Thursday, October 30, 2014

Proposal - Relational Education Through Dance

http://www.theprospect.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/061010-MiddleSchool-Dance-001-L.jpg

One of the biggest issues I see in how young men relate to young women is the lack of empathy and compassion for their experience (and vice versa). There is, to me, a critical age for learning these skills, generally between the ages of 11-14, puberty.

Proposal

What if, say beginning in sixth grade, we divided up the boys and the girls and talked about how we relate to the opposite sex? Not just the usual "how babies are made" talk, but real, honest, ongoing talk about feeling nervous asking a girl to dance, about flirting, about appropriate language, about inappropriate language and behaviors, and so on.

What if then, after a semester of these ongoing conversations, we then taught kids to dance, formal dance, like the kind we learn for weddings? I suggest this because there is a formality and respect that this type of dance (waltz, rumba, foxtrot, salsa, etc.) entails that can help boys and girls to enact some of what they learn in the conversations that precede it and continue alongside it.

Imagine how much easier our lives might have been had we learned to dance as young people. But more importantly, imagine how much dating and relationships might have been had we learned some basic rules for conduct with the opposite sex (all of which is applicable to same-sex relationships, as well).

I'm sure that as an 11-year-old I would have been mortified at having to dance. I also know that kids get over this awkwardness pretty quickly once they begin to develop a sense of mastery.

http://www.uptowncollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Washington-Heights-Kids-Ballroom-Dancing.jpg

I don't know. Maybe this would not work to change the patterns of how young adults interact, but it's worth a try.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Two New Studies on Prostate Cancer with a Surprising Link

Two new studies on prostate cancer have been released in the last couple of days. The first one shows a 3.3 times greater risk of fatal cardiac events (heart attacks) in men who undergo androgen depletion therapy (ADT) for the treatment of prostate cancer (ADT eliminates testosterone from the body).

The new information supports previous studies suggesting that ADT increases risk of cardiovascular disease, risk of depression, induces muscle loss, decreases bone density (leading to osteoporosis), and results in an overall lower quality of life. I'd rather die of the disease than go through any of that. And in the long term, ADT does not stop progression of the disease, it only slows it down for about 6 months. After ADT the risk of a highly aggressive tumor is increased considerably, at which point it is untreatable.

The other study suggests that men who have had more than 20 female sexual partners have a 1/3 lower risk of developing prostate cancer. Strangely, men who sleep with 20 or more male partners are twice as likely to develop prostate cancer. That is a curious result that may be an anomaly, further studies are needed.

The connection between these two studies is testosterone. Men who have more sexual partners tend to have higher testosterone levels, and despite the prevailing belief that ADT is a useful treatment, there is mounting evidence that testosterone provides some protection against developing the most severe prostate cancers (which tend to be estrogen dependent, which makes ADT the most wrong choice possible).

Anyway, here are the press releases for the new studies.

Prostate cancer treatment linked to cardiac death risk 

An increased risk of dying from heart-related causes has been linked with a mainstay treatment of prostate cancer in a subgroup of men who have had prior heart attacks or congestive heart failure.


Written by David McNamee | 10.29.2014
The authors say that the findings of their study should be carefully weighed against larger controlled trials that demonstrate benefits of ADT.

One of the main treatments for prostate cancer, androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) reduced male hormone levels in an effort to prevent them from stimulating cancer cells. However, previous studies have found some adverse effects to be associated with ADT, including increased risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease, heart attacks and sudden cardiac death.

To further investigate this link, a group of researchers from Brigham and Women's Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School - both in Boston, MA - analyzed data from 5,077 prostate cancer patients who were treated between 1997 and 2006. About 30% of the participants had been treated with ADT.

No link was found between ADT and heart-related deaths among men with no risk factors for heart problems after a median follow-up of 4.8 years.

However, among men with congestive heart failure or prior heart attacks, there was a 3.3-times increased risk of death from heart problems. Heart-related deaths occurred in 7.01% of men in this subgroup who were receiving ADT, compared with 2.01% of men not receiving ADT.

The researchers explain that this increased risk works out as one cardiac death for every 20 at-risk men who receive this therapy.

"While androgen deprivation therapy can be a life-saving drug for men with prostate cancer and [can] significantly increase the cure rates when used with radiation for aggressive disease," says Dr. Paul Nguyen, of Brigham and Women's Cancer Center, "this study also raises the possibility that a small subgroup of men who have significant heart disease could experience increased cardiac death on ADT."

Further research should examine different types and durations of ADT

However, the researchers also warn that, as the study - which is published in the journal BJU International - was a retrospective analysis, its findings should be carefully weighed against larger controlled trials that demonstrate benefits of ADT.

It is also possible that changing the type or duration of ADT may reduce cardiac harm, and the researchers suggest that future studies should examine this.

The authors also consider that a longer follow-up period in future studies may reveal associations between ADT and cardiac harms in lower risk subgroups, such as among men with diabetes.

Dr. Nguyen says:
"I would still say that for men with significant heart problems, we should try to avoid ADT when it is not necessary - such as for men with low-risk disease or men receiving ADT only to shrink the prostate prior to radiation. However, for men with high-risk disease, in whom the prostate-cancer benefits of ADT likely outweigh any potential cardiac harms, ADT should be given even if they have heart problems, but the patient should be followed closely by a cardiologist to ensure that he is being carefully watched and optimized from a cardiac perspective."
In March, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that prostate cancer patients who received ADT as their primary treatment instead of surgery or radiation therapy did not live any longer than patients who received no treatment.

The authors, from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, DC, said that their study - which analyzed data from 15,170 patients - "mitigates against any clinical or policy rationale for use of primary androgen deprivation therapy in these men."
* * * * *

Prostate Cancer Risk Reduced By Having More Sex

Trending News: This New Study Suggests The Weirdest Reason You Should Sleep Around



Paul Watson October 28, 2014



Why Is This Important?

Because it may now be medically advisable for men to sleep around.

Long Story Short

Research has revealed that men who have slept with more than 20 women have reduced their risk of prostate cancer by almost a third, but men who have slept with 20 men have doubled their risk.

Long Story

A revolutionary new study has shown that sleeping with more than 20 women can reduce a man’s chances of developing prostate cancer by 28 percent. Conversely, men who sleep with more than 20 male partners are twice as likely to get prostate cancer than a man who has never had sex with another man.

Researchers at the University of Montreal and the Institut Armand-Frappier published their discovery in the journal Cancer Epidemiology after a survey of 3,208 men between 2005 and 2009.

It is suggested that intercourse can protect men from prostate cancer and those who are more promiscuous have more regular sex than those in long-term relationships.

“It is possible that having many female sexual partners results in a higher frequency of ejaculations, whose protective effect against prostate cancer has been previously observed,” lead researcher Dr. Marie-Elise Parent is quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

However, the reason for the reverse effect in homosexual male relationships where men who have slept with 20 male partners have double the chance of getting prostate cancer and a staggering 500% greater chance of developing a less aggressive prostate cancer, is still not clear.

“It could come from greater exposure to STIs, or it could be that anal intercourse produces physical trauma to the prostate,” Parent said, but she stressed that was a “highly speculative" analysis.

This is the first study to find a link between the number of sexual partners and prostate cancer, but it has previously been suggested that intercourse may help guard against prostate cancer because it reduces the concentration of carcinogenic substances in the fluid of the prostate.

Still, many men will be disappointed to hear that Dr. Parent was unwilling to recommend men should be told to sleep with more women, insisting we were “not there yet.”

