2014-07-24

Grab The Popcorn

Over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, one Andrew Cohen has just proposed mandatory licensing for becoming a parent. There is a blossoming smack-down going on in the comments section that currently well worth reading, and sure to become more so as the day progresses.

Libertarian-economics-blog-comments-section mainstay Morgan Warstler currently has the comment of the hour.

Do pull up a seat and get comfortable.

2014-07-22

Home, Part III

I mentioned last week that a move to Texas makes perfect financial sense. This is true. You would be hard-pressed to find a location within the United States that has as many economic opportunities coupled with such a low cost of living. Texas has much to offer to anyone seeking to get the most for her cost-of-living dollar.

But I also mentioned last week that wealth is of little value if it leaves a hole in your heart, and it would be a poor bargain indeed to make a move to strike it rich, only to discover that you've traded every other good thing in life to get it.

So, how does Texas fair at feeding the soul?

Let me begin with a caveat. There will always be an escape-hatch available to anyone hell-bent on rejecting the pleasantness of something. No matter where you live or what you like, someone could always come along with a trump card of sorts. "What, you live more than five blocks away from your local barber? I could never live in such a place!" "Isn't there one, single Azerbaijani restaurant of even medium quality in your entire home town!? Preposterous! I just couldn't live there!" "It takes you more than twenty minutes to get to the nearest petting zoo? P'shah! Not for me, thanks!"

For the most part, I believe this comes from a good place. When people say these things, they're not so much disparaging other people's homes as they are expressing their enthusiasm for their own home town in a roundabout way. Someone might choose not to live in Texas because it lacks the grandiose, purple mountains that form the backdrop of the inter-mountain west. Another might opt for the urban splendor of Manhattan over the suburban landscapes of Houston.

These are fair choices to make, based on personal preference. My purpose in writing these blog posts is not to claim superiority, but to hopefully articulate the finer features of life in Texas, in hopes of helping the reader come to a better understanding of his own preferred locale.

All that is to say, Texas does not offer everything, and if you're secretly baiting your breath in hopes that your primary criterion will make a cameo appearance in this post despite your own best knowledge, I would consider revising my expectations if I were you.

But what does Texas offer in the way of local pleasantries?

People tend to either prefer rich, walkable urban landscapes or the great and unpopulated outdoors, and the good news is that Texas has you covered, no matter which preference more closely matches your own.

Texas is home to four of the largest and most vibrant metropolitan areas on North America, each with its own unique charm. All of the amenities you might want from urban life - designer shopping, fine dining, the arts, parks, and so forth - is available in spades. As an added bonus, the warm weather here makes those walkable urban landscapes walkable all year long. It's never too cold to hit the pavement and walk to the nearest coffee shop, if you live downtown. And while some may argue that the summertime heat is a bit too intense for walking, it is certainly no more so than the wintertime cold is in other nice urban locations. In short, if it's urbania you want, urbania you will find in Texas.

And yet, with the great expanses of wilderness, natural wonders, preserved nature, and boat-able reservoirs, even the most avid outdoorsman may find his bliss in Texas. From beaches, to deserts, to prairies, to plains, to the incomparable Texas Hill Country, there is a near-limitless array of natural beauty of which to partake in this state. While most lakes in Texas are man-made reservoirs, they offer ample opportunity for water sports and recreation. There are plenty of natural rivers, and extensive beaches along the Gulf coast. Camping is to be had virtually everywhere. There are plenty of trails on which to get your hiking and biking fixes. And of course, Texas is home to a long list of professional sports teams, NASCAR tracks, and so forth.

So whatever form of entertainment you prefer, Texas has it. The most discriminating judge, of course, may counter that Texas shopping pales in comparison to 5th Avenue, our outdoors don't offer as much as what you'd find in Boulder, CO, or that our nightlife can't compete with that of Las Vegas. That may be true, but even if so, Texas offers enough of each kind of entertainment to ensure that you won't miss out anything in particular, unless your interest is in experiencing the best-in-class.

However, let it never be said that Texas doesn't offer its own set of best-in-class cultural amenities. With world-famous barbecue and steak, and vast stretches of restaurants offering the finest in Southern cuisine, Texas does Texas-style cuisine best. We even have our own unique spin on southwest cooking, called "Tex-Mex," and while it truly isn't authentic Mexican food, it belongs in its own category. If you're into cars, you'll find any kind of car imaginable here. I personally have seen vehicles on the road from Maserati, Tesla, Astin-Martin, Rolls-Royce, and so on. If you have a dream car, you'll find it in Texas. The spacious Texas-style mansions that line the landscape here are also in a class of their own, offering uniquely Texan architecture, and commonly containing swimming pools, ranch space, outdoor grills, and so on. If building a large and well-equipped home is for you, I'd argue that there's no better place to build it than Texas.

