Thursday, November 29, 2007

Now I feel like less of a freak

This is such perfect timing -- I was going to tell you my Bunpote poo story today anyway, but I felt like you'd all think I was nuts (for reasons to be explained). Now I feel vindicated thanks to this story (for reasons to be explained).

I've mostly refrained from cat blogging, because I have some readers who don't love cats, Shhh in particular. But fortunately those same readers love talking about poo. So I realized, hey, a story about cat poo, everyone will be happy. And also, those of you who know my other poo stories (especially the one about the keys) will know that I'm unlikely ever to share those on my blog. So if there has to be a poo story (and yes, there has to be one), this is it.

OK, so here's what happened. On Tuesday night I woke up at about 4am having to go to the bathroom. I was a little drunk or hungover, or both, since some friends had dropped by earlier and we had some wine (and by "some" I mean "a lot of"). So anyway, I went downstairs and went to the bathroom, and then I decided to get myself a glass of water. And a key element to the story is that I did all this with the lights off. The reason for this is that I did not want to shut off my melatonin production. Melatonin (as is explained in the article I linked to above) is a hormone whose release is triggered by darkness. It helps you sleep and I think its production is also facilitated by sleeping. I remember reading a study several years ago that said that sleeping in an insufficiently darkened room was linked to higher breast cancer levels in women, and I also think I've read that decreased melatonin is the reason for the link between not getting enough sleep and being fat (and god knows I wouldn't want to get fat!). So anyway, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I avoid turning on the lights because apparently as soon as you are exposed to light in the middle of the night, it shuts off your melatonin production for some number of hours because your body is fooled into thinking it's daytime. Brad, if you're reading this, please feel free to tell me that I have the science all wrong here. But getting the science right isn't crucial to my story; what is crucial is that I *believed* all of this to be true on the fateful night in question.

After I went to the bathroom (in the dark), I decided I needed to get a drink of water. When I walked into the kitchen I was like, eww, has it been that long since I cleaned the litterbox? And then I realized that Bunpote must have just recently taken a fresh crap, because no way could a dirty litterbox smell that bad. And then I realized that even a fresh crap in the litterbox doesn't smell that bad, so then I was all "uh oh"... and at the precise moment when I came to this realization, I put my (socked) foot into something squishy. And finally I realized that the cat had crapped on the floor.

Now, to be fair to the little fellow, I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose. I think what happens is that sometimes a little bit of poo sticks to his behind and then he carries it with him for a little bit until it falls off. That would explain why the poo that I occasionally find around the house is in little chunk form, never full-blown turds. But in any case, intentional or not, that night the cat crapped on the kitchen floor and, by extension, on my sock.

I remained calm (probably because of the wine mentioned earlier), removed my sock, and scrubbed it with some soap in the bathroom sink and hung it to dry (in the dark). But I couldn't very well leave the remaining crap on the kitchen floor, or else the cat would probably step in it and track it everywhere. On the other hand, why let some cat crap on the floor cause me to shut off my melatonin production and give myself cancer? So I got a paper towel with some soap and water (in the dark) and attempted to scrub the crap off of its original location on the floor and the second spot where I had put my sock down again before realizing that I had stepped in crap (in the dark). And then I washed my hands thoroughly and went to bed (in the dark).

The next morning I came downstairs and was faced with quite a scene: in the bathroom, a wet, soapy sock hanging on the towel rack with crap all over it. And, in the kitchen, a big blob of crap with a shiny clean spot next to it, and a smaller smeared blob of crap nearby, with another clean spot right next to it. And a cat, looking up at me and meowing in an accusatory way, as if to say, "(1) Feed me, and (2) What the fuck were you doing trying to clean all that up without turning the lights on, dumbass?"

What's worse, I didn't get back to sleep until about 6am, because of the alcohol or the adrenaline rush associated with my horrifying discovery in the kitchen. So not shutting off my melatonin production apparently didn't help me get back to sleep. That morning as I was cleaning up the crime scene, I concluded that the moral of the story was that I should have just turned on the damn lights, because one night of decreased melatonin production wasn't going to kill me. But now thanks to that CNN article, as I said, I feel vindicated, since it turns out that melatonin may be even more important to preventing cancer than was previously thought, based on the fact that people who work the graveyard shift have significantly elevated rates of cancer. So the next time I find crap on the floor in the middle of the night, I'm leaving it there, and I'm leaving the lights off, and that's that.

