February 21, 2011

What became of the Mighty Sioux?

The Japanese are totemists, like a lot of people were once all over the world. I have emmigrated to Japan and my son is, culturally, Japanese.

What became of all the other totemists? What became of the mighty Sioux, nation of first Americans?

Europeans came and wiped them out.

I could write a disclaimer about this but, no one reads this blog anyway, much less members of the Sioux.

Who were the Sioux? Afaik they were one of the most populous, influential, powerful nations in North America. Alas the Wikipedia page about the Sioux is almost entirely about Sioux interactions with Europeans. Apart from noting that they controlled a large area of North America, and some ethnography regarding their political structure there is very little information about who the Sioux were. The Sioux still exist. But it is almost as if they never existed for us computer users, and Wikipedia readers. Perhaps the Sioux themselves do not give a rats arse about the fact that they do not appear on Wikipedia.

Is there ever going to be a Sioux revival? Does revival mean anything other than becoming Westernised? Does Westnerised mean anything other than 'advancing'? Is there only one form of (re)vival, 'advancement' the growth of, the spread of technology? Are there cultures in the plural? Is there a different path, are there paths plural? Is the notion of "path" with the inherent suggestion that their should be movement - a path, a geographic term, suggests movement- a culturally universalable notion?

Anyway, I live in Japan, once mighty Japan that now seems to have problems. I am sure that there were problems for a long time but...what will become of mighty Japan? What will become of my Japanese children? Will their success be measured in terms of the extent to which they conform, their culture conforms to some universal human, or some Western cultural, measure? Is there a Japanese path? What will become of, once?, mighty Japan?

Posted by timtak at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2011

How to Run 10k Fast without Going for Runs

Today I ran a 10K run at 44 minutes 10 seconds coming in 69th out of about 400 male runners, and 29th out of 250 in my 40-plus age group. I am feeling tired and chuffed.

I am 45 years old, 176cm (5 foot 9 inches) and 73kg (11 stone, 7lbs). That means that I have some flab round the middle and big thighs. I smoke about 7 cigarettes a day. I drink beer. So, my time was fast enough to surprise some thin "runners," and myself. It was my first running race in about 15 years. I have never been a particularly fast runner. I have only taken part in a race about 6 times before (a couple of half marathons, the other 4 races were 10k or so, mainly in my twenties). So how did I run so fast?

In brief
1) Train by cycling, not running. When cycling think spin, not push, and spin fast. 
2) Stretch a *lot* before the race, especially calf muscles.
3) Run a fast, slow, fast race, not an even paced one.
4) Get to know the course, even on a bike, before the race.
5) Use music - it has a powerful effect on performance.
6) Avoid using your will-power for the whole race by tagging onto other people, and going into auto-pilot.
7) Mimic the economical running style of club runners.
8) Get supporters to the track.

First of all, a disclaimer. The following is certainly not medical advice. Please take care not to die of a heart attack.

1) Train by cycling, not running. By "not training," I mean that I had not *run* hardly at all recently: maybe two 4km runs a month for the past few months. However, I have been cycling quite a lot (24km about 3 times a week).
 When my weight gets up above 70Kg, as it generally has been over the past 7 years, I find that running is hard. Running is hard on my knees above all, and also if I do not do a lot of stretching first (see below) hard on my calves and thighs. Running is not a sport I would recommend to those that want to keep in shape in their middle age (spread). Running, especially on roads, is hard on the body. Don't do it!

1.1) Having said that, I try to keep in shape so about 5 years ago I gradually took up cycling. The good thing about cycling is that ones butt and bulk is supported by the seat so all that bouncing up and down, often on roads, with the enevitable strain on sinews and joints is avoided. However, cycling trains the heart and whatever else is needed to run fast. It seems to me that I passed a lot of "runners," with their thin legs, economical strides, watching their watches, because they were all used to running and the damage that it does to people. They were used to improving their fitness using a very jolting method of excercise.

1.2) The first and main moral of my story is do NOT run to train for running. Cycle to train for running instead! Swimming may be good too. I think that that an excersice bike (especially a good one with a large weighted wheel, that allows one to enjoy the feeling of enertia as one gets up speed), is in theory as good as a real bike or better because you have less chance of falling of or being hit by a car. It is more boring though, because you do not go anywhere. An excercise bike in front of a TV with a video of good runners or cyclist may assuage the boredom.

