Some Links

Sometime between March 13th and 27th, this post from The Last Psychiatrist appears to have been removed from the web, although the link is still present. The rest of the website appears to be intact. Draw your own conclusions, but this suggests to me that our humble correspondent is still out there.

Everyone is linking to this wonderful post by Martin Gurri on Donald Trump. The link was passed to me many days ago, but like a fool, I ignored it. I should not have, and neither should you.

There has been an unusual recent uptick in homicides in the DFW area.

The ex-wife of a terrorist was not amenable to reconciliation, surprising no one.

The guy who once got in big trouble at Harvard University for making sexist comments now wonders why people aren't equally as concerned about anti-Semitism. It's a fair question, I guess, but pretty rich.

"What the DOJ is really afraid is losing this precedent-setting case in the U.S. Supreme Court."


A Brief Personal History Of Running Gadgets

Using the Microsoft Band 2 has been a pretty remarkable experience for me. I have been using running gadgets for almost as long as I've been running at all, and they've come a long way. In the Microsoft Band 2, I feel like technology has finally reached the point it needed to be. I can imagine that the technology will continue to improve, but as a consumer, I am not wanting for anything. Finally, I'm "there."

When I first started running, the coolest and most essential piece of running technology was the Timex Ironman Triathlon watch. In those days, it looked like this:

Ironman Triathlon - the ultimate running watch, circa 1990
No lie: I was sooooo jealous when my friend got one of these.

Actually, this one is a more advanced version of the first one I had. The one pictured here possesses what was, at the time, the great quantum leap in watch technology: "Indiglo" technology, which made the watch face easy to see in the dark.

Ironman Triathlon watches were essential because they had full stopwatch functionality - including the critical "lap" function - and could store all 8 laps of your high school 3200m race. With this innovation, you could perform more in-depth race analysis. I remember working with my dad to come up with the right strategy for running a 1600m in 4:25. I had to run my first and last laps in 64 seconds, and I couldn't run any lap slower than 67. It took a few tries, but I nailed it. And I was tracking my lap times carefully at every practice and every race.

Later, Timex introduced an upgraded version of the watch that included a feature I absolutely loved: It was a variable intervalic timer. You could set the timer to count down, say for 2 minutes, and then count down for 4 minutes, and then repeat. In this way, you could use the watch to help guide you through fartlek workouts or other kinds of complex intervals. It was very useful, but its options were limited. You couldn't, for example, program 4 totally different intervals, and then ask the full set of 4 intervals to repeat. I maxed-out its capabilities, but was still left wanting.

Then came the era of the GPS running watch. At first, they felt like belting a deck of cards to your wrist, but it was oh, so worth it! With the ability to track both position and time simultaneously, these new watches could provide you with your current pace, in real time, at any point in the run. All those calculations my father and I did to work out the perfect lap-by-lap 1600m strategy would have been unnecessary if we had had a GPS watch at the time. The watch could have told me, whenever I wanted to know it, whether or not I was on pace.

Nike+ GPS Watch - A Palm Pilot for your wrist!
It's like a Palm Pilot on the back of your hand!

Presumably for this reason - and because there was not enough memory available to provide everything - these watches initially came with one down side: no lap button and no variable intervalic timer. This wasn't too painful, though, because first of all I had already out-grown competitive running by the time they appeared, and second of all, the manufacturers provided a comprehensive social network around their products. You could scan social media maps to find out where people tend to run, and find new courses. You could share your running times and locations with friends. You could run while on vacation and watch the maps commemorate your having run on 2, 3, 4 continents this year...

Nevertheless, it was disappointing having to think your way through a complicated interval workout with only a chronograph. So it wasn't surprising to find that the next-gen models had presented a patchwork solution. You could either download interval workouts from the website, or use the browser interface to create your own, and then upload them to your watch. The problem with option #1 was that this often involved downloading a whole race-specific training program, rather than one simple workout. The problem with option #2 was that the interface was so odd and confusing that I never actually succeeded in uploading one of my workouts to my watch. And I'm tech savvy about these things!

Garmin Forerunner 620 - a real breakthrough
...and that was when running watches got *sexy*

But, the addition of heart rate monitor connectivity was a good one. Suddenly I had the option of training with HR zones. Even more interesting was the fact that I could gain insight into my estimated VO-2 max, a sort of proxy for cardiovascular fitness. Heart rate monitor chest straps aren't very comfortable, and they are extremely dorky-looking, but the data was good and the compromise minimal. I expected at the time that this was the best it was going to get. Anything else, such as full-color screens, would be pure fluff.

When FitBit and similar companies released fitness trackers with built-in heart rate monitors, I was envious. How great would it be to have a running watch with an HR monitor built into the band? But when I saw that Microsoft's Band 2 had the HR monitor and a GPS tracker I was totally sold. This was all the technology I was getting in a running watch, plus all the technology my wife was getting in her fitness tracker, all rolled into one. It could track my sleeping patterns and tell me the weather and all that nifty stuff. And I could use it to pay at Starbucks.

But what really seems to set the Band 2 apart from the competition is the "Guided Workout" functionality. This is the interval solution I've been longing-for across all these years. In theory, this should be dead-simple functionality. We're talking about a customizeable timer combined with constomizeable on-screen text. If something that can measure the amount of ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun can't give you something that a Nokia phone could give you 20 years ago, that would be a problem.

Microsoft didn't just ham-fist a solution together like Garmin did. They made it easy. You just type in your text message, type in the amount of time you want, repeat as desired, and there you go. There's no need to plug your watch into your home computer, there's no uploading, downloading, upload failure, error-please-fill-out-all-required-fields, none of that. Just type and finish typing and you're done. Simple.

Microsoft Band 2 - the arrival of great running technology
Wearable tech for runners - now with cleavage

Finally - finally - I have everything I want. I can track distance, time, and pace in real-time. I can track heart rate in real time, and do it without having to wear a chest strap, and with seemingly no difference in the quality of the reading. I can interact with fellow runners socially. I can do complicated interval workouts. I can program my own.

This watch, this tool, could have made me a better runner if I had had it in my formative years. I envy each and every high schooler learning to race in this day and age. With technology like this, they have data insights that can save them a lot of effort. For the rest of us, these gadgets have gone from being a novelty to being truly useful and fun.

It's been a great journey, and I think we've finally "arrived." New developments are sure to happen in the future, but as I said at the outset, I am no longer missing any piece of the puzzle. The Microsoft Band 2 can do it all, at least for me.


Jerk Superman

Did I do good, dad?

When I was growing up, the story of Superman's childhood was told in a very specific way. Clark Kent was cast as an outsider, an otherwise typical teenager who discovers a set of innate abilities that make him quite different from his peers. These abilities frighten other people when they encounter him, so Clark hides his powers, hoping to fit in, hoping to belong, but never really feeling as though he's part of the crowd. As he grows up, he eventually discovers his own origins, makes peace with his individuality, and embraces the now-famous line "With great power comes great responsibility." He finds his place among mankind by becoming its protector. He might never truly be "one of us," but by putting himself in service of the human race, he becomes a valued member of our community. 

