Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Catch-22: Life Insurance Edition

In which Yossarian discovers that you can't buy your life insurance cheap if you're Morbidly Obese, because people who are Morbidly Obese are at risk of dying of their obesity (that's what the "morbid" part is about, it turns out.)  And yet, if you decide that you do not want to be Morbidly Obese anymore because sunsets are beautiful and your children are adorable, you also cannot buy your life insurance cheap if you have lost too much weight in the previous six months.

One could suppose that Morbid Obesity is a sign of insanity, while movement toward Mere Obesity is a sign of sanity . . . the very thing Catch 22 is designed to punish.  However, it's probably a simpler mathematical explanation at work:  Morbid Obesity is one sign of impending (sweaty, wheezing) death.   However, rapid weight loss is another sign of impending death, possibly from (whispering) The Cancer or very possibly (again whispering) The AIDS.

Sigh.  It is to wait.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Wish Me Luck, Unless You're Uncomfortable Helping Me Pee . . .

By the time you read this (if anyone does) I'll be peeing and bleeding for half-million-dollar stakes.  Sounds kind of exciting, doesn't it?  And also gross?

Well, it's not very exciting by normal standards; I'm just taking a physical so I can buy term life insurance, because I am a wild thing.  Exciting for me, though, 'cause a year ago I was too fat to buy term life insurance.  That might seem like I'm exaggerating, but I applied through a broker and was told that because of my high BMI measurement, no company they contacted was interested in offering me life insurance.  I knew I was in a bad way, of course (my BMI would have been 47.5 at that time, if that means anything to you.)  But I had hoped that being alcohol-free, tobacco-free, with no personal history of diabetes, heart trouble, or other disease would count in my favor.  It probably did, but it didn't erase the marker with "180 pounds over healthy BMI range" written on it.  

Recently, though, I met with some financial advisors to get my retirement accounts squared away.*  I mentioned that I'd like to start looking for term life insurance, too, and they were eager to sell me some. Both were shocked to hear that I'd been turned away over weight, but then, neither has seen the photos from before I made my magical transformation from Morbidly Obese to Merely Obese (I've lost over 100 pounds, but my BMI is still about 35.  I have to bring that down to 29.5, losing another 55 pounds or so, before I can claim the coveted title of "Overweight."  They've basically made their offer; I think at this point I'm down to checking for undetected dry rot and termite damage before they place their bet on my survival.  

Anyway, long story short, when I realized that I'd allowed myself to get so fat that nobody was willing to make a bet that I wouldn't die in the next twenty years, it was one of those sobering moments you hear people whine about.  I didn't like it.  This is boring, white-bread, First-World stuff, but it's a whole lot better feeling.  If you can't leave a pretty corpse, leave a rich widow, I always say.

*No, I don't trust the Illinois Teacher Retirement System.  Didja know they have two of those?  Yeah, the Chicago teachers have their own separate system.  Whatever your feelings about public pensions, the hard fact is that Illinois government does not pay its share and hasn't for years, so while we continue to pay into the pension fund, each new generation of teachers has less and less reason to expect to be paid a pension from it.  I intend to plan retirement such that I can do it from my own investments; if we get pensions, it'll be like somebody's rich aunt died and we'll perform the indicated response.  What do you think a boat will cost in 2053?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I Fear I May Do Something Drastic . . .

My Bride has successfully lured me into trying a little ACTING! on the side this fall.  I'm going to be playing the grumpy, non-religious skinflint in a happy little Christmas play about some awful people who learn about the true spirit of Christmas. I think it's going to be a lot of fun, actually, if I can pull it off.

Anyway, I've been settled into My Look for awhile now; a full red beard and mustache with a bald head.  Like, really bald.  It's not exactly pretty, but it comes close enough to rugged.  I like it pretty well and it's low maintenance.  The only thing I'd prefer would be simple, short hair . . . . but alas, I can only manage that around the sides, these days.  The top of my head is like a weedy garden; if I grow it out, I'll have patches and areas and zones, none of which will have the same length or thickness of hair.  I just administer a mercy shaving every week or so, accepting my fate with the grim determination and steely resolve of a pudgy, balding viking warrior.  But now . . . my character in the play will be "Tom," a "blustery accountant in his mid-fifties."  He's kind of a jerk, but don't worry, he probably comes around in the end.

Anyway, I'm thinking . . . would Tom have the big red viking beard and the cueball haircut?  I'm thinking . . . nope.  I've stopped shaving my head for now.  The play is in mid-November; I think, a couple of days before, I'm going to shave the top of my head so I'll have that classic fringe of hair around the sides with the shiny naked pate on top, and shave everything but the mustache off my face.  By that time, I should have a magnificent, Lawdog-esque red push broom under my nose.  If I dress the part, I should be able to become Tom for a couple of days before I revert to Donnie in time for deer season.

Now that's settled, next question:  does Tom wear polo shirts, cardigans, or Christmas sweaters (ironically, of course?)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Flying and Camping and Acting and Fishing and Dunking Firemen in Ice Water

Weekends be crazy, y'all.

I hear The Internet loves lists of things, so here are Seven Things I Did This Weekend (And No Reasons for You to Care About Them.)

