Friday, July 5, 2019

Books Read, Midway Through 2019 Edition

I realize I totally fell off the logging-the-books-I've-read train, both on this blog and in general. I failed to keep track of about half my reading for 2018, which is a shame, as I've found it to be a useful habit. 

I need reading glasses. So far Zooey doesn't.

For 2019, I'm back to being consistent in logging the books I read. In 2017 and 2018, I found myself reading less, partially due to my job and other real-life interruptions. I was also getting more tired when reading, and I didn't know why. A few months ago I had my answer: A routine physical revealed that I needed reading glasses! Now I get less tired when reading, no doubt because I'm not having to work so hard. The funny thing is my vision issues developed so gradually I barely noticed them.

Without further ado, here is my Books Read list for the midway point of 2019. A quick glance will show that fantasy and philosophy have been the dominant themes so far this year. That is by no means unusual for me.

FICTION

  • Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings
  • The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce
  • Enchanter’s End Game by David Eddings
  • Fool Me Twice by Matthew Hughes
  • Fools Errant by Matthew Hughes
  • Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz
  • Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings
  • Night of Madness by Lawrence Watt-Evans
  • The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz
  • Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings
  • Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings
  • The Realms of the Gods by Tamora Pierce
  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
  • Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

NONFICTION

  • Ancient Magic: A Practitioner's Guide to the Supernatural in Greece and Rome by Philip Matyszak
  • The Tao of WU by RZA
  • Aristotle's Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life by Edith Hall
  • A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe by Todd May
  • Staying Alive: How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters by Safe Havens International Inc
  • Fight Like a Physicist: The Incredible Science Behind Martial Arts by Jason Thalken

Friday, June 14, 2019

Back to Swings!

There are so many functional, fun exercises you can do with kettlebells that it can be easy to forget the wonderfulness of the classic two-handed swing. Lately, I've been concentrating on doing lots of swings, specifically 300 per workout, nearly every day.

Can you see why swings are so effective?
I start my workout with five minutes of meditation, followed by some joint mobility work and the Eischens yoga beginner's sequence. Then it's on to swings. I use a 24 kg kettlebell, and alternate between sets of 15 and 35 swings. (Hat tip to Dan John for the rep scheme.) Rest periods between sets us about 30 seconds to a minute. Once I hit 300 swings, I'm done, though I sometimes do a few sets of slow pull-ups if I'm up to it.

Why 300 swings? It seems like a nice, golden mean sort of number. I've done 200 swings in a workout many times before, and wanted something more difficult. On the other hand, going the 500 swings route popularized in various 10,000 swing challenges strikes me as a bit too exhausting, especially since I want to have enough energy to to other activities such as swimming, running, and martial arts. 


I've been doing the 300 swings workout pretty much every day this week before heading to work and I feel great. My entire posterior chain feels activated. I'll probably continue doing this for a few weeks and see how it pans out.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Educational Beatdowns

I just stumbled onto a great article by Greg Ellifritz on the Active Response Training website about a very common but often misunderstand form of violence, "the educational beatdown." As he notes in the article: 
"If you don’t interact with cultures who embrace violence as a problem solving technique you assume that everyone is like you.  You assume that if you offend someone (accidentally or otherwise), there will not be any physical consequences. It’s only surprising because you don’t understand that some groups have different 'rules' than your group has." 

I cannot stress how important this concept is. I frequently come across nice, educated, middle-class people who only associate with other nice, educated, middle-class people in nice, middle-class neighborhoods. They sometimes think they can act rudely and get away with it because, in general, they can. But if they venture out of their nice, middle-class comfort zone, they will find that the penalties for improper behavior can be more serious. 

To quote Rory Miller: 
"There are places in the United States where if you do something rude and improper you will get disapproving looks and people will whisper about you. They might snub you in the coffee room or not invite you to go bowling. And there are places in the U. S. where doing something that society considers rude will get you beaten without a second thought."
Do you think that’s wrong? Barbaric? Uncivilized? Maybe you’re right. But you know what? Being “right” probably won’t make you feel better as you are being beaten up for failing to realize that different people follow different rules than you do.

