July 30th, 2008


A month of living irritatably

I am on the third CD of A Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs. I am trying to crystalize in my mind what words I would use to describe Jacobs' voice and manner of speaking. I am also becoming increasingly irritated by the whole affair.

Take, for example, the trip to Brooklyn to sacrifice a chicken. On one day of the year a gang of men in black hats and beards gets together to do a little twirl of a chicken (over their heads) and then hand it to a kosher slaughterer, who quickly dispatches it. The chicks are then gutted and prepared for cooking, packaged and sent off to poor people somewhere nearby.

This follows some sort of Jewish law. So of course Jacobs can't miss this. He takes his bearded self to Crown Heights and pays the man for his chicken, follows the instructions and is done. Somehow this cleanses him? Somehow this is a good thing?

To me it is on the order of what that ass Jon Katz does with his poor sheep dogs, which might also be called sacrifices. They both do these crazy things as a way of somehow "making themselves better". The fact that there is an animal involved who doesn't get a say in the matter does not disturb them a bit. Jacobs feels a little bad about the chicken death, especially after he sees the resemblance of his chicken to his young son Jasper. But he laughs it off in his typical offhand detached way.

Same with the pigeon egg. He hightails it back to Brooklyn another day to meet with a man who follows the more arcane Jewish laws. The man has pigeons nesting in boxes. A.J. gets to reach into one cage, upset the mother pigeon so she gets off the egg, then grab the egg. He has the sense to return the egg to its nest, which is an option, but when he expresses concern about ripping the egg from under its mother his companion laughs at him scornfully. "Do you feel bad when your wife cooks you an egg for breakfast?" he laughs. And once again A.J. shrugs and goes on to the next biblical thing.

These two rituals are set up specifically to allow Jewish men to follow specific commandments. They are following the letter of the law with little regard to its intent. This because the intent is impossible to devine. Yet there they are, laid out in the bible or the torah and so they follow them. When some of these commandments get sticky there is always a rabbi out there who has interpreted them so that they can be followed. No stoning is necessary, for example.

I like rituals as much as the next guy, but I don't pretend they make me a better person. A better coffee maker maybe (making toddy coffee is a bit of a ritual).

bel and beller

The irony was not lost on me as I sat at a table in Bel Frites, munching my Belgian fries and reading The Obesity Myth.

I am only a little bit into this book but it is as I had hoped: it easily expels the myth that obesity is related to higher mortality rates. In fact, it is better from a longevity point of view to be 75 pounds over the "average" weight than to be five pounds under. The very thin fare much worse than the very fat.

So I did not worry so much about the fries. I do worry about what does matter: physical activity. It is damned hard to do any when one hurts. But I did manage to make my way around downtown today, lurching in a limpy way, my right thigh and hip hurting. I tried to distract myself from the pain and to pretend it wasn't there (and believe me I do know that this type arthritis is easier to handle when one weighs less - but it also won't kill me). It was better after I left Bel Frites and was back on the street. Maybe all it really needed was some fries.


I got my electric and gas bills the other day. I have stayed within the baseline allowances for both this last month. I have been trying to figure out what I did right. I don't recall making any kind of major change, anything noticeable. On the other hand, the gas and electricity I used at the higher levels was not a large amount. I think it seemed higher just because the rates are higher.

Probably one reason for the reduction is that it has been warm. No need for the heater at all. It also has not been extremely warm, so no need to run a fan 24-7. That accounts for gas. As for electricity, I've been conscious of it and have turned off lights and television when not using them but I have actually been watching more tv, turning it on in the daytime. Then again, long summer days, need for lights is less. This is probably a mid-summer thing that happens most years.

Still, it encourages me. One thing I did the other day was to reduce the heat of my water heater. So now it does not heat as high. That will save a few therms or whatever they are. I am also using my electric hot water pot more often to heat water than I use the microwave. I suspect that it takes less electricity because the heating is more direct and not as high a wattage.

Little changes still make me feel good.