  1. The Zelmer Airport Fly-In Breakfast.  I actually did that one twice; I showed up with my youngest boy, Sean, on Saturday morning, which was the wrong day.  The local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter was having some kind of meeting, but they greeted us warmly and invited us to look over their planes.  One pilot even took time to come out with us and let The Little Bear sit in the driver's seat and put on the headphones.
    "But don't turn it on!" Little Bear warned him.
    "Nah, I wouldn't do that to you," the pilot said.
  2. Then it was time for the Steven Snodgrass Fundraiser.  Steve is a young (very young, and usually very excited, but it would be wrong to call him Scrappy Doo, so I plan to stop soon) police officer, firefighter and ambulance EMT in our little home on the prairie where the coach road and the railroads once crossed. I like Steve.  So, after the fly-in that wasn't, we came back to town and Sean and I took a walk to the town square.  I walked up with a considerable sum (for us) in my pocket, and we managed to spend it.  All Little Bear cared about was the dunk tank.  It was the first cool day of the year, so it probably wasn't necessary to add so much ice to the water, but that's how our fire department works: when in doubt, make the men suffer.  He spent more at the dunk tank than I spent anywhere else, but he also dunked the poor kid three times.  He was happy, I was happy.  We returned to home base to prepare for the campout.
  3. Little Bear joined the Cub Scouts this year.  I have my reservations about the Boy Scouts, but they did most of the right thing this year when they decided (despite considerable pressure from frightened people) not to eject gay boy scouts from the organization.  They still won't accept (openly) gay scout leaders, but it's progress, and our local group doesn't discriminate.  I'm not entirely comfortable with the religious touches, but that's the kind of thing Sean will have to negotiate for himself one day no matter what.  For now, I'm satisfied that he got to go camping overnight at the lake with a bunch of other kids.  We fished, we put up tents, we built fires, we played ball, we roasted hot dogs and s'mores and some kind of crazy thing that consisted of an ice cream cone stuffed with half a banana, some peanut butter, and a marshmallow, then wrapped in foil and roasted over the fire.  I don't know what it's called and I didn't sample one myself, but it appeared to make an impression.  In the morning, we struck camp, did a little more fishing, played a short and whiny game of sandlot baseball and got out of there; it was time for the fly-in.
  4. There, the boys split up according to their interests.  Thing One came with me to sign up for a flight in a Cessna 172, which was pretty cool--we were so close to the lake that we flew over it.  We even picked out the Cub Scout camp from the air.  The day was perfect, and I don't know what it is about looking down and watching the shadow of the plane chase along over the fields, but I've never gotten over it.  Little Bear was adamant that there would be no flying, but he'd only had a Hershey's bar and a muffin for breakfast so far, so he and mom hit the chow line for pancakes and sausage.  Thing Two continued to sit at home, presumably either moping or playing video games, having declined to leave the house for items 1-4 on this list.  If someone could design a video game with a realistic moping engine, I'd probably never see that kid again, but I digress.  After we'd fed the kids, flown over the prairie (I still forget sometimes how utterly flat the land is here) and looked over all the cool airplanes, from "Experimental" homebuilts to a beautiful Stearman Kaydet trainer, it was time to pack everybody up and head for home so we could get all the chores and schoolwork done.  
  5. At home, The Wife tried to catch a little sleep while the boys and I unloaded the car, did a few chores, and tried to get dinner started.  At about 4:00, she headed off to her first practice for this year's community theater production, The Regifters.  It's the heartwarming tale of three couples of really very bad, greedy people who don't understand the spirit of the holiday season, plus some mother-in-law jokes and a stolen baby Jesus lawn ornament (well, found, really.)  At about 4:30, she called me up and asked me to come audition for a part.  It turns out that one of their favorite male actors can't do the play this year, so they called in a replacement . . . but that guy can't do it either, and neither could their next few choices.  So they went down the line and eventually decided that they were desperate enough to pull me in, since there was no singing required.  I spent a couple of hours reading through the play with the cast, and for my first time, I think I held my own.  Whether I'll be able to hold it together in front of people without a script is an open question . . . but I'll know in November.  The important things are already settled; the play is being performed a little earlier this year, so it will definitely not interfere with firearm deer season.
There was a time when I thought I had successfully "slowed down."  Now it's clear that I'm back to running around like a squirrel desperate to save a moose from a Communist assassination plot.  But I don't know what I would have wanted to cut out of that weekend, so I didn't cut out anything, and here we are.  I'm not actually getting any less busy, but it's 3:00 a.m. and the dogs have barked me out of bed so that I could let them out--again--so I figured I might as well write something.  It may not be the most artful thing I've ever set down on electrons, but hey, if you're reading this, then I did sit down and write it.  That's the third week in a row of actual blogging, and if I can ever get the photos off the camera, I might even post about this stuff twice in the same week.  I do understand that the rest of the world spins on just fine without my little blog, but I used to enjoy writing it, and maybe I could enjoy it again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

IL Supreme Court Kicks MAIG/ICHV/LCAV While They're Down, Leaves Marks

The Illinois Supreme Court says it read Moore v. Madigan and it sides with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Thus, in People v. Aguilar, the court finds that the 2nd Amendment not only protects the right to keep and bear arms inside your home, but also outside it.  That can't be welcome news if you're still recovering from your cheap-tequila hangover at MAIG headquarters or the ICHV intern desk today.  "The Colorado Thing," as it might delicately be put in the presence of such people, couldn't have been less than a crushing defeat.  They had it figured out!  They just knew it was going to work this time!  That roadrunner can't keep getting away forever!

