Colin's Blog

stories and essays with no general theme at all

Been Too Long

Man, I haven't posted here in a LONG TIME. Don't worry, I'll get around to it soon enough :)

Blognigger's Common Sense with Cops

What White People Say Behind Blacks' Backs may become a regular feature of this blog. If you haven't already, check out My Race Essay.

Blognigger has written an excellent piece on the Henry Louis Gates story and how to handle police, here.

His common sense advice:

Use yes sir, no sir, thank you sir because the police can do whatever they want at all times.

This approach has served me well in a number of different run-ins with the police – whether I was writing graffiti which was illegal, or Driving While Black which wasn’t.
This is so simple it's ridiculous that he has to say it, and it's even worse that there's a huge debate in his commentage.

One night I was driving my friend Tez home after playing basketball. Tez is black and lived in an all-black part of St. Louis. We got pulled over for what I call Driving While White (DWW).

While Driving While Black (DWB) is illegal in more parts of the country and a more serious offense in most cops' eyes, DWW is also a crime in some parts of the country - black cities. I'll explain. Driving While White Male may be a better term because police often give white girls a pass if they assume the girl has a boyfriend in the neighborhood. But if police see a white guy driving through an all-black part of town, they'll often pull him over on the assumption he's there to buy drugs. Or to tell him to get out of there. I've lived in lower-middle-class black neighborhoods where DWW wasn't a crime, but it's a crime in most bad black neighborhoods.

Tez lived in a bad neighborhood and we got pulled over. After I slipped a few 'sirs' into the conversation, I politely asked why we were pulled over. The officer answered that the car wasn't registered to an address in the neighborhood. I nodded in complete understanding.

Now, this wasn't the first time I'd been cornered with a black person by police, and it certainly wasn't the first time I'd seen some black ghetto attitude, but it was the first time I saw the two meet. Tez started arguing that driving in a different neighborhood wasn't a crime and this wasn't necessary. He kept telling the cops to do "only what's necessary." That word "necessary" over and over again.

I thought the only thing necessary was for Tez to SHUT THE FUCK UP! These are COPS you dumb-ass! Tez took the hint, or maybe dropped the battle because he had absolutely no backup from me.

We were wearing basketball clothes and stankin'. It wasn't too late at night and, besides my tattoo, I didn't have any douchebaggy red flags like a pencil-line beard or a big, heavy chain. After searching my car, the cops let us go. But I still believe that if I hadn't been in Blognigger's common-sense camp, Tez (and maybe me too) would have gone to jail.

My excellent "ball-sucking" saved the day by appeasing the cops and discouraging Tez.

I've been locked up for no reason (in fascist South Carolina). I know just as well as the next guy that some cops are insufferable assholes. But I've also had a lot of cop friends and most of them are relatively normal.

There's one thing that cops are not: pensive, open-minded liberals. You're not going to win an argument with one and you sure as shit aren't going to intimidate one or shout him down. If you try, you may get your ass kicked or locked up, or both.

We have Blognigger's testimony that sucking balls works. I've heard my good buddy Carlos' testimony as well. Carlos is an exchange student from Jamaica. Now, you dumb-asses thinking of weed and rastas should know that the majority of Jamaicans don't smoke weed or have long hair. Carlos is clean-cut and he barely drinks.

We talked about DWB once and he admitted that he gets pulled over a lot. But he added that almost as soon as the cop hears him talk, they let him go. He's been in St. Louis six years and he's never been to jail! Carlos is a good-natured guy with an ear-to-ear grin. And having grown up in Kingston, he has none of the black ghetto attitude common in Americans.

I am no apologist for racism in America, and I don't deny it. I don't deny the racism deep inside me. I know racism and I know racists. But still, when confronted with a guy like Carlos, even the biggest asshole of cops will let him go. I can see 'em thinking, "This is just a good kid; I'd be a monster to take him in."

Black people, white people, all people: that is the effect you want to induce in cops.

I agree with Obama's original statement that the cop in the Gates case "acted stupidly." However, I also identify with the sentiment of most white people according to opinion polls.

Black readers, this is what white people thought about the case: Well, what did Gates do? What did he say? Oh, he was yelling and calling the cop racist? Well, that's stupid.

We white people aren't thinking about the societal injustice context of every news story. We think about what sensible people should do in the situation. OK, so a neighbor saw a couple guys forcing their way in the back door of the house. The neighbor called the police, as most white people feel they should have. To the contrary of rampant speculation, the neighbor did not mention race in the 911 call.

We white people think of the officer on duty responding to the call as merely doing his job. We feel sorry for him that he got yelled at and insulted while merely doing his job. Couldn't Gates be reasonable and understand that the police had been called for a burglary to his address? Couldn't he just show his ID without the big production?

Now, I think the officer acted stupidly but many white people don't go that far because of how stupidly Gates acted. If you have two assholes being assholes to each other, the one with more power is going to win. Plain and simple.

It's really not surprising that a Harvard professor should need a lesson in common sense. Thanks, Blognigger!

Let's break down some stupid comments from BN's readers.

The first is from "Learn Your Rights (or be a lazy ball-sucker)":
If you are NOT breaking any laws, sucking dick is only giving the cops and their horrible system positive reinforcement. You should stop being so lazy and learn YOUR RIGHTS so that you can handle police officers tactfully and legally. You don’t have to become a lawyer to avoid sucking cop dick. They want to keep their jobs and not look like an idiot to their boss when they bring you in for nothing (even though they can and still might). There are simple scripts to follow that will get you out of most encounters. The last thing that cop wants to do is show up in front of a judge when you take them to court!!!

You people just want to take the easy way out because it takes work and sacrifice to fight the system. FUCK YOU! If you pay taxes, cops are your employees. You’re making it worse for everyone by being lazy and uneducated cock-suckers. People died for your rights, now “We gotta take the power back!”
Here are 3 obvious assumptions about this dumb-ass:
  1. He is white
  2. He has never been to jail
  3. He is from a low-crime city
If those three assumptions don't apply to you, don't take his advice. I heard this line of shit once and tried it when I was about 18. I tried to tell a cop he couldn't search my car. Then I was handcuffed for "acting suspicious" while he searched my car. If I hadn't tried that shit, he probably wouldn't have given me the minor-in-possession ticket for the bottle of gin I had under the driver's seat.

Here's "Ty":
Good for him for NOT BEING A FUCKING PUSSY anymore. He didn’t do shit wrong and everybody knows it else charges would not have been dropped. Period ... Fuck it. I’m going to be Skip Gates. I’m already ready for the beating ... “Why do you need to see my ID, officer? In fact, what brings YOU to MY neighborhood? May I please have your name and badge number?”
OK, this isn't assumption. This is fact: Ty will spend time in jail again. If he is black and if he acts like that, he will spend a night in jail in the future. You just can't beat those odds. If he were white and acted like that he'd see the inside of a cell, but being black simply increases the number of opportunities / run-ins with police he'll have. Can't beat those odds.

I don't know what Ty does for a living or how much his time is worth to him. But apparently it isn't worth more than "NOT BEING A FUCKING PUSSY" to cops. Real smart.

We white people don't want open-minded liberals for cops. They wouldn't work out. The job is inherently violent. We white people have a deep respect for cops, which isn't reciprocated in the black community.

Are you going to change the system or make a difference on your own? No. But you can make a difference whether you go to jail or not. Don't be stupid. Suck balls.

American Pastoral: Disobedience and the 60s

American Pastoral by Philip Roth is an all-American tale.

Seymour Levov grew up in a Jewish section of 1940s Newark, New Jersey. Nicknamed “The Swede” for his blond hair and huge stature, The Swede was the star of his baseball, basketball, and football teams, often leading the school to city and state finals. The Swede was the envy of his high school and a legend throughout greater Newark.

