Saturday, April 16, 2011

Can increased competition make you less competitive with everyone else?

One of the better descriptions of a CrossFit workout comes from the owners of the CF gym that I attend, CrossFit Aspire: "Workouts at CrossFit Aspire feel more like sports practice than a gym class. Our members experience the camaraderie of teammates, while each person tracks their individual progress and competes against themselves to perform better than they did previously."

Yeah, it's almost just like that, except no one ever makes you feel bad. I don't know if you were ever on one of those teams where someone -- a coach, another player, whoever -- made you feel like a loser. That nonsense doesn't happen at CF. If it did, the offender would be out on his or her ass almost immediately.

Instead, you get all the positive benefits of a team workout, where others' intensity pushes you to do better, without the negative downside of disapproval. Because, in the end, most Crossfitters aren't really competing for anything, except to make themselves better. Sure, if I'm doing a WOD (workout of the day) at the same time as you, I am going to try to finish it faster than you, but here's the key-- the goddamn beautiful, nearly counterintuitive key -- whether I win or lose in my competition with you doesn't mean a damn thing. What matters is whether I gave 100%. If I did, my work, for the day, is done, and I leave satisfied, with no regret.

Today we did a team WOD. My two-man team lost by 14 seconds in a workout that took just short of 19 minutes. It used to be -- back in the pre-CF days -- that my overly-competitve self would have beaten myself up about that close call for a while. As it was, I congratulated the winners, and walked away happy that we busted our asses in pursuit of fitness.

Yeah, CrossFit has made me care less about winning, while simultaneously making me try harder to win. Wrap yer mind around that conundrum, son.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Random thoughts and rambles, Friday edition

--The Dems are, surprisingly, playing this looming government shutdown very well, from a purely political sense. They have the House Repubs committed to a bottom-line number and so now any failure to agree can be blamed on ideology, not fiscal matters. But then again, "winning" in this case just means not looking quite as bad as the other side, which, in the end, is no way to govern.

--Of course, this is current fight is small potatoes compared to the looming issues of the debt ceiling and the 2012 (and thereafter) budgets. Kudos to Senator Pat Toomey (R, PA), with whom I do not believe I agree on anything outside the fiscal realm,  for chiding Repub members of the House for getting bogged down in ideology over, at most, a couple billion dollars. As Toomey has pointed out, the remainder of the 2011 budget (what they are about to cause a shutdown over) is insignificant crap compared to the fiscal freak scene that awaits us if we do not rein in spending and fix the debt crisis over the long term. Focus like adults, people.

--New power trio band has a name: the Mud Falcons, and a Facebook page. "Like" us, please?

---Playing in a new band, even with members whom you know, and with whom you have played previously, is always challenging, new, cool and different. Honestly it puts the greatest burden on Kris, the guitar player, because without an organ in the band, like we had in Mondo Topless, it's up to him to make more noise, and he is stepping up to that task in a big way. You wouldn't have necessarily thought that "We're a Bad Trip," a Camper Van Beethoven cover that we did in Mondo, would have made the organ-less transition into a Mud Falcons setlist, but we are ripping it. And Scott and I are doing our parts as well to enhance the new sound. Scott used the five-string bass last night at practice to great, booming-low-end effect, and I am locking into the bass even more than in Mondo, emphasizing the groove, over top of which the roar can coalesce. Good times.

--It's amazing how much more dynamics there are in a trio. That's simultaneously good and a challenge.

--Spring has finally sprung, which means that it's outdoor-volleyball season. This means a yard full of volleyball and friends a couple weekends a month. And lots of nomnomnom food and drink afterwards. Oh yes....

-- Spring also means that it's, once again, time for playoffs in the indoor rec volleyball league that I play in. Competition is good.

--"I'm pro-choice about everything" = a bumper sticker that may most closely state my political philosophy in the fewest number of words. But, then again, I have pretty much sworn off political bumper stickers. "Drum machines have no soul" and "Punk is whatever we made it to be [with pic of D.Boon]" are more my speed these days.

--I am hardly drinking beer at all these days. In fact, the only beers I've had lately have been when I've been out. Red wine or tequila, with the occasional foray into the single-malt scotch (but less and less as the weather warms up), seem to be the at-home drinks of choice lately. Which, I suppose, makes sense in light of....

--Eating paleo (see here for a post about that) is an awesome, ongoing work in progress. My wife has stopped her vegetarian (plus fish) ways of almost 30 years, and has joined me in the meat (fish and eggs too)/veggies/good-fat world. I learn a little more about it each week, and end up a little more doctrinaire about some of it (e.g., avoiding grains almost entirely now), and less doctrinaire about other aspects (e.g., full-fat dairy is providing a great energy source despite the purist paleo "no dairy" rule).

