My Endorsement

At the beginning of this presidential campaign, I was a supporter of Hillary Clinton. I am a lifelong Democrat (I voted for Jimmy Carter in a mock election at my elementary school in 1976), so I was ready to vote for whichever candidate got the nomination - especially since the GOP has done nothing of late but prove over and over again that they have nothing to offer someone like me - but I wasn't really excited about any of the candidates except Hillary. When it became obvious that she wasn't going to get the delegates to win the nomination, I accepted that Obama would be our candidate. "Acceptance" is hardly the kind of emotional response a candidate wants from his supporters, but it was all I could muster...

...until his speech at the DNC.

I was moved by it. I was motivated, and uplifted, and made to feel like there is a point to the political olympics known as the presidency. I took a few days to let it sink in, and now I think I can comment intelligently, without being too muddled by my own sentiments.

I am not a patriotic person. In fact, I have ranted on this blog at length about how any brand of "us, not them" thinking is detrimental to the human race. So many Americans live in a bizarre world where we supposedly lead the world in the grand qualities that make a nation great - democracy and equality and freedom and fairness - while it's so patently obvious that we don't. This speech went well beyond the simple patriotic pablum that is the staple of politics in America. He spoke of compassion, and reason, and honesty, and most importantly, of hope. He also answered the complaint that he is vague about his plans (this was a problem I had with him as well) by providing some concrete insights about what he plans to do. Barack Obama knows we don't lead the world in all of those qualities, but he believes we can.

Can we? Well, if the will to do it exists in enough people, it can be done. And after that speech, I believe that will was planted in the minds of more Americans than has been the case at any prior point in my lifetime. If it brought a few tears to the eyes of a jaded old cynic like myself, then it must have touched many, many more as well.

So, while I still think Hillary would make a great president (or a great Secretary of State, if you're listening, Barack...), I am now "sold" on Barack Obama.

I'd Like Black Tights, Please

Before we get to the meat of this post, a quick update on my new semester. I have been to all my classes now, and I've got some early impressions.

Advanced Sociological Theory will be a typical theory class; a ton of conflicting readings, two lengthy and convoluted papers, and in the end, very few satisfying answers. One of my classmates called me right after this class ended yesterday and asked if we could get together to discuss the material that was covered, because he was lost and thought that I could perhaps clarify it for him. As flattering as that is, I must confess that I am in the dark as well. I think that may be the recurring theme in this course.

Women of Color will be a challenge. Not so much in the academic sense, but rather in terms of connecting with my classmates. Although this is a Sociology course, it's cross-listed in Women's Studies and Chicano Studies, and the composition of the class is what you would expect - it's mostly female, and mostly African American or Latina. In fact, this class has more people of color in it than any other I have ever had at Black Vatican U - it's nice to see that the efforts at developing diversity on campus are finally paying off. Unfortunately, as a middle-aged white male, I am pretty much the enemy to most of them.

Society, Environment, and Disasters promises to be a reading-intensive seminar. The instructor has already irritated me by forbidding laptops in the classroom. Not because she is afraid we will be checking our email and playing WoW, but because the clicking of the keys bothers her. [sigh] I have been using a laptop in class for years now, and I have my note taking down to a science. Of course, this prof is also a bit of a self-confessed Luddite; she told us that she is having a hard time learning to send text messages. [big sigh]

The class I'm doing my Graduate Assisting for is an Intro to Sociology Class, and that should be fun. In addition to keeping all of the records for the class, I also get to teach the sections on Sociology of Religion and Gender Inequality - both topics that I have studied fairly intensely before. I am looking forward to teaching, as it gives me a few hours per week to foist my liberal, leftist, hippy, pacifist, vegan agenda on the youth... Ok, all kidding aside, I also have this strange notion about giving back to the academic community that spawned me. I feel that it is the duty of educated people to share their knowledge, and teaching is one way to do that.

Now to the topic at hand - I have received the most awesome blog award EVER, just recently. Our beloved WNG inducted me into the "Karmic Justice League" - I am being fitted for my spandex suit and thigh-high boots this weekend! I totally want a cape too, but I'm not stupid - I've seen The Incredibles. Maybe just a tasteful cowl and a sash...

