Monday, February 1, 2016

Books Read, January 2016

Since I received a surprising amount of positive feedback for my Books Read, 2015 post, I decided to start posting my monthly list of books read.

My reading in January definitely tended towards philosophical matters. And for someone who is not an Aikidoka, I read more than a couple of Aikido-themed books. Even the two fantasy novels by Elizabeth A. Lynn—a Shihan and 6th dan in Aikido—feature a fictional version of the art.

FICTION
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley
  • Watchtower by Elizabeth A. Lynn
  • The Dancers of Arun by Elizabeth A. Lynn

NONFICTION
  • Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
  • The Official Prisoner Companion by Matthew White and Jaffer Ali
  • 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity by Charles Lewis
  • Aikido in Everyday Life: Giving in to Get Your Way by Terry Dobson and Victor Miller
  • It's a Lot Like Dancing: An Aikido Journey by Terry Dobson

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

This One Goes to 11: Favorite Books Read in 2015


As a follow-up to my Books Read, 2015 list, here's a list of my favorite 11 books in two categories read last year, in no particular order. 

FICTION
  • Abhorsen by Garth Nix
  • Lirael by Garth Nix (These are the final two books of Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy. Technically YA novels, I was impressed by the characterization, world-building, and interesting take on death.)
  • Dreams of Dark and Light: The Great Short Fiction of Tanith Lee (Lee died in 2015. She was a master of strange, dark fantasy and science fiction.)
  • Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre (An almost psychedelic, woman-centric apocalyptic SF classic.)
  • Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey (Preceded by Banewreaker, this is the conclusion of Carey's Sundering Duology, which is essentially a morally ambivalent retelling of Tolkien from the point of view of the villains.)
  • Mort(e) by Robert Repino (Incredibly original, emotionally powerful story of animals declaring war on humanity and the adventures of one really badass cat.)
  • The Southern Reach Trilogy byJeff VanderMeer (Brilliant yet hard to describe. Maybe John Le Carre meets H.P. Lovecraft with a dash of Jules Verne?)
  • The Woman Who Loved the Moon and Other Stories by Elizabeth A. Lynn (Dreamy, slightly surreal stories from an author who sadly no longer writes.)
  • The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin (Radical political SF from a true legend.)

NONFICTION
  • Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World by Trevor Paglen
  • Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins by Andrew Cockburn
  • Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
  • The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic by Chalmers Johnson (These four books are all excellent primers on modern U.S. history and foreign policy. The books by Paglen and Cockburn are especially relevant to current events.))
  • In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Military by Richard Strozzi-Heckler (Interesting study of what happens when Aikido principles are introduced to hyper-macho military units.)
  • Ki in Daily Life by Koichi Tohei (Great life lessons from the founder of Ki Aikido.) 
  • Kill The Body And The Head Will Die: A Closer Look at Women, Violence, and Aggression by Rene Denfeld (Interesting, controversial study of violence in women from a writer and amateur boxer.)
  • Living with Nietzsche: What the Great "Immoralist" Has to Teach Us by Robert C. Solomon (One of the best books on understanding and appreciating this great philosopher.)
  • Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky (Strong rebuttal to the idea that war and violence is ever necessary. I still don't know how much I agree or disagree with the author, but he sure made me think.)
  • Path Notes of an American Ninja Master by Glenn Morris (The esoteric, at times rather weird story of one man's experiences in the martial arts and life in general.)
  • Wolf by Garry Marvin (Short history of an unjustly vilified animal.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Books Read, 2015

I love reading. I've loved reading ever since I was a kid. And since I don't watch television, reading is my go-to form of entertainment and enlightenment. 

A couple of years ago I decided to log every book I read and then compile a master list at the end of the year. In the past, I haven't posted the list because I wasn't sure if anyone would be interested. However, some people have told me they would be interested, so without further ado, here's my Master Reading List for 2015, in alphabetical order by title...

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Small Life-Lesson at Whole Foods Market

A recent trip to Whole Foods Market taught me a lesson about anger, compassion, reaction, and response.

I was waiting in the express line. There was one line for two registers. While I was waiting, a man cut in front of me as soon as one of the registers became available. I didn't say anything at the time.

However, as I left the store I saw the line-jumper mulling about, looking at his receipt. I stopped and said to him, "You do realize you cut me off in line?" He appeared a bit taken aback, then said "No... I didn't realize." I walked on and went about my business.

Walking home, I was a bit annoyed at the guy. After all, the he didn't even apologize for cutting in line. But after a minute or two, I became annoyed at myself.

