Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Dozen (or so) Random Thoughts About The 2016 Election

I've read tons of stuff in the past 12 or so hours, from respected intellectuals, Nobel laureates, and Facebook friends.  My mind swims from all the emotions, from denial and anger, to depression and bargaining, to acceptance and determination.  I just wanted to put down some of the many things that moved me, either positively or negatively.

1) Andrew Sullivan writes in New York magazine: The Republic Repeals Itself. I always find nuggets of truth in Andrew's sage writing.  Here's one:
This is now Trump’s America. He controls everything from here on forward. He has won this campaign in such a decisive fashion that he owes no one anything. He has destroyed the GOP and remade it in his image. He has humiliated the elites and the elite media. He has embarrassed every pollster and naysayer. He has avenged Obama. And in the coming weeks, Trump will not likely be content to bask in vindication. He will seek unforgiving revenge on those who dared to oppose him. The party apparatus will be remade in his image. The House and Senate will fail to resist anything he proposes — and those who speak up will be primaried into oblivion. The Supreme Court may well be shifted to the far right for more than a generation to come — with this massive victory, he can pick a new Supreme Court justice who will make Antonin Scalia seem like a milquetoast. He will have a docile, fawning Congress for at least four years. We will not have an administration so much as a court.
While a bit melodramatic, he's not wrong.  At all. This terrifies me.

2) Paul Krugman goes over the top, in my opinion:
I don’t know how we go forward from here. Is America a failed state and society? It looks truly possible.  
3) My friend, screenwriter Lyle Weldon, wrote beautifully on Facebook:

Before we went to sleep -- before the race was officially over -- I kissed my daughters goodnight and told them that no matter the outcome, we'd continue to live as we'd always done, that we'd treat all people equally, be respectful of those we disagreed with and love and love and love.
Waking now in the middle of the night to learn the truth of this unbelievable election, it's the darkest, most scared I've felt since September 11th, 2001. The world changed that day yet we managed to move forward in a positive way. We'll do the same now. We have to. My children and their children deserve a future better than our past, brighter than our present.
I'll follow my own advice and hope that every one of us does the same. Hatred and fear will not swallow our world. We have our morals, we have our faith and we have each other. Love and love and love.  

4) On Huffington Post, Ali Michael advises us how to teach our children about this horrible nightmare:
Tell them ... you will honor the outcome of the election, but that you will fight bigotry. Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated at your school. Tell them you stand by your Muslim families. Your same-sex parent families. Your gay students. Your Black families. Your female students. Your Mexican families. Your disabled students. Your immigrant families. Your trans students. Your Native students. Tell them you won’t let anyone hurt them or deport them or threaten them without having to contend with you first. Say that you will stand united as a school community, and that you will protect one another. Say that silence is dangerous, and teach them how to speak up when something is wrong. Then teach them how to speak up, how to love one another, how to understand each other, how to solve conflicts, how to live with diverse and sometimes conflicting ideologies, and give them the skills to enter a world that doesn’t know how to do this. 

5) Esquire's Charlie Pierce on how Trump took ownership of the GOP:
It has been said that Trump hijacked the Republican Party. This is said by Republicans who still wish in their timid dreams that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio had been strapped into the machine for another safe run on the same old track. That is not entirely true. He didn't hijack the machine. He just turned it into a high-performance vehicle. Trump's visceral appeal—the sexism, the racism, the xenophobia, the crude stupidity and know-nothingism, the appeals to a lost America, to people who most deeply felt its loss, none of whom was him—was merely fuel of higher octane than anyone had dared put into the machine before. He poured it in by the gallon, disengaged the emergency brake, mashed the accelerator to the floorboard and was off. 

6) Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg expresses hope:
The presidency is the single most powerful position in the American government. But there's little he can do by himself. Will Republicans -- in Congress, in the executive-branch departments and agencies, even in the White House -- have the backbone to stand up to him?
I hope we never have to find out. I hope Trump's scarier talk turns out to be mostly bluster, and he'll be satisfied to strut around a little and otherwise stick to the norms and traditions of the republic. If there's one positive sign to cling to, it was his selection of a mainstream conservative governor as his running mate. Yes, Mike Pence is very conservative, but he is not one of Trump's more bombastic or irresponsible supporters.  
Don't count on it, Jonathan.

Here's what I am gloomy about:

7) Trump won over Clinton. Bigotry, racism, white nationalism, sexism and misogyny won over tolerance; Fear of and ignorance about the Other won over understanding; shooting unarmed black men and women and children won over deescalation and cooperation; ISIS recruitment won over persistent and deadly dismantling; Russian spying won over national security; religious fundamentalism and superstition won over reason and science; retreat won over progress; endless war and torture won over peace and basic human rights; lies won over truth; propaganda won over carefully-researched factual reporting; protectionism and isolationism won over globalism; voter suppression won over an unfettered voter franchise; darkness won over light.

