When You Can't Do Cardio

There will always be times when you can’t get in a cardiovascular workout. Some examples:

·         You only have time for weights or cardio, not both.
·         You acquired an injury, perhaps while training for a marathon.
·         You fell ill with a chest cold.
·         Et cetera.

When precluded from participating in your favorite cardiovascular exercise regimen, you have a great opportunity to hit the weights. Well, for the past four weeks, I’ve been doing just that, and the results have been tangible.

So, today I’d like to start by describing my current (and temporary) workout regimen, discuss how I developed it, and provide a look at what the future holds for me in terms of exercise.

Part One: The Current Workout
I’ve been holding myself to a classic A-Day/B-Day weight-lifting schedule, as follows:

A-Day (Triceps, Abs, Chest, and Shoulders):
1.       Three sets of 35 push-ups. One set is a standard push-up, the second is a “wide-stance” push-up, the third is a tricep (or “triangle”) push-up.
2.       Three sets of 15 front-raises. I started at 10lbs., but have worked up to 15lbs.
3.       Three sets of 15 lateral raises.
4.       Three sets of 15 rear-deltoid raises.
5.       Three sets of 15 incline presses, holding 35lb. weights in each hand.
6.       Three sets of 15 chest presses, using a machine, at 90lbs.
7.       …and my usual abdominal routine, which you can find elsewhere on the blog.

B-Day (Biceps and Back):
1.       Three sets of 15 runners’ curls (15lbs).
2.       Three sets of 15 bent rows (35lbs per arm).
3.       Three sets of 15 lat pull-downs, preferably with a cable machine to work out each arm independently (90lbs).
4.       Three sets of 10 pull-ups.

On each day, I have been trying to get in whatever cardio I can, ranging from 10 to 40 minutes per day. I have also been taking the weekends off to help prevent fatigue.

As you can see, A-Days are a bit more involved than B-Days. While this probably isn’t optimal from a workout perspective, I find it psychologically beneficial because I can’t always psych myself up enough for intense strength training every day of the week. Having a bit of a reprieve is nice.

Part Two: Why That?
Workout design can be daunting for neophytes, but it’s really not that bad.

The first step is to identify your goals. Mine was to build some good upper-body mass until I could get back to running regularly.

The second step is to incorporate what you know about the human body. In this case, you don’t need to know much. All you really need to know is that your body has various parts: lower legs, thighs, quads, abs, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and forearms. Easy, right?

The third step is the only really tricky part: Don’t over-work any one part. As you can see above, I only work out half my arm on any one day. On ab day, I lay off my back, and vice-versa. In order to succeed at dividing up your exercises like this, the only requirement is knowing what exercise works out which muscle groups (i.e. parts) and dividing them up accordingly.

Part Three: What’s Next?
My original intent was to change things up every two weeks, to keep my strength training fresh. Because I had the flu and went on an insulin pump, that didn’t work out, so now I’m at four weeks of the same thing. Next week will be time for a change.

I am enjoying the process of building upper body mass, even though I am now able to re-dedicate to some good cardio. So next week I plan on increasing the cardio significantly, but also maintaining a significant weights regimen, in an ongoing A-Day/B-Day pattern.

For now I think I will keep the basic idea, but swap-out some of the exercises. Rather than push-ups, I’ll bench press. I’ll keep the deltoid raises for another two weeks, but switch to military presses instead of incline presses. The chest press I’ll swap for a bench/free-weights version of the same thing.

On B-Days, I’ll swap the running curls for chin-ups, do some front-rows instead of bent rows, but keep the pull-ups and lat pull-downs.

In the mornings on both days, I’ll see about jumping rope; in the evenings, I’d like to run. On the weekends, I’ll lay off weights entirely and maybe get some biking or light running in.

I’ll post the specifics when I can.

It Ain't Pretty

Things are not going brilliantly on the pump.

So far, the major problems have nothing to do with the fact that I am attached to a medical device twenty-four hours per day. The major problem is that my blood sugar is really high all the time and I cannot seem to bring it down, no matter what I try.

The one reprieve I have in the course of my day is the minuscule period between finishing my evening workout and eating my dinner. Then and only then I get to experience normal blood glucose levels. Sometimes I even go low. Ordinarily, I greatly dislike going low, but it is such a welcome change from the constant high blood glucose I have been experiencing for the last month that it feels like cool water washing over my body.

This has got to stop. It absolutely must stop. It must.

From today, I take a good long look at my lifestyle and eliminate every superfluous carbohydrate I can. I am going to massively increase my vegetable intake, severely limit my intake of even complex carbohydrates like whole grains, go to bed on time, wake up on time, workout twice a day, re-commit to a vigorous cardiovascular regimen, and reduce my intake of caffeine.

I have to do this or I am going to start killing myself. I am a good diabetic. That I feel like I'm losing control of my blood sugar is frustrating, unsettling, alarming, disappointing, and all those other kinds of words.

All I can do is make an effort to control those factors over which I have control, and trust my body to respond. Wish me luck. I feel like crap today.


Guitar Exercise of the Week

Well, my friends, I am happy to report that my daily guitar exercises were extremely productive this week. I managed to bring "Sextuplet Time" up to a speed of 84bpm, and "Strung Out" up to a speed of 124bpm. I'm not done yet. I'll continue working on these every day until I get them up into the neighborhood where I want them.

That said, it's been a week, and it's time for something new. This week, I've developed something a little more complex, so rather than giving you two straight-forward exercises, I'd like to stick to just one killer.

Exercise 3: Hell's Effervescence
So named because playing this kind of technique reminds me of the bubbles in a boiling pot of water, this exercise combines several different aspects of guitar-playing theory into one brutal exercise.

Normally, exercises of this kind are played using a sweep-picking technique. Metalheads love this kind of stuff because it sounds evil, and it's also a "classic shred" kind of a sound. But do not use sweep-picking for this exercise. As you'll see from the diagram, our job is to play through the exercise using a combination of hammer-ons-from-nowhere and tapping. In other words, it's pure legato, baby!

This exercise was inspired first by Tony MacAlpine, who has a tendency to lay off his picking hand when he's doing sweep arpeggios. He plays them legato sometimes and merely pantomimes the sweep with his right hand. Hey, no harm, no foul. Another great example of arpeggios played as hammer-ons-from-nowhere are the fast bits in Extreme's "Play With Me."

But the best example of this I can think of is Joe Satriani's "The Mystical Potato-Head Groove Thing."

So, as you work your way through this exercise, work on the following:
  • Keep the tempo even.
  • Keep the sound percussive, and try to make it sound like you're actually picking the notes.
  • Try muting the strings with your picking hand like Satch; then cross-over for the final taps. Moving your hand back and forth from behind to in front of your fretting hand is a great performance visual that will take your live shows to the next level.
As an added complication, I've written this exercise in the key of Eb. This will help get you out of the the whole E, A, D frame of mind and hopefully get you thinking about the notes you're playing, rather than just going on auto-pilot and playing the same arpeggios you've already done to death in other exercises.

Here's what it looks like:

What Results?

Occasionally I hear from people who say they aren’t seeing any results. Where is are the muscles? Where is the tone? Why haven’t I broken that 20-minute 5K? Why haven’t I lost more weight?

It’s easy to get discouraged in our exercise regimen if we don’t see the results we’re looking for. Sometimes, though, the problem is neither a bad regimen nor an absence of results. Sometimes the really great results we have achieved go unnoticed because we’re looking for results for which we haven’t really been training.

This is why I stress that having an underlying approach to the regimen is key to achieving one’s fitness goals. We must establish what our goals are and tailor our approach to the goal, rather than determining what our approach is first and then assessing whether or not it helped us reach a goal we never articulated in advance. One needs a very different kind of workout strategy if weight loss is the objective, versus strength training. But if that is the goal, then one must acknowledge it in advance and not look for one’s existing workout regimen to satisfy it ex post facto.