The post that sealed my admission to the KJL was all about positivity and the can do attitude that I am trying to cultivate in myself. That pretty much guaranteed that I was destined to experience an epic fail in this area of my life in short order. Tuesday was that day, and it stretched into Wednesday morning.

I was irritated by several things that happened on campus, then there was more that happened at dinner, and by 9:00PM I was sick to fucking death of everyone and everything. I kept it in check until right before bed. Then I couldn't sleep, so I stayed up too late reading, and got up the next morning to do a group kettlebell workout feeling like a very grumpy, very old man. After the workout, I capped off this manky little stretch of futility by making one of my roommates cry.

Some Karmic Avenger I am.

Once I got to my office on Wednesday, I began to snap out of it. Yes, the events that set me off were real, and I was not out of line to feel what I did, but how I react to those feelings is my choice. The world is what you make of it, every single day, every moment. Your every thought can bring into existence a garden - or a sewer - for you to reside in. You can allow the toxicity to increase, or you can make your world a place that encourages growth. Unlike so much of modern life, this is the one thing you truly have control over; no one can "make" you think anything. Your mind is possibly the last and only inviolate thing you possess. Own it, take responsibility for it, and be its master.

My mind today is much more hygienic. I have hosed out the sludge and it smells a lot less like fail in here now (yes, my mind has an odor). I'm back to making a garden. Perhaps the KJL will let me keep my decoder ring after all.

Winding Down

The last weekend of summer break is upon us! On Monday, the denizens of Flock Hall 2.0 begin classes again, and the "Summer of Fitness" comes to an end.

While I have not lost as many pounds as I would have liked, my body has changed dramatically. On the last days of June and July I recorded a set of body measurements, including, chest, waist, hips, thighs, biceps and forearms. The difference between the June set and the July set was fairly dramatic - I lost a total of 11 inches over all, and my biceps and forearms became much more symmetrical (click here to see the actual numbers). Because of kettlebells, I am no longer a bipedal fiddler crab, and I no longer need shirts sized XXL. My actual weight loss has been hovering around 60 pounds for a few weeks now, but I am certain that I have lost a bit more fat than that, and gained muscle in its place. My final set of measurements for the summer will be done on 8/31/08, but I imagine they won't be as dramatic as the last set - I have had more off time in the last month than I did in July.

As for the sports goals I set for myself, I have made great strides in some areas. In the running category, I have increased my mileage quite a bit, and I posted my first 5 mile run last week. Granted, I did 5 miles because I got lost in the woods near my mother's house and had to keep moving to avoid being eaten by midges and mosquitoes, but still... My running has slacked a bit in the last week due to a bit of apathy and some ankle soreness, but over all I feel very good about my progress in this area.

In strength training, I am slowly making gains on pull ups and dips. I currently do these on a machine that gives you a boost, effectively reducing your body weight to make the exercise easier, but I am using less and less help each week. In push ups I am on week 3 of the 100 push ups program, and making progress. With the kettlebells, my snatch test has improved to 90 reps in 4 minutes with a 16kg, and my cardio capacity for longer sets is greatly improved. At the beginning of the summer, a one minute set was terrible - now, I can finish a four minute set without dying, and I recently did 200 one arm swings in 10 minutes.

Handball has been going well also - I am finding that my shots have a lot more snap to them (due to the strength training I think) and my accuracy has improved quite a bit lately. My left hand is more dependable for short shots, and I'm picking up more off the back walls with it as well, but it is still weak on overhead shots. The main problem has been getting opponents on the court regularly, but that is nothing new.

The non-athletic areas that I wanted to work on - meditation, bird training, my reading list, etc., have gone fairly well. As always, I would probably benefit from more meditation and reading, but I have done quite a bit over the last two months. The birds have gotten much more manageable in recent weeks as well, especially Imelda - she is no longer quite the flapping idiot she was back in June.

Now for the bad news. I have only played squash a few times this summer, and I've played tennis only once. I played a fair amount of badminton earlier in the summer, but of late we have missed the club play times more often than not. I have refrained from the racquet sports partly because my forearms have been killing me from kettlebell and gripper training, but the recent slow down has been due to lack of opponents and general laziness. To be honest, by the time Friday rolls around I've been too tired from other workouts to even consider playing 2-3 hours of badminton in the evening, and dragging my regular partners out to the tennis courts has proven just about impossible (they all hate tennis).