Finally, the arts scene in the state is both vibrant and unique. Texas country and Texas blues are to be considered sub-genres of country and blues, respectively, and a thriving "Red Dirt" music scene - which combines the best of rock, blues, and country - has become the signature local sound. Visual artists inspired by not only the American Old West and Mexican Norteno aesthetics, but also the flavor of the local indigenous people, have made their impact on all aspects of artistic life here.

Now, I'm not going to argue that Texas culture is bound to appeal to everyone, but I will say that Texas has a strong and thriving cultural landscape. For those of us who like to live in a place with its own vibe, Texas provides much to feed the spirit.

2014-07-15

Home, Part II

It's no secret that one of the main things driving us to a US move was the lower overall tax rate. In Canada, we were losing a lot of money to the government. Without commenting on the relative merits of an expansive array of social services, it is a very expensive way for a middle class family to live. The incentive is strong for a lower-income family to stay in an area that pairs higher taxes with expansive social services, because such a family contributes little money to the operation of these services while drawing heavily upon them. That is, after all, the whole point of social welfare programs.

For a middle-income family like mine, though, the incentive is weaker to the point of being a disincentive. We don't have the kind of capital-driven income that earns a lower tax rate than so-called "ordinary income" under the tax code, so we are the meat-and-potatoes of the tax revenue base. Meanwhile, our relative wealth disqualifies us as recipients of welfare - not that we're looking to get it, anyway. Taking the politics out of the decision, and looking at it logically, yields a simple and obvious conclusion. We draw $0 in social welfare and pay $X; we will always be financially better-off in a situation in which we draw $0 in social welfare and pay $Y, whenever Y < X.

Hence, we utlimately decided to seek Y over X. US federal taxes are lower than Canadian taxes (for us, anyway), and Texas famously has no state income tax. Even sales taxes are much lower here, coming in at about half of what we were paying in Ontario. Even property taxes - which are notoriously high in Texas, compared to other US states - are about the same as what we would have had to pay in Ottawa. Add it all up, and it represents a huge financial win for our family.

It's true that money can't buy you happineess, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the known universe who would suggest that a person will be significantly happier with significantly less money. So long as no other key elements of one's lifestyle changes as a result of an increase in wealth or income, more money does indeed translate into more happiness in the form of better luxuries, a more comfortable emergency fund, higher quality vacations, a few extra minutes of air conditioning, a nice rose bush in the front yard, or whatever else you might want to purchase in order to make yourself happier.

Long story short, the political regime in Texas is more affordable for my family than Ottawa, Ontario was. There's a good chance that it's more affordable than where you live, too. It's easy to reject this argument on political grounds, but if you do, you simply have to be aware of the fact that, in your life, paying high taxes for expansive social services that you never use is a form of consumption spending. You pay those taxes to make yourself feel good about your political ideology. That is entirely fair.

But me? I would rather spend that money on my family; that's what makes me feel good. If you're the kind of person who would rather buy your wife jewelry than pay a high tax rate, then Texas has a lot to offer you.

Of course, it doesn't stop there. Housing in Texas is about half of what it was in Ontario, where a semi-detached townhome can easily reach into the $300,000 territory. Here, not only do we pay less for housing, but we get more. Texas has more empty space than any other state in the lower-48, the economy is growing, and Texas developers have gotten extremely good at putting up really nice, comfortable subdivisions with "resort-style amenities" and large, cosmetically beautiful structures. The haters try to dissuade you from this sort of thing by calling these houses "McMansions," as though a large, beautiful house built in a subdivision tailored to suit the needs of a growing suburban population is somehow worse than a smaller, older, and more expensive home in, say, Boston. Yes, it is possible to come up with disparaging words that make Texas housing seem like less of what it is, but at the end of the day, houses here are big, nice, and affordable. Once you get over any underlying snobbery, it's easy to see why people like the housing situation so much here.

So, lower taxes and nicer, more affordable housing. Incomes must be low in Texas, right?