The one thing I have learned about exercise over the years is that it is not a “set it and forget it” kind of a thing. You can’t just take on a regimen and then go on auto-pilot and wait for the results to come in. You have to constantly change and tinker what you’re doing in order to keep driving yourself toward new results. What you did last week, no matter what it is, will always be easier this week, and will therefore yield diminishing returns next week, too.

If I want to lose weight, I adopt a cardio-dominant exercise regimen and a diet consisting predominantly of low fat foods and complex carbohydrates. If I want to build muscle and strength, then I do more resistance training and eat more monounsaturated fats and proteins. If I want to build up speed, I have to hit the track at least twice a week.

Unfortunately, it often requires dedication to a specific goal in order to achieve the results associated with that specific goal. Fortunately, this means that all we need to do to achieve our goals is plan for them and act accordingly. If you want to run a comfortable marathon, you have to put in the miles. If you want to lose weight, you have to focus on lots and lots of intense cardiovascular exercise. If you want to build muscle, you have to keep increasing the weight and eating that protein. If you want to build speed, you have to make it to the track 2-3 times a week and really push yourself.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that goals require constant adjustment to life’s ever-changing conditions. Strength, speed, muscle mass, endurance, weight loss, flexibility, and everything else are features that must be worked-toward and maintained. You’re never really “there.” Working out is a vector, not a line segment, and certainly not an endpoint.


Drugs Part Three: A Personal Creed

If someone had told me a few months ago that taking a firm anti-drug stance would rub people the wrong way, I would have believed you easily. Our society is not intolerant of drug abuse. Our society tolerates it easily with a nudge and wink, perhaps a hug; then we pretend it will all go away.

But it hasn't gone away, not by a long shot, and this is one of the reasons I post on the topic so frequently.

One More Time, For the World!
The objections raised against what I wrote are as follows:
  1. Some suggest that drugs are no different from food.
  2. Some suggest that I cannot make an argument about a large group of people because a minority of them may have different motives than the ones I suggest. 
  3. Some suggest that my comments are flippant because, after all, some people have serious problems that cannot easily be solved. 
What do all of these counter-arguments have in common? None of them (none of them) claim that drug use is good. None of them claim that drug use involves taking a productive step toward solving one's problems. None of them claim that drug use is act full of responsibility and consciousness.

In short, none of them actually refute any claim I've made about drug use. Understanding that, it is difficult to see what the real opposition is. 

Difficult, but not impossible.

What Are Ethics, And Why Should We Care?
As human beings, we want to reach out to those who are in difficult situations and help them. We want to dole out hugs, assistance, medical recommendations, psychological recommendations, and so forth. We want to be a listening ear, we want to provide kind words. Sympathy, understanding, forgiveness, and love are virtues that have been held in the highest esteem throughout human history.

But ethics is the study of moral right and wrong. It is not the function of ethics to dole out sympathy, forgiveness, and understanding.

An ethical code may result in the handing out of peace, love, and understanding, but behind all of those warm and fuzzy feelings lies something cold and unrelenting: A creed, a moral code.

Creeds in and of themselves do not dole out warm-fuzzies. Creeds are the logical backbone on which all of our moral decisions are based. They are the pattern into which we weave our moral sentiments. They are the map that tells us when we've done something right, and when we've done something wrong.

Throughout our lives, we have many opportunities to be a good friend. We also have ample opportunities to develop and stand up for our moral code.

If you are willing to embrace the full spectrum of human experiences, you must acknowledge a simple truth: there is a time in life for being a good friend; and there is a time in life when we develop our creed. Both human experiences are necessary to live out a complete existence.

He or she who would stamp out friendship for the sake of a moral code is a cold individual indeed. He or she who would throw aside their moral code in order to keep on good terms with someone truly has no moral code in practice.

Both, I repeat, both, are necessary for a fulfilling life.

The Flippant Caricature and What It Really Means That Right is Right
It is easy to make light of Stationary Waves in order to trivialize the ideas here. Because I philosophize running and music, and also philosophize ethics, we could dismiss the whole ball of yarn and say that "going for a run or picking up a guitar does not always solve the problem" when people make mistakes.

The question is, what solves the problem?

Recall that my original blog article about Amy Winehouse suggested that Winehouse's troubles began not with drug addiction but with her decision to do drugs the very first time.

My suggestion was that philosophy and courage could have solved her problem. She chose drugs. This was a bad decision, it was immoral, and it was just plain wrong.

Saying so is neither flippant nor "judgemental" in the sense that I sit on an ivory tower pronouncing judgements from a place of moral perfection. That I have made plenty of mistakes is both obvious, predictable, and beside the point.

When I err, I say so. When I fall short of my moral principles, I feel remorse, I work toward earning forgiveness, and I go forward in life trying not to repeat my mistakes. I gain a clear head and a clear conscience not by running or playing music, but by acknowledging my mistakes and endeavoring not to repeat them.

It's really pretty simple.

A couple of days ago, EF wrote:
if we want to seriously understand self-destructive behaviours such as drug addiction, we can’t just write people off by saying ‘they were weak and lazy and chose this and therefore they need to live with the consequences of their choices and I don’t give a crap about them because they didn’t care about themselves when they were smart enough to know better.’
I very much respect EF as a person, and when I say that (philosopher that I am), that means I also respect her views and her opinions. I don't honestly believe she and I fundamentally disagree on anything about this issue. What EF objects to is that the moral line-in-the-sand I've drawn doesn't seem very kind.

But this is my position as an ethicist. My position as a friend reflects all the kindness and compassion for friends in trouble that I am capable of (which, if I say so myself, is a lot).

The fact of the matter is that none of this matters on the ethical point. I can be kind or cruel, forgiving or relentless, open-minded or judgemental.

No matter how I behave when I say so, drug abuse will always be a moral travesty and a philosophical aberration. I can say so because it is true, and because only a fool would disagree.

What I mean to say is this: Taking a moral stand on an issue, no matter what the issue, no matter what the stance, puts you at risk of upsetting people who disagree. But our values are meaningless if we quickly throw them aside at the first sign of adversity. If we don't stand up for our values, no one else will.

If ethics have a place in our society at all, we owe it to ourselves to stand up for them. In doing so, we make firm conclusions about what is right and what is wrong. Simply verbalizing that drug abuse is wrong and that belching in public is disgraceful puts you up on the wall among those people who stand firm for what they believe, notwithstanding their own personal shortcomings.

But a belief is a belief, and having one doesn't diminish a person's compassion or humanity. It simply means that such people are willing to go on the record. Are you?

Conclusion: I May Be A Sinner, But I'm An Ethical Sinner
When I spoke out about Amy Winehouse, I did so because I believe that drugs are one of the most destructive forces in the world today. You may disagree, and probably do. Feel free to post your thoughts about this in the comments section, or on your own blog.

Do I have compassion for Amy Winehouse? No, I do not. How can I? I never knew her. She is yet another in a long line of people who threw their lives away for the sake of a philosophical aberration. I do not have compassion for that.

Have I known anyone in Winehouse's position? Well, I never met anyone who over-dosed (if she over-dosed), but I have known plenty of addicts, and my beliefs speak from that experience. It isn't just the user who suffers from addiction; it is also the hearts and souls of every person whose lives they touch.

We can give any amount of effort and support to an addict. The one, universal truth of addiction treatment - the lone prerequisite for successful rehabilitation - is that the addict wants to be healed. Unless and until that happens, compassion and love are meaningless.

According to the world as I see it - my creed - philosophy comes first, human relationships second. A creed is logically prior to all relationships, and colors every human interaction.

Face it, folks: we need ethics.

That's why I write.

Human Action: A Book Review

After a long time, I have finally finished Ludwig von Mises' (English language) magnum opus, Human Action. It was, in a word, brilliant.

The tome is nearly 900 pages long (well over 1,000 if you include the introduction, forewords, and index), so typing up a comprehensive review of it would read something like study notes. It would be wholly uninteresting to you, the reader, and would be far too long to publish on a blog. I will opt out of writing such a review, but nevertheless, I would like to jot down a few words about the book; take-home messages, if you will. As I see it, these are the aspects of the Misesian approach that make it stand apart from mainstream economic theory.

