It's easier to criticize the good than it is the bad—because the bad ought to be obvious enough, needing not much elaboration.
And as easy as it is to criticize the good, It takes surprisingly little additional effort to praise it instead, to encourage it, to promote its continuous improvement process (thanks my old friend, Bud B., for that gem of an idea you gave me years ago).
...For me, the biggest difference between the inaugural AHS11 and the second round—AHS12—was that my wife Beatrice was not there with me this time. It was not to be anyway, because of commitments with her job (she and a team have been called in to fix a broken school). Then, about 14 hours before I was to fly out, she got an awful phone call about her one and only older brother she ever had, or ever will have. Within 2 hours, she, her younger brother, and the matriarch of the siblings were on a plane to SoCal (thanks, SWA). Upon my return from the drop off, I set about to make arrangements for the dogs (thanks, mom & dad), pack for AHS12, collect my thoughts as best I could, and summon my rational walnut.
It was assumed Sam Jr. was basically gone. Brain hemorrhage, or stroke; he'd last been seen Sunday, and was discovered Tuesday afternoon in his apartment by his dad. The medical authorities on scene initially speculated that there was likely no use for extra intervention. It's always hopeless. Upon urging of the family, tests done to judge brain function were highly positive, so they decided to operate to remove a clot and relieve the pressure on the brain, and to keep him under sedation. This process was going on the entire time I was there at AHS.
As I was leaving the Charles Hotel Sunday morning for the flight out, I got an email from Bea—after a conversation the night before that was very grim and depressing, to say the least—and everything had turned around on a dime...once Sam had gradually been weaned off the sedation. He could respond to commands, answer questions, etc. And by the time I got home last evening, he was changing channels on the remote, talking almost normal, and even joking.
Well, see, I love Sam too.
He has that picture hanging in his apartment.
During the drive up to SFO a few hours later, after closing the door, leaving the doggies in the dark—in wait for my parents to show up later—with them having no idea why things were changing around them so fast, I felt very unwell. I had breached the subject with Beatrice immediately, of canning the whole affair and hitting the road with her and the doggies; but she urged me to continue on, and she continued to do so in texts over the course of the days of AHS.
But basically, I was in the position of no matter what I did, life was going to suck. And what sucked the most was hearing the deep sadness in my wife's voice every time I spoke with her. That's so not Bea...ever. And moreover, she was with her mom, dad, and her other brothers and sisters; and so the realization that I would be unable to cheer her up no matter what was a constant reminder of the gravity of the situation and was, well, depressing and very real.
Subsequent investigation suggests this was not an internal/structural hemorrhage or stroke at all, but the result of a fall. It appears his ankle may be broken or badly sprained. He has no recollection of what happened.
...OK, so now you know how, while I tried with as much gusto as I could summon to blog and tweet the whole thing blow by blow, I just didn't have it in me like I did last year (here's the list of posts about AHS11). Instead, here's the 30,000 foot view from my perspective.
Got to the hotel in the late afternoon Wednesday, happy to see a couple single-serving scotch whiskeys in the mini bar. About time, I thought. Those didn't take long at all, so I headed out and found the lobby bar decent enough—but I didn't ultimately want to hang out by myself. Soon enough, I ran into Jan from Norway, the big guy who had me sign and comment in his The China Study book at AHS11 (and I was the first, and he now has quite a collection of signatures and comments from various names you know). We were out on the large square in front of the hotel for a long while, greeting those arriving to AHS and heading out (Aaron Blaisdell and Jimmy Moore sightings and greetings among them).
At a point, we went to dinner at Russel House Tavern upon the recommendation of a thoughtful tweeter. I had a dozen oysters, then steak tartare, then six more oysters. Couldn't sleep worth a crap, later.
Festivities bagan around noon on Thursday and it was quite cool to be there, doing this, again. Everything went off just as I expected in terms of what I get from people: nods, handshakes, thanks, "I've read your blog for years," can I get a picture with you, and now, this year: thanks for what you did ["there"]. And so thank all of you back. In fact, only one person said one negative thing to me the entire time, and he wasn't even attending. I'll get to that later.