8) I can, very reluctantly, forgive whatever financial bullshit Donald Trump and his wrecking crew try to perpetrate.  He'll try to dismantle Dodd/Frank and the CFPB.  He'll try to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He'll try to cut taxes for the wealthy and widen the income and wealth inequality gap on the backs of middle and working class Americans.  He'll try to rip up NAFTA and other trade agreements and implement protectionist trade policies that will cost more jobs than they create.  It will be a disaster, to be sure. From my own personal financial history, however, as well as from what I've observed as a front-line financial services professional for over 31 years, I know that this is all just money in the end. Money is in inexhaustible supply; there will always be money. And like Bill Clinton largely undid Reagan's and Bush 41's financial messes (while creating some of his own), and like Obama largely undid Bush 43's financial messes (while creating some of his own too), we will be able to undo nearly any financial mess that Trump creates. So if you voted for Trump for any of these reasons, I can and do forgive you.  In an objective way, it's business, not personal.

9) If, however, you voted for Trump because you want to see him invalidate millions of same-sex marriages and tear their families apart, or you want to see him invade and further limit or invalidate womens' private reproductive choices and endanger millions of lives, or you want to see him send thousands of men and women back onto the battlefield to be killed and re-implement the heinous and illegal torture regime of Bush/Cheney, or you want to see him lay waste to Obama's progress on climate change and further despoil our beautiful planet, or you want to see him implement a religious test for entry into the United States (or worse, for public office), or you want to see him round up and deport millions of undocumented immigrants with or without children born in the US and separating and/or destroying millions of families in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, or you want to see him make hate and revenge a part of public policy, then you're getting personal and destroying lives for nothing more than a difference of opinion.  I won't say that makes you a deplorable person, but I will say that you're supporting deplorable actions.

10) There are those who say that in time things will get better. Perhaps.  I'm an optimist by nature, and it's really a challenge for me to stay gloomy for very long.  But having lived through eight years of Bush and Cheney, watching what endless war, torture, and warrantless wiretapping and surveillance have done to our national psyche, and believing today with all of my heart that Trump is worse than Bush in that he lacks any kind of moral compass, and believing that the Republican majorities in the House and Senate will not be able to stop or even temper his march toward neofascism any more than the 16 more qualified presidential candidates and the gutless Speaker of the House could, it is extremely hard for me to believe that things will get better.  (See below for how I think they can get better.)

11) To those who voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson (who my friend calls Tofu Palin and Gomer Aleppo) or wrote in another name or simply abstained from voting -- including those of you who believed Bernie Sanders, had he been nominated, been the president-elect -- you bear a fair amount of blame for this outcome.  The talk was that Hillary Clinton was too weak a candidate to beat Trump. But the truth is, Bernie was incredibly weak as a candidate.  Had he been nominated, the formidable right wing propaganda machine would have eviscerated him.  He might not have had the email baggage, but every fucking one of us has seen first-hand how effective it can be to keep repeating a lie until it becomes the truth.  By slamming Hillary Clinton with the email story, you actually aid in perpetuating that huge nothing-burger. All the corporate media had to do -- after essentially ignoring him during the primaries -- was call him a socialist enough times, and he'd have been toast. No amount of factual truths -- not even Kurt Eichenwald's exhaustively investigated 129 verifiable facts about Donald Trump and his lies that would have disqualified any other candidate -- could overcome that massive wood chipper of a media-entertainment industrial complex.  Hillary Clinton reportedly received nearly 90% of the African-American vote; I don't believe Bernie would have done nearly that well.

12) To any and all Republicans, you wanted all the reins of government.  The White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court.  You have them now.  Give it your best shot.  Work with me, and I'll work with you.  Just know that a) the rest of us will fight you when you reach too far, and b) we will also do everything we can to defeat you at every turn because we know you'll get too drunk on all that power.  But one thing is for sure:  you can't blame anyone else but yourselves if and when things blow up.  You hold nearly all of the cards now.  If there's a terrorist act, it's on you.  If we run up new debts, it's on you. If tax revenue hits the skids, it's on you. If people die because they can't get adequate healthcare absent the ACA, it's on you.  No more blaming Democrats, and no more blaming the media, who will now act like quiet little lapdogs in exchange for access to your power.

I'm not gloomy about this:

13) Looking at this map, it shows that had only Millenials 18-25 voted in this election, Trump would have lost 43 states.  This is a bright flame of hope for me.  Those of the "Greatest Generation" and Baby Boom Generation and Generation X have truly done enough damage to this country, and it's time for young, fresh thinking.  I've never met more intelligent or more connected folks than the Millenials.  Accordingly, I desire that Trump be the last American born before 1975 to be elected president.  My son Max will be able to vote in 2020.  So will his cousin, Ben, and his friends, Josh, Oliver, Neil, Caitlin, Thomas, Jack, Julian, Adam, Maya, Brandon, and Austin.  You can bet I'll be teaching Max to defend humanity and live by a code of honor, and to fight injustice and not remain silent, to use his voice and his vote to turn back Trump in his reelection bid.  If any of you have children who will be casting their first presidential votes in 2020, I implore you to do the same.  We don't have to agree on everything.  In fact, we really only have to agree on one basic thing: that Donald J. Trump must never again be elected president.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

On the Death of an Estranged Family Member

My uncle, Joe Spinner, died yesterday, on his 84th birthday.  My mother called me to tell me the day before that her older brother was moved to hospice care in the end stages of cancer and was not expected to survive the week.  His wife, Hilda, could not come to the phone when my mother called, but my mother spoke to her nephew, who filled her in on much of the details.