And then, this.  Now, I'm not personally certain how much impact this will really have on most peoples' lives.  It certainly made a difference in young Mr. Aguilar's life; and I can imagine finding that the main benefit will be to people previously convicted under Illinois' now-defunct Unlawful Use of a Weapon and Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon statutes. 

Less widely reported, probably because it was always an extreme long shot, is the fact that Aguilar also challenged Illinois' "Unlawful Possession of a Firearm" statute.  It was under that law that he was convicted of possessing a handgun while 17 years of age, and despite noting his argument that bearing arms was not limited to 18-year-olds in the colonial/founding era, the court ruled that this one is constitutional.  The case was remanded back to the lower state court for that reason; the lower court has been directed to sentence Aguilar for his UPF conviction, with the provision that they credit him all his time served for the AUUW conviction and also that he cannot be sentenced to a longer term than he would have served for the AUUW conviction, if they'd left it standing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's 9/11 again.

My 7th-grade student was born in 2001.  To him, this isn't even a memory.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Christian Nation: Dueling Reviews of a Book I Haven't Read

Hey, check this out!  Weekly content, baby!  Two weeks in a row!

So, I haven't read this new alt-history book, Christian Nation.  Tam read it, and it's not always easy to tell, but I don't think she was impressed.  Like Tam, I've read a relatively large number of these kinds of books, in which Not My Side gets control of the country and wrecks it.  She even mentions my favorite: Heinlein's classic Revolt in 2100, the story of the revolution against the twisted theocrat Nehemiah Scudder, complete with secret cave bases and plenty of fight scenes and pretty girls.  She omits my second favorite, which I admit I favor mostly for its hipster obscurity: Tom Clancy's Executive Orders, in which he kills off the President, most of the Cabinet and Congress, and makes Jack Ryan President.  One can only hope this is the Harrison Ford version.  Anyway, I don't think most people think about this one in connection to Ayn Rand or Matthew Bracken, but it's basically the other side--finally, a common-sense guy gets total power and promptly solves all the world's problems.  That may not be entirely fair--I know President Jack Ryan struggled with the press a little, and maybe his solutions weren't as perfect as I remember them--but the clearest memory of that book, for me, is of reading about President Jack Ryan deciding that violence in Palestine/Israel has gone on long enough, so he'll ask the catholic church to send the Pope's Swiss Guard into the region as peacekeepers.  Someone reports back to him that the Swiss Guard are so imposing--they're big, tall Swiss guys in serious body armor--that nobody dares mess with them, and violent unrest in places like the West Bank is thus just about over.
Uh huh.

Anyway, I wasn't going to write about Tam's review of the book (prompted, in turn, by a post at Ace of Spades.)  But I ran into another review from a very different perspective at Susan K. Perry's "The Creative Atheist" blog on Patheos.  Perry loves the book; for her, it's a look at a very real, possible future that was avoided only narrowly by the defeat of John McCain.  She makes an important point: leaders who do crazy things, if you go back and look at what they were saying before they got into power, have often been giving surprisingly frank warnings of what they were about for years before they had the power to do any of it.  People do have an alarming tendency to disbelieve the crazier pronouncements of fringe (and not-so-fringe) elements, then put them into power, then react with dismay when they do what they said they would do.  George Bush said he would walk a fine (some would say dishonest) line on the assault weapons ban if elected, and then he did.  A lot of gun owners reacted as if surprised by this, demanding that he come out and squash the AWB flat, but that wasn't what he'd said he would do.  Similarly, President Obama said he would work to make fossil fuels, especially coal, more expensive; he wants alternatives to get to economic competitiveness faster.  He's done some of that work, and it's no surprise.  Whether Sarah Palin has been saying that she'd put people like me (filthy, baby-eating atheists) into Re-education Church Camp (do you think they make God's eyes during craft time? Is there canoeing?) is another matter, I guess.

Interestingly, while Tam struggles to find the so-bad-it's-good comic fodder, and Perry ponders what she can do in the real world to stop the nightmare prophecy of Frederick Rich from coming true in her lifetime, they do agree pretty closely on some aspects of the story.  This paragraph of Perry's review could have come from Tam's:
One of the main characters is gay, and there is a lot of homophobia and homosexual oppression, even brutality, by the new extremist Christian government. The only major female character is a social climber, an ambitious player, wholly unsympathetic, which allows her to be dispensed with fairly quickly. I detected what seemed to me to be a homo-erotic charge between best friends Greg and Sanjay, though it’s never acknowledged as such.
Interestingly, Perry mentions all this, but makes no judgment upon it.  I'd been looking forward to seeing whether she would notice the same dearth of female characters as Tam did.  Apparently she noticed it, but it wasn't enough to dampen her enthusiasm.  Both reviewers agree on a few things:

  • A little stilted and didactic, but briskly paced and plotted.
  • Total sausage party; almost no female characters, zero to root for.
  • Competent Other-Guy-In-Power dystopia.
But that doesn't mean the worlds merged when they collided.  Perry ends on this note:
I’m curious as to whether non-extremist Christians might read this and think, “It wouldn’t be so bad if all this came to pass, but of course without the torture and killing.”
While Tam is slightly less charitable:
Anyhow, if you can stomach it, it's a chance to see what an Ivy League corporate attorney in Manhattan thinks of you when he's pretty sure you're not going to read it. Because he thinks you can't.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fitness: Hitting the Reset Button

The ticker on the left side of the blog changed today.  It now says I have 70 pounds to lose with 125 lost already.  A few days ago, it said I'd lost 125 pounds and was five pounds below my goal weight.  Simply put, the goal weight has changed.

