forward to it. I guess this is all part of his live-from-Philly coverage thing.

Another programming note that I had forgotten about, is that there is another Democratic Debate scheduled for Wednesday April 16th on ABC... if you haven't had enough of "Bittergate" by then, I'm sure you can get your fill during the debate. I had grown tremendously tired of the debates when it seemed like there was one a week, but I'm looking forward to this one. The main reason is that I think it's good news for Obama, as it gives him a very public opportunity to turn the gaffe around. In addition to media spawned controversies, there has been a fair amount that's happened in the last month or so that could be addressed... news from the housing crisis and the Petraeus /Crocker hearings to name two. We shall see whether it is more substance than platitudes this time (doubtful I suppose). I've only watched the debates on CNN and NBC, so I can't promise that ABC will stream it live... but I imagine it will be available somewhere for the televisionally challenged.

Bittergate

So if you haven't been paying attention to cable news or political blogs this weekend, then you might not be aware that during a speech at a fundraiser, Barrack Obama said the following words:
You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them, and they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

If you are a big city latte drinking liberal elitist like myself, you might not understand why that ignited a media firestorm. It is, after all, just a rephrasing of the fairly inoffensive "What's the matter with Kansas?" argument by Thomas Frank. However, that rephrasing wasn't exactly the most artful, as even Obama has admitted, and it's probably not a surprise that McCain immediately leaped to condemn Obama's remarks... though I have no idea what John McCain knows about the lives of hard working Americans, he obviously does know when he can try and score some political points with them. I was a little more surprised when Hillary Clinton responded with Right Wing Talking Points and started distributing Grover Norquist quotes... though perhaps I shouldn't have been.

Anyway, I have no idea how this is going to affect Obama in the short term... though it probably means, with the primary 10 days away, any chance of a surprise Pennsylvania victory (and an end to this clearly destructive primary) are probably gone... but I guess I'll wait and see what the polls say. However, in the long term, I don't think this sticks to Obama... Obama is not John Kerry; as much as I like my Senator, the guy is not exactly a charismatic wunderkind politician, and being branded an out of touch elitist was probably the end of his campaign... but not Obama's. Quite frankly, the guy is just not afraid of the Red State/Blue State politics that have defined the discourse for the last 20 years.

In fact, instead of running and hiding (the Kerry response), he's already hitting back pretty hard with a pick and roll:

The guy's pretty good at this stuff... as you might have noticed. Plays the "politics as usual" card and gets in some good jokes. I'm obviously biased, but I am thinking that by the end of the week it is Obama who the Populist Everyman and Clinton/McCain who seem out of touch.

Here's hoping anyway.

UPDATE: Fixed the post time... I started this post yesterday, but only finished it this morning. For some reason Blogger puts the time stamp when you start it and not when you actually post it... which is a little odd, but whatever.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I am now officially a GPS nerd

Map of Walk to Allston
I actually took my Forerunner with me on a walk with Anna over to Allston to eat at Pho Pasteur*. There's a Pho Pasteur* in Harvard Square of course, but that's not much of a walk, and despite being the same restaurant, the one in Harvard Square is quite decidedly meh.

When Anna suggested the walk I thought "Wow, that's a pretty far walk... but how far exactly!?" I now know it's about 2.9 miles... and that we average about 3.3 mph on a casual walk. What good is that data? I have no idea, but now I know it.

I am somewhat shamed to say I don't think this will be the last time the Forerunner comes along on a walk...

*It's not actually called Pho Pasteur anymore, but I've become my parents and am physically incapable of remembering names of things when they change.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Yet more evidence that biofuels* are a terrible, terrible idea.

Yes, corn is renewable, but if you make ethanol out of it then poor people can't afford to eat it, or animals that eat it. Or at least, that's what the World Bank is saying about a recent disturbing rise in global food prices:
In the past two years, the price of corn in the United States has more than doubled, driven partly by demand for alternative fuels such as ethanol.

Climate, including droughts in Australia and Europe that have limited crop production, has also had an impact on food prices, he says.

"All this together has led to a real reduction in food stocks," he says.

Commodities and other traders who are betting on higher prices also contribute to the climb.

"Those combinations of events have led to an emergency situation," Zoellick says.

The World Bank has projected that food prices will stay high or go even higher over the next couple of years, and biofuels are a major factor.