The context of The Swede's fame is important to the story. In Roth's own words:
“Let's remember the energy. Americans were governing not only themselves but some two hundred million people in Italy, Austria, Germany, and Japan … Atomic power was ours alone … And playing Sunday morning softball on the Chancellor Avenue field and pickup basketball on the asphalt courts behind the school were all the boys who had come back alive, neighbors, cousins, older brothers, their pockets full of separation pay, the GI Bill inviting them to break out in ways they could not have imagined possible before the war. Our class started high school six months after the unconditional surrender of the Japanese, during the greatest moment of collective inebriation in American history. And the upsurge of energy was contagious … Sacrifice and constraint were over. The Depression had disappeared. Everything was in motion ...”
Tom Wolfe described America's golden days in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test:
“cruising in the neon glories of the new American night … with all this Straight-8 and V-8 power underneath and all this neon glamour overhead, which somehow tied in with the technological superheroics of the jet, TV, atomic subs, ultrasonics--Postwar American suburbs--glorious world! … ”
Kick-ass Detroit cars, Hollywood movies, huge houses in the burbs with yards and fences. The American Dream. Happy days. Granted, the Soviet Union was a superpower as well, but we had Chevrolets and John Wayne and blue jeans and cheeseburgers and rock-n-roll. We were the center of the universe. We beat the Nazis and the Japs at the same time. We won that war. It's our world, bitches.

Also important to the context is The Swede's all-Jewish neighborhood of Newark. He's the grandson of immigrants. The third-generation often identifies more with the new country. This was not only true with The Swede, but his classmates and the entire neighborhood. His community was on the verge of assimilation and wanted in on this American glory, their own place in the American Dream.

The Swede embodied their dreams and aspirations. He was big and blond and dominating all these American sports – a Jew beating the natives at baseball, basketball, and football. Fittingly, The Swede's best sport was baseball, America's past-time. Jewish South Newark was melting into the pot and The Swede was leading the way.

The Swede was a humble man. A conformist, he wanted to do the right thing, to play by the rules, to get ahead through hard work and perserverance. He wanted everybody to be happy. He approached life with a win-win mentality. The American way.

The Swede got an offer to play ball with a farm team for the Giants, but his father wanted him to take over the family business. The Swede obliged. The one time The Swede stood up to his father was in marrying an Irish Catholic girl – Dawn Dwyer from Elizabeth, New Jersey – who was the 1949 Miss New Jersey. Could there be a more all-American union? The all-state athlete / US Marine / 3rd generation Jew married Miss New Jersey / 3rd generation Irish girl. God bless America!

According to The Swede's unsympathetic brother Jerry:
“He was very stoical. He was a very nice, simple, stoical guy … Just a sweetheart … In one way he could be conceived as completely banal and conventional. An absence of negative values and nothing more. Bred to be dumb, built for convention, and so on. That ordinary decent life that they all want to live, and that's it.”
The Swede's family is an inspiring, upwardly-mobile immigrant story. His grandfather, a working man, came to the States and worked in a leather tannery making gloves. Lou Levov, The Swede's father, dropped out of school at 13 to work in the tanneries as well. Lou Levov, a tough old man, built a respectable glove business called Newark Maid. The Swede took over the business and ran with it, growing ever more and ascending into the bona fide upper-middle class.

For their American Dream, Seymour “The Swede” Levov and 1949 Miss New Jersey Dawn Dwyer Levov moved out to Old Rimrock, New Jersey, a fictional town in rural, Republican New Jersey. In portraying its American-ness, Roth places Old Rimrock near Morristown, New Jersey, which was General George Washington's choice of a strategic camp during the Revolutionary War. The Swede's favorite American hero was Johnny Appleseed, and imagined himself as Johnny Appleseed conquering the countryside.

The happy couple had a daughter named Merry – a daughter not as beautiful as her Miss New Jersey mother or all-state athlete father, but they managed to love her anyway. Merry had a stutter that they tried like hell to remedy. Then she got fat. Then, during the turbulent 60s and Vietnam War, Merry adopted a radical ideology known at the time as the New Left. Fervently anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-bourgeois, anti-Johnson, and every other kind of anti- those people are. Then “she went out one day and blew up the post office, destroying right along with it Dr. Fred Conlon and the village's general store …”

16 year-old Merry detonated a bomb in the town's general store that killed a well-regarded local. She went into hiding forever. The Swede's American Dream was shattered. His daugher was a murderer. He and Dawn were known as the parents of the hometown murderer. The rest of the novel details The Swede's trainwreck life, and how it all stems from his terrorist daughter.

1949 Miss New Jersey Dawn Levov went into depression. She was in a mental hospital for a short time. When she got out, The Swede bought her a facelift. Then she started having an affair with Bill Orcutt, Old Rimrock's super-WASP all-American of Ivy League heritage going back to the Revolutionary War. We learn there was a divorce. In a second marriage, The Swede had three athletic sons, all assumed not to be terrorists.
Pastoral, as an adjective, refers to the lifestyle of shepherds and pastoralists, moving livestock around larger areas of land according to seasons and availability of water and food. 'Pastoral' also describes literature, art and music which depicts the life of shepherds, often in a highly idealised manner.” -- Wikipedia definition
The Swede, the shepherd / sheep, was a nice guy who got shit on. This book does not depict his shepherd life in a 'highly idealised manner'.

This review interprets the book as being about: “a very good man who perhaps must be destroyed because he is not a very good Jew. 'By virtue of his isomorphism to the Wasp world,' Seymour 'Swede' Levov escapes the pain and self-consciousness of being a Jew in America; he passes for a WASP, and he apparently cannot be allowed to get away with that. In the end, the Swede's charmed escape from Jewishness – his simple possession of his own DNA – seems to be American Pastoral's essential subject and the explanation for the terrible punishment …”
This argument could be supported by various passages from the book. Here's the unsympathetic brother Jerry:
“You wanted Miss America? Well, you've got her, with a vengeance – she's your daughter! You wanted to be a real American jock, a real American marine, a real American hotshot with a beautiful Gentile babe on your arm? You longed to belong like everybody else in the United States of America? … The reality of this place is right up in your kisser now. With the help of your daughter you're as deep in the shit as a man can get, the real American crazy shit. America amok!”
The Swede's father may be the main assimilation character in the book, and he's stabbed in the eye with a fork by the 'Gentile' wife of Bill Orcutt, the Gentile neighbor who is banging The Swede's wife.

However, Roth doesn't talk much about Jewishness in the book. Who would be the Jewish ideal to follow? The brother Jerry? The guy becomes a leading heart surgeon in Miami, taking a half dozen wives and having a dozen or so kids. And nobody likes him much.

Plus, Roth's denunciation of the Newark race riots (through The Swede's old man) seems much too sincere to be arguing against the good old American way. If assimilation were the point of the book, Roth would have created more contrast between Jewishness and American-ness.

No, this book isn't a rebuke of assimilation or a warning to those not keepin' it real. Rather, it's a rebuke of the American Dream. The American Dream isn't all rosy. The Swede did everything he was supposed to and did it well. And he got shit on. America may shit on you too. That's the message.

The high that America felt in the 40s and 50s – the time when Roth grew up – was an illusion. The wake-up call came in the 60s. The big hangover from the big high – that's the story Roth is telling. It's a clarification of history. Merry wasn't rebelling against Gentilism, she was rebelling against The Swede's Happy Days idea of America.

I think Roth wrote this book to set the record straight on the 60s. I grew up in the 90s, when the book was written and published. It was a time when the 60s were cool again. Grateful Dead was one of the most popular bands and white kids wore those hideous tie-dye t-shirts. Some corporate ass-clowns put on a second Woodstock festival in 1997. The 60s were remembered as peace, love, long hair, good music, drugs, etc. I think Roth saw the 60s being remembered like that and wrote a book to set the record straight. The 60s were not how we Gen-Xers and -Yers imagined them.

I was one of about a dozen people to read Tom Daschle's book, Like No Other Time. I'll never forget a sentence he wrote in explaining the 60s. He said that if you weren't there, you just don't understand how unsure the country was that we'd get through the times. Not sure they'd get through? He's right, I didn't understand.

The country wasn't sure they'd survive people like The Swede's daughter Merry. The Weathermen. The Black Panther Party. The 60s were not all peace and love. “Are you down with the revolution?” wasn't a cheesy pickup line. It was for real.

When it came to light during the 2008 presidential election that Barack Obama had ties to Weathermen founder Bill Ayers, most dumb-asses like you and me thought, “Who the hell are the Weathermen?” The Weather Underground Organization (WUO) was a radical socialist organization that aimed to overthrow the government of the United States. To overthrow the government of the United States. In the words of Weathermen co-founder John Jacobs: “We're against everything that is good and decent in honky America. We will burn and loot and destroy. We are the incubation of your mothers' nightmares.”

