Friday, July 31, 2009

Slaughterhouse 31

END TIME: 11:17 PM

“Name five instances where weather changed American history.” –Sam Gold

OK, first let’s get the list out of the way so that I don’t have to worry about listing everything before we start slugging out the word count. Now I’m not going to rank these or say that any one is more significant than the other; they’re just the ones that popped into my head.

1. D-Day, June 6, 1944.
2. Hurricane Katrina, August 2005.
3. September 11, 2001.
4. Dust Bowl, 1933.
5. Chicago Fire put out by light drizzle, October 10, 1871.

The rationale:

1. D-Day, June 6, 1944.

The odds were against Operation Overlord and the invasion of Normandy from the start. Two things were required: a full moon, to illuminate navigational beacons for the aircraft, and spring tides to keep the water as deep as possible to make it around the defenses placed in the surf. The weather had been so lousy at the beginning of June that a number of the German defense leadership was on leave (General Rommel was on leave celebrating his wife’s birthday) so it wasn’t the starters that were out there when the invasion started. If this nearly impossible task had failed, America’s expansion of interests through the 20th century and rise as a true world power would have been impossible.

2. Hurricane Katrina, August 2005.

The costliest disaster in the history of the United States and its deadliest hurricane since 1928 created a diaspora in the southern united States away from a vital shipping and tourism center from which the city has never fully recovered. Hurricane Katrina also demonstrated the terrifying incompetence of the federal disaster recovery apparatus. Upon being given six days notice that the storm would be catastrophic, the mayor did not issue the order to evacuate the city until 19 hours before the storm made landfall. At least 1,836 people were killed in the wake of the storm’s destruction and subsequent floods.

3. September 11, 2001.

“The weather was perfect.” While bad weather affected D-Day and Katrina was a meteorological event, the lack of any weather patterns on 9/11 meant that the flights would not be delayed, the passengers would not have been present in greater numbers after their flights the night before had been cancelled, thus providing more resistance against a mere four “muscle” hijackers who had chosen flights that were light on passengers and heavy on fuel. Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was delayed out of Newark. The disparities in time between the crashes would have been greater and could have minimized the loss of life on a day with more difficult visibility.

4. Dust Bowl, 1933.

I picked this for encouraging soil conservation and the rise of agribusiness in the wake of the expansion of the Great Depression. This also created the current Department of Agriculture Setup, which hands over great piles of money to small family farmers like ADM’s Andreas family. But it also contributed mightily to making California the most populous state in the nation, which will affect you all; a state with that many Congressional members has a lot of clot and the ability to say, “We would rather you provided Great Lakes water to us so we can continue to grow vegetables” and “The clean air standards for the vehicles that the American public is balking at buying will be raised if you’d like to sell cars here.”

5. Chicago Fire put out by light drizzle, October 10, 1871.

A sop to my hometown and the quintessentially American city. If the collection of wooden shanties and obvious violations of common sense that would ultimately make up the bulk of American zoning and fire prevention principles in the new century had stayed, Chicago would have stayed nondescript, without having the ability to undergo a complete redesign of its central core nearly 40 years after its establishment. It established that wood had been overused as a building material and inspired a spate of new design and construction techniques, which led to an appreciation for modern design and structure (and regrettably, an early lack of respect for tradition cast against the tide of progress).

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 2200. It wasn't happening this week. I was up for 37 straight hours Saturday in to Sunday, had the usual drastic training schedule, and had some items there that were non-negotiable. Through all of this, I got 2200 words into Implosion, mostly because there were some related topics occurring and it made sense. Sam was alerted he would probably get a topic answered tonight as early as Tuesday.

Responses to last week's topic: 3.

This week's entries: 11 (Johnny, 10 entries by Sam in less than a minute after midnight)

This week's question: From Sam Gold: Name five instances where weather potentially changed American history.