As sad as it can be when anyone in your family dies, I struggle with my emotions. I hadn't seen Uncle Joe in a very long time; so long, in fact, that I can't remember when it was.  It was either when my older brother got married in 1989 or when my younger brother had his Bar Mitzvah, way back in 1977.  There may have been a family event in the middle there somewhere but I honestly cannot pinpoint the last time I saw him or spoke to him.

Growing up in New Jersey, my parents took my brothers and me one weekend every month up to Brooklyn to visit our grandparents, who lived a short distance away from each other in Seagate, a gated community in Coney Island. We'd spend lots of time visiting with our grandparents, and my dad's sister and her family who lived upstairs from her parents, and my mom's sister and her family, who lived right across the street from her parents.  But Uncle Joe lived in Howard Beach, probably a half hour's drive away from Seagate. I remember as kids seeing him and the family, with their two sons Jeffrey and Mitchell, occasionally when they came to Seagate, but I don't recall ever going to Howard Beach.  At major family gatherings -- Bar Mitzvah's, etc. -- they'd come to visit.

Honestly, I saw my cousins as strangers and didn't like them much.  Mitchell was actually nice and friendly but much younger, and Jeffrey was aggressive and a bit of a bully and we never really got along.  I don't recall conversations I may have had with my mother back then, but I know I didn't keep silent about my feelings for them.

When my parents moved us from New Jersey to California in 1977, visits with grandparents and other relatives went from monthly to annually, then to hardly at all.  My brothers and I were young adults and were beginning lives of our own out west.  I can count on two hands the number of times I saw my grandparents over the next 10-15 years, during which time all but one had passed away.

My mother had monthly conversations with Uncle Joe, trading off turns to share the expense of the long distance phone calls.  But I don't think I ever got on the phone to say hi to him.

After my maternal grandfather, Abe Spinner, passed in 1988, I guess his three children had some disagreements over his estate.  My aunt, the eldest and closest, took charge and was apparently pretty stingy with the assets.  That caused a fair amount of friction.  As she got older -- she's now 88 -- my mother and her drifted apart.  Joe, in the middle, took sides with his older sister, and my mother did not speak to either of them for years.

In a way, because I wasn't particularly close to Joe or his family, I can't say I feel at all deprived of a relationship with them because of how my mother handled her relationship with her brother.  I'm an adult with my own family and large set of relatives on Lisa's side.  I could have reached out, but I didn't and I have never particularly regretted it.  I feel some small desire to reach out to Hilda and my cousins, but what would I say? I guess I don't need to say anything in particular except hello and that I'm sorry for their loss and that I wish them well, but would I simply be doing what ought to be done or what I really want to do?  I'm not sure, and as I'm writing this in real time, I won't be making any sort of decision yet.

But Joe's death brings to light something that I haven't ever really faced: the lack of relationship among my relatives.  On my father's side, I'm in regular contact with his nieces and their parents.  But my paternal grandfather had nine siblings, all of them long gone.  I think I met three of them when I was young.  I went to a Bar Mitzvah of one cousin on that side when I was 13, purely because he came to mine and it was the right thing to do.  My paternal grandmother had three siblings, all of whom I knew well, and I saw their kids pretty regularly until we all grew up. Now we never speak or write, despite the ubiquity of Facebook and other social media.  I haven't even looked them up.  I wonder why that is?

On my mother's side, there was Joe's family, and her sister's family.  Her two kids were 6-10 years older than I was. Her son, Glenn, left the family more than 30 years ago because they refused to let him marry the (non-Jewish) girl he loved.  He moved to Michigan and severed all contact with his parents, not even coming to his father's funeral.  Only his sister, Bonnie, remained close all these years, and I am friends with her on Facebook.  I never met any of my maternal grandparents' siblings -- or at least I don't remember meeting them -- except for one, my sweet Aunt Irene, who lived in the downstairs apartment from my grandmother, her sister.

In the movies you always see stories of tight-knit Jewish families, cousins going for generations, all of whom live within a few blocks of each other, or with each other, and all of whom get together for every family event. It didn't happen in my clan. All but one of my grandparents were Eastern European immigrants who came to the U.S. either right before or right after World War I.  Some went to South America, in fact.  By the time I came into the world, they had all apparently drifted apart or were never really all that close. Squabbles and other circumstances sent us all in different directions. And with Joe's death, I wonder now what would have been different had we all been more like that iconic Jewish family.