Here's a picture of John Jacobs at the 1969 Weathermen-organized Chicago protests / riots, Days of Rage (the slogan for the protest-riot was “Bring the War Home”). Your eyes don't deceive you; he is wearing a football helmet. Others in his crowd are also wearing helmets. This was not peace and love.

The Weathermen carried out bombings across the country. Merry's bombing of the general store wasn't the brainchild of Roth's creative genius – it was from the daily news. Her going into hiding wasn't his imagination either – most of the Weathermen went into hiding in the 70s. Bill Ayers was one of those who re-emerged and got involved in Chicago politics. He is now an esteemed professor at the University of Illinois – Chicago.

Aside from the Vietnam War, race relations were hot. The Civil Rights Act had recently passed, and blacks were realizing how shitty of a hand they had. Race riots broke out in Newark, Detroit, and Los Angeles. The Black Panther party and other black power organizations sprang up.

Ever seen the movie, Dead Presidents? In that movie, black veterans rob a Brinks armored truck. That wasn't creative fiction either. Many leaders of the black power movement went on to rob armored trucks or kill police officers, or both. Briefly mentioned in the book is Angela Davis, an radical activist who was tried and acquitted for the murder of a California judge. She went on to be an esteemed professor at the University of California.

Sidenote: do prestigious universities compete for these ambiguously criminal revolutionaries? Like top high school athletes?

Roth set the record straight on the 60s. It was an ugly time. And much of the American Dream is illusion. You can play by all the rules and do the right thing, like the Swede, and still get shit on by America.

The other story in this book is the parenting angle.

The Swede raised Merry with all the progressive sensibilities of the day. In his unsympathetic brother's words:
“He understood that something was going wrong, but he was no Ho-Chi-Minhite like his darling fat girl. Just a liberal sweetheart of a father. The philosopher-king of ordinary life. Brought her up with all the modern ideas of being rational with your children. Everything permissable, everything forgivable, and she hated it. People don't admit how much they resent other people's children, but this kid made it easy for you. She was miserable, self-righteous – little shit was no good from the time she was born … But it's one thing to let your hair grow long, it's one thing to listen to rock-and-roll music too loud, but it's another to jump the line and throw the bomb. That crime could never be made right. There was no way back for my brother from that bomb. That bomb detonated his life. His perfect life was over. Just what she had in mind.”
Merry enjoyed a happy childhood, and she was always closer to her father. There was always the stutter, and then the fatness. And then she adopted the radical ideology. She became scathingly critical of not just the war. She criticized her parents' American Dream as being bougeois and selfish. Dawn sometimes couldn't be around Merry because of the things she said. Dawn's words:
“'The Democratic Republic of Vietnam' – if I hear that from her one more time, Seymour, I swear, I'll go out of my mind!”
At first The Swede considered it a phase. Merry's ideas would eventually moderate. However, he started to lightly engage her when she posted the Weathermen's motto on her wall (one more time for effect): “We're against everything that is good and decent in honky America. We will burn and loot and destroy. We are the incubation of your mothers' nightmares.”

The Swede emphasized to her that he was also against the war, that everybody in the family was against the war. He argued that the proper course of action is to contact their representatives and express their opinion respectfully. She would rebut his arguments with vile condemnations of the political process, New Jersey, and their bougeois life.

The Swede tried to learn about her mysterious friends in New York. These were the people who gave her the disturbing literature he found in the house. The Swede tried to curb her visits to New York by making deals and reasoning with her in a saga of conversations.

In “Conversation #67 about New York,” The Swede finally restricted his daughter from going to the city. He told her to make a difference at home in Old Rimrock, New Jersey, so she bombed the general store and post office, killing Dr. Fred Conlon.

Some critics believe Roth is condemning The Swede's progressive parenting style – another claim with ample support. The Swede's unsympathetic brother:
“You're the one who always comes off looking good. And look where it's got you. Refusing to give offense. Blaming yourself. Tolerant respect for every position. Sure, it's 'liberal' – I know, a liberal father … And look where the fuck it's got you! … No, you didn't make the war. You made the angriest kid in America. Ever since she was a kid, every word she spoke was a bomb.”
“Look, are you going to break with appearances and pit your will against your daughter's or aren't you? … for Christ's sake go in there and get her. I'll go in and get her … I'll clear out the office and get on a plane and I'll come. And I'll go in there, and, I assure you, I'll get her off the McCarter Highway, the little shit, the selfish little fucking shit, playing her fucking games with you! She won't play them with me, I assure you … ”
Regardless of Roth's intent on this point, I've known good and bad kids that were raised by both old-school and modern parental methods. I'm not sure it makes a difference. What I took away from this book is that, no matter how much you plan the perfect upbringing, it could go horribly wrong.

I was raised in relatively old-school fashion. Lots of rules. I got spanked, slapped, etc. Nothing too bad, but definitely not a liberal upbringing. And I turned out a mess. The worst thing a son can turn into is a drug-addict or -dealer – and for a while in high school, it seemed probable that I'd be at least one of the two.

What happens when you just can't control your kid? What happens when you do all the right things and the shit still hits the fan? The book hammers home a feeling of no control, of helplessness.

I want to raise my kid in a more progressive fashion (my old man says this will change when I actually have kids). I'll spank and slap him, but I'm going to be honest about things most parents don't talk about. It wasn't until after most of my troubles that I learned my old man was wild in high school too. Drugs, jail, the works. And he never told me. Maybe if I'm honest with my kids, they'll steer clear of all that. I'll tell them how fat and ugly all the smokers and hard-partiers are now. And of course they'll know what jail's like.

But what if your plan doesn't work? The kid still goes rotten. Does the plan even matter? I was bad from the beginning. I was always the worst kid in all my classes – starting with pre-school and kindergarten. My old man tells his friends something like this: 'You know how they tell you about peer pressure? They tell you to keep your kid away from bad influences? One day I realized, there's no bad kid that's going to corrupt my kid. Because my kid is that bad kid! It's my kid! They don't tell you what to do when it's your kid.'

By that point, there wasn't anything anybody could have said to me. I wasn't listening. Any plan would / parental strategy would have been futile.

This book scared me a little regarding children. I think it's a good idea to aim for quantity, because quality is a long shot.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and was listed by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time.

Some studio is supposed to be making a film of American Pastoral, here it is(n't) on IMBD.

A documentary on the Weather Underground (a puff piece in my opinion), here.

Jimi Hendrix playing the national anthem at Woodstock:

Weightlifting: What I've Learned


“Fitness is a journey, not a destination.”

I started working out in 1998. I've experimented with almost every workout ever conceived. Whole body workouts, push-pull, 1 body part / day, plyometrics for speed and vertical jump, BFS, HST, negative reps, forced reps, and even weird stuff like isometric holds.

I want to share what I've learned with beginners, interested parties, and anyone looking to get started. The following principles are the best practices I've learned in the last ten years.

Disclaimer: These principles are for people of a beginning or average experience level in weightlifting. If you'd consider yourself at an advanced level (many years' experience, competitive bodybuilders, collegiate and professional athletes, etc.), you may learn something but I doubt my recommendations will take you to the next level.

Functionality in Fitness

“Modern fitness is defined by appearance rather than actual horsepower.” - Gym Jones

Everything I advocate doing is biased toward performance – not muscle size or having a good-looking body. I'm more motivated in achieving power / strength, speed / explosiveness, and stamina / endurance. I'm motivated to be stronger, faster, and longer-lasting than others. I like to show up to any sport – even one I don't know how to play – and be one of the better players from sheer athleticism.

If you achieve above-average performance in strength / speed / stamina, you'll have an attractive physique. But not necessarily a physique for the magazines.

Your priorities will determine how you exercise. Muscle size is an indicator, but does not equate muscle strength. Competitive strongmen and powerlifters don't do bodybuilding shows. And professional bodybuilders only pose.

At the beginning to average levels, your muscles will grow as you get stronger. The difference between muscle size and strength isn't an issue until you must prioritize between muscular symmetry and continuing strength gains (it seems like a good problem to have, and at which point you'll be at an advanced level).