Taken as a whole, I'd say that the Summer of Fitness has been a success, but it could have been better. I think the lesson in this experience is two-fold. Firstly, I have come to realize that I need to concentrate on activities that don't require partners to do. I have been pretty frustrated when my friends have not had the time to join me on the courts. It's caused me to not burn as many calories as I might have if I had just focused on solo activities. In the future I plan to work more on running and kettlebells and not depend so heavily on the various games we play to get my workouts for the week. I will try to look at playing court sports as a treat, and view my daily workout as a personal activity.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is clear to me that true fitness is actually within reach. I had seriously doubted my ability to get fit again due to my age, genetics, family history, lifestyle, and chronic injuries, but now I know that I can do it. This experiment has proven to me that I don't have to settle for just being less doughy. I now know that I can actually have a "no, I don't mind playing on the skins team" kind of body again.

So - what's next?

Goals for the coming semester includes:
Lose more weight (I have another 60 pounds to go).
Run a 10k.
Achieve proper, unaided pull ups and dips.
Successfully finish the 100 push up program.
Do 150+ reps in the Secret Service Snatch Test.

I'll soon be posting the "Big Calendar of Flock Sports" which will include all of my planned workouts and runs, along with a listing of times when I'll be available for handball, badminton, squash and the like. If you want to see it, drop me an email and I'll give you access to it (it's on Google calendar).

Do you have goals for the next few months? Share them here, and then you can come back and gloat about it when you succeed!

No Whine Zone

I have been known to whine a bit.

I know - that's like saying Michael Phelps is known to swim from time to time - but I've been making an effort to bitch less of late. When I catch myself being critical, I stop and try to come up with a positive thing to say about the topic at hand. It's actually a great exercise for developing self-control, critical thinking, and mental acuity, not to mention improving your attitude over all, but it has brought another problem to light. I have discovered that without critical, judgmental, and generally snarky commentary, I have very little to say.

Some of you (particularly the local Flock) might be of the opinion that I could afford to shut up a bit anyway, and you wouldn't be wrong. In fact, the basic rules of Zen, the Ten Grave Precepts, contain three injunctions against negative speech - specifically prohibiting lying, speaking of faults of others, and praising yourself while abusing others. Take away those three types of communication, and it gets pretty quiet around here.

While I was on my recent flights to and from Reno I thought about this quite a bit. Actually, whenever I get on a plane, I divide my time between trying to guess which passengers will get hysterical when the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, and thinking about my own spiritual state. I also like to try to catch a glimpse of the pilots, to see if they have that far away, Vietnam vet sort of stare - but my flying phobia is another post.

During those flights, I decided that with the new semester fast approaching, it was time to step it up a notch and try to take this positivity thing to a new level. I decided that when the masks fell, I would be the person who says to everyone else, "Cool! I've never been in a plane emergency before! This is going to make a great blog post!"

That brand of positivity is something the world could use more of, and I plan to implement it in my life, immediately like. Of course, my position as a self-appointed internet spiritual leader requires that I drag you all along. Join me, or be branded "heretic!"

It's not that I am suggesting that you be a yes man, and accept everything that comes at you. It's more that there are things that must be overcome - there is no dodging, no replay, no whining your way out of it - and those things should be attempted in as cheerful a way as possible. If the plane is going to crash, I will first assume that I will survive it, and then I will be as helpful as possible to those around me. I might even convince them that they will survive it, too.

There were guys I knew who were lifers in the military who were possessed of a certain attitude that made them great soldiers. It was called many things - "can do" and "ooh rah" were the most common in my experience. Those terms are a kind of verbal shorthand for "yes, I will get this done and I will enjoy it!" In fact, ooh rah was used as an answer for just about everything.

An example:
Sgt: "Maggot, you are ate the fuck up! Can you UA the AO?"
Soldier: "Ooh rah!"

Sgt: "Oh dear! You appear to be injured. Can you safely leave the area of operations under you own power, or shall I call an ambulance for you?"
Soldier: "Yes, I am injured - thank you for noticing. I am, however, capable of walking and will do so; I wouldn't want to be a bother."

I'm sure it sounds silly, especially to my jaded, internet savvy, and thus uber-cynical readers, but that brand of positivity is infectious. When the drill instructor tells you to do 100 push ups in the slimy mud, you may not want to... but when everyone around you screams "ooh rah!" and assumes the forward leaning rest position, you do too. And you fucking like it.

