Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ugly Middle Aged Drinkers

“To alcohol... The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.”

Homer Simpson, TV star and middle-age icon.

I have always thought that Homer’s profoundly simple view of the world was the result of a sort of post-modern Buddha-like trance brought on by sitting spread legged on the couch, staring at baseball and taking deep swigs of beer. (Instead of sitting in the woods in the lotus position, murmuring guttural mantras and taking deep breaths of air.) The result is similar: Homer goes into a profound stupor, the Buddha into a profound calmness. It there much difference?

Of course there is! And even worse, according to a recent study, Homer’s trance-like state may the result of his age. The new study shows older people are less likely to realize how alcohol is affecting them. “Drinking seems to impair older people more than their younger drinking buddies. Also, older people are less likely to realize how the alcohol is affecting them”.

As a bartender friend of mine at a popular local watering hole for middle age folks said, “The hard part about my job is figuring out who is drunk and who is just stupid.”

The study was based on research with 42 older participants between the ages of 50 and 74 and 26 younger participants between the ages of 25 and 35. Although peak breath-alcohol measures were similar between the older and younger groups of drinkers, older participants who had received alcohol took longer to complete a simple test than the younger participants did.

According to the study: ‘The performance age gap did not happen with non-drinkers. A difference wasn't seen between the older participants and younger participants who had consumed non-alcoholic beverages. (However, all of the non-drinking participants in the study reported immense boredom in their lives and displayed interesting other addictions such as obscene chocolate sundays, reality TV and model trains)

Also, older drinkers were less likely to realize they were impaired at the testing 25 minutes after alcohol consumption. That can be dangerous, as older drinkers may think they are fine to drive when they are not.

“An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools” said Ernest Hemmingway, a famous middle-aged writer/drinker.

He was referring to how often drinking is a social occasion, and according to the same study, consumption among older adults is likely to become a larger public health issue for this very reason.

More than half of adults over the age of 55 drink in social settings, and the percentage of the population that is older is projected to increase dramatically over the next couple of decades. By 2030, one-in-five U.S. residents will be over the age of 65.

I can tell you this from experience. Do not ride a motorcycle or bicycle in areas of dense retirement populations like exist in Florida. You will be in mortal danger.

Other than the fact that we middle-agers can’t handle our booze, we also are the age where we are most likely to have teenagers who could be experimenting with drinking. Since we are smarter than them and can handle alcohol better than them (not), our generation sometimes hypocritically try to stop them from drinking altogether.

As another sage alcoholic middle-ager Hunter S. Thompson once said, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they always worked for me.

Wrong! Yet another new study found that : “Most importantly, set a good example and moderate your own drinking. Your children will likely adopt drinking habits similar to your own. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not an effective stance.”

This same study says that if you do drink, you should teach your children to drink at a fairly young age, so that when they start having access to it socially, they will know how to handle it. In this way they “ will be able to pass up temptation at teen parties. You hope that they will view getting drunk, or other drug use, as foolish rather than as interesting or sophisticated.

Let’s go back to Homer Simpson’s parenting methods, which have been criticized by many. He regularly makes a fool out of himself in front of his children. How many of our own friends have we seen doing this after too much to drink? The question is whether Bart and Lisa will realize their Dad is making a fool out of himself and turn out differently. And will our own children benefit or be hurt by witnessing the antics of drunken parents? I’m betting that the parents who conduct themselves responsibly and demonstrate the right way to drink will have better luck.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Looking for Some Really Good Dirt

Remember mud pies when you were a kid? You could make them without a stove or help from the grownups...just a little water, some dirt, preferable dark and musty, and voila...a tasty treat. And although a little gritty, and occasionally wormy, the result was strangely satisfying and oddly natural.

Alas, there was always the moment when the grownups discovered your culinary adventure, and would scream in horror for you to stop. Usually a thorough washing of the hands and mouth followed, and a stint in the corner of your bedroom.

Well, as it turns out, your natural inclination towards dirt delicacies was a healthy habit ingrained by evolution, according to new research. In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.

The research says that it is instinctive for babies to constantly picking things up from the floor or ground and put them in their mouths, and that’s how babies explore the world. But why the mouth, when sight, hearing, touch and even scent are far better at identifying things?