Now, my two sons know and frequently visit with first, second, and third cousins on both sides of their family -- Olivia, Tori, Elle, Max, Ethan, Juliana and Josh from my side, and Ben, Allegra, Gabriella, and Alexander from Lisa's side -- and even have relationships with cousins in far-flung places like Capetown, Sydney, and Perth.  My cousins and I have managed to create that tight-knit clan out of our somewhat neglected family tree.  And that's something I truly appreciate and plan to nurture for as long as I can.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Joey.
Love, your nephew, Eric

Friday, June 17, 2016

The GOP's Slow Motion Train Wreck

I’ve read multiple articles detailing what establishment Republicans would like to do to thwart Donald Trump in his march toward the nomination at next month’s convention in Cleveland.  The Daily Beast reports today that House Speaker Paul Ryan, who endorses Trump, said in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd to be aired on this Sunday’s Meet the Press, “The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that’s contrary to their conscience.”  As the most powerful elected Republican in the country, and as chairman of the Republican National Convention, Ryan’s words could be a signal to convention delegates to nominate a candidate per their consciences.  Also, the Washington Post reports today that “[d]ozens of Republican convention delegates are hatching a new plan to block Donald Trump at this summer’s party meetings, in what has become the most organized effort so far to stop the businessman from becoming the GOP nominee.” 

Further, Trump is beginning to encounter difficulty in fundraising.  According to a Politico report Thursday, the Republican National Committee gave Trump a list of about 20 names of the biggest campaign donors they know.  Trump reportedly called just three of them before giving up, and it’s unclear if he followed up with anyone after that.  Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s expansive ground organization and fundraising capabilities will easily have her with close to the $1 billion she’ll need to wage her campaign.

Finally, poll after poll suggests that Trump’s chances of victory against Clinton are getting slimmer and slimmer.  Bloomberg this week has him 12 points behind, and on average he’s at least six points behind.  The only major group where his favorable rating exceeds his unfavorable rating is among white men with no college degree.  His unfavorable rating among women is 77 percent; among Hispanics it’s 87 percent, and among African-Americans it’s a whopping 94 percent.  Clinton also high pretty high unfavorables, but she’s not even in the same league as Trump.  There's a huge chance that Clinton could, in the most polarized political environment in US history since the Civil War, pull out a double-digit win in November.

Given his dismal chances, his poor fundraising, and the open efforts by members of the GOP to deny him the nomination next month, it’s gotten me thinking about just what could happen if Trump were not the nominee.  How would his voter base react?  How would that affect the party as a whole?  Would the fallout be worse than having him finish the contest all the way to November, where he’d lose spectacularly to the more qualified Hillary Clinton?  If they did deny him the nomination, who then would be the nominee, and what would that do to their chances in November (and beyond)?

As I see it, the Republicans have a few choices:
  1. Support Trump as vigorously as they can.  As Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary, might have quipped, “You go into a campaign with the nominee you’ve got, not the nominee you wish you could have gotten.”  The voters have spoken, and Donald Trump has earned more delegates and more votes than any of the other 16 candidates who ran against him.  Delegates are currently bound by RNC rules to vote for the candidates who won their respective districts/states.  If they support him aggressively, using the formidable Republican media machine, they could potentially re-brand him and to make him more universally palatable.  Hey, it could happen! However, this option required Trump to pivot toward the center and act like a presidential candidate.  Instead, we’ve all seen and heard about his ridiculous statements over the past six weeks since securing the delegates to win nomination.  As usual, he’s made it all about him, and the polling in recent weeks has definitely shown that he’s done himself no favors with his orange-framed maw.  I won’t use this space to detail all he’s said and done.  You’d do much better to read James Fallows’s chronicle over at The Atlantic; it’s gobsmacking.  Moreover, his supporters like him exactly the way he is.  Making him seem more “politically correct” would undermine all he’s said for the past year against being politically correct.  Since Trump has already failed to be a more conventional candidate, any effort they now make to re-brand him would probably do more harm than good.  Not a good option.
  2. Back away slowly from Trump and quietly focus on down-ballot races. This appears to be the option they are choosing at the moment.  Slowly, high-level Republican elites are going public with their desire for a different nominee.  Mitt Romney convened a gathering in the past two weeks in Park City, Utah to discuss their options.  Even Ryan and RNC Chair Reince Priebus attended, mostly to make the case for supporting Trump.  It’s highly unusual – and not a little entertaining – to see all of this happening in full view.  It should tell us something about the level of desperation the party feels now that they have Trump as their nominee.
  3. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.  "I don't think he's racist but he's playing the race card... If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it," Senator and former GOP presidential candidate Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently told CNN. "There'll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary."  There are already other Senators and Representatives who are urging their fellow Republicans to dump Trump as soon as possible.

