Saturday, January 31, 2009

any exercise will help you

okay, this is just a little bit off-topic, but it does relate to some themes i've discussed in the past so i'm going to include it anyway.

i've posted about the nature of the changes that occur in relation to Ironman, and how those changes occur throughout your entire state of being--physical, mental, and spiritual. in essence, it means a transformation of you as a person, and one that is dynamic and ongoing. because it's the start of a journey, in literal and figurative terms, about personal growth. and it is without end. this is why it is a lifestyle, because once you start, you never really stop.

thing is, i want people to know that this process occurs on different scales and in different ways for different people. it's not just because of Ironman, even as much as i can testify that what happens with Ironman is different from anything else i've done for me personally. any activity you do, every activity you do, is going to be different, and carry with it unique experiences and lessons for you to discover with it.

Zen (and it's Chinese original, Ch'an) Buddhism (among other spiritual practices) touches upon this in its discussions of "mindfulness" and "moving meditation." ordinary, even mundane, activities are opportunities for focus and reflection, leading to insights and transformative moments that can be as profound as those connected with any other, more sanctified activities.

in this vein, i can say that exercise, any exercise, can help you. physically, mentally, spiritually. and it doesn't have to be anything significant, or major, or impressive, or intimidating, or worthy of glory and fame and fortune. it can be anything.

for some people the mere act of attempting exercise is a major step forward, and something transfigurative.

and here's an example:

yeah, it's a promo video for something called "YRGworkout." but if you ignore that, and focus on the video, you'll see something pretty impressive.

this video chronicles the evolution of Arthur Boorman, who at one time weighed 297 lbs. and could only walk with the help of canes. he was in poor health, and according to the video description he was "waiting to die."

at some point, he took it upon himself to start exercising. he chose to do this with yoga. in the beginning he can't even do a pose, and the video shows him struggling and falling over. but the thing is: he doesn't stop. he keeps going.

in all truth, he wants this as bad as anyone i've ever seen doing Ironman.

by the end of the video, he is a changed person. his weight is down to 167 lbs., and he no longer walks with the need of canes but can in fact now actually run.

and if body language is any sign of what's inside a person, you can see it here. because his posture is completely different, his projection of confidence and self-fulfillment is different. i'd venture to argue his personality is different. in fact, i'd venture to argue he is different. and for the better.

and all he did was exercise.

and that's something more of us should realize.

any exercise can help you. on different scales in different ways for different people. just to start the journey of growth. to engage the process of transformation. to make you better than what you were before.

any exercise will help you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

nikkei! (or, attack of the killer bake sale!)

i had a workout planned today.

yes, i really did.

a short swim, focusing on technique, followed by a short upper weight-training set.

i even had the great fortune of having an extra time slot (courtesy of a cancelled class) to fit it in. 3 hours, all conveniently placed in the mid-morning with enough time to drive, park, workout, shower, and get to everything else i had to do.

yes, i really did.

even though it is a recovery week, and i'm scheduled for a break. even though today was originally labeled as an off-day, and i've been feeling a little more tired than usual. even though i slept through my alarm, and got stuck in a 2-hr. traffic jam on the freeway, and been forced to miss breakfast, and arrived to campus only to found out that i'd forgotten my running shoes.

even with all of this, i still planned on doing this swim workout.

yes, i really did.

but then i didn't.

i had an encounter, you see. an encounter that couldn't be ignored. an encounter i could not overcome. it was an encounter with my greatest of nemeses, my greatest doom, that horror of horrors, that onslaught of all onslaughts, that most unholy of terrors to every athlete's soul. yes, it was the very inexorable, inevitable, invincible one that you cannot resist. it was (ok, ready for it? steady yourselves, ready yourselves, prepare yourselves! repent now, before it's too late!)--and *drum roll*:

the semi-weekly (sort of--maybe really just when they feel like it or just need some extra cash, but hey, who's counting?) UCLA Nikkei Bake Sale.


the maelstrom of darkness incarnate.