Of course, we are not soldiers, and this is not a war. It's just life - but we could all afford to be a bit more warrior-like in our pursuit of it. Every day is a mission to be completed. No amount of bitching will change that, but a bit of positivity can make it a lot less shitty, for you and everyone around you. And like it or not, we ARE all on the same team. If you make it better for those around you, it will be better for you as well.

What do you need to be positive about today? Tell us about it, then get busy doing it!

Arte y pico

The blog has been on hold of late, due to travel and preparations for the impending semester. Now that I have returned to it, I find that in my absence that one of the most faithful of the cyberflock has honored me with an Arte y pico award. Thanks to Mayren for nominating me - I am humbled. In fact, the pressure is on - I feel compelled to write something scintillating now, to prove that I deserve it...

In the meantime, I'll recognize another blogs that I think deserves it. Since Mayren already named my number one pick, A Whole New G, I'll move on to my next favorite powerful female blogger, Sloth. For about 4 years now, Sloth has been a hero of mine. Her attitude can only be described as "devil-may-be-horrified" and I will confess to being influenced by it from day one. Read her stuff, and be amused, and amazed, and awe-struck. For real - it's good.

I'll be back soon, with a new post that scintillates. Trust me - something wicked this way comes...

Papal Travel

I'm visiting family in Oregon right now. The internet is sketchy, the bugs are legion, and the family interactions are a bit strained...

Barring a sudden span of downtime while I'm here, I'll return to regular pasting on 8/18/08. Until then, you could catch up on the archive - because I'm a hit whore, and I still want the end of the week numbers to look good. Also, it will pay off when the first annual Flock trivia contest starts! All the questions will come from the blog and the comics, and who ever can answer the most questions will win some fabulous piece of Black Vatican schwag! Study hard!

Papal Slacker

It has come to my attention that I have been a very lazy pontiff. I have overlooked one of the big jobs that popes always take on - the writing of encyclicals.

The way that other Vatican uses the word, an encyclical is a letter of instruction to a given audience of bishops; usually the bishops of a specific country or all the bishops of the world. In terms of its original etymology, it is simply a "circular letter" - meaning a letter to be disseminated among all. Either way, it is a position paper of sorts, in which the seated primate makes his views (and thus, the official views of the whole church) known on topics of interest to members.

Benedict is already working on his third encyclical - "Caritas in Veritate" (Love in Truth), which is supposed to be about the social problems in developing countries, while I haven't even done one yet - and I've been in office a year longer than he has! Sure, I've issued some beatifications and some censures, but clearly, I need to get my pontifex in gear...

To that end, I am throwing open my inbox to the Flock. What topics would you like the Black Vatican to clarify? I will entertain any suggestions, from the most esoteric and theological (how many BCPs can dance on the head of a pin?) to the most mundane (should the toilet tissue in my home pull from the top or from underneath?). One caveat - like most popes, I'll refrain from commenting on politics (GO OBAMA!).

Yes - this is a thinly veiled effort to get you, the reader, to create topics for the blog, thereby doing my job for me. Thanks for pretending you didn't notice.


I will admit, I can be fairly intense about my pursuits. When I get excited about something I tell everyone I know about it, and frequently drag them into it with me. Throughout my life there have been many examples - the SCA, Judo, Kendo, handball, squash, boomerangs, kiting, etc. Lately it's been running and kettlebells, and I am happy to report that I have made at least 4 or 5 converts to running, and at least 6 of the local Flock are playing with kettlebells regularly. I know it can be irritating to those who don't want to hear about my latest thingy nonstop, but it could be worse, right? I mean, what if my newset obsession was something really detrimental, like... drugs? Or being a Republican? [shudder]

At any rate, these pictures make my enthusiasm for kettlebells look positively luke-warm by comparison.

I have owned two homes, and even done some professional landscaping in my time, but regardless of how excited I have been about various hobbies, I have never committed such offenses of topiary excess. These folks are clearly serious about their kettlebells - I imagine the animated Santa they put on their lawn in December is doing a military press with a 16kg instead of waving...

Ok, I'll admit, I'm a little jealous, but not enough to run down to the nursery and buy some junipers.
Not yet, anyway...