The Addiction

On top of my allergies, I am experiencing my first summer cold in a long time. One of the Flockhall inmates shared it with us, then left for vacation; the bastard. I am simultaneously sweating and chilled, and I have a cough that is best described as "chunky" and "nasty-ass."

I've discovered that I am also suffering from the worst illness of all - civilization. Some events of late have conveyed to me in painful detail just how far removed I am from the natural state. I was, not that long ago, quite capable out in the world, but I am all soft underbelly now. I am, like so many in America, dying from our collective success.

We have succeeded in removing so many of the dangers (and excitements) from our lives, that our senses have become dulled, and our reflexes along with them. We are deadened, taking in the world around us through various filters - air conditioners, LCD monitors, UV glass in our cars, earbuds, shoes, etc. You could say that we are addicted to altering the experience. Unfortunately, the undiluted experience is what transforms. It's the friction that grinds away the rough edges, that forces us to grow. By dulling the experience we stagnate. We become soft, fat, overindulged, and whiny.

The solution? I'm not sure yet, but for starters I know I need to get outside more. That's hard to imagine right now, when everything that blooms is trying to kill me. I've already bored you all with my allergy woes in the past, so I won't go over it again. Suffice it to say that I will not be going outside for extended periods until I wake up without my throat feeling a skinned knee. Once that happens, however, some hiking and trail running is in order.


If you've read my other blog in the last few days, you know that I gave myself a few blisters by going running barefoot. It was a very short run (only .6 mile), just to start the long process of toughening up my feet, but clearly I haven't been in direct contact with the ground for a very long time. I've been practicing the barefoot style of running, using very minimal shoes and striving for a high-cadence mid-foot stride, but I had not put my tootsies directly on the pavement until Tuesday.

Blisters are actually a good training tool for barefoot running. Assuming the pavement you are running on is not scorching hot, if you get blisters you know that your foot is not relaxed, or that you are pushing or twisting in some way with each step; it's an ouchy indicator of stride problems. If it hurts or leaves marks, you're doing it wrong.

The idea that pain can be diagnostic or instructive is foreign to modern Western sports training - the exercise and fitness industry tries to convince us all on a daily basis that a painless 20 minutes, 3 times a week is all it takes to look like a member of the Greek pantheon. It's a concept common to traditional martial arts, however. An example from Karate is the makiwara, or punching board. It's basically a square post sticking up out of the ground, padded at the top with a bundle of straw wrapped up in rope. It trains the karateka to make a proper fist, and to deliver a focused strike. Failing to do either of those things results in immediate feedback - it hurts. Hitting the makiwara correctly can hurt a bit too, but the first time you don't keep your fist tight or you don't land the punch squarely on the first two knuckles, you KNOW you did something wrong. Blisters are much the same for the barefoot runner

Based on the blisters I've got at the moment, my right foot was doing something very wrong. I have a blister on the ball of my foot that was practically crippling yesterday - today it's just irritating, but still enough to keep me from running. I have been fussing over these owies since I got them on Tuesday. They've been drained, trimmed, disinfected, and lotioned, but they will only heal so fast. Missing three days of running is unacceptable; there are races I want to be ready for later in the summer, I just moved up in my running program to 25 minute intervals, and I am close to meeting a couple of my goals on the Nike+ site... And that's when it hit me.

I miss running.

I am actually jonesing for a run.

I know - you're stunned. So am I. This is ME we're talking about here; Mister "I-didn't-train-with-weapons-for-years-to-run-from-shit."

When I was told that I had to run a 2 mile qualifier at the State Patrol Academy I asked the instructor why. He said it was to simulate chasing a suspect, to which I replied, "isn't that why we have cars?"

When I was asked to participate in a fundraiser at the University of Nebraska, I chose the 50 mile bike ride instead of the 5k run.

My zombie apocalypse preparedness plan has always been, "You go ahead - I'll hold them off until you come back with help."

Despite all this, I find myself grousing about not being able to run. I am beginning to doubt my foundations. I feel as though I might wake up tomorrow and say, "no, thanks - I don't like chocolate anymore. Also, I've given my life to Jesus and registered as a Republican."