Whatever their choice is, the GOP must contend with fallout from Trump’s supporters.  They won’t like anything that undermines their guy.  Further, diehard GOP operatives who have fallen in line behind Trump out of party loyalty will not appreciate the damage that actions taken against Trump will do to the party.  Further, should the efforts succeed in dumping Trump, any Republican who spends the next five months as the Trump alternative will have committed political suicide.  The party would be in shambles, perhaps irretrievably broken, and there would not be enough votes to defeat Clinton.  This is the kind of scorched-earth scenario that former Republican operatives like Bruce Bartlett have wanted to see.  The thinking is that a demoralized and destroyed GOP would only be so for a short while.  Out of those ashes could come a saner, more disciplined party that has forever exorcised its Tea Party and Trumpist demons, a party that actually wants to govern and has real ideas based in a real-life understanding of what’s happening in the world (e.g. climate change, demographics, healthcare). 

And what of those hardcore Trump supporters now?  As Trump said, if he’s denied the nomination, whether by rules changes, or an outright contested convention, his followers would definitely resist.  “I think you’d have riots,” he told CNN in March.  “I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.” That was three months ago, however.  Since then, Trump’s supporters have watched him steadily debase himself and fail to unify the party behind him.  Should the party erupt in open rebellion, they may be very hard-pressed to stand by their man all the way to November. If the party establishment successfully denied him the nomination, these people could stay home on Election Day, which would be a disaster for down-ballot races.  The House and Senate could be put into play for real (the Senate actually is in play right now, but the gerrymandering-protected House could also fall). 

The conventional wisdom a few weeks ago was that the media would build Trump up and tear Hillary down in order to make this a horse race.  I think the media would find it very difficult indeed to build up what Trump is showing them now, or to tear down Hillary based on the solid, even-handed approach she’s taken. 

Regardless of what happens between now and the convention, it’s nothing if not fascinating to watch.  Like a slow-motion train wreck.  No matter what the GOP decides to do, they won’t be able to stop the wreck from happening.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Elijah Potruch 2015 Region 1 Gymnastics Championship (featuring Zach Arm...

My son Elijah, who just turned 10, has been enjoying gymnastics training since he was four years old. As a three- and four-year-old, he was always banging his body all over the house, and just naturally developed a talent for cartwheels and handstands.  When he was four, Lisa and I enrolled him in soccer, and he did really well, but when the ball wasn't anywhere near him, or after he'd scored a goal, he'd do a cartwheel or a round-off.  As any involved parent would do, we decided to enroll him in a recreational gymnastics program at Broadway Gymnastics School.  His first coach took one look at what he could do, and said, "Um, this kid's good.  We'd like him to try out for the team."  Why not, we thought?  Elijah tried out for the team, and the rest is history.

Now, as we have completed his fourth full season of competitive gymnastics.  As he began his second season as a Level 5 gymnast (there are 10 levels before hitting "Elite" and/or collegiate levels, which would be Olympics-quality talent), we really didn't know what to expect.  We'd seen Eli grow in strength, flexibility, and confidence, but who knew how that would translate in a competitive context?

From his first 2014-15 meet, the Judges Cup, Eli showed us just how well he'd made use of his training.  While not an official scored event, Eli's showing at the first meet was just the beginning of what he did.  At each of his next five meets, Elijah ranked in the Top 10 all-around of his age group (age 9-10 or just age 9).  He consistently made Top 10 in at least three individual apparatus as well, with Still Rings, Vault, and Floor Exercise being his strongest events.  He earned championship medals in Vault and Still Rings more than once.

At his first State Championships (which consisted of the top 63 athletes in Southern California ages 9-10), Elijah ranked seventh all-around among 9-year-olds (his best finish), and ninth all-around for the entire group, which earned him a spot at the Region 1 Championships.  This meet consisted of the best 9-10 year old boys from four states: California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii.  We were so excited for him!  However, it was important to keep things in perspective, for us as well as for him.

I knew that Elijah would do well at Regionals, but from discussions we'd had with other parents, we set our expectations realistically.  As he'd been in the lower half of the Top 10 all season, we didn't fully expect him to finish in the Top 10 in the region.  He ended up finishing 19th out of 63 9-year olds, and 33rd out of all 123 finishers.  An amazing accomplishment!

Elijah is probably done with Level 5 gymnastics now, and will begin training for Level 6 in June.  This will involve additional training time, going from nine to 14 hours per week (and three days to four), and additional meets, going from six to probably nine or ten, with additional travel.  Schoolwork will be a challenge, as will honoring family time, but as long as Elijah stays committed to and passionate for the sport, we'll be with him all the way.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Whole Life Challenge -- Looking Back

Eight weeks ago today, I began the Whole Life Challenge, a 56-day program of fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle challenges that was designed by two fitness gurus, Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. The points-based work involves eating right, exercising vigorously (but not to the point of injury), drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, being mindful of your body and how it works in concert with your mind, and reflecting each day on the work you've done and how it's affecting your life.