I'd like to call this version of Superman's story "the classic Superman." It's not a story that is particularly unique to Superman. Many classic comic book heroes share a similar story arc. Wikipedia even notes the similarities between the Superman storyline and that of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic A Princess of Mars. In all of these stories, a heroic outsider finds a place in society by serving it.

More recently, however, the classic Superman story has evolved into something much worse and, unfortunately, much more pervasive. I call this "Jerk Superman."

Jerk Superman

In the Jerk Superman story, a young rebel from somewhere in the Iowa cornfields lashes out angrily at the society that refuses to give him proper recognition. His super powers are much weaker and easier to ignore than those of the classic Superman - he's a gifted pilot or soemthing. He has a brilliant, sharp mind and an excellent physique, but the former is impeded by a small-town society that doesn't "understand" him, while the latter is occupied by things like barroom brawls and unlawful activity (which serve to reiterate the point that the small-town society has it out for him). Despite society's disapproval of the person he really thinks he is - but never actually proves he is - he is often depicted as a womanizer, an attractive rebel who can have his way with any beautiful young girl in town.

It's usually while being caught in the act of a sexual escapade, or a barroom brawl, or a schoolyard fight, that Jerk Superman is confronted by his flannel-shirt wearing father figure, a wise but simple man who recognizes Jerk Superman's potential to be who he really is, if he would just learn to control his temper. Sometimes this is shown with a dose of, "You, alright!? I learned it by watching you!" This father figure is the only person in the whole Iowa cornfield who recognizes the "superman" attributes of Jerk Superman, where everyone else sees only the jerk. 

Jerk Superman's mother typically dies early; her only role in the story of Jerk Superman is to make him more misunderstood, man.

Jerk Superman's life is next turned upside-down by some sort of cataclysm. Sometimes it's an alien invasion, sometimes it's the literal end of the world, sometimes it's the sudden, unexpected death of the father figure (his flannel shirt left smoldering in the ashes)... And sometimes it's not a terrible act of destruction, but a happy accident, like the discovery of an amazing device, the meeting of a mysterious stranger, or the winning of an important contest.

Whatever the cataclysm, Jerk Superman finds himself suddenly thrust among a secret society of Ubermensch, a rich, ingenious, and powerful group with seemingly infinite resources. Usually, no mere plebe knows they exist, but occasionally they are just ivory-tower military personnel on a faraway space station that never has to sully itself by intermingling with the kind of small-town normals that were too stupid to recognize how great Jerk Superman really is. They're the best of the best, and they've come with an invitation for none other than Jerk Superman.

They recognize Jerk Superman's true greatness for what it is. Not only that, they need him, they need his special powers to save the world, or fight a powerful foe, or et cetera. For centuries, sometimes eons, these Ubermensch have been hard at work on an important project whose final hour of completion has finally arrived. Despite their efforts, however, they are just one brick shy of a load. They need the special, hidden powers of Jerk Superman to finish the job. They've plucked him out of the cornfield especially for this moment.

They are not without their reservations. Like the small-towners, they worry that Jerk Superman's temper is too hot, or that he has not yet learned to harness his powers. They - and especially their sultry young daughter, who can already do everything that Jerk Superman can do, but in form-fitting spandex - disapprove of his womanizing. But an important new father figure among the Ubermensch has personally vouched for Jerk Superman in some way, which is enough for the rest of them to entrust the future of the entire universe to a rookie.

Then comes the rest of the story. Jerk Superman out-wits and infuriates his principle rival among the Ubermensch, which causes the spandex-clad Uberfrau to fall madly in love with him. (Later, he will save the day by somehow letting the rival do some trivial thing, which will win over the rival's lasting friendship.) He pushes everyone to the brink. Despite all logic and reason pointing in a particular direction, Jerk Superman bets the whole farm - and the lives of anyone who happen to be aboard his spaceship or whatever - on a "feeling" he has. He crazily does something seemingly stupid, and right before the whole universe explodes, he threads some sort of needle, and the universe lives happily ever after.

For his efforts, he is finally recognized as the true Jerk Superman his is. He is decorated with special Ubermensch awards, he consummates his relationship with the spandex chick, and - crucially - he returns to his small town, where the ones who refused to recognize his greatness must now grudgingly admit that, god, he's good.

This is a pretty icky fantasy.

Many stories have followed this particular arc. Let me name a few from memory:
  • Interstellar
  • Star Trek (2009)
  • Looper (here, it's more of a minor, parallel storyline)
  • The Fifth Element
  • Total Recall (2012)
There are, of course, many more stories like this. How many can you name?

Some Things You Might Have Missed About Jerk Superman

I've touched on a few important themes in the Jerk Superman story that make it a lot worse than the classic Superman tale. Now I'd like to highlight the differences between the two.

While both stories are about outsiders, the classic Superman wants to belong; Jerk Superman doesn't really care about that, he just wants people to recognize his greatness - whether he's actually demonstrated it or not. 

The classic story follows an outsider as he finds a way to put his own unique talents to the service of humanity; once having done so, society embraces him. Jerk Superman would still be rotting in his small town if he had not been individually selected by the Ubermensch and begged for help.

In the classic story, society struggles on, doing the best they can. Then one day Superman comes along and finds a way to make our lives better. Through this process, classic Superman rises above his modest small-town roots to discover and define a new sense of self. He finds validation in himself by becoming the hero that the world needs. In Jerk Superman's story, society is just doomed, its denizens are stupid, bitter, angry, hopeless. Jerk Superman is more than happy to leave them all behind when he discovers the Ubermensch. The aristocracy provides external validation of his identity by choosing him and placing their faith in him. All Jerk Superman wants from this process is external validation. He wants everyone to recognize the greatness he's always had. "Finally!"

Classic Superman has a one, true love who he must win over. Jerk Superman simply plows through a never-ending series of conquests until he finally womanizes the sexiest young thing the Ubermensch have to offer. Even worse, she hates him. But, god, he's just so good, and besides, she kinda likes a bad boys.

Classic Superman lives by a creed, Jerk Superman breaks all the rules.

In the old story, classic Superman's dead parents nonetheless manage to instill in him a strong moral compass, a set of principles to which Superman dedicates himself for the rest of his life, even if that means sometimes standing athwart of others. He knows, deep-down, that his parents always loved him and he does their memory justice by living by what they taught him. Jerk Superman is a disobedient trouble-maker whose birth parents died before they could validate him, and whose step-parents die before he can demonstrate his true greatness to them. Thus, he must obtain moral validation from his new adopted society by being better than they are, and maybe an old codger at the end of the film buys him a drink and tells him that his father would have been proud. Morally, though, Jerk Superman learns nothing.