500 WORDS ON THIS TOPIC DUE BY: Midnight 7/31-8/1.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Slaughterhouse 30

END TIME: 11:01 PM

“Is it possible to live the life of both an athlete and a connoisseur well? What compromises might one be required to make that invalidate being considered one or the other? This presumes that you are not being held to the level of a Michael Phelps as an athlete or have an income that requires your toilet paper be made by Prada.”

I have weird dichotomies in my life.

As many of you know, a great deal of my time and energy is devoted to being a triathlete. Right now I have anywhere from 16 to 19 workouts a week, spanning anywhere from one-half to two and a half hours, as many as three times a day. It’s not uncommon for me to burn 2400 calories in a day, lose five pounds from morning to night (don’t worry, it comes back), and generally push my body through a lot of physical grief.

This means a lot of steamed spinach, a lot of vitamins, grilled chicken, hot sauce, tortillas, turkey burgers, celery sticks, and a weakness for Diet Coke. This is food for fuel and not for pleasure. (And when you exercise like I do, you’re allowed the occasional piece of pepper jack cheese.) Lunch is usually a can of soup, loaded with hot sauce, eaten at my desk. All of this is focused on an equation of calories consumed minus calories burned equals expected weight loss. This is all viewed against a backdrop of several spreadsheets that track my overall weight, lean mass, body fat and water percentage, and expected caloric maintenance, as well as training times over the past three years. It’s a very right-brained exercise.

And a few of you know that I’m “the human Rolodex,” the one who can ask three questions and determine the perfect place for you to eat, and who extends this knowledge base over five or six cities. My years with Four Seasons had me comparing notes with people who understood food and prepared this sort of thing for a living, and I got that job based on the fact I was a regular in The CafĂ© at the Ritz-Carlton, Chicago. The whole reason I work in Las Vegas is because of a French onion soup in Chicago. I have spent time in professional kitchens and have nothing but awe for chefs and their talents. I’ve been a training evaluator when they opened Four Seasons Las Vegas, making sure that a brand-new waitress correctly served me a Bombay Sapphire and tonic, chatting with my boss and senior management in a hotel that wasn’t open and didn’t have any guests, all the while thinking, “If I weren’t so tired, I’d be laughing my ass off that they’re paying me to do this.” I was 23 at the time.

So really, how can I be both? Foie gras and wind sprints don’t mix, do they?

Well, no, not at the same time. Some of the more decadent pleasures in my life need to be scheduled; you will not find me at the Irish pub across the street on a whim. I make sure that I don’t train as seriously from my last race in December to about mid-March. This lets me get any indulgences out of my system before I get down to the serious business of preparing for the racing season. My diet does not become absolute law until April or so, and there are always exceptions. It’s not unusual for me to run for four miles before going home to shower and head out for a wine tasting. As long as I get the requisite amount of work in, I don’t care. Life is not always about numbers on a spreadsheet. When I decide that I've earned something that's a little bit over the top and have had just about enough of living small, I have to jettison the expectation that I will continue to progress forward at the same rate. It's the same as taking a couple days off.

And that’s why one of the rules I follow with dogged determination is the tradition of the Last Supper. My meal the night before a race is always the same; shrimp cocktail, grilled swordfish, a vegetable, two slices of bread, and a large bottle of San Pellegrino, as hydration is key the day before a race. Since I want to make sure the seafood doesn’t make me sick, I have to be at a very credible seafood restaurant. In Tempe it’s Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille in Scottsdale. San Diego always finds me at Blue Point Coastal Cuisine.

Chicago, in a very short while, will be Parker’s Ocean Grill. Fully aware of what I’m going to do the next morning, I make sure to enjoy the lights, the calm, and the laughter of good company or the quiet of dining alone. In Tempe one of the waiters is also a triathlete and we wish each other luck, same as we have for the past four years.