Own The Conversation
  • Ask The Big Question: Does sleeping with more women really help men avoid prostate cancer?
  • Disrupt Your Feed: I always knew it was medically responsible to sleep with as many women as possible... Kidding.
  • Drop This Fact: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Europe for males and the third most common cancer overall.
Expand Your Expertise
  • Prostate cancer risk reduced by sleeping with many women, but increased with many men [Eureka Alert]
  • Sex with 21 women lowers risk of prostate cancer, academics find [The Telegraph]
  • Men who sleep with multiple women REDUCE their risk of prostate cancer [Daily Mail]

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Force Majeure" - A Movie That Will Change How You Think About Manhood (via Esquire)

This review of the new Swedish film Force Majeure (96% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes), from Esquire, makes it sound equally important for most men to see and painful to have to sit through. Likely, both are true.

Here is the official trailer:


This seems to be a can't miss film, especially for those of us who care about creating a healthier more authentic masculinity.

A Movie That Will Change How You Think About Manhood

The bleak, funny Force Majeure


By Nick Schager on October 23, 2014


Tired of all those superheroes outmatching you in toughness, confidence, and manliness? If so, then the cinematic antidote has arrived in the form of Force Majeure, a Swedish film (and the country's Oscar entry) that tears masculinity a new one.

Opening in limited release tomorrow and then expanding in the coming weeks, director Robert Ostlund's film is ostensibly a drama. But its dissection of macho attitudes and guises is so unsparing that it achieves a pitch-perfect balance between scathing censure and black humor. Rarely has a film taken men to the woodshed for their failings with such a mix of disgust, pity, and wit, the last of which is the key ingredient that helps make Force Majeure such a unique high-wire balancing act. It puts the awkwardness of a Ben Stiller farce to shame, and investigates the man-child phenomenon more deeply than a timid Hollywood bro-comedy ever could.

The film, exquisitely shot to emphasize the dynamics between characters, concerns a middle-class Swedish family on a ski-resort vacation. They're an average clan, led by the average Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), whose defining characteristic is his milquetoast personality and habit of constantly checking his iPhone for work messages. Their perfectly pleasant, unremarkable getaway is demolished, however, when during breakfast on the resort terrace one morning, a "controlled" avalanche is detonated by mountain officials, and the cascade of snow approaches the vacationers. At first, Tomas tells his panicking children to be calm. Yet as the snow builds to a roaring wall facing them, the possibility of death becomes frighteningly real. In that moment, as wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) grabs the children to shield them from the avalanche, Tomas grabs his gloves and phone—and flees.

Yes, he flees.



It's a moment of undeniable cowardice, and one that doesn't go unnoticed by Ebba and the kids, who, once the false alarm is over, sit in stunned silence as their father rejoins them at the table. Tomas's spinelessness and selfishness hang in the air for what seems like an eternity, even as they resume their vacation, with the kids miserable and Ebba barely able to contain her revulsion around Tomas. Her horror at her husband soon builds to an uncontrollable point, and it's then, during two separate conversations with other couples, that Force Majeure truly becomes a film that's watched while squirming restlessly and half-covering one's eyes.

During the first of those two chats, with a man and woman they've just met, Tomas denies that he fled the scene, thus digging himself an even deeper hole. Of course, Tomas is wracked with shame over his failure to act as protector, and Force Majeure depicts him as a man who's outwardly possessed and yet so internally weak and pathetic that he lacks even the courage to retroactively admit to (and atone for) his sins. Tomas hits rock bottom during a later evening spent with big-bearded friend Mats (Game of Thrones' Kristofer Hivju) and his 20-year-old girlfriend, who are put in the amusingly uncomfortable position of having to hear about Tomas's gutlessness, and then, in Mats's case, try to put a positive spin on indefensible behavior. During this tense centerpiece, director Ostlund refuses to turn away from his characters as they grapple with Tomas's shortcomings and the misery he's wrought, casting such an intense eye on Tomas and Ebba (and, in heartbreaking cutaways, their kids) that the film takes on the air of an inescapable nightmare at which you can only laugh.

Tomas's and Mats's ladies-man self-images are destroyed while they have a post-skiing drink, and Mats's girlfriend slams him for, hypothetically speaking, having the same cowardly instincts as Tomas (because, in part, he's left his kids with his ex-wife). No matter where you turn in Force Majeure, masculinity is under attack, and with good reason. And yet despite its scornful critique of traditional ideas about men's strength, bravery, virility, and altruism fostered by Marvel comics adaptations, Ostlund's film is no reprimanding lecture or slog. Instead, by rigorously fixating on his characters' faces as they refuse to look at each other or blubber uncontrollably over their own crappiness, he's created a sharply funny satire about the distance between what men project and what they really are. It's a joke for the ages, but it's also designed as a wake-up call to the real modern man-children of the world who haven't owned up to their true, flawed selves.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

This Is What Developing Acute Schizophrenia Feels Like (via Vice)

This is an amazing first person account of one young man's descent into psychosis and his slow and hopeful recovery. I have to append a warning to this story however - his outcome is great, but your outcome may vary.

A lot of people do NOT respond well to the atypical antipsychotic medications now in wide use, and a lot of those people suffer with serious weight gain (and diabetes, eventually), lethargy, brain fog, loss of sexual function, and a whole list of other problems. This young man was among the fortunate few who respond to the medications.

This comes from Vice.

This Is What Developing Acute Schizophrenia Feels Like


By Daniel Smith* | Oct 15 2014
*This and other names have been changed.

The brain, showing the cerebral cortex. Photo via Wellcome Images

A year ago this winter, I began to not recognize myself.

Sleep was the first thing to change. Progressively, over the course of about two weeks, I began struggling to drift off. As a 24-year-old man with a good supply of hash, this had never been a problem before. It was so odd. Seemingly out of the blue, I’d get into bed at night and not be able to shut off my brain. Thoughts would grow tendrils and loop onto other thoughts, tangling together like a big wall of ivy. Some nights, I’d pull the covers over my head, grab my face hard in my hands, and whisper, “Shut. The. Fuck. Up.”

Eventually I would be able to get to sleep, but I’d wake up feeling peculiar, like I had forgotten to do or tell someone something. Hunger wasn’t as aggressive as it usually was during this time, either. Normally I bolt downstairs to pour a heaping bowl of Frosted Flakes the second my eyes open. Instead, I woke each morning with a sick, creeping feeling in my gut. Still, I carried on as normal, thinking I’d just lay off the hash for a bit. That was probably it. I wasn’t panicked.

I carried on my work at a local wine shop and tried to push what was happening during the night to the back of my mind. I got through the days OK, if slightly bleary-eyed—but looking back now I can see that I had started to struggle with simple conversations.

If my boss told me to check a delivery, it’d take me a few seconds to process what he was saying, like two or three people had said it at the same time and I couldn’t make out the clear instruction. Looking at morning delivery slips and trying to make sense of them in my head was like trying to make out a tree in the fog—possible, but hard.

Everything felt misty. I started to think that stuff was about to fall all the time—I’d look at a shelf of bottles and see one or two about to topple over, then look again and they’d be fine. I also kept thinking I could hear phones ringing, at all different pitches, even though there were no phones in the warehouse. Again, I wasn’t panicking yet—I just told everyone who asked if I was OK that I wasn’t sleeping well and thought it was all down to that. Sleep deprivation does weird things to people. A friend at work gave me some sleeping pills to try out, and they seemed to help for a bit, even though I’d wake up and feel like my head was full of wool. I stopped caring about going to bars or playing soccer on the weekends. All I wanted to do was sleep. Conversations were too much work.