You could argue that Jerk Superman is the better story, because the character is flawed. An imperfect hero, the argument goes, is much more approachable than an ideal type. None of us is perfect, so we can't place ourselves in the shoes of a morally perfect god. We can't relate to classic Superman's super-strength or his heat-ray vision, and we can't relate to what it feels like to always stand for truth, justice, and freedom. But everyone knows what it's like to fall short of moral perfection, so if Jerk Superman can overcome his moral shortcomings, maybe we can overcome our own.

But why has this particular tale of pointless self-aggrandizement become so pervasive in American media? I don't mind that Jerk Superman is a flawed hero, but why does he have to be a narcissist on an endless quest to score the ultimate chick and prove that he did good, dad?

Why is this the kind of hero for whom we have an appetite nowadays? Why is it difficult for people to identify with a superhero with an internal sense of personal identity who is motivated by a strong sense of right and wrong? 


Some Links

  1. The evolution of Deepika Padukone. Interesting throughout.
  2. My latest at Sweet Talk Conversation, on hermeneutics. Adam Gurri provides additional context.
  3. David Henderson lauds Barack Obama. I would guess that this sort of politicking requires a great deal of experience, which explains why Obama failed to take advantage of similar opportunities in earlier diplomacy with the despots of Africa and Latin America.
  4. Catherine Rampell on the soda tax, or as I have called it, making it illegal to be fat.
  5. They were also discussing the ramifications of fat-versus-skinny on the Jason Ellis Show yesterday. I was going to link to it, but his show archives are only current up to February 6th. Watch that space for the 3/23/2016 show, and you'll be able to see how it dovetails nicely with link #4, above.
  6. I need to write something about this totally awesome article on running form, but I haven't figured out how to say it better than she already said it. Read it now!
Bonus content! Here's some video footage I took of the storm cell that rolled in on me last night, with some commentary. Later on, the weather radar detected circular motion in the clouds and we had to take cover, but luckily it was a small storm that passed by uneventfully.


In Two Decades We've Lost The Ability To Understand Pop Music

The article making making the rounds this morning was an interview in Vulture with the Hanson brothers, on the twentieth anniversary of their infectious breakout hit, "MMMBop." Hanson was never a truly great band, but I thought they were better than they got credit for being. The interview itself is rather interesting, and provides insight into the fact that Hanson was a band composed of actual songwriters.

But the part of the interview that's causing a stir is this:
Have you heard any good covers of it over the years?
T.H.: I gotta be honest: No. 
I.H.: You know why? People can’t sing the chorus right. Most of the time they syncopate it wrong.

Z.H.: I think “MMMBop” probably needs a really good cover … 
T.H.: Someone needs to either make it totally their own in a genuinely unique way, or it needs to be a band that has a sensibility for old R&B. Fitz and the Tantrums could maybe do it … 
I.H.: If Bruno Mars were interested, he’d probably find a way to kill it.
In the opinion of the Hanson brothers, the problem with all the covers of their most famous song is that people can't play the rhythm correctly. This has incited a lot of media eye-rolling.

Emily J of KISS FM 92.1 writes this:
So, what exactly have we all been messing up since 1996? Syncopation. Yeah, I’m not sure any of us know what that is. Ok, I take that back, any of us who aren’t musicians probably don’t know what that is. But, according to Hanson even musicians are not up to the bands standards. Everyone from One Direction to Phish have covered “MMMBop” and, so far, no band has sang the syncopated chorus correctly.
Hello Giggles comments with dripping sarcasm, "SOOO, apparently, we’re getting the syncopation wrong. The word “MMMBop” must be said *just* so." Uproxx writes with tongue in cheek, "Pay close attention to that syncopation, y’all."

I don't think people understand the severity of the problem. "MMMBop" was 1997's throw-away hit, a song and a band universally derided as being uncool, unmusical, and everything that was wrong with corporate music. In a sense, despite being a hit, it was considered to be the worst of the worst.

And yet, twenty years later, people can't really even seem to get the rhythm of it right.

When people ask me why I blame musicians for the slow death of music, this is the kind of thing that comes to mind.


Runners Lose Ankle Power With Age

How's that for a descriptive headline?

The other day I came across an important article for older runners (i.e. seniors), but its implications for runners who are aging, but not yet seniors, are worth unpacking.

The article, written by one Mackie Shilstone, does an excellent job of citing and summarizing some recent running physiology research on how gait changes with age. Shilstone does such a good job, in fact, that I don't have much to add. However, it's unlikely that many people have seen the article - certainly not likely that as many people who could benefit from reading it have done so - so I wanted to link to it. Read the whole thing.

I'm not a senior, and neither are most of my readers, but even so, we all stand to gain insight from the findings. Shilstone writes:
High-speed video cameras and force plates were used to assess the biomechanics of each the runner, while maintaining their normal pace across "runways." Body mass index and height were also measured and applied to the ground reaction force (GRF) of running. 
The researchers found an, "inverse and linear relations between age and basic running kinematics: as age increased, stride length and running velocity decreased." 
It seems that the culprit may be a weakness in the ankle joint and the resulting altered biomechanics. "Overall, reduced ankle power may be related to the in- creased rate of Achilles (from the bones of your heel to your calf muscles) and plantar flexor (a group of nine muscles in the lower leg that function to extend the ankle) injuries in older versus younger runners."
This caught my eye because one of the points made in the indispensable Better Training for Distance Runners by Martin & Coe is that African runners often out-pace North American runners due to the wider range of motion in their ankle joints. In other words, we North American runners tend to run like old men, even when we're not old men.

That African runners may gain early experience with barefoot running has been a hypothesis offered to explain why they develop this wider range of motion, but I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of this hypothesis.

Shilstone and the study's authors offer the following suggestions for older runners:
The researchers suggested that strength or power training the ankle plantar flexors might be a viable solution for altering the reduction in running biomechanics with age... Adding various forms of heel raises, especially eccentrically – lowering from a step with one forefoot, then pushing up with both feet – will help strengthen the ankle.
This is, of course, an important recommendation for older runners, excellent preventative medicine for aging runners, and valuable training advice for everyone. So, whether you're hoping to run well into older age or simply improve your ability as a runner, heel raises, calf raises, and toe taps are all exercises that we should incorporate into our regular training.


Shirley MacLaine Gets It Exactly Wrong

MSN.com has the report, but I think they wrote all the relevant parts of the story in the wrong order. Here is the middle part of the story:
Detailing her relationship with film producer Steve Parker, MacLaine tells PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly Editorial Director Jess Cagle during a Sirius XM town hall that she and her husband of 28 years were friends more than lovers. 
"I guess you would say 'practiced an open marriage' in 1954, which was another lifetime," she says. "No one understood it, we did. He lived in Japan basically, I lived in America working, and this and that."

She continued, "We'd meet up, always great friends, traveled sometimes together."
The couple split up in 1982, but not before welcoming one daughter, actress Sachi Parker. Parker was mostly raised by her father, a childhood she later detailed in a 2013 tell-all book her mother called "virtually all fiction." 
Failed marriage - check. Abandoned child - check. Estranged daughter - check. You know, if you didn't read any other part of the story, you'd almost make the mistake of concluding that MacLaine had made some serious mistakes in life, for which she has paid dearly.