My initial post on this journey reflected on how I'd fared during and after doing the Insanity workout program, and how I was looking forward to trying out the Challenge.  I had intended to blog daily about how things were going, but after day 4 I got distracted with other things and just focused on the program.  Ironic how that last post was called "Distractions."

Yesterday was Day 56 and I completed it the same way I'd completed most of the previous 55 days: a good morning workout, a sensible breakfast late in the morning, a lot of water to drink, a vitamin pill, a productive work day, a good dinner (with or without the family), and time to stretch and reflect at the end of the day.  I slept pretty well, and my body wasn't sore, or too tired, the following morning. That felt wonderful.

More importantly, however, my mind was still engaged in the process that this program started for me.  I wanted to continue!  Given that my goal is to lose 25 pounds within six months, I must continue because I'm only about halfway there as of today (progress and "After" photos after the jump.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Whole Life Challenge, Day 4 -- Distractions

Both my sons have ADHD -- one more severe than the other -- and I witness daily the way their brains function with and without medication.  Sometimes, a task (like teeth brushing) can take 10-15 minutes, depending on what stimuli are present in the bathroom, or what song is playing in a kid's head, or -- as is frequently the case -- how much sugar they had in the past hour.  I think brains are naturally predisposed to place attention on the most attractive thing around.  One can see how that works when we rubberneck on the freeway because some car stalled out and is pulled over on the right shoulder.  Admit it, we all do that! 

I can think of at least a dozen things in the bathroom that are more attractive than my toothbrush swirling around in my mouth.  The trick, as I see it, is in minimizing distractions so that they can find a clearer path to task completion.  With luck, not only will they get to Point B, they'll notice something about themselves and actually incorporate that learning into the next time and the next time.

I suspect that I have the same "disorder" but never got diagnosed.  I catch myself from time to time doing something completely different than what I was intending to do at that moment.  When that happens I realize that I'm pretty much out of my head and completely unfocused. 

This phenomenon comes to mind because the WLC has managed to bring it into sharp relief.  Each week, participants in the WLC are given a "Lifestyle" challenge, a directive that I think is there to help us stay on track over the eight-week period.  This week's challenge is avoiding distractions while eating.  Basically, we are to turn off cell phones, computers, and tablets during meals.  No social media, no surfing, and no work while eating a meal. 

Here's how it's explained on the WLC website:
It can’t come as a surprise, our state of health. As a culture of “progress” we’ve largely disconnected from that which nourishes our body and our soul. We make time for it, do it in passing, sometimes even as an afterthought. And we’re paying the price. 
It’s time to pay more attention to eating. Not just what we eat, but how we eat. How we choose, what we choose, and how our choices affect not just us, but the world around us. Because it’s become impossible to ignore how our choices have a direct impact on the world around us – our productivity, our bodies, our spirit, and our planet. 
I've been successful with this challenge so far.  But today my day was full of crazy -- so much to do! Work work work, call call call, email email email!  And I was so busy this morning I didn't even have time to eat breakfast.  As I rushed out of the house, late and hungry, with my laptop, my water bottle, and my lunch, I determined that I was going to be successful at eating my lunch free of distractions.

My lunch consisted of a salad I'd hastily thrown together the night before from leftover salad and half a baked chicken breast, plus about a quarter of a honeydew melon, cut up.  Normally, nearly every day, I eat my lunch at my desk, which has a computer monitor at each corner, each showing something different.  Today, I ate with the screens turned off or locked, with the cell phone on silent and the phone placed face down on my desk so I couldn't see the little light flashing to tell me I had a message or email. 

So many discoveries!  First, I noticed my very "loud" salad.  Very little lettuce, and mostly carrots, celery, and red cabbage to crunch.  Second, the chicken, while very tasty last night, was dry and didn't taste as good today.  Overall, I did not enjoy the salad.  The sweetness of the honeydew balanced out the vinegary salad dressing, and I ended the meal with a net positive.  Third, I noticed that I was hurrying through the meal.  Got to get that computer back on so I can get to work!  I looked at the other desk in my office, empty, with no computer, and considered for a couple of seconds that perhaps I'd be better off eating at that desk instead, but I decided to slow things down and tough it out.  I think I made it last for 10 minutes, which is about average for me.  But because I didn't have Facebook or a news blog to read, or work emails to answer, or clients to talk to, I got to taste my meal in its entirety.  I am feeling the slight soreness in my jaw from crunching all those damn vegetables.  And I'm really, really missing chocolate right now.  But I'll get over that soon.

I had a great workout today, and the body soreness is starting to fade as I get back into the routine.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Whole Life Challenge -- Day 3

After two days and serious punishment to my legs, it was time for me to focus on my upper body. After all, my man-boobs and disgusting old-man belly aren't going to slim down all on their own.