To be honest, running is something I've always wanted to like. It appeals to my ideals about simple, natural fitness. It doesn't require a gym membership or thousands of dollars worth of special equipment, it's something we all learn to do when we're toddlers, and it's the foundation of so many other sports. It's also the ultimate form of self-reliance; if the world falls into utter Thunderdome chaos tomorrow, it's comforting to know that I will be able to get to the food riots and slave arenas in a timely fashion on my own two feet.

So you see, I like the idea of running - the problem for me has always been the running itself. I was actually pretty fast as a kid; I remember running the 40 in Jr. High football and having the second fastest time on the team. I ran the 220 in track and did pretty well (26 seconds flat in 9th grade). It was the longer distances, however, that screwed me up. I was told by well-meaning coaches to lengthen my stride when I wasn't sprinting, stretching my legs out in front of me so that I was heel-striking with every step. Years of shinsplints, bruised heels, knee pain, and clunky, motion-control shoes made me hate running.

Now I'm trying to run like a child again. Without heel strike, without padded shoes, and without so much concern for long, fluid leg motion. People who run with that motion are built like gazelles - long thin legs and low-fat bodies, and beautiful they are, but that's not me. My legs are more like tree trunks, thus I run more like... an Ent?

So, yeah - Treebeard, Quickbeam, and I are going to pick up a quick 3 miler when my foot heals...

Tennis is tougher than the World Cup

UPDATE: Isner finally defeated Mahut in 11 hours and five minutes: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68

This blog has seen several posts about competition. I contend that every game is an attempt to create a fair test that determines which side is best, given the victory conditions agreed upon for that game. This is the raison d'ĂȘtre of sporting contests - to answer that question.

That said, I am sick to fucking death of the World Cup. Games which end in a tie, have, by definition, failed to answer this basic question. In fact, games which are allowed to end in a tie, serve only one purpose - they extend the length of the tournament. All tournaments that use formats other than single elimination are designed to do this. They are perfectly suited for children's sports, actually. If, for example, you play a double elimination tournament in Little League, it guarantees that the kids get to play at least two games, no matter how badly they play. A round-robin tourney is even better - you can lose to every single team there (France...) but at least you get to be on the field a lot.

In the case of professional football players, this sort of gentleness is unnecessary - they are big boys, they can handle losing one game and going home. The fact that the "real" part of the tournament - the final 16 - is played with extra time and shootouts to bring the games to a conclusive end shows that FIFA is aware that ties are useless, and ultimately dissatisfying. It has been argued in the past that football is so taxing that making the early games in the tournament go into extra time would be too much for the players. This is nonsense - the truth is, the World Cup uses this format to make certain that about eleventy-jillion dollars are made during this month. The same is true of the sketchy ball they are using for this World Cup - it's not about the contest, it's about the benjamins.

As if to make my point crystal clear, we have the ongoing battle of France's Nicolas Mahut and John Isner of the United States, currently taking place at Wimbledon. These two guys have logged 10 hours of tennis, in a match that is now going into its third day. At the time I'm writing this, Isner and Mahut are tied at 59 games all in the fifth set. Isner has served 98 aces, while Mahut has served 94. The match has been stopped twice on account of fading light, and will resume tomorrow.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you don't accept ties. This is dramatic, exciting, record-breaking sport - as opposed to the boring, ho-hum crap the World Cup has offered up. You don't hear these guys complaining about it being too taxing; they are just going to keep playing until there is a winner! (Also - and this is completely unrelated to my beef with ties, just a personal note - I would like to point out that those goddamned plastic vuvuzela horns are not allowed in the stands at Wimbledon!)

Tennis doesn't mess with the ball. Tennis doesn't allow bad behavior, from fans or players, and most importantly, tennis doesn't accept ties. The World Cup folks could take a tip from tennis.

Couple the completely boring World Cup results (a full quarter of the games played so far have ended in ties, according to this results chart), the ball that everyone hates, and the general tendency of soccer players to fling themselves to the ground as though shot with a large calibre handgun whenever another player's sleeve brushes them, and you have a recipe for an embarrassingly lame tournament.