The ticker says I've lost 125 pounds because it's been keeping track since the first time I recorded my weight with it.  I've been telling people that I've lost about 100 pounds in the last year, but I've been fighting this back-and-forth battle for years.  My heaviest documented weight was 396 pounds, which I rounded to 395 for some reason when I first set up that ticker.  Last year, when I set up the ticker again, I set my goal weight at 275 pounds, even though that wasn't actually my final goal.  I chose 275 as an intermediate goal because I thought it would allow me to do three things:

  • Take my kids to Six Flags and ride every ride, even the one or two that I'd never been able to experience because I simply could not fit into the safety restraints.
  • Join the others from my gym, HIPE Fitness, in riding the Grafton Zip Lines in the hills near Grafton, IL (right on the Mississippi River, near St. Louis.)
  • The real excitement: buy term life insurance.
More on that later; the short version is that the Six Flags trip was fantastic, I talked to a couple of guys about the life insurance yesterday, and the zip lines are up in the air because it's a little hard to tell what their weight limits actually are anymore.  That was frustrating before, but now that I've got this surgical wound to recover from right in the center of my core, I suppose it's moot.  They could send me a free ticket, but it would still be foolish to go riding down a zipline in the next couple of months.

Anyway, the new goal is probably not my final goal, either.  The new goal is 200 pounds.  Why that nice, round number?  Aside from its pleasant roundness, which ought to be reason enough:
  • I still want to jump out of an airplane, and the two local jump schools with the best safety records require a maximum weight of 220 and 225 pounds, respectively.  At about 200 pounds, I can wear what I want, drink all the water I want on the day, and know that I'll still make weight.
  • I still want to get back into BJJ, and that includes competition.  If I do, I'll roll with everyone, of course, but I don't want to compete against people 6 inches taller than I am.  I'm only a little over 6 feet tall, and at that weight, I can compete with people my own size.
  • I started this thing with 220 as the goal, but the more time I spend with actual athletic people, the more I realize that even that is not necessarily my best weight.  Honestly, when I reach 200, there's a chance that I'll want to go a little lower; it'll depend on how muscular I am by that time and how low I can go without sacrificing strength.  If I can walk around at 185 pounds . . . why not?  But we'll start with 200.
My goals keep getting revised . . . but they're being scaled up, not down, and that's good news.  I've needed to reset my ideas of what is "normal" and "reasonable" for a long time; the idea that it's "unrealistic" for a man about six feet tall to weigh about 200 pounds is ridiculous.  It belongs on the ash heap with a lot of other silly things I taught myself as a young man.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Blogging and Fitness: Progress and Setbacks

So . . . how've you been since March?  Good?  Probably good.  You're not even reading this, are you?  You've stopped checking for updates, just because I stopped posting content, right?

Quitter. You are a quitter. Now let's talk about me.

The Good News:

The last time I wrote about my life, I was trying, not for the first time, to lose a lot of weight and get fit.  There's good news and bad news on that score today.  First, the good news: I've now lost over 100 pounds. I'm stronger than I've been in a long time, maybe ever, depending on how you measure it. I'm capable of balance and grace that I really thought were impossible for me. My blood pressure is around 120/80 most days, which is the upper end of normal, but normal. My resting heart rate is consistently between 50 and 60 BPM, which is lower than normal but consistent with hard cardiovascular training ( recently had my vitals taken regularly over a period of several days--more about that in a moment.

The Bad News:

The reason I had my vitals taken so regularly was that I had a small problem that had to be repaired with emergency surgery, followed by a short hospital stay. Years ago, when I was at my very most morbidly obese bodily volume, I had mysterious abdominal pain and a mysterious lump above my navel. One doctor diagnosed this as lipoma, a small fatty bump that forms under the skin on some people, but that's generally painless, and this was painful enough to cause nausea.  Other doctors diagnosed a hernia with fatty tissue (morbid obesity, remember?) becoming "incarcerated" and "strangulated" when it poked through.  I had surgery to repair it early in the summer, reasoning that I would have time to recover before school began.  I took the few weeks before surgery as a time to diet and exercise (with no coaching or guidance, of course.)  On the morning of the surgery, I weighed 396 pounds in a hospital gown.  I can't prove it, but I'll always be convinced that I once weighed over 400 pounds.  The surgery was an apparent success, but recovery was tough.  The standard advice is not to lift anything over 10 lbs. in weight for six weeks after hernia repair, and to avoid bearing down with the abdominal muscles.  There is no way to follow that advice without a powered lifting chair or bed when you weigh 400 lbs., so I did my best but screwed up repeatedly.  Still, I thought I'd recovered, and although I wasn't certain the hernia was gone, I told myself that I would exercise like a madman and lose the weight ASAP.  I'd get down to 300 lbs., maybe even a little lower!  I began exercising again about two months after the surgery, and for some reason that now eludes me, I decided that I would begin by running on the bleachers at my school. No, I can't think of any reason for a 400-lb. man to do that, either, but it turns out I didn't hurt myself doing it, because before I'd been doing it a week, an infection at the surgery site broke loose and I spent another week in the hospital, followed by a month at home giving myself anti-biotics through a PIC line (basically a fairly permanent IV line the patient can use to administer IV drugs at home.)