Since I don't have weights at home, I decided to hit the gym, my local Westchester YMCA, where I've been a member for over 10 years.  Arriving at 8:15 meant that the majority of the early morning workout fiends would be gone.  And I was right.  Surrounded by septuagenarians and octagenarians, plus the scattered Real Housewife of Westchester working up a sheen in the aerobics studio.  I made a beeline upstairs for the elliptical cross trainers to do my cardio warm-up.  Ten minutes of increasing intensity, my heart rate finished at just about 140 bpm, pretty much where I wanted it to be.

I made a pit stop at the water fountain to hydrate, then it was back downstairs to the main weight room.  I decided to do two circuits of three exercises each.  The first circuit covered the tricep machine, the seated bench press, and leg lifts to work my core.  The second circuit involved reverse curls with dumbbells, abdominal crunches on an exercise ball, and flies with dumbbells again.  I chose lower weights so that I could do rapid reps.  Completed three sets on each circuit with no rest in between exercises.  Got my heart rate pretty elevated.  After both circuits were done, I had hit 30 minutes and decided that was enough, so I headed home.

Food got easier today; the shift from what I had been eating to now only seemed drastic in my head. I didn't need the sweets, the bread, or the cheese.  One thing that did challenge me, however, was the amount of water I have to drink: 1/3 of my body weight, in ounces.  That's 67 ounces of water per day.  And today, being at my desk at work and not outside moving around too much, it was definitely more difficult to quaff that much.  But I did it.  I do feel a little bloated at the moment, but that will pass.

For Day 4, I'm going back to the Y and working back muscles and biceps.  I can barely lift my arms right now; it'll be great just to completely immobilize them now with a bunch of bicep curls.

Off to bed.  Sleep is good.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Timely Reminder of Life's Fragility

I knew my muscles and joints would scream at me this morning, regardless of how much stretching I did last night (a lot).  This out of shape body can't go as long as it did without a really intense workout, and not feel horribly inadequate the next day.  Although the initial workout yesterday lasted a scant 11 minutes, my body reacted as though I'd huffed and puffed for a solid hour or more. Specifically, my quads and hamstrings had turned into sheepshanks overnight.  Once I put weight on them, I knew that I would need twice as much time to travel half the distance (to the bathroom, where else?).

Unfortunately, putting weight on my feet and legs first had to overcome the inert mess of tired sinew that my upper abdominals had become.  I struggled just to sit up.  This from just 30 sit-ups?  Fuck...

I rolled onto my side and swung my legs over the side of the bed and pushed myself up with my arms (note to self: I need to do an arm and shoulder workout soon to balance out the chorus of growls emanating from my legs).  Looked at the clock.  Quarter past seven.  I had about 90 minutes before I needed to drive the kids to Sunday school.  Stood up, took care of business, and got on my shorts, T-shirt and cross-trainers.  Found my Galaxy S4 and earphones and headed outside by 7:30.  Today, I was going to push a little farther.  A power walk around the 'hood, uphill, downhill, over about 45 minutes, with Dream Theater, Chick Corea, Rush, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Jeff Buckley as my travelling companions. I kept up a really good pace and walked 3.2 miles (a 5k) in 46 minutes.  That equated to a little more than a 14-minute mile.  I know some who can't run that fast, so that felt pretty damn good!

After a great breakfast, I got the boys in the car, drove them to Sunday school and walked them inside Temple Akiba for their first day of the 2014/15 school year.  Seeing the faces of the other parents reassured me, and seeing my boys' classmates, a little older after the summer break, gave me a warm feeling of watching this community grow.  Somehow, being nearly 52 didn't bother me today.

A buddy of mine stood at the back of the room as his kids ran off to find their friends.  After small talk, he asked me if I'd spoken to one of our common friends, a former co-worker of mine, over the past month or so.  Turns out he had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer and had his prostate removed.  This man is six years my junior and is one of the most physically fit men I've ever known. A man who works out seven days a week, watches what he eats, and doesn't party if it meant he'd miss his workout the next day.

I wasn't really close to this man since we'd stopped working together, but we had a relationship.  For a man like him, who took such excellent care of himself throughout his entire life, to be struck with prostate cancer (and the lifetime after-effects of the surgery), this news put me in a funk.  Combined with thigh muscles that were stiff and sore,  it came out in the way I talked to my wife the entire morning.

As I took my dog for a walk, constantly reminded with every step that I was walking uphill (figuratively) over the next eight weeks, I couldn't help but wonder if all the punishment I was going to give myself was worth it.  Cancer doesn't care if I'm fat and flabby or lean and ripped.  It'd get me either way.  Of course, the exercise and better eating were worth it, but I could see that I had to make the most of the time I had, and fuck the cancers and the diabetes, the hardening arteries and the strokes.  As Sting wrote, "For all those born beneath an angry star/Lest we forget how fragile we are."

