On Turning 37

Today you remind yourself that although Buddy Holly was 17
When he first sang “Peggy Sue”,
And that Fitzgerald was 24 when he published This Side of Paradise,
And that Dylan was only 21 when he composed
“Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”
In the studio while the other musicians shot pool and played cards,

Whitman was 37 when he wrote “Song of Myself”,
Rousseau was 40 when he first picked up a paintbrush in his Paris apartment
And began creating those indelible images of the African jungles
That were largely responsible for the birth of Modern Art,
And even J.F.K,
He of that perpetual youth and beauty that signaled a departure from
The grandfather-politics of men like Eisenhower and Truman,
Was 43 when he took the oath of office for the Presidency.

In other words,
Go back to sleep, buddy.
There is still plenty of time to climb the mountain,
And there is no reason to think that your best days are already behind you.

“On Turning 37” by Kareem Tayyar from Magic Carpet Poems.

Golden Brown, Part I: Get Some Sun

With beach weather upon us, I’m spending this week on a roundup of summer sun tips, with the science behind each, so you can make smarter choices about what works, and what doesn’t.

First up: get some sun. It’s good for you.

While people completely ignore most public health advice, it seems we’ve actually taken warnings about the dangers of tanning too much heart.

Excess sun exposure (and sunburn) increases the risk of skin cancer. But too little sun exposure dangerously decreases your level of vitamin D (which your skin naturally produces when exposed to sun), increasing the risk of a slew of other cancers and heart disease.

As one recent review study concluded, “the overall health benefit of an improved vitamin D status may be more important than the possibly increased melanoma risk resulting from carefully increasing UV exposure.”

In other words, it’s healthy to get back out in the sun. Just be smart and careful about how you do it. Tune in tomorrow, and learn how to wear (good) sunscreen, the right way.

Dog Days

Today is the beginning of the Dog Days of summer, 40 days of especially hot and humid weather with little rainfall, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. The name came from the ancient Greeks. They believed that Sirius, the “dog star,” which rose with the sun at that time, was adding to the sun’s heat. They also believed that the weather made dogs go mad. The Romans tried to appease Sirius by sacrificing a brown dog at the start of the Dog Days. For the Egyptians, the arrival of Dog Days marked the beginning of the Nile’s flooding season, as well as their New Year celebrations.

Dog Days has been adopted by the stock market, because the markets tend to be slow and sluggish; it’s also come to mean any period of stagnation or inactivity.

Huh. I’d always thought “the dog days of summer” was a loose term, rather than a specific set of days, especially one with so much historical context.

That’s the kind of thing I learn regularly via the excellent Writer’s Almanac, a free daily newsletter from Garrison Keillor, which combines a hand-picked daily poem with brief “on this day” historical sketches about writers and thinkers, world events, and interesting odds and ends.

Especially if you’ll be mourning the loss of Keillor’s unique writing voice as part of your life now that Prairie Home Companion has come to an end, go sign up and wake to the Writer’s Almanac in your inbox every morning.

As he would say: be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Chameleon

I’m not normally a big video-gamer, though I do tend to play games on my iPhone while riding the subway. As I almost always listen to a podcast or audiobook at the same time, I tend to like mindless yet engaging games – something to distract me visually from the sweaty summer riders crowded in around me, as complement to my earbudded audio cocoon.

In the past, Alto’s Adventure has been a favorite, as has Candy Crush, Two Dots, and Twofold.

This past week, however, I discovered Apple 2016 Editor’s Choice Award-winner Chameleon Run, and I’m thoroughly addicted.

The game is an autorunner, with a simple twist: you can change your little running guy’s color from yellow to pink, and you can only run on planks that match your current color. That addition – forcing you to monitor color-switching with your left thumb, while jumping with your right – makes the game far more difficult and interesting than a standard, one-choice autorunner. The levels are also extremely difficult, with multiple variations and paths through each: collect all the marbles, collect all the stars, complete the level without changing color.

Most brilliantly / nefariously, the game also leverages economist Richard Thaler‘s insight about the power of default behavior: when you die (which happens quite a lot), the game automatically restarts the level, without you having to click something to begin again. That small nudge is enough to keep me playing one more try, wait just one more after that, okay seriously just this last one, no seriously after this one I’m putting it down, etc.

If you’re looking for stupid brilliant immersive fun, go download it (for iPhone or Android) yourself.

Suck it Up

For the most part, you should run the other direction from crash diets, fast fixes, and “one weird trick” solutions. But with summer upon us, there is at least one exercise you can still deploy in the last couple of weeks that will make you appear noticeably slimmer when you hit the beach.

It’s called the ‘stomach vacuum’, and it’s an old bodybuilder standby, used by competitors to achieve the waspish waist that was the hallmark look of that sport’s golden era.

The stomach vacuum works the transversus abdominis (or TVA), a deep postural core muscle that serves as essentially a natural corset, holding in your guts. Improving the maximal contractive strength of the muscle also increases the muscle’s tone – its degree of resting contraction. Which, as a result, will carve an inch or two visually off your waistline, even in just two or three weeks.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Ideally, do this first thing in the morning. Or, at least, on an empty stomach.
  2. Start lying on your back, with your feet on the ground.  
  3. Take a full breath, then exhale through your mouth until you've blown out all the air.  
  4. Once your lungs are empty, pull your bellybutton down to your spine, as hard as you can. Really pull it down; the harder you pull, the closer to your spine your bellybutton gets, the better this works.
  5. At the same time, try to make your chest as big as possible (i.e., lift your chest up), though while still pulling down hard on your bellybutton.
  6. Hold that for 15 seconds.  
  7. Then relax, breathe normally for 15-30 second, and repeat, 2-4 times more.