I always close my eyes for a second and take my brain away from the thrashing pile of limbs that is the swim start, usually a little more than twelve hours away. The other patrons can’t see the permanent marker drawn onto my arms under my blazer, and neither can I. In the space of 24 hours both sides of my mind are satisfied. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 1500. I was working on sleep, working on training, working on other stuff. I wrote a lot but it isn't anything I can count, or could publish.

Responses to last week's topic: 1.

This week's entries: 16 (Beth, Beth, Beth, Beth, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Beth, Ken, and Ken)

It's getting impressive out there. And I'll issue anybody the same challenge I also issued Sam: get me 30 Google followers and I'll write a one-off on a Wednesday night just for you.

This week's question: From Beth Badrov:

"Is it possible to live the life of both an athlete and a connoisseur well? What compromises might one be required to make that invalidate being considered one or the other?

This presumes that you are not being held to the level of a Michael Phelps as an athlete or have an income that requires your toilet paper be made by Prada."

RESPONSE DUE BY 7/24-25 midnight

Friday, July 17, 2009

Slaughterhouse 30 Excerpt - "You've Got Right Now"

NOTE: Part of a longer chapter on measurement tools.
WORD COUNT: 610 words

Numbers Are King

“No, we don’t want to think. We want to know.” – Marcellus Wallace, “Pulp Fiction”

The equation for losing weight, like I explained before, is very simple. You need to expend more calories than you take in. This will burn the fat your body has stored for just such a situation, and you will lose weight.

In order to do this correctly, you don’t want to spend a lot of time guessing about what you did each day, or what you ate each day. If you’re going to make this a goal you can accomplish, you can’t guess. You have to know.

Here are some ways to know the answers to these questions:


I’ve used this software for three years and point it out to anyone who is looking to lose weight. With a food database of over 65,000 items, you enter a name, a serving size, and click on the meal that you had it with, and it shows up in a table and adds up all sorts of nutritional information. It helps you create a diet to achieve your goals and tells you what your calorie, fat, protein and carbohydrate targets should be to achieve it. Since it already tracks what you’re eating, you’ll see a bar graph at the bottom of the screen of how close you are to hitting, or exceeding the established targets.

There’s more.

It will also track how many calories you’ve burned through exercise. These calories will be subtracted from the calorie total that appears on the CalorieKing screen. Feel like going to the Cheesecake Factory tonight? A lot of their menu is in CalorieKing, so you can look beforehand how much work you’ve done today and what you can eat and still expect to lose weight or hold steady. They have everything from lawn mowing to skiing and multiple speeds of running and cycling, so as long as you have a watch and, in some cases, a way to measure the distance you’ve traveled, you’ll know what your calorie burn is.

Now, there will be days when you don’t meet CalorieKing’s thresholds. A successful day has two green check marks at the top of it – you were under your calorie budget and did more than 30 minutes of exercise in a day. But here’s the deal, and it’s right at the core of the program: if you spend a day where you don’t switch your diet or do some exercise, it’s foolish to think you’re going to lose any weight. And the way our program is set up, you know how important it is to do as much as you can TODAY to reach your goal. CalorieKing is a great visual tool that helps me see how I’m doing, and knowing how that data translates into results.

At my desk I have a quote from Dizzy Gillespie:

“If I lay off the horn for a day, I know it. If I lay off for two days, my peers know it. And if I lay off for three days, the whole world knows it.”

He was one of the greatest and most distinctive trumpeters of all time, and knew that he had to continuously work to get better. Lance Armstrong and Team Astana ride on off days in the Tour de France, even though there’s only three off days during a race that lasts 2100 miles. Eventually, the fitness program that you’ve undertaken, the one that made you swear at the alarm clock and hate this book’s author with the intensity of a thousand suns, will become routine. Your day will feel strange if you don’t work out. I promise.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 4100. Significant progress on "You've Got Right Now."

Responses to last week's topic: 1.