Why did I even bother confronting some stranger over something as trivial as jumping line at the market? What did I hope to accomplish? Did I really need or want an apology? Not especially. Was I acting as some sort of retail etiquette vigilante, informing a miscreant of his misdeeds so he would not be a repeat offender? Perhaps I thought I was, but I wasn't. Was I being forgiving and big hearted? Absolutely not. After all, the lines at Whole Foods can be confusing. Chances are the fellow just made an honest mistake.

Worst of all, I was being a bit of a bully, something I strive not to be. Would I have taken similar actions if the line-jumper had been bigger and scarier looking than me? Doubtfully. In fact, I was quite a bit bigger and scarier than the line-jumper, and probably startled him. Why? Because I was irritated and felt the need to express it? Not good enough.

Soon I felt less annoyed with myself and more embarrassed. Soon I felt less annoyed with myself and more embarrassed by my own behavior. However, as Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön has written, feelings such as embarrassment are "like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck." During that brief encounter at Whole Foods, I was stuck on reaction (anger) instead of response (forgiveness). Now I paused not only to forgive the guy at the store, but more importantly myself for acting rashly. 


By the time I got home (about 10 minutes after leaving the store), I felt as if I had gone on a small-scale mental (spiritual?) journey from anger to more anger to embarrassment to forgiveness to a rededication to try to live in a gentle, benevolent manner. I have no doubt that Chödrön's "messengers" will continue to come. Hopefully I will have the clarity to listen to what they have to say.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sprinting and Visualization: Run Like a Hero!

Running sprints is hard. It can also be rather tedious. But it an important of fitness. I find visualization and imagination to be a powerful tool in helping me really get the most out of my sprint workouts.

Obviously, this is not a new technique. Athletes have been doing it for years. Since I'm not really into competitive sports, visualizing winning some sore of contest isn't really going to help me.

Some people have told me when they run they imagine being chased. I have qualms about that. Why put yourself in victim mode when exercising? That doesn't strike me as very empowering.

When I visualize chases when sprinting, I'm the one doing the chasing. As I have written about many times, I am a huge fan of finding real life inspiration from fictional heroes. For example, I once wrote
Next time your running sprints, instead of just thinking, "Oh man, sprints are hard!," imagine yourself as James Bond running down a terrorist, or Jason Bourne sprinting along Moroccan rooftops in The Bourne Ultimatum.  
I still do that sort of thing. If I'm sprinting on a field and I see a car parked by the side of the road, I might sprint full-force towards the car imagining there are bad guys about to get in to make there getaway. It makes sprints more fun and exciting. 

It is also more empowering than pretending to be running away from the bad guys. I much prefer the idea of the bad guys running away from me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Recipe Wednesday: Thai Curry


Thailand is a fascinating country. Unique among Southeast Asian nations, it was never colonized by a European power. The Thai king has reigned since 1946, making him the longest-serving current head of state. (He is also protected from a great deal of criticism, as Thailand has very strict lèse majesté laws.) These interesting factoids aside, the land formerly known as Siam is justifiably well-known for beautiful beaches, the island of Ko Tapu (aka "James Bond Island"), brutally efficient martial arts, and a cornucopia of curries.

In fact, there are at least a dozen curries common to Thailand, so calling this dish "Thai curry" is rather reductionist and simplistic. But there is a method to my my madness!
My own Thai curry recipe is mostly a blend of two different dishes, panang curry and the Persian-influenced massaman curry, hence the generic name.

Thai Curry
(serves 4-6)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3-5 red chili peppers, diced
2 tablespoons of galangal or ginger, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 stalks of lemongrass (inner white part only), minced

2 14 oz. cans of coconut milk
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander

2-3 carrots, sliced
1/2 head cabbage, chopped
1 potato, peeled and cubed
3-4 kaffir lime leaves

1 12 oz. container extra-firm tofu, cubed
1 20 oz. can of pineapple chunks in juice
1/3 cup peanuts
1 tablespoon tamari or other soy sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup or agave

Heat the oil in a large pot with a lid on medium heat. Add the chili peppers, galangal or ginger, garlic, and lemongrass. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the coconut milk and use an immersion blender to mix everything together. Stir in the cumin, coriander, carrots, cabbage, potato and kaffir lime leaves. Cover and cook until the potatoes and carrots are soft, about 20 minutes, stirring regularly.

One the potatoes and carrots are done, add the remaining ingredients and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the kaffir lime leaves prior to serving.

This dish is best served over a nice bowl of jasmine rice. It isn't especially spicy, so have a bottle of sriracha handy to add a bit of kick (as in Muay Thai, i.e. Thai kickboxing!) if so desired.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thought of the Day, November 17, 2015: Chief White Antelope on Death


"Nothing lives long, only the earth and the mountains."
— from the death song of White Antelope, a Cheyenne chief killed at the Sand Creek Massacre 

FYI: In the United States, November is Native American Heritage Month