There - I said it. The World Cup is lame. I am prepared for the ire of the fans of the world's most popular game, but seriously, this is pretty sad.


As promised, today's post is about the PS3's InFamous. In this superhero-fantasy-fulfillment you play Cole McGrath, former bike messenger and parkour god of Empire City. On a routine delivery run the package he is carrying explodes, killing thousands and unleashing a virulent plague on the city. Of course, the explosion doesn't kill Cole (everyone knows the safest place to be when terrifying new technologies explode is ground zero) and when he awakes he finds he is imbued with electrical powers.

It starts out small - he can shoot little bursts of lightning, send out a static shock wave, and resist damage to some extent. He is also given some serious strength which makes his parkour abilities truly crazy. In fact, he kind of looks like he's the love child of a drunken hump between Assassin's Creed II and The Prince of Persia. That's how he earned his nickname around Flockhall, "Electric Monkey Man."

Like Ezio, he can climb to the highest points in his environment and dive off, but Cole doesn't need a hay bale to land in. In fact, one of his later powers ("Thunder Drop") allows him to fall ridiculous distances as an explosive attack. The higher the fall, the bigger the boom, so jumping off tall buildings is actually encouraged. Later in the game he shows off the other side of his genetics as he learns to slow down time for sniping. Cole, however, doesn't need the dagger of time to do it - he just needs a little bit of electricity.

As the game progresses he becomes a juggernaut of vaguely electric whoop-ass. By the end of the game he can actually call down lightning from heaven. (If there was any justice in this world the Black Pope would have that power...)

Although the game has a plot, and there is a bit of a twist at the end, it resides in a very implausible neighborhood, and ultimately it's not all that important. The thing about this game is the play itself. It has elements of so many game types - skateboarding, platformers, melee fighters, 3rd person shooters, sniper simulators, and even scavenger hunts. Although I played the plot missions all the way through to the end, I did all of the side quests first, simply because I liked the way Cole moves through the city. Grinding on the wires to gain speed then flying on static thrust to the next rooftop, where you rain down shock grenades on the thugs below is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.

Another great element of the game is the healing system. When you get hurt, just look for an electrical source and charge up. If you wish, you can heal (or drain) the people you find injured on the street as well. I spent about 30 minutes one day just running around the city playing Jesus. I would walk up to an injured civilian, touch him and say, "Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house." Very satisfying, albeit a bit sacrilegious. (Another power that the Pontifex Niger should have...)

When the final battle arrived, I wanted to go back into the city and find more side missions. There were none. I stalled, skating around the city on the train tracks, looking for thugs to beat up. I felt like the last guy at a party, saying "come on guys, the night is young!" Eventually, I accepted that the ride was over, and it was time to go face the boss.

After a titanic struggle, I beat him. Well, actually it just took titanic cursing, but I got it done. Watched the credits roll, then ran around the newly freed city a bit... and it wasn't the same. The crisis was over, the thugs were gone, and Electric Monkey Man was no longer needed.

Luckily, InFamous 2 is in the works, with a 2011 release date.

Heavenly Sword

Unemployment has turned me into a crazed console gamer. Usually, I'm the guy for whom walkthroughs are written, but I've finished two PS3 games in the last two weeks, without major internet assistance. This is some kind of record for me, as I'm the guy who played Dead Rising for three hours one night without making any kind of headway on the plot because I just really enjoyed hitting zombies with guitars. I'm just saying that more weapons, in both games and real life, should play power chords when you use them...

The first I tackled was Heavenly Sword, because the main character, Nariko, is seriously hot on the cover. Flaming red hair, a barely there costume that defies gravity to cover her, and a huge, ass-kicking sword - what's not to like? I figured there would be gratuitous shots of heaving cleavage and girly buttocks made rock hard by a lifetime of martial arts. That expectation may have been enhanced by the several confusing hours I spent playing Bayonetta just prior to starting Heavenly Sword. I was a bit disappointed that Nariko's special attacks don't cause her clothes to fall off like Bayonetta's, but it's a good game anyway.

