Preparing for Halloween


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Cohu’s fascination with minimalist footwear dates back to … *clickety-clackety-google* … 2006! I finally got a pair of Toe Shoes (as they’re known in the Cohu household) last fall. Over the last year, they have served me for everyday wear, as well as long walks in the Berkeley hills. I usually have the (progressively more chunky) little person strapped to me, so it’s definitely in the realm of ‘moderate exercise’, but no running. Still, I can always tell when I’ve been wearing ‘normal’ shoes for one of my longer walks – I get bad heel pain and back pain the next day. Counterintuitively, it’s worse the more padded my shoes are!
So, since they seem to be even less shoe-y and more minimalist than Toe Shoes, I’m up-, or rather, downgrading to Invisible Shoes. These are reminiscent of huaraches worn by the Tarahumara indians, or the bicycle tire sandals used in many parts of the developing world. After receiving my kit from Invisible Shoes, I followed the website instructions and, after maybe 1/2 hour of fiddling with them, have my very own pair of ‘barefoot’ sandals! Bonus: as opposed to the FiveFingers, you can wear them with dresses or skirts without looking like a certified insane person. (You will still look like a tree hugging dirt worshipper, but that’s OK with me). I spare you a picture of my huarache’ed feet. Let’s just say there’s many jobs I would be good at, but foot model is not one of them, especially after my run-in with the aptly named ‘Hand, Foot and Mouth disease’ a few weeks ago. Here’s a Invisible Shoes review that includes a picture so you can imagine what they look like.
Will report back on how they compare to Vibrams.

Litotes spotted in the wild!

‘It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience.’

— Chancellor Birgenau, e-mail to the UC Campus community

Wait, what? Are you trying to tell us that holding hands is violent protest? Or rather, are you not trying to not say that? Someone here is – as he himself would probably put it – replete with excrementum tauri…

Not getting older – getting better!

Like Dustin Hoffman’s Graduate (shot in Berkeley in 1967), and Harold from Harold and Maude (shot in Berkeley in 1971), the Bay Area definitely has something of a love affair with older women. Is it the climate? The yoga? The positive effects of feminism and ensuing gender equality? The excellent food? Medical marijuana? Free speech? I have no idea, but rarely have I seen so many women over 50, 60 and 70 who have the posture of ballerinas, the smile of buddhas, the hair of schoolgirls and the rosy cheeks of newborns.* On the weekends – if they’re not off to Oregon for white water rafting trips, like our retired downstairs neighbor – you will often spot them on their bikes on Marin County roads, clad in skin-tight speedo suits that show off their enviable, lightly muscled curves – at an age where in the rest of the world,  “exercise” would mean sitting in a rocking chair and knitting! All, I’m sure, without the help of modern medicine or high-tech cosmetics.

So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that when a 62-year-old windsurfing Bay Area lady is rescued from the freezing waters of the bay after 13 hours, she is described as “alert” and “pretty well”, because she has “a lot of stamina”. You go, girl!

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The Bible Guarantees It

As has been pointed out by Pastor Harold Camping on his radio show and on several informative and entertaining road signs next to Bay Area freeways , the world will end this Saturday, 6 p.m. We’re all going to die! Need some convincing of this fact? Here you go:

Lots of numbers in there, so I guess he must be right (also, Camping has an engineering degree from UC Berkeley – spotless academic credentials!). There’s hope for some of us, though:

“O then ye unbelieving, turn ye unto the Lord; cry mightily unto the Father in the name of Jesus, that perhaps ye may be found spotless, pure, fair, and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, at that great and last day.” (Mormon 9:6)

According to this heathenish FAQ, I’ll probably not be counted among the “spotless, pure, fair and white”, but at least I’ll die a happy woman having tasted this year’s first white “Spring Snow” peaches…as the eternal hippie favorite Ecclesiastes puts it:

“To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to reap,
a time to laugh and a time to weep.”

(Watch out for the cute little girl at 1:15! I wonder what became of her when she grew up.)

Next To Godliness

If you’ve never taken the time to read what’s on your soap, you might want to make an exception for Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, an old hippie favorite. Thankfully, the Dr. Bronner Company has put at least some of its text-packed soap labels online, so I don’t have to copy all of the information contained on my “18-in-1 Hemp ALMOND PURE-CASTILE SOAP” bottle – you can read the pdf here. Further labels here. The bottle I have in front of me actually has a different inscription from the online one, so the company seems to update their labels from time to time to include new/rotate old content.
Dr. Emanuel Bronner
, who penned these strange and endearing soap wisdoms, was a German jew who escaped to the US in 1929 (dropping the “Heil” from his original name “Heilbronner”).

Let Them Eat Arugula

A few days ago, Mark Bittman was known for his brilliant, accessible recipes and his adorably crappy kitchen. Now, he’s suddenly turned into (yet another) full-time “food activist” who churns out legislative suggestions under the heading “A Food Manifesto For The Future”. While some of his ideas, e.g. reduction of corn/soy subsidies, seem reasonable, most of them are unsubstantiated, misleading, and questionable.