The fundamental concept of economics as it is taught in modern schools is that price sold and quantity produced form an equilibrium where supply equals demand. While viewing the economy in this fashion makes some sense from the perspective of an introductory course, it varies widely from the economy as Mises understood it. This classic supply / demand model was something Mises refers to throughout Human Action as "the imaginary construction of the evenly rotating economy." In other words, supply and demand would form a perfect equilibrium if and only if conditions of the world never, ever changed.

Mises contrasted this to his own view, the idea that supply and demand tend toward an equilibrium, but never really get there since conditions in the world are always changing. At any moment in time, we have some idea (conceptually) of how many apples and tomatoes to bring to market, how many each person wants to buy. But the very moment one person buys apples and tomatoes, that person impacts both the supply of tomatoes and apples on the market and the total of each still demanded. 

In other words, markets never reach a state of equilibrium. If they did, all needs would be satisfied and the gears of the economy would grind to a halt. It is disequilibrium that propels an economy forward. The fact that there are more wants to satisfy means that the economy is in disequilibrium.

Heterogeneous Value
One of the most profound points in Human Action (to me, anyway) is the idea that trade cannot occur unless the buyer and the seller value the good or service unequally

Imagine I am selling you a hammer for $10. In order to part with my hammer, I must believe that the $10 is worth more than my hammer. If I felt that the hammer's value was exactly $10, then I would be perfectly ambivalent toward selling it. Having either that hammer or an extra $10 would be worth about the same to me.

On the other hand, you would never part with your $10 unless you believed that the hammer had more value than the $10 you're willing to pay, otherwise you would be unwilling to part with your $10.

This relationship of fundamental inequality is a prerequisite for any market transaction. I have never heard any other economist of any school of thought express this concept. At first it seems counter-intuitive, and then on further reflection, it is perfectly obvious. Yet, this fact is currently outside the mainstream of economic theory - or at least, it is never taught in modern courses.

The implications are profound. A person's disadvantages are indeed his or her greatest strengths. That which you value least in your own market transactions becomes the very products or services you are best able to sell to others. This is why lower-priced labor from developing countries is attractive to manufacturing companies eager to sell their wares for a more competitive price. That one person has a wealth of cash while another has a profound want for it is precisely what allows a poor man to become rich in a market economy. This, however, is a matter of comparative advantage, which is the topic of a future blog post.

The Austrian Understanding of Saving and Capital
While mainstream economists view capital as a mere production input, Mises conceived of capital as the source of production and innovation. We either invest the money we save ourselves, in hope of earning a higher return on our investment, or we keep our money in a financial institution that we believe will pay us an acceptable interest rate and trust that the bank will wisely invest its reserves in order to pay us that interest rate. Therefore, every act of saving money, in Mises' view, is an act of investment.

Capital itself is the money and production inputs saved for future use. We set aside a portion of our returns today so that we can apply them to our future desires. When we do this as individuals, we save. When a company or an entrepreneur does this, it is capital accumulation and investment.

In order to weave a fishing net, our caveman fishermen ancestors had to set aside a part of their day in order to abstain from fishing. Rather than satisfying their immediate desires, they trusted that their time would be well-spent increasing their capacity to catch fish. It was speculation - they had no guarantee that this would be the case. They gave it a try, and soon succeeded. The result was their ability to employ capital in the catching of more fish. They improved their chances of survival and caught more fish for everyone. This is capital investment in the Austrian sense of the term.

Economic Laws
An oft-derided concept inn economics is that of the economic law. Many suggest that, because economics is not a laboratory science, no steadfast economic laws can actually exist. What seems true today may not be true tomorrow. It is a matter of "perspective" or "opinion." Mises rejected this idea entirely, and offered a superior explanation.

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility - also the topic for a future blog post - is inviolable. It simply states that the more apples we have, the less we value each additional apple. There is a hypothetical point at which we can make use of no further apples. The additional (marginal) apple is effectively useless for us. This may not be a law in the same sense as the law of gravity, but it holds no less true as the force of gravity keeps us on the surface of the Earth. While the specific number of apples that you personally would find useful may differ from my specific number, there exists a number for both us beyond which we no longer wish to have additional apples. Again, the law is inviolable.

So, in contrast to popular opinion and the words of at least my economics professors, and probably yours too, Mises described an economy in which inviolable logical truths hold fast against the ever-changing universe. It is the task of economists to uncover and describe these truths. We may not know all of them, but they exist and govern our behavior regardless.

The Austrian Business Cycle Theory is Basically Irrefutable
I have never read a convincing critique against the Misesian theory of money and credit, and I doubt I ever will. Once understood properly, it cannot be refuted. It is the single best explanation for business cycles, booms and busts, that exists in economic theory. And it is gaining ground (at last) for good reason. The competing theories are intellectually bankrupt. Mises' description of money and credit are his crowning economic achievements.

Over Ten Thousand

Some time over the weekend, Stationary Waves received its ten thousandth visitor. Whoever you are, thank you! And to the rest of you who made it happen, here's to another ten thousand hits. Thanks for making this blog a success by every measure to which I would hold it.

Writing a blog is a great personal exercise. But it is certainly more fun when one is lucky enough to have a readership. I promise I'll try not to let you down, at least until I get my twenty thousandth hit. ;)


Better Access to Health Care in Canada?

The answer is a resounding NO.

I have said many times that the Canadian health care system offers patience a guaranteed visit. That is no guarantee that you will receive the health care that you actually need. The Montreal Gazette confirms this to be the case:
Nicole Valcourt claims that if her uterine cancer had been treated faster by three Montreal Island hospitals, it wouldn't have spread to her liver and intestines and be killing her now.
The 55-year-old mother and wife is suing the McGill University Health Centre, the Dorval-Lachine-LaSalle Health and Social Services Centre and the Notre Dame Hospital of the University of Montreal Hospital Centre for $670,000 because, she claims, she was bounced from one to the other until it was too late.
Ms. Valcourt is suing, and every Canadian in the country should be glad that she is, in hopes that her suit will help permanently reform the system.


Guest Blogger Says Ryan Is Totally Wrong

Tonight we welcome the eloquent thoughts of one loyal Stationary Waves reader who says I have it wrong. I am planning one final post on this topic. Until then, enjoy what EF has to say to me about my take on drug abuse.
I can be counted as one of the people who were “rubbed the wrong way” by your Amy Winehouse blog entry. It wasn’t so much your logic (which I don’t entirely agree with, but that wasn’t my main hang-up) as the tone of your article that offended me. 
I felt that your entry oversimplified the issues surrounding self-destructive behaviours. I say ‘self-destructive behaviours’ and not just drug addiction, because if we are talking about self-destructive behaviour as a choice or a series of choices that we appreciate on some conscious level are very likely going to shorten our lives, or at least affect the quality of our lives, we should probably also consider obesity, smoking, 75 hour work weeks, etc. I get the whole ‘you’re not thinking if you’re on drugs and you’re not living if you’re not thinking’ thing, which may not make sense when we swap in other self-destructive behaviours, but your article extends more broadly than this line of rationale. When I read the following statements: “the fact of the matter is that reasonable, happy, self-confident people who are excited about life and their prospects for it don't do drugs”, and “my opinion is that drug addicts are a class of people who are mentally (not physically) incapable of properly evaluating short-run pleasure/pain versus long-run pleasure/pain,” and “because preserving one's life means consciously making self-preserving decisions (i.e. not seeking inhibited or damaged states of being)”, it seemed to me that one could easily use drugs as the X variable self-destructive behaviour. Fair enough if you disagree with my interpretation, but I’m just pointing out that this is how the article sounded to me. 
People don’t always overeat or do drugs or cut themselves just because they are bored with reality and/or are too lazy to get a hobby. Some do, but others are plagued by horrible experiences that unfortunately makes it more difficult for them to make healthy life choices or even to want to continue living (ie experiencing the death of a child, or being a victim of sexual abuse, etc.). This is not to say that everyone who has had a terrible thing happen to them is helpless to overcome his or her trauma or should get some special ‘free pass’ to give up on themselves and to check out of reality—I am only suggesting that going for a run or picking up a guitar does not always solve the problem, and if we want to seriously understand self-destructive behaviours such as drug addiction, we can’t just write people off by saying ‘they were weak and lazy and chose this and therefore they need to live with the consequences of their choices and I don’t give a crap about them because they didn’t care about themselves when they were smart enough to know better.’ 
I appreciate that those weren’t your words, but that’s how the article sounded to me. Several statements sounded quite flippant. And the first thing I thought was, how could Ryan have known what initially caused or then sustained Amy Winehouse’s cocaine addiction? What if she wasn’t just bored with reality? And the second thing I thought was, I really hope that Ryan doesn’t have a son or daughter that one day ends up with a deadly addiction, because I don’t believe he’d stand before the grave of his dead child and think: ‘she didn’t care if she died, why should I?' 
After reading the article over a few times, I thought that perhaps I was being oversensitive. But when you used the term “bipolar nutjob” in a response to a comment, I was really disappointed. 
Apart from the overall tone of the blog entry, I disagree that drug addiction is (significantly more of) a mental issue and not a physical disease. It’s probably a lot easier to say no to cocaine before you try it once than it is after you’ve tried it ten times, because addiction to heavy drugs almost always has a physiological component to it. There is a program at our local hospital for volunteers to come into a darkened nursery to gently rock and console drug addicted newborn babies while they scream through their addiction pain. 
Sometimes people make bad decisions. And sometimes it's a lot more difficult to crawl out of a hole than it was to dig it in the first place.