Body Types

Finally, my recommendations are for the vast majority of people who aren't built of a mesomorph body type. Mesomorphs are the people who were naturally buff all their lives. They easily pack on muscle. Their biggest challenge is the inherent laziness that comes with always having been stronger than other boys. Most of this type are overweight, but sturdy as a brick house.

This type – which comprises a very select few among the population – play by different rules given their genetics.

Compound Movements

“Keep it simple, stupid.” - KISS Principle

I only do the bread-and-butter weightlifting exercises. Compound means that the movement recruits muscle fibers in more than one body part. For example, the squat uses quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, back, and core muscles. Bench press recruits chest, triceps, and shoulders.

The opposite of compound movements would be isolation exercises, which I don't do anymore. Isolation movements include arm exercises, flyes, shrugs, anything with the word 'curl' in it, etc.

Compound movements are more conducive to my functional fitness philosophy. These exercises train the body for strength you'll actually use. I've described each compound movement's function below. Conversely, isolation exercises train for strength that will rarely if ever be used.

I don't do arm exercises. I've found that the bicep and tricep muscles are sufficiently worked during compound movements. If you hold 250+ pounds in your hands for four sets of deadlifts, your biceps will get strong. And if you follow those deadlifts with four sets of rows and two sets of pullups, your biceps won't need any further work.

In principle, I believe isolation exercises have little or no use when considering functional fitness. And that's why football players don't do them.

Below is a list of my compound movements in order of importance.

Squats – the most important exercise. Using your legs to move something.
Bench – the most important upper-body exercise. Pushing something. (I prefer barbell, but dumbbells are good.)
Deadlifts – picking something up from the ground.
Rows – pulling something toward you. (I prefer barbell, but dumbbells are good.)
Dips – pushing yourself up from a surface. Body weight.
Pull-ups – pulling yourself up to a surface. Body weight.

That's it. That's all you need! Do these exercises hard and heavy for strength and big muscles.

Honorable mention:

Military / Shoulder Press – definitely a compound, functional exercise. I was born with broad, strong shoulders, so bench press and dips are enough work for my shoulder muscles.
Upright Rows - another shoulder workout, pulling instead of pushing.
Power Cleans – only a strength workout – they don't do much for size. But I think they're bad-ass.

Free Weights

I only use free weights – bars, dumbbells, and my body weight. I don't do anything with the word “cable” in it, or anything on a machine. There is certainly a benefit in those exercises, but less bang for the buck. I spend all my energy doing only the most profitable exercises.

I've heard that free-weight squats and the bench press recruit stabilizing muscle fibers – fibers that aren't used in exercises like leg press or Nautilus bench press. However, I've also heard an expert weightlifter testify that the machines nowadays are so well-designed that they force you to complete the repetitions with perfect form.

I'm not sure which argument has more merit, but I do know that free weights are more conducive to my philosophy of functional fitness. Free weights are already more convenient than any situation life will present. The bars fit nicely in your hands, and the plates allow for even loading on each side. It's already easy enough. There's no need for machines, cables, etc.

Heavy Weight

“Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder but don't nobody wanna lift this HEAVY-ASS WEIGHT!” - Ronnie Coleman

I've found that when lifting weights, the weights are supposed to be heavy. Very heavy. I aim for a weight I can only lift five times (5 reps). Nothing's wrong with sets of 6 – 8 reps. But I think that once you can do 10, you're not training for strength so much as endurance (unless you're on steroids). You can train for muscular endurance with calisthenics at home.

I think heavy weight is mandatory for muscle growth in body types like mine – the ectomorph. I must be lifting very heavy weight or I quickly slim down. Mesomorphs probably take greatest issue with this principle of mine.

I often hear women protest against the heavy weight principle. They say they don't want to get buff. Ladies, you should lift heavy weight too. You're not going to get buff. It's not in your biology. I suggest you try to get big and buff – it won't happen. Men spend blood, sweat, and tears to get buff – and some still don't. It's not something that's going to happen accidentally or inadvertently.

Lift heavy weight.

Whole-Body Workouts

This is another principle more specific to my ectomorph genes. However, I've read that whole-body workouts “elicit the maximal hormonal response” (credit Tim Ferriss).

I feel that, in the extreme example of 1 body-part / day workouts, my muscles shrink in the 4 – 6 days in between workouts. I prefer to hit all my muscles often – every other day. (Obviously, put at least 48 hours between whole-body workouts)

Note: this principle will not apply to guys using anabolic steroids. If you're using steroids, you don't need a maximal hormonal response because you're hormones are at a super-human level already.

Keep Workouts Less Than 1 Hour

The body goes into a catabolic state after about an hour of resistance training. That is, the body starts burning muscle to fuel those extra sets. I wish I'd have known this for the first several years of my fitness career. Like most people would, I thought harder work led to better results. My good buddy Craig and I used to work so hard for so long, thinking that hard work and supplements led to the best results.

To the contrary, I've learned that less is more. Work smart, not hard.

I actually finish my workouts in 30 – 40 minutes. I watch the clock and try to complete my work quickly. I spend about 2 hours a week in the gym. A lot of guys give me funny looks when they see me leaving long before them when I arrived after they did. But are they bigger or stronger than me? Rarely. I spend much more time training for speed and stamina than strength. And I'm pretty strong.

Note: this principle also does not apply to guys on anabolic steroids. I understand that, on steroids, recovery times are improved so they may not revert to a catabolic phase as quickly. By definition, anabolic is the opposite of catabolic.

Muscle Confusion

The muscles get accustomed to regular workouts. After a while, they don't work as hard to complete the workouts. Therefore, they're not breaking down or rebuilding bigger than before. This is why it's important to keep the muscles confused.

When switching to a different workout, you'll feel it the next day. I've noticed a difference when merely doing the same workout at a different gym with different equipment. It doesn't take much to confuse, but it's especially important in workouts like mine where there isn't much variety. Below are a few ways to trick the muscles:
  • Switch from barbells to dumbbells
  • Switch angles, grip, etc. – e.g., change bench to incline bench, change pullups (overhand) to chinups (underhand)
  • Do one week of 20-sets (I know this contradicts my heavy-weight principle, but it's only one week for confusion's sake)
  • Do one week of isolation exercises (confusion's sake)
  • Switch exercises – e.g., squat to leg press or lunges, bench to pullovers or weighted dips (again, just for confusion's sake on a short-term basis)
Abs / Core

I've only had very ripped abs once in my life – while boxing. I burned ~1000 calories every workout. I was also hitting weights and dieting – regularly eating laxative in an attempt to get down to 168 lbs. The key to magazine-cover abs is cardio and a super-strict diet. A lot of people insist on low-weight, high-rep crunches or low-rep, weighted situps. I don't have a strong opinion either way.

My favorite ab exercises are dead bugs. I learned about dead bugs from a college football player. Lie on your back with your hands stretched out above your head. Suspend your feet and hands two inches from the ground. This is the starting point. Touch your left toes to your right fingers. Then lower your left foot and right hand to the starting position. Now touch your right toes to your left fingers. This is one rep. Core strength. You'll feel it.


Gloves – If you care about keeping soft hands, use them. I never had soft hands to begin with so I don't care.

Wrist-wraps – These assist in holding weight that is too heavy for the hands to hold. When I first learned how to use wraps, I thought they were a godsend. Now I view them as a mixed bag. The negative effect of wrist-wraps is that your forearms don't get worked. Holding 250 pounds in your hands or holding your body weight from a pullup bar strengthens the forearms. At the same time, if your deadlift progress is being stunted because your hands can't hold the weight, your glutes and hamstrings will suffer. Those muscles can grow faster than the forearms. My solution to this dilemma is to not wear wraps for my first 2 sets of deadlifts, in which I do the reps in a slow and controlled fashion. I put on the wraps and increase the weight for my last 2, super-heavy sets that I can lift off the ground but can't hold in my hands.

Belt – Wear it for squats and deadlifts. I've thrown my back out a handful of times and it's the worst. One time was so bad I wasn't in the gym for months. Just wear the belt.

Supplements – I've tried creatine, NO2, glutamine, tribulus, fat-burners, and more. Some show results and some don't. My experience is that the ones that do work only work while you're using them. So I don't use any except protein powder, which I always have in the house. I don't even consider whey a supplement so much as food – a convenient way of ingesting protein. But since the benefits of the other supplements eventually vanish, my attitude is 'Why bother?'