It turns out that Heavenly Sword is a thinking man's button masher. Sort of like a prettier God of War but with a more nuanced combat system, a better plot, and no bare boobs. Nariko has three distinct stances that she can fight in, and the player must make sure she is in the proper stance to block or counter the attacks of her opponents, based on their stance. At first it's infuriating, but with time you begin to not only block attacks but also counter them and send them back at the attacker - most satisfying. As is required by gaming law, she is also equipped with amazing special moves which charge up based on how many blows in a row she can land. My favorite is the one where she hooks her swords into the opponent as she leaps into the air, then carries him up with her. She then slams him down on his head, and lands with one foot in his crotch. It's cringe-worthy every time it happens.

And happen, it does. Often. This game dishes up combat in huge slabs. To keep it from being monotonous there are some sections where you use missile weapons or play as a secondary character, Kai, who is younger, insane, and quite the archer. In all the missile combat sections you can use "after touch" to guide the missiles once they are on the way. It's rather like riding a Gulf War era "smart bomb" down to the target. It's a pretty unique experience, and a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.

So why am I writing about a game that is 3 years old? (See "unemployed" above.) Because it holds up pretty damn well against the current crop of games. Take, for instance, "Grand Theft Equus" (AKA Red Dead Redemption). I realize that they are fundamentally different types of games, but RDR is just plain fugly, while Heavenly Sword is absolutely gorgeous. Or, you could compare it to Assassin's Creed II. AC2 is very pretty, and the plot is amazing, but the melee combat is slow and clunky compared to Heavenly Sword.

In short, it's Pope Tested, Ministry Approved. The good news is, you can probably pick it up for less than thirty bucks now. Give it a try.

Tomorrow, InFamous.

Final BBBC Post

If this is your first BBBC... What did you get out of your experience? Do you think it will change the way you blog in the future?

This experience has proven what I have always known about my blogging, and writing in general. If I am given topics, I can be productive. If left to my own devices, I'll spend my time looking at pictures of the Doctor's new companion (rawr!) and cute animal pictures. While Google reader is a great tool, mine fills up with approximately 2 jillion distractions every 24 hours. For me, the problem with being prolific on the internet is... the internet.

During my undergrad degrees I posted a lot more often, but my job involved getting paid to sit in a computer lab. My primary responsibility was to keep lab users from walking off with equipment, and frankly, the cameras were more than enough deterrent. I basically got paid to do my homework, and it was the best job I've ever had. I miss it so... (sniff).

At any rate, this experience has simply reminded me that writing is like any other discipline. It requires a commitment and time investment in order for you to see results. The Buddhist masters have been known to say that you should practice as though your hair was on fire. My hair (what's left of it) is definitely not on fire where writing is concerned. Perhaps it should be. If I was as committed to posting on my blog as I am to, say, lifting heavy things or being a contrarian, I'd have published several books by now.

My thanks to Alicia Chenaux over at Ch'know? for starting the BBBC and providing the topics.


So the BBBC topic for today is...

"Topic #5 - Blogger's choice! Write about anything that's on your mind!"

Unemployment is the primary topic on my mind these days. Although I have been working for the Census a bit, I've been looking for a permanent job since early May when school ended. Technically, my graduate assistantship didn't run out until the end of May, but I had really hoped that I could get to work right away and collect two paychecks for the month of May to build up a buffer. Instead, I've gotten a total of about 45 hours from the Census, so there wasn't much in the way of savings.

I know that many people have been out of work much longer than this, but this is the longest I've ever been unemployed in my life. I have a ton of applications out there, but the number of people who are looking for work is so high that even part-time gigs in this town are getting 30-40 applicants. I generally interview well, but getting the interview is the issue these days. Perhaps I should write a more truthful cover letter and resume. Something like this:

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to express my interest in the (insert title) position you have advertised on (insert website). My compelling need to eat and pay my rent, coupled with my desperation-enhanced moral flexibility make me uniquely qualified for this opportunity. I have extensive experience with under-compensated positions, unrealistic deadlines, and sadistic management. As a former employee of various state agencies I have a sound grasp of the acquisition and squandering of grant funding, as well the hand wringing and scapegoating required during audits. I am a detail oriented team player, well versed in the scurrying about and prairie dogging that is the hallmark of the successful office worker.



The resume might look like this...