Guitar Progress

If you've been following along, then you know about Project: Guitar God.

As aforementioned, I had been playing "Sextuplet Time" at 72bpm and "Strung Out" at 104bpm.

Today, I can report that after two days, I've worked "Sextuplet Time" up to 76bpm and "Strung Out" up to 116bpm. The comparatively lackluster progress on "Sextuplet Time" is owing to the fact that the initial descending passage gets extremely difficult at high speeds. The ascending passages are easy to play even above 80bpm, but the descent holds me back.

I'm actually surprised at how quickly I'm progressing at "Strung Out." I figured that would be the more difficult exercise for me.

How are you making out? 

Drugs, Revisited

My second-most popular blog post of all time, as measured by site hits, is my article on the death of notorious drug addict Amy Winehouse. In that article, I outlined exactly why doing drugs is an act of self-abnegation.

The article rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Some felt that I was attacking the whole concept of psychiatric medication. I wasn't. I am actually a strong supporter of psychiatric medication, when it is required. Such medications are a boon for our society and have helped many great people overcome problems and go on to lead not only healthy lives, but amazing lives that have had grace and impact.

Some felt that I was attacking the concept that drug addiction is a physical disease, and not a mental one. I was. My opinion is that drug addicts are a class of people who are mentally (not physically) incapable of properly evaluating short-run pleasure/pain versus long-run pleasure/pain. There exists medical and psychological evidence to support my viewpoint, although I concede that it is not universally accepted one way or the other.

Jeff's Objection - Part One
Some felt, as loyal Stationary Waves reader Jeff felt (see his full comment in the original article's permalink):
However any time you try to speak about an entire classification of people as a whole, then you can’t make all encompassing statements like those which you are making. People are people… period. They will come from any direction imaginable and do things for any reason imaginable and judgments like those you are choosing to lie down could only be made on a person to person basis. More so, those types of judgments could only be made by somebody who knows the subject very closely and even then you would have a personal bias. You are making assumptions about stereotypes… hardly informative about anything at all except for your own personal motivations and hardly insightful into the minds of either addicts or artists. 
 The above argument I have heard many times, and I summarize it as follows: "Judging and generalizing is mean." I accept that judging and generalizing rubs its victims the wrong way. However, I also respond as follows (and this is really, really important):

Our own personal values are meaningless if it is considered wrong to enforce them in our own minds. In other words, that I think drugs are a disgusting abomination is a meaningless personal value unless I actually live and act as though I really do believe it. Part of this is condemning drug use and drug addiction wherever I see it. I am sorry if this offends some readers, but I also remind them that they, too, hold such a value: the value of not judging anyone.

Of what use would Jeff's values for not judging people be if he didn't speak out against what I said? Jeff's value is very important to him, therefore he was moved to speak up for his beliefs. I laud Jeff for this! This is wonderful. Our values are very important.

But it is for this reason that Jeff cannot seriously object to my judging Amy Winehouse. If I failed to judge her, I would not be standing up for my own, personal beliefs.

But Was I Really Judging Amy Winehouse?
In truth, I don't think I was judging Amy Winehouse at all. My article outlined the following logical chain:
  1. I accept the truth that cogito ergo sum, i.e. "I think, therefore I am."
  2. I accept the contra-positive, "If I am not thinking, I am not really living."
  3. I rephrase point 2 above as follows: "Acts bereft of thought (such as doing drugs) are acts of self-abnegation."
  4. Therefore, doing drugs is an act of self-abnegation.
  5. People who willingly engage in self-abnegation do not wish to live, at least not during the time they are self-abnegating.
  6. If they do not wish to live, why should I care if they die?
Now, Jeff and others may disagree with one or more points above. They may not, however, accuse me of "being judgemental." This isn't a value-judgement, it's a chain of logic. You can disagree with the logic, but you can't accuse logic of being judgemental. Logic doesn't judge. Logic is objective.

Jeff's Objection - Part Two
Jeff goes on to make the following statement:
The only caveat I could think of here was that drugs are one of many ways to see the space and content of your mind in a different light and that insight could and has been used to understand higher thinking.
Relating this to my logical chain above, it is clear that Jeff disagrees with my Point #3. In other words, Jeff believes that drugs are a path to understanding "higher thinking."

It is insufficient to say that I simply disagree with this statement. Nor do I believe it's a matter of opinion. We may deal with this argument by asking one simple question:

When one is experiencing higher thinking, would one be more-able, or less-able to operate heavy machinery, sign a legally binding contract, give legal consent for sexual encounters, and drive a motor vehicle?

If the answer is "less-able," then we are not talking about "higher thinking." We are instead talking about an inhibited mental state.

Now, I certainly don't think we have to disagree as to whether people who are under the influence of recreational drugs are capable of giving legal consent or operating heavy machinery. One is simply no longer experiencing reality when they take recreational drugs. As that which is not real can never be a more advanced version of that which is real, we can rest our case.

Hence I have shown that a drug-induced state is an inhibited state. I take it as given that the active pursuit of an inhibited state is either flagrantly irrational or just plain thoughtless, but in either case, it is an act of self-abnegation.

Why abnegation? Because preserving one's life means either consciously making self-preserving decisions (i.e. not seeking inhibited or damaged states of being), or at least trying to think about what those decisions might be if they are unknown (i.e. pursuing only functional levels of thought and consciousness).

I don't doubt that the average drug user is capable of justifying their drug use any which way. The rationalizations for drug use are endless. Anyone who has ever spoken with a drug addict or alcoholic knows that. Their drug use is always "someone else's fault." They always "couldn't help it." Always, those critical of drug use "just don't understand me or anything about my life."

There is nothing different about these kinds of statements than what you get from the average teenager who has been prevented by his parents from just doing what he wants.

That drug use is dangerous, damaging, and mentally inhibiting is undeniable. No one can tenably claim that drug use is inert or even net-positive. All who attempt to do so are merely rationalizing the artificial highs they wish to experience.

There is much to say about drug-users, but all that really needs to be said about them is non cogitat, non est.

Our National God

Here's a pointer for my American readers who believe the US health care system needs to look more like Canada's; or, for my Canadian readers who believe that the Canadian health care system is better than a market-based or two-tiered system:

I don't think any of us would have thought that we would be practising in a system where five million Canadians do not have access to a family doctor, or [where] one in 10 Canadians cannot afford their medications.

That's the president of the Canadian Medical Association speaking.