If you stick with this exercise over the course of the summer, you can slowly increase the duration of each hold, adding 5-10 seconds each week, until you’re holding for 60 seconds for each of your 3-5 sets.

Again, this should drop two inches off your waist in just two to three weeks. And, as a bonus, engaging your TVA improves power transfer in athletic movements, and may even protect your low back from tweaks and injuries.

Suck it up, indeed.

Burn Baby Burn

Recently, I started re-reading Ray Bradbury's inimitable Fahrenheit 451. I hadn't read it since high school, and though I remembered much of the plot, I had apparently forgotten one of the most crucial – and relevant to our current world – details.

As I recalled it previous to picking up the book again, the Firemen burn books on the order of some dystopian dictatorial government. But Bradbury's point is the exact opposite: the Fireman burn books by populist democratic will, because Americans have become concerned that those books contain content that some minority of society might find offensive.

In a world of micro-aggressions and Social Justice Warriors, a world where our best comedians no longer want to play college campuses because the student bodies are literally too sensitive to take a joke, Fahrenheit 451 seems prescient indeed.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” And if we wish to be a first-rate country, our polity must similarly be willing to hold – or, at least, to hear – opposing ideas.

If you similarly haven't read Fahrenheit 451 for years or decades, I'd highly recommend picking it back up.

Presidential

When I was a junior in high school, AP US History and jazz band were held at the same time. As a result, I can play a mean bebop line, but I have a totally remedial understanding of America’s past.

That’s long been a source of some embarrassment, so I was particularly happy to recently discover Presidential, a new(ish) podcast from the Washington Post. In a series of 44 episodes, culminating with this year’s election, they’re reviewing each of our presidents past, one by one.

Though I’ve thus far only made it through Polk, I can definitely recommend starting from the beginning, and listening all the way through yourself. It’s a great chance to get a deeper sense of context as we continue to bowl through this rather “interesting” election year.

Game of Thrones: Predictions

There’s only one episode left in season 6, and it seems pretty clear from foreshadowing throughout the season that it will focus on Cersei’s trial, her inevitable decision to burn down King’s Landing with the wildfire that “Mad King” Aerys Targaryen buried below the city years before, and possibly on Jamie deciding to kill Cersei to save the city / their son. (Also, I’m virtually certain the episode will end with the White Walkers coming through the Wall.)

But more interesting to me is the three-way conflict slowly being set up for season 7: aside from Bran (on his solo mission north, and en route to aging into the old man in the tree who has come back in time to teach his younger self how to time-travel), nearly every other character in the show is gradually aligning under the influence of three strong female leads: Daenerys Targaryen (who now controls everything across the Narrow Sea, as well as, indirectly, the Iron Islands), Margaery Tyrell (who can drive the Sparrows, and, through King Tommen, the Lannisters and all of their allies in Westeros), and Sansa Stark (who has Jon Snow, will certainly have Arya back shortly, and who will own the North and all the Westerosian houses that Margie doesn’t).

So, kudos to the show-runners; it’s unique in film and television to highlight so many competent (albeit increasingly Machiavellian) female characters in leadership positions, and it will be great to watch them duke it out for control of the Seven Kingdoms, with each lady an entirely plausible, powerful queen.

Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared

Though I do my best to stay on top of media trends and internet memes, I often still miss something great. So I was unfamiliar with artists Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling’s short video series, “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared,” until just today.

While the first episode is now about five years old (playing at Sundance in 2011), their sixth (and final) installment dropped just yesterday.

The shorts are in the style of children’s television programs – with singing, talking puppets as main characters, and each episode built around a single theme like ‘creativity’ or ‘dreams.’ But, increasingly shortly within each successive episode, things diverge from their happy start to far darker territory.

All six are pretty much amazing, and there’s a subtle through-line building across the entire set. I’d highly recommend blowing your lunch break by watching them all:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Green is not a creative color, indeed.

Hot & Cold

About 40 years ago, Dr. Gabe Mirkin coined the acronym RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation – which has been the standard treatment protocol for most athletic injuries ever since.

Recently, however, a slew of studies have begun to show that icing actually delays healing. (For some good examples, see this one and this one.) The studies are persuasive; so much so that even Dr. Mirkin has changed his mind, updating RICE to the new (albeit much less pronounceable) MCE: Movement, Compression, Elevation.

In short, while inflammation was initially considered to be a source of damage (hence icing, which reduces that inflammation), scientists increasingly understand that inflammation is actually a key part of the healing process, with inflammatory cells called macrophages releasing hormones into the damaged tissue to help with repair. (Here’s a recent study on that process.)

Eagle-eyed readers will note that Mirkin isn’t just dropping icing, he’s also swapping rest for movement (or, more specifically, for “move safely when you can as much as you can”). Continuing to gently move an injured joint or muscle promotes the flow of fluid into and out of the area around the injury (which allows those macrophages to get in when they need to work, and to depart once they’re done), and prevents the injured tissues from wasting as they would with complete rest.

So throw out that stack of old ice packs in your freezer, and start thinking of creative ways to say “MCE” out loud.