I’d say it probably took two months from that initial sleeplessness for me to actually think there was something seriously wrong with me. The thought octopuses, as I ended up calling them, got weirder and weirder at night. I’d have the TV on and start being unable to identify what was noise coming from the screen and what was my own noise. It was frightening. One night, while watching Homeland (of all the shows), I had what I thought at the time was a panic attack. I knew what a panic attack was because one of the girls I used to go out with had them—she once had to lie down in the movie theater and do deep breathing to stop herself from retching. It was horrible to watch. That night in bed, though, I started trembling like it was freezing cold—only my skin was boiling. My legs shook against the bed sheets and there was this cacophony in my head, like a crowd of people were chatting beside my pillow. Nothing dramatic, just a steady, confusing noise. By the flickering light of the TV, I began to lose my mind.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. I felt paralyzed. My bedroom door had become the very end of my world, like the paper set Jim Carrey rows into in the final scene of The Truman Show. The noise came and went in waves, but it felt like someone, or something, had replaced my body and mind. It wasn’t me who was too scared to go to the bathroom to piss, so I decided to do it into an empty glass, spilling it all over the floor. It wasn’t me who threw all my bed sheets off, only feeling comfortable completely naked against the bare mattress. It wasn’t me who pressed the tip of a boxcutter into my heel to try and snap myself out of the despair. In that room, as the sun came up and my alarm went off for work, I thought, I need my mom.

Luckily, she was only a staircase away. I hadn’t gotten myself together to move out of home yet—couldn’t afford to, really. I called her from my phone because I thought that if I left my bedroom my insides were going to fall out. I genuinely believed crossing the threshold of my bedroom doorframe into the hallway would make my skull come apart and my bowels fall out of me like a bucket of pig swill. She answered the phone and said, “Oh for goodness sake, Daniel,* stop messing around,” or something similar. I started crying, apparently in big, whooping sobs like a little boy, and heard her throwing her phone on the floor through the ceiling.

When she opened my door, she gasped. I don’t remember doing it, but apparently I’d pulled apart my TV remotes (I had, like, four of them) and my bare mattress was covered in little circuit boards, piss, and blood (from my heel). I sat there in my underwear, crying, and told her that I'd been “taken over.” She called an ambulance.

Again, I don’t really remember this properly, but apparently when the paramedics arrived I thought they were both taking pictures of me. I got really angry and tried to punch them. I screamed at one of them, telling him it was against the law to take my photo and that I had rights, all while seated in a pair of soaking wet boxer shorts with blood all over my leg.

All I remember from the drive to the hospital is my mom holding my legs down against the bed, but she says I was screaming that I didn’t want to be driven on the highway because there were people crouched inside the speed cameras. My memories of the hospital that night are colorless flashes of needles, soft voices, and arm restraints.

An image showing brain areas more active in controls than in schizophrenia patients during a working memory task. Photo via

All the above is what’s called a psychotic episode, and it's emblematic of acute schizophrenia—the illness I was diagnosed with. Psychosis is defined as someone having a loss of contact with reality. It can happen quickly, or—most commonly in those who develop schizophrenia—can be a slow burner and then suddenly snap. That’s what happened to me. I was hospitalized for about a week and a half and started on a course of antipsychotic medication immediately. I don’t remember much of this time, either, only that I felt sick a lot and found it hard to talk to anyone. Oh, and that the guy in the room next to me constantly shat himself on purpose. The smell was like the death I felt in my brain.

I remember the day I started to feel like I’d clicked back into reality, when the new chemicals I was taking found their footing in my body and didn’t just make me want to cover my head in blankets and sleep. My brother came in to see me with my mom (they’d been coming in every day but mostly just talked to the doctors and nurses—I was incapable of conversation), and we watched three episodes of Breaking Bad in a row on the iPad in the visitor’s lounge. My mom held it against her knees with one hand, while occasionally stroking the back of my neck with the other. I laughed at something Saul said and felt like I might be getting somewhere, like the curtains that had been drawn on who I once was were starting to flicker. I even ate a full meal that evening, and I'll now never take mashed potatoes for granted again.

The road to recovery was filled with potholes. Namely, debilitating panic attacks when I had flashes of what had happened weeks previous. But the mental health team at my local NHS hospital were amazing—save a couple of nurses who treated me like a baby. I hated that. Once I was allowed home I had a social worker come and see me every week to check on the medication, ask about what I was doing each day, and encourage me to go for walks with my mom and start talking to my friends again. I'd been too embarrassed to, and thought they wouldn’t understand. Or, worse, just write me off as a nutjob. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My best friend, Sam, said he’d been so worried about me that he actually hadn’t been sleeping at night. Stupid bastard. One by one they all started texting me again—I think they'd been frightened of saying the wrong thing, mostly—and said they couldn’t wait to start playing soccer again, that I’d be back on my skinny legs in no time. It was amazing how mature they all seemed.

The mental health unit arranged a course of outpatient therapy with a straight-talking man called Gregg. The antipsychotics were really sedating for a while, and I often felt like I was wading through molasses, but there was a strange calm in my brain that I’d not felt for months and months. Gregg helped make sense of what had happened to me, teaching me techniques for when panicked thoughts came into my brain about that night when I snapped (he says it’s unhelpful to talk about “losing” your mind—the mind is still there, it just got ill) and how to not live in fear of it happening again. He encouraged me to start seeing my friends again and told me about how the mind doesn’t stay the same, how it’s possible for it to recover, and that the medication had worked so would continue to work, but that I had to be realistic with myself and accept that I had become ill. All I needed was time.

Accepting it was the biggest thing, actually. Frustration is, as I’ve learned, too close to anxiety. On the days when I’d go out for a walk (my mom made me go every afternoon for at least an hour, leaving me on my own halfway through and giving me a task, like buying a pint of milk or some butter) and start thinking about everything, thoughts would flash into my brain: For fuck’s sake, why can’t you just be normal? I had to stop, inhale a few times and say to myself out loud, "I am normal. I just got sick and am having a break."

Within about six weeks of leaving the hospital, I started going to my friends’ houses again. I always felt a little twinge of discomfort when the TV was too loud, or when everyone talked at once, but I just told them when I felt strange. No one laughed at me. No one pitied me, either, which was amazing. I feel like if one of them had gotten sick like I had, I’d be like an overbearing mother, constantly asking if they were all right.

Within ten weeks I was back at work part-time. My boss couldn’t have been more sympathetic. Apparently, when I went into the hospital he called my mom to let me know that the job was waiting for me as soon as I felt well enough, and that I could take it at my own pace. Initially this made me angry—I didn’t want to go back as some sort of invalid. I was 25 (I celebrated my birthday in a medicated fog watching Friends reruns), not 60, and wanted to be thought of as the same guy when I returned. It took me a while to accept people’s sympathy and care for what it was, not a slight on me as a person.

Going back to work was the best thing for me. Having a routine, people to talk to, and tangible tasks to complete was very medicinal. I had days when I’d wake up and feel frightened, when it would take me a couple of hours to shower and leave the house, but nobody questioned me. I called Gregg a few times from the warehouse—being in the place where my reality had started to slip was, on occasions, pretty odd—and he wasn’t always available, but sometimes just leaving him a message was enough. Eventually, he said I didn’t need to come and see him anymore—that he trusted me to work through the thoughts and techniques on my own.

It’s a year on now, and I’ve not relapsed. I'll have to take this medication for a long time, I think, but I’m OK with that. I have precious little sex drive (even though I can still get it up) and have put on a bit of weight, but those are small prices to pay for clarity of mind.