5 million Canadians, in a population of 30 million, is about one-in-six. For the scorekeepers out there, one-in-six is what most analysts point to as the pre-Obama number of US residents who do not have access to a family doctor. 

What this means is that the Canadian "single-payer" health care system has not improved access to health care at all. The rate of failure as measured by access to a family doctor is identical to that of the spooky, evil US health care "system."

Questioning the efficacy and rationality of the Canadian health care system is so taboo and off-limits that it is tantamount to heresy in this country. "Universal" health care is the Canadian National God. This bulging, bloated, blob of bureaucracy is a drain on national resources. It has failed utterly in its promise to effectively provide affordable health care to all Canadians.

At what point do we shake off the shackles of our false god and reform the system? How many people need to suffer or die for the sake of our national health care experiment? How much misery are we willing to put up with before we admit that our system has fared no better than that of our National Rival?

Yet, Americans careen down the path of Canada's greatest national mistake, oblivious to the headlines of their Northern neighbors. 

Someone please stop this madness. 


Guitar Exercise of the Week

As promised, today I am going to provide and discuss a couple of guitar-playing exercises to help you (read: me) develop your (read: my) technique on the instrument.

I said yesterday that I would likely be starting these exercises at about 140bpm and working my way into the 175 range. While that tends to be the case for solos that I write, which involve whole, half, quarter, eighth notes, etc., I discovered last night that these exercises should be played a lot slower, initially.

The reason for this is because, first of all, they involve only one kind of note (sextuplets in the first case, and sixteenth notes in the second case). This means that I have to push myself to maintain a constant speed. The second reason is that, as exercises, they are a bit more difficult than my solos tend to be.

At any rate, we are not doing anything incredibly difficult for week number one. I wanted to start out somewhat easy and work my way up, over the coming weeks.

Exercise 1: Sextuplet Time
Our first exercise today is based on... pretty much every metal shredder with a YouTube video. Nothing says speed and evil quite like shredded sextuplets in a minor key. For added dexterity, I have incorporated string skipping into the exercise as well.

For me, the descending part of this exercise is the most difficult part. You will have to move your fretting hand a lot more than during the ascension. In addition, if you're not holding the guitar in a comfortable position, with good posture, then you will find this one more difficult than it needs to be. Once you get it up to a nice speed, though, the picking hand starts to feel really good, and the notes really start to shine, despite the scalar nature of the exercise.

I started out at 50bpm during the "learning phase," in order to get a feel for how the exercise "felt." Over the course of a couple of hours, I worked my way up to 72bpm. Of course, the goal over the coming weeks is to play this exercise ridiculously fast. 165bpm would be nice, but that's pretty out-there for me at this juncture.

Here's how it works:

Remember, this is an alternate-picking exercise, so no cheating. Do not play this legato, do not use economy picking. You'll only thwart your own objectives in the long run.

Exercise 2: Strung Out
This next exercise is loosely based on something I saw in an interview with Yngwie Malmsteen, but it underlines a concept that is common to guitar-playing in general. The basic idea is to take a single note pattern on a single string and move it up and down the same string in either an ascending or descending pattern.

You can use phrases like this in solos as a convenient way to get from one location on the neck to another. Because it's based on a diatonic scale, it also has the convenient feature that once you're practiced through every conceivable pattern, you can play it in any scale without thinking too much about what you're playing. So it fits anywhere, over any chord; that's nice. Unfortunately, though, it also sounds quite cheesy.

What I like about this exercise is that the right hand and the left hand are moving almost independently of one another. All you really have to do with your picking hand is tremolo pick; after that, your fretting hand does the rest of the work. It also has a nice physical feel to it. Once you get it up to speed, the rhythm of the exercise takes on a completely different vibe in your mind. Try it out, you'll like it.

I started this one out at about 75bpm to get a feel for it, and worked my way up to 104bpm over the course of an hour. This one probably won't sound nice after a certain speed, but perhaps if I can get it up above 150bpm, I will feel satisfied.

It goes like this:


Project: Guitar God

Maybe I feel abnormally self-critical this morning, or perhaps it is due to the fact that I just spent the entire weekend watching videos of Tosin Abasi on YouTube. Whatever the case may be, I have come to the decision that my music will never reach a very wide audience unless and until I greatly improve my guitar playing technique. 

That's not to say my music lacks an audience. In general, I have had decent success as an artist, at least as far as local musicians go. I can draw a decent-sized crowd and, in general, I can win over the older guys in the venue who hold an existing affinity for 1970s progressive rock. I'm not breaking any Billboard records, that's for sure, but there are a large number of local musicians who never enjoy as much audience appreciation as I do. On that level, I can consider myself satisfied, being that I have no real desire to be anything more than an amateur.

[By the way, I am not talking about RRR or IPW in this post, but my actual original music into which I put real effort.]

However, as amateurs go, I always want to be as successful as possible. It's a way to push myself, a way to challenge my status quo, a way to express my creativity, and a way to have fun. The more success, the better. I could do a lot better, truth be told.

Today I feel that my writing and compositional skills are not really holding me back. I can write decent riffs. I have a good sense of harmonic movement, and a good idea of what sorts of rhythms I enjoy. (In fact, you may remember that I recently expounded a bit on what I like in music.) I know what I like, and I am pretty comfortable writing the kind of music that - at least - I myself want to hear.

And while I can usually win over the old classic rock crowd, I realize now that I will never really win over the younger guys unless I add some flash to my substance. I need some serious guitar pyrotechnics. Not just some fast solos, but some fast, precise, innovative solos. I need to shred.

So, from today, I have decided to get serious about my technique. You know me, of course, and you know that I like setting tangible goals. You also know I like to blog about the goals I set for myself. 

Therefore, starting tonight, I introduce a new blog feature: Exercise of the Week. Each week, I will introduce one or two exercises, guitar licks, which I will be practicing all week long, for no less than 30 minutes per day. I will likely start each lick at about 140 beats per minute, and the goal will be to work myself up to 170bpm or faster, for each of these licks. I might not be able to do it in a single week, but after a few months, I should have a significant collection of technical exercises by which to better myself. 

As my technique improves, of course, I'll be able to start incorporating these licks and techniques into my compositions, and that's where the real fun begins. 

Project: Guitar God begins today.


Idealism and Art Appreciation

RR, a loyal Stationary Waves reader, asks an excellent question:

You obviously have very strong political and policy positions, as well as an encompassing belief about the function of aesthetics. Because of this are there pieces of music you find musically interesting but reject based on politics in the lyrics or are the two inseparable?

It should be a simple yes-or-no question. The answer, however, is not as straight-forward as I would like it to be. RR's question, in its essence, is whether I can appreciate art that expresses ideological concepts I oppose. The trouble is that I look at the situation from the reverse perspective: Is it possible for artists who embrace the ideals I oppose to produce art that I enjoy?

What's The Difference? Epistemology.
The difference between these two versions of the same question seems trivial, but it's not. The question as RR seems to have posed it seems to suggest a world full of great art I am prevented from enjoying on principle. This idea reflects the common viewpoint that "all art is subjective" and that "anything can be great art, because it's all a matter of opinion."

I find this view of art utterly incomprehensible. I accept the fact that some of us prefer Frank Zappa over The Beatles, and others the reverse. I accept the fact that we all have our own personal reasons for preferring Edward Van Halen to Stevie Ray Vaughan or vice-versa. This is absolutely beyond question (in fact, it is a central tenet of the Austrian economic perspective to which I adhere). 

However, once a person has developed their sense of music appreciation, it is entirely predictable what a person will and will not like. In other words, we view art through the lens of our personal perspectives and decide whether or not we like what we're hearing. We do not hear music, like or dislike it, and then reassess our position based on our subjective values.

Ever and always, our value systems are logically prior to the particular things we value. That I prefer music with complex rhythms and harmonically diverse melodies is a precondition for the fact that I prefer Frank Zappa to The Beatles. It was not my appreciation for Frank Zappa that lead me to prefer complex rhythms and harmonically diverse melodies. The value-preference comes first, the example-preference comes second.