This week's entries: 6 (Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, and Ken)

This week's question: An excerpt from "You've Got Right Now" on the importance of numbers. This should be pretty close to midnight as I'm doing stuff with the kids.

RESPONSE DUE BY 7/17-18 midnight

Friday, July 10, 2009

Slaughterhouse 29 - Excerpt - "You've Got Right Now"

Excerpt - 1,343 words

Please send all comments (good, bad, or disinterested) and feedback to

Author's Note:

This is from an early, introductory chapter of the book. A lot of what's in place right now is a bare-bones structure that will be filled in over the next few months. I hope you enjoy it. Think of this like standing next to a bubbling stock pot and the chef hands you a spoon. What's it missing? Is it any good? What would you change?

The book is at a very embryonic phase right now, and your feedback is greatly appreciated. Thank you for your help!

You may be 20, 50 or 100 pounds overweight. I cannot control or change how you arrived at whatever number that is. I cannot go back in time and take the bacon double cheeseburger out of your hand, or tell you why you shouldn’t skip that workout, or tell you that it’s OK for you to say that you’ll start the diet tomorrow. I didn’t even have the power to go back in time and do this for myself.

And in things that you couldn’t control either, like injury and illness, that isn’t anything I can change. This book is not a magic wand. What you weigh right now is something that I don’t have any control over at all. The diets that you tried that didn’t work, the exercise videos you bought and didn’t even watch all the way through, the treadmill that you’re drying laundry on – I can’t fix those.

So we can forget about the past.

As for the future, you and you alone can decide what you’re going to do with it. You’re reading this book and you’re doing the crunches in your mind, looking forward to being the next person to smoke me as we head toward the finish line at the Chicago Triathlon. You’re seeing yourself there waving at my family and friends, maybe pumping your fist a little, getting a few strides ahead of the guy in the yellow shirt. And yes, that scenario’s entirely possible. Another scenario is you reading this book and staying motivated for three days, or two weeks, or three months. And at that point, it doesn’t matter how fast you were GOING to be at the race where you were going to outrun me. You lost because you never showed up.

So if we knock out the past and we knock out the future, we’re only left with the present. And the present is not always your friend. The present is where the meeting runs late, and the kids have stuff to do after school, and you don’t have time to exercise in the morning because you didn’t get to sleep until 1 the night before, and there’s just no time. There’s an old saying, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

Here’s a good example of the present. Do you know who said this?

“He’d always say “Tomorrow. I’m going to start tomorrow, doc, I know what I have to do and I’m going to start tomorrow.”

The quote was Dr. Michael Newman. He was Tim Russert’s doctor. Now Mr. Russert was in the middle of covering an election of momentous significance. He had said three weeks earlier that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee. This was the year that EVERYONE was interested in his field of expertise. The young people who had abandoned politics in droves were involved again, more so than ever.

And he was gone. The reason we know about that quote was Tim Russert’s doctor was on NBC News telling us about it after he’d died of a heart attack.

And that’s just his career, which I’m sure as important as it was and as talented as he was, wasn’t the most important thing in his life. He had a son who just graduated from college. Luke Russert had a national radio program and had shown some interest in working in journalism. You think Mr. Russert – who had written two books on the importance of the relationship of his own father – would have liked to have been around to offer similar guidance to his son?

But that’s OK. He had tomorrow to do it. So do you, right? You can’t die now, with all of these obligations and people to care about. Not you.

Bullshit. You know the answer.

You’ve got right now.

But maybe you’re not worried that you’re going to die of a heart attack because you’re younger. They will invent some pill that will allow you to eat chicken wings at 11 at night and you have nothing to worry about. That’s a great idea. And I can assure you, there are researchers looking at it even as we speak. In fact, let me give you a few names:





Those WERE the pills, people. Do you know what they did? They KILLED some people when they took them. Those people who were desperately trying to get skinny and not have a heart attack? Bad news. It happened anyway. And it happened faster than it needed to because when given the choice between working hard and taking pills, they thought the easy way wouldn’t kill them.