One researcher even noticed how children would enjoy good crushed rock or dried dog droppings and then turn down delicious mashed potatoes.

According to the research: “Since all instinctive behaviors have an evolutionary advantage or they would not have been retained for millions of years, chances are that this one too has helped us survive as a species. And, indeed, accumulating evidence strongly suggests that eating dirt is good for you.”

These studies, along with epidemiological observations, seem to explain why immune system disorders like multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and allergies have risen significantly in the United States and other developed countries.

Meanwhile, good parents everywhere have apparently been doing the opposite of what nature intended. Everywhere you look, parents are slathering antibacterial lotions and soaps on their kids and anything they touch. Kids for the most part aren’t even allowed to play in the dirt anymore, yet their Wii remote and their pacifiers are sanitized to hospital operating room standards. (Which actually ain’t that good. Could it be the pandemic of operating room staph infections is somehow related to the lack of dirt in our diet?)

The other problem is the quality of the dirt in our yards in today’s times. A good dirt yard is sort of like mine: full of organic, live bacteria and dog droppings. The look of our good dirt yard is is witnessed by the plethora of weeds, some edible including dandelions, wild strawberries and daisies. I tell my wife that this is the reason I like the weeds in our yard. If I was to hit it with chemicals, great looking grass would grow, but make the dirt inedible.

Bad dirt yards are easy to spot and they are everywhere. Perfectly green grass and manicured landscaping gives it away. This look equals weed killers like Roundup, fertilizers imbued with stuff to make bombs with (no kidding) and heavy metals. Perhaps eating this dirt inoculates kids from future toxins but the bacteria is mostly dead. And forget the dog droppings....last I heard its a $200 dollar fine in Wrightsville Beach for leaving well enough alone.

For grins, I tried to make a mud pie from the soil of my next door neighbors yard, who has the most obnoxiously beautiful grass and plants I have ever seen. (my wife reminds me of it daily). I also for the sake of a controlled experiment took the same amount of mud pie ingredients from my organic yard. Using the same amount of water on both soils, I put both mixes into a standard pie pan and let sit for about an hour.

The results were amazingly different considering the source soils where just one yard (not the unit of measure) apart and from the same neighborhood. My neighbor’s mud pie was sort of cement smelling to the nose, pasty to the tongue, strangely devoid of any organic overtones and it left a metallic aftertaste that I could not shake. Worse, for some reason my arms went numb for about 15 minutes.

After regaining the use of my hands and thoroughly washing my mouth out with soap, (like my mother used to do) I tried the pie from my yard. It had a sort of sweetness to the nose, and while gritty, actually had some chewiness to it. It even seemed to have an essence of fine escargot and truffles, which may explain the movement I detected just beneath the surface of the pie. The finish was reminded me of a combination of arugula and sweet strawberries that may have been allowed to ferment for some period.

I asked my wife to try the pies as well to help confirm my findings. She refused because according to her: “I don’t like mushrooms or escargot, and I want a yard like our neighbors! I don’t care how good our yard tastes! Have you lost your mind?!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Recession Taking a Toll on People's Backsides: Toilet Paper Use Down

OK, so I am standing in the toilet paper aisle at the Harris Teeter staring at a wall of white rolls clad in all sorts of colorful packaging claiming all kinds of benefits for my backside. Of course that is how toilet paper is marketed...either because it feels good (which makes it more expensive) or it doesn't (but is a much better deal). I figured that if people wanted to save money, their butt was always the sacrificial lamb of sorts, and they would still be using the same amount of toilet paper, just a cheaper brand. But I have just read that people are using LESS toilet paper of all kinds because of the recession, and I am trying to figure out how to do that.

According to Advertising Age Magazine "People long have taken for granted that some categories of consumer goods, such as toilet paper, truly are recession-proof. Turns out that, like many assumptions, is wrong. As a result of the recession, consumers went beyond trading down to cheaper, private-label products and actually bought less toilet paper of any kind. The recession has turned bad enough that people bought less toilet paper — about 5.5% less last quarter in the U.S., according to Kimberly Clark Corp. Chairman-CEO Tom Falk, who blamed the economy for disappointing fourth-quarter earnings and a weak forecast for 2009."

