My Nose is Miami

I am ill. A low-grade cold, courtesy of the good people I visited with on the Wind River Reservation; I think they're still pissed about those blankets. It's a lingering malaise, with pale symptoms which fail to make me bedridden. Instead, I stagger about in an orange DayQuil haze, a coughing and sneezing zombie reminder that the next great pandemic is just around the corner. It's not contaminated birds or travelers to Asia that you should fear - grad students are the vector to watch. I'm no lightning rod salesman, but as far as flu viruses go, something wicked this way comes, and it's disguised as a teaching assistant....

I checked my other blog and found that I was sick just about this same time last year. Perhaps my sinuses are where this particular ailment goes to winter every year, like a viral snowbird. I'm amused by the image of my body as a timeshare condo; little old retired viruses in Hawaiian print shirts sipping umbrella drinks in my ethmoidal cells, playing shuffleboard over my tonsillectomy scar, and ordering the early-bird shrimp platter at that little seafood place by the septum.

At any rate, this is why there hasn't been a post for a few days. I am on the mend now, and soon I will be back to full posting strength. In the interim, fueled largely by the strict pharmaceutical regimen that's required to keep my nose from running and my cough at bay, I've been working on a letter to President Obama. I have some ideas I think he's going to like...

The Rack

In my continuing quest to find my abdominal muscles again, I have purchased my largest and most painful workout toy yet...
Lovingly named "the Rack," it is actually a Torque Pull-Up System, made by Torque Athletic, and the rings are Xtreme Rings, from Gymnastic Bodies. We use it for pull-ups, dips, ring push-ups, body rows, and my personal favorite, hanging leg raises. So far, just about everyone hates it with a passion - which undoubtedly means it is working well.

We are all at different levels; some of our workout crowd can't even begin to do a single pull-up, while some of us can knock out half a dozen with ease. The nice thing about this set up is that we can cater the difficulty of the exercise to the individual's current strength level. For example, I am pretty far from being able to do unaided pull-ups so I'm doing a lot of body rows, while Miss N. is very close to doing a full pull-up, so she is doing sets of slow negatives, using just a little assistance on the "up" portion of the exercise.

I am incorporating body weight exercises - especially the leg raises - into my routine because I want to look like the gentleman to the right. Of course, my stomach will be much more fuzzy, since I could only achieve that level of depilatory purity by way of 20mg of Valium, a tub full of molten wax, and a staff of 3 very determined stylists... but in theory, this is what I want my stomach to look like.

The leg raises and all of the plank type exercises (push-ups, body rows, etc.) are definitely working my abs. After the first full workout with the Rack, I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach by all of the Budweiser Wagon team. I simply could not sit up at all; getting out of bed involved rolling over to my stomach and then doing a push-up, to avoid any movements that even vaguely resembled bending at the waist. Yes, this is an excellent new toy...

Bending Update

I know what you're thinking. "Another friggin' post about bending stuff? Just buy a press brake* already..."

The reason for hitting this topic again is that I had another small breakthrough last night. So you will have some idea of what I'm talking about, the pic below shows the steel stock I am currently bending.
The nails are laid out in order of difficulty from left to right; white, green, yellow, blue, and the ridiculously hard red. You can also see my bending pads, which are two 12"x12" pieces of cordura (similar to the stuff of which backpacks are made), folded in thirds and then tightly rolled and secured with rubber bands.

Stock Dimensions
White - 3/16"x6" Beginner 1
Green - 3/16"x5" Beginner 2
Yellow - 1/4"x7" Intermediate
Blue - 1/4"x6" Advanced
Red - 5/16" x 7" Insane

After bending the IronMind yellow nail yesterday, I decided to take the day off from bending. In fact, I took the day off from all exercise because I am ill. It's just a minor head cold, but I did feel pretty crappy today. When I got home from my evening class, I ate some leftover pasta and took some NyQuil. I expected to crash pretty quickly, but an hour later I was still awake, so I decided to bend a few nails prior to bed.

After a couple warm-up bends with green nails, I decided to tackle two white nails at once. With my newly polished technique, I found the double white to be pretty easy. I knew that I should stop after that, but I really wanted to bend the blue, so I wrapped it up and went to work on it.

It took about 5 minutes to get it done. I took two breaks of about a minute each where I put the nail down, shook out my hands and cursed a lot. My initial attempt put about a 30 degree kink in it, but after that it didn't budge for several very long minutes. I just kept at it, until I finally felt it begin to move. At that point, I started to notice the ends of the steel digging into my palms through the cloth pads, but I pushed through it and got it finished.

Soon, I will do battle with the red nail. But not today - my hands are wrecked and my arms are killing me now...