What Do I Like in Great Music?
While less-contemplative people are forever at a loss for words about what they like in music, the opposite is true for me. I find it easy to describe exactly what things I like in music. Here, I'll break it down for you:
  • Complex Rhythms: Songs with simple, easy, and/or repetitive rhythms cannot hold my attention very long. More complex or varying rhythms speak to me on a deeper level. Why? Well, one possibility is the fact that I do not listen to music in order to "tune out," and I never just put music on in the background of my life. I listen to music to enrich my thoughts, accent the ideas in my head, and so forth. There is a certain wit in a well-constructed rhythm, and I look for that wit in the music I listen to. Music that does not have this component is, to me, like a painting in which there is absolutely no blue whatsoever - not inherently bad, but lacking in one enjoyable dimension that other paintings do not lack.
  • Harmonically Diverse Melodies: What I mean by this is that I prefer songs in which the melody does a lot of the harmonic work. If you imagine the average pop song's chorus these days, for the most part you will hear four repeating chords. The melody will be a few notes, say four to six notes in total, and these notes will repeat themselves over the first three chords; the fourth chord will feature a minor variation on the four-to-six melodic notes, and then the passage will repeat. Here, the melody is simple, intended for mass consumption, and all the "interesting bits" come from the relationship of those four notes to the chords being played in the background. This is an example of what I do not like. Much like rhythmic complexity, I find such songs to lack a certain sense of melodic wit that exists in other material. For a good example of songs with more harmonically diverse melodies, check out the music to the movie I Hate Luv Storys. In such songs, you could almost pull out the background music entirely, listen solely to the vocal melodies, and you'd be able to understand the harmonic content without even hearing it. The melodies themselves tell a large part of the harmonic "story" being told. I love this.
  • Instruments Played Well: Say what you want about guitar solos, even the simplest piece of music will sound better in the hands of a master of his/her instrument than it does in the hands of a novice. Why? Because the technique employed by people who play their instruments well is more expressive and contains more nuance than the technique of less-accomplished instrumentalists. Others may rank this criterion low, but I get impatient when I hear an instrument played poorly. Your mind may vary.
  • Unique Ideas: Even simple songs played by novices appeal to me if the musical ideas involved are rather unique. In this case, I'm not talking about Korn's use of bagpipes in heavy metal. That's just a cheap gimmick. I heard a Jack-Johnson-ish song in Starbucks the other day in which the one unique aspect of the song was that the tail end of each lyrical couplet incorporated a descending line and 2/4 rhythm that hearkened back to English folk music. It was dead simple, but I hadn't heard a song with that kind of rhythm in it since childhood. The effect was marvelous, even though the song itself was not so incredible. Sometimes one right touch is all you need to make a lackluster piece of music stick out. I love unique little ideas like this. 
Obviously, a great song will have some combination of all of the above, but any one of these attributes is enough to get me to like a piece of music. 

Lyrics: Conspicuously Missing
As you can see, I have not said anything about lyrical content. This is because, while I do enjoy good lyrics, they do not play a major role in my appreciation of a piece of music, per se.

So the first answer to RR's question is this:

Can A Song With Objectionable Lyrics Appeal To Me? Yes.
For example, I really enjoy the band Tool. They have some unique ideas, some well-played instruments, and lots of complex rhythms. Of course I would like Tool. However, they do spend a lot of time discussing and even lauding drug use in their lyrics. Is this a show-stopper for me? No, I still enjoy their music - but this is because I enjoy their music on a level entirely different from their lyrics.

So, is it possible for lyrics with objectionable content to appeal to me? Sure.

But Is It Likely? No.
I think the perfect example of a band I loathe is Rage Against the Machine. No melody, simple rhythms, poorly played instruments, and not a single unique idea. It does not surprise me at all that their lyrics are essentially communist party anthems. 

Note that my hatred for Rage Against the Machine has nothing to do with their politics.

However, I think it is philosophically predictable (and consistent) that their lyrics are leftist to the extreme. My view is that people who espouse those kinds of opinions are bound to reject complexity in music (and Tom Morello is rather famous for having supplied lengthy arguments against guitar solos in the popular press). Boring, loud, inelegant, uninteresting music is the inevitable result of an artist who rejects the complexity of the philosophy of rational individualism.

Another great example is the average white-supremacist anthem. These songs are terrible. Have you heard them? No one with such a crude outlook on life could ever hope to make anything other than crude music.

Or how about techno musicians? I can't stomach more than a few seconds of techno music before I become literally nauseous. If ever there were a sonic representation of a mindless drug-stupor, it is techno music. Par for the course. But, it's not the drugs I hate about techno, it's the mindless repetition and lack of mentally captivating ideas.

I am pretty good at predicting a musician's political orientation based solely on what I hear. The number of individualists who love the same things in music is high, while collectivists who love rich, complex music are a rare breed.

So The Real Answer Is...
I don't anticipate that collectivists, drug addicts, communists, statists, racists, or pessimists have the patience or mental commitment available to them to create the kind of music I like. Not surprisingly, I am seldom surprised. Big-thinking individuals with a commitment to artistic achievement don't always agree with everything I say, but they tend to agree with the broad themes: individuality, freedom, thoughtfulness, optimism, open-mindedness, and so forth.

Is it my philosophy that prevents me from enjoying the music of those with whom I disagree? No, it is the music. But the fact of the matter is that musicians who reject my philosophy are far less likely to produce art I can stomach. 

On the other hand, Frank Zappa - perhaps my favorite-ever musician - held beliefs nearly identical to my own. Coincidence?



Ladies and gentlemen, I am now plugged into an insulin pump, and have been for about the last ten hours.

When I was about eleven years old, Reebok Pump basketball shoes made their first appearance in my home town. One of my childhood friends, BM, skipped school in the morning so that he could be the first one to come to school with a pair of shoes that cost slightly more than my mind could fathom at the time. He strolled in at around 10:00am with a pair of white, blue, and black high-top shoes, complete with the air pump on the tongue of the shoe to ensure a perfect fit. (Do kids much younger than me even remember what Reebok Pumps are?) Hilariously, BM's close friend, TW, quickly left school after lunch, only to return in the late afternoon with a near-identical pair. Those two boys were so popular at school that no one saw this as the rather pathetic gesture that it was... No one except me, of course. I've always had a bit of a philosophical, analytical bent. Whore Culture made itself apparent to me very early on in life.

A couple of decades later, I find myself the very first one on my block (that I know of) with a fancy new insulin pump! Not quite as exciting, I admit, but not half bad. So, without further ado,

Here's What You Can Expect When You Initiate Insulin Pump Therapy
First of all, the pump itself is not anything to fear. It makes bolus dosing easier, not more difficult. And you don't have to basal dose, really. The pump does it automatically, and if you set it up with your health care team, it will be smooth sailing.

The rough part is the transition itself. The night before you initiate pump therapy, you will likely have to take a reduced dose of long-acting insulin. While "in theory" this should pose no problem, my experience was that the long-acting insulin quickly worse off and my blood sugar spiked. Truth be told, I woke up at 1:45 AM with a BG of 18.9 mmol/L, feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. It wasn't pretty. I took myself down with a dose of Humalog, but the fact remains that the transition was bumpy and involved an extended period of hyperglycemia. No ketones, thank goodness, but unpleasant nonetheless.

So, functionality is easy, transitioning is difficult. What else can you expect?

Well, you can expect to monitor your blood sugar carefully (read: every two hours) for a few day. You can expect to toy with your basal rate a bit, trying to find the "sweet spot." I am not yet twelve hours into my experience, and I already know I'll be a tinkerer once I get used to this thing. This is a major benefit of pump therapy. Pumps play to people like me, who enjoy fine-tuning an intricate process. Perhaps diabetic golfers, diabetic model train enthusiasts, and the like, will also warm up to this aspect of pump therapy.

Conceivably, though, people who dislike having a lot of buttons and controls - technophobes, if that's a fair word to use - will perhaps find their new responsibilities daunting. These folks might be better off on a more classic basal/bolus regimen.