But, no, MSN.com has not published an article about MacLaine's regrets, but rather - wait for it - her advice on how to maintain a successful long-term relationship!
Regardless [of all the aforementioned bad stuff], MacLaine stands by the relationship with the man she once told The Guardian was the "love of my life."
The story starts out like this:
Want a life of happiness? Don't do it alone – but certainly don't get too tied down, says Shirley MacLaine
The Downton Abbey star, who has been famously candid about her love life – which has included a handful of affairs – says that the only way to ensure marital success is to take an open approach to monogamy.
The headline of the story reads, "Shirley MacLaine On Why An Open Marriage Is The Only Way To Go." Toward the end of the story, MacLaine is quoted as saying,
"I think that's the basis for a long-lasting marriage, if you really want to do such a thing," she shares. "I would say better to stay friends and we don't have enough time to talk about the sexuality of all. I was very open about all of that and so was he."
The story ends by mentioning that MacLaine now spends her home time with her three dogs, for which she has so little time that she has resorted to hiring a caretaker for them.


Yes, You Have The Right To Complain, Even If You Don't Vote

This morning Jason Brennan linked me to a recent radio interview he did on the ethics of voting. The interview is informative, entertaining, and highly recommended to anyone with a taste for such things.

Toward the end of the interview, Brennan is asked for his take on the old canard, "If you don't vote, then you have no right to complain." He gives a fine enough answer, but the question got me thinking, and so I'd like to offer my own answer to the question.

I'll provide my answer in a series of arguments.


First of all, this statement implies that people who do not have the right to vote do not have the right to complain. For example, a seventeen-year-old is not old enough to vote in the United States of America, therefore 17-year-old Americans do not have the right to complain about their government. This feels intuitively wrong. Taking this argument a step further, suppose a 17-year-old is wrongfully imprisoned by the government due to a specific point of policy. For example, suppose the 17-year-old is arrested for possession of medical marijuana in a state in which medical marijuana is illegal. The voting = right to complain argument seems to suggest that the 17-year-old, by virtue of not having the right to vote, has no right to complain that a perfectly legal activity in one state is not also perfectly legal in her home state (or the state in which the arrest took place).

That doesn't seem right, does it?


Second, suppose someone wants very much to vote, but happens to be unable to do so for practical reasons. Say, for example, a pregnant voter goes into labor at the exact moment she could have voted. Then, she has no right to complain about the outcome of the election, or about the government more generally, because she was giving birth to her child at the time she would have been granted her right to complain. This, too, seems unreasonable.


Third, suppose I voted in the 2008 election, but do not intend to vote in the 2016 election. The spirit of the vote = right to complain argument would suggest that I have a right to complain about things that occurred after the 2008 election, but my right to complain stops at the 2016 election. But suppose a piece of legislation is passed in the wake of the 2008 election (take ObamaCare, for example) that will likely not be repealed. The argument seems to suggest that if I don't vote in 2016, I have no right to complain about the Affordable Care Act, even if none of the candidates on the ballot intend to do anything about ObamaCare. Can it really be true that I have no right to complain about past legislation if I stop casting a vote in future elections?


Fourth, suppose I have a complaint about Congressman X, but I am not a part of Congressman X's constituency. Thus, I may or may not have voted, but in any case I have never voted for Congressman X. The vote = right to complain argument would seem to suggest that I do not have a right to complain about Congressman X, but how many people who actually make the argument withhold complaints about congressmen or other politicians for which they have no right to vote, because they do not live in the constituency of interest? So it seems likely that they do not actually believe their claim about the right to complain.


Fifth, suppose my complaint about government involves real information that could affect the outcome of an election. Suppose I had inside information that somehow proved that Congressman X was a Russian spy or something. Do I have a right to complain about the fact that Congressman X is a Russian spy, or am I only allowed to voice this complaint if I vote? It seems rather obvious to me that such a complaint is so valuable that it ought to outweigh any argument that I should withhold my complaint.

But then the question is this: How serious must my complaint be before it outweighs the fact that I didn't vote? Surely if Congressman X is in possession of a Doomsday Device, I have a right to complain, even if I didn't vote. But, more realistically, what if I have real evidence that Congressman X is corrupt and taking bribes in exchange for votes; do I have a right to voice this complaint, even if I didn't vote? Most would say yes.


Here's one that comes up for me a lot, and one that many people are certainly feeling themselves in this latest US Presidential election cycle: What if none of the candidates' policy platforms is agreeable to me. That is, what if there is no good choice, even despite there being differences between the choices. Suppose there is an initiative on the ballot to spend $80 million on a new sporting arena, or $80 million on additional Congressional salaries, but no option to invest the $80 million in any other arena, and no option to not spend the $80 million at all. That is, suppose I can advance a reasonable complaint against all the available options, and that voting merely forces me to vote for something I do not actually want. 

Couldn't we say that in that case, I have a right to complain, even if I don't vote?

Couldn't we say that a citizen of North Korea has a right to complain about his political landscape, whether or not he votes?


In light of the above, it seems that we have many reasons to grant people the presumption of the right to complain. There may be isolated reasons when we might say that someone doesn't have the right to complain if that person didn't vote, but I imagine that this would be the exception rather than the rule

Perhaps the exception is this: If you are willing and able to vote, agree with the policies for which you are voting, and have a reasonable expectation that your vote can affect the outcome of the election, but you simply choose not to vote, then you do not have a fair moral claim to complain.

But then and only then.


Some Links

On Sweet Talk Conversation, I write a dialogue about how people use the word "we" these days.

David Henderson highlights the way presidential language is changing in recent years.

There has been a series of "let's troll the libertarian base" articles/blog posts written recently, so let me offer you a quick primer:
  1. Will Wilkinson writes an article in support of renowned socialist Bernie Sanders for president.
  2. Wilkinson's colleague Jerry Taylor throws up his hands and laments that libertarians just don't get it - we should embrace Rawls along with the welfare state.
  3. Bryan Caplan clarifies that, no, libertarians should not embrace social welfare for philosophical reasons because the economics is pretty clear.
  4. Matt Zwolinski, famous for promoting a specific kind of welfare program, publishes a journal article and blog post suggesting that, gee whiz, people like Caplan just have a big academic misunderstanding of pro-welfare libertarianism.
  5. David Henderson points to a serious flaw in at least one of Taylor's arguments.
  6. Paul Crider, still heavily immersed in the world of identity politics, draws parallels between Wilkinson and Amartya Sen (probably a bit too generous to Wilkinson)
That ought to bring you up to speed with the most recent goings-on in the world of the libertarian ouroboros. If you had asked me a year ago whether I'd find myself drawing nearer to the Rothbardian libertarian camp, I would have told you you're nuts. But deploying bad philosophical arguments against good economic ones is pretty off-putting.

A Fort Worth police officer stands on the side of the road and pepper-sprays a group of passing motorists, then receives desk duty pending a full investigation. 