1.3) So, train by cycling, on your excercise bike or on your real bike. I am lucky in that my main cycling course is 24km which takes me about 45 minutes (I am going at about 30 kmh, not a great speed at all for a cyclist). But, the point is, it is good to have a cyclying course, or an excercise bike regimine, that takes about the same amount of time as the time you are aiming for on your run. I cycle for 45 minutes. My run took 45 minutes. This was no coincidence; I knew that I could keep up the pace, the effort, for that amount of time.

1.3) The important thing when cycling is to keep your "cadence" (the number of turns of the pedal per minute) up. Aim for about 85 (more than 70, but 90 and above is a bit much). Novice cyclists, as I almost am myself, tend to use higher gears and pound on the downward thrust of the pedals. Get away from pounding down. The important word is "spin." Think about spinning your legs not pushing them. This is in a sense the same advice (do not run, cycle!) again, because if you are pushing as you cycle you might as well be running. You are tiring out your legs, your leg muscles. The important thing is to train the most important muscle, your heart. Get into a lower gear, one that is easy to spin, and spin and keep spinning, as fast as you can, for the 45 minutes (or whatever time you are aiming for on your run). Prove to yourself, that you can keep up that level of power output. Again by power I do not mean push, or strength, but the scientific meaning of power: energy output, and thus calouries burned. As soon as you feel your legs tiring, as soon as you feel your are pushing on the downward thrust, switch to a lower gear and spin spin spin. This excercise will excercise your heart and your ability to output that power in the running race.

After reading a couple of articles on running I see that cycling will train your hear and your leg muscles to cope with "lactate." Whatever. Train by spinning, not by pounding the ground.

2) Stretch a lot before the race, especially if you are not a runner. Running (that bad method of excercise!) results in a lot of jolts as you bring your legs down on roads. The strain on the sinews (and joints) when running is massive when you feet hit the road. I have pulled muscles in my calves and thighs when attempting to run fast when I am not fit and I have not stretched enough. However it seems to me that one can make up for all that lack of running training, by stretching like mad, like a yoga-doer (a yogi?), before the race. There is nothing difficult to this. I find it difficult to touch my toes. I don't bother.

2.1) Instead to stretch the most important calf muscles I lean up against a wall, at about 45 degrees "/" or much less, so that my legs are a long way from the wall and my feet are pointing forwards. Gradually get down as low as possible, so you are in a position like you are doing press-ups (no need to do press-ups of course) so that your legs are out way behind you but your feet are still pointing forward. Do it gradually. Try using one leg and then the other. Standing on a steep slope with your feel pointing up the slope is another way of stretching calf muscles.   

2.2) Stretch your thigh muscles by putting your legs up on a railing or the top of a wall and try and bend down toward your on-top-of-the wall leg.

2.3) Strech the muscles in your inner thigh by putting one leg out straight behind you (again with your foot pointing forwards), and the other in front of you with your knee bent at a right angle and then while keeping your torsoe upright, come down slowly so that you feel the muscle in your inner thigh stretch. 

2.4) Alternatively copy the stretch routine of a thin runner. All those runners will already have stretchy sinews. But there is no need to have them on any day other than the race day. Today, I only really stretched my calf sinews (gradually, but like hell) and that was enough.

3) Do not run an even pace. Experienced runners know that people tire so they watch their wrist watches and keep to a fairly level pace. Forget that. Think psychologically. Psychologically, humans are motivated to run at the start and the end of the race. There is nothing that anyone can do about this natural psychological motivation. Experienced "runners" think that they can beat their own excitement at the start and their excitement at the end, and run a rational race. But people are not rational.

3.1) Run fast at the beginning (not so that it hurts of course). I ran the first 1km in 4 minutes. And then try (but not too hard) to keep it up till half way. I ran 4 minutes 15 seconds, 4 minutes 25 seconds, slowing down toward the middle. Coast for a while in the middle of race and then when you can see the end, feel the end of the race, pick up the pace again. Unles you are really good at running, use psychology rather than mechanics to determine your speed.