they had pastries, you see. and lots of them. cookies (sugar and chocolate chip!). brownies (plain fudge and extra nuts!). rice krispy treats (with and without marshmallows!).

and then there were the scones (why, oh god, why did it have to be scones? with cranberry and butter...and still warm and chewy, no less. and every last one of them calling my name...).

and then, to top it all off, they had butter & sugar mochi (okay, i've never had butter & sugar mochi before, but one thing you should know about me is that if you give me some food item i've never seen and tell me it's dessert, it's tantamount to waving a red towel in front of a bull, or laying out honey underneath a bee hive, or holding a banana in front of a, whatever, you get the idea).


and the table was overflowing with food. and staffed by very forlorn sad-looking japanese girls. and who said they had too much food. and who then said they had not set prices, but were instead simply taking donations. and oh yeah, mister, could you just buy something from us please? *boo-hoo* *sniff* *sniff* *weep* *weep* *drip snot* *drip snot*.

now, honestly, i tell you, how can a decent god-fearing humble man resist that?

the answer is, of course, he can't.

and neither can i.

so for the cost of $3 i had myself some of the best damn scones and butter & sugar mochi any human being in history has ever had on the face of this planet.

and i ate every bite.

and it was good.

and i didn't feel the least bit guilty.

and as for the workout...uh, what was that?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

positive thoughts

there's been an awful lot of negativity lately. with this economy, it seems like all you see in the news is one bad story after another. and it's percolating down to everyone, to the point that everywhere you turn it's just grim attitudes piled atop more grim attitudes piled on top of even more grim attitudes, making everything feel like a morass of morbidity.

not to say that it's not warranted by the reality of things. the scale of the problem, both in depth (intensity of the slowdown) and breadth (in terms of economic sector and in terms of global scale), is definitely staggering. and when you add in all the assorted issues, problems, disasters, and horrors of the world (war, genocide, terrorism, poverty, famine, disease, and all the afflictions of human misery and suffering), and then see so many public figures predicting it's going to get worse before it gets better, it seems only justified to be a little sober in the face of what may be the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and one that is hitting the entire world.

but i'm starting to wonder if this may mean it's time for a little positivity.

maybe it's what we need.

my grandparents, during a long drive on one of our family summer vacations, detailed to me their experiences during the Great Depression and World War II.

they told me those were dark days. everyone had struggled during the Depression, for even basic necessities, and every day had been spent focusing on survival. and they had spent the prime of their youth just trying to ensure there was food to eat and water to drink, and then somehow trying to piece together their own education. and it was like this for years.

and then, just when things were starting to look better, things became worse. World War II hit, and the struggle to survive became a fight to live. and what made it worse was that it looked like the free world was not going to win--in the early days of the war, the allies were losing everywhere, and the militaries of the germans, italians, and japanese were machines that seemed invincible.

the forces of darkness, in short, were awesome. and anything good and decent was just a speck of dust before them. the situation then was grim.

my grandfather, with the confirmation of my grandmother, said it seemed like everything was lost. if there was ever a time for despair, that was it.

but the one thing my grandparents said, and the one thing i remember, is that it was at this time that they were--somehow, someway, inexplicably, incredibly--the most positive.

my grandparents said it really wasn't so extraordinary as i made it out to be. they said it was really pretty simple: they had to be...there wasn't much choice.

and here's why:
  • problems don't fix themselves. you can whine, moan, belly-ache, complain, cry, feel sorry for yourself, be angry, be bitter, be miserable, be depressed, be--in short--any and all kinds of absolute downright negative, but it's not going to change anything. reality will still be reality. reality is always reality. and the problem(s) will still be there.
  • problems can only be fixed through action. action requires motivation. motivation requires belief that something can be done...things can be better, that they will be better.
  • being positive is, in its essence, the belief that things can and will be better.
  • being negative means despair. and despair means surrender. and surrender means the darkness has won and the light has lost, without even putting up a struggle.
the implication of all this is very straightforward. for there to be any chance of things to get better, there has to be action. for any action to occur, there first has to be belief. which means that for there to be any hope that the darkness will fall and the light will rise, you really have to begin by being positive.

