Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lojong Poems: Four


Lojong Poems: Four

Let even the remedy itself drop away naturally

surrendering self in the thrall of passion
is not the solution :: the tangle of flesh
is only a distraction, an illusion

walking in the canyon, I feel the smallness
of being, the inconsequence of these cells

I slept for more than ten years, until
the ravages of insects awakened me

moth eaten, beetles half consumed
my flesh, only memory survives

haunted, wishing my body dissolved
by flame, bright surrender

I'd gladly give this all away
for a moment's peace

but the clinging is an anchor

tendrils of this ravaged flesh
reach in every direction,
rooting me

following the breath
as instructed

inhale, exhale
inhale, exhale

memory evaporates
in the wind

all that remains
is the tender heart,
beating, softening


an openness
that feels like death

Lojong Poems: Three


Lojong Poems: Three

Examine the nature of unborn awareness


the word comes to me wrapped
in cobwebs, a collection of dusty
cravings for comfort, familiarity

is that my definition,
the image in the mirror?

forty years :: answering to a name
a word, something less
than who I am

what is my original face,
the moment before
sperm entered egg?

was I vast as the sky?
was my body the Kosmos?

it feels strange to wake
each morning, having been born,
to feel cool air
on my skin, then
the shower's hot water

this body is not me
these feelings are not me
these thoughts do not define my self

questions are shackles,
a prison of flesh,
the mirror reveals nothing

one night when I was young, I made love with C for what seemed an eternity, everything dropped away, and in that vacuum I knew who I was, my original face :: there was no me, no us, no time, only bliss, unencumbered by the cold isolation of these bones, these thoughts :: only the expansive present

is that the answer, the union of two souls,
the loss of self when one gives everything
to the other, a heart open and tender?

so long I have sought escape,
the absence of craving,
the eradication of desire

then, one night, it is all brought back,
the need for her touch, the passion
of simply holding her in my arms

I had give up these feelings,
abandoned this hope

but in her arms I am not me,
not this body, not
this longing for something else

the alchemists were almost correct,
but it is not gold that sets the soul free

rather, it is the elixir of blood
and semen, the union of opposites,
the taste of humanity
joined in exaltation

in that moment, so long ago now,
I glimpsed the truth,
the face beyond the mirror

Stone Age Focus Group: Fire

This is pretty funny.

Jon Stewart vs. Jonah Goldberg on The Daily Show

Jonah Goldberg comes off looking rather like the idiot most "progressives" think he is, part of which I'm sure was how they edited the piece, but still . . . .


Daily Dharma: Blocked

Today's Daily Dharma comes from Pema Chodron.


The river flows rapidly down the mountain, and then all of a sudden it gets blocked with big boulders and a lot of trees. The water can't go any farther, even though it has tremendous force and forward energy. It just gets blocked there. That's what happens with us, too; we get blocked like that. Letting go at the end of the out-breath, letting the thoughts go, is like moving one of those boulders away so that the water can keep flowing, so that our energy and our life force can keep evolving and going forward. We don't, out of fear of the unknown, have to put up these blocks, these dams, that basically say no to life and to feeling life.

~ Pema Chodron, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Vol. I, #1; from Everyday Mind, a Tricycle book edited by Jean Smith.

Dharma Quote: Two Senses of Self

This is today's Dharma Quote of the Week from Snow Lion Publications.

Two Senses of Self

Psychologists talk about people who are co-dependent because they don't have a sense of self. What psychologists mean when they say a person has no sense of self is very different from what the Buddha meant by no-self or selflessness. People with psychological problems actually have a very strong sense of self in the Buddhist sense, although they may not in the psychological sense of the word. Psychologically, they don't see themselves as efficacious individuals in the world, but they still have a very strong sense of "I": "I am worthless." When somebody criticizes them, they don't like it. They get into co-dependent relationships to protect or to please this "I." When they fall into self-pity, their sense of an inherently existent "I" is very strong. Thus they still have self-grasping even though they lack a psychologically healthy sense of self.

Buddhism recognizes two kinds of sense of self. There's one sense of self that is healthy and necessary to be efficacious on the path. The object of this sense of self is the conventionally existent "I." The other sense of self grasps at an inherently existent self that never has and never will exist. Within Buddhism, when we talk about realizing emptiness, we're negating the false self, this self that appears inherently existent to us.

~ From Cultivating a Compassionate Heart: The Yoga Method of Chenrezig by Thubten Chodron, foreword by H.H. the Dalai Lama, published by Snow Lion Publications.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gratitude 1/18/08 -- Life

I can't sleep.

I got an email this evening that rocked my world, in a good way ... I think. I never really know what life is going to bring me sometimes. When things feel bleak, the Kosmos can turn everything around.

Who knows what might happen, but for the moment, it seems my life might be about to change in ways I never could have imagined.