3.1) Try to put in a spurt at about 800-400 metres from the end. Even the greatest racers (e.g. Keneisa Bekele) run really fast in the last part of the race. When running the greater part of the race you have to make sure that your oxygen intake is enough to see you through the next part of the race. When you near the tape you know that you can collapse at the end. Hell why not? So many runners in the race today did not collapse at the end. They were checking their watch, chatting with friends as soon as they cross the line. Why? Aim to end the race with a need to sit down, or lie down. (But do not die, my friends. Know your limits. Practice a final spurt spinning with your bike training).

4) Know the track. 10km is a long way, and if you don't know the terrain the finish line, the amount of distance that you have to go can become a unknown, and feel vast. I was very lucky today in that
4.1) Today's race happened to be alongside 2.5km of part of my usual biking course. 2.5km can seem like a long way, but I knew how far it was on my bike so each leg of the up, down, up down was a known distance to me. 
4.1) Today's race was on a very flat exposed area so that we could see where we were running to, and for the last 2.5km or so, we could see the place that we were aiming for. It was great. It was the ideal situation.
But if the run is through a town, or wooded area with turns, the race can seem interminable. The psychology of being able to see the end of the race, and how far you have to go, even if only in your minds eye, is very important so, if you are not running on an open stretch of ground, go through the track, in your car, on your bike, walking or ideally jogging (maybe!)

5) Use music. Drugs are illegal of course. But for some reason listening to music while you are running is not, on most fun runs at least, despite the fact that is well known tha music has an enourmous impact on how people feel. If the music is loudish, but not so loud it hurs your ears, it will drown out all your panting, your heart beat, the sound of the thud of your feet. You will run in the sublime world of music, not in the painful world of running.
5.1) Experiment with light mp3 players, inner ear, or ear-hanging headphones. Use a head band to keep the headphones in your ear. Experiment with place to keep the mp3 player. Put it in an armband, on a neckless or a breast pocket. 
5.2) Get good soothing music with beat. I find that "Snow Patrol" combines soothing-ness with a strong beat. I also listened to Cher's "Believe," and "500 Miles" by the Proclaimers. Get music that works for you. Figure out what music will be playing when.

6) Avoid using your will power to run for the whole race. The start and the finish you can do by your own will power, your own motivation, but for some parts in the middle of the race, learn now to run without using your will power. Will power also gets tired out, like legs, so I would not advise using it for the whole race. There are two ways of not relying on will power that I recomend
6.1) Let someone else drag you along. Find a runner or runners to run behind. Let them lead you along. Focus upon them and let them use their will power. I find it helps to tag onto various different types of runner depending on how you are feeling.
6.1.1) People that are running at the pace you want to keep to, when you are falling off that pace. Look at their back, their strides, mimic them. Try to use "drafting" (especially if it there is a headwind) and run in their slipstream.
6.1.2) Find someone that pinches your pride a bit, a older runner, a female if you are male (sorry ladies but on average men run faster), a "bad runner" (someone like you?) that uses a bouncy bouncy strde rather than that economic stride that experience runners use (more on this later).
6.2)  Learn how to draw into yourself and coast for those parts of the course that you will need to coast. Listen to your music more. Wear a cap with a peak that can be used to block out how far you have yet to go. Concentrate on the running rather than the goal. Go into a trance for a while when the going gets tough, and then, hopefully, come out of autopilot to sprint past those long grueling sloggers runners at the end.

7) Mimic experienced runner's style. I am not sure what runners do because I am not one, but looking at them they seem to do the following:
7.1) Use as shorter stride with higher "cadence" (paces per minute)
7.2) Do not bounce, or use high strides but keep your feet close to the ground. Concetrate on the forward, rather than upward, part of your stride, so that you are going as far forward as you can with each (fairly small, high cadence) stride.
7.3) Think about how you use your arms, economically, but with purpose to time your stride but not to wear yourself out.
7.4) Concentrate on breathing, particularly inwards. Breath more than you think you need to. As I said above I am smoke cigarettes (don't!) but the truth is that the limiting factor of human motion is the heart far more than the lungs. Your lungs, until you are a really good runner, do not limit yourself so much. Good club runners are not using the limit of their lung potential because it is not important to them. They can get enough oxygen in without harsh panting, because their limiting factor is how fast their heart can pump the oxygen around. You are not an experienced runner, and your heart needs all the help it can get, so concentrate (if you have spare will power) on a good inhale. There is no need to get a pain in the pancreas (in uk parlance "stitch") if you make a little bit of effort to inhale. 
8) Use supporters.
8.1) In most fun runs, there will be people cheering the runners on. Get out of yourself and your pain by thinking about how people you do not even know that are spending their Sunday morning clapping. Feel grateful. Let their encouragement motivate you.
8.2) If you can persuade a loved one-- a girlfriend, wife, or child-- to be waiting at the end, then it can be very motivating. It was for me. My wife and two young children were waiting at the finish line. I did not want to disappoint. Perhaps more than all the above, their presence allowed me to run faster than I expected. Thanks family!