You can expect to have a new object attached to you. This isn't as bad as you fear. My pump comes with "quick release" accessories, which enable me to unplug my pump for showers, swimming, or any other moment of life where you might be worried that a pump would get in the way. So in that respect, there isn't much to be concerned about.

On the other hand, if you're not used to wearing a Blackberry all the time or something, and if you're clumsy like me, you might have to take extra care to ensure you don't bang your pump on a hand rail as you walk down the stairs, or catch your keys on the tubing or whatever. This is not a serious problem, but the danger exists, and frankly it is one of the major things I have on my mind today. I've been guarding my pump almost like it's a kitten. One day, I will be so accustomed to the pump that I'll no longer be as careful, and this is my real concern. For the first couple of weeks, I'm on my guard. What happens when I let it down?

The Bottom Line
Perhaps the most significant aspect of transitioning to pump therapy is not what I've just written, but what I have not written. What I mean is that the change so far is not that major. As of today, right now, ten hours into it, all I can really say is that it has not made a big impact.


Please, Mr. DJ!!!

I have noticed a major trend in music lyrics these days. The trend centers around lyrical subject matter involving the imploring of the DJ to allow the story's narrator to fully express himself/herself through dance.

The general them of the lyrics follows more or less the same general pattern as Jennifer Lopez' "Play." The idea is that there exists a song so fantastic that the narrator must absolutely hear it soon. No other song is its equal when it comes to the power of inspiring the narrator to dance, or to dance well, or most importantly to "feel alright."

Perhaps the most important quality of the narrator's song (the narrator's song of choice, the one being requested in each of these lyrics - also known as "my song" or "that song") is its innate ability to ensure that the narrator "keeps dancing" "all night long." However, I am not sure if this particular quality of "that song" is more a factor of the fact that the narrator "feels alright," or simply because the phrase play that song has the same rhyme and meter as the phrase all night long.

Similarly, in the music of the 1960s, it may not have been so important to people that they made her understand, because this was most likely nothing more than a handy next-logical-lyric to taking her by the hand.

Other qualities of the song that needs to be played involve thinly veiled lyrical representations of grinding one's genitalia against that of a dance partner and/or taking drugs. Occasionally, the narrator may also choose to refer to a time of yore, idyllic days during which the song was played with far greater frequency than it is today.

We are to understand above all else, however, that this song exists and that the DJ has no current intention of playing it. Thus our story has conflict. If the DJ fails to play "that song," then there is sure to unfold a rather unpleasant series of events: People will not "feel alright," no one will "dance all night," ladies will not have it going on, no one will grind anything sexual against anyone else, and the drugs that make it all happen will fail to be consumed. All of this will occur simply because the DJ elects not to play "my song."

Songs that implore the DJ to play "that song" can be seen as an evolution of their precursor: the 1980s rock anthems in which the narrator desired nothing more out of life than "to rock," and would therefore embark on a series of descriptions of how they could not possibly be prevented from "rocking," indeed that all such attempts were futile, and the ill fate one was destined to suffer if one designed to prevent the narrator from being able "to rock."

While many would suggest that music trends are fickle and fleeting, I reject this notion entirely. For over half a century we have been taking each other by the hand, making them understand, putting our hands in the air, waving them like we just don't care, trying to gain the freedom to rock, and begging Mr. D.J. to please, please, oh DJ, please, play that song.

Tomorrow I Start Insulin Pump Therapy

It is a big day for me tomorrow. Tomorrow I start insulin pump therapy. I thought I would write down some thoughts beforehand, as this strikes me as a very significant day in the course of my diabetes experience. 

I may have mentioned before that, to a great extent, having type 1 diabetes has had a comparatively small impact on my life, relative to other people. I had already been living a pretty regimented life, exercising daily, watching what I ate, going to bed at the same time every day, avoiding desserts most of the time. I did adjust my life significantly when I received my diagnosis, but the changes were minor compared to the complete lifestyle change that other diabetics must go through. In that respect, one could almost say that I was "born to be a type 1 diabetic." 

The biggest change in my life was the four daily insulin injections. This is a pretty obvious change, so I probably do not need to explain this too much. One has a different approach to life and health when one has to invest a great deal of time calculating out hormone doses in relation to the day's meals and activities. The more one wants to gain full control over one's blood glucose levels, the more intricate the thought becomes. Again, it's not so bad for a natural analyst/system-builder like myself, so the impact on me was comparatively small. But there was still a significant impact.

Which brings me to the pump. The one most significant aspect of my being a diabetic is about to change radically. Gone will be the four daily insulin injections, replaced with a little electronic device, about the size of a deck of cards. From here on out, my insulin will be dosed automatically, based on my preset values for carbohydrate-to-insulin ratios, insulin correction values, and blood glucose readings.

[Fun/exciting sidenote: my new blood glucose meter and my insulin pump will be able to "talk" to each other. That is, when I test my blood sugar, I will be able to basically beam that BG reading directly into my insulin pump for automatic correction bolus calculations. So there are indeed fun things in store for me, in a geeky respect.]

Al things considered, I'm convinced that pump therapy is the right choice for me. (At least, giving it a try is the right choice for me.) But there are sufficient new challenges associated with a pump that I am not fully at ease. Scared isn't the right word. Worried isn't the right word. Perhaps concerned encapsulates how I'm feeling right now.

Most of my concern stems from the fact that the pump - an electronic device with some tubing and a sticky little thing that juts into my abdomen - will be connected to me basically all the time. This throws a wrench in activities such as taking a shower or going to bed. I'm sure it won't be a huge complication, I mean lots of people use insulin pumps and figure out a way. Even so, there are now things I need to start thinking about that I never had to think about before. Where do I put my pump when I take a shower? How do I make sure my pump is okay while I sleep? What do I do if I want to spend some time in a jacuzzi?

In short, activities that we all take for granted are things I have to start planning for, starting tomorrow. It seems somewhat trivial to me, so I am not sure why I have been thinking about it so much for the past couple of weeks. I hope it is just a passing phase.

But I think that probably everyone who has ever undergone insulin pump therapy has thought about these sorts of things. Therefore, I put these thoughts here on my blog, for myself, for posterity, and for anyone else out there who has ever had to think about these things. 

Wish me luck.


Puke If You Do, Puke If You Don't

This morning it's a race.

I woke up with an absolutely treacherous case of the flu. My blood sugar was high, and I needed to eat something to try to make my headache go away. So I staggered to the store (we were out of groceries), picked up some breakfast food, came back home and luckily my saintly wife cooked some oatmeal and caffe latte for me. Delicious!

But. Within moments of my first bite, I knew that if I continued to eat, I'd be sick. The only problem is that I had already injected my insulin.

Fun fact: One of the symptoms of hypoglycemia is nausea and vomiting. So now as I type this, I slowly munch on my oatmeal to try to prevent hypoglycemia (read: puking), in ever-present fear that the next bite is going to send me over the edge and the flu will get me (read: puking).

Which one do you think will happen first: Puking from hypogycemia, or puking from the flu? It's a race!


Quality Time Alone in America

It has been a very long time since I have been alone in America for an extended stay. Typically, when I take trips back to the States, it is to visit friends and family or to go on some sort of vacation with my wife. Therefore, while I always enjoy my stay, I am seldom afforded an opportunity to spend time alone, interacting with "the locals" in a way that would expose me to their comparative differences from the Canadians I have been living with for the past eight years of my life. And of course, I would have no opportunity to analyze those differences.

It's easy to step back and proclaim that Americans are X and Canadians are Y and either X > Y or Y > X. That's the cheap and easy way out.

No, today, I'd like to offer a short story.

This morning I took a taxi to my foreign working location. The driver did a good job of getting me there in a hurry, and was friendly and efficient, to boot. So, when he handed me his business card and invited me to call him when I needed a ride to the airport that afternoon, I slipped the card into my wallet and figured he'd get me there as well as anyone else would.