Wrong. Between the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and the greater Houston area, Texas is home to some of the largest corporations in the entire world. They're not just energy and cattle-driving companies, either. We have Pepsico, Radio Shack, Intuit, Game Stop, American Airlines, and the list goes on and on. All major accounting and consulting firms have a large presence here. The population is well-educated, tech-savvy, and ambitious. So, not only are there many different kinds of employment opportunities here, the jobs pay very well, relative to the low tax rates and affordable housing. When I first moved here, my salary was identical to what it was in Ontario. Now, it's higher.

To top it all off, we have excellent shopping here, and we're not paying exhorbitant import prices. Food, gas, clothing, and consumer goods are probably not the lowest in the country. I'd put it at about average -much, much lower than urban centers like Boston, LA, and New York City, but not so low as Evanston, Wyoming.

If you really have it out for Texas, it would be easy to wave away the money factor. You could say that moving somewhere just for the sake of money is crass, crude, greedy, and low. You could say, "Sure, you've got your money, but what about quality of life?" This is an entirely fair criticism to make in the abstract. If you decided to move some place solely because it offered you the most financial incentives, you very well might go on to discover that the location doesn't meet any of your other needs. It might feed your belly, but it might not feed your soul. Human life is, after all, about more than materialism.

Yes, if Texas offered high incomes and low expenses in exchange for a very low quality of life, then I would totally agree that it isn't an attractive place to move. But, as I will describe in subsequent posts, the quality of life in Texas is actually pretty good, even by your standards (yes, you).

2014-07-14

Home, Part I

In early 2010, I started weighing the pros and cons of moving back to the United States from Canada. From my perspective, there were almost exclusively pros. The major cons involved the logistical and financial challenges associated with any large move. But, where there's a will, there's a way, and I'm not one to be daunted by these kinds of hurdles. It's not that they're not serious concerns, it's that they can almost always be overcome, if you're dedicated enough to the matter at hand.

It took a couple of years for it to finally happen, but by the summer of 2012, I was living in Texas.

When my friends and colleagues from Ottawa first discovered that I intended to move to Texas, they were incredulous. To them, Texas is more than just cowboy country, it's a symbol of everything uncouth and distasteful about the United States. They see it as some sort of horrible political antithesis to the Canadian way of life.

My family, Stateside, did not respond much more favorably. They teased me about buying a cowboy hat and a pair of boots, about getting a big pickup truck and a gun rack, and developing the iconic accent. Where they once finished off every sentence with the phrase "...eh? Ehhh?" (because I lived in Canada), they took to doing the same sort of thing with the word "y'all." I can take a ribbing, but there was something more serious beneath the surface of it: that same wide-eyed incredulity that my Canadian friends had experienced. Each, in their own way, were frantically trying to understand why a cosmopolitan math-and-data geek with an extreme proclivity toward openness-to-experience and a beautiful wife exactly like myself would ever want to move to the dusty heart of Red State America.

All that is to say, nobody really got it.

At the time, I told them about the warm weather. I told them about my previous trips to Texas, which had been full of good times and good music. In my naivete, I went into my move from the perspective that Texas was a warm place filled with nice, albeit predominantly conservative, people. What's not to like?

So, we moved here two years ago, and we moved here to stay. We packed all of our things in a U-haul trailer that was probably a couple of sizes too large for our small-sized SUV, and drove the distance from Ottawa, Ontario, to New York State, over to Ohio, due south to Arkansas, and finally into Texas.

The world we discovered here exceeded some of our expectations, and completley up-ended others. When I rave about how happy I am here, my friends and family just assume I've sort of "drunk the Kool-Aid," and become another insufferable Texas braggart. But that's not why I appreciate my life here so much. Instead, there are a number of key attributes here that have made my life go from pretty good to pretty-freakin'-awesome, and these are attributes that I feel would appeal to anyone, not just me.

In a series of posts over the next little while, I'd like to discuss the various elements of life in Texas, good, bad, and indifferent. I'd like to paint a picture of why life feels good to me here, and why I think Texas has the bad reputation among non-Texans it has.

In the process, I hope to establish a bit of a philosophy around how to choose a good locale to make yourself happy in the long run. No place on Earth really "has it all," but if you choose to live in a place that has the best of what you want - and as little of what you don't want - as possible, then you can make yourself as satisfied in your own home as I am in mine.

Stay tuned!

