Monday, November 26, 2012

Insanity, Day 1

Today was the first day of my 63-day odyssey to complete the Insanity workout.  Insanity is a 10-DVD set of workout videos that promises, without benefit of machines or weights, a transformation of one's body.  The website features before and after pictures of dozens of people who have completed the workouts, and the results are fairly astonishing.  Guys who started out much heavier around the middle than I am look significantly thinner, fitter, and more muscularly defined.  The beach body, right?  Six-pack abs, broader pectorals, and the loss of that spare tire around the middle.

The night before, Lisa and I donned our workout gear for the "before" pictures.  Lisa shot me, without my shirt on, from the front, side and back.  Because she is shorter than I am, her pictures captured me at about chest level, which was a great thing.  Why?  Because, oh my God, I looked terrible at that angle!  Especially from the back, where my spare tire is creeping around and the back and starting to look like a utility belt.  Anything not to look like that ever again, God, please!

The day before, we had previewed the first DVD, called "Dig Deeper: Fitness Test," to see what we'd need to be ready, as our workout time was 5:30 am.  Neither of us wanted to have to think about looking around for the stuff we'd need.  Last night, I laid out our towels, water bottles, workout clothes, and our fitness test worksheets and pencils.  The fitness test contains eight different exercises, which are to be measured by how many repetitions we can do in a minute.  We are directed to go as fast as we can, rest when needed, but not to give up trying harder.  We write down our results, and then compare them to the results we get every two weeks until the end of the series. 

After a brief warmup -- which got me a little winded (harbinger of things to come) -- it was time to begin:

1. Switch Kicks: from a standing position, elbows in, hands held at shoulder level either clasped or not, deliver alternating forward kicks to waist level, leading with the heel.  Form was essential to this and every exercise, but after about 20 seconds of this, I could barely lift my legs off the floor  Each two kicks is one rep, and I managed about 20 or so in a minute.  Just a minute to write down results, catch my breath, and try to get a sip of water, then...
2. Squat Jacks: Like jumping jacks, but starting with feet together and arms overhead, down to a squatting position.  This was a bit easier than the first exercise, but I quickly felt the burn in my quads and hamstrings!  Also, I got very winded very quickly.  I think I got 40 of these.  Another minute of rest, water and writing, then...
3. ...Power Knees: standing up straight in a wide stance, interlace my hands overhead then bring one knee up in a diagonal motion across my body while bringing hands down to meet my knees. This looked easier than it was. I found it difficult to maintain my balance, and I wondered why there was no attempt to switch to the other side for half the exercise. I think I got about 40 or so of these, then after a minute, it was...

4.  Power Jumps, or what I call "The Leap of Death."  This exercise starts in a squat, then I was to use arms and legs to lift me up as high as I could go.  The legs then form a squatting position in mid-air, then land and resume the squat.  This shit was very hard!  I was crapping out after 15 seconds or so, needing about the same amount of time to catch my breath.  I think I got about 12 of these in a minute.  Speaking of minutes, I only got one of them to recover (fuck you, Shaun T!), before...
5. Around the Globe Leap:  Squatting position, hands touching the floor, leap up as high as I could go (straight legs this time).  First to the left, then backward, then to the right, then forward.  A box of leaps!  One box was one rep.  I think I got eight of these done.  At this point, halfway through the test, I was so tired, I wasn't sure I could continue, but I wasn't giving up on the first day!  Next up...
6. ...Suicide Jumps, or what my wife calls "Burpees."  A four-position exercise, very much like a squat thrust, but with the final move being a leap up from the crouch.  I got six of these, with bad form after about two, but didn't give up.  Mercifully, we got TWO minutes of rest, presumably so Shaun could demonstrate the next exercise, which was...
7. Push up Jacks: Like a push combined with a jumping jack.  As I descended to a couple of inches from the floor, I kick my legs out so my body is now in a Y-shape, then feet back together as I push back up.  I think I did eight of these.  Another two minutes, which I needed all of just to catch my breath, before ...
8.  Low Plank Obliques: Assume a plank position with elbows on the floor, hands forward.  Bring alternative knees up from the side of the body as high as possible, then back again.  I can't even remember how many I did of these, but I definitely didn't do more than 10.