Album Review: Chris Cornell - Carry On

Chris Cornell's "Carry On" album
Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

I bought Chris Cornell's 1998 solo album, Euphoria Morning, and was so disappointed that it wasn't a Soundgarden album that I never gave it a fair chance. I sold my copy of it without ever having really listened to it carefully. Years later, I bought a second copy and was blown away by what I'd missed before. Right then and there I swore that I would never rush to judgment of another Chris Cornell album ever again.

This advice served me well through Cornell's tenure with Audioslave - to this day, I think I'm the only person who still really loves their final album, Revelations - but the idea didn't really face a significant challenge until Cornell released his second full-length solo album, Carry On, in 2007.

Carry On is a challenging album for Chris Cornell fans because, to my ears, it is so badly produced. I understand that the album was intended to have more of an acoustic singer-songwriter vibe than Cornell's previous work, but the album simply has no meat. It's impossible to hear the kick drum. Every track isn't just dry, it's sterile. It's as though the album ran out of budget when it came time to add reverb. This could have been a stylistic choice, an attempt to hearken back to the early days of recording, when people didn't rely so much on technology. Unfortunately, the album doesn't have the benefit of having been recorded in a legendary Motown recording studio on all-analogue equipment. The truth is, this is the album that finally made me realize how far audio production standards had fallen.

It's a shame, too, because the songs themselves are well-written. "No Such Thing" has long been a favorite Cornell song of mine, thanks to the powerful and highly philosophical lyrics. "My Poison Eye" is a song that could easily have appeared on a Soundgarden album. The album garnered a lot of attention for its version of the Michael Jackson classic "Billie Jean," for which Cornell makes the clever choice of changing the song's time signature while leaving the rest of the song mostly intact.

The performances, too, are strong. Although Cornell's voice had begun to show its age by 2007, what he'd lost in metal screaminess he more than made up for in technique. So we encounter songs like "Ghosts," which demonstrates the mind-boggling levels of vocal control Cornell has always had, and continues to have, across the full breadth of his range. From what I can hear of the drums, they sound pleasant and musical. The album boasts no less than five different guitar players, all of whom recorded their parts admirably well.

But the album has no energy, no spark, no juice, and the blame in my opinion rests completely on the shoulders of the producers. It is a special kind of blunder to start with fourteen extremely well-written songs performed by the best vocalist of his generation supported by an army of the best session musicians, and spit out a tinny, meatless, dry, flat album.

Thus, as good as the songs are, this album is destined to be relegated to the back corners of the CD collections of only the most dedicated Cornell fans.


Album Review: Myrath - Legacy

Myrath's "Legacy" album
Image courtesy Myrath.com

I first discovered the Tunisian progressive metal band Myrath while combing YouTube for progressive music that I hadn't yet heard. Keep in mind, I've been a progressive metal fan for decades now, and sometimes I feel as though I've "heard it all." Imagine my surprise when I heard Myrath.

There is cliche in modern music here in the West in which musicians play a lot of harmonic minor scalses over drone notes in a cringe-inducing attempt to sound vaguely "Arabian" or "Indian" or "Eastern." Such music is always bad, because it is shallowly composed. First of all, the harmonic minor scale is a western scale, not an eastern one. Second of all, anyone who hears "eastern" music and extracts only drone notes and major 7ths has tin ears. Thirdly, what if I reduced all of your favorite musical traditions into a lot of "Aaaayaaaa-yaaaaaahhh!" and stupid chord progressions? Lame, right?

So, when one finally encounters musicians who are genuinely capable of constructing a beautiful eastern melody, it's easy to spot the difference. In fact, those of us who listen to a lot of eastern music, not for ambiance, but for pleasure have learned that the great superior feature of eastern music is its melodies. What western ears perceive to be "droning" chords and pedal tones is rather a deliberate sparseness that allows for a stunning melodic complexity. This complexity sometimes requires notes that do not even exist in the twelve-tone western framework - that's not a stylistic choice in eastern music, it's a melodic one. The notes are composed that way. The melodies matter.

Myrath's incomparable ability to navigate both eastern and western melodies - always within the same song, and quite often within the same musical measure - allows the band to transcend cliches and stereotypes, enabling them to craft a truly unique space in the rock landscape. They are the perfect intersection between European power metal and Arabic-language pop.

That has never been truer in the band's history than on their latest album, Legacy. The album, as a whole, is substantially more song-oriented than their previous work. "Song-oriented" usually means "not progressive," but not in this case. The songs are as progressive as ever - time-signature changes, polyrhythms, compositional complexity, instrumental virtuosity - but the band has managed to channel their energy into a series of tracks that meander a bit less than their previous work. The result is a set of songs that feel highly refined, as though the band has found its sweet spot and knows what to do with it.

Two aspects of this album stand out for me. The first are the percussion performances. A bad prog-rock drummer will play beats that seem to say, "Okay, guys, now I'm playing in 5/4! Okay, now it's 7/8, isn't that awesome? Now here's an awesome tom fill!" Whereas, a good prog-rock drummer will play a beat that binds together all of the music in such a way that the listener doesn't particularly care what the time signature is, because the beat is consistent, cohesive, and musical. Myrath's Morgan Berthet is one of those rare percussionists who can handle all the prog-rock weirdness that defines the genre, but without calling special attention to it. Still, at times the listener must simply hone-in on what Berthet is playing, and be amazed. He is a truly gifted drummer.

The second standout on the Legacy album is Myrath's not-so-secret weapon, the stunning vocals of singer Zaher Zorgati. Recall what I said above about melody lines that go from being traditionally "western" to traditionally "eastern" often in the same line. As a matter of pure technical virtuosity, that is not an easy way to sing. The mere fact that Zorgati can deliver his lines accurately is a testament to his ability, but luckily for us, he doesn't stop at that. Zorgati signs with an apparent 3-octave range (probably wider, but the music hasn't called for it yet), and can deliver soft or gritty vocals seemingly anywhere in his register. For me, the high points on the album are the ones where Zorgati's vocals are at their pinnacle: "Nobody's Lives," in which Zorgati delivers a rising vocal crescendo during the bridge that (to my ears) evokes the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and "Duat," a song with an incredibly complex melody that Zorgati manages to deliver with stunning emotion.

Of course, progressive metal is a primarily guitar-driven genre of music, so I would be remiss if I didn't mention guitarist Malek Ben Arbia. On the new album, his lead guitar work is as good as ever, but what I really enjoy about this album is his restraint. He never adds more than the song calls for, never ventures into self-indulgent territory. Always and everywhere, he's playing for the song. A careful listener will become aware of precisely how true this is when you notice that there isn't a lot of multi-tracked guitar on this album. The guitar tracks sit so perfectly in the arrangements that the kind of over-dubbing that most prog-metal bands need (just to sound good) are completely unnecessary on Legacy.

In summary, what we have here is an early contender for the best album of 2016. Other artists - especially progressive metal artists - who plan on releasing albums later this year really have their work cut out for them. The bar has been set very high indeed.