Friday, November 23, 2007

That's a lot of turkey

You thought you ate a lot yesterday? Pat Bertoletti ate 6.91 lbs. of turkey in 8 minutes at yesterday's Turkey Bowl in Las Vegas (you can watch the video here). It is a truly disgusting spectacle, especially the cranberry sauce eating contest at the beginning, and the commentary is really outstanding as well as the interviews and trash-talking before the turkey eating contest. And there is such great jargon that goes along with the whole thing -- my favorite terms are the "reversal" and "Elvis has left the building" (both refer to the same phenomenon). Pat Bertoletti is regarded as the next big thing in the world of competitive eating, so it is kind of a big deal that he won this event (as well as a recent chicken wing eating contest), and some say this signals the end of the era of Takeru Kobayashi's dominance in the "sport".

Some who are not fans of MLE (Major League Eating), such as the University of Iowa spokesperson quoted in this article say that competitive eating is inappropriate because a lot of Americans are fat. I'm not sure there's really a connection (the article quotes a doctor and a food science researcher as saying pretty much the same thing) -- my guess is that people who do see a connection imagine that this is how fat people eat. No forks, just cram it in as fast as you can. But the reality is that, for one thing, some of the best competitive eaters aren't fat themselves at all. The winner of the cranberry sauce eating contest, Juliet Lee, weighs in at 105 lbs. -- she ate 13.23 lbs. of cranberry sauce in 8 minutes. And furthermore, if you watch these events, you can see that competitive eaters are doing something completely different from everyday eating. I know some good eaters (and I can take care of a lot of food myself when called upon to do so), but nobody I know can eat like this. It requires training and discipline. Would I go so far as to call it a sport? Well, I'd say it's more of a sport than other stuff that shows up on ESPN, like poker and spelling bees. But sport or not, and whether you think it is funny or too disgusting to watch, I'd say if you are looking for a symbol of American overconsumption, there are more obvious things to point to than an eating contest. For example, try 20 billion dollars in retail sales on Black Friday.

Happy Holidays...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Are you ready for some football?

I don't hate people from the state of Michigan or anything like that, I just really want the Buckeyes to beat U of M's football team this weekend. But it's hard to fit all that onto a cookie, so that's why I had to condense it into a more concise phrase. I made these cookies for game day in 1996, and everybody loved them -- not only because of the rude message but because my mom's sugar cookie recipe kicks ass (see below for recipe).

I wasn't going to write about football this week, but I've been thinking a lot about it and couldn't hold back this post. A lot of my readers are fellow academics and may wonder why a person who fancies herself an intellectual would admit so proudly and publicly to being a football fan. Some feel that football programs do harm to acadmic programs at universities because they drain money away from academic budgets, or exploit student athletes, or put too much emphasis on athletics at the expense of the real intellectual purpose of universities, or create rivalries that result in nastiness and violence. Or all of the above. Not to mention the fact that it is somewhat of a barbaric sport when you think about it. So, why do I still love college football?

Well, for starters, I don't love college football, I love Ohio State football, and Cal football to a lesser extent. But University of Illinois football, for example, can go straight to hell. So let's talk about Ohio State football. First of all, Ohio State's athletic department is fully self-funded, drawing no money from the general budget. In fact, its athletic program actually makes a profit (this was true of only 19 schools last year, according to this article). Some of the revenues are given over to the academic side; for example, the athletic department has donated $5 million to the massive Main Library renovation project that is currently underway. Yes, $5 million is a drop in the bucket ("the bucket" being a $109 million athletics budget). Still, I'm sure the library appreciated that $5 million just the same.

As for student athletes, yes, it does seem to be the case that many of them don't get a real college experience because they are pressured to excel in athletics. I'm not sure if I agree that college football players are being exploited since they get a free education and plenty of perks and probably wouldn't or couldn't go to the NFL even if they were allowed to do so straight out of high school -- but in any case, Michael Lewis' proposal to pay college football players for their services is a total loser in my opinion. King Kaufman thinks Lewis' article is "Well-reasoned, well-argued, and just plain right"; I couldn't disagree more (as is often the case with me and KK). First of all, it is wrong and downright cynical to think that no football player actually wants to go to college; for many of these kids the scholarship therefore has a real value. Also, I suspect that even if the NFL allowed high school students to enter the draft, the vast majority would go to college anyway, so I'm not sure the rules are really preventing a lot of people from earning money in the NFL. It seems to me that the exploitation argument really comes down to the fact that athletes have to spend a lot of time in the gym and at practice in order to be good enough to keep their scholarships, and this detracts from their education. But it this is all a matter of degree -- what about a kid who has to do work-study to get financial aid -- is that better than the athlete's situation because of the smaller number of work hours? At least athletes can enroll in sports for credit (not true for work-study) so that during the term when the sport is in season, they can take a smaller number of academic courses. At Ohio State, for example, I believe a player can sign up for 2 credit hours of football, meaning they only have to take two 5-hour academic courses during fall quarter and still be full-time (12 hours per quarter). So football gets in the way of the number of courses a player can reasonably complete during the quarter, but I doubt it seriously interferes with success in the courses. Two courses isn't very many, no matter what else you have going on in your life.