Like many of the modern priests of foodie-ism, he rails agains “processed” food. I do not know what that means, and I think he doesn’t, either. If the metric is supposed to be that a lot of technology is necessary to make “processed” food – and if there’s  actual scientific proof that this is a Bad Thing -, then, by all means, let’s throw out the Cheetos. Let’s also throw out cheese, beer, wine and bread, which do not grow on trees (Have you tried making cheese lately? It involves chemistry. If you don’t do it right, you end up with a highly toxic end product). And while we’re at it, let’s throw out all modern plant varieties that were genetically engineered over centuries to suit our needs. There were, for example, no big juicy red apples in paradise, contrary to what some faulty illustrations of the scripture would like you to believe – only malus sieversii, whose taste Michael Pollan, another Born-Again Foodie Priest, describes thusly: “imagine sinking your teeth into a tart potato, or a mushy Brazil nut sheathed in leather (“spitters” is the pomological term of art here), and then tasting one that starts out with high promise on the tongue—now here’s an apple!—only to veer off into a bitterness so profound that it makes the stomach rise even in recollection.” Lots of technology and “processing” was needed to turn the inedible crap Mother Nature usually serves us into Braeburns and Fujis. Whether food is “heavily processed” or not is a red herring. The quest for “natural” food seems to simplify food choices – in reality, it makes them simpler than they are.

The opposite of “processed”, in Bittman’s terms, is “real” or “actual” food. His categories of “processed” and “real” seem to be metaphysical rather than based on physical reality (much like “kosher” and “treif” or “halal” and “haraam”) – only this time, there’s no God upstairs who hands out these food rules and tells us to obey them for his sake. There’s only food itself. “Real” food takes the place of a the spiritual cure, the saviour. I like food as much as the next person, but I find this icky.

On a less philosophical note, Bittman analyzes the failing of government agencies over the last decades and attributes a big chunk of the American problem with food to misguided nutrition advice. Not really a new idea. The only surprising thing is his solution to the problem: More power to (other) government agencies, more nutrition advice and reeducation – let’s just get it right this time.

And that, for him, means advocating for a largely vegetarian diet, because: “It’s difficult to find a principled nutrition and health expert who doesn’t believe that a largely plant-based diet is the way to promote health (…)” – While this may be true, it is also true that fifty years ago it would have been “difficult” to find a “principled [probably means “mainstream”?] nutrition and health expert” who didn’t believe that a vegetarian diet is unhealthy. The data on the long-term, large scale effects of diet is extremely sketchy. This has not changed over the last 50 years, simply because a behavior as complex as human nutrition is extremely difficult to observe, even more so if we want to apply the usual principles of empirical science. If you don’t believe this, just go ahead and try doing a double-blind randomized longitudinal study of a “plant based diet” in humans (I’m waiting!). Even more sketchy (or non-existent) is the data on effects of large-scale nutritional intervention, like the reeducation programs, subsidies, “truth in labeling” and “legislation curbing relentless marketing” Bittman suggests. They might help. They might cause harm, because they might not have the intended effect, or if the intended effect turns out to be unhealthy after all. Finally, they might cost a lot of taxpayer money and do nothing at all. And this would be bad, because poor nutrition, I believe, is not a result of moral turpitude, stupidity or (to use more friendly, modern reformulations of the same principle) misguided advice and ignorance, but largely caused by a lack of money in the individual. The effects of this lack of money – a.k.a. poverty –  are, by and large, not mitigated by reeducation or telling people to behave differently, but by giving people money or at least not taking it from them to print posters which tell them to feed their kids more broccoli.

Lastly, I have always envied Bittman for his way with words, and for his talent to write short, simple recipes that are surprising, educational and mouthwatering at the same time. His food writing does not need pretty pictures – it speaks for itself. His political writing, on the other hand, is abysmal: “Reinvest in research geared toward leading a global movement in sustainable agriculture, combining technology and tradition to create a new and meaningful Green Revolution.” Man, I wish he would step down from his pulpit and write about food again.

It’s a good sign

Berkeley is full of people who have strong opinions, and thus, full of various types of signs. First off, if your car does not have an Obama sticker, it is understood that you’re either a) sceptical of Obama because he’s so moderate he’s basically a crypto-fascist or b) somewhat of a crypto-fascist yourself. (Exception: If you drive a Prius or a Subaru, you’re not required to use any additional stickers, it’s already clear you’re a Lib’rul or worse.) Further stickers that are beloved by Berkeleyans: the COEXIST, the KPFA, and the Darwin Fish. If you have collected lots of political opinions over the decades, your car will slowly turn into this – a common sight on Berkeley parking lots. (Up in the hills, one bumper is still telling us to “END APARTHEID NOW”). There’s lots of lawn signs, murals, and signs in windows. Signs on bikes declaring “NO WAR FOR OIL – BIKE FOR PEACE”.

And then, there’s the “YOU’RE PERFECT” guy:

(Note the North Face fleece vest – the Berkeley uniform!)

Some see this annoying abundance of signage as a signal to fight back. My favorite meta-stickers adorn our neighbor’s Honda: “BRUSH YOUR TEETH, IT’S THE LAW” and “Vote YES on NO and NO on YES”. The most incendiary and controversial sign in Berkeley at the moment, however, must be this:

A Friend of the Earth

I totally understand that our friends, the rats, are beginning to feel cold at this time of the year, and prefer our cozy roof to the outdoors which can be rather nippy at night. Our brothers and sisters, the rats, are basically squirrels with a tiny bit of fur missing on their tails. They are amazingly beautiful creatures, with strong social bonds and high intelligence; also, they have awesome whiskers. Like us, they are children of Mother Earth, and we should aspire to living in harmony with them and their close-knit communities, treasuring their relationship to the natural environment, their age-old tribal traditions and their understanding of sun, moon and the seasons.


P.S. Happy Caps Lock Day!

Dirty hippies not beneath stealing cheap toys from disadvantaged kids

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