The Prince Memorabilia Auction Should Quietly Go Away

Yesterday, my news feed directed me to an article about an upcoming auction of Prince memorabilia. Today, as I was searching for the same article I originally read (the one I just linked), I came across pages and pages of rather predictable salaciousness.

I say "predictable" for two reasons, and only one of those reasons is "because Prince." The other reason, the primary reason, is because the "Prince memorabilia" being auctioned is not just stuff like guitars and costumes (although there is one of each of those things), but specifically memorabilia that pertains to the new-defunct love affair between Prince and Mayte Garcia. This includes an engagement ring, love notes, and fine china used at their wedding.

In short, these are the heartfelt memories of a woman's failed marriage.

My first reaction, as per usual, is to blame Ms. Garcia for making the disposal of her memories such a public event, literally selling them to the highest bidder. Can she not maintain some level of personal dignity and just quietly get rid of these things? My second reaction is, what kind of person would want to purchase someone's sad memories?

Ultimately, these two reactions I have become fused together and express themselves as a profound sadness for everyone touched by this event. This event should not happen, and all I can really feel about it is sadness. The Prince memorabilia auction should quietly go away.


Movie Review: The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

I'm writing this as a movie review, but there is very little to say about this film. It is an informative documentary on a little-known annual ultra-marathon race that happens in Tennessee. The filmmakers do an excellent job of capturing the character of the race and its organizers and participants. I was captivated the whole time, and the only negative thing I can say about the movie is that I didn't really feel like "I was there" in the same way that, say, Without Limits made me feel like I was at those track meets. But The Barkley Marathons is not a Hollywood docu-drama, it's a straight-ahead documentary, and it was a fun one to watch.

So that's my movie review. Now, on to the race.

Every ultra-marathon likes to bill itself as the toughest race in the world, because that's part of the "spirit" of ultra running. (One possible exception is the Leadville 100, which seems to bill itself as the fastest and/or most competitive ultra-marathon, but it is unique in that regard.) So, once we acquaint ourselves with the general concept of ultra-running and have possibly done a little ultra-running ourselves, we are no longer moved by claims that any one race is exceptionally difficult. That's what they all say.

So the next marketing ploy for ultra-marathons is to come up with a twist on the concept: Let's not just run 100 miles through the forest, let's come up with an idea that serves to attract more athletes or make our race sound more terrifying. Terrifying, in the ultra-running world, is more appealing. So, for example, we find races such as the Spartathalon, which runs a historic route from Athens to Sparta. Or, there is the Marathon des Sables, which pits runners against the actual Sahara Desert. Or, there is the Grand to Grand, which takes you from the Grand Canyon to the Grand Staircase Escalante. Get the picture? To have a really great ultra-marathon, one needs a good twist.

I had never heard of The Barkley Marathons before, and in watching the movie, I was pleasantly surprised. The concept is a genuinely interesting one. The goal is to run five laps of the same 20-mile course in under 60 hours. The course is mapped, but not marked, which means that racers basically have to find their own way through the forests of Tennessee. (This results in a phenomenon where a runner may ultimately end up running far more than the advertised 100 miles.) The course changes year to year, so runners never know for certain what they'll end up dealing with. The start time of the race is a surprise, and sometimes occurs in the middle of the night.

Putting it all together, we end up with something truly unique: A combination of ultra-running, sleep deprivation, and orienteering. The movie never seemed to bring this up, but it's interesting to note that unlike most ultra-marathons, the Barkley Marathons is one that seems to require equal parts wits and brawn. In that sense, it might be the best true testament to the spirit of persistence hunting as described in Born to Run.

It's no surprise that the hero of the film, a two-time Barkley finisher and course record holder, is a physicist by trade. The film mentions that many racers are people with grad school degrees, and the point seems to be that they are inertly persistent people. But I would also suggest that a race that requires intelligence to finish naturally attracts intelligent people.

I have no inside knowledge of the race, all I know about it is what is depicted in the documentary. So, when I make the following conjecture, take it in that light: I think the reason so few people have finished the Barkley Marathons is because it is hard to perform even simple cognitive tasks when one is subjected to extreme endurance conditions like ultra-running.

The concept of the race and the film depicting it were both fascinating to me. I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in running.

Socialized Medicine, Chapter 938

Odom’s tormenting visions caused him to attempt suicide twice, he said in his manifesto.
“I filled a charcoal grill with lit coals, put it in my car and rolled up the windows,” he wrote. “I reclined my seat, laid there calmly, then fell asleep.” 
But the aliens didn’t allow him to die, Odom wrote. 
“They woke me up in an extreme panic, which caused me to get out of the car,” he wrote. 
According to his manifesto, Odom then checked himself into the local Veterans Affairs hospital. A VA spokesman was not available Tuesday night to confirm whether Odom received treatment at the center.
I guess we don't know. But probably nothing, because Odom went on to shoot a local pastor and attempt to warn the president about an ancient civilization of martians that rule the Earth and pose as humans.

Proponents of socialized medicine would like to subject us to the same health care management team that provides this level of service to US military veterans. When I suggest that this might be a bad idea, they tell me I don't care about the poor.

It's a hard argument to win.


Getting Results Out Of Your Moral Philosophy

A couple of weeks ago I promised that I would write a Sweet Talk post about this article on helping children develop good moral reasoning skills. Well, I have finally made good on my promise. You can find "Theory and Practice, Episode Four" at Sweet Talk Conversation at this link.

This marks the probable final episode in a series that was written to articulate the present state of my moral philosophy. If I had to summarize the whole series, it would go something like this:

The problem with philosophy is that it offers us a type of analysis that is often poorly specified, both in terms of the question, and the answer. As a result, we often lose sight of the fact that the what we are really looking for is results. In the realm of moral philosophy, "results" means outcomes in our daily lives that correspond to great levels of happiness, closer social bonding, and greater levels of mental health both for the person facing a moral decision and all those people who will be affected by the outcome of that decision. We could do a better job if we simply turned greater attention to the results of our moral code, and spent less time getting caught up in the poorly specified antics of academic philosophy. A robust psychological literature appears to validate this position, and we should take this literature for what it's worth.

That's the short form of the argument, anyway. You can find the details here:


Some Links

Sorry, guys. I've been getting some blog hits from this old EconLog comment I wrote back in 2011. That was not my best era of blog commentary, and if I had it to do over again, I would rephrase the comment to something much nicer. I hereby publicly apologize to Arnold Kling, Bryan Caplan, and Lauren Landsburg for having written that comment.

My recent post at Sweet Talk Conversation, a response to Paul Crider on the definition of "rape culture," is by contrast much more charitable, or so I believe.

Speaking of EconLog, David Henderson urges us not to view politicians in a vacuum.

I was linked to this Slate Star Codex post about the irresistible urge to argue on the internet. In my comment, I argue that the solution is to grow up and walk away. Months ago, David Friedman had a much different take on the problem.