I may never run as fast again. But, I enjoyed today. May you enjoy your fun run and, stay safe. 

Alternatively you can do tempo intervals, fartlek sessions, and or tempo runs.


Posted by timtak at 09:37 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2011

The Meaning Maintenance Model

I may have blogged about the Meanging Maintenance Model before but here it is again.

Steven Heine is a leading cultural psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia. In recent years he has branched out, or homed in, on the question of why people have culture in the first place.

His recent research concerns his "Meaning Maintenance Model" (MMM). MMM is in part an off-shoot of Terror Management Theory (TMT), a large area of research in social psychology, which focuses on the way that people react to thoughts of their own death. Thoughts of death, say TMT theorists, arouse in people a feeling of terror that they attempt to assuage, or "manage", by belief in "symbolic immortality". That is to say that when we are reminded of our death, we assuage our terror by attempting to believe that symbolically, our acts, values, importance, and culture are eternal. Heine takes this theory and turns it on its head, claiming, that it is not death that we are terrified of, but meaningless: situations in which we are unable to fit our experience into a meaningful framework, when we are unable to symbolise them.

While Steven Heine has aroused the ire of TMT theorists (eagre to maintain that it really is death that we fear), and represents a new paradigm in social psychology, the theory that humans essentially seek meaning, are homo-innuedus,  is not entirely new as Heine himself points out.

Vicktor E. Frankl wrote books entitled "The Will to Meaning" and "Man's Search for Meaning". There is at least one Neitzche aphorism along the same lines. Anthropologists too have proposed that the need-for-meaning is a fundamental cause of human behaviour. Sir James Frazer proposed that people believe in gods and the supernatural since such belief is preferable to not being able to provide a meangingful explanation for natural events. Edmund Leach, in Rethinking Anthropology and, in greather detail, Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger, explain the horror of things taboo, with particular reference to foods that are forbidden in the bible, as being directed towards those things that do not fit into cultural category systems. Crabs are bad, taboo, horrible, because they are sea animals that have legs (the definition of land animals) and Pigs are likewise since they are animals that have fingers like humans (who are not "animals"). Leach even argues that treakle and other glutinous substances arouse feelings of disgust because they are difficult to classify, as solids or as liquids. I have a friend who has a fear of custard.

Returning to death, it seems clear that at times people do not fear their own demise, such as in the case of "Kamikaze" (tokkoutai) pilots, suicide bombers and people that go into battle with little hope of surviving, since according to MMM, to them their actions are meaningful. Likewise I have heard it said of a rock climber who falling from a rockface to find the crampons that held his rope to the cliff give way, and in that instant presuming he was "a goner" felt a calm resignation but when subsequent crampons did not give way, causing the rock climber to bounce and swing at the end of his rope, to thrown not into death but uncertainty, suddenly felt again, great fear. There is a youtube video of a skydiver that found his parachute would not open and said after failing to release his secondary parachute, fairly calmly, "I'm dead. bye!" According to MMM, his fear would have worst when he found himself alive (he survived) after he hit blackberry bushes.

Recently I was reading the book of the experience of a Dr. Brook, who had severe throat cancer, who recounts the fear or anxiety that he felt above all in the face of medical uncertainty. Perhaps, being told "you are going to die" is less fearful than "you may well die" which is less fearful than "I am not sure if you are going to die" and less fearful still than the unspoken message from a doctor who does not even admit to uncertainty, representing an uncertainty about which the patient cannot even be certain about.

So, is the fear of meaninglessness our greatest fear? It would, to me and according to the theory, be nice to think so. But, fearfully, I wonder why is that people read absurd literature such as that of Ionesco or Kafka? I was a great fan of absurd literature in my youth. And returning to culture, why is that people, from explorers to tourists, go on expeditions, or travels, into the unknown, into cultures which they do not understand? Sometimes we like, we seek, meaninglessness.