2014-07-10

Book Review: Last Train To Istanbul

I recently purchased a shiny new Samsung Galaxy 4 tablet. It's fun for many reasons, but one of the main ones is the Amazon Kindle application that came with it, which effectively turns the tablet into an e-reader. That alone is good, but what's even better is that the Kindle application includes monthly "Samsung Kindle Deals," which are a selection of free books Amazon offers to Samsung tablet users, a different selection each month.

Predictably, the free books don't seem to have a lot of appeal to me, but then again, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Last month, I chose a book called Last Train to Istanbul by Turkish author Ayse Kulin.

I say, "Turkish author Ayse Kulin" because every online review and reference to the book I have ever seen puts it that way. Ayse Kulin isn't an author. She's a Turkish author. Rest assured this raised a few red flags for me as I downloaded the book, because I tend to be skeptical of niche authors. Either one is a good writer, or one is not. Saying, "good Turkish writer," translates in Ryan-parlance to "she's a good writer... for a Turk."

I also hesitated over the subject matter: the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. I am admittedly a bit of a World War II buff (just a little bit), but stories about the Holocaust are so pervasive that their over-supply has stunted their emotional power. There are simply too many of them for any one such story to resonate with the same kind of power that The Diary of Anne Frank once did.

Finally, I was reticent to read the book because the synopsis made it sound like another in a long line of ethnically themed young-woman-loves-despite-cultural-pressures novels. I have two problems with these: (1) they're maybe the only kind of story more pervasive than Holocaust stories, and (2) they seem to be the very reason that phrases like "Turkish author" and "Bengali author" exist in the first place.

As you can see, even before I had opened the book, I was skeptical. It was unlikely that I would end up enjoying this book. As expected, I did dislike it.

Unexpectedly, however, I disliked it for entirely different reasons than I anticipated. To my delight, this was not merely a Turkish novel; it was not merely a Holocaust novel; it was not merely an ethnic romance novel. It contained partial elements of all of these, but thankfully steered clear of all the stereotypes. On that level, the novel delivered.

The plot was surprisingly interesting. I didn't know a lot about Turkey's role in World War II, so it was interesting to read about some of the historical events that tend not to make the American history books. The plot synopses available online tend not to adequately describe what the book is actually about. What it's really about is a Turkish family trying to bring their estranged expatriate daughter back to Turkey before the German occupation kills them all. That's a genuinely good, and remarkably refreshing plot.

Unfortunately, the book is written on a fifth-grade reading level. The language is simple to the point of distraction, which is a fault I would typically try to overlook in a novel that has had to undergo translation into English. But the poorly constructed narrative of the story leads me to believe that the fault is not in the translation, but in the original. New characters are introduced moments before they become relevant to the plot. Back-stories of main characters are given not when we meet the character, nor even as we come to absorb the character, but simply a couple of paragraphs before their back-stories come into play in main plot. To do this once over the course of the novel is excusable, but to do it repeatedly is little more than poor writing.

The effect of this is to present a story in a rather odd way. The story one feels like one is reading at the beginning of the book is completely different from the story one feels like one is reading at the end, and not in a good way.

All said, I give Ayse Kulin full marks for coming up with a fascinating story that really could have been literary. I hope that, over time, she hones her writing skills. For me, Last Train to Istanbul simply fell flat.

2014-07-01

Hobby Lobby and Coase Theorem

In light of all this Hobby Lobby stuff people have been talking about, I think it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves of the Coase Theorem. Here’s an explanatory link from About.com: (http://economics.about.com/od/externalities/a/The-Coase-Theorem.htm).

A good way to think about this is to, as The Last Psychiatrist might say, “add up all the wants.” If the (monetary) value of Hobby Lobby’s paying for birth control is greater than not paying, the efficient solution would be for consumers to purchase their own supplemental birth control or pay for it with cash. If the value of Hobby Lobby’s paying for birth control is less than not paying, Hobby Lobby will pay.

The SCOTUS may have developed a legal rationale for their decision, but all we really needed to know in the very beginning is how much money things would cost in all scenarios.

Birth control is extremely inexpensive, relative to other types of covered health care expenses. Were an insurance company charged to pay this expense, the result would be high prices and deadweight loss. My insurance company, for example, charges a flat $20 fee for every prescription refill, regardless of its actual cost. So while that is a great deal for insulin, it is a terrible deal for birth control.