Lojong Poems: Two


Lojong Poems: Two

~ Regard all dharmas as dreams

Storm clouds roll across the desert
bringing winds, dust clouds, a chill
in the morning air, but still
the thirst for rain remains unquenched

Walking amid saguaros, time easily
loses its domain, only the place
of the sun in the sky offers a glimpse
of how long I have been wandering

Muted shades of green and brown,
rocky soil, cactus, shrubs, all seem
less than real, a peyote hallucination
in my Seattle apartment

But I am here, I think, trying to see
through to the other side
of the mirror, the image behind
what I misconstrue as reality

When I sit on some stones
beside the creek, near prickly pear,
and watch a rabbit sip the cold water,
it seems I have always been here

Gazing into the moving water, lost
in its hypnotic gurgle, everything
becomes an illusion, even me, and
suddenly my heart becomes soft

Lojong Poems: One


Lojong Poems: One

~ First train in the preliminaries

Breathe in, breathe out
Breathe in, breathe out

Watching the air move through
of my body, a mist of thoughts
inhaled and exhaled, leaving me
staring at the sound of moving water

Thoughts are like wine
drunk all the time
looking for a path
to walk away

Breathe in, breathe out
Breathe in, breathe out

A winter wind chills the desert,
lonely clouds crossing pale sky,
I sit on red rocks in the canyon,
flesh weighting me as an anchor

Tied to a wheel
learning how to feel
if I had it all again
I'd change it all

Breathe in, breathe out
Breathe in, breathe out

A raven circles overhead, a promise
that sitting is the path to deeper
vision, watching the breath escape,
a body of words seeking expression

(23 seconds of silence)

bang bang bang
wild thoughts pound around
inside my skull

watching the breath
hearing the breath
feeling the breath

I am a mirror
unto my self,
vibrations, reflections,
never as still as the surface
of a farmer's pond,
never quiet as a snowy morning
in the Oregon wilderness

(14 seconds of silence)

watching the breath,
then, again
bang bang bang
the thoughts rattle along
loud as a passing train

still I seek silence,
quieting the neurons,
to watch it all glide away
on the fog exhaled
from my lungs

(21 seconds of silence)

Lojong Poems - Introduction

It's been a long since I have undertaken a poetry project -- to write a series of poems dealing with a specific idea or series of of concepts. I can't promise that I'll be successful in this project, but I feel compelled to give it a shot.

I want to create a series of poems based on the Lojong slogans:

Lojong (often translated into English as Mind Training) is a practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on a set of proverbs formulated in Tibet in the 12th century by Chekawa. Practitioners undertake to connect with the world in an unconditionally positive way, and also to take full responsibility for their experience of it. The practice involves redefining, reconceptualizing and reprogramming one's intent and way of thinking - hence 'Mind Training'.

Unlike many practices it does not require that one signs on to a particular system of beliefs, nor is it something one can only do on one's meditation cushion. In fact, the best practice is often done out in the world, with exactly those people and situations that upset and irritate one the most.

The twin foundations of the practice are Absolute Bodhicitta, which could be very roughly be translated as 'Open-Mindedness', and Relative Bodhicitta, which could be translated, again very roughly, as 'Compassion'.

The fifty-nine or so proverbs that form the root text of the Lojong practice are designed as a skillful set of antidotes to the bad mental habits, paranoia, and fixed ideas that cause us all so much suffering. They contain both Absolute Bodhicitta suggestions to expand and loosen up one's view of the world, such as Find the consciousness you had before you were born and Treat everything you perceive as a dream, and Relative Bodhicitta suggestions for relating to the world in a more constructive way, such as Be grateful to everyone or When everything goes wrong, treat disaster as a way to wake up.

This project was inspired by Pema Chodron's fantastic book, Start Where You Are. In that book, she goes through each of the slogans and explains their meaning in the context of Buddhist teachings. I will not attempt complete fidelity to the traditional teachings. Rather, I want to attempt a poetic exploration of the slogans and any associations that might come up.

In all fairness, some credit for this project goes to an ex-girlfriend. In the years that I knew her, she was always my greatest muse, and even now, simply in reconnecting with her briefly, I feel that old inspiration resurfacing. Strange how that works.

But this is also an attempt to deal with some of the feelings that have come up in that reconnection. Lojong offers many wise teachings on how to deal with the obstacles that come up in our daily lives. This is one of the things I want to explore in this experiment.

As always, comments on the poems are appreciated, either from a poetic point of view or from a Buddhist perspective.

Lion in the Snow

A friend sent me this image, sent to her by a friend. Here is the caption:

Luke, the male African lion at Smithsonian's National Zoo took a break from his afternoon bone today to watch the snowflakes fall in Washington, D.C. Although it does not snow in his native Africa, Luke seemed content to lie outside of his heated den and finish his lunch, occasionally shaking the snow from his mane. Luke and the Zoo's three female African lions can been seen at the Zoo's Great Cats exhibit.

Photo Credit: Mehgan Murphy / Smithsonian's National Zoo Taken: 1/17/08

Speedlinking 1/18/08

Quote of the day:

"The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."
~ Dorothy Nevill

Image of the day:

~ My Training -- "About a month before Christmas, I decide to see how much body fat I could drop in that short time period. With a few modifications to my strength training and an increase in energy systems training to add some metabolic stress, the exercise programming was a snap."
~ Study Finds Diet And Lifestyle Critical To Recovery -- "Diet and lifestyle may play a much more significant role in a person's ability to respond favourably to certain drugs, including some cancer therapies, than previously understood, say scientists.Writing in Nature Genetics, University of Manchester researchers have shown how the nutrients in the environment are critical to the fitness of cells that carry genetic mutations caused by diseases."
~ New Study Shows That Fitness Trumps Fatness In Determining Risk Of Cancer Death In Men -- "The Cooper Institute, a research and education nonprofit located at the world-renowned Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, announces a new study published in Obesity showing that fitness trumps fatness in determining risk of cancer mortality among men."
~ Vitamin C is the Bee’s Knees -- "A recent Australian study has shown that the more Vitamin C we consume as adults, the less likely we are to develop the bone and tissue problems that can ultimately lead to arthritis."
~ Glycoscience Now Hotbed Of Medical Research -- "Sugars were once credited with magical healing powers but are now seen like salt as an evil necessary in small doses but the cause of numerous diseases such as diabetes if taken in excess. Yet latest research suggests this view ignores the vital role played by more complex sugars in many biological structures, and the great therapeutic potential they have."
~ Study explains how protein keeps hunger at bay -- "Diets high in protein may be the best way to keep hunger in check, U.S. researchers said on Thursday in a study that offers insight into how diets work."
~ Spice Slashes Blood Sugar Levels -- "While Ginseng has been a busy little herb these last few thousand years, cinnamon has recently been found to pack a powerful medicinal punch. A tasty addition to hot chocolate and apple pie, nutritionists agree this popular spice offers surprising benefits for those suffering from diabetes." And high cholesterol.
~ Pistachio Power: Lowers Cholesterol And Blood Sugar, Relieves Stress -- "In recent months, researchers from the University of Toronto, Penn State University, and George Mason University in conjunction with Inova Fairfax Hospital, conducted three different studies on pistachios with stellar results for this lime-green colored kernel."
~ New Questions on Treating Cholesterol -- "Following results of recent clinical trials on popular cholesterol drugs, cardiologists are questioning whether a patient’s cholesterol should be all that matters."

~ 12 Tenets of Conscious Living -- "I got this from Anthony Robbins and thought it was great..."
~ Cultural differences alter the brain -- "It's no secret culture influences your food preferences and taste in music. But now scientists say it impacts the hard-wiring of your brain."
~ Flourishing or Soulless Work? -- "I have been caught up recently in reading different books and articles about the law industry in order to get a more in-depth understanding of my new, interesting job. Accidentally, I came across an article from another PPND author Dave Shearon, Seven Positive Psychology Steps to Thriving in Law School. I am pretty inspired by the passage, particularly his last step - Remember (or find out) why you want to be a lawyer. His article appears to offer an answer to why some people would find their work soulless."
~ Loneliness Increases the Belief in God -- "In his experiments he showed that the lonelier a person was the more likely they were to believe in supernatural entities such as God, angels, etc. They were also more likely to attribute human characteristics to their pets, such as thoughtfulness or compassion."
~ Do You Recognize the 7 Ingredients of Maturity? -- "To get a better understanding of maturity is let’s take a look at some of the qualities of maturity and see how they relate to our lives and our actions. I am curious to hear if you agree with these or if you judge maturity in an entirely different light."
~ Experiences Beat Possessions: Why Materialism Causes Unhappiness -- "But, just like studies examining the connection between success and happiness, many of the findings are correlational. As a result we can't say for sure that materialism causes all these things, only that they're associated. So, for better evidence, cue the experiment."
~ Questionning the cognitive -- "American Scientist has two great reviews that tackle books on perhaps the most important theory of psychology: that the mind can be understood as an information processing system."
~ Scientists Close In On Taurine's Activity In The Brain -- "Taurine is one of the most plentiful amino acids in the human brain, but neuroscientists are still puzzled by just how brain cells put it to use. Now, a team of researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City has uncovered a prime site of activity for the molecule, bringing them closer to solving that mystery."
~ The Emotional Power of Smell -- "Sense of smell and emotional memory."

~ Save the Dramatic Chipmunk -- "When college kids make mashups of Hollywood movies, do they violate the law? Not necessarily, according to a study Peter Jaszi and I completed at American University. In fact, those funny little videos you watch when you’re supposed to be working—if you’ve missed “Dramatic Chipmunk,” the best five seconds on the Internet ever (Yes, Google it now)—are important harbingers of a more participatory media culture."
~ The Rise of the New Secularism and the New Atheism -- "The year 2007 is noteworthy for the sudden emergence of “the new secularism” and “the new atheism.” These two powerful intellectual forces have brought to public awareness the existence of widespread dissenting views on religion."
~ Huckabee's radical religious friends -- "Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher turned Arkansas governor and now Republican presidential candidate, has deep connections to some conservative Christians with radical political ideas. As Salon's Mike Madden details here, while Huckabee talks up his experience visiting Israel in response to questions about foreign policy, he is also campaigning with the support of prominent figures who see Israel as the site of a coming Armageddon."
~ Bobby Fischer, Enfant Terrible of Chess, Dies at 64 -- "The difficult, reclusive chess master became an American hero at the height of the Cold War, then thumbed his nose at his country and renounced his citizenship."
~ More Candidate Bloomberg -- "How much larger and fruit-flavored can the Bloomberg for President bubble get? Evidence this morning came in the form of an NPR segment that was accompanied online by your very own “Candidate Bingo Card.” No, I’m not kidding. Robert Smith, the NPR reporter, sat in on the New York mayor’s State of the City address and instead of just analyzing it on its own merits insisted on…you know what? I’m too embarrassed to explain any further. I’ll let Smith do it...."
~ Is a Clinton-Obama Ticket in Our Future? -- "Pairing Clinton and Obama (in either order) might produce a ticket that's greater than the sum of its parts."
~ The Future of Marriage -- "Any serious discussion of the future of marriage requires a clear understanding of how marriage evolved over the ages, along with the causes of its most recent transformations. Many people who hope to “re-institutionalize” marriage misunderstand the reasons that marriage was once more stable and played a stronger role in regulating social life."
~ Obama the conservative -- "Despite running for the candidacy of the Democratic party, Barack Obama should be the great hope of conservatives—both in the US and Europe."
Directors, Studios Reach Deal -- "Hollywood directors have reached a tentative contract deal with studios after five days of negotiations, the directors union said Thursday." About freaking time.
~ Bush wants $150 billion plan to lift economy -- "President George W. Bush called on Congress on Friday to give the U.S. economy a "shot in the arm" with an election-year package of temporary tax cuts and other measures worth up to $150 billion." Why does the GOP love to spend our grandkids money? Debt is not a good thing.