Perhaps all these 'pleasure cruises into the unknown' are motivated by that which motivates nightmares. Freud, of pleasure principle fame, proposed that we see nightmares --surely not pleasurable, in the short term at least -- through the desire to repeat, and through repitition, conquer our fear. If so then perhaps people have
nightmares (and read Kafka, and go to far away cultures as tourists) to prepare themselves, ourselves, and thus feel less afraid of the thing that we really fear - meaninglessness. 

Posted by timtak at 10:56 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2011

Listening, Psychic Detectives

Lately, especially and in the detective tradition, there are a lot of "observant detectives," that have certain things in common.

1) They are able to read people. Sherlock Holmes was able to guess people's occupation from looking at their hands. Tim Roth in "Lie to Me" looks at people's faces to uncover their emotions, Patrick Jane in "The Mentalist" has a very similar ability to understand objectives and intentions from observation of body language, the folks in "Criminal Mind" and CSI Miami read, interpret analyse the mind, and Toby Logan in "The Listener," a rare Canadian hit, reads other peoples minds directly. I have not seen "Psych", but the pattern is very much the same.

2) They are weak. Sherlock Holmes was an excentric socially inept drug addict, Tim Roth is a weed, Patrick Jane has no gun, and Toby Logan has no mojo. They are all listener, all observer, and they leave the muscle power to someone else. The first weak detective I can remember is Ironside, who also is "all detective," just a mind, a brain in a vat, and leaves the doing, the grabbing, to others because he is unable to walk. Other examples of detectives that have difficulty walking include Oedipus (whose name means swollen foot), Dr. House, and Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone (see below).

3) The detectives sometimes are a bit gender bending or at least camp. Patrick Jane is called Jane, and camp. These detectives (unlike hard boiled detectives) raretly have relationships with women. Various excuses are given for their lack of sex drive, often a parted or deceased spouse. Sometimes they play second fiddle to a woman (Tim Roth, and Patrick Jane), sometimes the have a straight man sidekick (Toby Logan's Osman, Holme's Dr. Watson, James the quiff Garret in Hawaii Five O had "book em" Danno).

Perhaps they are all a bit Christ like. He was not a ladies man, and he listens to the thoughts in our soul, apparently.

How do these detectives relate to the many recent psychic detectives, that do not read other humans, but recieve messages from the dead, or the dead detectives that are ghosts?

Ghost detectives are similar to the listening detectives, in that they read people, just by being there. The 1969 British TV series (remade in 2000) Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) featured a womanising Randall and the ghost of his partner, Hopkirk and private detectives. The 1990 film Ghost, staring Demi Moore and the late Patrick Swaze showed the latter character solve his own murder.

Recently there have been a spate of American films and television series where detectives can see dead people. The first of these was perhaps "Sixth Sense" in which a boy helps or helped by another Ghost, played by Bruce Willis, to solve murders. This was followed by a variety of Psychic-detectives, such as Tru-Calling (2003), Medium (2005), both starring women who can see the future, and The Dead Zone with focusses only on the seeing the future not ghosts. All of these were predated perhaps by the FBI agent in David Lynch's Twin Peaks, whose other-worldy dream presents clues to the solution of the main murder investigation.

Are these psychic detective, super-listeners, or are the listeners the ghosts that help them? What is the connectiong between seeing the future and seeing Ghosts?

The comparison between these the listening detectives and hard boiled ones is interesting too. The hard boiled detective gets to be both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Toby Logan and Osman, but he achieves this, or retains our interest, because we can hear his hard boiled thoughts. That is what hard boiled means (especially in Japan): a guy that goes around talking to himself. Without the (unnatural?) narration that accompanies Sam Spade and his ilk, the self-speech becomes spoken, out in the open, and as it does so, unable to be both speaker and spoken to, the detective takes on a partial role, that of the listener.

For me, it seems to me, that my "listener," the part of my soul that listens to my self speech, is like these detectives, only observant, hidden and bound, and feminised, neutered. So for me all these detective stories are acting out the structure of the self.  There is a lot more to be said, and a lot more going on. We live in exciting times, for  structuralists. 

PS Kamen Rider W was written by Jacques Lacan! 

Posted by timtak at 08:17 PM | Comments (0)