I wanted to tell this story because, until I became schizophrenic, the word represented a death sentence in my mind. When you hear of people being schizophrenic, you imagine them locked in rooms with padded walls, rocking backwards and forwards into a two-dimensional future of heavily-medicated conversations and drool-covered pillows. You imagine a future of hearing voices and seeing phantoms. This is far from the case if it's treated well. With the right treatment, and especially if it’s caught early, you can recover incredibly well from acute schizophrenia, as you can from other mental illnesses.

I'm realistic about my prognosis: I might have a relapse at some point in the future, and do sometimes feel depressed about that. But now I know that I can recover well, it’s less scary. I'm back at work, socializing, keeping fit, and playing soccer like I was a year ago. I’ve even been on vacation. I’m not quite ready to move out of home yet, but that might be due to laziness more than anything.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone who starts to experience any psychological symptoms they’re not used to is to tell someone. Anyone. Make it a conversation rather than something you carry around yourself. Mental illness is no different from physical illness—it just involves a different organ: the brain. Don’t worry about asking for time off work, or about telling your boss that you’re feeling unwell, like I did. Looking back, hallucinating that invisible phones were ringing when I still had some grip on reality should have made me reach out to someone. Shame can play no part when it comes to looking after your mental well-being, and we should be as finely tuned to our mental symptoms as we are to our physical ones. Being a master of disguise, like I was to even my own mom, is nothing to be proud of.

If you're feeling out of sorts, talk to your doctor. Demand emergency appointments if you have to. Even if you think it sounds silly, or like something that will blow over, telling someone about how you’re feeling is the best thing you can do. I was dealt with as a psychiatric emergency, and as we all know, the hospital is astounding in an emergency. I don’t know what it’s like for others that don’t present like I did (I’ve read all sorts of horror stories about shoddy, delayed treatment online), but I do know that staying silent about feeling unwell is the worst thing you can do. People are always far more sympathetic than you think they’ll be.

It’s 2014. We need to stop treating mental illness as something taboo, something that will stain us forever. And that can only start with ourselves.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fitness Friday: Fitness News You Can Use

This week on Fitness Friday, we have articles on carbohydrate tolerance (Performance Nutrition), the anti-estrogenic properties of kelp (Journal of Nutrition), intermittent hypoxic resistance training (Frontiers in Striated Muscle Physiology), and two articles from T-Nation (perfecting the push-press and the 5/3/1 Beach Body Challenge).
squatting

First up, from Performance Nutrition, everything you need to know about carb intolerance.

Carbohydrate tolerance: Is your ability to eat carbs determined by your genes?


By Helen Kollias

Ever wonder why some people can eat bushels of bananas without gaining a pound, but you seem to gain weight by just looking at a potato? Maybe it’s your genes. But just because you’re “carb intolerant” doesn’t mean you’re doomed. These simple guidelines can help.

[Note: we’ve also prepared an audio recording of this article for you to listen to. So, if you'd rather listen to the piece, click here.]

++

You and a friend sit down for dinner.

Your friend orders a rice and potato sandwich with a side of spaghetti.

“I’m carb tolerant,” he explains, taking a sip of his beer and glancing eagerly at the dessert buffet.

You, on the other hand, order the green salad with salmon — hold the chickpeas.

You are not carb tolerant.

But you are annoyed with your friend.

In fact, for a bite of his sandwich, you would gladly stab him with a fork.


What is “carb tolerance” anyway?

Actually, come to think of it, does “carb tolerance” even exist?

Sure, the phrase peppers a lot of contemporary dinner conversations.

But does anybody really know what it means?

Maybe “carb intolerant” people just eat too many carbs. Or the wrong kind. You know — cookie carbs, donut carbs.

Or maybe the problem isn’t carbs at all. Maybe their “baked potato” has more sour cream and butter than potato.

Then again…maybe some of those people simply can’t process carbs the way the rest of us do.

In other words, maybe their genes are to blame.
* * * * *

It appears sea kelp has anti-estrogenic effects (in mice). This is from 2005, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Kelp has anti-estrogenic effect


Kelp, or bladderwrack seaweed – scientific name Fucus vesiculosus – has an anti-estrogenic effect. Substances found in kelp delay the manufacture of estradiol in the body and sabotage the working of the estradiol receptor.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley stumbled upon the anti-estrogenic effect of kelp when they tested an alternative theory on why very few Japanese women have breast, womb or ovarian cancer. These types of cancer are caused by estradiol. The conventional theory is that high consumption of soya, a food with an anti-estrogenic effect, protects Japanese women against estradiol-related cancers.
Source: J Nutr. 2005 Feb;135(2):296-300. 
You can read the original research article, as well.

Brown Kelp Modulates Endocrine Hormones in Female Sprague-Dawley Rats and in Human Luteinized Granulosa Cells


Christine F. Skibola, John D. Curry, Catherine VandeVoort, Alan Conley, and Martyn T. Smith
 
Abstract
Epidemiological studies suggest that populations consuming typical Asian diets have a lower incidence of hormone-dependent cancers than populations consuming Western diets. These dietary differences have been mainly attributed to higher soy intakes among Asians. However, studies from our laboratory suggest that the anti-estrogenic effects of dietary kelp also may contribute to these reduced cancer rates. As a follow-up to previous findings of endocrine modulation related to kelp ingestion in a pilot study of premenopausal women, we investigated the endocrine modulating effects of kelp (Fucus vesiculosus) in female rats and human luteinized granulosa cells (hLGC). Kelp administration lengthened the rat estrous cycle from 4.3 ± 0.96 to 5.4 ± 1.7 d at 175 mg · kg−1 body wt · d−1 (P = 0.05) and to 5.9 ± 1.9 d at 350 mg · kg−1 · d−1 (P = 0.002) and also led to a 100% increase in the length of diestrus (P = 0.02). Following 175 mg · kg−1 · d−1 treatment for 2 wk, serum 17β-estradiol levels were reduced from 48.9 ± 4.5 to 40.2 ± 3.2 ng/L (P = 0.13). After 4 wk, 17β-estradiol levels were reduced to 36.7 ± 2.2 ng/L (P = 0.02). In hLGC, 25, 50, and 75 μmol/L treatment reduced 17β-estradiol levels from 4732 ± 591 to 3632 ± 758, 3313 ± 373, and 3060 ± 538 ng/L, respectively. Kelp treatment also led to modest elevations in hLGC culture progesterone levels. Kelp extract inhibited the binding of estradiol to estrogen receptor α and β and that of progesterone to the progesterone receptor, with IC50 values of 42.4, 31.8, and 40.7 μmol/L, respectively. These data show endocrine modulating effects of kelp at relevant doses and suggest that dietary kelp may contribute to the lower incidence of hormone-dependent cancers among the Japanese.
* * * * *

Intermittent hypoxic resistance training: does it provide added benefit?


Brendan R. Scott, Katie M. Slattery, and Ben J. Dascombe
Introduction

Methods to enhance the adaptive responses to resistance training are of great interest to clinical and athletic populations alike. Altering the muscular environment by restricting oxygen availability during resistance exercise has been shown to induce favorable physiological adaptations. An acute hypoxic stimulus during exercise essentially increases reliance on anaerobic pathways, augmenting metabolic stress responses, and subsequent hypertrophic processes (Scott et al., 2014). Hypoxic strategies during resistance exercise were originally investigated using blood flow restriction (BFR) methods (Takarada et al., 2000), whereby a cuff is applied proximally to a limb to partially limit arterial inflow while occluding venous outflow from the working muscles. Another method that has been investigated more recently is performing resistance exercise in systemic hypoxia, by means of participants breathing a hypoxic air mixture.