When I'd recovered from that, I went back to have the hernia repair repaired.  I was told that the last surgeon had tried a newfangled technique, but this guy was going to do something brutally simple, just sew a big mesh patch in place.  That would leave a big scar and the incision would hurt more as I recovered, but it would be strong like bull and I'd never see that hernia again. That sounded perfect to me. And I'd lost a little weight by that time, down to . . . about 350, I think?  Not enough, certainly. Again, I did my best, but getting out of a chair or off a bed was a major effort, and I couldn't afford to be bedridden.  I don't know whether I messed up, or they did, but it was clear almost immediately that the hernia was still there.  I went back to my doctor, who told me that if I could "reduce" the lump--squeeze it down until it went back inside, basically--I could put off attempting the repair again for a long time, maybe forever.  I never intended to wait forever, but I did think I'd wait until I got into better shape. Along the way, I lost and gained weight like a yo-yo; I went as low as 290 pounds, but I gained again until I was over 330 pounds.  Then, desperate, I joined Overeaters Anonymous, which turned out to be a bad move; I ballooned to 370 pounds before I gave up on that one.  Last year, after I left OA, I decided that I would go back to the only "diet" that had ever worked--low carb--and find a trainer to guide my exercise program. It worked.  I got lucky with my trainer, Wayne Carrels of HIPE Fitness, and I made rapid progress.  This summer, I plateaued around 280 pounds, but I could tell I was losing fat and adding muscle.  I considered going back to schedule a hernia repair, but by that time, I'd been living with it for years, and I was confident that I'd be much lighter and stronger next summer.  

That seemed smart until last Tuesday, when I found myself in nasty pain from warming up, then reached the point of dizziness a few minutes into a light workout.  I left the class and tried to reduce the hernia, tried to rest, tried to throw up.  Nothing helped much, and I allowed a friend to drive me to an Express Care (I still thought I'd end up reducing the hernia and breathe a sigh of relief.)  By the time we got there, I was fading in and out, pouring sweat, and apparently quite pale.  I was just trying to breathe slowly through the gut-twisting pain, but I heard people saying "BP 85 over 55" and "get two IV's, 18 gauge on both" and "America says the ambulance is a few minutes out."  It began to occur to me that I was in real trouble.  Long story short, nobody was able to reduce the stupid thing, and I had emergency surgery to remove 15cm of bowel and repair the hernia at 3:00 a.m.   It was the first day of school for my students.  I was not there.

The Silver Linings:

So here we are.  The hernia repair isn't the strongest; they couldn't use mesh because it raises the risk of infection (don't I know it?) and the bowel surgery is already an infection risk.  There's a possibility that I'll have to have the repair re-done yet again if it doesn't hold.  That means I've got to handle this recovery as well as I can.  But there are some bright spots here, mostly because my fitness level has changed so much:

  • I weighed 268 lbs. yesterday.  That means I'm about 125 lbs. lighter than I was the first time I tried to recover from hernia surgery, and although this procedure was a lot more disruptive than that one was, the recovery has been a lot easier so far.
  • I was up and walking much faster this time, out of bed the day after surgery and walking two days after.
  • I have some pain, but I haven't had to use any of the Tramadol they sent home with me.  I don't get much more than a dull ache with the occasional sharp jab, and I'm afraid to dull it too much, lest I cause some damage without realizing it.  I'll use it if I find that I need it, but I think the recovery is better without it.
  • I can't go back to the gym until at least October, and I won't be able to work at the level I was before for at least six months, maybe more like a year.  But I've kept my diet clean since leaving the hospital and begun to take long walks again.  Walking won't build muscle like the Turkish get-ups and pullups at HIPE, but it'll strengthen the injured area without causing damage, and it should let me continue to lose fat.
  • I didn't die, and I don't have to accept any permanent loss of function.  All I have to do is be smart and a little lucky while I recover, and I can still reach all the goals I had before.  It's just going to take longer than I'd hoped.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jan Schakowsky: Just because she's out to get you doesn't mean you're not paranoid.

Jan Schakowsky . . . there's a name you haven't heard for awhile, huh?  If you're not from Illinois, maybe you've never heard of Congresswoman Schakowsky before, but she's politician-famous in Chicagoland. She has a long history of advocating for, as she puts it in this video, "pushing as hard as we can and as far as we can" to ban guns or, failing that, to harass citizens who want to use them.

This is the part where I sarcastically remind you that nobody wants to ban your guns and, by the way, you are clearly paranoid. Also that Jason Mattera is an unfair meanie.

One thing all this high-profile attention on guns and rights has done is to bring in a lot of people who really weren't paying any attention to the issue until a couple of months ago, on both sides.  Nothing wrong with that, but one effect of that influx of n00bs is that we now have an awful lot of people running around who are pretty sure they've got a simple solution and have no idea why the idiots who've been paying attention for the last decade or three haven't simply solved the problem already. In short, they don't know what they don't know. One of the things they're very sure of is that nobody wants to ban anybody's guns, and anyone who talks about gun bans is a stooge for the massive weapon cartels who pull the strings at the NRA. A good friend gave me a hell of a lecture recently; she'd put out the statement on Facebook that "nobody is going to ban your guns.  Get over it." I pointed out several times that this was not the issue; "I knew my attack on you wasn't going to work, so it's OK" is not an acceptable excuse. The point is that there are people who certainly would ban guns and confiscate my property if they had their way, and the only reason they don't have their way is that people like me prevent it by dint of hard work. 
  • I don't have to let you crash my car because it's got seatbelts and airbags, and
  • I don't have to let you torch my house because I have fire extinguishers, and
  • I sure as hell don't have to shut up while knowledge-free debates over whether to infringe my rights and confiscate my property are carried out by my betters.