Now I’m not exempting myself from this level of stupidity. I’ve taken ephedra in the beginning and found it to be effective, but I could understand where it was not a good idea. I’ve taken Redline, drank a whole lot of black coffee, and done other things with my workout program that while they may have been legal, they may not always have been considered safe. I can assure you, though, that those were not the choices that allowed me to lose the weight in the first place.

What I had to learn early on, though, was that there would be days where I was not perfect, where I desperately wanted food that was awful for me, where I didn’t want to put my body through yet another workout, where life would intervene. And it was only when I acknowledged my humanity that I succeeded.

Too many people start that diet with one last blowout meal, sometimes even a few days of them, before they finally decide to get it started. This is like a NASCAR driver showing up to a race and deliberately letting the air out of his tires before beginning. Look, your goal is not to create any more negative past. You are merely sabotaging yourself when you do this. If you’ve decided that this is the direction you’re going, don’t start it off with one more empty “tomorrow for sure.”

You don’t know if you have tomorrow - you’ve got right now! So let me explain what I mean by “acknowledging your humanity.”

Too often our belief is that dieting has to be absolutely perfect or it isn’t going to work. That the only way that the weight is going to disappear is if we eat nothing but carrots and celery sticks and drink nothing with more calories than Crystal Light, to work out three times a day and swear off anything that may ever have been considered delicious.

Well, I have a serious issue with this. I’m a human being, and therefore I will make mistakes. I also love food and wine and laughter and fun. Many of my mistakes will revolve around these things. But if given the choice between being absolutely perfect and saying “no” to anything that isn’t in a very narrow range of my diet, all of the time – or every once in a while treating myself to something that’s not necessarily good for me but makes me smile, knowing that it might take one more day or another week to get where I want to go – I take the second option. Your life and mine is a series of choices just like this; how you manage them will determine your results.

Now I don’t take the second option every time. When you get on these sorts of missions to change yourself, and I’ve been on mine for nearly four and a half years, frequent exercise and watching your diet becomes a significant part your life. I have friends of mine who realize that, “Wow, you look GREAT!! How did you DO it?” and “Are you SURE you don’t want any onion rings?” are questions that answer each other.

And I also had people who liked asking, “When are you going to slow down?” “When is this going to stop?” and “When are you going to give this up?” They have moved on.

I – like them – have realized, you’ve got right now.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 4500. Significant progress on the fitness book, which I'm tentatively titling "You've Got Right Now: Losing Weight and Getting Fit in the Real World."

Responses to last week's topic: 5.

This week's entries: 5 (Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam) asking questions about various aspects of US History. You'll want to go the to 6:19 mark of this video to see what my response is to that.

This week's question: There's only one question this week, but this time YOU'RE going to answer it.

I'm posting an excerpt from an early chapter of You've Got Right Now. If you're a Slaughterhouse reader, you may or may not know that over the past four years, I've lost 114 pounds. No drugs, no surgery, just a process that changed how I think about the relationship between food, and exercise, and life. I alluded to this philosophy in the Silverman movie, but I'm pretty certain that I can turn this into a book.

It will be well-researched and comprehensive. It will take a good bit of time to write, but as opposed to thinking about three projects at once, this will be the one project I stay with, and I will hammer at it until it's a manuscript. I think with what I've accomplished I've earned the right to write about how I did it, because I think I can help people. I'm shooting for Thanksgiving to have a first draft of it finished.

Here's the deal: if you read this, tell me what you think at either or I know some of you see this on Facebook; you're under no obligation to comment there unless you want to. Even if you send me an email that says "Not interested; not my thing," I'll understand. If you have any suggestions or ways that I can look at this a little bit differently, from drastic oversights to a better title, I understand that too and would appreciate your feedback. While the book is not a democracy, I'm interested in helping people and hearing what you have to say.