The addition of systemic hypoxia to resistance training has previously resulted in significantly enhanced hypertrophic and strength responses to both low-load (20% 1-repetition maximum; 1RM) (Manimmanakorn et al., 2013a,b) and moderate-load (70% 1RM) (Nishimura et al., 2010) resistance training.
* * * * *

Finally, here are a couple of articles from T-Nation.

How to Do the Perfect Push Press 


by Eric Auciello | 10/16/14 
Here's what you need to know...
  • The push press develops a strong and stable trunk while highlighting gross deficiencies in mobility.
  • The push press is a great way to train heavy loads overhead in a strength-endurance format.
  • Unlike the press, the push press requires the upper arms to be parallel to the floor, similar to the arm position used in a front squat.
  • Maintaining a stacked spinal column while exhibiting force throughout the lift is best achieved by taking a wide stance.
  • The dip-drive phase isn't a one-fourth squat. It's a shallow and violent redirection of energy from your body to the barbell.

The Perfect Push Press

When it comes to lifting a barbell overhead, there are several options to choose from, from the simple shoulder press for hypertrophy to the technically complex jerk. But somewhere in the middle of that complexity spectrum lies a lift everyone should be doing: the push press.
* * * * *

5/3/1 Beach Body Challenge 


by Jim Wendler | 10/20/14 

Here's what you need to know...

  • The goal of this challenge is performance, not aesthetics. But you'll look awesome anyway.
  • Goal setting is a three-step process: Set the goal, make the plan, and get to work.
  • The challenges are very typical of the 5/3/1 set-up in that each day has a squat, a push, and a pull.
  • Many of the lifts will use the 5's Progression: 5 reps for every set, regardless of percentage.
  • Once you've completed the first three weeks, you'll have established rep records for the squat, press, and hang clean.
  • The next three weeks of the program will be devoted to you beating or attempting to beat each record.
"Beach Muscles"

A couple of months ago I was talking with a friend of mine about what the 5/3/1 "beach muscles" would be. The list was easy to come up with:

  • Legs
  • Traps
  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Forearms
These obviously aren't the usual muscles associated with the beach, but I live next to a corn field, so cut me some slack. Anyway, it gave birth to the 5/3/1 "Beach Body" Challenge.

The key to the challenge is that performance is the main goal, not aesthetics. I always focus on performance. I believe that when one has a concrete training goal – for example, "press 300 pounds, box jump 45", and run a 6:30 mile" – training becomes more focused and goals become real.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Are You a Member of Generation Stupid?

Funny and, sadly, partially true of a lot of the young people I see around these days. Like a group of five college kids sitting at a table in a coffee shop - ALL of them staring into their phones and not at all talking to each other. WTF? Is conversation dead?

Are Millennials so individualistic that they are incapable of communicating with words, face to face?

Okay, I better stop before I tell those punk kids to get off of my lawn.

Generation Stupid

September 30, 2014
https://d262ilb51hltx0.cloudfront.net/max/1200/1*CYR2d0S9fu2flPdbMQEU9g.jpeg
Bad Words | Written by umair haque


We need to talk.

You’re not going to like it.

Here’s the deal.

Jobs. Careers. Homes. Stability. Healthcare. Money. Stability. Democracy. Civil rights. A planet. Freedom. Meaning. Purpose. Happiness.

FaceTinder. UberDrones. Watching people play videogames. Selfies. LOLcats. Friending. Tube videos. Free porn. Pawnshop reality TV. The Latest and Most Kardashian Kardashian. Butt implants. Scandal. Outrage. Titillation. Cosmeceuticals. Made-by-the-lowest-bidder-slave-labor-sweatshop-shit. #OMG. #WTF? #IDK.

What do you spend most of yourself on? Where do most of your passions life? What do you invest most of your attention, energy, and ideas in?

The stuff on the second list.

You are trading the stuff in the first list for the stuff in the second list.

#LOL.

What the fuck is wrong with you?

Maybe you can’t change the world. It’s true. Not of all us can — and not all of us should try. But you can…be a functioning human. Am I suggesting you call your congressman, your MP, revolt in the streets, become a dreadlocked hippie and organize town halls no one comes to because you smell like the 1960s? Nope. But I am suggesting that wasting your life on bullshit is…the greatest of all bullshit.

If all your life amounts to is the pursuit of the Perfect Selfie, the Greatest High Score, the Largest Number of Mega Awesome Totally Fake Friends — congratulations! You’re a proud member of Generation Stupid.

The world is literally falling apart. We will be lucky if this decade doesn’t end in great catastrophe. Because the last time the world got stuck on the express train to nowhere, the passengers started fighting each other…to the death.

Let’s face it. We do the stuff on the second list because we’re afraid, anxious, worried. Deep down, we know things are going deeply, badly wrong. Socially, economically, culturally…spiritually.

Who wouldn’t want to escape the world? Who wouldn’t want to run away, into the immaculate digital arms of the most beautiful lover who ever was? The one that never challenges you, frightens you, hurts you? The one that tells you ”love” is whatever you want to be — as long as it’s a “profile”, an “avatar”, a “choice” from a dropdown menu.

Are you serious? Is that all you are? A being made of…bullshit?

You’re in pursuit of a deity that looks like Venus. A goddess of pure love. But she is an illusion made of bits and digits. And you must look back, not up. For then you will remember. No one ever won their freedom by looking to the contemptuous gods for salvation, instead of in their spirits for liberation.

That is precisely what courage is. Not the absence of fear. But the overcoming of fear, despite the surety of pain. Damn me if you must, the courageous say. I am damned anyway. If I cannot.

Generation Stupid. I love you. But you have to learn to love yourselves. Not in the naive, foolish, hopeless, cynical way you have been taught. That love is merely the “freedom” to take whiz through in a theme park chugging shots of designer digital esctasy while the world smashes itself into oblivion. So that all traces of the real you are obliterated. To love yourselves in a truer sense. To learn that there is not just more to life than all that — there is no life in all that.

You must learn to love yourselves as people who share the same obligations all human beings do. To make the most of yourselves, and live extraordinary lives.

Here. Now. At this very moment. In the place you stand. Not inside the screen, as a machine, a programs, an instruction, a profile, a counterfeit, an image. A helpless, less than human thing…that is…merely executed, stored, performed…processed.

All that…shit…? It’s just noise in the signal. Of what? Of life.

Imagine if I took a picture of myself, smiling coyly — while the world burned right down to an ember behind me. It would be the Perfect Selfie. For I would surely be lord and master of all. Everyone would know how cool I was. Look! Umair doesn’t give a shit! The fucking world’s burning down…and he took a selfie!! Damn…that dude!! He’s so cool!! What cojones!

But what would it be worth? Even the most Perfect Selfie in the world would just be noise. In the signal. Of life.

It would get me no closer to an extraordinary life. Just as extraordinarily wasted one.

That is every person’s challenge. To have the courage to be the signal. The lighthouse. The fire. The spark. The true north. Not merely to reduce one’s self to noise. To futility, oblivion, nothingness…meaninglessness...emptiness…a glitch at the end of the world…fizzling out into…bzzzt.

Courage, Generation Stupid. Courage. That is the truest miracle of all, for it is the only one there is.

Man is the weakest, the most laughable, of all the great beasts. He is hairless and small, clawless and slow. And yet, man may face a lion, in his very den. And conquer him. By, first, conquering himself.

Running away will never bring you a step closer to the life you were meant to live. Not a single aching step. Only courage can. That is what it has always taken to live. For life is not merely given, or taken. It is earned. With tears and sweat, suffering and grief, wonder and beauty, perseverance and grace. And so it can also be wasted.