"Biofuels is no doubt a significant contributor," Zoellick says. "It is clearly the case that programs in Europe and the United States that have increased biofuel production have contributed to the added demand for food."


So clearly it's not just biofuels that are causing problems here, and I think Kevin Drum is correct to note that rising oil prices as probably the main impetus. However, it seems obvious that when you have a world with billions of people living on less than a dollar a day that the strategies to reduce our oil dependence should not increase the demand for things that people need to eat. Cheap, clean energy is the way to make life much better for those billions, but when you tie that energy into the food supply you're shooting yourself in the foot.

*To clarify: Most biofuels are a bad idea, but biodiesel from algae seems promising.

Via Outside the Beltway

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More Torture!

I guess you might call this ABC news story a "blockbuster", as it it the most explicit evidence I have seen yet that the people at the top of the food chain were down in the muck with authorizing torture. Apparently the Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft were meeting regularly to approve (among other things) the use of torture in various interrogations. I imagine everyone pretty much assumed that the authorizations came from on high, but this is the first sourced account of how deep into it they were. Others will have more to say about this, including fantasies of seeing these people in cells at The Hague, and I will link to them as I come across them... however what caught my eye was:

A year later, amidst the outcry over unrelated abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the controversial 2002 legal memo, which gave formal legal authorization for the CIA interrogation program of the top al Qaeda suspects, leaked to the press. A new senior official in the Justice Department, Jack Goldsmith, withdrew the legal memo -- the Golden Shield -- that authorized the program.

But the CIA had captured a new al Qaeda suspect in Asia. Sources said CIA officials that summer returned to the Principals Committee for approval to continue using certain "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Then-National Security Advisor Rice, sources said, was decisive. Despite growing policy concerns -- shared by Powell -- that the program was harming the image of the United States abroad, sources say she did not back down, telling the CIA: "This is your baby. Go do it."

(emphasis mine)

Now, the idea the the Office of Legal Counsel can make torture legal, despite numerous statutes and treaties saying otherwise, just because they send out a memo has always seemed... well... freaking insane. But if we ignore that insanity and say that they at least thought what they were doing was legal, and thus it was the Evil Lawyer who is truly at fault for misleading his clients... we have to notice that the OLC withdrew the memo that "justified" the torture and they still kept torturing people!

Unbelievable.


UPDATE: Here's a video of the ABC report...

Running Update #4, Week 4

So this week has been the roughest so far. I did my two mile loop (which is only slightly different for this one), for the first time without any periods of walking, last Wednesday and my body has been complaining ever since. I took the next day off because of it, but because it was raining on Friday, I wanted to test out the foot pod on a treadmill... when I probably should have done the elliptical for a little more of a break. I couldn't keep the 5.5 mph pace(about 11 minute miles) I had been doing outside, and had to do some walking after the first mile and then bring it back down to 5 mph for the rest. Over the weekend I did nothing but take some long walks and recover. Monday was the elliptical to try and ease back into it and Tuesday and Wednesday were running days. The elliptical was fine, as always, but running kind of blew. The aches and pains in my lower legs kept my stride very short and pushed my pace back into the 12 minute mile range. Here is my "course" that I've been trying to run (click for mote detail regarding pace and heart rate for Tuesday's run):
Map of 2mi Esplanade Run Ver II
And here is the link for Wednesday's Run, during which the pain was rough enough that I had to walk for two spells.

Glen (our exercise physiologist) suspects I might be doing too much too fast and need to back off. I think he's probably right... I've wanted to get to the point where I can run 3 miles without walking since I started (after I ran 2 miles last week I was thinking I might try to do 3 this week - seems pretty over the top in retrospect). However, my relationship with running has always been that it's about ignoring and overcoming pain... and that pain is just part of what running is. That said, I don't want to get injured and then not be able to do anything, and thus lose everything I've gained the last few weeks.

Anyway, despite how beautiful it is today (high of 68 degrees and sunny), I'll stay inside and do the no-impact elliptical for at least 20 minutes. Tomorrow (though it might rain) I'll run outside and see how I feel. If it's still pretty painful, then maybe next week I'll ease it back and try running for 4 minutes and walking for 1 minute as a sort of interval repeated over 20 or 25 minutes.