~ Scientists find way to increase corn's vitamin A -- "U.S. scientists have developed a way to breed corn that can boost the vitamin A it gives people who eat it -- a potentially important advance for regions of the world burdened by vitamin A deficiencies."
~ Google to Host Terabytes of Open-Source Scientific Data -- "Google is planning to launch a new product that will allow researchers to store open-source datasets for free, allowing anyone with an internet connection access to terabytes of scientific data." AWESOME!
~ Siphoning the Globe: Water Exhibit Exposes Worldwide Crisis -- "The exhibit, now at NYC's American Museum of Natural History and headed to San Diego and St. Paul, explores the depth of our global water crisis."
~ Food for Thought: How Plastic We've Become -- "Uncle Sam has confirmed it: Our bodies carry residues of kitchen plastics." And we wonder why cancer is so prevalent.
~ Math Models Snowflakes In Extraordinary Detail -- "Three-dimensional snowflakes can now be grown in a computer using a program developed by mathematicians. Intricate, incredibly variable and beautiful, snowflakes have been puzzling mathematicians since at least 1611, when Johannes Kepler predicted that the six-pointed structure would reflect an underlying crystal structure."
~ Green car sales soar 49 percent in Sweden: agency -- "Swedish sales of environmentally friendly cars rose by 49 percent in 2007 largely thanks to financial incentives from the state, Sweden's Environmental Protection Agency said Friday."
~ Can the environmental economy dodge a recession? -- "As one key economic engine after another -- housing, finance, autos, retail -- sputters and stalls out, the fledgling eco-economy is purring right along, fueled in no small part by venture capital firms hungry for new opportunities in industries that promise outsized returns on their investments."
~ Could the Universe be tied up with cosmic string? -- "A team of physicists and astronomers at the University of Sussex and Imperial College London have uncovered hints that there may be cosmic strings - lines of pure mass-energy - stretching across the entire Universe."

~ The Development of Development -- "The developmental approach has been around, says Ken Wilber in this week's featured audio, for millennia. The Great Chain of Being—an attempt to express the core of the world’s religious traditions—holds that, in involution, spirit takes on the form of mind, then body, then matter, and in evolution (or, development!), it begins its long journey back."
~ Huntington on Understanding the Madhyamaka -- "Mistakes to be avoided: (1) thinking that, at some point, Western philosophers have adequately addressed the concerns of Madhyamaka philosophy -- they haven't!"
~ Up Close and Personal: John Edwards -- "They say he's angry. John Edwards, I mean. And I say, well, why not? So am I. Aren't you? I like that bumper sticker that reads: If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."
~ Understanding “fine art” -- "A worse misuse of the term “fine art” occurs when it is used exclusively for works of visual art–paintings, photographs, etchings, engrave, tapestries, and sculptures. It should rather be used in the most extended sense to include not only all forms of imaginative literature, and musical performances, pieces of music, ballet compositions and performances, and dramatic performances, but also even bullfights and athletic competitions that provide the same kind of enjoyment that people experience at concerts, in the theatre, and in museums where works of visual art are exhibited."
~ Love as Play -- "I spent a couple of hours after work recently with a sweet friend I hadn't seen in a couple of months. We talked mostly, as is my wont these days, about love, conversation and community. Since she is polyamorous, I had the rare luxury of bouncing some of the criticisms and doubts about the lifestyle of loving many people, off someone who supports that lifestyle -- usually I'm the one defending it against skeptics."
~ The Sanbutsuge -- "The Sanbutsuge (讃佛偈) is a chant found in Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, sometimes called the Tanbutsuge. The Sanbutsuge actually is an excerpt of the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, which is not nearly as long as the Lotus Sutra, but takes an hour or so to read. The Larger Sutra is one of three sutras in the Pure Land sects of Buddhism (of which Jodo Shinshu is a part), and is the longest and arguably the most important. This sutra is the one that defines who Amida Buddha is, and his story to becoming first a Bodhisattva, then a Buddha."
~ Living on the Edge: The Evolution of Integral Society -- "A subtle, but significant shift is underway in western civilization. Academics might call this a paradigm shift, while historians would describe it as a sea change or a great turning. It is a time when all aspects of a civilization undergo simultaneously a change of head, heart and soul."

Fitness News You Can Use

This has been sitting in my in-box for a while now, obviously. Still, the info is useful.

December 15, 2007
Exercise ETC's Review of Exercise Related Research
Compiled by Chris Marino, MS, CSCS Director of Education, Exercise ETC

Fitness More Important than Weight-Loss

Can a person be both fit and fat simultaneously? This question has generated quite the controversy among medical and fitness professionals. On one hand, obesity has been linked to increased incidence of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer indicating the need for emphasis on weight reduction. On the other hand, increased physical fitness may buffer some of the disease-generating characteristics associated with obesity thus leading to improved longevity. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concurs with the latter as researchers determined a stronger link between fitness and reduced mortality regardless of body weight.

The research group, led by esteemed exercise epidemiologist, Dr. Steven Blair, evaluated the relationship of body fat, fitness and longevity in 2,603 men and women aged 60 and older. Participants were tracked for an average of 12 years each. Fitness was assessed by a maximal exercise test, and adiposity was assessed by body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and percent body fat.