Monday, March 11, 2013

On Fitness and Complacency, Part II: What's Working for Me

When I left off, I'd described losing about 75 pounds in the last eight months. Clearly I'm bragging a little bit; I'm proud of that change. I'm enjoying my new clothes and some other benefits, which I'll detail in another post a little later on. But I've lost more weight than that in past, and here I am losing it again. I don't want to be on an up-and-down cycle for the rest of my life. But how do you avoid that?  Here's how I'm trying to do it this time:

How do you define "fitness?"

I'm going to use this particular disclaimer five times in this post: everything I'm about to say is true for me as far as I know, but I don't know anything about whether it will work for you.
That said, I've had to give up on defining fitness solely in terms of weight or strength. My approach for the last year has been to define "fitness" as the ability to do what I want to do with my mind and body.  
Using that definition, if I want to go skydiving, but I weigh too much to do it safely, I need to lose weight in order to be more fit. In fact, if you look at the ticker on the left, you'll see a countdown to 275 pounds. The reason for that is not that 275 pounds is an ideal weight; it's the maximum weight for the Grafton Zip Line, and I want to go ride the zip lines high in the air. I weighed 297 pounds this morning, so I'm not fit for that activity . . . yet. Similarly, I want to go skydiving, but the nearest schools allow a maximum weight of 225 pounds, so I'm not fit for that activity yet, either.  
It won't end there, though. If I get a chance to go out west and hunt elk in the mountains, would I go? Only if I'm fit enough to walk those mountains. What if my kids move out and I want a Corvette . . . or a Miata? Gotta be able to fit. What if I find some spare time and decide I should go back into BJJ or Judo? Well, last time I tried that, I was 30 pounds heavier than I am now, and I wasn't fit enough to learn much in the course of a typical BJJ class--I was just proud to survive it. But if I go back, I'll want more than lighter weight--I'll want a strong core, good balance and the ability to move my body gymnastically. That means that those athletic abilities have to go into my definition of fitness, too.
Now, if you want to win a state or national powerlifting title, or you want to run three marathons per year, your fitness needs differ markedly from mine.  But most of us have some fitness ideas in common. We don't want to have open-heart surgery, so we want good cardiovascular fitness, yes?  We don't want diabetes, so we need to maintain reasonable bodyfat levels. We want to be that old man who walks everywhere and tries new things, not the old man who can't lift himself out of a chair, so we all need core strength.

How do you avoid complacency?

If you haven't fought serious obesity, it might sound crazy to think of someone who weighs "less than 300 pounds" checking himself out in the mirror and thinking, "Oh, yeah . . . .close enough for the girls I hang out with." But I've gone as high as a measured 396 pounds, and I assure you, the difference is amazing even now. At that weight, joint pain is constant and normal, moving athletically is nearly impossible unless you're freakishly strong, and your heart is working overtime. By contrast, at my current weight, I feel relatively light and fast, and my joint pain is so much less that I could be tempted to "lighten up" a little and stop working so hard. That's what I've done in the past, and it has always led me to let my weight creep right back up.
The main thing I'm working on is to set tougher goals and set them publicly.  Everyone I know, for instance, knows that I want to go skydiving next fall. I can miss that goal, but I can't abandon it without knowing that everyone, especially me, will know that I fell short. In the past, I've set goals based purely on weight, and I've moderated them with statements like "Well, even if I never get past 290, I've come a long way!"  That's true, but it misses the point. In order to avoid complacency, then, there may be no way around periodically re-calibrating your expectations--or maybe it's more accurate to say that you have to recognize that your old expectations are not going to be useful if you're making progress. If you think 300 would be great, 275 would be wonderful, and 250 would be pushing it because maybe you don't want to work quite that hard, and moderation in all things after all, and . . . well, then, you aren't going to get to jump out of that plane, are you? Ever.

What kind of diet makes sense?

A loaded question with a million answers. But there's a reason I put it before the discussion of exercise; most of us rely on exercise to get into shape, but most of us know that diet is actually doing a lot more to determine our fitness. Exercise can't do the job of diet; it just can't. Diet is what you're made of. So what am I made of these days?
Mostly protein and fats.  I've given up sugar and starch, so that leaves out sweets, breads, fruit and most vegetables. Some will say that it's impossible to get fit on a diet of meat, nuts, roughage, cheese, and only limited vegetables, and speaking for themselves, they could be right. But what I've found for myself is that when I give up most carbohydrates, I stop craving them. When I eat sugar, I crave sugar so strongly that I once sought addiction treatment for compulsive binge-eating. Same thing for starches, especially breads. There's no moderation there for me.
So now my diet is mostly eggs, chicken, beef, venison, fish, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, almonds, pecans, and various salads. That lets me eat to fullness, get plenty of protein and fats, but cut out the carbohydrates.

What kind of exercise makes sense?