i've come to realize this lesson as i've gotten older, and always remember it whenever things seem to get bad. in a race, in school, in work, in life.

it worked for my grandparents, and seeing that it carried them through the Great Depression and World War II, i figure it's pretty apt for us now.

so here's to positive thoughts.

and i'll add to the cause some music that i found that just might help get things moving, starting with the song that was playing on the radio that prompted my grandparents to give me the above story:

accentuate the positive

let's don't worry

stand by me

the last 2 songs, incidentally, are from the Youtube Channel "Playing for Change" (reference:, and their website: it's about as positive an example you can find, and i encourage you to check them out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

race calendar (or maybe not)


so there was a rather sobering article in the LA Times this past weekend:,0,1021931.story?page=1

in case the link doesn't work, i put the full text of the article below (even though the article itself has some pretty illustrative charts).

essentially, the article says that the U.S. economy may remain in its current moribund/comatose/catatonic state for years, and that things may actually get worse in the near term before any possible change under the new Obama administration. it observes that the global crisis has served to remove any potential sources of economic growth, leaving the world--and the U.S.--economy in a state of utter stagnation with nothing to lead it out of its quagmire.

ah yes, how lovely.

as part of its commentary, it notes that the U.S. situation may mirror the Japanese collapse of the 1990s. because both were driven by financial-sector meltdowns, with similar effects on their wider economies, the argument is that the U.S. economic recovery may mimic Japan's.

which is fine, except that it took Japan YEARS to recover, and some say it is STILL recovering (or was, until now)...making it more than 15 years for Japan's economic "recovery."

uh, ex-squeeeeeeeeze me?

yeah, i know, America is a bigger economy, and our society is quicker to adapt and adopt new and necessary solutions, and we're just plain, well, better, because we're Americans, dagnabit. but even if all that is true, i'm not so sure it's really that comforting...because even if it does shorten the time frame for economic recovery, it still likely means things are going to be the way they are for year(s).

great. just great.

especially for you and me.

because you see, economic malaise of this magnitude has a tendency to trickle down (get it? ha ha. sorry, couldn't resist. well, i could, but chose not to. just getting a little nutty from the utter enormity of the gigantic crater that is our economic system...). funny and ironic, i know, since "trickle-down" theory originally dealt with the benefits of economic health--but you know, it's only consistent with Murphy's Law that it's only the bad things that trickle ever down, and none of the good things ever do.

and it all trickles down to you and me.

in my case, i'm dealing with 2 major uncertainties:

1) tenure-track jobs have evaporated. colleges are not hiring, because their endowments have tanked. tenured faculty are not retiring, because their retirement portfolios have also tanked.

2) the adjunct positions that exist are on very quick ground. mine, in particular, are on contracts that expire in October, and the schools are not even sure they have the money to afford any professors at all.

these add up to 1 very clear priority: save money, because i don't know where i'm going to get any more.

this carries with it an implication to reduce spending whenever and wherever possible. and that means all stopping discretionary spending (travel, clothes, books, gas, etc...although, you know, at the end of the day, everything is discretionary) and holding to only necessary spending (but again, see previous).

this includes, unfortunately, race fees. yes, it does. i know racing is the ontological focus of training (i mean, why train if not to race?). but let me put it into a different light with this: a year from now, will i be unable to pay a month's rent because i spent the money to register for an Ironman?

okay, yeah, i hear you say "credit card." but dude, how did we (me, you, this society, this country, this world) get into this problem? exactly. kind of stupid to repeat the same mistake, yeah?

let me say it like this: only a fool throws away water in the middle of a drought.

so it's down to this: no racing. and for the foreseeable future. i'm just that worried about money. and i'd rather not see it go out without knowing that i'm going to see some more come in.

oh, i'll still train. there's just no way i'm going to let that go. there's just too much for me (and of me) wrapped up in training, physically mentally spiritually, to let endurance sports go so easily--it'd be tantamount to not being who i am. and i am who i am.

just like you are who you are.

just like we are who we are.

and we're all in this together.

i'll see you at the races in awhile. eventually. but just not now.

for now, let's just make plans for the day when we do race again...and let's ride out this storm in the meantime.

