Thursday, September 21, 2017

Five and twelve

Arcturus setting last night, over the roof of the garage; the Sickle sweeping endlessly backwards; a mist rising from the streets. Vega so directly overhead that looking up at her, and turning to orient myself to the Summer Triangle, gave me vertigo. The desire for something afar / from the sphere of our sorrow.

All the things that tumble up out of the ground, or out of strollers, and take their improbable places as earthly powers, for a little bit, before they tumble down again.

Leaves going yellow. There will be floods and blockages where there were fires: detritus coming down the rivers, muddy water in the streets. But above the dirty clouds and the ruined air there are still stars.

Every morning I lie on my little Persian carpet on the concrete floor, and lay my hands on my ribs, which are gradually rising, like the basalt circles on the beach when a rough winter comes and the sand is washing away. Like that.

Ribs and hands, sets of little bones in parallel, go instinctively to each other, and play little mathematical games. With five and twelve you can do anything, anything at all.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Birth of a Right



Al Franken wrote to me this morning—we're tight, like that; he emails me a couple times a week—and he began:

Dale, 
Health care is a right. It's not a privilege.
Now, I've been in favor of universal health care in this country since before a lot of you were born, so I'm happy to see my buddy Al take up the cause. But it was the language that caught my attention. I hear this phrase a lot, these days, and I'm perplexed. Because in my youth, health care was not a right. Not even us leftie commies thought it was a right. It was something we thought everyone could and should have: but that's not quite the same thing. Rights are inalienable. They're intrinsic to being human. They're something—to stick to the ground they grew in—they're something that God intended as part of every human being's humanness.

A lot of people don't live on that ground anymore. I never did, having been raised atheist. So I'm a little cautious of the rhetoric of rights. What exactly are we talking about? Jefferson knew quite precisely. "They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights." That's clear enough. But what do I mean, when I say that people have a right to free speech? Do I mean something other than "I think everybody ought to be able to speak freely"?

I think I do. Certainly we produce these assertions, not as our own whims, but gravely, as fundamental laws of human nature: we're not talking about "laws" like laws against jaywalking—our tone implies—but "laws" like the law of gravity. We may know that an ancient Greek would have been totally baffled by the notion that health care could be a right, (and would probably dispute that political rights could ever properly belong to someone who was not the male head of a freehold in the first place.) But we nevertheless hold that rights are—somehow—self-evident. Like my friend Al up there. He doesn't go on to argue it. You don't need to argue things like that. You state it and you're done.

You can see that this is true from the way the Republicans have fumbled the Obamacare repeal. You might expect Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell to say, "What nonsense. Health care is not a right. It's something you buy if you can afford it!" This is clearly what they think. But, as highly evolved political beings, they know, they can tell by its scent in the air, that to say so would be be political death. So they tie themselves in knots.

And at that point, when even the guys on the other side of the fence feel they can't deny it out loud, I think that we have to say—yes, health care has in fact become a right. Whatever rights may be, access to health care is one of them. So my question, dear reader, is—how did this happen? It's a sea change. A new right has been born in our very presence. Did you see it being born? Do you understand how it happened?

Or was I simply wrong, and has it been a right all along? Just because I was there to observe the waning years of the 20th Century, doesn't make me an expert on them.

I would love to know what you think! This one puzzles me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Halfway

The halfway mark: I've lost 21 pounds, and I have 21 more to lose to get to 180, which is where I change things again. That landfall is scheduled for March 1st: at present I'm far enough under the blue line that it might happen as early as mid-February. At a pound a week, these things take some time: I've been four months under this regimen and I've got at least four to go. 

I chose 180 because it tended to be the upper limit of the "healthy weight" ranges given by various tables. I'm really not sure where I want my weight to settle, and I don't want to fix my attention on some particular number -- say, the 160 that the same tables tend to mark as the healthy midpoint -- in case it turns out that, for instance, 170 is fairly easy to maintain but 160 is hellish hungry all the time. I just won't know till I get there. But I'm pretty sure I want to get at least to 180. I'm a mesomorph, I lay on muscle pretty easily, but I'm no bodybuilder. There's no reason I ought to be way off the norms.