*Ok, you probably aren't saying EXACTLY that unless you have worked in a metal shop. A press brake is a tool that is used to make precise bends in sheet and bar stock...

Short Steel Bending

Also known as "nail bending," this is possibly the strangest hobby I have yet undertaken. It is just as it sounds - I bend short pieces of steel (or nails or bolts or whatever), wrapped in cloth, with only my hands. It requires significant hand strength, but there is a great deal of technique involved as well. Turns out there is a right way and many wrong ways to vent your spleen on a hapless piece of bar stock.

I have been interested in this odd form of strength training for about 6 months, and I finally tried it for the first time on Monday. I stumbled across it when I was researching kettlebells - the two seem to be a natural match, since many of the biggest names in kettlebells are also benders. I ordered up a bag of nails from IronMind and when it got here, I got to work.

The bent pieces in these pictures are IronMind Yellow Nails - 1/4" cold rolled steel, cut to 7" in length. These are considered an intermediate bend - there are much tougher nails out there, but for today I am very pleased.

I had bent the level 1 and 2 nails in my bag pretty easily, but my first attempt at a yellow nail on Monday left me red in the face, gasping for air, and slightly dizzy. For all that effort, the nail only bent about 15 degrees. In other words, it kicked my ass. I tried the same one again Tuesday evening, and budged it about 2 degrees more.

After some surfing on the internet for technique pointers and a better way to wrap the cloth pads (yes - YouTube has EVERY damn thing) I was able to grab my partially bent yellow nail and completely kill it. In fact, once I got my technique down, it felt quite a bit easier. To make sure that it wasn't easier because I had pre-bent that nail, I tried it twice more with new straight stock; the results, and the cloth pads I used, are pictured on the right.

"What is this good for?" you ask. Well... it makes your wrists and hands incredibly strong, but in the grand scheme of things, it's probably not the most useful skill to develop. There is, however, something incredibly satisfying about feeling that nail bend. In the first few milliseconds of a bend, it feels like there is no way you could possibly do this. The tissues of your hands and arms and back begin to send all sorts of dire alarms to your central nervous system, warning the brain that this is a good way to injure oneself. If you ignore those warnings for just a bit longer than feels completely sane, then you can actually feel the steel give up. It yields to your will, and once it has moved a few millimeters, you KNOW that you can finish it off.

So, yeah - it's a stupid guy thing.

WTF is a Sea Kitten?

I'm sure many of you have already heard of this, thanks to the Colbert Report and about a half million other mocking articles on PETA's latest stupidity.

Look, I'm all for everyone getting away from animal based foods, but there are so many other ways to get people to give up fish. If the basic ethical argument ("there's no reason to kill animals in order to eat a healthy diet") doesn't work, they could try any of these:

-Remind them that fish are not inspected on a "carcass by carcass" basis like quadrupeds and poultry. Less than 10% of fresh fish actually gets inspected.

-Remind them about the mercury content in seafood - The FDA's newest guidelines recommend that women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Low mercury types of fish and shellfish should be limited to two servings per week. (I don't know about you, but I'd just as soon not eat ANYthing laced with mercury, thanks...)

-Point out that commercial fishing snares many species that aren't eaten. These creatures, known as "by-catch" include dolphins, sea turtles, and hundreds of "non-target" species. Although the by-catch is tossed back in the ocean, many of them are damaged by handling and don't survive. Commercial marine fisheries in the U.S. alone toss away up to 20 billion pounds of by-catch each year--twice the commercial and recreational catch combined.

Instead of all this, PETA - the same folks who years ago threw paint on fur coats, and more recently brought us the Lettuce Ladies and Broccoli Boys - has decided that people would be less likely to eat fish if they were called "sea kittens."

This kind of nonsense is just more proof to the omnivores of the world that vegetarians and vegans are wackos. Thanks PETA - as if being a vegan in Wyoming, isn't hard enough already...

Coriander's question

In our ongoing series of questions from readers, Coriander asks...

How do we achieve peace in the Middle East?
This is going to be an unpopular answer, but I'm going to say it anyway.

Peace, is not what is wanted in the Middle East. Peace, in the simplest terms, is just the absence of warfare. It's relatively easy to achieve that - it just requires the will to initiate a "total war."

Let me clarify - war is not a good option. It should be the absolute last resort, after all diplomatic channels have been exhausted, and the only way to avoid the extinction of your people is to fight. It should NOT to be engaged in over frivolous crap like territory or racial hatred or religion or OIL...

That said, once you have given up on any other solution and have decided to launch air and ground attacks, it is counter-productive to waffle in your policies. No humanitarian aid, no days off for holidays, no rules, no respect for temples or museums or hospitals, and no mercy. Kill everyone; men, women, children, livestock, pets, and maybe even the plant life. Do that until the other side is absolutely unable to continue. What remains is certainly peace.

