Yup, I figured someone had captured the annual cruise tradition of me singing “Elvira” with Jimmy Moore. Denise Cripps (Chareva’s long-lost sister) uploaded this today.
May 18 2013
Life in the country isn’t all always peaceful and pretty, as it turns out. A couple of weeks before we left for the low-carb cruise, Chareva found one of our egg-laying chickens dead in the chicken-yard, headless and torn up around the breast area.
Two days later, she found another chicken in the same condition. Then another three days after that. Some kind of predator had discovered our flock and was climbing over the fence to help itself to chicken dinners. Our original flock of 10 was down to seven.
Our nearest neighbor, who knows a lot more about the local critters than I do, told me when you find a headless chicken, the most likely culprit is a raccoon or a possum. A fox was also a possibility, but foxes tend to kill every chicken in the barn, even if they only eat one. Ours were getting mauled one at a time.
I must confess, I didn’t know raccoons attacked other animals. The girls have a story book with a raccoon on the cover, and darned if it doesn’t look cute and harmless.
I put a light out by the chicken barn so I could see, then spent three nights sitting in my car nearby with a .22 in my lap, listening to audiobooks (very quietly, with earbuds) until 1:00 a.m. I don’t know if the predator was scared off by my presence or just wasn’t hungry, but nothing approached the chicken yard during my vigils. I saw what looked like a possum slinking through the grass one night, but it was too far away to be sure, and since it didn’t come anywhere near the barn, I didn’t want to take a shot.
I was worried that the predator would finish off the flock while we were gone for the cruise, so I bought a spring-door trap and set it by the chicken-yard on the day Chareva’s parents were due to arrive. (They stayed at the house while we were on the cruise to look after the girls, the chickens and the dogs, bless them.) I didn’t keep watch that night, figuring abandoning my in-laws to sit outside with a rifle might give them the impression I’m rude and ungrateful, if not borderline psychotic.
Sure enough, the next morning I looked out my bedroom window and could tell the door on the trap had sprung shut, although I couldn’t see what I’d captured. By the time I showered and dressed, Chareva’s father had already taken a walk outside and informed me there was a raccoon in the trap.
Chareva’s mother is an animal-lover – she feeds a raccoon that hangs around their property in Chicago. She asked if I could possibly drive the raccoon somewhere and let it go. I told her what our neighbor told me: those things will find their way back and go after your chickens again. At the very least, it’ll find someone else’s chickens and kill them instead, which isn’t exactly a neighborly way of ridding yourself of a predator. She understood. Since they were all planning on going shopping, I said I’d take care of business while they were out.
When I first approached the raccoon in the cage, it was docile and kind of cute. Gulp. Then as I got closer, it began hissing and raging and baring its teeth and banging around inside the cage. Thanks, Rocky Raccoon. Now I’m seeing the predator that ripped the heads off my chickens. That made it easier to pull the trigger. I dumped the carcass in an overgrown area near our property, figuring the local coyotes or carrion birds will take care of it from there.
Our neighbor had warned me that there could be a family of raccoons nearby, so I re-set the trap before we left for the cruise. Knowing her parents wouldn’t want to shoot the next predator, Chareva gave them our neighbor’s phone number. (He had kindly volunteered his services if need be.)
When we returned from the cruise, we learned that the trap had captured a large possum the night before. I don’t know for sure that the possum was after our chickens, but at this point I pretty much have to assume that any chicken-killing species that gets caught in a trap near the barn was looking for a chicken dinner. Chareva’s parents called our neighbor, who came over and did the deed.
On a more positive note, we have a rooster now. He’s not one we’d want to mix with our hens, so his job is to walk around the land and eat bugs, which he seems happy doing. He’s especially fond of patrolling the area near the creek.
We got him from yet another neighbor who knocked on our door and asked if we wanted a rooster.
“Is there a reason you don’t want him?”
“Yup. He’s mean. He attacks my other chickens. If you want him, you can have him.”
“Our hens are inside a fence, but if he gets in there and attacks them, he’ll probably end up in a soup pot. Are you okay with that?”