Thank you for your consideration.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Slaughterhouse 28

END TIME: 10:30

What is the role of US firearms in Latin American Politics in the 20th Century? –Sam Gold

Fellow Space Monkey Sam Gold pointed out to me this week that in many of the conflicts in Latin America during the 20th Century, the United States had armed both sides – Batista and Castro in Cuba as well as a number of uprisings owing to rural revolts.

At first I thought this was one of those interesting tidbits that you always hear regarding war, such as the rule of thumb that the country who is going to win the war has the worst coffee (it speaks to a level of luxury among a citizenry that could be called upon to defend themselves and their leadership; good coffee means you have a standard of living that you may be unwilling to sacrifice your life for) or Thomas Friedman’s “The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention” in which he observed that no two countries with a McDonald's franchise had ever gone to war with one another (this theory was blown to bits during the NATO bombing of Serbia, but it’s also more dependent on the more nebulous definition of war)

But then I thought about it a little more, and I realized that the weapons themselves were probably secondary to our foreign policy regarding Latin America during the 20th century. I had to do some light Wikipedia-ish reading on this because I hadn’t paid sufficient attention to these sorts of topics when they emerged in my AP Comparative Government class, but everybody’s pal Teddy Roosevelt elected to take up the white man’s burden by establishing the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which provided for the defense of Latin America, as well as openly granted the United States to power of intervention in Latin America’s affairs.

So if you factor in the idea that, right or wrong, the march through the cold war consisted of rural areas rising up to take on the established military juntas; the suppliers of arms in these conflicts had to be from whoever the nearest and most reliable provider was. In nearly every instance that would have been the United States. To say that US firearms meant we had a puppet-master like desire to control Latin America…well, yeah, but it stretched far beyond our desire to have them shoot each other with our stuff.

We installed right-wing dictators to battle insurgent communists and when some of those people proved insufficiently pliant, we bumped them off (which is why we won’t see that Henry Kissinger jetting overseas anytime soon, because a Spanish court would like to ask him a couple questions about excessively ventilated, popularly elected left-wing Salvador Allende). Over a century we behaved only slightly better than the Spanish Empire that used to control the entire region before the Spanish-American War. Hundreds of thousands of people simply disappeared. The whole story is sordid and highly unflattering, particularly on the eve of America’s birthday, as the kids remind me. Our attempts to establish a set of colonies without being colonizers did not always leave us on the side of the angels. Against this backdrop, it’s easy to allude to the use of American ordnance as the countries waged a dirty war against each other as prima facie evidence of Krushcchev’s rantings of capitalism selling itself the noose to hang itself with.

I liken the whole situation to soda fountain licensing. Lewis Black talked about, when he was doing a show in Atlanta, the soft drink people lock up category exclusivity, so if you walk into a restaurant and ask for Pepsi, and they don’t carry it, no one starts ranting about how they’ll go across the street instead. I figured both rebel and puppet government grabbed US firearms for the same reason people order popcorn at the movies; because it’s there, it’s easy, and it would be more of a surprise if it WASN’T there.

Writing Project Update

Words this week: 400, tops. I was busy doing everything but writing this past week. I couldn’t even tell you where those words went. Momma said there’d be days like this. (Mom also wondered why I haven’t been published yet…thanks Mom!)

Responses to last week's topic: 2.

This week's entries: 7 (Sam, Sam, Sam, Ken, Ken, Beth, Beth) Sam used the “Silver Bullet” approach of sending the same question three times over the space of 30 seconds. As you can see, this is going to be a MAJOR change of pace, but let’s slug it out anyway. Life can’t always be fun and games, and if I wanted to write what I wanted to I should have dragged out an excerpt.

This week's question: What is the role of US firearms in Latin American Politics in the 20th Century?

Ain’t this a beauty?

500 WORDS ON THIS TOPIC DUE BY: 7/3-7/4 midnight Friday/Saturday