Byline update: Canadian Encyclopedia

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I wrote about Bannock for Canadian Encylopedia. I tried to untangle the complex web of its history and role in Canada, from the first European colonialists to modern adaptations in today’s First Nations cultures. Here is the link: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/bannock/

Byline update: Canadian Encyclopedia

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I wrote about butter tarts for Canadian Encyclopedia. I focused on their unique role in helping foster an identity for Canadian cuisine. Here’s the link: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/butter-tarts/

Byline update: Canadian Encyclopedia

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I wrote again about Screech for Canadian Encyclopedia. This is a bit more expository in nature than my work for Maisonneuve. It gets a little bit more into the history of it, if the first article piqued your interest. Here is the link: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/screech/

Byline update: Maisonneuve

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I wrote about the Screech-in for Maisonneuve. For those of you who don’t know, it is a kind of initiation ritual we do here in Newfoundland for visitors and newcomers. I explore its history, controversy, and role in Newfoundland identity politics. Here is a sample:

IT’S A FRIDAY NIGHT at Christian’s Pub in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland. The bar is packed for a February. As 11 pm approaches, the crowd is eagerly waiting for Keith Vokey to arrive and perform his famous Screech-In ceremony. The tiny top floor—reserved for Screechers and their guests—fills quickly. The space heats up as everyone orders their pints, still bundled up in their winter coats because there are no more hooks left to hang them on. Rihanna’s “Work” plays on a jukebox in the corner. The tables and chairs have been pushed against the walls to create space in the middle of the room, where about a dozen tourists wait attentively in groups of threes and fours, their friends watching from the sidelines.

Fifteen minutes later, Vokey, dressed in green oilskins, bursts out from a door at the back of the bar, clapping his hand against a wooden oar. His long, curly hair has been tied into a ponytail and tucked into a green fisherman’s hat called a sou’wester, which is proportioned like a mullet—short in the front, long in the back. Small droplets of sweat are already beading in his salt-and-pepper beard. After the jukebox has been turned off, Vokey opens the night with the first verse of the “The Islander” by local favourites Shanneyganock. “I’m a Newfoundlander born and bred and I’ll be one ’til I die,” he sings. “I’m proud to be an islander and here’s the reason why; I’m free as the winds and the waves that wash the sand; there’s no place I’d rather be than here in Newfoundland.” Vokey is a capable singer in his own right—he’s played in a few groups, including a tribute band called The Beach B’ys—but his performance tonight is mostly about volume and theatrics.

Check out the full article here: https://maisonneuve.org/article/2017/01/17/hook-line-and-screecher/

American Psycho: A Survivalist Reading Guide for the Trump Era

•January 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

2016 was the year people started using the word “narrative” to critique certain trains of the thought in the discourse, but yet seemed totally incapable of realizing they were perpetuating it. My favourite couple narratives now are are all the shitty liberals racing to use their personal hobby horses to explain why Donald Trump won.

Obsessing over gender nonsense is why Trump won!

Black Lives Matter! People are sick of being called racist!

Safe spaces! Snowflakes! Political correctness!

Apparently, the “left” forgot about the concerns of the working man, and in their “economic anxiety” America turned to the demagogue. Yeah, man, the GOP really got their fingers on the pulse of the blue collar community. That’s why they’re busy busting unions, dismantling health care, and stripping overtime regulation, while making laws entrenching gendered bathrooms. Let me fill you in on a little secret, the right are just as obsessed, probably more so, with identity politics, they’ve just won the war over semantics.

Yet, Clinton won the popular vote by a huge margin. One of the biggest in history. She got the second amount of votes for any candidate ever, aside from Obama in 2008. Trump won because of a shitty electoral collage, demographics, and James Comey. So, all these #hottakes on why Clinton lost are pretty much bullshit.

And here’s a thought, perhaps Trump’s victory isn’t a failure of the left, but a failure of the right. They’re the ones who put forward this sociopath and got him into office. Suddenly, it’s the other side’s fault for not stopping a huge portion of the population hell bent on driving America into fascism? “Oh, well sure I covered myself in shit, but you should’ve stopped me! It’s your fault!”

Ugh. Then there’s the “both candidates are awful” crowd. You’re all so edgy and individualistic, guys. No way the lamestream media is ever gonna get one over on y’all. Hope you enjoy masturbating in front of a mirror for the next couple years as we get to find out what happens to the world when America is turned into Zimbabwe.

As Trump and his ship of fools continue to demonize the press, I can only wonder when the public book burnings will start. Until then, help yourself to some of these.

George RR Martin – A Song of Ice and Fire

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Everyone’s favourite literary reference for politics these days.

So many people were hoping that Clinton would be Daenerys. Instead, she was more like Little Finger, a conniving technocrat. Which, IMO, isn’t that bad. Instead, we get Joffrey.

Jonathan Franzen – Purity

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I was a little underwhelmed when I first finished Purity, but it’s really stayed with me the past year and I was reminded of it many times during the election. Throughout the novel Franzen considers the concept of purity from a number of angles. Characters become fixated with a particular ideology and become fanatically rigid.

There is one character that was especially pertinent, a hacker named Andreas Wolf. Wolf fervently believes that government secrets must be exposed, but guards many of his own personal secrets. Sound like someone familiar?