The schedules and speakers are, at this point, somewhat of a blur in ways; partly because of the personal situation, and partly because I'm never truly at ease until mine is done—and that was two days away. But what I do recall is some measure of yawn Thursday afternoon. I suppose that owing to the venue and co-sponsorship—Harvard Law School and the Food Law Society—there was no way to get around having lawyers talk about how they're smarter than the other guy who wants to tell you what to do, backed by the fining, seizing, imprisoning, murdering power of the state. So I din't take much of any of that in, instead chatting here and there.
But perhaps I'm ignorant. Perhaps they just want to repeal all food laws and all food regulations and all food subsidies to growers of plants and animals...and replace all of it with nothing, such that they have nothing to agitate about anymore. If that's the case, my sincerest apologies for implying anything to the contrary.
I headed back to the hotel mid-afternoon to work on my presentation a bit, nap...I don't really remember...but be back at 6ish for Joel Salatin's keynote address. It was good, kinda right up my alley in how something's not right in society. Whenever I hear Joel (1st time in person) I'm reminded of how in the life of every fraudulent & scheming/scamming—but nonetheless dynamic—political, media, academic or religious personality, they could, at one point, have been a value to society like Joel—instead of a parasite, or a promoting host for parasites.
After Joel, we got bused over to someone's house in Cambridge for the presenter & volunteer dinner. The caterers had started an entire pig in the smoker at 5am, and it was now about 8pm. How delicious and moist do you suppose it was? Alongside was yams, collard greens...and someone had brought a tub of fresh sauerkraut, and I'm gonna remember that (think coleslaw on a pulled pork sandwich). I contributed a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, which had been entirely dispatched last time I noticed.
It was really cool to once again chat with the folks who are making this happen, and meet a few new ones. Finally met Sisson's lovely wife Carrie...who's tall, beautiful and has big, piercing eyes. And I'm also privileged to have a special friendship with Nora Gedgaudas and her partner Lisa—and both are looking better than ever. I molopolized them and they me for a good while; and if all comes together, Beatrice & I will be hosting them at our home for the Wise Traditions Conference in Santa Clara in November.
Finally I got some sleep. Crazy sleep, counting for missing the first couple of hours of Friday morning's presentations.
My general perspective on the presentations for both Friday and Saturday: you're on your own. This is highly varied. Figure out for yourself what works. I particularly liked Matt "The Kraken" Lalonde's speech on nutritional density. He covered all the bases, including the organ meats I harp on about. In chatting with him afterward, letting him know some of the stuff I've done comparing liver to fruit, bread, etc., he said that his biggest shocker was realizing how nutritionally poor fruit is...and he added that he though about my liver vs. bread comparison but concluded it wasn't fair because breads have eggs and fat added to the dough, often, and that's probably where most of the nutrition comes from.
AHS12 proves to me that it, and everyone else, can handle the Taubes/Guyenet dustup from last year and be adult about it, accepting that people are split on the issue, or somewhere in the middle like me. The hand wringing is fucking boring. There were plenty of voices on both sides at #AHS12, and that's the best possible situation. Fuck "settled." I want to see Gary and Stephan presenting at every single one, as well as those who side with one, the other, or half & half. Debate often turns to dialectic: thesis, antithesis, and finally, synthesis. Or maybe not, but it doesn't matter because you're still on your own.
I snapped that photo just as Gary motioned me to come over so that he could scold me a bit on my Internet "charm," as I believe he put it. This was during the catered lunch for everyone on the quad in front of the law school: bbq ribs, 2 kinds of chicken, and fixings. I visited with Keith Norris—the very nicest guy in the Paleosphere—and his dynamic-dynamo wife, Michelle (with enough energy for many). Also, some other very nice folks at the table whose names I unfortunately do not recall. I'll be visiting with Keith & Michelle in Austin (and Skyler Tanner) at the end of the week.