There's a lot of literature on diet that you can read. I'm not going to add anything new. I'm actually a bad example as I'm prone to overeating greasy fatness. I love to eat too much. But these are some common sense bullet-points to take away.
  • If lifting weights, you need a lot of protein. 1 gram / pound of body weight is the industry standard. However, you can't eat six chicken breasts for breakfast and consider yourself set for the day. The body can only digest 30 – 50 grams of protein in one sitting. So you have to spread the protein infusions throughout the day.
  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Alcohol is the most overlooked source of excessive calories.
Sample Workout

I'm always mixing my workouts up, but this is what I'm currently doing.

Day 1 - Push
  • Squat - 4 x 5 x 275 lbs
  • Bench - 4 x 5 x 185 lbs
  • Dips - 2 x failure
  • Rows - 2 x 6 - 8 for technique
  • Deadbugs - 2 x 10 - 15
Day 2 - Pull
  • Deadlift - 4 x 5 x 315 lbs
  • Rows - 4 x 5 x 185 lbs
  • Pullups - 2 x failure
  • Bench - 2 x 6 - 8 for technique
  • Knee Raises - 2 x failure

I'm not interested in arguing about the best way to build strength / mass / power / etc. This is a suggested workout for beginners and busy people who want to be big and strong. Not people competing in Strongman competitions or trying to be the buffest body on the beach.

But nice comments are welcome, of course.

García Márquez and Love in Latin America

Buy Love in the Time of Cholera on Amazon.

Latin culture is the most romantic in the world. Is this good or bad?

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez is set in an unnamed town assumed to be Cartagena, Colombia and spans from the late 19th century – early 20th century. As a teenager, Florentino Ariza falls in love with Fermina Daza the first time he lays eyes on her. He embarks on a letter-writing campaign professing his love. She falls in love with him and they begin to write each other regularly. They plan a marriage and life together, without ever having spoken and behind the back of Fermina's overbearing, ambiguously-criminal father.

Fermina's father learns of the relationship and is infuriated, for Florentino is the illegitimate son of a shopkeeper. The marriage would run contrary to his plans of social-climbing by marrying his daughter off to blue blood. He grabs Fermina one day and takes her on a weeks-long trip through the Colombian countryside in an attempt to break the affair. The lovers keep a secret correspondence with the help of Fermina's cousin and make plans to marry when she finally returns.

When Fermina returns, she meets Florentino and impulsively ends the affair. Florentino is devastated. Fermina marries a promising young doctor who's just returned from a university in Paris. Florentino vows to have her someday despite the fact that she has just married. Dr. Juvenal Urbino and Fermina Daza have two children and lead a compatible life. Fermina's father's dream is fulfilled as the couple ascend to the town's social elite through the good doctor's public service and Fermina's beautiful grace.

The book begins with Urbino's death at an old age and proceeds to recount the characters' histories. While they led their perfect marriage of convenience, Florentino Ariza embarked on 622 affairs in hopes to distract the love burning in his heart – all the while waiting patiently for the good doctor to die so he could reclaim his precious Fermina. On the night of the good doctor's funeral, after all the mourners leave, the now 70-something Florentino says to Fermina: “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.” On the night of her husband's funeral. It was 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days after first professing his love to her as a teen. He knew the exact number because “not a day passed that something did not happen to remind him of her.” After some resistance, Fermina succumbs to Florentino and they live happily ever after sailing the Magdalena River.

Aside from the surrealism seen in all of Garcia Marquez' work and other Latino writers, the theme of love is unrealistically portrayed with a passion absent in other cultures.

Continue reading ...

Going Back to AA

I'm going back to AA. Jesus. Kill me.

My problem with AA is that the degree of degenerates and losers that these people were before joining AA makes me feel like I'm not an alcoholic. If you've never been, an AA meeting is basically a round-table discussion where people talk about how much better their lives are now that they're sober and they couldn't do it without AA. They tell horror stories from their drinking / using days.

All their stories go something like this: some guy had just gotten his seventh DUI, his wife and kids left him, he had ten dollars to his name and so he bought a bottle of cheap vodka. I'm not exaggerating at all. I heard that story. You hear a few stories like that and you think, “I'm not one of these people.” What do I have to say? What are my problems? I get bad hangovers. I get depressed. And sometimes I have sex with girls that I wouldn't if I weren't drunk. Big fucking deal, right? Join the club.

I am a functional drunk. I can get completely wasted at home alone. The next day I'll go to work, get things done, and come off just as professional and effective as anyone else. When I was bartending, I would sometimes show up to work drunk (on St. Patrick's Day or other holidays) and perform my job just as always. Nobody would notice. I (usually) stay out of trouble, I'm nice to people, and I always make it home safely. No problems. However, given my current situation, I want to spend some time sober and I don't think I can do it alone. I need AA.

In 1997 I was convicted of '2nd degree burglary' and 'Stealing over $150' – two felonies in the state of Missouri. In 1998 I was sentenced to 3 years in prison on a 'suspended imposition of sentence' (SIS), which means the sentence only takes effect if I violate probation. So, in effect, I got 5 years' probation. My best friend George, who didn't calm down from our wild ways in between our arrests and our sentencing, didn't get probation. He ended up serving over a year in prison. His first night in prison was the true story from the ending of Lock & Sock: Based on a True Story.

In the days after the sentencing, I remember thinking: “How the hell am I going to go 5 years with no police trouble?” At that point in my life, it was inconceivable. I was involved in nonsense trying to be a thug on the streets of South St. Louis. Police trouble was a given. My dad had kicked me out and I was living with a girl who worked at a strip club and her 3-year old daughter. I was selling weed out of the apartment.

One night the police had me cornered on the street, drilling me with questions. They thought I was selling heroin. If they had entered the apartment, they would have found enough marijuana to charge me with a felony. My prison sentence would have become a reality. The next day I was throwing an acid party when my mom called. High on LSD, I realized my lifestyle wasn't sustainable. My mom invited me to live with her in Arizona. I agreed. I didn't tell anybody my decision. I just disappeared from the apartment one morning. The 3-year old girl watched me go.

I spent over a year sober in Arizona, working and earning credits at community college. Life was work and school. And a few AA meetings, but I didn't bother with the steps. I started weightlifting (honestly, weightlifting and boxing were positive byproducts from my fear of going to prison and getting punked by buff niggaz). On the whole, Arizona was an uneventful time and I had no friends, but it was crucial to my personal development, specifically in how to lead a normal life free of crime. That was 1999. It's been ten years. I need another period of sobriety in the interest of personal development.

Unlike in Arizona, my current situation is different. I'm not faced with the possibility of battling prison niggaz for respect. I've learned to live within the confines of the law. I've learned how to get very drunk on a regular basis while adhering to societal interests. I've graduated from being an anti-social drunk to a productive drunk. But I want more. I need a boost in productivity.

After Arizona, I returned to St. Louis and enrolled at UMSL. I also returned to drinking, but (almost) no drugs. I joined a fraternity in an attempt to become a normal, middle-class white guy. It worked for a while. I got involved. I went to Washington DC in August 2001 for a fraternity convention. On my first night, I got so drunk that I broke my leg in a bar – the fibula bone just above my ankle. By sheer coincidence, I was helped through the Dulles airport by a woman in AA and I decided to go sober again.

I lasted about four months while becoming active in the fraternity and climbing the leadership ranks. I credit my sobriety in this period to my successful election as president of the fraternity in 2002 (I also credit the classic Dale Carnegie book, How to Win Friends and Influence People).

I returned to drinking just before being elected and continued through graduation and the beginning of my career. I had a 3-year relationship with a wonderful girl named Anne-Marie, who I wrote about in An Open Letter To My Ex-Girlfriend. After she left me, I drank more. About a year after she left me, I got depressed. I went to an AA meeting with a friend from school. At that first meeting, I went to the bathroom after a speech and cried for a few minutes.

To this day, I have no idea why I was crying. I didn't relate to the speaker's story, I don't even remember it. And I generally don't cry. I never cry since my dad used to scream at me before I went through puberty and was simply too weak to endure it. But now, in this AA meeting with no imminent danger, I had to go to the bathroom and cry for a minute. WTF?