Purpose: To find a job in the exciting field of whatever the hell it is you guys do there. Ideally, said job would utilize my natural snarkiness and include a company car and expense account.

Education: Yes, lots, and none of it relevant to actually making money. I am a fascinating guest at parties, however.

Work Experience: I have a ton, mostly in fields uniquely unsuited to my skills. Much like the ballerina who takes up sumo, I can adapt to any work environment, regardless of how ridiculous it is.

References: Listed below is the contact information of three former employers who, due to company policies prohibiting disclosures of personal opinions, or because it has been long enough for them to forget, are likely to admit having known me.

As they say, honesty is the best policy when there's money in it.

BBBC Day 4

Today's suggested topic is age...

1) Do you lie about your age?

For many years I have consistently claimed to be 108 years old. That, of course, is hyperbole - I only feel like I'm 108 when I get up in the morning. Actually, sometimes I smell like I'm 108 when I get home from the gym. At any rate, I am remarkably well preserved for a man of my age. I do have a weekly skin care regimen that helps with the crow's feet, but I've been lax about it lately; it's so expensive to fill the tub with the rendered fat of unchristened babies.

2) Do you think you act your age?

If you mean, "do you frequently talk about your prostate health and worry about getting enough fiber?" then no, I don't. I do, however, occasionally complain that all the younguns should stay off my lawn - "if that goddamn frisbee comes over the fence one more time, I'm keeping it!" I have also been known to disparagingly compare the young men of today to the young men of my generation - "at least we were smart enough to know that you don't call women bitches and hoes to their faces!"

By the by, my prostate is fine - thanks for your concern. I was at the urologist less than a month ago and he gave me the full San Francisco Handshake, complete with a How's Your Uncle and he said I was in perfect health. That man has very large fingers.

3) Are you where you thought you'd be at your current age?

Oh hell no. In kindergarten (in 1970) I was told there would be flying cars and vacation homes on the moon by now. I expected to play pro football and then serve as an astronaut for a few years, before settling down to my real career as a novelist. I was encouraged in these expectations by many of the adults around me, so the reality has turned out to be very disappointing. Stupid Montessori teachers, telling me I could be whatever I wanted to be.

Just like everyone else, I am where I am due to a combination of my own choices, luck, happenstance, class, race, gender, and the socioeconomic status with which I started out. Anyone who tells you that they know the equation that adds all of those factors and arrives at the destination you wish for is either a liar, or selling something. Or both, like high school guidance counselors...

More BBBC tomorrow.

BBBC Day 3

Topic for today:
"Would you start a relationship with someone you met online? Would you have a problem telling people that's where you met? Do you think it's easier to meet someone online rather than at work or at a club?"

I met my current GF at a poetry slam, so I have no room to criticize anyone's hook-up hunting habits. I do, however, have my doubts about the online thing ever working for me. I once had a long distance friendship that turned into something romantic over the tubes but we knew each other in person well before the chatting began. I am very visual, so a pure internet romance, even with webcams, just wouldn't work for me.

Meeting people at work is not a great idea, unless their job is completely unrelated to yours. If you are in the same office, or in offices that have to cooperate or compete it is a recipe for trouble. I have a hard and fast rule - don't even consider your coworkers as romantic possibilities.

The club scene seems to me the very worst place to meet someone. In a club or bar, it is generally loud, dark, and drunken. Possibly smoky as well. No one is themselves at a club - they are either trying to "bring their A game" or they have had a few drinks. Either way, if you meet someone there, you will just have to meet them again when you are in a more normal setting.

Mate selection is a very complex issue, studied heavily by a number of academic disciplines. In Sociology it's been tackled to some extent by almost every theoretical perspective. In my studies, the evolutionary model was my favorite. In essence, evolutionary theory holds that mate selection is predicated upon the need to select the best available mate for viable offspring (this is an incredibly gross oversimplification - it is a much more nuanced theory than this would suggest). Obviously, we've complicated that quite a bit by introducing all the trappings of civilization to the mix. The "best" mate might be the biggest, strongest male, or he might be the male with the thickest wallet or the most prestige. The environment in which the union is to exist must be considered when determining what is "best."