“I’m fine with that. We just need to get rid of him.”
The rooster has his own food and water inside the fence where we raised guinea fowl in our failed free-range guinea experiment. He has no interest in staying inside the fence during the day (he climbed out immediately), but if he’s smart, he may spend his nights in there to avoid the coyotes that killed our guinea fowl.
If not … well, like I said, life in the country isn’t always pretty.
UPDATE: Nope, the rooster wasn’t so smart. While writing this post on Saturday morning, it occurred to me that I wasn’t hearing the rooster announcing his presence outside. “Hmm, it’s quiet out there …. too quiet.” So the girls, my visiting nephew and I took a walk around the pastures. We found a pile of feathers, then found some bones nearby. The local coyotes can thank us for yet another tasty meal.
May 16 2013
I believe the American Heart Association was founded with good intentions. Really, I do. But they’ve become a perfect example of the phenomenon described in the excellent book Mistake Were Made (but not by me): after announcing a public position on an issue, they are incapable of admitting they were wrong.
On their web site, they recommend consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. That’s been their position for years. Since the average American consumes more like 3,500 mg of sodium per day, that means the AHA is telling us to cut our salt intake by more than half to avoid hypertension and, by extension, heart disease. (We’ll come back to that “by extension” part.)
The AHA certainly isn’t alone in pushing this advice. The Guy From CSPI has been on an anti-salt jihad for decades, the USDA Dietary Guidelines call for low-salt meals (the USDA compels schools to comply with that advice), and of course Hizzoner Da Mayor in New York City used the coercive power of government to impose his beliefs about the benefits of sodium restriction on food manufacturers.
So how do you suppose the anti-salt hysterics would respond to a big ol’ government-sanctioned study that says they’re wrong? I’m pretty sure you can guess. Let’s look at some quotes from a New York Times article titled No Benefit Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet:
In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines.
Those levels, 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, or a little more than half a teaspoon of salt, were supposed to prevent heart attacks and strokes in people at risk, including anyone older than 50, blacks and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease — groups that make up more than half of the American population.
But the new expert committee, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine at the behest of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was no rationale for anyone to aim for sodium levels below 2,300 milligrams a day. The group examined new evidence that had emerged since the last such report was issued, in 2005.
“As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death.
Say what? A low-salt diet may increase the risk of heart attacks and death? You mean the AHA is recommending we reduce our salt intake to a level that may be dangerous? Well, take a peek at some of the evidence Dr. Strom’s committee considered (the bold emphasis is mine):
One 2008 study the committee examined, for example, randomly assigned 232 Italian patients with aggressively treated moderate to severe congestive heart failure to consume either 2,760 or 1,840 milligrams of sodium a day, but otherwise to consume the same diet. Those consuming the lower level of sodium had more than three times the number of hospital readmissions — 30 as compared with 9 in the higher-salt group — and more than twice as many deaths — 15 as compared with 6 in the higher-salt group.
Oh, dear. In a randomized study, the Italians who reduced their sodium intake to levels that are still slightly above what the AHA recommends had more than double the death rate. Pass the salt shaker, please, and let’s read on:
Another study, published in 2011, followed 28,800 subjects with high blood pressure ages 55 and older for 4.7 years and analyzed their sodium consumption by urinalysis. The researchers reported that the risks of heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure and death from heart disease increased significantly for those consuming more than 7,000 milligrams of sodium a day and for those consuming fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day.
Got that? The death rate was higher for people who consumed less than 3,000 mg of sodium per day – and the AHA recommends cutting even that level of consumption in half.
So what about the higher death rate among people who consumed more than 7,000 mg per day? Well, I can think of a couple of possibilities. Perhaps that much sodium (double the average intake in the U.S.) truly is dangerous. On the other hand, that’s a LOT of salt to sprinkle on your grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and spinach, so perhaps people who consume that much sodium are the same people who eat a lot of processed food — in all its sugar-and-flour-laden glory. A super-high sodium intake could just be a proxy for a bad diet in general.
