Friday, December 28, 2007

Excerpt From My Book

I'm thinking of writing a little self-help book on exercise and fitness for lazy people. Here's what I have come up with thus far:

In 2007 I lost 40 pounds and went from a size 40 waist to a size 34. My resting heart rate is in the upper 50s, my blood pressure is well within normal limits and my cholesterol is also normal. I will be turning 40 years old next week. Contrast this with my physical condition a year ago-constant pain in the knees and feet, borderline high blood pressure and out of control eating habits. How did I manage to achieve this miracle of self transformation? In a word, running. I have always been a runner, but as of a year ago my routine had dwindled to a paltry 12 miles per week and I shuffled through my 3 milers at a pace in excess of 12 minutes per mile. Back in the 1990s I was much more serious about getting my miles in and consequently I was in far better shape. Then came three years of law school followed by another six years in the stressful yet sedentary position of a trial lawyer. This perfect storm of stress and lack of movement wrecked havoc on my health and caused me to regain the 50 pounds that I had lost way back in 1993.

When my wife Becky died last January I knew I was going to have to embrace something other than a bottle of cabernet to get me through the tough times. What I decided to do was get back into my life and back out on the road. I also adopted a largely vegetarian diet and started counting calories. Not obsessively, but I engaged in what can best be described as “conscious eating”. I considered everything that I was going to put into my mouth very carefully and I simply wouldn’t eat something unless I knew what it’s effect on my weight loss goals was likely to be. By mid February I was up to 20 miles per week. By mid-march 25-30. My speed began to increase as the weight came off. For rapid results there is nothing like running on a treadmill because you know exactly how far you are going at what pace and in what amount of time. This helps you maximize the benefit you receive from the time spent training, an important factor if you train on your lunch hour like I did. The additional benefit from running on your lunch hour is that you have less time to eat lunch. Rather than wander around lower Manhattan stuffing my face with whatever ethnic cuisine struck my fancy, I was grinding out 5 miles on the treadmill at Gold’s gym, listening to music and sweating out the morning’s aggression. Far from tiring me out, the daily runs energized me and kick-started my afternoons they way no cup of coffee ever could.

Are treadmills boring? They sure are. I was lucky enough to find a gym whose machines looked down from their perch on the second floor over a lively scene on John Street in downtown NYC. Watching people scurry about their business on their lunch hours provided hours of amusement. I also for the first time started running to music. My I-pod was a constant companion and turned potentially boring slogs into something akin to dancing at a Dead show.

People who know me are generally surprised that I have anything approaching the discipline needed to actualize a weight-loss routine. The big secret is that it hardly takes any discipline at all and you don’t have to turn into a teetotaling monk to see great results. I still drink too much red wine and smoke an occasional cigarette, but I have reordered my priorities to put my weight loss goals first. If I run 30 miles in a week, I have absolutely no problem going out on Saturday night and painting the town red. After all, I earned it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

Revolution is about consciousness, about rebelling against one's own state conditioned consciousness in favor of the unique one bequeathed us by the very evolutionary process that gave us the killer ape gene, which has proven so handy a tool in the hands of the state.
-Joe Bageant

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ho, Ho, Holy Crap Another Year Has Flown By

These are the dog days of the holiday season. The no-mans land between Christmas and New Years that nobody really knows what to do with. I’m at work, but not working. I imagine this is the case for almost everyone except teachers, college students and those unfortunate workers who can’t carry over their vacation time into next year. I suppose now is as good a time as any to start contemplating New Years resolutions. For the last several years I’ve tried to pick some sort of challenge to make sure I end the year better than I began it. For obvious reasons I took last year off, although Jack certainly challenged me in ways I couldn’t have expected last January 1. Many thanks little buddy; I learned a lot about life from you this past year.

The two years prior were consumed with getting scuba certified and continuing my scuba diving and training and even this past year with all the insanity I managed to lose 40 pounds and pick up my running to a point where I have started to really enjoy it again. So what to do in 2008? I have been thinking of a number of activities from getting a pilot’s license to going for a walk up Mt. Fuji in Japan, but nothing has really struck me as THE thing to do. I suppose the decision is weightier since I will be turning 40 next week, although I don’t ascribe much meaning to the passage of time. I really have no control over it so why bother. Maybe Great White shark diving? That would be interesting. Perhaps I’ll clean up my diet and run another marathon-it’s been 10 years since the last one-but I hate to chain Jack into a baby-jogger for 15 mile runs on Sunday mornings. The possibilities are really endless.

