Hit the Road

Almost exactly a year ago, I blogged about how much I hate running. But also about how, precisely because it’s my biggest athletic weakness, I was focusing on running more, and on running better.

I ran through last summer, and into the fall. But by the time winter rolled around, I scaled back. I still hopped on the treadmill a few times a week to warm up before lifting, and tried to include 400m and 800m repeats in at least one metabolic conditioning session each week. But, all in, I could still count my total weekly mileage on one hand.

Now, warm weather is upon us again. This year, I no longer dread running, could lace up my sneakers and bang out a 10k at a moments notice. But I’d also be lapped on that 10k by many octogenarians. So I’m focusing this summer on not just surviving runs, but on actually doing them fast.

For the second day in a row, Jess and I are off to the Hudson Greenway, to get back in the swing of things with some long, slow distance. After that, it’s weeks of tempo runs and long and short intervals for me. I may still not be winning races, but I can at least move up to the front of the over-80 crowd.

Down on the Corner

Jess’ online dating profile included the phrase “mostly vegetarian,” so when I met her for dinner on one of our early dates, I pointed out a handful of vegetable-based entrees we might share.

“Actually,” she responded, “maybe the steak?”

Apparently, ‘mostly’ is a relative term.

We’ve since been touring through NYC’s essential burger joints, with stops at places like Burger Joint (my perennial favorite), The Spotted Pig (never quite as good as I’d like it to be), P.J. Clarke’s (good burgers, even better martinis), Bill’s Burger Bar (get the Fat Cat), Salvation Burger (though it’s a Spotted Pig spinoff, I prefer it to the original), Shake Shack (kind of like the band you used to see in a dive bar that then became a Top 50 radio act), Union Square Cafe (fancy!), etc.

Today, with beach-minded Memorial Day Weekend plans thwarted by inclement weather, we instead headed down to the West Village’s iconic Corner Bistro. Because, as New York magazine once put it, “if you call yourself a New Yorker, consider it your civic duty to have a beer and a burger here at least once.”

Admittedly, I’d already responded to that call of duty countless times over the past two decades, in part because Corner Bistro serves beer for under $5 (an NYC rarity), and in even larger part because they serve hamburgers into the wee hours of the night in a neighborhood the younger me often ended up in while totally blitzed.

Jess, however, had never been.  And, though I frequented it more in the past, it had been a few years since I had returned (and a few more since I had while sober.)  It seemed like an excellent adventure.  Away we went.

The restaurant itself is essentially a dive bar, with about a dozen seats around an old mahogany bar in the front, and about a dozen small tables in the brick-walled, tin-roofed back.

The real draw is the food, despite a fairly minimalist menu:

And, honestly, even that’s more info than you need.  You just want the cheeseburger with a side of fries.  Or maybe two cheeseburgers and a side of fries.

Usually, there’s a line out the door.  But today, despite (or perhaps because of?) it being Memorial Day Weekend, we breezed in and were seated immediately.

We ordered beer (still miraculously sub-$5) while we waited, Jess the Brooklyn Lager, and me a McSorley’s Ale (the house brew from NYC’s oldest continuously operated saloon):

 

 

Next arrived our fries, served (like everything at Corner Bistro) on paper plates. They were delightfully crispy, though a bit short on flavor – the texture of a McDonald’s fry (which, even for food snobs, is kind of the platonic ideal of skinny french fry), yet somehow without that much taste.

Nonetheless, as we were coming to lunch after a morning run along the Hudson River bike path, we were starved, and I polished off half my plate before Jess reminded me that I had intended to photograph the meal.  (On the plus side, that’s definitive proof that, though I’m just months outside the 1980 birthdate cutoff, I’m most certainly not a Millennial.)

The burger itself is a half-pound of beef, layered between an onion slice below and dill pickle, tomato, and iceberg lettuce on top, all packed onto a not-terribly-large, possibly-from-a-bag bun:

Or, as seen intact and from above (on Jess’ plate, as the following picture was actually taken after the above one, given that I generally eat like a starving feral animal, and had polished off half of my half-pound burger while she was still genteelly applying mustard):

Regardless, despite the slow start, Jess eventually caught up.