In short, many women whose insurance covers birth control are probably paying more in copayments + insurance premiums than they would pay if they simply bought birth control with cash. Note that under no circumstances would such an arrangement be good for poor women.

This is what we mean by an inefficient solution. We all pay the least amount of money for birth control when we cut out the middle men and foot the bill ourselves. Whatever the Supreme Court’s legal reasoning, they could by no means justify a decision that would subject consumers to higher average costs than they would be paying.

Finally, it would be equally as wasteful if the US government were to pay the cost of birth control instead of either consumers or Hobby Lobby. This is not because “government is bad,” but simply because middle men don’t reduce costs, period.

2014-06-13

Concentrate!

The first major challenge we face when we exercise regularly is just getting started and committing to a consistent pattern of working out. I say “consistent pattern” to cast as broad a net as possible. For you, working out regularly might mean going to the gym three times per week, or it might mean going for a morning walk 4-5 times per week, or it might mean training twice a day for 13 consecutive days and taking a rest day. The only thing I mean to exclude is an irregular pattern of exercise, i.e. going to the gym “when I have time” or going for a run “when I feel like it.” I’m not trying to criticize anyone, I’m just trying to focus my message on the subset of people who exercise regularly.

It can take weeks or months to reach the point where you are committed to exercising regularly and showing some progress with your work. It’s not easy. If you’ve made it that far, take a bow – you deserve it.

After that, you reach the dreaded plateau, the point of diminishing returns, when you keep hitting the gym hard, but you stop showing any kind of progress. Perhaps your weight loss has stalled at the wrong number, or your muscle size gains are inadequate, or you find that you cannot run any faster or lift any heavier weight, even though you have still fallen short of your goal. This is the second major challenge.

It’s natural and, to a certain extent, inevitable. You need not feel as though you’ve failed or that you’re not capable of accomplishing what others can accomplish. That isn’t what your body is telling you. Your body is telling you, “Try something different now.”

At this point, you might want to look for a new workout program entirely. Stop running, and start swimming. Stop lifting, and start doing calisthenics. Stop doing yoga, and start doing pilates. Whatever.

If you like what you’ve been doing, though, and you don’t want to make a radical change because you’d rather just improve, then I recommend first taking a couple of days off to give your body a full rest. Then, you can try a number of things. One simple technique is to just inject some variety in the order in which you do your exercises, the number of sets, the number of repetitions. As long as you’re working out to exhaustion, then the order and mix of sets-and-reps shouldn’t matter too much, anyway (within reason).

Another thing you can do is gamify it: Turn your workouts into a sport. Rather than trying for a gain every week, or ever couple of weeks, set a goal and attempt to meet it, gradually.

I wrote about this the other day. I’m trying to perform certain exercises that I cannot currently do. I felt for a while that I was reaching a plateau, but really I needed to pause, re-group, and concentrate on what it will take to achieve my goals. Attempting to do a muscle-up every time I attempt a pull-up would be overkill, but setting aside some time every week to attempt something new and previously impossible is an important way to keep yourself on track. Concentrate on what you want to achieve, and dedicate time to achieving it.

It’s no different than any other aspect of life, really. You’ll never be happy if you expect to get a little happier every day; but if you set aside a little time every now and then to make yourself happy, before you know it, you’ll feel very content. That’s what it’s all about.

2014-06-12

There Is No Tea Party

I.

In the wake of the Dave Brat/Eric Cantor upset, the news media and all the political pundits are saying the same thing: another “Tea Party challenger” defeated a member of the “Republican establishment.” Out of curiosity, I checked out Brat’s official website so that I could see what his policy stances are. To be sure, his position on the issues has been accurately reported. But his official platform consists of things like opposing amnesty for immigrants, balancing the budget, increasing military spending, repealing Obamacare, and supporting the free market system.

Can anyone tell me which one of those positions is at odds with the Republican establishment?

The news media are making a big deal out of the immigration side of things. It’s true that Brat’s stance on immigration is stricter than Cantor’s. But since when does one issue like that make a person a “Tea Party extremist” or not? One issue?

This made me think – and not for the first time – that there is no such thing as “the Tea Party.” The Tea Party, more than anything else, looks to be a re-branding of the Republican “establishment.” From my vantage point, the only way the “Tea Party” differs from the “establishment” is in tone, and even that benchmark is not totally reliable.

II.

How do you sell a new smartphone to a nation of people who already own five apiece?