Whilst standing there trying to work this out, I pulled out my trusted iPhone and searched Google for "how to save toilet paper" I was led to a site called These were their suggestions.

"1.Use less. (Duh) The standard frugal guide is three or four sheets. If you fold it instead of grabbing a bunch and crinkling it up, you will need less. A wad of toilet paper will have more sheets in it that a fold." (this is a known scientific fact)

"2. Buy a lower priced brand. I think this works only to a point. If the paper is too thin, you'll wind up using more of it. Some people swear their family uses the same amount no matter which brand they buy." (and your butt will hate you for it.)

"3. Separate two-ply paper into two rolls. A friend of mine swears this works. When she gets home from the store, she and the kids go to work separating out the two ply roll so that there is a layer or "ply" per roll. She uses empty toilet paper tubes to roll the separated toilet paper and keep things neat." (Freud called this "Anal Retentive Syndrome" which is a precursor to "Obsessive Compulsive Syndrome" which is supposedly caused by kids being potty trained too soon. I know a lot of people with this affliction but would not even think about consulting them for this article, knowing how wound up it would make them.)

"4. Use something else. Beside newspaper, frugal people use all sorts of things as a substitute for toilet paper." (The chick that is now famous for buying a PC instead of a Mac in the new Microsoft ad says she uses leaves from her yard to save money...)

"You can make your own flannel wipes to dry yourself. Flannel can be bought for less than $1 a yard sometimes, especially if it is a seasonal flannel. Cut the flannel into squares and you are all set. You will need a bucket or wipe box to store the used flannel until you have enough to wash." (Yes flannel...not terry cloth...not silk...not old cotton tee shirts...must be flannel)

"You can also just rinse with a squirt bottle and use a washcloth to dry. You might even get cleaner with a rinse instead of wiping with toilet paper." (In other words go buy a bidet. Men...get used to it.)

Truth in Marketing?

Although toilet-paper marketers are promoting more sheets, more layers and the added sanitation of wet wipes, the promises don't always hold true. More plies aren't always stronger according to Consumer Reports. (speaking of Anal Retentive Syndrome, a magazine that caters to those types)

To test toilet paper Consumer Reports technicians measured how much lead shot dampened sheets could hold before they broke. "The strongest sheets were thickest and typically had two plies compared with just one for rolls that scored lower. However, Quilted Northern Ultra Plus has three plies and it was neither thickest nor strongest, and Scott Extra Soft proved about as strong as many two-ply rolls, despite having just one." According to CR, "Scott 1000, (my favorite brand) at 6 cents per 100 sheets, delivered the most sheets for the lowest price, however its individual sheets were thinner than that of most other brands tested."

In our family we test our toilet paper not with lead shot but with a high fiber diet that is recommended by People Magazine and many of the famous inhabitants of Malibu, California. While we have found this diet almost useless for controlling our weight, it day in and day out provides a great testing ground for toilet paper.

What we have discovered is that we use the same amount of toilet paper every month, no matter what the brand, so the only way to save money is buy the cheapest and most hardy brand. Again, let me suggest Scott 1000, or the "Endless Roll" as my son calls it. (He is a surfer and loves that movie, "The Endless Summer" and movie allusions are encouraged in our house.)

You cannot go wrong with a toilet paper brand that's name sounds more like a racing bike, and touts strength, performance and longevity over comfort and gentleness. Use Scott 1000 for a month, and your butt will feel just like you road The Tour de France on said racing bike as well. But you'll save serious money.

True story, I went on an adult Outward Bound kayak trip in the Bahamas where 12 people, men and women had to share one roll of toilet paper for over a week. There simply wasn't the room for more toilet paper after we had stuffed the boats with food, water, tents, sleeping bags and other provisions. Well, as you can imagine, the roll didn't even last a day. Let me just say that the palm trees down there do not supply a natural alternative. The next thing you know, people are standing on the shoreline, looking longingly at the water, and not because the wanted to go snorkeling. Everyone sort of had to make do (do) with what was available which was an entire ocean serving as sort of a natural bidet.

It was gentle and soft as a Caribbean breeze. Sounds like a great tag line for a new toilet paper brand.