The first item of comparison involved in this story is the notion that, here in Boston, Massachusetts, finding a good taxi driver requires a bit of networking. At first I rejected this as overly laborious, but after paying a bit too much for a cab a time or two, I figured it was better to do as the Romans do when in Rome. There is nothing quite like this in Canada, in my experience. Why some taxi drivers will pass you a business card from time to time, they express no competitive desire for your business. They are practically ambivalent. They don't seem to enjoy their jobs, and they seem very displeased with their passengers, usually. Here in Boston, taxi passengers get the royal treatment. Drivers want your business, and it shows.

As I was saying, that afternoon, I called up MG, my taxi driver. He answered professionally, and I told him I needed a ride to the airport. Immediately, MG said, "I drove you to work this morning. I'll be there in ten minutes." He was.

I got in the cab, and MG immediately struck up a conversation with me about anything he could. He is one of many Haitian taxi drivers in Boston (I had a number of Haitian drivers during my three-day stay in this fine city). Naturally, he asked me about whether people spoke much French in Ottawa, and whether I myself spoke French. He started ribbing me about why I wasn't from Vancouver, alluding to the vivacious rivalry between the respective hockey teams of Boston and Vancouver .As we drove, he pointed out where the Bruins play here in town.

The MG started telling me that he was saving up all his money to buy his own taxi. Currently, he leases his taxi from the cab company. Soon, he'll be able to buy his own and strike out on his own. MG intends to start his own taxi cab company.

I challenge you to find one Canadian taxi cab driver who not only wants to strike out on his own, but one day own his own fleet; who not only harbors this ambition, but happily shares his plans with his passengers. (Naturally, MG made sure to tell me I should call him any time I'm in Boston for business or pleasure, and to give his number to all my friends who may be traveling to Boston.)

Not many Canadians have these kind of grand professional designs. If they do, they certainly don't discuss it with their passengers. This is the punchline of the whole story. MG is a proud and ambitious entrepreneur.

MG is everything America is supposed to be. He's an immigrant, working-class, but with his eyes dead-set on a self-made white-collar life. He happily takes advantage of any chance to discuss his Haitian culture and its unique interests, but loves America for what it is. ("Boston is really nice," he told me, "It's diverse. A lotta different kinds of people. It's quiet in this neighborhood, but downtown there's a lot to do.")

This kind of happy business spirit is something I have so dearly missed during my time in Canada. MG isn't just neat guy I met during a business trip to Boston. In many respects, there's a little MG in every self-respecting American out there.

To be sure, there are plenty of ambitious Canadians out there. I even know many of them, who have successful businesses of their own, who like to invest, who plan on going into future businesses. The difference is that in order to discover this about them, I had to sit down and get to know them. I had to spend a lot of time with my entrepreneurial Canadian to learn just how ambitious they were.

Here in the United States, people wear it on their shirtsleeves. Any clerk, taxi driver, or college student will happily tell you what kind of business they intend on starting, what they're saving their money for, why they're so hungry for your business.

The angry, condescending leftists of the world have the nerve to call this kind of all-consuming happiness and pride "greed" or a hundred other such epithets. They paint the whole process as though it were a crass, craven, suffocating boor. This engine of personal pride and ambition, of jobs, production, and providing for one's family, to the anti-capitalist, appears to be nothing more than repulsive American cowboyishness.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's good to be back. Let the haters hate. Give the Canadian snobs their government jobs and subsidized grad schools. Spending a sum total of about 20 minutes today with a taxi driver named MG has reminded me of everything that is wonderful about American culture.

...If only the American politicians would find their way to Boston and take a cab ride with MG.

Let's All Eat Insects

One of the best examples I can think of that illustrates the extreme eco-left's penchant for plunging us back into the Stone Age is the fact that some people are dead-set on having us eat bugs rather than meat.

The Atlantic reports on all the action.

There is one minor sticking point in all of this. Human beings stopped eating bugs and started eating meat for a reason. What do you suppose that reason is? My theory is utility. Meat tastes better than bugs. Meat smells better when roasted over a fire. Meat can serve a dual purpose in that livestock animals can also be used for secondary purposes, such as milk, cheese, leather, glue, fabric, and so forth.

I don't fault the free market for attempting to appeal to the eccentric tastes of the few. More power to bug-eaters for availing themselves of a cheap resource. More power to bug farmers for figuring out how to sell agricultural waste to willing consumers for a profit.

But as people continue to urge us to eat more bugs, we would be well advised to pose the question once in a while? Why do people want to encourage us to eat bugs?


Is the West a Falling Star?

I had a fascinating discussion yesterday with a very intelligent group of people about whether the economic balance is shifting to China. This is a question that has been debated in the blogosphere off-and-on for about ten years. This was not the first time I had ever considered the question, but merely the first time I had had the opportunity to sit down and discuss it with so many smart people.

In general, the arguments go something like this:

The Pro-China Argument
China will eventually surpass the Western world economically because the West has become dominated by service industries and top-heavy organizations. China, in contrast, has become a hub of manufacturing and virtually every durable good is now manufactured there. China can manufacture products at a lower cost than the West can. The organizational structure of China's companies is far less top-heavy, as is its government, a fact that allows Chinese business to experience rapid change to new external forces at minimal red tape to the well-connected. China's population is gallactically large, and growing while the West's population is much smaller and actively shrinking. Chinese governments and business have invested heavily in Western resources, purchasing the means of production for a large part of what they used to rely on the West to manufacture. For all of these reasons, it is only a matter of time before China's economy surpasses that of the United States and its economic power eclipses that of the West in general.

The Anti-China Argument
While China has done a good job democratizing its political structure and investing in manufacturing, the goods they produce continue to be of a lower quality than Western products. More importantly, a large portion of what China manufactures was researched-and-developed in the West by Western minds. Therefore, China continues to be reliant on Western technology and intellectual property. The West out-sources its lower paying jobs while retaining all of its higher-paying jobs in Western headquarters for Western people. Working and living conditions in the West are vastly superior to those in China, which itself is a premium offered to Western employees. Furthermore, the West still controls the majority of raw materials which are vital to Chinese manufacturing operations. Because the West controls the manufacturing inputs, the intellectual property, and offers a superior day-to-day life for Western citizens, China would have to work for centuries to catch up to where the West is today; for China to over-take the West, the West would have to cease growing altogether during that time.

Filtering Out the Bad Arguments
Reading over the arguments above, it is easy to see how much nationalism is at play among those making them in earnest. Because China is a manufacturing hub today, Chinese nationalists and people in the East believe that such growth will continue for the foreseeable future. Because the West has greater intellectual property and freer political mechanisms today, Westerners believe such will always be the case. How wrong both sides are about such things!

On the Western side of things, it is true that at any moment, the wrong political trend could unhitch Western democracy and plunge us back into the evils of World War II. With so many Chinese students flocking to Western universities, how long can we really assume that the West will always house the brightest minds? Japan has been offering superior high technology for decades now - why not China? Or India? Or Korea? We are not safe to assume that what is the case now in the West will always be.

With regard to China, few supporters of the Chinese economic "miracle" are willing to acknowledge the extent to which it has been funded by Chinese internal public debt. While it is true that the United States has a trade deficit with China, that does not mean that the Chinese government has more money and less public debt than the USA. China has famously poured endless resources into empty construction, useless green energy, public beautification projects, and so on. Every expenditure of the Chinese government creates a temporary resource boom that eventually must crash, the same as it does in the United States. Most importantly, the bulk of Chinese economic success has yet to filter down to the average, ordinary Chinese person because the government of China is corrupt and autocratic. Every success story is a special favor given to a friend of the powers that be.

The Punchline
What strikes me most about all of this is what these two economies really have in common. Neither the West nor the East are making any effort to scale back the size and scope of their governments and allow people to invest their money as they see fit. While American kids grow up wanting to be reality TV "stars" rather than becoming great inventors or captains of industry, Chinese kids are simply prevented from seeking out that kind of work for themselves. Either way, it's not happening. Meanwhile, governments on both sides are over-expending themselves and taking on alarming amounts of debt to fund useless public works projects and interventionist strategies.

The reality is, neither economy is really doing so well, and both have a lot more in common than people seem to be willing to admit.