It's terribly tempting to run outside today, though... legs be damned.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hulu Revisited

My original reaction to Hulu was somewhat mixed; I'm always a fan of "on demand" media and especially making the intertubes more viable as a total alternative to television... but their selection struck me a pretty limited.

This was before I saw that they have the entire first two seasons of Airwolf, the first season of Simon and Simon, and the first two seasons of the A-Team. If they only had Magnum P.I., it would be like I was ten years old again. Pretty awesome.

(photo used under a Creative Commons license from flickr user nicolaitan)

Music Blogging

I've been in a real rut music-wise lately... I haven't really bought anything or gone to any shows in ages. The last "new music" I listened to was probably Hot Chip's latest. Well, I had heard about The Kills latest album (subpar review from Pitchfork, which is usually a good sign in my opinion) and Anna noticed they were playing at the Paradise at the end of the month... so I went ahead and bought tickets to the show and got the album off of Napster. Hopefully it's good... I'll slap it on my phone and see how it goes. Unfortunately for my wallet, I noticed that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs put out an EP last year that I hadn't heard... and then I remembered that Stephen Malkmus has come through town lately to good reviews and maybe I should check that out too... and then, I'm not sure how I got there - it's kind of a blur, but I was at Insound looking at 7"'s and clicking "add to cart".

That's sort of how I do things... I buy everything I should have bought in the last 6 months in one day, and then I'll wear out needles listening to the same stuff for another 6 months as the cycle repeats...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What is "Success" in Iraq?

I had the Petraeus/Crocker hearings before the Senate Committee on Armed Services(of which Hillary Clinton and John McCain are members) and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations(of which Barrack Obama is a member) on in the background as I ran some data. I won't outline the whole multi-hour deal, as there are much more learned blow-by-blow accounts from the Washington Independent and Democracy Arsenal, but I do have some impressions and wanted to focus a bit on issues Obama raised.
  • JUST ASK A QUESTION! I don't watch these type of things a rule, and the nature of the discourse provides a good excuse for me to continue that practive. It seems that the vast majority of Senators would rather spend their 6 minutes giving a speech than actually ask questions that might help inform the situation. Why they do this, I have no idea, since I don't really think there is a terribly influential C-SPAN demographic clamoring for this sort of preening showboating.
  • For the above reason I found Hillary Clinton's (which you can see here) and Jim Webb's questioning to be sort of annoying, though in substance both were great.
  • Claire McCaskill and Barbra Boxer were both great in harping on why we're paying for everything when Iraq has like a 30 billion dollar surplus.
  • Joe Biden is a awesome.
Anyway, here are the two parts of Obama's questions via TPM:



I thought he did this pretty cleverly... by getting the admission that the complete elimination of AQI, an Iraqi government free from Iranian influence, and a happy prosperous multi-sectarian democratic government are frankly ludicrous benchmarks. They are benchmarks that would essentially lead to a 30 year occupation. He then goes on to ask whether the current status quo, with say 30,000 troops, would be considered a success. He didn't get an answer from Petraeus or Crocker, but it really illustrates the problems in talking about how the war is progressing. Instead of any kind of an honest assessment of endpoints, we get fear mongering about nightmare scenarios of genocide and Iranian puppet states. It certainly interesting that they are perfectly willing to speculate about that, but find it impossible to inform our long term strategy in Iraq.

Sadly it really does seem like the whole point of the Surge is just to punt the whole mess to the next administration.

High Roast Chicken Pt. II

Part I of the recipe can be found here, if you missed it.

So for the actual "roast the chicken day", the ingredients are rather minimal (and listed in the previous section):
  • 2.5 lbs of russet potatoes (4 or 5 medium), scrubbed and peeled
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil (for the potatoes)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil (for the chicken)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
Starting with the potatoes:
  1. Adjust an Oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Slice the peeled potatoes a 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick.
  3. Toss the potato slices with the oil, salt, and pepper to taste.
  4. Line the broiler pan with foil (heavy duty if you have it) and spray the foil with the vegetable cooking spray.
  5. Spread the potatoes in an even layer on the foil.

