Thursday, October 23, 2008

NYT: "We fear it will take years of forensic research to discover how many basic rights have been violated."

NEW YORK TIMES: Obama for President. Their endorsement praises Obama and buries both McCain and Bush/Cheney. The header of this post is one of the best nails they drive into the Bush coffin. Read it all.

Putting Hard Numbers on Soft Tissue

THIS BEING THE SEASON OF POLLS, I submitted myself to a survey yesterday, but the results won't be used to tar any political opponent. I had my annual office health screening, part of a half-day fair in which I also received my yearly flu shot. I might bitch about work here and there, but my company follows the wise course of providing free flu vaccine to all employees. What used to be a last-minute scramble while working in Manhattan and dashing home for a doctor's appointment or a spot on a hospital queue is now as simple as walking down the hall.

In addition, employees can also get their blood pressure, nonfasting blood glucose and cholesterol, and bodyfat percentage measured. Not having had a fasting read on these recently, I brought last year's nonfasting results with me to compare. The med-tech this time around didn't provide as much blood info as I got last year — no LDL or triglycerides — but my HDL improved (possibly kinked by the ground flaxseed I'd eaten with my oatmeal an hour earlier), and my glucose, though a little higher than in November 2007 (also probably from earlier meals, either the oatmeal or the frozen berries and yogurt in the smoothie I'd downed after my gym visit), was still in the normal range.

Unlike last year, we got a bodyfat reading. They had some sort of induction-based handle gadget we had to hold out in front of us in both hands. Beats someone advancing on me with a huge set of calipers. Based on the data the nurse programmed in, and the wacky Tesla vibe it picked up from my grip, I was told I have a bodyfat percentage of 25.7. Normal for men was listed in the booklet we'd been given as 15.1%–18%.

Today I finally thought, how many actual pounds was this? Using yesterday's weight of 221 lb., I'm carrying somewhere around 56 or 57 lb. of fat. Now, under the 30x40 plan of hitting 198 lb. by my next birthday, and assuming I lost only fat tissue while muscle mass stayed constant, I still need to drop 23 lb. That done, I'd still be carrying about 33.8 lb. of fat, which would represent a body mass percentage of 17—within that normal range.

Good to know, because if I keep eating and working out as I've been doing, I should definitely gain muscle. Not as much as I drop in fat, but judging from the blunt red number on the scale, the result on the chart might be a leveling off of weight loss as I shift my fat–muscle balance. Without grabbing another bodyfat-measuring machine, if the scale read the same while I exercised and ate correctly, I'd have to assume my fat percentage was dropping. This would keep me from getting despondent and engulfing 2 lb. of Whole Foods jellybeans over an evening.

Let's make no mistakes: I've still got a hefty gut. Nobody's gonna mistake me for skinny. And 23 lb. of fat tissue represents a caloric deficit of 80,500 kcal that I've got to realize — via better nutrition, regular and progressively tougher exercise, and maintaining more lean muscle tissue to rev my resting metabolism — over the coming months, which include Halloween, Thanksgiving, my holiday party, and the Xmas–New Year's Axis of Eating. But I can tell, when I shave, that there's less flesh on my face. I can encircle a wrist with the opposing hand with more slack in the grip. I can cover the walk between the apartment and library, across the town park, without getting winded. I put on a shirt last week that hadn't fit me in about 2 years; there was slack around my abs even when I sat. The tape measure says I've lost 3 in. of circumference there since mid-June.

With all of this evidence, each piece small but collectively quite telling, I've got no choice but to continue. Tomorrow I may only add 5 lb. to my squat weight, but all of this work in the gym and kitchen could add quality years to my life.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Boldly Going Into a Theater Near You

SOMETIME IN 2009, a new Star Trek movie will be released, focusing, surprisingly, on the crew of the late-60s incarnation of the show. Not news to anyone reading this blog, I'm sure. I hadn't really been following developments of the shoot, plot, or portrayals of the characters and Enterprise — and it's been a very long time since I had any emotional investment in how that's handled. In that, I am a minority on the Internet.