--This guy's blog is a great wonky, modern, non-doctrinaire take on paleo eating. I liked the old title, "Paleo Nu," better than "Archevore," though. It sounds more like a dinosaur now.

-- Mike Watt and the Missingmen tore it up last weekend at the North Star Bar in Philly. If I get time this weekend, I will blather on more about that one. Inspiring stuff. Coltrane!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When ideology must bend to common sense

I give Paul Ryan credit; at least he has a plan.

On the other hand, it appears that his plan is, shall we say, a tad ideologically skewed.

You can't turn on the news without hearing it over and over again: we have a massive debt/fiscal crisis, and the "third rails" of politics -- defense spending and entitlements like Social Security and Medicare -- are going to have to be part of any fiscal-responsibility/deficit-reduction plan.

Congressman Ryan's budgetary proposals are a serious attempt to address the problem. The difficulty is that his cuts don't do anything to trim military spending or Social Security and are so draconian in terms of Medicare and Medicaid that the blowback is going to be extreme. They also don't do much about revenue, instead proposing further tax cuts that won't likely help fix the deficit in the long run.

So who else has a proposal to fix the crisis?

Remember the ill-fated Deficit Commission? That panel, led by former senators Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson came out with a plan a few months back that looks, on the whole, to be more ideologically centrist (and realistic) than Ryan's plainly right-tilted approach.

The Simpson/Bowles proposals involve cuts to all of the aforementioned "third rails" but, in addition to going after all of those areas, where the Simpson/Bowles cuts target Medicare and Medicaid they do so in ways that appear more flexible than the Ryan slashing and burning. Moreover, Simpson/Bowles considers some small/temporary tax increases and a broader reformation/simplification of the tax code that is long overdue.

Ezra Klein did a great piece in his Washington Post/Bloomberg blog urging a (positive) re-look at Simpson/Bowles as a kinder/gentler/fairer/less-ideological alternative to Ryan's plan. I am on board with that, and I think Simpson/Bowles underscores that, while big cuts are absolutely necessary, we can't just cut our way out of this mess.

Indeed, it's in the "small tax increase" area where, I suspect, George Voinovich likely got it right a few months ago, or at least his idea looks pretty damn good in the rearview mirror. You may recall that on his way out the door, generally moderate Republican U.S. Senator George Voinovich bucked both his party and the other one, and, when it came time to debate whether we should be extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone (the Repub proposal) or for everyone except those individuals making more than $200k annually (the Dem plan), Voinovich told us all to grow up and let the income-tax cuts expire for everyone.

I am not a fan of tax increases. In fact, my generally libertarian-ish thoughts make me a fan of tax cuts as a growth-stimulator, but, as I have said before, the Bush income-tax cuts in the middle of a war were unprecedented and reckless from a deficit-explosion standpoint. Just a few months ago when Congress was debating about the two tax-cut-extension plans (continue 'em for everyone vs. soak the "rich" and continue everyone else's), I said that, despite my position against the cuts when they happened, I couldn't see reining them in in the middle of an economic downturn. Now I am beginning to think that Senator Voinovich was right, or at least that, a few months down the line, with the economy doing a little better, it's time to think about a small increase in everyone's taxes as a revenue-generator that is part of a larger deficit-reduction plan like Simpson/Bowles. (However, let's digress just for a moment to be really clear: I still think the estate tax is stupid and I still don't understand the "soak the rich" proposal of just increasing income taxes on a small percentage of people to be anything more than stupid class warfare and yawningly predictable/ineffective "don't raise my taxes, but it's OK to raise his taxes" nonsense).

We need to have the grown-ups in charge right now. Ryan's plan is undoubtedly grown-up, but it is tilted all in one direction, fixing the deficit nearly entirely on the backs of Medicare and Medicaid recipients. Those folks are undoubtedly going to have to share the pain -- see Simpson/Bowles for that -- but a plan needs to look at all the "third rails" of politics, and that necessarily will include military and Social Security cuts as well as likely short-term minor tax increases.

Or at least all of those ideas have to be on the table.

So, congrats to you, Congressman Ryan. I don't love your plan, but maybe it'll steer us into a serious conversation that should have started with Simpson/Bowles. And maybe we can get back to something more like that sensible, centrist proposal.

UPDATE: Check out this link from the New York Times if you want to play deficit-reducer at home. It's very cool, and proof-poitive that this goal can be achieved by spreading the pain around in a way that doesn't engage in class warfare up or down.