Now, to slice the potatoes, the absolute best and easiest thing is a food processor with one of those slicer attachments. If you have a food processor, be sure to look for potatoes that are long and skinny so you don't have to trim too much off to fit them into the feeder. The non food processor option (they are expensive after all) is a v-slicer or mandoline such as this, which will make short work of those potatoes (and are awesome if you ever need to julienne something). You can obviously cut them by hand as well... but I prefer my time in the kitchen to not be tedious... YMMV.

Another thing to be sure and remember is the vegetable cooking spray (you don't have to buy Pam - you can put olive/vegetable oil in a regular spay bottle for the same effect). I actually forgot that step, so I can attest to its importance... forgetting it doesn't ruin the potatoes, but it makes it much harder to peel off the crispiest potatoes (the best part!) at the end... so learn from my mistakes and don't forget!

On to the chicken:
  1. Place the broiler pan top with the air dried chicken back on top of the broiler pan with the potatoes.
  2. Rub the chicken with the 1/2 tablespoon of oil.
  3. Season the chicken liberally with pepper like so:
  4. Roast the chicken until spotty brown, about 20 minutes, then rotate then rotate the pan 180 degrees.
  5. Continue to roast until an instant read thermometer put in the thickest part of the breast reads 160 degrees; 20-25 minutes more.
  6. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board.
  7. With pot holders remove the broiler pan top, and soak up some of the excess grease with some wadded up paper towels.
  8. Remove the foil liner from the broiler pan and invert it over a large plate or second cutting board.
  9. Carefully peel of the foil from the potatoes, using a spatula to help pry off the crispy bits, and voilà:
  10. Cut the chicken into 4 pieces (breast + wing and leg + thigh) and serve with the potatoes.
There is plenty of time while the chicken is roasting to prepare something green (I did steamed asparagus with a lime-ginger vinaigrette), but even without such a thing I say that this High Roast Chicken is, in fact, the best chicken dinner you will ever taste. Well, maybe not, but it's really really good.Now, as far as the 13 dollar chicken... was it worth it? Well, I was actually shocked at how juicy and flavorful the chicken was... most certainly the best chicken I've ever cooked, and I've cooked everything from a generic Purdue roaster to an organic Whole Foods chicken in the exact same manner. However, I'm not sure it's worth it as an everyday expense... worth trying to be sure, and great for relatively special occasions. I can't see myself picking up this kind of chicken when I'm cooking just for myself, but I would if I was cooking for my Mom or something and wanted to seem like a better cook.

Monday, April 7, 2008

*sigh* If only the Demorcratic Primary was like the Electoral College...

...wait. What?!

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign has been particularly vociferous in claiming that its candidate stands for a transformative, participatory new politics. It has vaunted Obama's narrow lead in the overall popular vote in the primaries to date, as well as in the count of elected delegates, as the definitive will of the party's rank and file. If, while heeding the party's rules, the Democratic superdelegates overturn those majorities, Obama's supporters claim, they will have displayed a cynical contempt for democracy that would tear the party apart.

These arguments might be compelling if Obama's leads were not so reliant on certain eccentricities in the current Democratic nominating process, as well as on some blatantly anti-democratic maneuvers by the Obama campaign. Obama's advantage hinges on a system that, whatever the actual intentions behind it, seems custom-made to hobble Democratic chances in the fall. It depends on ignoring one of the central principles of American electoral politics, one that will be operative on a state-by-state basis this November, which is that the winner takes all. If the Democrats ran their nominating process the way we run our general elections, Sen. Hillary Clinton would have a commanding lead in the delegate count, one that will only grow more commanding after the next round of primaries, and all questions about which of the two Democratic contenders is more electable would be moot.

Yes, just the other day I was thinking "You know, the Democratic Primary really has far too much democracy in it. What we should do is allocate the spoils for a 50.1 to 49.9 victory exactly as if it was a 100 to 0 win." I mean, who really wants their vote to count for something?

Honestly, Sean Wilentz is a respected historian, but I found that column to be a startlingly embarrassing... hopefully when this primary is over the insanity will stop. Is there a person on earth who isn't a die-hard HRC supporter who is swayed by the "if the rules were completely different then..." argument?