Judging by replies to stories about the film on Gawker Media science fiction blog io9, interest in these films, or in getting them right at least, is massive. Your average io9 post will pull 10 to 20 replies. Recent Star Trek posts, like this group of stills and this speculation over whether J.J. Abrams has made this film, in possible homage to the original show, deliberately cheesy, pulled four to five times that number of comments. Only posts about the Watchmen film (in which I very much do have an emotional investment) and The Sarah Connor Chronicles have come close. Posts regarding original science fiction creations, relying on no previous and adapted intellectual property, don't usually get this level of attention.

Nor the level of passionate argument. Rightly or not, opinions run hot on the Trek film. The Original Series raised the game of fandom to a new level. Write-in campaigns to save a TV show, fan-organized conventions, fan fiction (including what we'd come to know as slash fiction): Folks owe a debt to those whom Star Trek inspired to express their appreciation in these modes. But some fans have become unhealthily possessive of their experience with the show, and nitpick things that displease them or don't match up with what they saw on TV as children. This might be why these io9 threads are so long. I've come to believe nitpickers and aggressive geek-savants do this because they feel such a lack of control over their lives, they seize upon minutiae, bits of obscure knowledge they polish to a shine in their nervous grips, in their overcompensating attempts to wield dominion over something. And when something threatens this control, they lash out like startled cobras.

In May, I attended a cookout and gathering hosted at the home of my fine friends Dave and Julia. It was a rare summit of geekdom for our group, featuring folks usually several counties or states away. I commented to my buddy Len that I would reserve judgment on Heath Ledger's take on the Joker, comic fans' favorite Batman villain and no doubt a contender for top comic book (and comic movie-adaptation) bad guy. I'd been a bit skeptical about the first publicity image, but I'd decided I would reserve judgment and see how this Joker fit into his own skin. (Two viewings later, I'd say he all but burst the fuck out of it.)

For this film, and for the Watchmen film over which I'm still pessimistic, my best course is just that: See how this Enterprise fits into its shiny new skin, and what Abrams hopes to achieve by doing so. Try to understand why he chose this Spock, that Scotty, and why he leaves out what he chooses to omit. (He's not going to be able to name-check each little bit from TOS in 2 hours, much as we'd all like to see a salt-vampire-scarred redshirt or a scuttling Horta around each corner.) Leave a little bit to faith and enter the theater ready to be enchanted. I can always throw in a DVD or pull a graphic novel off the shelf to revisit what's been done. It keeps a brain fresh to see what nobody's done before, even with 40-year-old character concepts. And without curiously entering the unknown, what's the point of Star Trek — or any science fiction?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This Explains a Lot

ONE OF THE MAFIA SPECIALTIES I find most fascinating is loansharking. Wildly lucrative, damn near ubiquitous, yet nearly invisible, the art and science of the vig hold a peculiar intrigue for me. I could never make it in that business. Aside from its being grossly illegal, and my being physically and mentally less imposing than the job description requires, my math skills are so shite that to calculate what anybody owed me at a given point, I'd use up so much scrap paper, that the Feds could survey my crimes from orbit with a View-Master.

While Googling the term juice loan, however, this came up as the top paid search result. I hope it's because of the word loan, but it's tough not to connect this with the orgy of cheap subprime credit that got us into our current mess:

"Whether Sought or Unsought"

SOME OF THE FINAL PRESIDENTIAL words of Dwight David Eisenhower — whose example of taking responsibility for both potential sides of a grave decision was cited recently by a disastrously unworthy aspirant to his position — which still give me chills to read or hear since I first saw Ike deliver them at the beginning of JFK:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Full audio of the address available here; video available various places; the excerpt used in the opening of JFK here.

Monday, October 06, 2008

My Goal One Year Ago Today

I AM UTTERLY CONVINCED THAT I made some mention of this a year ago or so, but I can't find the post. Maybe it was a journal entry. How dare I write something that doesn't get sprayed like narcotic frosting all over the Internet?