U.S. economy may sputter for years
Unemployment could be worse than now by the time President-elect Barack Obama's first term ends.
By Peter G. Gosselin
January 19, 2009

Reporting from Washington — Transfixed by the daily spectacle of dismal economic news and wild Wall Street swings, few Americans have looked up to see what a wide array of economists say lies beyond the immediate crisis.

And with good reason: The picture isn't pretty.

The sleek racing machine that was the U.S. economy is unlikely to return any time soon despite the huge repair efforts now underway. Instead, it probably will continue to sputter and threaten to stall for years to come.

The prospects are so gloomy, according to a recent study, that unemployment may be slightly higher by the time President-elect Barack Obama's first term ends.

The damage done by plunging house and stock prices, the failure of other major economies to be independent sources of growth and hidden weaknesses in America's past performance have crippled nearly every actor in the nation's economic drama.

None -- save perhaps the government -- retains the power to push the economy back to speeds it regularly achieved during much of the last generation, economists say.

The result: An economy that once averaged 3% or better annual growth would be lucky to grow 2% a year during the entirety of the new president's term.

"That is going to feel like stagnation" to most people, said John Lonski, chief economist at Moody's Investors Service.

"We're in a post-bubble global recession, and post-bubble recessions are lethal for growth," Stephen S. Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, said from Beijing. "It will be a long time before the world experiences anything more than anemic recovery."

Obama and his economic aides seem to understand the painful prospects they face.

Obama misses no chance to temper hopes for a quick and complete comeback. A recently released study by Christina Romer, his nominee to chair the Council of Economic Advisors, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden's chief economist, Jared Bernstein, concluded that, even with an $825-billion stimulus package, the unemployment rate at the end of Obama's first term would be one-half to one full percentage point above where it was before the start of the recession.

That would mean as many as 1.5 million additional jobless workers. And some independent economists say that number could be much higher.

What most worries analysts is not a cataclysm such as the Great Depression but the sort of economic morass into which Japan fell after its stock and real estate markets burst in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Daily life for most Japanese citizens wasn't terrible. There were few company shutdowns or mass layoffs. Indeed, the Japanese came to call their economic condition the "golden recession," said Simon Johnson, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The problem was that the country simply didn't grow -- and that, economists worry, is what could happen in the U.S. and around the world.

"Four years from now, I suspect that we'll be pretty much where we are today," Johnson said. The question he predicts people will then ask: "Why can't we get growth going again?"

Four factors -- like the cylinders of an engine -- power an economy: consumers, investors, the government and a favorable balance of trade with other countries. And for many years, the most important of these has been the American consumer. U.S. households long have accounted for the lion's share of economic activity not only here but also in much of the rest of the world.

Although U.S. consumers constitute only about 4.5% of the global population, they bought more than $10 trillion worth of goods and services last year. By contrast, said Roach of Morgan Stanley Asia, Chinese and Indian consumers, who together account for 40% of global population, bought only $3 trillion worth.

In the last decade, a new generation of financial engineering -- complex deals involving home equity loans, subprime mortgages and other devices that provided easier access to credit -- seemed to make it safe for Americans to save less and consume more. That further expanded their share of global economic activity and made them even more indispensable here and abroad.

U.S. consumer spending shot up from a little over 73% of the economy to nearly 77% from 2001 to 2007, according to government statistics.

Initially, the expansion was heralded as evidence of economic vitality. But by now, it has become apparent that the growth was largely a debt-driven bubble -- and a double bubble at that, in housing and in personal consumption.

As the elaborate superstructure of easy credit began to pop rivets, consumers found themselves caught dangerously short. They have reacted by drastically cutting back on purchases, particularly those that are discretionary.

Retail sales in the last three months of 2008 plunged 7.7% compared with a year earlier, the government said last week, making it the worst sales quarter in more than 40 years.