You could do it the old-fashioned way. You could offer people a smartphone with new or significantly improved features, that performs faster, has clearer calls, more storage capacity, better apps, and so on. The problem with this is that it’s both difficult (to technologically improve on something that is already cutting-edge), and risky (to offer something that may turn out to be an “alternative” platform).

If you’re both greedy and lazy, then you have another option: You could simply stop providing meaningful updates to your phone’s operating system, make a few cosmetic changes to your flagship smartphone, give its operating system a new number (you know, increment from “4.1.5.1.0.1” to “5.0”), support it with meaningful updates, and sell it for an extra hundred bucks. In this case, you’d be relying on your customers’ collective sense of product envy and mounting frustration with the lack of operating system updates. It might also help to make the phones as brittle as possible, to maximize the periodicity of replacement.

The funny thing is, we all know that the smartphone companies are scamming us, but we’re tolerant of it. We might be less tolerant of this kind of thing if, rather than smartphones, we were talking about political regimes.

III.

Well, maybe…

The Republican establishment hasn’t offered any sort of meaningful operating system upgrade in a century or more. They’re “conservatives,” and conservatives like things to stay just as they are, thank you very much. What’s more, it’s doubtful that making any significant changes would be good for them as a political party. New or significantly improved features are difficult to produce, especially when your central goal is to reign supreme over the country. You might “alienate your base” by introducing them to weird, new-fangled concepts like ending agricultural and corporate welfare. If you stop talking about god, then you won’t be able to rattle certain cages anymore, and you’ll have to risk giving them individual liberty. And we can’t have that.

So what you can do instead – again, assuming you are both greedy and lazy – is add a few cosmetic upgrades (a woman here, a member of a visible minority there) to your old product and bill it as an entirely new product! You can sell it to people under the guise of its being a “grassroots movement,” meaning it must be popular and forward-looking; popular, because it’s a movement, and forward-looking, because its “grassroots” AKA “indie” AKA hip.

If you did this, though, you still might risk alienating the more somber, contemplative members of your base. They wouldn’t be prepared to join any noisy and impulsive grassroots movement. They’d want to make sure the ideas are sound and consistent with Republican ideals. How would you dupe them into accepting your new sham product?

You’d introduce a plot conflict: the Tea Party is passionate, but they may also be extremists! This lends credence to the old fuddy-duddies while simultaneously inspring the grassroots hipsters to double-down. “Hey!” they’ll scream, “We’re not extremists! We just want the party to return to its old ideals!” So you hand the Tea Party a stack of posters to circulate around Facebook, mostly consisting of pictures of wounded soldiers and smiling old Ronald Reagan. Both of these symbols will reassure the fuddy-duddies while energizing the hipsters.

At this point, you’d be inclined to think you have a new problem: With all this Republican grand-standing, your new product has zero appeal among the centrists. But you’d be wrong, because by introducing the plot conflict, you’ve set yourself up to resolve it with a “compromise.” That is, you’ll dilute the so-called Tea Party extremism, the “anti-government” stuff with the wisdom of the Republican “establishment.” Some old racists will have to go, no matter how good they are for funneling pork into the hands of your favorite funding organizations. The most clever of the hipsters will also have to be sacrificed to appease the beast, and also to ensure that they don’t cook-up any genuinely good ideas.

Remember, we’re not selling freedom, we’re selling Republicanism. It’s two different things.

IV.

There’s a chance you’re chuckling softly to yourself as you read this, because you’re a Democrat. “Ho ho! Those nutty conservatives!”

But the Republican “establishment” is the same thing as the Democrat “establishment,” and you were recently sold a movement variously called “Occupy,” or “Green Party,” or “Progressive” or “evidence-based” so-and-so, or whatever new thing you think you’re buying.

V.

Think about it. These new “grassroots” movements haven’t actually managed to weaken anyone’s grip on anything. Guantanamo Bay is still open for “Business… And Business Is Good.” We are still at war with Eastasia. (Or was it Eurasia?) So the end result hasn’t really changed.

Now consider the actual platforms of these groups, the Tea Party or whoever else. The core question I would like you to answer (to yourself) is: How –EXACTLY – do these organizations differ from the establishment? Be specific. The Tea Party’s platform is nothing new. It’s not “extreme,” and it’s not “different.” It is the same old Republican Party platform we’ve seen for at least 30 years. At best, you could argue that their tone is more belligerent, but that’s not a tangible difference. It’s just marketing.