I think I will settle on a few rather pedestrian goals-eat a good vegetarian diet, run a ½ marathon in the spring, and plan on taking one killer trip this year to do something spectacular. I’ll let you all know what I’m thinking later in the week. I hope everyone had a nice Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays


The Patriot wishes all of his regular and not so regular readers a happy holiday season. I regret that posts have been few and far between lately, but I have been getting acclimated to a new job which leaves little time for bitching and moaning about the state of the union. Yet there is always something to bitch about, isn’t there? Some statistics: Every year, Americans travel some 3 trillion vehicle miles. We consume about 140 billion gallons of gasoline along with 40 billion gallons of diesel. Even the most die hard willfully ignorant among us can’t imagine that the earth has the ability to withstand a rate of oil consumption like that for very long, not to mention the effects on the environment of burning all of that crap. The government’s response to the impending disasters posed by a dwindling fuel supply and global warming was to pass an energy bill that raises the fuel-efficiency standard for new auto fleets to 35 mpg by 2020, a 40 percent increase from today's 25 mpg. To this I have no objection, but the bill also relies much too strongly on ethanol as the fuel of the future. As Salon reports in an article on the energy bill, “Biofuels from most food crops or from newly deforested lands do not provide a significant net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions -- and some may cause a net increase. Most life-cycle analyses show that corn ethanol has little or no net greenhouse gas benefit compared with gasoline because so much energy is consumed to grow and process the corn.” Moreover, even when the United States attempts to solve it’s own energy problem it ends up screwing over someone else. The Economist points out the amazing statistic that "the demands of America's ethanol program alone account for over half the world's unmet need for cereals."

So with all the reasons not to use ethanol, why does the bill mandate that the U.S. increase the use of renewable fuels to 36 billion gallons by 2022, of which 15 billion can be corn-based ethanol? The easy answer is that we got sidetracked on our way to discovering how to efficiently extract from cellulosic sources, such as crop waste and switchgrass. Unfortunately for all the havoc our current biofuel use is having on national and global food prices, ethanol use must, by law, increase to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012, a jump of some 50 percent from current levels.

I am sure there is a hidden nefarious reason why the administration is pushing this. I’ll do a little more digging and report back what I find.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Let It Snow, Etc.

Consuming season is in full effect here in the New York area. The Patriot and his money took advantage of the overhyped ice storm and made a trip to the Satan Island Mall yesterday. Despite living on Staten Island for three years, I never did any Christmas shopping here before this year. It was easier to drift out of my office building down by the Seaport and get whatever I needed without leaving Manhattan, often without leaving a ten block radius of where I worked. Working in the Meadowlands offers few shopping options other than the Walmart at exit 15W and the outlet mall at 13A. I was in no mood yesterday to do battle with half the suburban rabble in the Garden State so I headed back to the Island thinking, correctly as it turned out, that most folks were sitting home glued to their televisions thinking that they were in the middle of bad storm when in reality the weather was pretty benign. I think it borders on the criminal the way weathermen scream disaster any time there is the potential for a little of the white stuff, but yesterday the masses collective ignorance worked to my advantage. I was in and out of the mall in an hour, fists full of gift cards and tinsel.

I must confess, getting into the holiday spirit is difficult for me even in a normal year, and this year has been anything but normal. Becky was typically a whirlwind of activity around Christmas and while I have tried to recreate the frenetic holiday atmosphere, my heart just ain’t in it. Her absence is keenly felt. But, as they say, the show must go on. Jack is certainly aware that there is something different about this time of year, if only because he has had the opportunity to enjoy spending several hours of quality time yanking strings of lights off the Christmas tree, opening presents and wearing funny hats. He seems to understand that this season is about taking the time to relax and celebrate the things we have, remember the things we’ve lost, and not take ourselves too seriously. I know exactly how he feels.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Technology, Etc.

When I arrived at work this morning there was a sign on the door informing the employees that the computer network was down for the indefinite future due to a malfunctioning air conditioning system in the server room. Without access to the various insurance related programs and, of course, the internet, some 200 people sitting in an office park in the middle of the Meadowlands have nothing to do. I work in a paperless office, so there aren’t even any files to review. The only thing that does work is Microsoft Word which is how I am able to type up this blog entry. I will have to wait until the computers are back up to post it.

I got my first office job in 1984, filing medical reports into claim files in a dank basement office in Long Island. There were no computers, and the hottest technology at the time was an early prototype fax machine that used the shiny rolls of ultra thin paper. The copier jammed every third use (well some things never change) and the phone system was state of the art with two lines and a hold button. It’s a wonder anything ever got done.

The most interesting thing to me about the ascension of the PC as the indispensable tool of the office is that there was very little associated rise in productivity. In 1987, Nobel laureate Robert Solow famously observed: “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” Despite massive investment in IT infrastructure, productivity growth was nonexistent. At the time, this was known as the “Productivity Paradox.” Economists have also made a more controversial charge against the utility of computers: that they pale as a source of productivity advantage when compared to the true industrial revolution, or the invention of the automobile.

While the slow growth in productivity accelerated somewhat at the dawn of the 21st century, it hasn’t reached levels one would expect. Some experts partly attribute this to the integration of the internet into work desktops; thereby giving employees easy access to entertainment they wouldn’t have had a few years ago.

My interest in workplace productivity issues is now completely spent. Look for further entries on such exciting topics as the living organic qualities of the NewJersey Turnpike.