So why might too little salt in the diet be dangerous? Read on:
There are physiological consequences of consuming little sodium, said Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a dietary sodium expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was not a member of the committee. As sodium levels plunge, triglyceride levels increase, insulin resistance increases, and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system increases. Each of these factors can increase the risk of heart disease.
“Those are all bad things,” Dr. Alderman said. “A health effect can’t be predicted by looking at one physiological consequence. There has to be a net effect.”
Dr. Alderman, if memory serves, once warned that a national effort to force us to consume less sodium would be a giant, uncontrolled experiment that could have unintended negative consequences. Kudos to him. We all know what happened with the giant, uncontrolled experiment to remove saturated fats from our diets and replace the calories with grains and vegetable oils.
Anyway, now that a committee created specifically to study the effects of sodium has said there’s no evidence to support pushing low-salt diets on us, let’s see how the people pushing low-salt diets on us are handling the bad news:
Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that has taken a strong position against excessive salt consumption, worried that the public would get the wrong message.
“It would be a shame if this report convinced people that salt doesn’t matter,” Ms. Liebman said.
Allow me to interpret Ms. Liebman’s statement: We’ve been trying to scare people about salt for decades, so it would be a shame if people interpreted a report saying that their current level of salt intake is fine to mean “our current level of salt intake is fine.”
The American Heart Association agrees with her. Dr. Elliott Antman, a spokesman for the association and a professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said the association remained concerned about the large amount of sodium in processed foods, which makes it almost impossible for most Americans to cut back. People should aim for 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, he said.
“The American Heart Association is not changing its position,” Dr. Antman said.
Of course you’re not changing your position, Dr. Antan. That would require you to admit you’ve been wrong for decades. I’m guessing you’d rather rip your own ears off than do that.
The association rejects the Institute of Medicine’s conclusions because the studies on which they were based had methodological flaws, he said. The heart association’s advice to consume 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, he added, is based on epidemiological data and studies that assessed the effects of sodium consumption on blood pressure.
I’ve seen the AHA’s explanation of how the epidemiological evidence supports their position elsewhere. Here it is in a nutshell: studies show drastically reducing salt intake can slightly reduce blood pressure, and high blood pressure is associated with heart disease, so that proves reducing salt would reduce heart disease.
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you recognize that (ahem, ahem) logic for what it is: teleoanalysis. We can’t prove that A causes C, but if we can link A to B and B to C, we can say A causes C.
High blood pressure is indeed associated with heart disease, but that doesn’t prove high blood pressure causes heart disease directly, and it certainly doesn’t prove that restricting salt would prevent heart disease. As Dr. Richard Johnson has demonstrated in several experiments, hypertension can result from an excess intake of sugar. It could be that sugar raises blood pressure and also causes heart disease by damaging the endothelial layer in our arteries.
If too much salt causes heart disease and restricting salt therefore reduces heart disease, we should see that relationship directly, not through goofball teleoanalysis. But we don’t:
The Institute of Medicine committee said it was well aware of flaws in many of the studies of sodium, especially ones that the previous Institute of Medicine committee relied on for its 2005 recommendations. Much of that earlier research, committee members said, looked for correlations between what people ate and their health. But people with different diets can differ in many ways that are hard to account for — for example, the amount of exercise they get. And relying on people’s recall of how much salt they consumed can be unreliable.
The committee said it found more recent studies, published since 2005, that were more careful and rigorous. Much of the new research found adverse effects on the lower end of the sodium scale and none showed a benefit from consuming very little salt.
Although the advice to restrict sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day has been enshrined in dietary guidelines, it never came from research on health outcomes, Dr. Strom said.
Anti-salt hysteria was never based on studies of actual health outcomes. Neither was anti-fat hysteria. Yet the American Heart Association pushes both … along with sugary, grain-based cereals that almost certainly do actual damage to our health.