So I am not so sure about the exploitation angle to begin with. But on a practical level, if football programs gave away all their revenues to the players, how would universities fund the rest of their athletic teams? This would basically impose a death sentence on non-profitable sports, unless schools were to pay for their non-profitable sports out of general university budgets (another terrible idea since that would take money away from academics). In any case, to the extent that there is an exploitation problem, it is likely be dealt with thoughtfully at Ohio State in the coming years, now that they have a president who has very publicly and radically addressed this very issue at another institution.

I am not sure what constitutes "too much emphasis on athletics," but I strongly disagree with the notion that an emphasis on athletics precludes or diminishes the acadmic purpose of an institution. Football helps attract students to Ohio State, including plenty of academic-minded students. I personally have to say that my decision to go to Ohio State probably had a lot to do with the fact that I grew up on Ohio State football, and I have plenty of friends who were excellent students and contributed a lot to the academic environment at Ohio State and who I suspect decided to go to Ohio State at least partly because of football. A lot of them were in the marching band with me, and this was the most demanding, most time-intensive, most fun element in my (and, I suspect, their) college experience. I feel I got an outstanding education, but I would have to say that the biggest reason I look back fondly on my college years is the band (and therefore, indirectly, football). Football games also provide an excuse for alumni to come back and visit the campus, whether for Homecoming or reunions or whatever, and this keeps people connected and also encourages alumni to donate to the university. So contrary the notion that the "football school" label diminishes the value of the education, I'd say there are ways in which the football tradition substantially enhances and reinforces the academics and people's general goodwill towards the institution.

Finally, about this rivalry thing. I think the vast majority of people don't take it personally, they just get into the rivalry for the fun and the tradition. To the extent that things get nasty, there are often cultural differences that the football rivalry is merely standing in for (not causing). For example, when a USC kid goes to a game wearing a t-shirt that says "My maid went to UCLA," this is plain old classism; ditto when Stanford kids chant "State school!" at the Cal game. In the case of Ohio State vs. Michigan, both are huge state schools with (I think) similar academic standards and similar cultures. And people from Ohio and Michigan are, I think, pretty similar (except that people from Michigan have funny vowels and they go around doing this weird thing with their hand to show where in the state they are from if someone asks). So this rivalry pretty much centers around old grudges about games from years (or even decades) gone by. The Big Ten title is almost always on the line in that game, and often someone's national championship hopes as well. There are many of us who felt that winning last year's game when Ohio State was #1 in the nation and Michigan was #2 was the ultimate prize, and that the national championship game was almost anticlimactic (sadly, it seems possible that the team felt this way too, which may have contributed to the outcome). Michigan will certainly have that game on their minds on Saturday, when both teams will have their pride on the line (in addition to the Big Ten title) since both teams lost last week. What I will have on my mind is "FUCK MICHIGAN" (though I mean that in the nicest possible way).

And now for the cookie recipe. These are the best sugar cookies -- no, the best cookies -- I have ever eaten. My mom got this recipe in her Home Ec class in 1962, and now I pass it along to you. A note about butter: the original recipe calls for 1 c. shortening instead of the butter, and the version with shortening does taste slightly better, but I couldn't in good conscience tell you to put shortening in your cookies given my own well-known anti-shortening position. But you do what you want...

Home Ec Christmas Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
4 T. milk
2 t. vanilla
5 c. sifted flour
1/2 t. baking soda (mom says she heaps the 1/2 t. a little)
1 t. salt

Cream the butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs, vanilla, and milk, and mix again. Sift flour, soda, and salt together and add to mixture. Mix. Chill overnight. Roll out on floured board and cut out with cookie cutters. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 8 - 10 minutes at 325 degrees. The key is not to overbake them -- bake until the tops are dry (not shiny anymore), but no longer than that (i.e. don't let them get even a little bit browned). Then frost with your choice of frosting and sprinkles... they taste great with the canned Betty Crocker stuff, FYI, but again I am not going to explicitly recommend this because there's partially hydrogenated what-have-you in there... so make your own decision...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Welcome to Coffee Talk

OK, I haven't discovered any new atrocities on the fat front in the last few days, and there certainly will not be any football blogging this week. So I thought instead I would give you an update on my latte art efforts.

I finally got my espresso machine back after a month in the shop. It was a horrible time, but I made it through. Unfortunately my art suffered, so I've had a lot of ugly (but still tasty) results since being reunited with the machine. You may recall my previous best effort. Above is my latest best effort. I agree it is not outstanding, but I think there are promising signs here, namely the shape and curve of the leaves. Now if only I could make the leaves a little thinner, get rid of the errant blobs and drips, not splash the espresso up onto the side of the mug, and center it better... and, uh, like make it look better... then it would look better. At least it is better than some of my previous failures such as the Christmas Tree Cappuccino and the Gonzo (that one in honor of Ralph Steadman). And even though the Stripe may have looked prettier, I think this latest one gets more technical points for filling up the mug and looking more like the rosetta supposed to look. (Here is an example of what the rosetta is supposed to look like, but I think this dude is cheating by pouring the milk over a spoon -- you are not supposed to have to do that).