Me:

Her:

At that point, I was still strongly considering a second burger, as I usually had in the past.  But, in my age and wisdom, and with a greater appreciation for the law of diminishing returns,  I decided I probably didn’t need to eat a full pound of hamburger for lunch, especially if my plans for the balance of the day included anything besides lying on the floor, digesting.

So, adventure complete, and Jess’ Corner Bistro NYC civic duty fulfilled.  Though, honestly, I don’t think we’ll be headed back any time soon.  It’s a very good burger, and in decades past it held a much-deserved spot on pretty much any ‘Five Best Burgers in NYC’ list.  But, in today’s culinary world, there are just a whole lot of great hamburgers, and even a whole lot of better hamburgers, in the city.

Final verdict: if you’ve never been, go.  If you have, don’t rush back.

Sage

“Like our good friend Warren Buffett, I measure my happiness by whether people close to me are happy and love me, and by the difference I make in other people’s lives.”
– Bill Gates

Caveman Cardio

In preparation for an upcoming talk, I’m revising a now five-year-old presentation on “paleo fitness” – what we can learn from our evolutionary ancestors about how to live longer, perform better, and look good naked.

While my thoughts have shifted just a bit on the final third, the first two sections stand up exceedingly well. So, preemptively, I’m posting both of them again here:

Once I finish revising, I’ll re-record a final installment to complete the trifecta.

Does not Compute

I spend a lot of time these days (arguably more than is useful) following the world of politics, in large part through Twitter and podcasts like Vox’s The Weeds, FiveThirtyEight’s Politics Podcast, and Crooked Media’s Pod Save America.

Recently, I’ve been trying to expand that circle, to include cogent thinkers and writers with whom I wildly disagree. As John Stuart Mill put it, “he who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” Indeed, based on conversation with family and friends across a wide array of issues, it’s rare enough to find people who can articulately justify their own positions, much less make the strongest possible case for the opposing perspective.

Most political arguments – online and off – tend to be adversarial. Which, research, shows, is a terrible way to actually change opinions. Once people engage emotionally, opinion becomes tied to identity, and people quickly discard facts that don’t align with their already-held beliefs.

Instead, the science backs a more nuanced approach: start from a place of agreement (to avoid thet emotional roadblock), then reframe the problem and introduce a new solution. Given a different point of view, and then reasonable evidence that supports it, the other person doesn’t have to be ‘wrong,’ just simply accept that, given the problem’s new definition, a different decision might be right.

To make that style of argument work, however, you need Mill’s deep understanding of both sides. And, to that end, I’m especially impressed with economist Bryan Caplan’s proposed gold-standard objective: being able to pass an ideological Turing test.

A traditional Turing test is meant to demonstrate a computer’s human-level intelligent behavior: a judge engages in a typed conversation with both a human and a machine; if the judge can’t reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test.

In turn, that leads to (libertarian) Caplan’s ideological Turing: put him and some liberal Ph.D.s in a chat room, let liberal readers ask them questions for an hour, then vote on who isn’t really a liberal.

That level of ‘passing’ is a high standard indeed, and one for which, on the issues I care about most, I still doubtless fall short. But it remains a useful goal, especially if you’re following politics not just as entertainment (cf., Eitan Hersh’s great recent paper on ‘political hobbyism’) but rather to change minds, and thereby make change in the world.

And What Does the Cow Say?

My parents were in town last weekend, babysitting my nephew. One of those evenings, after my mother had read about a dozen children’s books to put him to bed, she pointed out something I’d never previously considered. While most of the near-universal children’s book themes – numbers and letters, say – are the building blocks of future learning, there’s another classic that makes much less sense: animal noises.

Indeed, while there are literally thousands of books on Amazon that cover the topic, unless you’re one of the less than half a percent of Americans who will one day work farming animals, I’m totally unclear on the purpose that knowledge serves later in life. What, exactly, are children meant to take away from it? As Samuel Taylor Coleridge once observed, “all the brute animals have the vowel sounds; only man can utter consonants.”