Again, I'm speaking only of myself here, but I have a long history of injuries and ineffective exercise, mostly weight lifting, traditional American football drills and practice, attempts at martial arts, cycling, and the standard "gym cardio" on an elliptical trainer. Playing football works--kind of--in that you'll usually get stronger and more agile, but at the price of injuries and taking a general beating. Cycling and the elliptical trainer both had the same basic problem--I was trying to outrun my diet by putting in long bouts of cardiovascular training. Remember the part above where that doesn't work? Right.  

Today, I walk daily. Walking always seemed too tame to be doing much, on a par with bowling for exercise.  But the truth is that walking works.
I also work on my core daily, if only by blowing bubbles in my "belly bucket."  Not sure what that is? That's OK; we'll cover it one of these days.
But the thing that has really made the big difference has been to join HIPE Fitness in Springfield, IL, and work out with Wayne Carrels. Joining Wayne's group fitness classes has given me a coach who pushes me past levels of fatigue that I would have accepted as my limits if I'd been on my own. That can put people off, because it sounds like having a drill sergeant barking at you for three hours per week, but Wayne is a professional trainer who's also looking out for my safety. My body is a map of old injuries (knees, ankles, hips, shoulders, neck, and a hernia) and in fact, I was recovering from my latest nasty knee injury when I joined HIPE.  I have not had another injury. We're constantly told that we have to make diet and exercise a lifestyle, but when you're working on your own and struggling from injury to injury, that's not possible. Wayne has made it possible for me. He's also influenced my idea of safe, effective exercise by teaching me about what trainers call the "Four Pillars of Movement:" 
  • Locomotion
  • Level change
  • Push/Pull
  • Rotation
More on those later? Maybe.

Monday, March 4, 2013

On Fitness and Complacency, Part I

I think I've figured out how to measure when I'm back to regular writing: when I stop apologizing for my output at the beginning of each post, it probably means I feel like I'm back.  So . . . . I apologize for my output, or lack thereof. I do have things to write about; what I don't have is the extra time and energy.  I'd like to write about at least ten things in my life right now, but I've let them pile up so much that I'm not sure where to start. Luckily, I know how to proceed when I have a big pile of projects and don't know where to start: just wade in and grab something that looks important or interesting.

So today I want to update both my readers on my fight to get fit and talk a little about what has paid off for me and what hasn't. Obviously nothing I say here is guaranteed to work for you the way it worked for me, but after all, it did work for me.

Got any data?

I'm glad you asked, subheading.  On July 1st, 2012, I weighed 369.5 pounds.  I was wearing size 4XL shirts and pants with 48-and-50-inch waists (the 48s had gotten awful tight, but I could wear them.)  I had a nagging injury to my left knee that was driving me crazy, and my right knee wasn't exactly reliable.  My right hip wasn't great, either, and neither were either of my shoulders. I was a wreck.  Despite my joint injuries and weight, I'd been "working out" at my local 24-hour gym for about two years, mostly by spending 30-60 minutes on elliptical trainers four times per week.  Last February, I decided to see whether I could finish the "Fight for Air Climb," a race up 32 flights of stairs to the top of our tallest local building.  I was able to finish by taking numerous breaks for rest and water; it took me 10 minutes and 53 seconds.  There were people who did it more slowly, but not many.

Today, I weigh 297 pounds.  I wear size 2XL shirts and recently bought a pair of pants in a 44-inch waist, which are big enough that I've just ordered a size 42 in the same pants to see how they fit.  Yesterday, I went shopping for a size 2XL coat, but found that the best fit was an XL.  I can literally button up my old jacket and wear it over my new coat.  My knees still aren't perfect, but I no longer need to wear a knee brace.  My workouts are now balanced between three sessions per week at HIPE Fitness under the watchful eye of Wayne Carrels and calisthenics, yoga, stretching and cardio training at home daily.  This year, I decided to try the Fight for Air Climb again.  I set a personal goal: I would try to make the climb without stopping and try to beat 10 minutes flat.  I did climb without stopping, and I finished in 6:07, which put me just barely in the top 50% of finishers.

Complacency, or:
"No, man, you did it. If you don't lose one more pound, you look perfect. You did it."

I'm glad you asked that, too. See, I've lost weight before.  I've been determined to get fit before, too.  I've never made it last, and I have to wonder why. I think the greatest danger is complacency.  I'm used to thinking of myself as an enormously fat man.  In fact, I'm accustomed to morbid obesity.  In my old body, simply finishing a long stair climb or a long cycling event was a "moral victory."  No, I wasn't competitive nor really even fit enough to enjoy myself, but I could claim bragging rights just by finishing. The last time I was close to this weight was over five years ago, and then as now, I had allowed my weight to balloon up and then made a determined dash to lose it.  I lost about 100 pounds in about a year, but a few years later I'd gained at least 80 of it back.  Why? Well, looking back, I remember thinking it was time to ease up and "enjoy life" a little.  Time to have a couple of Oreos every now and then.  Time to give up that crazy fad low-carb diet and go back to a sensible, balanced diet with fruit and bread and such, especially now that I'd lost so much weight that cycling was easier.  I'd lose the rest by becoming a cycling madman.

Of course, I didn't.  I left the lifestyle that was working for me, and I let sugar and starch back into my diet.  That led to cravings for more, and I gave in.  Eventually I was bingeing on cookies, cake, pie, ice cream . . . then baking bread at home and eating entire loaves, piece by piece.  But why would anyone do that? I think it was more than a failure of will.  I think I decided at some point that I'd gone as far as I could reasonably be expected to go.  I'd done so well!  When I reached 290 pounds, I'd won another one of those "moral victories."  And, as I had during my entire sprint to lose weight, I gave myself the foods that had ruined my health as rewards when I felt that I'd done enough to save my health.  Hit a weight loss goal?  That calls for a cheat meal at the pizza place!  Finish a metric century ride (100km/43miles)?  CAKE!  