I don’t expect the AHA to ever change its position – on anything – no matter what the evidence. As I said during a Q&A session after a speech when someone asked me how we can get the AHA, or the USDA, or the ADA to change their positions on diet: my goal isn’t to change their minds, because I don’t believe that’s possible. My goal is to make them irrelevant by convincing people to ignore them.
So let’s ignore them. Pass the salt, please.
May 15 2013
I just met Jonathan Bailor in person for the first time on the cruise, but several weeks ago we recorded an interview for his Smarter Science of Slim podcast show.
I noticed our podcast on iTunes is rated “Clean,” so I guess Jonathan didn’t ask my opinion of the USDA.
As I sit here writing, my house is gently rocking on the waves. At least that’s how it feels, which is what a week on a cruise ship will do to you. I once worked a five-week standup comedy gig on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, and when I walked ashore, I wanted to get back on the ship so the sidewalk would stop swaying under my feet.
Anyway, it’s good to be home. The cruise was a blast (more on that shortly) and Chareva and I certainly enjoyed taking a break from parenthood and hanging out with other adults, but I really miss the girls when I’m gone for more than a few days – which is the reason I stopped doing comedy on cruise ships in the first place. (When you call home and find out your daughter has been crying and asking when Daddy’s coming back, it sort of takes the fun out of the job.)
Before I get to the cruise report, I want to give a shout-out and a big thanks to The Older Brother for once again taking over the Fat Head chair while I was gone. I enjoyed reading his posts and your comments. He turns 56 on Thursday, so wish him a good one and 56 more.
The Sixth Annual Low-Carb Cruise festivities began on Saturday night with the pre-cruise dinner and roast at the Doubletree hotel in Houston. This was Chareva’s third low-carb cruise and my fourth, so running into so many people we’ve gotten to know over the years felt very much like a class reunion. I also enjoyed meeting people I “know” (Dr. Jay Wortman, Jonathan Bailor, Rocky Angelucci) but have never previously met in person.
I haven’t checked the audio and video on the roast yet. If all is well, I’ll upload it later. This year’s group was significantly smaller than last year’s, so there was less of that comedy-club-crowd energy in the room, but it was still fun.
We set sail on Sunday, which means we met our dinner-table companions for the week that night. The gentleman in the upper left and the woman in the lower right are a married couple from Finland. The cruise was a total surprise to her. She only knew they were visiting New York City (which they did) until they boarded a plane for Houston instead of heading home.
He developed an interest in diet when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and was told nothing could be done about it besides taking medication. Guess what? He doesn’t take medication now. He avoids grains and eats plenty of meat, eggs, seafood, butter and vegetables. (Amy Dungan and her family were also at our table, but ate at the buffet on several nights because the kids – not surprisingly – weren’t especially interested in having dinner with a bunch of us old fogies.)
I have no idea what Chareva was saying to amuse our friend from Finland in this picture. She may have been describing how she plans to kill her first chicken.
Monday and Tuesday were at-sea days, so that’s when we attended lectures by the speakers. All the speeches were recorded and will be available online later, so I won’t bother trying to describe them. The only disappointment was that Robb Wolf had to cancel because his mother became very ill shortly before the cruise.
I enjoyed the lectures as always, but the real appeal of the low-carb cruise for me is the socializing.
The extremely tall man on the left in the picture above is Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt from Sweden. If you don’t already read his Diet Doctor blog, you should. To the right is Dr. Jay Wortman, the driving force behind the excellent documentary My Big Fat Diet. The adorable child with the huge blue eyes is Dr. Wortman’s daughter Isabel, who quickly became a celebrity on the cruise. She’s articulate, extremely bright, and perhaps the most even-tempered three-year-old I’ve ever met. She happily sat through all the lectures and the two-hour dinners with adults … never complained, never whined, just kept herself amused the whole time. Dr. Wortman attributes her good nature to a high-fat /whole foods diet, and I’m sure that figures into it, but I suspect the fact that he’s a patient and doting father plays a part as well.
The happy couple above is Jonathan Bailor, author of The Smarter Science of Slim, and his lovely wife Angela. Based on our email exchanges, I already suspected Jonathan is blessed with a great sense of humor, and I was right. He’s quick-witted and fun to be around.