So at 180 I enter the "maintenance" phase, in which I'm basically eating as I intend to eat for the rest of my life. Here's how it goes, in theory: whatever my daily dole at that point -- I cut out the last of my breakfast toast, last week, and I expect I'll need to cut out something more before I hit 180 -- I get to keep. I just go on as I was when I hit 180. But I'll get to add some 300 calories daily: my notion at the moment is that I will take that largely in bananas (which I find myself craving!) and undressed potatoes. But basically it will still be the Tom's-and-Burgerville diet.

Should I cross back above the 180 line, I'll ditch the new stuff and revert to the regimen that originally got me there, till I get a weekly average of 180 again. But what I expect is that I'll still be running a slight deficit, and my weight will drift down a bit and hit whatever level it likes. That number -- whatever it may be -- will be my genuine maintenance weight, the one to stay within a couple pounds of.

So, is it Burgerville for good? Well, I hope not. Gradually I'll substitute other calorie-equivalent meals for the Tillamook-cheeseburger-and-half-a-small-milkshake, taking extravagant care with my measuring. But the Burgerville dinner will be there as my fallback. 

That's the plan, as it stands now. I have no reason to think that my appetite will ever function normally. I will never -- I've fully accepted this now -- I will never eat ad libitum again. Which is not such a dreadful thing. It's just food. There are liberties that are more important to me.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Lifesaving Writers

It's been a long time since anyone helped me live. Time was, writers arrived regularly to save my life: Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula Le Guin, CS Lewis; then William Butler Yeats and TS Eliot and William Blake, then Tolstoy and George Eliot. Then they stopped. Oh, writers came along to amuse me. Charles Dickens. Patrick O'Brian. PG Wodehouse. Terry Pratchett. I enjoy them, I appreciate them. But no one is saving my life, nowadays. I've grimly taken my own path. I don't believe much of anything, anymore. So perhaps I've removed myself from the game. I find it hard to get far in novels now. I get impatient. "Yeah, yeah," I say, "you're just making this up: you'll find the world as it really is a harder row to hoe." And I toss it aside.

Modern poetry is a different matter. Lifesaving is not part of its agenda (or when it is, I find it tiresome.) It's observing, savoring, appreciating, paying attention. I like that. That helps.

Maybe it's that I don't believe in lifesaving any more. Or maybe it's that the song has gone out of me. Or maybe it's just that I'm not so impressed by literature's devotees anymore, even if they have read Milton and Shakespeare and all those other highfalutin Greeks. They're all interested in understanding life: but the point, as Herr Marx would have said, is to change it. And how long do you think we have, anyway? It takes hours to read a novel. Meanwhile the boats are drifting down the river, and the surf is getting ugly by the bar.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Triste

Still smoky -- Mt Tabor a ghostly silhouette, and the West Hills simply not there. The sun a baleful red disk, when she shows at all: I think there's a thin overcast above the smoke. But the air doesn't stink so much, now, and the feeling now is less apocalyptic than resigned. Triste.

A new sprinkling of ash on the car, which swirls as I open the door; absurdly, I try to shoo the ash back out as I get in. 

The temperate rain forests burn, from time to time. The scars of the Tillamook burn, out in the Coast Range, are still plain to see, and that was in 1933. So global warming does not necessarily have much to do with it. This was the driest summer I have ever known, in the maritime Northwest, and I suspect climate change, but I can't convict it. But in any case the weather has changed: the cloud-shapes are different. The state I grew up in has vanished.

What happens now depends on the weather. September is often -- was often -- a pretty dry month. A couple good soaks would stop the fires now and probably leave some of the beautiful places more or less intact, or in shape to recover in a few years. But if it stays dry, and the wind chases the fire back and forth, up and down the gorge, for weeks, that's a different story. So we won't know for a while. I dread the time when we finally go up to have a look, whether it's two weeks or two months from now.