Don’t waste your life. Live an extraordinary one. Say it with me.

Damn me if you must. I am damned anyway.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Will 'Cisgender' Survive?

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-FGulI5oxo6M/T2YhkHCUPJI/AAAAAAAADu0/2kzWxnxOAJ0/s1600/trans+cis.jpg

Not the people, the word.

I think this is actually a very useful word - it removes the normativity of the male/female binary. I also like genderqueer as a way to subvert the binary.

Will 'Cisgender' Survive?

The linguistic complement to "transgender" has achieved some popularity, but faces social and political obstacles to dictionary coronation.



The new Amazon Original Series, Transparent, about a middle-aged father who's transitioning into a woman, is just the latest cultural sign that the word "transgender" has gone mainstream. No doubt there have been transgender people—that is, those with a gender identity or gender expression that doesn't conform to their assigned birth sex—since there have been people at all, but the term itself wasn't coined until the 1970s. Popular confusion about its usage notwithstanding (for example, questions about the difference between "transgender" and "transsexual"), "transgender" is here, it's queer, and a lot of people have gotten used to it.

The situation is more complicated for "cisgender," coined in the 1990s to mean the opposite of "transgender." The "trans" in "transgender" comes from a Latin word meaning "on the other side of," and the "cis" in "cisgender" comes from a Latin word meaning "on this side of." "Cisgender" refers to people who feel there is a match between their assigned sex and the gender they feel themselves to be. You are cisgender if your birth certificate says you're male and you identify yourself as a man or if your birth certificate says you're female and you identify as a woman. Presumably you are also cisgender if you were born intersex (that is, with some combination of male and female reproductive parts) and identify as an intersex or androgynous person.

For a while, "cisgender" only appeared in academic journals. But now it's all over the Internet, and not just on blogs and sites of, by, and for transgender people. It's made it into online reference works like the Oxford Dictionaries. And since "cisgender" is one of the 56 options for gender identification on Facebook (along with "cis female," "cis male," "cis woman, "cis man," "cisgender woman," "cisgender man," and just plain "cis"), it has already achieved a kind of pop officialdom. 
Even more auspiciously, Stephen Colbert referred to "cis-language" in a recent episode of The Colbert Report. On June 17, in a segment of the show called "The Word," the comedian announced that his racial identity is "ciswhite" because, as he put it, "I've always been comfortable with my birth-race." Colbert's announcement should be a big deal as far as disseminating "cis" goes. His 2005 coinage, "truthiness," became so popular that the American Dialect Society named it "The Word of the Year"—the term that best represented the times. In 2006 it was still going strong, as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary named it its "Word of the Year," too.

Still, "truthiness" never made into standard dictionaries of contemporary English. Neither have any of the "cis" words—at least not yet. Will "cisgender" go all the way into the English language, become mainstream, right alongside "transgender"?

Despite Facebook, even despite Colbert, "cisgender" may not last, let alone become a household word. And it's not because it started life as academic jargon. After all, "transsexual," the basis for "transgender," was first introduced in the American Journal of Psychotherapy. "Heterosexual" and "homosexual" were invented by neurologists in the late 19th century, to name what they considered to be opposing perversions ("heterosexuals" were deviants who enjoyed relations with the opposite sex for pleasure and not just for procreation). Since "transgender," "heterosexual," and "homosexual" have stuck despite their provenance, "cisgender" just might, too.

That said, "cisgender" sounds more improbable as a word than "transgender" ever did. While the prefix "trans" is familiar from hundreds of English words ("translate," "transport," "transcend"), "cis" occurs in only a handful, the least obscure of which is probably "cisalpine" ("on this side of the Alps"). Compared to "transgender," the meaning of "cisgender" isn't very transparent (so to speak). Research by Harvard linguist Steven Pinker has shown that neologisms with staying power can often be identified by their initial "unobstrusiveness" (see his 2007 bestseller, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature). Lexicographer Kerry Maxwell has since used a simpler (and more recent) word, "user-friendliness" to predict longevity. She says it helps if new words are easy to pronounce, easy to read, and easy to spell.

"Cisgender"? Not so much.

Of course, there's more at stake in the viability of "cisgender" than mere words. "Cisgender" suggests a commonality among transgender and non-transgender people, at a time when transgender people are struggling for recognition. It tells us that we all experience some kind of relationship between our bodies and our selves, whatever that relationship may be. And it reminds us that those who experience a "match" between their body and their selves have it a lot easier in our society than those who do not. To the extent that "cisgender" helps raise awareness of intolerance and injustice towards transgender people, it serves a crucial political purpose right now. Potentially, "cisgender" could help build consensus on transgender rights.



However, the politics of "cisgender" have already proven divisive. Perhaps the most surprising protests are coming from the left—from people, that is, who might otherwise be counted on to support the transgender movement. There are feminists who balk at the idea that cisgender women are privileged in relation to transgender women, who were born male. Among other potential benefits, such as "passing" as men in a patriarchal culture, transgender women don't have to worry about reproductive rights. The Huffington Post recently collected a grab-bag of very mixed reactions to "cisgender" from the gay community. It's clear that some gay men and lesbians see "cisgender" as a slur, a way of labeling them as elitists or conformists after all (i.e., as not "queer" enough). Some think "cisgender" validates the notion that there are two (and only two) genders, correlating with two (and only two) sexes, just as many are exploring non-binary gender identities, such as "genderqueer."
All of which brings us back to the problem of the word "cisgender" itself. Linguists agree that the survival of a neologism relies, above all, on whether it names a stable and coherent concept, an idea that will last. It's the uncertainty of the concept behind the word "cisgender," for now, that really hints at trouble.  

As the social and medical sciences tell us more and more about ourselves and one another, we may eventually settle on the right words, the true words or, at least, the ones that reflect the data. "Cisgender" may or may not end up being one of them. But maybe, in the long run, it doesn't matter. Maybe the impact of Facebook's 56 genders will one day prove to have had nothing to do with naming all the possibilities for gender identity, but rather with helping to make the idea of possibility, itself, official. Our vocabulary of gender and sex is in flux right now because our ideas about gender and sex are in flux, too.

So will "cisgender" be an upcoming "Word of the Year," the linguistic sign of our times? Or will we just forget about it?

Quite possibly, both.
Paula Blank is a professor of English at the College of William and Mary.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why One Male College Student Abandoned Affirmative Consent (via The Atlantic)

Interesting . . . raises some interesting issues that men must deal with regularly, but that seldom get brought up in the discussions around consent.

Perhaps this is a discussion that people should have before things move to the bedroom, or wherever.

And, more importantly, we need to remove the double standard around female sexuality. Women like sex, too (duh!), and should not be shamed for liking it or initiating it.