Don’t Make ’em Like They Used To

In the last week, the politically-minded fitness world has been abuzz with the theory of exercise that Donald Trump shared in a recent New Yorker feature:

There has been considerable speculation about Trump’s physical and mental health, in part because few facts are known. During the campaign, his staff reported that he was six feet three inches tall and weighed two hundred and thirty-six pounds, which is considered overweight but not obese. Trump himself says that he is “not a big sleeper” (“I like three hours, four hours”) and professes a fondness for steak and McDonald’s. Other than golf, he considers exercise misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.

Like many of Trump’s science-minded proclamations, this one is mind-bogglingly stupid. And it reinforces my long-held belief that massive heart-attack is the likeliest way for 45 to serve out less than a full first term.

But what really caught my eye was a piece about the quote in GQ, which ran through the exercise habits of recent presidents past: Obamas pick-up basketball games, W’s “100 Degree Club” (waiting until the temperature hit 100° before heading for stacks of 7:00 miles), Clinton’s pokier lopes in 90’s jogging suits.

The real kicker, however, is a reference to an episode I think I knew about obliquely, but had largely forgotten:

On the campaign trail in 1912, Teddy Roosevelt stopped in Wisconsin for a campaign rally. There, a crazed assassin (who later claimed to have been egged on by the ghost of William McKinley) sprung from the crowd, and shot Roosevelt in the chest at point-blank range.

The bullet, however, simply got stuck in Roosevelt’s pec muscle. Though doctors wanted to bring him immediately to the hospital, Roosevelt explained that he was not mortally wounded, and would go ahead with the speech. Blood still dripping from the wound, Roosevelt told the gaping crowd, “I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!”

So, in short, Donald is definitely being a wuss. And Teddy Roosevelt, who I also think of whenever I visit New York’s American Natural History Museum, full of taxidermied fauna he gunned down on hunting trips during his spare time, is undoubtedly the original Most Interesting Man in the World.

Bottle-Full

This time of year, as the weather turns, and people start thinking about having to appear in public in a bathing suit, there’s a sudden uptick in diets and gym trips. With a sense of deadline looming, they tend to jump in full-throttle.

But here’s the bad news: you didn’t get out of shape in six weeks, and you’re probably not going to become a cover model in that amount of time either. I see a lot of people who don’t want to face that reality, cutting their calorie intake in half, hitting the gym seven days a week. And, for about two weeks, it works like a charm. By the third week, they’re overtrained, nursing a summer cold, and entirely burnt out.

Harvey Penick, the legendary golf coach, liked to say, “when I tell you to take an aspirin, please don’t take the whole bottle.” Just because something is helpful doesn’t mean five times as much is five times as helpful. In fact, overdoing it often has entirely negative effects; an aspirin may cure a headache, but a bottle of it will kill you.

So if you want to kick off a summer fitness push, I think that’s a great idea. You can set reasonable goals, make a plan, and see solid results over the span of the next few months. Or you can take the whole bottle, and set off on an unsustainable beach countdown crash approach, which, after a few weeks, will similarly probably be dead.

Back to the 90’s

If you, like me, were a teenager in the 90’s, this should hit close to home:

It’s all that and a bag of chips.

Neutrality vs. the Robots

On Monday, I posted about the importance of net neutrality, and of making your voice heard as the Trump FCC considers rolling back the existing strong enforcement policy.

Fortunately, that’s hardly a minority view, as more than a half million people have weighed in on the FCC’s public comment system to that end. (To reiterate, you should, too: go to gofccyourself.com, click “Express”, then leave a comment supporting “strong oversight of net neutrality based on Title II enforcement.”)

However, about ten percent of the comments have weighed in against net neutrality. And while that might elsewhere be a sign of healthy debate, it’s a bit suspicious that 58,000 of those comments use the exact same clip from a 2010 anti-neutrality press release, with posts cycling in perfect alphabetical order by posters’ names.

According to some crack reporting by ZDnet today, the supposed posters of those comments confirmed that they hadn’t left the comments themselves. Some didn’t even know what net neutrality was.

In other words, this looks like a textbook ‘astroturfing’ bot attack. Given the outsize role of bots during the 2016 election, I hope more media outlets will follow ZDnet’s lead, and give this issue the coverage it deserves. It’s bad enough that powerful internet service provider lobbies egged the FCC into considering scaling back enforcement in the first place; it’s even worse if those same players are resorting to underhanded tactics to try and make it seem like it’s what we, the people, want.