After lunch, it was Taubes and the now Doktor PhD Masterjohn, and of course, I was torn. Gary has a new presentation and this was the unveiling. Chis is Chris. So, I ended up getting a piss poor take on both, trotting back & forth between rooms. I'm looking forward to the videos.
My take on the safe starch panel. First, Jimmy Moore was a professional moderator in my view and I think perhaps Chris Kresser and Paul Jaminet had more total time than the two exponents. For my money, Chris and Paul had the more rational, sensible take on the thing. And they didn't engage in a whiff of condescension, as did Rosedale.
I might have left early, not sure, because all I was thinking about was how J. Stanton was going to do with his food reward presentation, the last of the day. He did great. Took him like a minute or two to relax, and that's good. Stephan Guyenet did challenge him in the Q&A, J was gracious, et cetera. In a chat later with Stephan, I told him that J would have loved to say a lot more and that owing to our conversations when he was my guest, I think they have a lot more in common than might be apparent.
After the day's events I headed back to the hotel in a wonderfully pouring, humid warm rain, barefoot. Having been topped off in sleep, I decided to head out. Stopped by the lobby bar and was soon approached by Kamal Patel, a mainstay on PaleoHacks and one of the guys I scuffled with in comments here a while back on the controversy everyone knows about. We'd already exchanged greetings at the conference, and he kindly invited me to his table, comprised of a few others who had read my blog here and there. Included was a woman who had commented back when, and her husband. A wee bit into the drink, he misunderstood that it was his wife I'd used the c-word on (thanks, Kamal).
Luckily, I was only a teensy bit into the devil's water myself, was able to deflect, and ended up with a handshake instead of a bloodied nose. The next day, Kamal apologized,—which was totally unnecessary—and thanked me for handling it well and not blowing up his group that was on the verge of dinner reservations.
I was a bit dazed & confused because things could have gone awfully badly, so took a walk. The rain had ceased; it was nice out. I ended up at a seafood restaurant across the square and ran into my friend Frank Forencich with whom I'd chatted at the lobby bar on night one, late. He was at the bar having dinner with James O'Keefe, also a presenter.
So 2 out of 3 nights, raw dinner for me.
The next day, up to 1:55pm, is a blur. I still was not fully prepared. Frankly, I don't really like canned presentations—for me. I've never given the same one twice, and this goes back to doing speaking at business conventions way back. I actually like to do the brunt of my preparation beginning 4 hours in advance, do one dry run taking stock of the time I take to stop and ask myself what the fuck I'm saying, and then go give it. Right then.
It went well. I presented right after Ron Rosedale, MD and opposite Terry Wahls, the MD who has largely improved her MS with a Paleo diet and gained substantial notoriety, both from her TED talk, as well as the viral video of her son Zack—the articulate, artificially inseminated son of two women who love one-another romantically—testifying before people who believe themselves more competent to run your life than you. Nora and Lisa threw me a bone. Nora went to see Terry and Lisa came to mine. Nora b-lined it to mine when Terry's was over, and I took note in those last few minutes of my presentation. How sweet is that? Here's the most radical image I used in my Keynote.
Soon, it was all over but the cryin'.
...Well, except for the Barefoot Ball. I didn't get a ticket when I registered, deciding to think about it. It was held at The Charles Hotel, in a room bordering the square in front. I'd had a depressing call with Bea, decided I'm glad I didn't go after all, but at the same time, didn't want to do any more than the two scotch single servings in the minibar. I headed out and eventually met up with Jan from Norway again and a few others coming out of the event.*
I so much prefer the spontaneous. Shit, we musta been there shooting the shit to 1am or thereabouts. Fun. And it's weird a bit...to speak with people you know absolutely nothing about but who know quite a bit about you.
OK, let me wrap this up with some random observations and thoughts.
- Get off Stephan's back, maybe? I talked with him enough privately to think that he's under a lot of pressure...IF...he wants to be a force in helping people; and if you think that's not his prime motivation, then why did he put so much into a blog long before he got his credentials?