A letter from a recent graduate who takes issue with California's new sexual-assault law

Beck Diefenbach/Reuters 
After I asked college students and recent grads to comment on California's affirmative-consent law, several different respondents shared a controversial perspective best captured in the email below. The male writer reports that he began college determined to ask women for explicit verbal consent during sexual encounters, but abandoned that approach over time.
Here is his explanation of why:
Dear Conor,
I am a recent graduate, and want to share with you a few of my experiences that I think are illustrative of why the new affirmative-consent laws are out of touch with the reality of the human experience. I hope they can be of some value to the debate.
I was raised by a left-leaning, feminist family who (at least I thought at the time) were relatively open about sex. But while I arrived at college with a healthy respect for women, I was totally unprepared for the complex realities of female sexuality.
“Oh,” sighed one platonic female friend after we had just watched Harrison Ford grab Alison Doody and kiss her is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Why don’t guys do that kind of thing anymore? Now days they are all too scared.”
On our second night together, one of my first partners threw up her hands in disgust. “How am I supposed to get turned on when you keep asking for permission for everything like a little boy?” She said. “Just take me and fuck me already.”
She didn’t stay with me for long
This would be a recurring theme. More than once I saw disappointment in the eyes of women when I didn’t fulfill the leadership role they wanted me to perform in the bedroom. I realized that women don’t just desire men, they desire men’s desire―and often they don’t want to have to ask for it. I also realized that I was in many ways ashamed of my own sexual desire as a man, and that this was not healthy.
At this point I was experiencing some cognitive dissonance with my upbringing, but in time learned to take an assertive lead unless I got a “no” or otherwise thought I was about to cross a boundary as indicated by body language.
One night I ended up back in a girl’s room after a first date (those do happen in college). She had invited me in and was clearly attracted to me. We were kissing on her bed, outer layers of clothing removed, but when my hands wandered downward she said, “No, wait.” I waited. She began kissing me again, passionately, so again I moved to remove her underwear. “Stop,” she said, “this is too fast.” I stopped.
“That’s fine,” I said. I kissed her again and left soon after, looking forward to seeing her again.
But my text messages received only cold, vaguely angry replies, and then silence. I was rather confused. Only many weeks later did I find out the truth from one of her close friends: “She really wanted you, but you didn’t make it happen. She was pretty upset that you didn’t really want her.”
“Why didn’t she just say so then, why did she say we were moving too fast?”
“Of course she said that, you dumbass. She didn’t want you to think she was a slut.”
Talk about confusing. Apparently in this case even no didn’t mean no. It wasn’t the last time I've come across “token resistance” that is intended to be overcome either. But that’s a line that I am still uncomfortable with testing, for obvious reasons.
But I have learned not to ask when it clearly isn’t necessary, or desired.
One of my fondest sexual experiences started with making eye contact across a room, moved to a dance floor, and then to an empty bathroom. Not a single word was ever spoken, because none had to be. We both knew and understood. I was a man and she was a woman, and we found ourselves drawn together in that beautiful way that men and women have been since a time immemorial, a time long before language was ever spoken.
Today in California this would be considered rape. I find that very sad. Women are not infantile. They can make their own decisions about sex, and that includes being able to say no―even if they don’t want to have to say yes.
Regards,
Anonymous
The experiences that this young man had will resonate with some readers. Others will find his descriptions unreliable or his conclusions wrongheaded. Agree or disagree with him, this much is clear: If his attitude persists among a significant number of college students, it will be a huge obstacle to spreading affirmative-consent culture.

How might different supporters of affirmative consent respond to this young man? They might say:
  • Under an affirmative-consent standard, consent need not be verbal. Depending on the details, it's possible that your "saw her across the room" hookup was fine.
  • Perhaps women supposedly put off by your attempts to seek consent were actually reacting to a lack of confidence or wimpy manner, not consent-seeking itself, which can be sought in a confident, assertive, charismatic manner.
  • Some women may put off by explicit consent-seeking, but others are turned on by it. And even if some subset of women dislike explicit consent-seeking, that doesn't mean the standard should be abandoned, even if it does "cost" men some hookups, as if society should care about that when it adopts norms. This will reduce rape and sexual assault, a benefit that is much more significant than the trivial cost of a 22-year-old guy not having sex quite as often, or 22-year-old women who can no longer offer "token resistance" and get laid.
  • The idea that women offer "token resistance" enables rapists and other sex criminals and should not affect consent-seeking. (The writer seems to agree in part when he notes that he is "still uncomfortable" testing "token resistance.")
I'd be curious to see a frank debate between this young man and critics of his position. (Would anyone be persuaded to refine their position or learn how to better persuade their critics?) But the sensitivity of the subject, the understandable aversion most people have to speaking on-the-record about their past sexual encounters, and the way both politically correct stigma and misogynistic threats are used to police discourse on this subject make it less likely that college men who feels this way will have open, rigorous on-campus exchanges with those whose perspective is different.

My hope is that emails from students and recent grads about any aspect of the affirmative-consent debate will air a broad spectrum of views and facilitate frank exchanges. If you have thoughts or insights informed by what you've seen or experienced, please share, anonymously or not, by emailing conor@theatlantic.com.


Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Daily Om: Remembering Childhood Joys

http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/x/kids-playing-autumn-park-23097115.jpg

Today's Daily Om is a reminder that fun is a choice - and as adults we too often get caught up in all of the responsibilities of being an adult and forget to have some fun. If you have kids, you get down to their level and play in the dirt, or color and draw with crayons, or watch cartoons. Even if you don't have kids, drawing and coloring can be fun, as is swinging on the swings at the park, or playing on the merry-go-round, or catching and releasing frogs in the local pond (if you live in a rural area), or playing in the fall leaves (like diving into the pile after you rake them up).

Whatever you enjoy, let yourself enjoy it.

Just for Fun

Remembering Childhood Joys


by Madisyn Taylor
October 19, 2014


Fun isn’t something that is given or done to you, it is something that you allow yourself to experience.

As adults, we often get so caught up in “grown up” business that we can forget how to have pure fun. This isn’t the kind of fun that comes from doing a specific kind of activity or being in a specific mood for fun. Rather, this is the fun born from the state of pure being. You see this kind of fun in small children who are so busy being fully present to their lives and in their own bodies that the glow of fun radiates from them just because they are alive: the delight that flashes across the eyes of a child who discovers that water flows with the turn of the tap knob or the squeal of pleasure from a young baby whose tongue is being tickled by cold ice cream; then there’s the full, infectious laughter of a child watching the same hat trick for the fiftieth time.

Back when we were children, this experience of pure delight didn’t have to come from a heightened, heady event in order for us to feel like our day had been made; and it can be that way for us again - if we are willing to remember and reconnect with that part of ourselves that knows how to be in the flow of fun. You can begin this process by reminiscing on what was fun for you as a child. Think about what caused you to giggle in delight or wriggle in pleasure or burst into endless laughter that you couldn’t sit up straight no matter how much you wanted to. Try to spend a few moments with each memory, and really feel what it was like to be in those experiences – allowing that feeling of pure fun to wash over you. It lives, in you – that feeling. It can’t be bottled, manufactured, or sold. You just have to call it back up in order to experience it again.

Pure fun happens when we are fully engaged with ourselves and our world in each moment. It is the spontaneous delight that bubbles out of us when we let go long enough to bring it through; it is the experience of natural, organic pleasure that springs up from our bellies, through our souls, up through our faces, and down to our toes. We’ve naturally known how to have pure fun since we were babies and the flicker of lights caused us to jump to attention from the sheer enjoyment of being able to see. Approach your life today with the knowledge that pure fun isn’t something that is given or done to you; rather, it is something that you allow yourself to experience.

What do you think?
Discuss this article and share your opinion

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Amazon's "Transparent" Normalizes Transgender Lives for a Mainstream Audience

In her review of Transparent, the newish streaming-only series from Amazon Prime, Francine Prose offers an overview of the series's strengths, which are many, and a few minor flaws.

I had heard about the series and wanted to see it, but somehow had missed that it was already available (since February). It's my next binge-watch weekend.

In working with trans clients, my biggest take away has been that their lives have the same basic dramas and struggles as do cisgender people. They know who they are as people, mostly, and being trans is only an issue insofar as others make it an issue.

It seems that Transparent gets that part of it right in this series.