I went about a month in March 2007 without a drink, attending AA meetings and focusing on gaining mass. I packed on 10 lbs of muscle that month. I booked a flight to San Francisco for a few days during my Spring Break (I was a student). I read The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson on the flight. And I got drunk in San Francisco. And off the wagon.

I finished school and moved to Peru in 2008. Around October 2008, I stumbled upon Henry Rollins' life story. Henry Rollins was the front-man of hardcore punk band, Black Flag. Henry Rollins has always been sober. An interesting quote of his: “Keep the blood clean, the body lean, and the mind sharp.” I was inspired to quit drinking again. (Read Rollins' classic essay on weightlifting, Iron)

I went six weeks sober (without AA). I was busy writing and pursuing various interests outside of drinking, like seeing historic monasteries and climbing mountains. A good friend's going-away party was scheduled in that period and I didn't drink. She teased me all night that I was boring.

I was doing well sober. A friend in the States emailed me, saying that her brother would be coming to my town in Peru and I felt pressure to go out drinking for his sake. But to be completely honest, I started drinking again because I needed a woman and didn't know how to find one if I wasn't out drinking. It wasn't long before I met a precious little Lolita. However, I didn't stop drinking just because I had a squeeze.

In summary, I've had four periods of sobriety in my life since childhood:
  1. ~1½ years in Arizona rehabilitating in fear of prison
  2. 4 months in the fraternity after breaking my leg
  3. 1 month as a grad student in AA while depressed
  4. 6 weeks in Peru while inspired by Henry Rollins
I want a significant personal development stretch like each one of these was, but on a long-term basis like the Arizona phase when I learned how to get along with society. That time laid the groundwork for how I got through five years' probation (5 YEARS!), seeing a P.O. every month. They look at your paycheck stubs to make sure you're working, examine your school schedule, and of course monitor any trouble with the police. You have to ask for permission to travel more than one county away. Interstate travel must be submitted in writing. Any time you see your P.O, he or she can “drop” you. They require you to take a urine analysis for drugs. I MADE IT 5 YEARS THROUGH THAT SHIT!!! My entire undergraduate career.

In Peru, I had drunken adventures and fucked a lot of girls that I wouldn't have without alcohol. Now I'm in Colombia.

I have no friends. I don't know anyone. I don't have a “real job.” It's easy to pass the nights in my apartment drinking. I don't want to do that anymore. I want to do healthy things that inspired my last sobriety stretch. I want to get jacked up on coffee while working on my writing. Or maybe be a generally intense dude like Henry Rollins. And I need to work on my new business deals.

I'm going back to AA.

When it all comes down to it, I don't want to be like my old man. Don't get me wrong, he's been a great dad, my primary role model in life, and he's always there for me. And I'd be a great man if I achieve what he has. But at the same time, I think that people ought to rise above what they were given in life. And I think that if I'm going to achieve more than my father has, the secret to success lies in not drinking.

Plus, I don't want to be like the old man. God bless him, but he hits the bottle almost every day. I don't want to be in my fifties and making 40oz cocktails made with half liquor before it's dark outside. The guy yelled at me like no other when I was a kid. I used to be proud of having a tough old man, and for being emotionally tougher than others my age. But I'm recently realizing that it may have given me lack-of-confidence issues. The man used to scream at me until I cried – when I was just a boy.

Two obstacles to my quitting drinking:
  1. Alcohol is a major part of who I am
  2. I rely on alcohol to meet women
It sounds weird, even pathetic, but alcohol is a big part of my personality. I'm a loud, wild drunk. A clown. I'm the life of the party, the center of attention. It's who I am, it's how I see myself and how others see me. I won't be just quitting drinking for this to succeed. I'll have to fundamentally change my personality, which may be harder than quitting drinking.

Also sounds weird, even pathetic, but I don't talk to women if I'm not drinking. I once heard a guy rationalize his own drinking and smoking marijuana by saying that it dumbed him down to the point where he could find women interesting. Sorry ladies, I know this is terribly offensive, but I almost agree. I love women, but on an affectionate / cute basis. I rarely find myself at all interested in women's ideas or opinions. So I have to drink to meet them, to carry conversations, and to establish affectionate relationships. If I'm going to succeed, I'm going to have to learn how to create substantive relationships with women - without alcohol.

I probably shouldn't have this attitude going in, seen in the first paragraph on this post and in a recent Twitter post: “I'm going back to AA. Somebody please kill me.” It's a tough decision, but I am looking forward to sobriety.

Old-school Black Flag performance of "Rise Above"

My Big Date with Ben Casnocha

I recently met Ben Casnocha for a date at his hotel in Bogotá. Ben Casnocha is an entrepeneur and author, a heavyweight in the blogosphere, and an intellectual. He is a regular guest on NPR's Marketplace and contributes articles for The American. His blog is here. His bio here. His book can be found here. His company here. His Delicious page here. He is only 21!

I found his blog a few months ago and was humbled by how smart, mature, and accomplished he is at such a young age. I follow him on Twitter (here). In March, he tweeted that he would be in Colombia soon. I re-tweeted that I was moving to Bogotá April 3. He replied that he would still be in town and maybe we could meet up. He also mentioned that he looked at my expat blog and noted it was "very entertaining." He asked if I ever worry about STD's (haha). We agreed to meet his last night in the lobby of his hotel.

That night at dinner with Ryan and Fabien (who were both in town), I started writing down questions for the big date . After dinner, I ran to my hotel. I briefly worried that Ben may have sent me a cancellation email. I showered, shaved, and brushed my teeth. I put on my nicest dress shirt, a white Burberry button-down with yellow stripes, along with my cleanest jeans and dress shoes. I grabbed a bottle of Peruvian Maca tablets for a gift and ran out the door. I stepped out of my no-frills, $8 / night hotel in La Candelaria and passed all the junkies and sketchballs on my voyage to Ben's nice hotel by the airport. I stopped by Ryan's and Fabien's hostel to borrow a camera. They joked about how I put on a collared shirt for my big date. I got the camera and left, arriving at Ben's hotel forty-five minutes early. He had an early flight so I assumed he would end our date after an hour. I sat at a table, monitoring every hallway and looking at every person who passed through. After about twenty minutes, I recognized Ben leaving the gym, drenched with sweat. I greeted him. He said he was going to take a shower. While I waited downstairs, I paced back and forth in nervous anticipation. Ben came down and we got a table in the hotel restaurant. He ordered a pasta and I ordered nothing. I told him I already ate, which I had, but the truth was that I didn't even want to look at the menu due to my brokeness and what the prices would look like.

I didn't think Ben would be pretentious based on our email exchange, but I didn't expect him to be so interested in me. I couldn't ask any of my questions for the first half hour because he peppered me with questions first. What do I read? What blogs do I follow? What did I study? How did I decide on this Latin American life? What do I do? What did I do? What am I doing with this writing thing? Etc. As I said, I thought Ben would give me an hour. We talked from 9:30 - 11:30. Besides being smart, Ben Casnocha is nice and down-to-earth, chock full of decency. He asked me great questions. In two hours, I think he has me accurately sized-up. We covered some interesting subjects.

After getting warmed up, Ben's questions got around to the sexual nature of some of my Expat Chronicles posts. He asked what is meant by my tagline, "sexually-frustrated, alcoholic gringo in Latin America." Specifically, sexually-frustrated. The truth: it's a slogan meant to entice people to click through to the blog. He asked if I had read Neil Strauss' The Game. I haven't. He asked if I followed any of the pickup artists' blogs. I don't, and I am not a pickup artist. In fact, I think my game is below average. I'll often go out and not hit on a girl all night.

Ben asked why I aim for many partners. I don't know, maintenance? Maybe it makes me feel like more of a man. He asked if I tell the girls that I'm not faithful. I don't. Ben is very STD-averse. He asked if I'd been tested. I told him I'd go as soon as it burns when I pee. He pointed out that some STD's can be transmitted through condoms and some carriers never show symptoms. 1/4 of American women and 1/3 of New York City women have herpes. I told him I probably have it then. He recommended getting tested just to know where I stand. But, he said, if I test positive for something, then I am in a difficult predicament: would I tell women about it? Good question, Ben! I would like to think I would, but I know I wouldn't at least once. What happened to me? I used to be a decent guy, and I still consider myself to have a decent heart. But something has changed along the way.