As on previous cruises, our group mostly hung around the piano bar at night.
Now, when you hear “piano bar,” you probably imagine a nice, quiet place to enjoy a drink and some conversation, right? Nope. Someone at Carnival seems to believe that if you’re not in your room, you want to be subjected to loud music. Every single bar on the Carnival Magic has a loud guitar player, loud piano player, a DJ, or a band. We all crowded into an area of the piano bar that extends out into the hallway, as far from the (not especially talented) piano player/singer as we could get, only to find that Carnival also had speakers in the ceiling above us – just to make sure we wouldn’t miss Hotel California played on a piano.
I went to the bar and explained that we were all sitting way over there specifically to avoid the noise. I had to talk to two different people, but finally got them to shut off the speakers above us. That meant we could talk without actually yelling into each other’s ears. Fortunately, we’ll be on a different ship next year – perhaps one run by a cruise director with the good sense to provide at least one lounge where people can talk without shouting at each other.
On Wednesday, we docked at an island off the coast of Honduras and attended a wedding. Yup, a wedding. On last year’s cruise, two of our British friends, Chris and Ailsa, became engaged. (She was genuinely shocked when he popped the question at dinner.) They were officially married in a civil ceremony in England just before this year’s cruise, but had the “celebration wedding” on Wednesday at a beach resort.
I’m sure you recognize the guy with Chareva in the photo above. Since last year’s cruise, Jimmy has lost close to 80 pounds while putting on 16 pounds of muscle, which means he’s dropped nearly 100 pounds of fat. He looks like a new man.
After the wedding brunch, a large group of us went zip-lining in the jungle. That’s the bride and groom in the second picture below with Chareva and me, about to have an interesting wedding day.
If you’ve never been zip-lining, here’s how it works: the guides strap you into gear that looks like it belongs in a bondage flick. Then you hike up to a platform suspended high above the jungle. Then the guides clip the bondage gear onto cables above your head. Then you ignore every instinct for self-preservation bred into you by millions of years of evolution and jump off the platform. Then you trust the bondage gear to hold your weight while you slide ridiculously fast down the cable to another platform that’s suspended from a tree by cables and sways when you stand on it. This is, you understand, intended to be fun.
I’m afraid of heights but went zip-lining anyway because Chareva told me I was going zip-lining anyway. I wasn’t actually afraid I’d fall and die. People go zip-lining all the time and live to tell about it. I was mostly concerned that I’d go zipping off a platform and end up treating the rest of the wedding party to my third Scream Like A Girl incident. (You can read about my first two Scream Like A Girl incidents here.)
My nerves were jumping and my palms were sweating, but I knew I couldn’t back out when I saw this: Mary-Clare, who happens to be sixty-seven years old, went zipping out there with no apparent fear. (She zipped solo a few times before the guides decided to start accompanying her.)
We zipped down 12 lines altogether, and I actually started to enjoy myself after the first four. That’s because it took me four trips down the lines to figure out how to stop turning in the air and ending up zipping backwards. There I am, afraid of heights to begin with, sailing high above the jungle at what feels like 60 mph, facing the platform I just left, having no idea where the next platform is or when I’m scheduled to collide with it, just hoping and trusting that the guide responsible for catching me isn’t about to make what baseball scorers call “an unforced error” … or merely thinking to himself, “I wonder what would happen if I let one of these funny-looking foreigners crash into the tree?”
On Thursday, the ship was docked at Belize City. I’ve seen it before and had no desire to see it again, so we stayed on the ship and mostly hung around with other low-carb cruisers. On Friday, Chareva and I wandered into Cozumel, where she bought souvenirs for the girls while I pretended to be interested in the souvenirs she bought for the girls. (I’m not an enthusiastic shopper, to put it mildly.)
Jimmy Moore and I continued our cruise tradition of singing Elvira in the karaoke bar one night, and on another night we added Margaritaville to our repertoire. That was pretty much it for karaoke. The Carnival Magic, unlike other ships we’ve been on, tends to have karaoke at odd times – like during dinner.