Final cool down of sorts, then it was over.

Yay, I finished!  I was so relieved, so winded, and so dead on my feet.  I knew there was only one way to go from here, and that was better. 

I then ate my first of five meals -- a bowl of cereal that tasted like twigs, with skim milk and a whole banana.  I was full, especially after downing 24 ounces of water beforehand.  Three hours later, I followed up with a protein bar, a slice of cheese, and another banana.  As of now it's 1 pm and I'm late with meal #3: a turkey pita sandwich with tomato slices, and small salad.  My lower back is a little sore on the left side (as is my left hip) from the last exercise, but I'll stretch those out later.  I down a Gatorade Renew drink on my way to work, and I hope it helps.

Can't wait to start day #2 -- Plyo-Cardio Circuit.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I Give Thanks

As I'm going offline tomorrow, I thought I'd post a list of people, places, and things for which I'm very thankful:

A God, an infinitely intelligent, creative, harmonizing force, who unfolds the great wonders of the Universe every single day.
My beautiful, loving, adoring wife, Lisa, who has the kindest heart of anyone I know.
My two sons, Max and Elijah, for whom I have no sufficient words to describe my joy at bringing them into this world, at guiding them through this world, and at knowing them and loving them more every day.
My body, which surprises me at how resilient it truly is.
My mind, without which I'd be a Republican -- a joke of course, which leads me to...
My sense of humor, pretty much a must-have in this world.
My relatives, a constant source of inspiration, puzzlement, laughter, and joy.
My friends, whether I know them in person or only on Facebook, for challenging me all the time and for respecting me.
President Obama and Vice President Biden -- enough said
The United States of America -- home
Israel, for giving me the roots of my identity and for showing that being tough can often be misunderstood.
The Sterling Mens Weekend, which launched me on my journey to being the man I always wanted to be.
My current and past employers, for helping me feed and protect my family.
The beautiful weather of Los Angeles!
Temple Akiba, for creating a family for Jews of all kinds.
Shaun T, who is about to turn me from a flabby desk man to a trim, fit, and ripped beach-body dude.
Allan Holdsworth, Robert Fripp, Ian Anderson, Gentle Giant, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart, David Byrne, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Peter Gabriel, Byron Fry, and all the others who provide the soundtrack for my life.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

"One of the Great Mysteries"

Such is how Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) characterizes the origins of our universe and the age of the Earth.   Andrew Sullivan goes off on his back-handed denial of FACTS. 

Pivoting off of Andrew, I just started imagining a conversation I might have with someone who believes that God created all of creation 6,000 years ago in six Earth days (and then, presumably, "rested").  Since Archbishop Ussher of Armagh published his paper 362 years ago stating that based on biblical research (essentially adding up the begats since the time of Adam & Eve) about 6,000 years have passed, I would start by asking how he/she knows that the 6,000 number is true.  "The Bible says it is, so that's good enough for me," comes the reply.  OK, I sigh, what about all that science that suggests the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that the Universe came into existence about 13 billion years ago?  Did you see the article about the Hubble Space Telescope spotting and identifying a galaxy that was 13 billion light years away?  "I don't need science to tell me what's true," he spits. "The only truth is The Word.  Science is just a bunch of guesses.  Educated guesses, maybe, but there's so much scientists still don't know and will never know."  You do realize, I press, that actual science involves a lot of mathematics, right?  That it involves observing the world and noting what happens under certain conditions -- like when you heat water to 212 degrees, it changes from a liquid to a gas.  It doesn't happen at 211 degrees, or even 211.9 degrees.  It happens precisely at 212 degrees.  "Right," he says, "what's your point?"  My point is that math is a constant.  It's not a guess that 2 + 2 = 4; that's a fact.  The same about the boiling temperature of water.  That's a fact too.  And science is pretty sophisticated, to the point where, using math and observation can yield pretty precise and reliable results.  Scientific processes like carbon dating use math to pinpoint the age of the Earth.  Tell me: is math a guess too?  "No, of course not," he scoffs.  Then how can you be so certain that the Earth is only 6,000 years old?  How can you be certain that all of the known universe came into being in six Earth days?  Back in the 17th century, Galileo realized that Earth was not the center of the universe.  Do you think it's possible that the people who wrote the Bible didn't know enough about the earth and the stars and the way people and creatures came about to explain it in any other way than by writing this creation story?  "The Bible is the word of God!  It can't be wrong."  It's not wrong! The Bible is inspired by God, but not directly written by God.  Were these writers, these human beings, so connected to God that they were able to write, word for word, what God wanted to say?  Were these writers connected to the mind of God, and has no one else since the time of Jesus been so inspired?  I'm no scholar of theology, but doesn't that seem like an awful waste of the human mind?  Are scientists, and those who are satisfied with the facts at which they arrive, simply deluding themselves? 