The other issue is availability. Since we don't generally embrace polyamory, the very best mates tend to be taken off the market quickly, leaving others to sort through what might be considered "lesser" choices. I have heard many women complain that all the good men are either taken or homosexuals. One of my dear friends was single at 35, and she described her search as "looking for a needle in a Gay stack."

Given these constraints, I see anything that can extend the pool of possible mates - even the internet - as a positive thing. Just be certain to ask these basic but crucially important questions:

1) Are you a furry?
2) Do you own/collect leather/latex/rubber/etc?
3) When was the last time you ended up in the emergency room after sex?

(Look, you ask your questions and I'll ask mine, ok? Prudes.)

This is a Good Idea...

The Big Bad Blogger Challenge (BBBC for short) is a great idea that I discovered via Mayren's blog.

The site describes the challenge as follows:
"The Big Bad Blogger Challenge for June: Update your blog every day for one week starting June 13th, and the last challenge post will be June 18th."

Ok - I posted on the 13th anyway, and I have 6 minutes left to post on the 14th...

The best thing about this challenge is that they provide you with topics. For example, today's prompt is, "write about three positive things going on in your life."

1) I'm looking for a job, and I have a handful of decent leads. I even have a second interview tomorrow!

2) I'm getting into barefoot/minimal shoe running. It's really decreased the shin splint/knee pain/general crappiness of running for me.

3) I am working on a political campaign, and it's great! It's really nice to try to do something about governance, rather than just being an unpaid pundit.

More BBBC tomorrow.


Thank god for watchdog organizations like the NAACP. This week they’ve sounded the alarm again, protecting the American people from that notoriously racist company, Hallmark.

Yeah – the greeting card people.

You see, those bigoted bastards at Hallmark have created a card in which two cartoon characters, Hoops and Yoyo, make a terrible racist slur against African-American women. We’re going to check it out below, so you might want to send the kiddies to their rooms… actually, if you let your children read this blog you should probably just turn yourself in to Social Services right now. Anywho, here’s the clip:

Did you catch the racist slur in that? No? Neither did anyone else, for the three years this card has been on the shelves. No one, that is, until earlier this week when someone at the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP caught that line about “black holes.” According to spokesman Leon Jenkins it was "very demeaning to African-American women.” Another member claimed, "It sounds like a group of children laughing and joking about blackness, again."

Never let it be said that the Pontifex Niger is not an equal opportunity ranter. Despite all the white guilt instilled in me by three humanities degrees, I’m not afraid to go to the mat on this one. Apparently the NAACP couldn’t find any real racism to fight this week. This is either an incredibly weak attempt to make something out of nothing, or the most pathetic example of an entire group of people not getting a joke I’ve ever seen. This is just a graduation card, and not a very original one at that – a twist on the old “reach for the stars” trope. There is no reference to race or gender anywhere in it, unless you count the cartoon characters Hoops and Yoyo themselves – they are both persons of color, because one is green and the other is pink…

Where were the cooler heads that should have stopped the NAACP from missing the boat on this? Someone in their office, perhaps a hip, younger staffer should have stepped up at that meeting and said, “Um, sir, this is going to make us look like complete idiots.” Apparently that didn’t happen because instead they held a press conference that made the NAACP look like a chapter of anti-Mensa. While the cameras rolled the questionable phrase was misheard, taken out of context, and the overall theme and content of the card was completely ignored in the name of self-righteous, sanctimonious publicity. Wouldn’t W.E.B. Du Bois be proud…?

Hallmark responded by publishing the script of the card and trying to clarify it’s meaning. The company explained that the card's theme is the solar system and it emphasizes the power of the graduate to take over the universe, even energy-absorbing black holes. “The intent here is to say that this graduate is not afraid of anything," explained Hallmark spokesman Steve Doyal. Not good enough says the NAACP, so Hallmark is pulling the card from its shelves and other retailers have followed suit. Look folks, I’m all for exposing racist speech to the harsh light of day, but Hoops and Yoyo are not the new Amos and Andy, and this is not a racist slur. This is just plain stupid.

On a related note, I’d like to take this opportunity to denounce the product White Out as a racial slur against Gay Caucasians...