Seeing Our Selves

Francine Prose
New York Review of Books
October 10, 2014

Amazon Studios Amy Landecker and Jeffrey Tambor in a scene from Transparent

After I’d watched all ten half-hour episodes of the first season of Transparent in just two evenings, it occurred to me that, with the exception of Louie, most of the TV series I’d binge-watched—The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, and Spiral, among others—had involved either enormous amounts of violence, ruinous drug addiction, a grisly crime requiring a crack team of British (or French) detectives to solve, or all of the above. So far, Transparent‘s body count is zero, unless we add in the erasure (and the effective demise) of Mort Pfefferman, a retired Los Angeles academic and political scientist who, in late middle age, comes out to his three grown children as Maura, the woman he truly is and always was. Its tone is wistfully comic; its suspense—how will the kids react to the fact that Dad, or, as they begin to call him, Moppa, is shopping at the mall in make-up and a dress?—is tempered and low-key. And yet I finished each installment eager to spend more time with the Pfeffermans, whose individual and collective predicaments, and whose familial relationships, seem at once entirely unique and universal.

Since the series became available to Amazon Prime subscribers this fall (the first episode appeared in February), the show has received a great deal of popular attention; the series has already been renewed for a second season. It’s a somewhat unlikely hit, given its lack of dramatic action (a euphemism for bloodshed), its vaguely melancholic register, and the extent to which all of its principal characters seem isolated, rudderless, and lost. Above all is the unlikely fact that it has, at its center, the balding, ponytailed, thickset Mort/Maura, not exactly a wildly attractive exemplar of either gender. One can imagine a generation seeing their experience mirrored (or not) in the HBO series Girls, but most viewers, I’d assume, might hesitate to identify with the sympathetic, appealing, but troubled and maddeningly solipsistic Pfeffermans.

Part of what makes the series so engaging is the pleasure of seeing what gifted actors can do when they are provided with scripts and direction that allow them to create highly complex, interesting characters, as fully nuanced and contradictory as actual human beings. Gaby Hoffmann delivers a typically fearless, even reckless performance as the youngest sibling, Ali, a lost soul blessed and cursed with an excruciatingly high concentration of generosity, desperation, decency, human kindness—and weirdness. Hoffmann’s intensity injects humor and pathos into scenes (including one in which Ali tries and fails miserably to enlist two male bodybuilder roommates in a mini-orgy) that might otherwise remain mocking burlesques. Jay Duplass brings a persuasive mixture of surface charm and deep anxiety to his portrayal of Josh, a successful music producer whose natural confidence and cultivated hipness belie a longing to love and be loved, to understand and transcend the damage done by his longstanding affair with Rita, the family babysitter with whom he began a sexual relationship when he was fifteen. And Amy Landecker is equally convincing as Sarah, whose readiness to torpedo her “perfect” life, to leave her children and her rich husband and reconnect with her college girlfriend seems motivated partly by exhaustion and impatience with the compulsory niceness and the custodial responsibilities of being an older sister.

All three actors deftly convey the wide range of emotions and behaviors that go along with being a sibling: the inside jokes, the familiarity, the affection, the knowledge of how to irritate and comfort one another (there’s a moving scene in which Ali, having just heard that Josh’s girlfriend has had an abortion, cajoles him into joining her in a sweet, awkward dance), and the puppy-like competition for sustenance and parental attention. For the Pfeffermans, this rivalry is exacerbated by Mort’s habit—a tic that survives his transition to Maura—of telling each of his children something (mostly having to do with money) and making them promise not to tell the others.

The supporting cast is similarly virtuosic. As Mort’s ex-wife Shelly, Judith Light communicates the sharpness and the resilience of a quick-witted, soft-hearted woman slightly hardened and concealed beneath the persona of the daffy grand-dame she’s developed for self-protection. Katherine Hahn enters the series, partway through, as Raquel, a compassionate, intelligent, and (why should this surprise us?) sexy rabbi whom we want to warn against getting involved with Josh even as we are fervently hoping that their romance might work out. And Carrie Brownstein, as Ali’s best friend Syd, persuades us—along with Ali—that she genuinely believes there is nothing wrong in having and concealing a casual affair with Ali’s brother.

But ultimately everything turns on Jeffrey Tambor’s stellar turn as Maura, whose thrilled, tentative forays into femininity excite our protectiveness even as her failings as a parent become increasingly clear. As Maura edges, step by step, into her new life, her terror of the unknown is mediated by a girlish delight in the exterior trappings of womanhood; in one scene, we witness her near ecstatic introduction to the rituals of the department-store cosmetics counter.

Amazon Studios A scene from Transparent

As we come to realize, the Pfeffermans’ problems go beyond gender confusion and a familial predilection for secrecy. The question they can’t seem to answer is a more basic and common one: How much should—and can—each individual give up for the good of others? Transparent floats the radical idea (which we may have observed on our own) that love, real love, can coexist with crippling selfishness and self-involvement. In the first episode, when Mort tries and fails to tell his kids about his decision, and they cannot or will not hear him, he says that he cannot believe he raised three people so unable to see beyond themselves. But the more we learn about Mort and Shelly, the more we’re inclined to think that self-centeredness may be an inherited trait. When her kids arrive at her apartment, bringing her favorite take-out, Shelly exclaims, “Look how much my children love me!” And there’s a scathing flashback in which Mort is so eager to attend a rural retreat where he will be able to dress as Maura that he accedes with appalling haste to thirteen-year-old Ali’s semi-serious child’s suggestion that her parents cancel her bat mitzvah.

Created by writer/director Jill Soloway, whose own father became a woman late in life, the show is especially sensitive to (and informative about) issues of gender. When Sarah tries to prevent Ali from “outing” their father to Josh, who has not yet been told the startling news, and when she informs her siblings that the correct term for Moppa is “trans,” her lines seem as if they might have been suggested or influenced by one of the many trans crew members who were hired to work on the series. When Maura is ejected from a ladies’ room at the mall by outraged strangers, it reminds us that (as a recent New Yorker article explained) public bathrooms and all-female music festivals have become the new battlegrounds in the war between feminists and male-to-female transsexuals over what it means to be a woman.

Watching Mort turn into Maura—figuring out how to walk and talk, how to tilt her head and fiddle with her hair—makes us think again about how much of our behavior is hormonally determined and how much is learned and practiced: how much is theater. Tambor’s transformation recalls Felicity Huffman’s extraordinary performance as Bree, the male-to female heroine of the 2005 road-trip film TransAmerica. What a challenge and how much fun it must be for actors to impersonate characters who must learn to impersonate someone else, someone whom they have long recognized as their true self.

The series gets so much right that when it doesn’t, we notice. Perhaps its most implausible aspect is the response (or lack of response) of Sarah’s two young children to the fact that Mom has left Dad for Tammy. Watching Sarah and her offspring, one might conclude that the most critical qualifications for parenthood are the ability to pick up one’s children after school on time, and a knack for arranging entertaining play-dates. The children seem to vanish, rather conveniently, from Sarah’s consciousness, reappearing only when necessary; when, for example, we are invited to observe their response to Grandpa’s new wardrobe and hairstyle. And at times one can’t help wishing that the writers would search the script for “secret” and “family secret” and delete all the results; surely most viewers are savvy enough to understand how much concealment has hurt the family without the frequent promptings, which tend to flatten out, rather than deepen or illuminate, our sense of who these people are.

But these hesitations and criticisms are minor. Despite one’s reservations about Amazon and its dark plans for writers and publishers, we can be thankful that Transparent exists. What a joy and a relief it is to be drawn into a mystery—the mystery of character, the mystery of gender, the mystery of family love—that is so far beyond the provenance and the expertise of the crime-scene squad and the forensic pathologists.