As the article concludes: "Be smart.  Don’t act like an asshole.  Don’t be condescending or insulting to people who live in an environment where violence is the consequence when you screw up. Understanding these 'rules' will keep you out of a lot of trouble."

Sound advice.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Domestic Defense: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for Women at Home

Some self-defense food for thought.

And the point about "statistically the most dangerous place for a woman is in her own home"? Sadly true. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 55 percent of murders of American women involve domestic violence. In 93 percent of those cases, victims were killed by current or former intimate partners: boyfriends, husbands, of lovers.

Statistics about rape and domestic violence are harder to come by, but at least one study found that 76 percent of women who reported they had been raped and/or physically assaulted since age 18 said that a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, or date committed the assault.


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thought of the Day, November 15, 2018: Chögyam Trungpa on Fear

"In the practice of yoga and also within the martial arts, one’s strength or power comes from the development of a balanced state of mind. One is going back or returning to the origin of the strength that exists within oneself. This kind of strength is known as strength in its own right, the strength of fearlessness. To be without fear is to have great strength."
– Chögyam Trungpa

Monday, October 1, 2018

Giving Up the Booze

Zelda doesn't care if I drink Martinis or not.
Nearly six months ago, I essentially stopped drinking alcohol.

It wasn't because I have problems with addiction or dependency; quite the opposite. As I wrote in an earlier post, I've always been a moderate drinker and virtually never drink to excess. No, the reason for giving up alcohol was a health scare my wife had this spring. Something unexpected showed up on her mammogram. We were of course worried it might be cancer, but it turned out to be nothing. However, the doctor did inform my wife that she was at a higher risk for breast cancer thanks to her unusually dense breast tissue. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Women with dense breasts, but no other risk factors for breast cancer, are considered to have a higher risk of breast cancer than average." The Susan G. Komen organization states that "Women with high breast density are 4-5 times more likely to get breast cancer than women with low breast density."

Another risk factor when it comes to women and breast cancer? Drinking alcohol. It's an underreported risk factor but a well-established one. With that in mind, my wife decided to stop drinking alcohol. So did I, more or less (details on the wiggle words to follow). I did so out of solidarity, and because having a glass of wine or a beer in front of my now teetotalling wife does not appeal to me. For the record, she never once asked me to quit drinking.

Shortly after we chose to give up alcohol, I came across an article in Mother Jones magazine going into great detail about the cancer risks of booze for both men and women. A short excerpt:
On 1988, the World Health Organization declared alcohol a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it’s been proved to cause cancer. There is no known safe dosage in humans, according to the WHO. Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, but it kills more women from breast cancer than from any other. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that for every drink consumed daily, the risk of breast cancer goes up 7 percent.... The research linking alcohol to breast cancer is deadly solid. There’s no controversy here. Alcohol, regardless of whether it’s in Everclear or a vintage Bordeaux, is carcinogenic. More than 100 studies over several decades have reaffirmed the link with consistent results. The National Cancer Institute says alcohol raises breast cancer risk even at low levels. 
The article also states that "researchers estimate that alcohol accounts for 15 percent of US breast cancer cases and deaths—about 35,000 and 6,600 a year, respectively." 
There's still espresso.
The article strongly reinforced our decision regarding alcohol. I highly recommend giving it a read, especially if you are a woman, though if you are a man with a family history of cancer (like me), you should read it as well. Really, everyone should probably read it.
Now, back to those earlier weasle words, about me "more or less" giving up alcohol. Since my wife and I made our decision, I haven't had a drink, nor have I especially wanted one. However, I could see potential circumstances in which I might cheat a little. For example, I'm not going to say I'll never join a friend for a beer ever again. That could happen. But, to be honest, I very rarely find myself in social drinking situations anyway so the little escape route I've provided myself with the phrase "more or less" might prove to be irrelevant.
Finally, though I'll probably change the main photo on this blog at some point, I'm not going to engage in some sort of Stalinesque whitewashing of history and delete any of my older alcohol-related posts. You can still find my thoughts on bargain bourbon, the joys of Campari, and mixing the perfect Martini.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Philosophy Thursday: Good Men, Bad Men, Anger, and Thich Nhat Hanh

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh is in some ways a better human being than I am. Whenever I read his work, I am moved by his dedication to peace and compassion, and try to incorporate his teachings in my daily life. I strive to be a bit more like him.