In the end, people who were more fit were more than 50 percent less likely to die when compared to less fit people, regardless of weight. In essence, this study supports the idea that it is better to be overweight and fit, than normal-weight and unfit. Also, those who were more fit had a lower incidence of cardiovascular risk factors that included high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Unfortunately, the focus of many physicians is to use exercise as a tool that is used to reduce bodyweight. This emphasis on weight-reduction may prohibit people from becoming more physically active for the sake of fitness, an approach that may actually increase exercise adherence. The authors recommend that Americans start focusing on little steps to become more physically active and reduce the perception of exercise for the purpose of weight loss.

Sui, X., et al (2007) Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Adiposity as Mortality Predictors in Older Adults. Journal of the American Medical Association, 298(21):2507-2516.

Older Adults Have a NEED for SPEED!

There is new motivation to push grandma & grandpa to walk a little faster. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported that older adults who increase their walking speed can increase their lifespan.

Prior observational studies have shown that factors such as disease, chronic pain, poor vision, low physical activity, depression and body mass issues are negatively associated with walking speed, but none have explored the link between mortality.

In this study, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh sought to predict a relationship between improvement in health and physical function over the course of 1-year and 8-year survival statistics. They collected six measures of health & function every 3 months for one-year. Participants were classified as having "improved," "transiently improved" or "never improved" for each of the six measures.

Upon follow-up at 8 years, gait speed was the only factor significantly linked to survival. Older adults who "improved" walking speed were 50% more likely to be alive at 8 years compared to those who "never improved."

Unfortunately, this study only sheds light on the relationship between gait speed and dying, because there was no intervention or documentation to help us understand how people increased their walking speed in that first year. Regardless, the results of this study and the future research it stimulates could provide direction for the development of an objective tool to predict the mortality risk in older adults.

Hardy, S.E., et al (2007) Improvement in Usual Gait Speed Predicts Better Survival in Older Adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 55(11): 1727-1734.

Who Really Uses Anabolic Steroids?

Last week, the Mitchell Report changed the game of baseball forever by fingering over 80 professional baseball players who may have used anabolic steroids or other illegal performance enhancing substances. Interestingly, just months earlier a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition revealed that anabolic steroid use in competitive athletics may not be the real problem.

Nearly 2000 men were recruited from various strength training and supplement Internet sites, e-mails and print media to complete an anonymous web-survey to determine the real motivation and characteristics of anabolic steroid users in America. The results WILL surprise you.

The typical user is NOT the high school-age male or female athlete. In fact, only 6% of those surveyed reported being motivated by sports or bodybuilding.

Researchers identified the most common characteristics of anabolic steroid users as: Caucasian (88%), having a college education (74%), "white"-collar employment, average age of 31 years (range was 18-76), and having above-average income ($60K-$80K). Surprisingly, only 11% of respondents reported participating in any form of organized sport.

Instead of achievement being the primary motivator, most claimed increases in muscle, strength or physical attractiveness to be the main reason for using anabolic steroids.

Although a significant reduction in use of steroids by high school students has been reported (down 35% between 2002 and 2005), there is a new concern as the average age of first use was ~25 in this cohort.

Due to the media attention given to sports scandals, popular belief is that anabolic steroids are only a problem for athletes. As such, the majority of efforts to curb steroid abuse has focused on young male athletes, and has not addressed the main population of users. This perception must change if illegal steroid use is to be curbed in our society.

Cohen, J. et al. (2007) A league of their own: demographics, motivations and patterns of use of 1,955 male adult non-medical anabolic steroid users in the United States. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 4:12

Using a Pedometer Effective at Increasing Physical Activity

Looking to give the gift of life this holiday season? A simple, inexpensive pedometer that measures the number of steps you take might be a great option. A recent review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that pedometers are an effective tool for increasing physical activity and health.

The review encompassed 26 mostly observational studies of pedometer use. Data was obtained by searching a variety of medical journals through scientific search-engines.

Studies have shown pedometers to effectively increase the overall distance walked per day by more than 1 mile; increasing steps taken by between 2200 and 2500 daily. Overall, physical activity has been shown to increase by nearly 27% through the use of pedometers. Adherence was best when study participants were given a "step goal," for example 10,000 steps per day.

Pedometer users saw improvements in systolic blood pressure of ~4mmHg. Researchers note that a 2-mm reduction in SBP is linked to a 10% decrease in stroke mortality and 7% decrease in death due to vascular conditions. Reductions were more significant with higher baselines and a greater change in # steps per day. Body-mass index was also positively affected in pedometer users, with more significant reductions associated with older age and a step goal.

The use of the pedometer as a motivational tool seems promising, and appears more beneficial to those who are most sedentary. Americans have an inherent desire for objectivity, or as the authors explained, "A quest for numbers." Having the capability of visualizing progress and success is important for exercise adherence.

A good pedometer can be purchased for as little as $15. Most exercise experts recommend "the simpler, the better."

Bravata, D.M., et al (2007) Using Pedometers to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health. Journal of the American Medical Association. 298(19): 2296-2304.

David Brooks - How Voters Think

I'm beginning to think that when Brooks isn't defending stupid GOP policies, he's actually a pretty bright guy (well, OK, I've thought this for a long time, but he has had some fine columns of late). While this column contains only partial truths, it is -- for the most part -- an accurate look at the average voter.