That quote up there in the subheading is real. A coworker said it to me at lunch on Friday with the absolute best of intentions.  He wanted to encourage me and support me, but he made me think. I don't want the feeling that I've done enough, that 297 pounds--just this side of morbid obesity--is "pretty good" or "good enough" for me.  I want to feel like I can do better.  After all, at 297 pounds I still can't go skydiving.  I still can't ride the Grafton Ziplines.  I still can't buy term life insurance--at ANY price--despite my non-smoking, non-drinking, perfect health bona fides. I can finish a competitive stair climb, but I can't be competitive. I do finally come in under the advertised maximum weight limits for my attic ladder and the safety harness for my deer stand, so I've got that going for me, but somehow it's not enough.  And why should it be enough?  Why shouldn't I decide that now I can be a 200-pound athlete who's capable of learning any sport or hobby I choose whenever I choose?

So, today, I'm on guard against complacency. It's all around me, and it's always hungry. My relatives are proud of me and they want to support me, but they want to talk about how great the progress is. To them, it would be rude to talk about how far I still have to go.    Working out with very fit people at HIPE helps me with that. They compliment me on my progress, but I see them enjoying life in ways that I still can't. They have something I want.  My eventual goal is to end up lighter than 220 pounds so that I can make my first skydive; it occurs to me sometimes that many of the people around me in the gym could simply decide today, on a whim, that they'd like to try skydiving, call around, and be in a plane tomorrow working up the nerve.  The real difference in fitness between them and me isn't how they look, it's the fact that their bodies don't hold them back.  If there's something they want to do, but it calls for strength, agility, balance, flexibility and stability . . . they just go out and do it.  That's what I want.  I want to be fit enough to be up for anything and ready to try the next adventure.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

I don't know whether anyone will ever read this, given the way I've abandoned this blog, but today I feel moved to write.  I'm going to try to balance discretion against the kind of vagueness that makes me hate Facebook sometimes. In short, I'll leave out some details, but I'll try to make some sense on the topic I've chosen: the willing suspension of disbelief.

You see, my beloved son, Thing 1, recently had a whirlwind romance with a young lady.  As is apparently the custom in the present day, they did not "go out" or "date"; they simply decided that they would be "boyfriend and girlfriend," exclusively monogamous and suitably jealous. Since his new young lady is a religious sort, Thing 1 decided that it would be best to blend in; he declared his love for Jesus and his devotion to the churchgoing life. I was tenuously supportive until I realized that he'd put out two versions of his newfound devotion:

  • Parent Version:  "I've been thinking, and I think I want to try going to church with Young Lady. I think it might be good for me. Plus she says it's a lot of fun."
  • Young Lady Version (paraphrased): "Who, me? Oh, hell, yes, I'm washed in the blood!  I've got the Son shining on me, baby! I have a close, personal relationship with Jesus; hell, He built my hot rod! I certainly know all about your particular brand of Christianity and endorse its tenets in full.  What are the odds, huh?"
It didn't take long for that to wear thin; without ever actually visiting a church, he decided about a week later that he would have to come clean. I don't know exactly what he said to the Young Lady, but he told me that he'd made it clear to her that "I'm an atheist so I don't go to church." 


Now, I'm a fairly outspoken atheist myself, but that was news to me. He used to make noise about going to church whenever he wanted to rile me, and I'd simply suggest that he keep an open mind during the services and tell us all about it when he got home.  Somehow, it never reached the point of action, but I figured there were some vague notions of a vaguely Christian God and Heaven and Hell bouncing around in there. We talked about it a bit on a long drive, though, and he does seem to have come to the conclusion that he doesn't buy the Christian narrative.  Whether he sees the difference between that and atheism, an actual lack of any belief in anything that could be described as a god, I don't know yet.

And then . . . . well, last night he showed me that he's still capable of the willing suspension of disbelief.

He was explaining to me that an unidentified (to you, anyway) woman of our mutual acquaintance is actually, despite her decades of lies, abuse and neglect of children, quite trustworthy. I had just finished explaining that he should not take her words at face value because she had, and I think I'm quoting myself accurately here, "been lying both to and about everyone involved in this question since before you were born."  

This wounded him right in his most deeply compassionate feels, and he explained my error.  I had failed to take into account, you see, that she has now changed.  She's told him the truth about everything and made it clear how I, his mother, his grandparents and everyone else who loves him has deceived him.  Actually, when you think about it, she is clearly the victim, here. Unfortunately for him, he tried to prove it with a handy example of her honesty.  See if you can spot the flaw:

"She's been telling me the absolute truth about everything, dad. You don't know. She tells me everything, even when it makes her look really bad. She even told me about her DUI! She told me all about how it really happened, how she was riding in a car with someone else driving and she'd been drinking, and they crashed, and she passed out, and when they found her, she was in the driver's seat and the other guy was gone and she never found out who it was! Why would she tell me about all that unless she's trying to tell me the truth now?"

That's right; although he doesn't believe in God, and he doesn't believe in Jesus, the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, he has clung to belief in one more supernatural force personified:  Sumdood, Punisher of the Innocent.