There is no Tea Party.

2014-06-09

Workout Of The Day

On that note, here's today's workout.

 

Three sets of:

 

·         5 dips w/ forward lean

·         5 one-arm push-ups (5 each arm, alternating; 10 total)

·         5 dips w/ forward lean

·         5 clapping or Aztec push-ups

·         5 dips w/ forward lean

·         10 decline push-ups

 

Followed by a running fartlek (weather permitting):

 

·         8 mins brisk

·         4 mins recovery

·         6 mins fast

·         3 mins recovery

·         4 mins fast

·         2 mins recovery

·         2 mins hard

·         1 min recovery

 

Don't forget, if you're doing an out-and-back run, the turn-around point should occur at the fifth minute of your 6-minute fast split.

Fitness Endeavors

Let's zoom-out a bit on the Fitness Experiments blog posts long enough to consider a bit more of the bigger picture.

I have originally explained that the general idea governing the creation of these workouts is to use body-building workouts as a framework with which to create calisthenics workouts. Now that I'm six or seven weeks into these experiments, I realize that this is no longer an appropriate way to describe what's happening. I haven't been looking for new and different body-building workouts that I can convert into calisthenics, but rather I did so initially, and have spent the rest of the time attempting to improve upon my ability to perform calisthenics. So what started out as a hybrid workout approach has slowly become a calisthenics-only approach.

The reason this happened is because I experienced such significant strength gains that I came to realize that calisthenics is all I really need to achieve my goals. Let's reiterate: I am not really a body-builder, I'm a distance runner (fundamentally). Diabetes makes it challenging or impossible to eat the way a body-builder eats, anyway, so it's not something within my practical reach. I don't want to be a hulk, I want to do cool calisthenics.

The other thing I discovered is that calisthenics offers a seemingly limitless way to improve upon prior gains. Sick of push-ups? Do handstand push-ups. Sick of handstand push-ups? Do clapping push-ups. Sick of clapping push-ups? Do Aztec push-ups. The fun never ends.

Well, the fun never ends, so long as it actually begins. There are a great many calisthenics exercises that I'm not currently able to perform. I just don't have enough strength, or balance, or both. The fact that I can't do some of the things I'd like to do is, in fact, a blessing in disguise. If I could do absolutely everything that I want to do, then I'd have very little motivation to work out. It would be a matter of putting together combinations of exercises in various sets of various reps, for no discernible reason, and without experiencing any sort of improvement. Perhaps that's even what some of these workouts look like from the blog-reader's perspective.

So, I'd like to clear things up a little bit. There are a few exercises that I'm currently trying to perform, unsuccessfully. There will come a day when I'll have built up enough strength and balance to pull them off; then, I can make them a regular part of my workouts. Until that point, though, they're really just movements I'm trying to figure out and master. I know I'll eventually pull them off because I've done this before with other exercises.

Here's a short list of exercises I could never do, until I gradually built up enough strength and coordination to do them properly:

·         Dips – Let's face it, these are difficult for most people.

·         One-arm push-ups – Again, most people don't really do these, perhaps because they have a bad rap as a "showing off" exercise. So, they've become a skill that few actually have.

·         Lateral raises – Maybe it's just me, but I always started out with too much weight. Consequently, I never really figured out how to do them until I pulled back and started with the basics.

·         Hanging leg raises / Hanging torso-twists – I never would have even attempted these, had it not been for a personal trainer I worked with briefly. Stick with them; it's worth it to learn how to do them.

The reason I bring up the past is that, over the course of the existence of this blog, I've learned how to do a great many exercises I couldn't do before. Maybe I've given the impression that I'm just building workouts out of movements I already know how to do. Truth is, I'm learning as I go.

Now I'd like to write down a list of exercises I'm working toward, slowly but surely. If you can already do these, then congratulations – you're already way ahead of me. Good work! If you can't, then here's your opportunity to learn them as I learn them. We'll do it together.

All these calisthenics workouts I'm doing these days are created with the intent of being able to do:

·         Pistols, AKA "one-legged" squats. I could do these once, but no longer. Time to re-acquire the skill.

·         Muscle-ups – A pull-up, followed by shifting the weight of your shoulders over the bar and pushing up, as if climbing over a ledge. Currently working on proper form, but I might not have enough arm strength yet.

·         Aztec push-ups – Like a clapping push-up, but rather than just pushing your arms off the ground, push your arms and legs off the ground and do a "jack" in the air by making your body form an X. I can almost do these; I just need a little more plyometric power.