At almost any other time, economists would write off such a drop as sharp but short-lived and predict that Americans would return to their spendthrift ways as soon as the economy began to recover. But many veteran forecasters say this time is different.

"Decades of borrowing have finally caught up with consumers; they realize there is no more easy money left," said Allen Sinai, chief economist of Decision Economics Inc. "This is going to scar this generation of consumers the way the Great Depression did our fathers' and grandfathers'."

For the first year of the current crisis, which began in the summer of 2007, there was hope that a replacement for U.S. consumers and a new source of economic strength had been found in the rest of the world's economies, especially such giant and newly industrializing nations as China and India.

Economists pored over figures suggesting these economies were continuing to boom even as the U.S. tottered on the financial brink. There was much talk about other countries having "decoupled" from America and begun their own, internally fueled expansions.

But by last fall, the hope had faded. The economies of most of the world are either slowing sharply or actually shrinking. Asian powerhouses such as China are doing so because of a bust in exports to the U.S.

Worse yet, much of the Asian boom appears to have sprung from a sort of financial engineering that served as a matched set to that in the U.S. By keeping their currencies undervalued, they kept export prices low and encouraged others -- especially Americans -- to keep buying.

China and other Asian economies "were driven by export bubbles, which, in turn, were a play on the U.S. consumption bubble," Roach said. With the bubbles on both sides now burst, the U.S. and Asia are dragging each other down, he said.

If renewed consumption isn't going to revive the U.S. economy, and a growing world able to buy more U.S. exports has vanished, one of the few options for recovery that's left is business investment.

But investment, especially in high technology, was barely growing even during the boom years of this decade. With the economic crisis, it has plunged.

Lonski, the Moody's economist, used government statistics to examine business investment in such high-tech items as computer and telecommunications equipment.

What he found was that in most previous cycles, companies quickly resumed investing after the economy moved from bust to boom, pushing computer and telecom orders back above their pre-bust highs. But not in this decade.

Between the last recession in 2001 and the current one, high-tech investment has barely crawled upward. That has left telecom and computer orders still down nearly 50% from their previous highs.

"This shows that technological progress was lagging" during the decade's good years, Lonski said. It seems unlikely the pattern should improve now that times are bad.

That leaves only government to power the renewed growth. Every Economics 1 textbook introduces the economy with the same simple equation. It reads: consumption + investment + net exports + government spending = gross domestic product or output.

It's an equation that the new president and his top economic aides know well. With the first three elements negative or contracting quickly, the new administration sees few alternatives but to sharply expand the fourth factor -- government spending.

It's not a surefire solution. But the hope is that something eventually catches and the nation's economic engine begins turning over again on its own.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


i have a strange, ambivalent take on training breaks.

from one perspective, training breaks are good. they give your body rest to heal up, recover, and replenish itself, wiping out injuries and recharging your energy reserves. they also provide mental relief, ending the monotony of regular training cycles and easing up the effort involved on training focus (and i have found that you do--no matter how much you don't think you do--have to focus) in regards to things like workout schedules, recovery schedules, nutrition schedules, swim form, bike form, run form, power output, energy input, course layout, and jobs and bills and families and friends and random strangers you meet on the street (even though you definitely don't want to).

but from another perspective, they're bad. they give you a taste of the good life you've been missing.

like the comfort of showering and shaving and cleaning your teeth, knowing that you'll stay that way.

like the sensation of being able to walk around (slowly), or sit down (easily), or lie down (whenever you want), without being grumpy, cranky, tired, or sore.

like the ability to sleep in, and lounge around in bed, and ignore the early morning alarm as you feel the deliciously pleasurable satisfaction of throwing it against the wall.

like the feeling of being able to just do whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want, as long as you want without any thought of the next workout on the schedule.