In case anyone else is sick enough to want to try doing this stuff yourself, here is an article on latte art, and another one, and here are some examples of what good latte art looks like. Yes, I know, mine doesn't look like that. But this stuff is hard, people! So throw me a bone.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

News Flash

Thanks to all who forwarded me versions of this article, which summarizes results of a recent study showing that being fat isn't as deadly as some researchers previously thought it was. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

OK, quick, suppose you're some kind of "expert" and a reporter calls to get your take on these new findings. How can you continue to insist that Fat Is Bad if it doesn't actually increase mortality? Well, if you're Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, here's your new angle: "...excess weight makes it more difficult to move about."

Seriously. No, seriously, she said that. (Or something like it -- it's not a direct quote in the article).

Fillyjonk has already skewered several of the dumbass reactions to the study, including Manson's dumbass reaction above, but I couldn't help drawing your attention to it here.

On an unrelated note, I found this quiz on MSNBC. The link said "Apples or bananas? Which is better?" And I was like mmm, bananas are better, yummy, food quiz, yay, click!

Well, it turns out that it's not really a quiz about what food you like best, it's about which ones are objectively "best" in terms of calorie count, fat grams, fiber, etc. As if between two fruits or vegetables there is a single "best" one for everybody all the time. I don't know, but I think if I ate a banana at breakfast, then maybe an apple would be "best" for me with lunch.

But whatever, I don't want to spoil the fun quiz for you, I just wanted to point out this one funny part. If you take the quiz, read what it says after "Corn Muffin vs. Plain Bagel". I was like, corn muffin, what the hell do they mean by that, like cornbread in the shape of a muffin? Well, it turns out that they meant the "corn muffin" that they sell at Dunkin Donuts. Who the hell even knew or cared that Dunkin Donuts has something called a "corn muffin"? It's probably deep fried for all we know, and I doubt there's any actual corn in it besides maybe high fructose corn syrup. So keep that in mind when you take the quiz -- assume that every food item they ask about is from Dunkin Donuts, since I'm sure that's where you usually are when you're faced with trying to make healthy food choices for the day.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The mediocre elitist

New Rule (with apologies to Bill Maher): You can't be an elitist if you're not elite.

Edward McClelland doesn't think you should run a marathon unless you are really fast. He's pissed off because tomorrow's New York Marathon is going to have 37,000 runners, and because those runners will have energy gel and better shoes than runners did 30 years ago. McClelland blames Oprah Winfrey's running of the Marine Corps marathon ("a middle-aged woman hauling her flab around the District of Columbia") for opening up the sport to non-elite athletes. God forbid.

According to McClelland, Oprah's marathon time is 4:29. Evidently this is just way too disgustingly slow. McClelland's own time in the only marathon he ever ran was 4:16 -- but hey, at least he had the decency to be "embarrassed". He says he will try again next year and his goal will be "to do it in the spirit of the first running boom, in under three and a half hours".

3:30? Come on, that's pathetic. That's 63% slower than Ryan Hall's 2:09:02 winning time in today's highly anticipated US Olympic marathon trials in New York (which were unfortunately marred by tragedy when Ryan Shay, the 2003 US marathon champion, collapsed on the course and died). Oprah's 4:29 is only 28% slower than McClelland's 3:30, and keep in mind that he hasn't even run that time, he just intends to. So, as much scorn as he heaps on Oprah (which I can't help thinking has more to do with her "flab" than with her time), he deserves a double helping of it from the truly elite runners like Hall. There's nothing magical about 3:30 -- it's just McClelland's arbitrary cutoff for what constitutes a respectable marathon since that's the time he thinks he himself can do. What a fucking hypocritical asshole.

As for those real elite American runners, McClelland has plenty of criticism for them too. He says Hall has no chance of medaling in the Olympics because America's "marathoning spirit been trampled by hordes of joggers whose only goal is to stagger across the finish line", and he points out that the only American who has medaled in the Olympics lately was born in Eritrea (Meb Keflezighi), so apparently he doesn't really count as American.

Well, hey, news flash for Mr. McClelland (who, one might imagine, is of Irish descent -- i.e., not really American in comparison to someone like Brandon Leslie). The top three finishers in today's time trials were Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Brian Sell, all born in the US (in California, Michigan, and Pennsylvania respectively). Keflezighi finished 8th. I blame Oprah.