My sore muscles are nothing.  The cheese, the bread, the beer, the sweets that I won't be enjoying for the next two months are nothing.  My life, my health, my beautiful wife and sons -- they are everything.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

A New Journey

In October 2012, a month after my fiftieth birthday, I saw myself in the bathroom mirror one morning and absolutely hated what I was seeing.  My belly spilling liberally over my belt line,  Belly fat spreading from my diaphragm, around to my "love handles" which then spread around further to my lower back.  A fold of skin where my kidneys are.  Man-boobs. Chubbiness under my jaw line and jowls forming at my cheeks.  Muscle tone nearly nonexistent.  At fifty years old, combined with my now nearly all-gray hair, I looked like a fat old fart.  The worst part was, I could actually see the body I wanted to have underneath all that flab and girth.  It was right there!  All I had to do was do enough exercise and eat right, and that body was possible!  I fought back tears as I firmly decided that enough was enough.  I was not going to have this body anymore.

I had seen infomercials on TV for Shaun T's mega-exercise series, Insanity.  Men my age, giving 110% to the workout and nutrition and fitness program, shedding twenty, thirty, or more pounds, gaining muscle definition, tone, and a better outlook on life.  Of course, I knew these were extraordinary cases, most of them taking longer to get those bodies than the 63 days that the program promised.  I had a friend in the neighborhood who had done the program and had lost about 30 pounds.  But even if I could lose fifteen pounds, a couple of inches around my waist, and gain a better handled on my eating (which had gotten out of control), it was worth the $150 investment.  I ordered it online and then convinced Lisa to join me in the program.  We took before pictures (mine after the jump), which looked horrible!  What a great incentive, NOT to look like this!

I began on November 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving.  I lost twelve pounds and lost two inches around my waist, started seeing my abs, leg muscles, and shoulders.  My face and neck slimmed down.  A friend told me about six weeks in that I looked "svelte."  Felt great.  The nutrition program was difficult, and I had actually to cut back on the recommended calories (because I had a much more sedentary lifestyle/work life than the average guy), but the weight and fatness disappeared.

But I wasn't satisfied.  I wanted more.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The War on Religious Freedom

At some point later today, Andrew Sullivan will have a very long, insightful, far more thoughtful piece on today's Supreme Court 5-4 decision to allow "mostly Christian" prayers at city and town council meetings.  For now, however, you can have mine.

I won't retell the story here, suffice to say that the entire matter came before the Court by way of a challenge to a New York town's decision in 1999 to move from a moment of silence before council meetings to prayer.  While one side asserts that such a move violates the First Amendment and establishes Christianity as the town's religion, the town claims it has been inclusive and allowed other belief systems to be represented.
"The faith of the prayer giver does not matter at all," said John Auberger, Greece's board supervisor, who began the practice shortly after taking office. "We accept anyone who wants to come in and volunteer to give the prayer to open up our town meetings."

Three of the five majority Justices took a narrow view, but the more contentious Justices, Thomas and Scalia, pushed the envelope by suggesting that even if people take offense at the use of prayer, it should not be a reason to discontinue the practice.

Welcome to the American theocracy, my friends!  I don't really care that the Christian majority of most of our American towns and cities make a "reasonable" effort to be more inclusive of other belief systems.  The fact that this debate exists at all is a step too far against our religious freedom.  The subtle creep of religious expression upon our system of government continues unabated.  In America, we are free to express our religious beliefs as we choose, free from government pressure, and government is expressly forbidden by our Constitution to make a law "respecting the establishment of religion."  Realizing that the vast majority of American citizens believe in a supernatural deity, it is profoundly important for lawmakers at all levels of government to realize that no single religious view be seen as more important than any other.  The Christian majority should be highly sensitive to this need.  In all matters of government, therefore, public expressions of religion should be strictly forbidden.  Do you hear that, believers?  Forbidden!  If we have to have a debate about how much or how little religion to allow in government, lovers of liberty have already lost. 

These moves by local councils are not about religious freedom; they are about restricting religious expression by anyone other than Christians.  They are about the replacement of freedom with moralism.  Imagine you are a devout Muslim with business before a town council, which has just opened its meeting with a prayer offering thanks to Jesus Christ.  You have a beard, and you are seated next to your wife, who is wearing a hijab.  Your turn comes, and your name is horribly mispronounced by the old, white Christian man running the agenda.  You step up to the microphone and you correct the pronunciation of your name.  The council member apologizes, and continues to fail to pronounce your name correctly.  Your business before the council involves matters that involve obstacles to your religious practice.  You encounter someone on the council who is openly hostile to Islam and starts to question your motives as something other than religious practice.  How likely is it going to be that this person's repellent views are going to be shared by other members of the council, perhaps not quite so openly.  How likely are you to feel welcome to petition the council for other matters, religious or not, in the future?  Not very, I would say.

Watch for more tests of the establishment clause in the next few years.  Cases that revisit the idea of having the Ten Commandments in a courthouse.  Cases that push for prayer in public schools.  Cases that create litmus tests for the religious beliefs of candidates for public office. 

You don't agree?  When was the last time you could remember not seeing American citizens (mostly religious Christians) being openly contemptuous of other belief systems (it usually looks like complaints about their beliefs being trampled upon -- the persecution complex)?