like the satisfaction of cakes, pies, cookies, scones, eclairs, tarts, ice creams, gelatos, butters, creams, fats, mashed potatoes, creamed casseroles, pork chops, BBQ, pot roasts, fried chicken, fried fish, fried greens, fried fruit, stir-fried, pan fried, whatever fried or sauteed or baked or boiled or steamed decadent offensive sinful profane pagan heathen forbidden illegal outlawed but oh-sooooooooo-good (as in: if-this-is-bad-i-don't-want-to-be-good good) food item you've been denying yourself but very much dreaming thinking obsessing lusting after all this time.

like the realization that now that you've had a little of the good life, what you really want is a whole lot more.

add to that the fact that any training break--especially a long one (i.e., a real one)--invariably means a time period that exceeds any semblance of a recovery period and reaches far into an atrophy period. that is, you lose your fitness.

which means that whatever mountain you had to climb up to get to your state of physical fitness, you're now going to have go right back up again.

which means going back up the same challenges, hurdles, burdens, worries, fears, anxieties, neuroses, psychoses, paranoias, phobias, and assorted related physical and mental and even downright spiritual pain and suffering and torture.

and yes, it was self-inflicted before, meaning that it will be self-inflicted again, meaning that it will be that much worse, because you'll be constantly asking yourself: why? why, knowing how bad it was the 1st time, why would anyone do it again? the only answer is the questioning of your own sanity, which can only lead to the Pandora's box of existentialist angst.

which is why i struggle so much with training breaks. part of me knows i need them. part of me is happy to have them. but part of me dreads them. part of me fears them.

because i know what happens when they end. and they always some point, you look in the mirror, and you see just what a pile of pathetic putrescent protruding porkish corpulescence you have become, and your vanity takes over, and you think to yourself it's time to get off your fat lazy blubbery ass and get your butt in gear.

but then that's when you get to deal with the reality of what you've become and what the break has left you, and what you now have to work out and wipe away:


and that's exactly what i've got now.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

sky lanterns in the new year

certain regions of East Asia celebrate the new year with a tradition of launching sky lanterns. sky lanterns are small balloons made of translucent paper with candles suspended underneath them, so that the candles generate hot air to provide lift as well as light to make the balloon luminous.

originally, sky lanterns were used as military signal devices during the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China. over time, they were adopted by farm communities, where villagers who had abandoned their towns to escape the attack of outlaws used sky lanterns to signal their families that the outlaws had left and that it was safe to return home.

in the modern era, sky lanterns have evolved, becoming associated with a celebration of the lunar new year as a symbol of good luck and a carrier of good wishes for the future. in the Ping Xi township of Taiwan, they are the centerpiece of an annual new year celebration, with attendees gathering in the winter twilight to light their individual sky lanterns and make their personal wishes, before releasing them en masse to rise quietly upwards into the night sky--a broad array of lights representing a panoply of hopes illuminating the darkness of the heavens.

for more information, you can reference:
the implication of the sky lantern tradition is that there is something that will see fit to make our wishes real...that there is, in essence, the divine that will fulfill our prayers.

as athletes, however, we are taught to approach our aspirations differently. we are taught that our hopes are our own responsibility. that our wishes are our own obligations. as a result, regardless of anyone or anything--or any divine--else, it is our own duty to see our own prayers fulfilled.

this means that for any goals we have, it is up to us to work towards them. for any races we have, it is up to us to train for them. for any dreams we have, it is up to us to realize them. us, and no one else. us, and no thing else. us, and no god else.

and if there is a god, then god can only help those who can help themselves.

because, you see, (and this is one of the fundamental truths found in sports that goes far beyond sports) it's about effort. it's about trying.

because it is in the act of trying that we muster some semblance of progress and some measure of change, and in the act of trying that we make such things for the better. in so doing, we overcome barriers and face down challenges, and thereby exceed the scope of our own limitations and the confines of our own existence, and go one step further into the unknown...and in the process learn about ourselves, our world, and even our god, so that we can make some reconciliation between them all and know the true measure of our design before all creation.

you see, we are our own sky lanterns. we are our own candles.

and it is how hard we try, what effort we give forth, that will determine how high our light will reach into the heavens.