Key passage:

In reality, we voters — all of us — make emotional, intuitive decisions about who we prefer, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations to explain the choices that were already made beneath conscious awareness. “People often act without knowing why they do what they do,” Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, noted in an e-mail message to me this week. “The fashion of political writing this year is to suggest that people choose their candidate by their stand on the issues, but this strikes me as highly implausible.”

Nobody really knows how voters think, especially during primary seasons when the policy differences are minute, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the cognitive chain went something like this:

After seeing a candidate for 100 milliseconds, voters make certain sorts of judgments based on expressiveness, facial structure, carriage and attitude. Alexander Todorov of Princeton has found that he can predict 70 percent of political races just by measuring peoples’ snap judgments of candidates’ faces.

Then, having formed an impression from these thin-slice appraisals, voters rack their memory banks. Decades ago, Kahneman and Amos Tversky argued that human judgment is less a matter of calculating probabilities and more a matter of trying to fit new things into familiar patterns. Maybe John Edwards reminds one voter of the sort of person he disliked in high school. Maybe Barack Obama evokes the elevated feeling another voter felt watching John F. Kennedy.

Read the whole article.

Nine Inch Nails - "Wish" [NSFW]

One of my favorite workout songs -- and some nice cathartic aggression. This is from the movie to the album Broken.

Your Inner Fish - Neil Shubin on The Colbert Report

Shubin manages to answer every dumbass question Colbert can come up with, and he tries hard to ask some dumbass questions.

Cool Animation - Bendito Machine

This is awesome, created by Jossie Malis, and discovered at Dark Roasted Blend.

Part two is embedded in this collection of videos (just scroll the bottom of the video frame).

Satire: Very Specific Food Pyramid Recommends Two To Three Shrimp Scampis Per Year

Silliness from The Onion:

Very Specific Food Pyramid Recommends Two To Three Shrimp Scampis Per Year

January 16, 2008 | Issue 44•03

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled an updated, extremely detailed food pyramid Monday, which may redefine the way Americans plan their yearly intake of such food groups as shrimp scampi, garlic bread, and steak tartares with a side of mini grilled corn on the cobs. "Two servings of shrimp scampi per year is absolutely essential, and it is preferable that one be a microwaveable meal from the Contessa frozen-foods line, and the other be eaten at a fancy restaurant, like the Lobster Tail off Route 22, on a nice summer evening with the woman you love," acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner said. "All healthy adults should also incorporate four bowls of Cookie Crisp cereal, 223 to 228 salted pretzel rods, one plate of Hamburger Helper cheeseburger macaroni, six to eight Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies, and no more than two Fla-Vor-Ice-brand ice pops into their yearly diet." The nutrition guide highly recommends taking two bites from an undercooked hot dog on July 12 every year and then throwing the rest away.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pick Your 2008 Candidate For President

I took this little quiz and it turns out that Mike Gravel, the nut-job from Alaska, is my ideal candidate. I must admit that I liked him, although he never had a snowball's chance in Tucson of getting the nomination. I like Kucinich, too, but alas, he's unelectable. So it's Obama for me.

I'm apparently a flaming liberal.

90% Mike Gravel
90% Dennis Kucinich
87% Chris Dodd
84% Barack Obama
83% John Edwards
83% Hillary Clinton
80% Joe Biden
75% Bill Richardson
37% Rudy Giuliani
24% John McCain
23% Ron Paul
18% Mike Huckabee
18% Tom Tancredo
16% Mitt Romney
7% Fred Thompson

2008 Presidential Candidate Matching Quiz

Speedlinking 1/17/08

Quote of the day:

"Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Indian."
~ Robert Orben

Image of the day (David Winston):

~ What I Learned in 2007 -- "Eric Cressey divulges most of the good stuff he learned in 2007, including the value of the "next fish oil," how to hit the road and still eat healthy, the best workout music, and rehabbing just about every body part."
~ Recipe of the Week -- "With apologies to Tony the Tiger, breakfast cereals sucks. And that includes the "healthy" cereals, too. Time to whip up some of your own using low-fat, low-sugar ingredients: low on calories, high on flavor!"
~ Lumbar Lifting Posture -- "Strive to maintain the normal lordosis of the lumbar spine during lifting. Doing so assures that the angle of pull of the erector spinae create a posterior shear force on the lumbar vertebrae, thus reducing the high anterior shear forces that are associated with back injuries."
~ Avoiding Weight Gain Induced By Antipsychotic Drugs -- "A research team from Universite Laval's Faculty of Medicine and Robert-Giffard Hospital has demonstrated that weight gain induced by the use of antipsychotic drugs - which in extreme cases can be as high as 30 kilos in only one month - can be avoided through a specially designed weight control program."
~ FDA: Cold meds too risky for little ones -- "Parents should not give sniffling babies and toddlers over-the-counter cough and cold medicines — they’re too risky for tots so small, the government will declare Thursday."
~ Human Embryos Cloned From Skin Cells -- "Scientists hope to create individualized stem cell lines from the clones."
~ New Player In Innate Immune Response Discovered By Scientists -- "All multicellular animals have an innate immune system: When bacteria, parasites or fungi invade the organism, small protein molecules are released that eliminate the attackers."
~ Thyroid Disease 101: Ten Facts Doctors Forget To Tell Patients -- "January marks Thyroid Awareness Month. With some experts estimating that as many as 59 million Americans suffer from thyroid conditions -- including Hashimoto's Disease, Graves' disease, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer -- it's crucial for patients and doctors to learn more about these common -- but frequently overlooked -- hormonal health problems."
~ Yoga: Stretch for Your Health -- "Pose, stretch, breathe, and meditate to greater health."