Saturday was another at-sea day. Robb Wolf was scheduled to speak, but since he had to cancel, we had two Q&A sessions with the speakers instead of one. As always, I was impressed by the both the questions and the answers. People in this group read a lot, listen to a lot of podcasts, and ask sophisticated questions.
Before the last night’s dinner, there was a cocktail party for our group. The pictures below are from the party.
The woman with Chareva and me above is Laurie Rosen, one of the friends we look forward to seeing every year, even though she says “aboot” instead of “about.” (Those wacky Canadians all seem to do that.)
The gentleman with me above is Rocky Angelucci, author of the excellent book Don’t Die Early.
That’s me with Dr. Jay Wortman, Dr. Dwight Lundell, and some goofball behind us.
For the record, the hat wasn’t my idea.
The woman farthest to the right is Dietitian Cassie, one of the speakers for the week, and probably one of the few dietitians in the country who tells her clients to skip the grains and eat plenty of good quality fat.
After the party, we had our last dinner on board, then headed up to the piano bar for a last evening hanging out with old and new friends. Speaking of which, one new friend deserves special mention — because by the end of the week, we’d concluded she may be Chareva’s separated-at-birth, long-lost sister.
Denise Cripps (both pictures above) and Chareva were born three days apart. They’re both bright, pretty, dark-curly-haired, talented women who had the good sense to marry old guys they met while working temp jobs. (Both old guys also couldn’t believe their luck and were therefore slow to pick up on hints of romantic interest.) They’ve both worked as substitute teachers. They have the same laugh. They share many of the same interests. As they were sitting together in the piano bar one night, chatting like BFFs, Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt looked at them and said, “You two are like …uh … not triplets. The other word.”
Denise was also responsible for the perhaps the best line of the cruise. I’m a night-owl and Chareva isn’t, so on some nights she went to sleep while I continued socializing with our fellow cruisers. Denise and I ended up leaving the piano bar together late one night and walked to the elevators, where we ran into a handful of people from our group. They told us they were on their way to some other late-night activity.
“Well, we’re heading off to bed,” Denise answered.
And just as it struck me how that reply could be interpreted, she whirled around and said, “Not together!”
Hope to see you all on next year’s cruise.
Well, this has been awhile in the making, but some friends, relatives (including Tom and Chareva), and I finally went all in on grass-fed beef. As in, not just buying grass-fed beef, not just knowing where your food is coming from, but in your grass-fed beef coming from your own beeves. “Beeves” is what us rancher types call more than one cow.
By ranch, I mean we’ve got two head. Meet Tartare and Royale:
She said if I found a grass-fed calf or two, I could pasture them with her cows. In the meantime, she’d started to put fences in to accommodate a rotational system.
As I said, that was over a year ago. It turns out you can’t just go down to the mega-mart and find a pasture-fed calf. I asked anybody selling grass-fed beef if they sold calves, but nobody had “extras.” Between demand increasing, the seasonality of calving, and last year’s drought preventing herd growth, there just weren’t any to be found.
A couple of months ago, one of the people I’d been talking to since last Fall suggested I contact Jerry Pierson, who raises some grass-fed cows in addition to his “day job.” Jerry turned out to be as nice and eager to help a “newbie” as everyone else I’ve talked to, and did think he might sell a couple. It took a couple of weeks to coordinate a visit (he’s about 45 miles away), figure out pricing, etc. then another month waiting for the rain and Jerry’s schedule to clear up enough to deliver them.
I went down to “help” — which pretty much meant staying out of the way. Cows are pretty easy to herd if you’re patient and know what you’re doing. Here’s Jerry making it look easy:
That meant writing a bigger check today, but it also likely moved the anticipated date to put them in the freezer up from Fall 2014 to Spring 2014 or maybe even late this Fall.
It’s a learning experience, and I’m looking forward to that as much as our very own grass-fed beef. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, remember — never approach a Bull from the front, a Horse from the rear, or a Fool from any direction.
the Older Brother