You see where I'm going.  Facts matter.  There is no "great mystery" to the creation of the universe.  You don't have to be a scientist to say, "I know the earth is 4.5 billion years old."  Science tells us how long ago earth came into existence, and how long ago various species of animals came to exist and die off on Earth.  Science tells us what is happening today, on earth, with our bodies and our planet's climate.  And science tells us what very well may happen to our planet's climate, land, seas, and people.  There is lots of theory out there, of course, and it's true that there are some things we might never know.  But what we already know based on science is pretty much beyond doubt and in extremely little danger of being disproven.  We can comfort ourselves all we want with religion.  There's a great deal of peace we can derive in believing that we are part of something much greater and unknowable, that there is a Creator or creative force that drives us, motivates us, energizes us.  But we should never confuse that with the idea that God has already answered everything for us.  There is a monumentally strong possibility that what we don't know is knowable, and an equally strong human imperative that we try to know it.  And finally, there is no possibility of peace in digging in and saying that you know all that you need to know because you have Jesus (or Allah, or Adonai) and your sacred text.  Ignorance, despite the old aphorism, is not bliss.  Rabbi Hillel said it best: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."

Go.  And learn.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Stick to the Facts

I always find it amusing when I hear surrogates on either side of the aisle -- but more often on the Republican side -- try to spin something that has so obviously benefited the other side as evidence of the other side's failure.  To wit, former Romney adviser Alex Castellanos, on Obama's work on the Hurricane Sandy relief effort:
President Obama stepped in and he’s doing the job he should be doing, great, good for him. Wish he’d done the same on the economy.
Asshole.  When your party leaves behind a towering inferno of economic ruin, and then hands the new president and his team a couple of garden hoses to put it out (garden hoses that you then proceed to step on and kink up to slow down or even stop the water flow), you don't get to complain about how he's done on the economy.  It just shows how small Romney is when it comes to criticizing the president.  There just isn't much there to criticize, because when you stick to the facts, the president's done very well.

Obama as of this past Wednesday has a 78 percent approval rating on how he's responded to the hurricane.  And the last poll I saw showed that a growing number of Americans believe the country is on the right track. 

But let's forget about polls.  Let's deal with facts, because FACTS MATTER.  Today's economic news showed an uptick in the unemployment rate, to 7.9% after being 7.8% the previous month.  The economic data also showed that job creation for October was 171,000 new jobs, and for August and September the numbers were revised upward by another 84,000 jobs.  Economists agree that the uptick in unemployment numbers was that a larger number of Americans were rejoining the job force and looking for work because jobs are now out there to get. 

I know who will be elected president next Tuesday as much as the next guy, which is to say I don't really know.  I do believe the result will be close.  The focus in the next few days will be on the so-called swing states to see how they will tip.  I think that the president has a very good chance of being reelected, more than three times than Romney, if Nate Silver is accurate.  But that still means that Romney has a 1 in 4 or 5 chance of being elected.  If I'm a betting man and the stakes are that high, I like those odds.