~ You Are An Illusion -- "Aren't those physicists funny? Once upon a time, we thought quantum mechanics was weird. Then came string theory and all those extra unfolded dimensions. And now comes the latest hypothesis, which is so surreal it's almost nihilistic. Apparently, I'm just an elaborate illusion, a fictional figment of the universe. Only the equations are real."
~ The Previous item is a response to this article -- Big Brain Theory: Have Cosmologists Lost Theirs? -- "The basic problem is that across the eons of time, the standard theories suggest, the universe can recur over and over again in an endless cycle of big bangs, but it’s hard for nature to make a whole universe. It’s much easier to make fragments of one, like planets, yourself maybe in a spacesuit or even — in the most absurd and troubling example — a naked brain floating in space."
~ Power and consciousness on the Clapham omnibus -- " Searle is quite right to point out that both materialism and dualism fly in the face of familiar assumptions. The question is whether there is any good alternative. Searle says that he has one, but it is difficult to see what it is. A phrase he often repeats is that consciousness is “caused by and realized in” the brain. But this looks contradictory. When philosophers talk about something being “realized in” something else, they mean the way it is constituted."
~ Don't just stand there, think -- "The brain is often envisioned as something like a computer, and the body as its all-purpose tool. But a growing body of new research suggests that something more collaborative is going on - that we think not just with our brains, but with our bodies. A series of studies, the latest published in November, has shown that children can solve math problems better if they are told to use their hands while thinking. Another recent study suggested that stage actors remember their lines better when they are moving. And in one study published last year, subjects asked to move their eyes in a specific pattern while puzzling through a brainteaser were twice as likely to solve it."
~ Effect of antidepressants exaggerated due to buried data -- "The New England Journal of Medicine has just published a study that found the effectiveness of 12 of the most popular antidepressants has been exaggerated because pharmaceutical companies have been 'hiding' data from negative drug trials." Imagine that!
~ Meditation: Getting Started -- "Focusing your attention the Buddhist way."
~ 50 Simple Ways To Stay Productive -- "Here are 50 simple ways (that we often overlook) to stay on top of our productivity game. I have found these ways to be helpful and hopefully it will help you out as well in one way or the other."
~ Do You Like The Person You Are Alone With? -- "Funny question, isn't it? Do you like the person you are alone with? If you are alone, there is no one with you ... other than yourself. So what about it? Do you like the person you are alone with? Do you like yourself? Enjoy spending time with yourself? Look forward to being alone with yourself? Consider yourself good company? Are you comfortable with yourself?"
~ Withdrawal Symptoms From Paroxetine May Last For A Long Time -- "When withdrawal symptoms ensue after discontinuation of a drug, such as paroxetine, it is generally assumed they will last for a few weeks and then they will subside. Many patients do not think so and some of them have also created a website concerned with paroxetine discontinuation effects."
~ Psychological Interventions Are Effective In Mood Swings -- "Jan Scott (Newcastle, UK) and Francesc Colom (Barcelona) have published a review of psychological interventions for bipolar disorder in the Jan 2008 issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.The aim of this review was to highlight gaps or limitations in applying evidence-based psychological therapies as an adjunct to medication in the management of bipolar disorders."
~ Religious beliefs focus too much on self -- "Moving away from traditional religious beliefs to trendy, self-focused religions and spirituality is not making young adults happier, according to new research. "

~ Dmitri's Choice -- "Dmitri has been torn for years between his father's [Vladimir Nabokov] unequivocal request and the demands of the literary world to view the final fragment of his father's genius, a manuscript known as The Original of Laura. Should Dmitri defy his father's wishes for the sake of "posterity"?" My position -- preserve the work for scholars, but do not publish it for a mass audience.
~ The Uses of the Humanities, Part Two -- Stanley Fish -- "The funding of the humanities in colleges and universities cannot be justified by pointing to the fact that poems and philosophical arguments have changed lives and started movements. (I was surprised that no one mentioned “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a book Lincoln is said to have credited with the starting of the Civil War.) The pertinent question is, Do humanities courses change lives and start movements? Does one teach with that purpose, and if one did could it be realized?"
~ The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter -- Reviewed bu Eliot Weinberger -- "In the Modernist era, the poets, as Pound wisecracked, have been more interested in Muses than Moses and though bits of the Psalms have inevitably been embedded in poems, new translations have become the province of theologians and academics. The latest is a handsome edition, complete with the requisite red ribbon, by Robert Alter, and it has arrived accompanied by a joyful noise, widely acclaimed in the press as the Psalms for Our Time."
~ After 25 years, 'The Gift' keeps on giving -- "Hyde's 1983 book "The Gift," subtitled "Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World," argues that inspiration comes to its creator the same way a gift does. Because of this, both the artist and the resulting work itself become uneasy in a market economy. This gift is most comfortable, instead, when it is kept moving -- offered or traded -- instead of being hoarded or commodified."
~ Learning Separately -- " It seems so logical. Separate boys and girls so they can get their work done. It was clear to me and my classmates 40 years ago, as we gazed out the window during English class in our all-boys high school (a Catholic seminary) and watched the teenage kids from town “making out” on a stone wall; at least it was clear to Father Ignatius, who would threaten a “bastinado with salt rubbed in the wounds” if we didn’t focus on the sentence that needed diagramming." I would never have finished high school if there were no girls to see each day.
~ UN: Katrina Victims Neglected -- "A United Nations official who has toured areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina says its victims resemble similarly displaced poor people in other parts of the world."
~ When Bill Attacks -- "Ari Berman | Intentionally or not, Hillary Clinton's campaign has found its most aggressive attack dog. His name is Bill. And he's not doing her any favors."
~ Books & the Arts: On the Books -- "Ted Conover | A "rogue sociologist" gains unprecedented insight on the day-to-day workings of a Chicago gang."
~ MediaCulture: What Happens When Blogs Go Mainstream? -- "Will blogs take on all the bad habits of the mainstream media or will it help the media progress just a bit further toward independence of thought?"