This article was number one on my Google News feed, despite the fact that I have no interest in the presidential debates. The article actually says, "It all seems a bit light on substance." No kidding. I guess the media has decided to manufacture interest in the other half of the POTUS side-show?

Photographic evidence, however boring, that Deepika Padukone is in the upcoming XXX sequel. Not quite as good a gig as Priyanka Chopra on Quantico, but you gotta start somewhere. And note that Padukone is a much better actress than Chopra.

The push to force edible insects on the unsuspecting public continues - four million dollars richer.


How To Rise Above Guru-ism

A long while back, I wrote a blog post about what I call "gurus." Here are some of my closing remarks:
The goal of a guru is to extract some money from you by selling you vagaries that appear meaningful enough to make you a return customer, but never specific enough to leave you fully satisfied. 
Guruism is perhaps the most despicable form of politics. It is the act of preying on people who have too little confidence in their own decisions to effectively stand behind their own instincts. It is the act of leading people on with no real objective other than to extract a little money from their spiritual vulnerability. 
And in today's world, it's happening in religion, politics, business, fitness, and so on. We have to learn to avoid these gurus. They are toxic.
I thought about this "gurus" blog post in light of a conversation I had recently. What follows is the paraphrasing of that conversation. Please note that, because it was a conversation, some of the ideas below did not originate with me.

A Discussion About The Quasi-Religious Mindset Of Gurus And Followers

I recently became aware of someone who started her own gym. She writes articles and does short videos for the local media. The way she discusses health fitness is vexing because much of it is Biggest Loser-style pop psychology. 

Embedded in this pop psychology is the assumption that anyone who doesn't exercise has "lost the real them." But it gets worse. She'll intimate that anyone who eats an ice cream sandwich is comforting their inner sorrow with food. Also, the flip-side: that if you exercise, it's because you're "trying to be happy." This certainly resonates with some people, but there are a lot of other reasons why people do or don't work out. It's not just "fat people = unhappy" and "fit people = happy."

I think fitness, diet, politics, corporate culture, and all similar these things share a common and oddly "spiritual" thread. Perhaps some people need to have something to believe in before they will adopt a new way of life. Perhaps some will only eat bacon and potatoes until they see some quasi-religious food movie like Forks Over Sporks and then suddenly it's all about beets. They seemingly cannot just eat spinach, it has to be psychologically - spiritually - linked to "being healthy." They won't do it unless they have a religious reason for doing it. Ultimately, we end up with a lot of these "fitness gurus" who just preach pop psychology like the woman who opened her own gym.

Of course, that quasi-religious mindset can only be short-lived. This is why, for example, non-profit organizations have such high employee turnover rates. We can be "born again" and gung-ho only for so long before the shine wears off. At that point, your beets are just beets and your spinach is just spinach. 

Then, you have to find a new thing to be religious about, and the cycle repeats: This sort of person is always in a state of catharsis, starting over again. If they're not going back to school, they're getting some new job or some new boyfriend, or starting something new. Every new religion is the promise of a fresh start, one that allows them to shirk off the baggage of their previous fresh starts. One that forgives them of all the past "false" fresh starts they've ever had and enables them to say, "This time it's real. That wasn't who I really was, but this new thing is what I always knew I could be..." And then it starts all over again.

I keep saying "quasi-religious" because there is an obvious similarity here to religion. In Hinduism we literally get a do-over, a whole other life through which to right past wrongs, until you get it right. In Christianity, your baptism absolves you of your past sins and sets you on-course to obtain a heavenly after-life. It's a do-over. Alternatively, you might change religions entirely, split off the part of you that "wasn't really you," and then start over again. Each time you start fresh, you get to disavow every mistake you've ever made and seek absolution in a new version of The Truth. 

In religion, it's part and parcel to believing in an afterlife, fine. But in true cults, it gets much worse. Anyone who attempts to steer you away from true belief is someone who needs to be removed from you life, purged. Only the cult knows who you really are, and anything that takes you away from the cult is wrong-thinking that will ultimately result in disaster for you.

Now the parallels to guruism should be obvious. 

Personal Growth: The Only Remedy

I've written previously about what I call "the idea of the perpetual beginner," and I always try to urge people to "stop beginning." If life is a book, we must eventually come to Chapter Two. You don't have to be an expert athlete, but being a novice should only last a little while. Eventually, we should progress to a more advanced version of whatever it is we're doing.

But why bother when you can just press the reset button? Why become a better biker when you can just take badminton lessons? Why become a better badminton player when there's a dance class next week? Why get good enough at dancing to actually dance in front of people when you can try your hand at rock climbing?

In many cases, fear of failure is probably at play here. "I play the piano" almost sounds like, "I play the piano, and I am a pretty good player." Acknowledging your ability to play almost implies that someone else might want to hear you. Maybe some people are afraid to disappoint. It takes a certain amount of work to be able to say "I play the piano," and even more to be able to say "I am a pianist." Thus, if you never take it seriously, then you never have to worry about (gasp!) being judged.

That's what I think most people are afraid of: Being judged, and specifically being deemed not good enough. Some people can't handle the narcissistic injury of not being thought of as good. Easier to just always call yourself a beginner, because then you're a dabbler who does lots of things, which sounds interesting and appealing. And if anyone asks you to perform, you can always say, "Oh, I'm just a beginner..."

In a strange sort of way, it's a fear, not of failure, but of mediocrity. The hierarchy seems to be like this:
  1. Being awesome
  2. Just beginning
  3. Not ever even trying
  4. Being just okay 
  5. Being good, but not good enough
As you can see, the next best thing to being awesome is your first day on the job. But wait, there's more: not even trying is better than not measuring up. Presto, fear of mediocrity.

A lot of this comes from being raised by perfectionist parents, where kids learn early that the only acceptable outcome is being first place. Not only that, some children learn that it's more efficient to give up early, hate themselves, and then move on. Being mediocre somehow works out to being worse than failure because it takes less time and effort to fail. (Do read that TLP article.)

What kids need to be taught is that being mediocre, but always trying to make progress, little by little, with no real hope of going to the Olympics, is a million times better than failing and giving up, and certainly several million times better than hating yourself for ten minutes and then having a sandwich.

Progress, of course, will not continue forever. One is bound to reach either a peak, a plateau, or a point in life at which additional progress is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. Does this mean that failure is inevitable?

No. As we age, it's natural to start investing in activities that we actually can make progress on, rather than continuing down a fruitless path. It might be a career, or family, or a different kind of hobby like writing, or studying a foreign language, or reading a series of books, or whatever. But, it's not natural to do the same thing over and over with no hope or expectation of progress. We have to move beyond Chapter One. If you don't write your story toward an ending then you'll just repeat the same chapter over and over again.

To me, this explains people who go though never-ending series of religious conversions and do-overs. They might be stuck in Chapter One of the Book of Life, never reaching anything that looks like a conclusion. If we don't work toward something in our endeavors then it becomes "frantic action as a defense against impotence." The goal need not be "to win" or "to be the best." Sometimes the goal is simple, like, "to save up enough money to go to Mexico next year," or "to improve my ability to speak German," or even "to surprise Susie with a new toy."