One of my first questions for Ben was about reading. The man aims to read 100 books / year! I would consider it a good year if I put down 25. How can the man possibly read so much? I asked how much time he spends reading every day. Blogs, news, books, everything. He estimated an hour and a half plus all the flights he takes. That doesn't seem like enough time, I said. He said he flies a lot. And he reads fast. He doesn't speed-read, but he reads fast. He reads the first and last sentence of each paragraph closest and skims sometimes. I forgot to ask him what he thinks of Tim Ferriss' (author of The 4-Hour Work Week) recommendation of a Low-Information Diet, in effect choosing to not read so much in order to focus on more important things. But I assume that Ben would wholeheartedly disagree.

Because of a few interesting posts and book recommendations, I asked Ben about his religion. From what I've read, I couldn't tell where he stands. He replied, "I'm a non-believer." I probed him to discern if he were closer to agnostic or atheist. He doesn't like the word 'atheist' because of the dogmatic atheists like Christopher Hitchens, American Atheists, and the like. Ben isn't trying to convert anybody, but he believes there is no God. I consider myself more agnostic. I have no idea what God or the point of life is.

Ben wrote a great review of a book that had a profound effect on me: I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (Wikipedia entry here). That novel is an accurate slice-of-life work about the American college experience in the 21st century. I credit it with my realization of the superficiality of Greek life as well as the pointlessness of watching sports. Ben's review pointed out an angle I didn't see, how Charlotte was initially strong enough to resist tempation to fit in, or to go with the flow, in her rural hometown. But she succumbed in the face of the prestigious Dupont University (loosely based on Duke).

Ben's review struck a chord with me because, like Charlotte, I was a prodigy student early on. However, I wasn't comfortable being a nerd. I never resisted the tempations. I got into trouble and played down my intelligence to fit in / seem more normal. I asked Ben how he got his confidence to resist conforming. He said being comfortable in your own skin is hard, but it always came natural to him. He was quite athletic / jockish early on, and that helped. I mentioned that maybe my parents' early divorce affected me. While he agreed that can happen, he contended that the biggest influence our parents have on us is at conception. He thinks upbringing is highly overrated. He recommended I read Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, which supports that assertion.

Also overrated (not Ben's words) is higher education in America. I told him that I've come to the conclusion that, especially if you read like Ben does, college may be a waste of time. The guy's company was a success while in high school, so I imagine even finishing his diploma was a pain in the ass. His book published when he was 19. I think if you're going to be an entrepeneur, and you're dedicated to learning informally, you may save the time and money of a formal education. I may have learned just as much from books and newspapers as I have from a classroom setting. Ben completed three semesters at Claremont McKenna, studying political science. He doesn't know if he'll finish. One beef he has with higher learning is the censorship of ideas. Where these institutions purport to support the free reign of thinking, politically incorrect ideas are often shut down by the academia powers-that-be. For example, any discussion of affirmative action (that it might not work) wouldn't be tolerated. Another example was the backlash against former Harvard president Larry Summers for suggesting that there may be a genetic difference between male and female brains which inhibit women from going into engineering and science. Ben thinks it's a shame that these kinds of ideas have to be developed at think-tanks and in the blogosphere. Where does Ben fall politically? He voted for Bob Barr (Libertarian), but he would have voted for Obama if California were in play. I would have voted for Obama if I thought it were worth my time.

Going along with Charlotte Simmons, and the confidence to go your own way and be a nerd, I wondered something about Ben that I couldn't quite phrase. The way I asked it was something like, "Do you think you're missing out on anything by skipping the gutter side of life?" To accomplish what he has, you have to lead a relatively squeaky-clean life. For example, by the time I was his age, I had tried most drugs, committed a slew of various crimes and been in a few different jails, and flirted with danger in other adventures. Ben has never used a recreational drug (not even marijuana!). He said he's obviously missing something in life, but the question is whether that's worth it or not. He said he'd be mildly interested in that side of life. I told him some of my stories, none of which I think are more extreme than what's out there. My First KO in Peru, The Cusco Incident, any of the brothel stories, the time I went to jail high on LSD, or the time I went to jail in South Carolina and almost got in a fight with the biggest, blackest dude in there. Or one of the best days of my life: eating mushrooms and seeing the museums in Amsterdam. In retrospect, I don't think I asked this question to see what he thought about the wild side. I think I asked this to see if he thought that kind of wild side is compatible with the kind of success he has enjoyed. Because my wild side is natural in me, and I wonder if it's incompatible with as stellar of a career as Ben's. I think I'm doomed.


Ben's intelligence is intimidating (I've never felt that from anybody). He asks questions that show how quickly he understands you. As I was riding in the taxi back to my hotel, I felt like I talked twice as much as he did. How the hell did that happen? When reading his blog posts, I would think how much I would love to sit down and pick his brain and learn what I could. And now I just had the chance, and I ended up talking more than listening. What does this mean? When it comes to a thirst for knowledge, or an active mind, nobody is hungrier than Ben Casnocha.

My Race Essay: What Whites Say Behind Blacks' Backs

US Attorney General Eric Holder recently said that Americans are “cowards” in respect to race relations.

“Holder Calls U.S. a ‘Nation of Cowards’ on Racial Discussion”

Holder's right. But he's not talking about black people being the cowards in talking about race (ever seen Kings of Comedy?). He’s talking about us, confrontation-averse white people. So this is my essay on race. In not being cowardly, I’m not going to subject it to a market test among my black friends. This is going straight to publish.

I am from St. Louis, MO – a city with a significant black population – and I’ve had black friends all my life. I've had black roommates.  Growing up, I was often called a "wigger." Somewhere in college, I lost my "wigger" tendencies in speech, mannerisms, and clothes. Still, black people have often told me that I am not "a typical white boy" or that I am "black on the inside" – this always makes white guys feel cool. I share stereotypical black tastes in three areas: women, cars, and music. I participated in two black-dominated sports: basketball and boxing. I guess I say these things in an attempt to establish credibility that I am not racist. I want to tell a few stories concerning race in America and one of its most segregated cities – St. Louis, MO.

The first story goes back to my first day of 2nd grade. My class was in the bathroom after recess. I don't remember the reason, but I was going to fight another student named Marlon Stone, who is black. I had just seen The Karate Kid and I put my hands up with my fingers curled in just like Daniel-san did. I knew nothing about karate and, in hindsight, I had no idea at all what I was doing. Marlon said "Oh, you wanna do karate?" and proceeded to kick me and punch me and beat me up in front of the whole class. When we left the bathroom, he asked me if I wanted to race getting a drink of water. I was a little resentful and not wanting to be friends. After getting water, he asked me if I wanted to race from the water fountains back to the classroom. From that day on, Marlon and I were best friends. We were also the primary troublemakers in our classroom and the entire 2nd grade.

I was always singled out by teachers as being exceptionally smart (before drugs anyway). So it didn't make sense to Mrs. Schlafly that I would be the class clown. It also didn't make sense that I would be best friends with Marlon Stone. This is 1986, an entire generation back in our cultural progress. During some parent-teacher conference, the fact that I was friends with Marlon Stone became a big controversy to my parents, teachers, and others. Marlon was almost the focal point of my behavioral problems. I have no idea what ever happened of Marlon Stone. He might not even remember me today. I only remember his name because of how big of a deal it was that I was friends with Marlon Stone. Time would later tell that I didn't need any help from black people in being a troublemaker. I was very capable of being a despicable piece of shit all by myself. But that story should illustrate to skeptical white people that there is covert racism that exists in the back of our minds. Marlon was expected to be a bad guy. I wasn’t.

In 2nd grade, I could be best friends with someone like Marlon Stone. All the students played and sat together back then. But somewhere along the line, 5th or 6th grade, the white and black students started to segregate themselves. Lunch tables became all-black or all-white. Maybe the years of cultural differences added up and kids seek out similar kids. Or maybe something about puberty changes things. With few exceptions of people like me and the kind who end up hanging out in diverse neighborhoods, this self-segregation trend never reversed.