The Oregonian is already posting sad stories about how much people will miss the Gorge, which does not land well with me. We don't know yet how much we've lost, or how much we'll miss it. And in any case, I've got plenty of time: I'll be sad for the rest of my life. I'm in no particular hurry to start.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Almost Black

After a long time quiet on the table you suddenly ask:
"what color am I tonight?" The question falls
like a weighted plume. It strikes, and I say,
"Oh! -- let me check" -- stalling for time -- but I know
I am bound to tell the truth: "you are purple,
deep purple. Very deep." I don't say "almost black."
You know. I'd mention the midnight sky or raven sheen,
but a lie that plain sticks in my throat:
I can invent a color, if I'm quick enough,
but I can't lie about one, once told.
"Not a usual color for you," is the best I can do.
As I pull your arm over your head, stretching the lats,
your hand comes to rest on my ribs: a touch
you sometimes allow yourself on nights
when you are purple, deep purple,
almost black.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Two Secrets of my Success

The secrets of my diet success? Well, there's two, and they're interrelated.

The first is, I AM NOT DOING MY OWN MEASURING. I don't trust myself. Now, I am an exemplary measurer. For a long time in fact I was a professional measurer. I'm comfortable with measurement. I understand that a big apple, which looks half again as big as a small apple, may well have four times the volume. It easy when estimating by volume, to be off by 400%, even when you're not biased. But I still don't trust myself. 

Estimating by weight? Better. (Are you really going to weigh every thing you eat, every time? I'm not.)

No hungry person who's measuring the food they are about to eat is unbiased. It's simple as that. Add several 400% errors together, or even 50% errors, all leaning one direction, and the fact of the matter is that you don't know within a factor of 2 or 3, how much you're eating. You don't have a clue. Your numbers will be garbage. And research on self-reporting confirms this. You think you're an exception? You're not. So the answer is simple: don't measure your own food. Have someone else do it.

Calories in / calories out is a reliable principle. (No, not because of the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which applies only to closed systems and has no plausible application to the open system -- of staggering complexity -- which is the human gut and fat-storage system. It's reliable simply because it has been rigorously and repeatedly tested.) It works great if the calories are measured accurately. It's pretty useless if they're not.

If we really wanted to measure calories, we'd be in a fix, really. It's just too hard. But we don't actually care about the absolute numbers. We just want a deficit. Fewer calories going in than are coming out, by roughly 500 per day. We'll figure out if we're getting that deficit by measuring something else -- our body weight.

So I don't have a clue, no idea at all, how many calories are in my breakfast, and I don't need to. I don't know whether the guys in the kitchen actually put two eggs or four into my omelet. I don't know how much sour cream is in the little plastic cup the server brings. I don't know how big the two slices of toast she brings me are: all I know is that I only eat one of them. 

Do all these things vary? Of course they do. But I'm not in control of the variation. So they vary randomly. All the errors don't fall one way.

So now we come to the other secret of my success: MY PROCESS IS SELF-CORRECTING. I weigh myself carefully every morning -- actually I weigh myself three times and average the results, every morning. Then Wednesday morning I take the average the last seven days' weights. Now I have a number that I actually have some confidence in. 

I compare it to the previous week's number. If it's not a pound lower, I drop something out of the breakfast. Permanently, for good. A couple weeks in I dropped half the hash browns. A few weeks after that I drop the rest of them. Then I dropped half the toast. How many calories was I dropping each time? I have no idea, I'll never know, and I don't care.

(Actually it's a little more complicated than that. I only chop something out if I'm not a pound down *and* if I'm "over the blue line." But it would work either way.)

So I don't have to guess about anything, or know any absolute calorie values. If my calorie expenditure drops because my metabolism shifts, or because I'm twenty pounds lighter, or if my calorie intake increases when the guys in the kitchen start buttering my toast more heavily, the scale will know about it within a week, and the diet will change accordingly. I don't have to guess, or think, or worry, or compensate. It's all taken care of. It's out of my hands.

And so when I eat -- I just eat. I love my food: I don't know if I've ever enjoyed eating so much, as I have in the past three months. And I know my diet will work, because it fixes itself if it doesn't. I'm home free.