·         Planche Push-ups – Maybe this is the "ultimate" push-up. Get in push-up position, lean forward, shift your bodyweight over your hands, and balance so that your legs aren't touching the ground. Now do a push-up. I have major balance issues, so I'm a long way off from this.

These are the exercises that are on my current horizon. It will take time and effort. Know that when I list any of these in my daily workout routines, I am simply attempting to do them.

 

2014-06-03

Fitness Experiments 1.2

It has been a little while since I injected some variation into my calisthenics routines. Having been walking this path for about five weeks now, I have a real need to start changing things up to avoid stagnation (before stagnation sets in).

I've had good success with my pushups routines, but I need some variety. Today, I'm hoping to get that variety by using super-sets and focused motions. I'm also applying plyometric techniques for an added blast.

The workout will be three sets of the following:

5 forward-lean dips
10 clapping pushups

5 forward-lean dips
10 incline pushups

5 forward-lean dips
5 alternating one-arm pushups

I plan to finish it off with a 5-mile run. Won't you join me?

2014-05-23

Outdoor Calisthenics

As previously blogged, I have been focused on calisthenics for building strength recently. How is it going? Swimmingly. Four weeks in, muscle strength and side gains are already exceeding my expectations. While I'll never be any sort of a Hercules, focusing my efforts on calisthenics has enabled me to zero-in on my specific weaknesses without getting bogged down in body building techniques.

As a quick aside, allow me to speculate about why calisthenics work so much better for me than weight lifting. First, body-weight exercises are always body-appropriate. I can't lift too much or too little because, as my strength increases, so does my size. Second, calisthenics put a greater emphasis on balance and stabilization, which results in better posture, and thus workout form that continues to improve with muscle strength. In short, not only do I get better, I also get better at getting better. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, there is no real downside to reaching the point of muscle failure when you're doing calisthenics. When lifting weights, the chief risk it's a always that you're going to push too far and drop something heavy on yourself, or collapse under a barbell or something. Even with a spotter, it can be dangerous. But when you can't do any more push ups, you just fall down safely into a lying position, when you can't do any more pull ups, you just drop safely to your feet, and so on. Thus, it's possible to reach muscle exhaustion every time, without it costing you anything.

But back to the point of today's post. Another enormous benefit to calisthenics is the fact that they can be done virtually anywhere. With the exception of pull ups, one can effectively train every muscle group unimpeded by a lack of training equipment. This means that you can get a fun workout in, no matter where you are, or more to the point, you can go somewhere fun, like a park or a nice space outdoors, to work out.

Yesterday I found myself in a nice local park, where I like to run on weekends. But it wasn't a weekend, it was chest-and-triceps day. Well, pushups can happen anywhere, decline pushups can happen with the help of a picnic table, and the local playground structures are perfect for things like dips. Once finished with my calisthenics, I was already in the right place to go for a run. What's more, I was further able to scout-out some places for future workouts, too.

This, of course, is just an example. You might not want to work out in a park, but imagine what you can do in your own back yard. This very thought occurred to me last week, and now I have visions of a modest outdoor gym in my future.

But don't get caught up on a single location, either. Every small change you make to your calisthenic movements offers a subtle modification on your exercises. Go anywhere, exercise wherever it seems interesting. This freedom of movement keeps things new, varied, and interesting.

And when your muscles get tired, you can head out for a run. It's great.

2014-05-14

Paradigms - A Key Message

To recap a key message from my blog: Paradigmatic thinking is useful when trying to understand something new, but it becomes an obstacle to understanding when we are no longer capable of thinking about things WITHOUT the paradigm.

You could say that paradigms have high explanatory power, but low predictive value, or you could just accept that no one way of looking at things is perfect enough to tell you everything you need to know. This is why theories of social science go in and out of vogue without producing more insight than those that came before them.

2014-05-12

Night Guilt

Sometimes you fully intend to take the day off from exercise, but then the evening rolls around, and you realize that taking the day off is for sissies.

It wasn't a comprehensive workout. I didn't have time for cardio. But today is traditionally tricep-and-shoulder day, and I successfully came through, even if at the eleventh hour. (Okay, the eighth hour.)

Eight varieties each of push-ups and abdominal exercises. It's not the best workout I've ever had, but it is much, much better than the workout I was going to have otherwise.