- I'm sorry I'm a lousy small talker and chatter. ...Not that I think being so is a focus for any of the many who took the time and effort to say a word or two to me. But I'm always a little embarrassed, and really at a loss for what to say beyond 'thank you', and I hope, a show of gratitude and respect as best I can. I really, truly appreciate it, and I especially love those who tell me they hated me when they first came to the blog, but stuck around just long enough. Yep. That's what I want to be: Paleo-heroine.
- Hot Chicks of AHS. Lindsay Stärke started it by being amused by me. I've now added Stefani Ruper and Ashley Tudor to my cadre of enviable hot chicks who tolerate me and smack me in the arm or make silly faces at me like a brother. Believe it or not, it's a huge barometer. It's not anything like adoration, and I doubt they are much impressed by me in any important way. I think I amuse them to some extent, they know I'm not hurting anyone, and it's that that's important. I pay attention to what they and the many other hot chicks think and how they behave towards me because...as go hot chicks, so goes the world. Lindsay and I made bad faces at each other on first sighting.
- I vote Dallas and Melissa Hartwig the Homecoming King and Queen of AHS. So poised, such a beautiful, striking couple and a true showpiece for Paleo living. Plus, I got Melissa to drop an F-bomb for me in a whispered conversation, and I value that sort of thing. It was so cool mixing it up with them and especially, having Dallas give me shit about wearing a suit the day of my presentation.
- I loved it all, in spite of having a large part of me wanting to be with those I get to love more often, my wife and her amazing family.
- My favorite tweet about me during the affair: PaleoPeriodical Who does @rnikoley sleep with to get these gigs? #ahs12
The thing I truly hate about unqualified, wide criticism in this regard—perhaps especially from people who didn't even attend—is that this is a huge effort and undertaking, and it's a truly non-profit, "gift to society" sort of deal; which I applaud because I don't believe in forcing people to cause, so why wouldn't I? People have half their fucking money stolen from them every fucking year of their lives in terms of Fed, State, and Local/Sales taxes and they can't fucking wait for the next fucking election. Got it? Oh, but spend $250, travel and hotel, have things go off 400% better than anything the government does, then blast them because it's not 500%, or whatever.
In closing about what should perhaps rightly be at the very top, I'd emailed around to get a list of the people who gave multitudes more of their time than is worth the $250 attendance fee...and I'm sure in many cases, more than the cost of your flight and lodging.
- Beth Mazur, a mainstay of organization, hits it: Lisa Gizzarelli, Larry Kotovets, Vicky Vissering, Tori Kean, Annie Kreider, Judith Chapman, Tamara De Moor, Brady Gelvin, Amy Kubal, Nick DeTar-Koch, Andreas Dietzel, Moira Sherry, Stephanie Soscia, Shirley McLean, David McGee, Dustin Jones, and Ben Greenfield. Please go read Beth's post to get her on-the-scene take of these people who made what happen happen—or otherwise it wouldn't have.
- The folks who do the work to get things in motion: Carlos Andres Toro, Katherine Morrison, Joe Johnson, Beth Mazur, Sam Osterling, Michal Naisteter, and Nate Rosenberg.
- And of course, Aaron Blaisdell and Brent Pottenger for coming up with the whole deal in the first place.
Thank you, all the above. Thank you. My praise is well deserved and my criticism only such that I get to heap more praise next time around. Well done, men and women. Salute!
Ok, please do add your own impressions, praise, constructive criticism...and feel free to link a post or more it you're blogged any or all of it.
* Unfortunately, the Barefoot Ball seems to have been a big disappointment for many in terms of the skimpy food served (many went to restaurants to eat after paying $55). Chris Kresser echoed the same thing to me the next morning in the boarding lounge for the flight home (he got one $55 chocolate covered strawberry). A Nor-Cal Margarita was $10.50. I'm sure that will go to the lessons learned category for the organizers. All the other catering was superb and plentiful in my view.
Update: As I knew I would in oversight, I neglected to mention that I had a nice exchange with longtime value-add commenter Ned Kock. Here's his AHS impressions.