Anyway, a year ago today, while frustrated with my lack of progress on the then-current exercise routine, I got angry enough to yank my manual typewriter out of its case behind the couch, roll in a 3" x 5", and type the following off the top of my head:

The first month will be hell. Early mornings, uncaring stars, frost on the car and ice in the bones. Temptation will call you back to bed and warm oblivion. Fight past the alarm and out into the morning. Exercise six — SIX — times per week, 30–45 minutes each. Eat right. Purse each day with cheer. Revel in success and be humble, forgiving, and wise when course corrections are needed. You wield the most powerful force on the planet — an unfettered human will. Stack successes like the bricks of an immortal monument and meet triumph head on.

I was trying to dedicate myself to more frequent and programmatic exercise. I wanted a daily reminder of my committment to pin next to my bathroom mirror. And, surprisingly, it came to 100 words if you count the date, which would have made the folks at the 100 Words site happy. Though a touch fascist sounding, about what else in life can one afford to be dictatorial other than one's health? Anyway, I thumbtacked it on said bathroom wall and there it hung, aside from visits from guests (I didn't want to frighten them off).

Today, I fought past that alarm and into a cold autumn morning where I could see my breath as I walked to the car. I rode the elliptical trainer for 10 minutes to pump heat into my stiff limbs, then went upstairs to the weight floor. There, I managed to add just a little weight to the squats and bench presses I've been doing. The work I have to do comes outside the gym too, by making smarter decisions about food and sleep. But it all starts with throwing off those sheets and shutting down that alarm . . . and then putting on sneakers and gym clothes and getting the hell over there.

Moral? Write your goals down. No matter how small. Especially if they're small. Meet that small goal, then write another one down and hit that too. You don't yell at a person climbing a thousand stairs for taking them one at a time. You congratulate him or her for making the remaining number smaller. That's what fixing a goal to paper can help you do. It's seeing last workout's weight figures and saying, "Let's see what another 2.5 lb. can do here." It's noting that you consumed the right amount of protein and kept simple carbs well under control by checking the last week's worth of meals.

You'll have no idea how far you've come if you don't leave some traces of the steps you took to get there. Set yourself a little goal and see where your first step leads.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Spam Guard or Lovecraftian Horror?

A CAPTCHA I JUST SAW on my friend Amy's blog. I think the protagonists had to use the Powder of Ibn Ghazi on this one, then send it back to the other side with the Voorish Sign:

Dread Ylhtlgwm was sent gibbering back through the yawning dimensional chasm, where it was tended by blind idiot adjectives and quadripthongs until the stars (and spellcheck) be right again.

Inching Back to Normal

FRUSTRATION. Two weeks' worth of business travel have halted my forward motion on the 30x40 weight loss/exercise plan. Traffic/transit snarls Friday and today, plus the feeling of a cold coming on, wrecked my plan to see a back-to-back Godfather and Godfather Part II showing in the city. And the downside of fall — wet chill in the air and rain — draped the morning in gloom and further stymied my desire to get out and enjoy a Manhattan autumn Sunday.

I decided to sleep off the cold as much as I could. I'd been visiting the gym regularly since my return from River City, so skipping one day out of the past six wouldn't be a problem. Instead, I set the alarm clock for noon and curled back up beneath the covers. I heeded the clock's screech and ate breakfast, feeling less like I was getting a cold than actually getting over one: stiff joints and muscles, slow thoughts, and cabin fever. The day was still grim outside, which cut my desire to venture forth for a paper. Instead, I munched Grape Nuts and spent the rest of the noon hour doing chores I'd been catching up with since escaping from the black hole of business travel.

As always, things could be worse, even on the lonely, Sunday side of a three-day weekend. I'm just bitching. I did get to watch the Giants stomp the Seahags like roaches. The cold didn't feel much worse, and perhaps was just the side effect of leaving the windows open last night. Throat still feels a bit scratchy, though. On the social front, I've got the beginnings of a plan to see a friend of mine, with whom I recently reconnected after quite some time, some time later this month. And Jen and Steve will host the traditional Halloween party on the Saturday just after 10/31. No idea how I'll trump last year's award-winning costume, but I've got a few weeks to try.

So the goals for next week are (a) somehow dodge getting a full-blown cold, (b) resume my full-scale exercise and eating routine, and (c) enjoy as much of autumn as I can. I'd hate for the switchover this year to be straight from heat to dreary late-November rain.