Of course, I'm not the first to suggest this.
"It should be noted that one must either pamper or do away with men, because they will avenge themselves for minor offences while for more serious ones they cannot; so that any harm done to a man must be the kind that removes any fear of revenge."
Those words come from our old pal Machiavelli. If you're going to fight, fight to win, once and for all, with all of the weapons at your disposal, and expect the other guy to do the same. To do otherwise is to encourage lengthier wars, and create a situation where another war is brewing. Each of these wars is not new - they are the same old war reemerging, because the problems were not solved even though the fighting ended. You must possess the will to press the attack until complete surrender is achieved.

For the most part, we - and by "we" I mean "modern humans" - lack that kind of horrible will. We can't bear the reality of it. Instead, we engage in limited warfare. We kill, but we have decided that only certain people can be killed, and they must not be killed with certain weapons, nor on certain days, nor in certain places. We have made rules (the Geneva Convention), and installed referees (the U.N.) and made war into a sport that can be engaged in regularly, instead of the all-out madness which it should be. If war were allowed to be the grisly enterprise it truly is, there would be far fewer of them, and they would be shorter.

No, what everyone wants is actually more appropriately called "truce." Which is significantly harder to create. On that topic, I'll have to get back to you...

WNG's question

Based on a previous post, WNG has a question...
Who is your very favorite person in the world at this moment?
Well WNG, that's easy - it's my lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Ok, that was surreal... I think I was just struck by virtual lightening.

Actually I'm referring to Jesus as played by Jack Black in "Prop 8 - The Musical."

fleur's questions...

Based on a post found here, fleur writes:

I would like to know...
-African or European Swallow?
Any swallow is a good swallow. Beats spitting, anyway...

-Favorite cuisine and why?
Asking a fat guy to pick his favorite cuisine is like asking a junkie to choose his favorite needle... or something. If the dreadful day came in which I had to pick only one cuisine from which to eat for the rest of my days, I would have to say Indian would be my choice. I am always impressed by the diversity of it, and the ability to create complex flavors with few ingredients.

-What the hell is sociology anyway?
Sociology is, in the strictest sense, the study of society. Glad we covered that... now we can dispense with that ultimately useless definition. Sociology is the fiery hell from whence I pen this missive, and the nurturing womb which keeps me fed and warmed whilst I reside in the icy wasteland of Black Vatican City. It is my excuse to ponder the whys and hows of human interaction without being saddled with all the social baggage that goes with being labeled a philosopher.

-Why, when you so clearly hate it, have you spent so much time in Wyoming?
I do hate this place with the fiery passion of a thousand burning cat nuns, but it's really just that I hate the cold. And the snow. And the wind. And the Republicans. And the Mormons. And the cowboys. See also, "nurturing womb" above.

-What is your favorite cookbook?
My favorite cookbook is whichever one you happen to be using at the moment to make me tasty vegan treats.
My second favorite cookbook (right now) is "The Veganomicon." It's got all of the nummy stuff that I love from "Vegan with a Vengeance" and so much more.

-If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one book with you, what would it be and why?
It would be a book entitled "How to Get Rescued from a Desert Island." It's seems the only logical choice.
Failing that, I'll take a good translation of "Instructions to the Cook" by Dogen Zenji. It is a treatise on how to live a mindful existence - if I'm stranded, I may as well get enlightened while I'm there...

Ask, and You Shall Receive.

I let this blog go dark over the holiday break. I spent the down time just enjoying the time off from school and work, and did a lot of reading, working out, and thinking. It was productive; I feel more at peace going into 2009 than I have in many years. Don't think, however, that "at peace" means I know what I'm doing. There are still gaping holes in my future plans but I am, for once, ok with that.

I spent some of my down time thinking about this blog; what I want it to say, and how I'm going to find the time for that to happen. I even contemplated ending it completely. In some ways, it does seem to have run its course; the year 2008 saw the lowest number of posts in the history of the Ministry. Despite that, I still feel the need for a public outlet. Whatever it is that propels me toward the keyboard is still active, it's just less insistent these days. The problem is, as a blog reader, I know how lame it is to read a blog that updates really sporadically - and I confess, I do want regular readers. What's an internet fame whore to do?

Well, just like any other fame whore, I'll start by revealing more than I should. No, I'm not going to be giving the paparazzi "accidental" shots of my freshly shaved genitalia peeking out from under my kilt as I get out of cars - although that might be a hit in some circles. What I mean is that I'm going to use less filter. OK - even less filter than usual.

If you've got a question for me, now's the time. Ask quickly, before I come to my senses.

This should be fun. Not as much fun as pantie-less shots of Paris, but still fun...