Back to what Eric Holder said (which is 100% true by the way). Many white people – including myself – are too polite, intimidated, guilty, or indifferent to communicate as strongly as they feel about race. Obama's race speech following the Jeremiah Wright controversy was hailed by media pundits, but it did not gain him any ground among rank and file white people, especially working class whites. One such uncle of mine noted that the speech was “bullshit” and America is generally an "equal opportunity country." I wouldn’t go that far, but this is how most white people feel and I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

In my school, there was no systematic exclusion of the black students from excelling in academics. Most of the black students excluded themselves. Whether they chose to make beats on the table, roll dice and play pencil-break, draw pictures of the perfect box (popular haircut of the early 90s), claim gangs and act tough, or whatever, studying hard was not a widespread activity. Two white friends of mine attended Hazelwood East, which was 90% black. However, their senior calculus class didn't have one black student in it. Also hailing from St. Louis is the R&B singer Fantasia, who revealed to the world that she was illiterate despite having graduated high school.

This is how white people and myself see Fantasia’s situation: her school probably sucked but her illiteracy is not the system's fault. If you can't read, that is your problem. You must be trying not to learn. She must have gone out of her way for years to avoid learning this basic skill. Blame her or her parents, but don't blame society for a lack of common sense and responsibility. As a slave in the 19th century, Frederick Douglass learned to read despite it being illegal for him to learn or for anyone to teach him. We’re supposed to feel sorry for Fantasia? She didn’t even try! Obama stated in his 2004 DNC keynote address that black youth need to stop thinking that reading and studying is "acting white." Getting good jobs and access to upper society doesn’t come without hard work and study. I would love to be working at a top tier consulting firm in New York or Boston, but I did drugs in high school instead of studying hard. I don’t complain about the lack of opportunity. I fucked it up myself.

I have a theory to explain why blacks often suffer discriminatory treatment in society. From my experience in the restaurant service industry, servers and bartenders will tell you that black people don’t tip. This is bullshit. I used to argue that the average gratuity percentage of all black customers, while certainly lower, is not much lower than the average percentage from all white customers. The difference is negligible given low gratuities from rural white people and elderly white people. But those ghetto white people aren’t such a pain in the ass. They’re in and out. Servers don’t remember them. Nor do servers remember the nice black family that was easy to take care of and left 20%. They remember the ghetto black table that sent back their food for trivial reasons, asked for free samples, complained to a manager, or were a major pain in the ass in some other way while not leaving a tip. The treatment I have gotten from ghetto black tables is simply unconscionable. You don’t get that from any other kind of people. Only black ghetto. Even black servers don’t want to wait on black tables. I was the guy that used to argue that waiting on blacks is not as bad as people make it out to be. And even I would get a feeling in my stomach when I saw a black table sit down in my section. Just the chance that this black table could be a black ghetto table could completely ruin my night. That feeling is uncontrollable. You can’t teach someone not to feel what has been conditioned into their system through experience, like a dog getting its face rubbed in shit after pooping in the house.

Whether it’s different treatment in restaurant service, car rental offices, hiring practices, or most notably by the police, my theory attempts to explain this phenomenon. A significant percentage of black people are ghetto. “Ghetto” is the term I will use, but I want to use “triflin’.” When I say “ghetto,” I don’t mean poor. I mean triflin’. This significant percentage is actually a minority (I estimate about one third), but significant enough and triflin’ enough to fuck it up for all black people. My theory is that discriminatory treatment stems from those practitioners trying to thwart or discourage the triflin’ behavior of the ghetto segment. Imagine how police officers, whose exposure to black ghetto must be much higher, could come to treat all black people. Unfortunately, non-ghetto black people are often subject to the backlash against ghetto black people when they are not to blame. They are being treated unfairly. In my view, one third of the black population is fucking it up for everybody.

I can’t think of how normal, mainstream black people can disassociate themselves with the ghetto segment in order to receive normal treatment. The black ghetto segment is so triflin’ that the mere presence of a black person can cause worry in worrisome types. The black ghetto segment simply has to change if race relations are ever going to normalize. Mainstream black people have to cut off and discourage this ghetto segment. I know this goes against what seems right, siding with “the man” against their people. It was a cultural necessity for all black people to be united to fight for civil rights or they never would have won. However, that time has past. The gains sought aren’t hard, tangible, political gains anymore. They are soft gains. The time for unity has past because the whole of black people no longer wants to be treated like ghetto black people. Unconditional unity is why the ghetto segment is allowed to be so triflin’. And that triflin’ behavior is why non-ghetto black people suffer discrimination. Remember when Jesse Jackson said “I want to cut [Obama’s] nuts off” for “talking down to black people,” referring to Obama’s speech urging black men to be better fathers? Jesse Jackson = part of the problem. Obama = part of the solution. Al Sharpton = part of the problem. Bill Cosby = part of the solution.

Any discussion of race relations in the US would not be complete without mentioning the physical differences between blacks and whites. On average, black people are stronger and more athletic than white people. That is not to say that there aren't exceptionally athletic white people and exceptionally un-athletic black people. It's just to say the average. Some white racism is definitely attributable to the average difference in power, speed, strength, height, vertical jump, penis size, etc. However, this is not a lasting dynamic or insurmountable obstacle to improving race relations.

One night I was wasted in Delmar Lounge and started dancing with a hot black girl. We were doing more grinding than dancing. Despite her black friends trying to get her away from me, she kept coming back to me for virtual sex on the dance floor. Two of the guys stood on either side of us and just stared at us humping each other. One of them said to me, “You love that black pussy, don’t you? Get that shit, black man.” I think when those roles can be reversed – when a couple white guys can watch a black guy and white girl and say, “Get that shit, white man” – when that happens and nobody gets mad, race relations will be normalized. That is where we need to be. There is still a long way to go.

Cheers to Eric Holder!

Gringo Business Culture for Latinos

This is an essay I wrote for an assignment to get certified to teach English. This open-ended assignment allows me to analyze any subject from the textbook. I chose a subject (culture) not related to language because it's less boring. Essay below:

In this essay, I want to address what I view as the part of the Business English text that is most relevant to doing business in America. American professionals will overlook minor errors in written or spoken English from an international. However, cultural missteps can damage relationships or otherwise communicate unintended messages. These cultural factors are those that present the greatest discrepancies between US and Latin American business cultures.

Time – American culture follows a monochronic time orientation, as opposed to the polychronic orientation in Latin American countries. Americans say things like “time is money” and “don’t waste time.” This particularly applies to deadlines. In America, deadlines are literally how they sound. Think about what “dead” and “line” mean. Those words don’t suggest that an agreed-upon time or date is adjustable with changing circumstances. If a project or payment isn’t made by the deadline, Americans will expect an explanation why it’s late. Deadlines are much more important in monochronic cultures. Keep in mind when conducting business in monochronic cultures, Americans value time and are not as tolerant of delays.

Punctuality – Punctuality goes along with time-orientation. Look at meeting times as deadlines. Don’t be late. If you are late to a meeting, Americans expect an apology.

Status – Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” This is a cornerstone of the American psyche – that no citizens are inherently better or of higher standing than others. In the English language, there is no translation for the word “usted.” It was difficult for me at first, in my Spanish-speaking company, to address certain superiors as “usted” (instead of “tu”) with the agreeing verb form. In English, there is only “you.” There is no special pronoun for people of higher status. Executives and other ranking professionals need not be offended in America if they are not treated with extra respect. Cab drivers or restaurant servers will treat professionals with the same amount of respect as individuals from lower social classes. And customers will likewise treat servers with respect. Executives from Latin America should keep in mind that they are not being insulted. But rather, all people are generally treated with the same respect in America.

Interpersonal Relationships – Americans don’t place as high a value on relationships. While there is certainly a place for building rapport, remember that they believe “time is money.” American professionals can use blunt and direct language. This is normal. Do not take offense. After acclimating to Peruvian culture, I attended a sales show in the States and was a little surprised at how blunt some buyers were. Some meetings lasted less than two minutes. Saving time and moving on can take precedence over building relationships.

Greetings – Gender roles are different in America. In business, gender roles are even subject to law. Men: do not kiss women when greeting them. Women: do not kiss men when greeting them.

Gratuities – In America, many workers earn their living through gratuities as opposed to wages. Not leaving a sufficient gratuity can be insulting and make a bad impression with business colleages. Most important are restaurant servers / bartenders and taxi drivers. Servers and bartenders earn 15 – 20% of the bill’s total. Taxi drivers earn 15% of the fare.