~ Listing polar bears under the ESA won't do much good, but we should do it anyway -- "Just over a year ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Last week, the service missed the deadline to finalize or withdraw that proposal. Environmental groups have already filed a notice of intent to sue if Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne delays much longer."
~ Environment: World Bank Pledges to Save Trees, Then Helps Cut Down Amazon -- "A month ago it vowed to fight deforestation. Now research reveals it funds the rainforest's biggest threat."
~ Researchers Put The Bite On Mosquitoes -- "Few things sting like a mosquito's bite -- especially if that bite carries a disease such as malaria, yellow fever, Dengue fever or West Nile virus. But if a team of University of Arizona researchers has its way, one day mosquito bites may prove deadly to the mosquitoes."
~ Exploration Of Lake Hidden Beneath Antarctica's Ice Sheet Begins -- "Scientists have begun exploring an ancient lake hidden deep beneath Antarctica's ice sheet. The lake -- the size of Lake Windermere -- could yield vital clues to life on Earth, climate change and future sea-level rise."
~ Predators do more than kill prey -- "The direct effect predators have on their prey is to kill them. The evolutionary changes that can result from this direct effect include prey that are younger at maturity and that produce more offspring."
~ Web 3.0: user-generated networks? -- "European researchers took the concepts of Web 2.0, like user-generated content and social networking, into the real world. They hope to create user-generated physical networks so internets could be set up, by anyone, anytime. It`s radical and, surprisingly, fairly realistic. Welcome to Web 3.0."
~ Norway aims to be carbon neutral by 2030 -- "Norway's government said Thursday the country would dramatically slash its carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 and aim to be completely carbon neutral by 2030 -- 20 years ahead of schedule."
~ 'Nonlinear' ecosystem response points to environmental solutions -- "The preservation of coastal ecosystem services such as clean water, storm buffers or fisheries protection does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach, a new study indicates, and a better understanding of how ecosystems actually respond to protection efforts in a “nonlinear” fashion could help lead the way out of environmental-versus-economic gridlock."

~ The Egg Barn -- "Author’s note: “Who am I?” is an ageless question asked not only of Buddhists but a question asked of the followers of virtually every philosophy, religion, and society of humans anywhere on earth. It’s not a question with an answer resulting in some restful destination, but rather resulting in an unending journey in which the question itself is its own destination. The journey may be taken at any time, often required by circumstance rather than choice. And somehow along the way, that isolating sense of separateness to which we humans are inclined dissolves and one finds one’s identity indistinguishable from the identity of anything or anyone else."
~ Being with body symptoms -- "As long as the symptoms were mild and moderate, I was able to do other things, including distracting myself by watching movies as it got a little worse. At some point, when it went over the “moderate” threshold, I had no choice but to turn off the light and just be with the symptoms."
~ Inner peace leads to world peace -- "As well as being a spiritual teacher, Akong Tulku Rinpoche is also a doctor of Tibetan Medicine. One of his main aims has been to preserve this vast area of healing for the benefit of all beings. Under his direction a fully accredited system of psychotherapy has evolved in which Buddhist philosophy combines with Western therapy to create a holistic system aimed at relieving mental and physical suffering to bring about a more balanced and joyful state of being."
~ Republicans, Democrats, and Evolutionary Politics -- "If you're interested to know where your presidential candidate stand on the issue of religion, science, and evolution, check out this very insightful article, Reason Online: Evolutionary Politics. Here are some of the key quotes."
~ The Sound, Before Hearing -- "Sound can play an important role in our practice. Sound, as a device of the way, is used in many texts. "Kyogen realized the Way when he heard the sound of a tile hitting bamboo." It was this concept alluded to by one of our readers', Cedric that started my recent investigation with sound. What's also interesting with sound, is the non-sound, and non-identification that comes, both with and without the sound."
~ Rebirth, Reassessed -- "The rise of Buddhism in the west is undoubtedly linked with it's relative compatability with the dominant rational, empirical and pragmatic worldview. The single biggest obstacle to practice for westerners is probably the belief in rebirth and karma, since this this is not part of our worldview, nor does there seem to be any rational or empirical justification for accepting this."
~ The Value of Cooperation in Achieving Success -- "Many eastern philosophies state that we are part of one inseparable whole. If that is so, then by sabotaging others, we are sabotaging ourselves. Perhaps it is time to try the opposite, to join our voices with others and work together in the spirit of cooperation."
~ Appreciating Expedient Means in the Lotus Sutra -- "The Buddhist concept of upāya, or “Skillful Means” or “Expedient Means” is an important concept in Mahayana Buddhism (the Northern Branch of Buddhism), but it’s one I have in the past not appreciated or even liked. The concept is best defined in the famous Lotus Sutra, particularly in chapter 2. I recently finished reading Chapter 2 of this sutra, which according to Thich Nhat’s Hanh’s commentaries, is the cornerstone of the whole sutra and developed a new appreciation for what it teaches."