Here's a personal example: I don't train to run extremely fast or win races anymore, nor even to achieve a certain distance. I train to keep my blood sugar down. I'm always trying to make tangible progress on that goal. It changes the way I run and affects the frequency and intensity of the runs I go on. My "book" is still moving toward an ending, but the chapter on winning races or being Mr. Awesome Running Guy ended on an engaging page on which it was revealed that I had acquired a chronic illness.

Waaaaait A Minute...

An easy criticism against what I've just written is this: In a way I've just taken the phrase "You should do XYZ to be the best" and replaced "to be the best" with "make progress." The reaction could be, "Wait, that means I'm a failure if I don't specify a goal for everything I do and constantly chart my progress?"

My response to this is twofold. 

First, yes, maybe. You might be a failure. But don't let that bother you, it happens to all of us. I am totally okay with the idea that everybody definitely fails at many if not most of the things they try to do. It would be weird to be successful at everything in life. Sometimes it's just swing and a miss, and we have to live with that. More importantly we have to live with the fact that failing in general isn't fun, but is just part of the human experience.

Second, succeeding might not even be possible. But just because it's impossible doesn't mean you shouldn't try anyway and that the process of trying even at point isn't worth it. It's either that or re-read Chapter Five. Think about being a good, ethical person. Nobody's 100% a good, ethical person, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try anyway. I'll never be a perfect husband or father, but how lousy would it be to go home every day and think, "Screw it, perfection isn't possible, so..." ?

Good Snacking Options For Diabetics

As a type 1 diabetic, I am always on the look out for snacks that won't raise my blood sugar too much, if at all. These snacks are very hard to find, but over the years I have managed to discover a few things that work well as options for satisfying a craving without causing hyperglycemia later on. Let's take a look:

1. Tea And Coffee

Without milk/cream or sugar, tea and coffee are basically zero-calorie beverages that are absolute must-haves for me. As an added bonus, they help keep you hydrated. Of course, their caffeine content can raise your blood sugar if you have too much, but when you're looking for a snack and you don't mind a beverage instead of food, these are good choices.

2. Cheese

Cheese can raise your blood sugar a few hours later, if you eat too much of it. In modest amounts, however (say, a single piece of string cheese or a few slices off the block), cheese is an excellent way to feel satisfied from snacking. And considering how important calcium intake is to diabetics, cheese helps from a nutritional standpoint, as well.

3. Roasted Seaweed

This one is so good that it even found its way into Dr. Bernstein's book. You can find it in any Asian grocery store, Costco, Trader Joe's, and some super markets. It is exactly what it sounds like: roasted seaweed. In snack form, it is a small square of the stuff they wrap sushi with. It is salty, papery, and crisp. An entire package of roasted seaweed usually has about 5 grams of carbohydrate, and the stuff is packed with micronutrients. Highly recommended for all those with a somewhat adventurous palette.

4. Whisps

I found these at Costco, but you can also get them at Amazon.com, and presumably elsewhere. If you've ever been to Panera Bread, you may have noticed something similar on one of their salads. These consist of 100% parmesan cheese. That's all they are, just cheese. But somehow, the people at Cello have managed to devise a way to turn parmesan cheese into crunchy, chip-like snacks. They have no carbohydrates whatsoever (although a significant amount of fat, so snack carefully). They are vegetarian, but obviously not vegan, so if you're a vegetarian diabetic, then you finally have a snacking option other than seaweed. They are awesome.

5. Chicarrones

Further down on the hoity-toity scale is another favorite diabetic-friendly snack of mine: pork rinds. Look, folks, you either love these things or you hate them. They taste exactly like what they are: deep-fried pig skin. They have no nutritional value and are only really there to drive your cholesterol up and increase your sodium levels. But if you're like me and you enjoy them, it's nice to know that they're there. Not every day in the life of a diabetic involves the world's healthiest food choices, and having access to pork rinds instead of a good old-fashioned potato chip is a blessing.

6. Diet Soda

Here's another one that won't win my any fans among the two-people-per-month who somehow find their way to Stationary Waves via Mark's Daily Apple. Diet soda, long known to be an unhealthy beverage, is a fantastic snack. My go-to is a can of Diet Mountain Dew, to which I affectionately refer as "Mountain Don't." It's sweet, it's yellow, it's refreshing, and it's better than allowing my snack cravings lead me into poor blood glucose control. Of course, the inevitable caveat here is that too much caffeine will raise your blood sugar, so govern yourself accordingly. A single can of diet soda every once in a while is not going to harm you.

7. Celery

Here's a snack you can really go nuts with. It's not just zero calories, it's negative calories. Whatever carbohydrate you're taking in when you eat it, you burn it during the metabolism process. Admittedly, too much celery tends to have the same effect on me as too much water: I stop feeling satisfied and end up just feeling bloated and uncomfortable. But that's why I opt not to eat too much of it! In reasonable portions, celery is an excellent snack. 


His Best Work

The random page link at Wiki Jawaka lead me to this 1993 interview with Frank Zappa. Contained therein lies the following passage:
'The bulk of the people who enjoy my music have probably come into contact with it by seeking it out rather than having it delivered through the normal processes in the music industry', he says. 'And they write and tell me what it means to them and which albums they like best and why and that always has been immensely gratifying, an inspiration to go on. But most of the people, especially here in the United States, haven't an idea of what I do or have done. As I say rarely, if ever, get played on U.S. radio. If they play anything at all they'll play the "hit records" like Don't Eat The Yellow Snow or, inIreland, they may play Peaches En Regalia, but none of the things that I would say are my best work.' 
What would Frank Zappa describe as his best work? 
'Things like The Jazz Discharge Party Hats or The Dangerous Kitchen. I would say there's nothing else in rock 'n' roll or in any other medium that resembles those two songs. You mentioned Scott Walker writing rock songs within the tradition of Schoenberg, but I haven't heard those. But The Jazz Discharge Party does come close to Schönberg, with its jazz accompaniment to a Sprechgesang (speech-song) text presentation. In it, the melody and the words were improvised and the arrangement built around that in the studio. And in Dangerous Kitchen, the lyrics were written but the pitched recitation was something that was done free-form on stage, with the band following.'
This excerpt provides an important window into the artistic mind of a man who sought very hard to be a musical innovator.

Frank Zappa created a great deal of music that is unlike anything I've ever heard, certainly in the spectrum of rock music. It would be a fair criticism to say that his more advanced compositions never equaled those of his heroes, like Stravinsky and Varese.

But, nearing the end of his life and asked to reflect on what music he considers his best, Frank Zappa identifies two songs that are remarkable for the fact that there is no other music like those songs "in rock 'n roll or in any other medium." That is, these two songs seem to demonstrate Zappa's best effort at true innovation.

Can you imagine any modern musical artist feeling happiest about a song like "Jazz Discharge Party Hats?"

No. Artists today are not interested in artistic progress.