But not too much like him. To put it bluntly, I'm an angrier person than Nhat Hanh, and I'm OK with that. He strives to surpass anger, to rise above it, while I—paraphrasing Capt. James T. Kirk—need my anger.

In his excellent book 'Being Peace', Nhat Hanh shares the following story:
After the Vietnam War, many people wrote to us in Plum Village. We received hundreds of letters each week from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It was very painful to read them, but we had to be in contact. We tried our best to help, but the suffering was enormous, and sometimes we were discouraged. It is said that half the boat people fleeing Vietnam died in the ocean; only half arrived at the shores of Southeast Asia. 
There are many young girls, boat people, who were raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries tried to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continued to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day, we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. 
She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself. 
When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we can't do that. In my meditation, I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I would now be the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I can't condemn myself so easily. In my meditation, I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we might become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
While I certainly admire Nhat Hanh's ability to see the situation from the pirate's point of view, and can acknowledge the role of environment in shaping the pirate's life, this doesn't change my anger. When Nhat Hanh writes "If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we can't do that..." I can't help but think, "Yes, we can. And should."

Perhaps Nhat Hanh is right that if I "had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I would now be the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I can't condemn myself so easily." I actually can condemn myself so easily. If I try to hurt an innocent, I deserve to be stopped. Think of the horror movie trope about the man bitten by a werewolf, who then turns into a werewolf himself and terrorizes the community. The cursed man, unable to bring himself to commit suicide, begs others to kill or imprison him. Or, to look at things more scientifically, consider the fact that brain tumors and injuries can cause serious behavioral changes. There have even been incidences of brain tumors being linked to pedophilia. Taking that as an example, if I ever develop a tumor and it compels me to try to rape a child, I hope someone stops me, even if it means killing me.

I can't help but think of the fascinating graphic novel 'My Friend Dahmer' by John "Derf" Backderf. It's the true story about growing up and going to school with future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Even though Backderf shows some sympathy for the young Dahmer, in the book's afterward he clearly states
It's my belief that Dahmer didn't have to wind up a monster, that all those people didn't have to die horribly, if only the adults in his life hadn't been so inexplicably, unforgivably, incomprehensibly clueless and/or indifferent. Once Dahmer kills, however—and I can't stress this enough—my sympathy for him ends. He could have turned himself in after that first murder. He could have put a gun to his head. Instead he, and he alone, chose to become a serial killer and spread misery to countless people. 
I absolutely agree with that. There are times for compassion, and there are times for justice.

It's important to state that I don't consider Nhat Hanh's position to be wrong or unethical. I actually find it admirable. Quite possibly, if I could achieve his level of benevolent compassion, I would be a happier, "better" person. I just wouldn't be me.

To quote a great PiL song, "Anger is an energy." It motivates me. I wouldn't be a martial artist if it weren't for anger. I wouldn't teach self-defense classes if it weren't for anger. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I think in my own small way I make the world a better place by teaching people to protect themselves while at the same time being able to protect them myself if necessary. Breaking someone's knee while simultaneously slamming face-down into the ground isn't very nice, but there are times it is necessary.

In season one of 'True Detective,' Matthew McConaughey's character Rush Cohle is asked "Do you wonder ever if you're a bad man?" He responds, "No. I don't wonder. World needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door." The show's creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto further elaborated on that concept in an interview: "Regarding bad men being necessary to stop the other bad men, that’s probably more true than I’d like it to be, but the point exists outside of gender: You need physically capable, courageous, and potentially violent people to deal with the violent, dangerous people."

Again, I absolutely agree. Compared to Thich Nhat Hanh, I am something of a bad man. And I totally accept that.