UPDATE: Johnathan Chait has a good, though less sarcastic, point...
So Wilentz is arguing that if the Democrats used a different, less democratic process, Clinton would be winning despite Obama's greater appeal to the electorate. But even that claim is shaky. It's not just an accident that Obama won a lot of delegates from blowout wins in small states. It's a deliberate strategy. In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, he abandoned big states like California to hold rallies in places like Boise, Idaho and Wilmington, Delaware. Obama did this because there were lots of delegates to be gained by increasing his margin in small states. If the rules were different, he would have deployed his resources differently

Clinton calling for Olympics boycott?!

According to Ben Smith she is. Wow... that's crazy bold. As far as I know, that would make her the most high profile US politician to call for a boycott of the Olympics. I have to admit that I'm very interested to hear her reasoning, and am tentatively supportive of the call.

Could this be a sign of the New Hillary Clinton in the Post-Mark Penn Era? Seems a little late, but better late than never if she's pushing this kind of thinking instead Michigan/Florida delegate nonsense.

UPDATE: Oh, whoops... just the opening ceremony. Meh. Color me unimpressed.

High Roast Chicken Pt. I

So I'm pretty excited about this recipe... I haven't made it in a while and it always comes out great... in fact, I was so excited that even a Whole Foods organic chicken didn't seem good enough for it, and I wanted to see what Savenor's had to offer. This is a place that sells wild boar bacon, ground venison, and bear meat to name a few of their more exotic products... but they are also the finest, friendliest, and most knowledgeable butchers that I've come across in the area (also the priciest, alas). Their selection did not disappoint, as they had fancy French Canadian chickens that have been written up in the New York Times. Despite the fact that the pricing was frankly outrageous ($3.39 a pound!?) I decided to give it a go because I was really curious about this whole "air chilled" deal... gimmick or not? I can't say yet, obviously, but typically after a chicken is slaughtered and eviscerated it is chilled to prevent bacteria growth in a giant vat of chlorinated water. This process leads to the chicken absorbing water (how much is shown on labels now) that is just going to cook out of it (unlike brining where it is the salt, not the water that is doing the work). A Gianonne chicken on the other hand, in addition to being hormone and antibiotic free along with being fed a nice vegetarian diet and all that... is "air chilled" so that their is no water weight gain and the chicken's juices are not diluted... reportedly leading to a far tastier chicken. We shall see.

Obviously you don't need a $12 chicken to make this recipe, but what you do need is a broiler pan(very important - though perhaps you could get away with a rack and a roasting pan), and:

Brine
  • 3.5-4lb chicken, trimmed of excess fat, rinsed, and giblets/neck removed for something else
  • 1/2 cup table salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
Mustard-Garlic Compound Butter
  • 2 tablespoons of butter, softened
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced or garlic pressed
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • Fresh ground black pepper
Potatoes
  • 2.5 pounds of russet potatoes (4 or 5 medium)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Now, I always do the brine a day ahead of time because I like to let the chicken air dry in the refrigerator overnight for extra-extra crispy skin, but you can skip that step and do this all in one evening (just make sure to dry the skin thoroughly with paper towels). You can prep the potatoes while the chicken is brining, so it's pretty efficient, though we are still probably talking 2 hours from start to finish.
  1. Dissolve the salt and sugar in 2 quarts of cold water in a large pot.
  2. Put the chicken in, breast side down, and cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the compound butter ingredients together in a small bowl, which should look like so:
  4. Once the chicken is fully seasoned, rinse it thoroughly (the sugar from the brine will caramelize and burn in the oven, so you want that all washed off) and bring it to your cutting board, breast side down.
  5. With a good pair of kitchen shears cut out the backbone to produce this*:
  6. With the heel of your hand press down on the breast bone until it breaks and lies flat on the cutting board.
  7. Slip your fingers between the skin and both breasts, loosing the skin as deep in as you can get. Repeat on the thighs and legs.
  8. Take a spoonful of the compound butter, slide it under the breast skin, and push it off with your fingers.
  9. Work the butter under the skin with your fingers to try to distribute it evenly. Repeat with the other breast and both thighs and legs.
  10. Transfer to a broiler pan, fold the wings back under themselves, push the legs together and tie with kitchen twine(optional) to leave you with:
  11. Put the broiler pan with chicken into the refrigerator to air dry for 8 to 24 hours.
To be continued... on to Part II.


*If you need more direction than what I was able to document, go to the America's Test Kitchen video; the chicken prepping starts about 3 minutes in.