While I don’t agree with a lot of what Franzen says, I agree that purity has become a destructive force in our current political discourse. Bernie Bros and Trumpists were obsessed with the untainted quality of their candidates, whereas Clinton was tarnished by her time in office. The notion of being pragmatic and taking the lesser of several evils isn’t doesn’t seem to hold much water anymore. Drain the swamp! Revolution! Blow it up!

Edmund Burke – Reflections on the Revolution in France

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Speaking of revolution, Burke’s treatise on the French revolution is a classic in conservative literature (or at least when conservatism was sensible). Burke is painfully wordy, but he zeros in on a number of important points. He deconstructs the sexy fervour around revolution and emphasises its violent and destructive reality. It is better, he reasons, to pursue slow change, gradual so that the people can adapt and digest these changes. Slavoj Zizek makes a somewhat similar point when he talks about a culture’s failure to imagine an alternate reality after a revolution, in order to avoid the old “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Frankly, the celebration of revolution smacks of privilege. A lot of leftists have gleefully embraced Trump as a potential to burn everything to the ground and start over with a glorious socialist ascension. Maybe that’s true? But it seems to be that a lot of people are gonna get trampled underfoot while we wait for that to play out.

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

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And who are these people that are about to be trampled? Well, women are an immediate target. The GOP have already set their sights on defunding Planet Parenthood. Mike Pence has been particularly zealous in oppressing women, including pursuing a bill that would force would-be mothers to hold funerals for their miscarried children. Yeah. Seriously. Fun fact: the war on abortion is actually a war on affordable abortions for poor women. Rich women have always had access to safe abortions, and conservatives are all too content to let poor women kill themselves with grotesque solutions.

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most fucked up books I’ve ever read. I felt tense the entire time while reading it. It’s a dystopian future where Christian extremists have taken over the United States. Fertility rates are perilous, so fertile women are selected to be “handmaids” to powerful families. Basically, a heifer. Atwood’s description of this perverse threesome is one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever read.

Albert Speer – Inside the Third Reich

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Trump’s campaign sure had an overt stench of antisemitism. He certainly didn’t go to any lengths to downplay it with the hiring of Bannon. Trump’s embrace of the “alt-right” has catapulted neo-Nazis into the mainstream. Except, shhh. We’re not supposed to call them that. It’s totally just liberal hyperbole to call a group of people who openly flaunt Nazi iconography and xenophobia “Nazis.” Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

Speer, the Third Reich’s official architect and later minister of munitions, details his rise through Hitler’s regime. It’s also a rare document that gives a first-person POV of the social milieu of Germany that lead to the rise of the Third Reich. Most notably for me, is his focus on how Germany disregarded its history and importance of self-reflection. Everything was reduced to utilitarianism, which makes me think our current state.

Ta-Nehisi Coates – “The Case for Reparations”

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Coates has had the Midas touch the last couple years. I love his work in the Atlantic and for Black Panther. Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten to Between the World and Me, but its reputation is impressive.

“The Case for Reparations” is one of the best essays I’ve ever read. Coates breaks down the historical circumstances of how White America has been able to build its wealth by plundering Black communities, from Jim Crow laws in the South, to housing schemes in Chicago.

If you’re genuinely curious about the BLM movement, then this is a great place to start.

Thomas Piketty – Capital in the 21st Century

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In case you were wondering how a shithead like Trump managed to make a fortune (the size of which is still very much debatable) then this is an excellent book. Piketty explores the way capital is allowed to flow freely by the wealthy, who in turn drive up the margin of inequality. His main thesis is that that when the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth over the long term, the result is concentration of wealth, which causes social and economic instability. Moreover, this trend towards concentration of wealth is an inherent feature of capitalism (hello there again, Marx), and the only solution is state intervention and progressive taxation.

This obviously a great read after going through the 2008 recession, and with Trump loading up his cabinet with Wall Streeters (so much for draining the swamp) it looks like we’re careening back towards something far worse. It’s fascinating/terrifying to see how Putin is successfully spreading his kleptocracy across the globe.

Naomi Klein – This Changes Everything

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Klein is a tricky figure for me. I think she’s an excellent writer and I agree with much of what she says (however, her praise of Ontario’s green energy plans in this book are cringe-worthy), I’m not such a fan of her activism. She’s very intractable and non-compromising. I mean, she’s probably right. It certainly seems like climate action needs immediate, far-reaching intervention, but unfortunately, for many complex reasons, we’re not there as a population. The best we can muster right now is a modest carbon tax.

But hey, you’re allowed to like a writer without agreeing with %100 of their views, something we’ve seemed to have chosen to jettison.

Aside from being a great primer for climate issues, I think Klein’s best moments are when she delineates how a green energy revolution will fundamentally change capitalism. Green technology has the potential to disrupt the control big energy companies have over the means of production. Yes, this is all very Marxist, which is why it’s awesome. That’s a revolution I can get behind.

A green tech revolution is also likely the best chance we have of underminingthe power a petro state like Russia has.

Edward Said – Orientalism

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I think it’s fair to say Trump comes from the “now is not the time for sociology” school of foreign affairs. If you only read the intro to Orientalism you’ll be all the richer for it. Said delineates the way will to knowledge went hand in hand with colonialism in the “East.” Basically, western powers wanted to plunder eastern wealth so they dispatch scholars to represent these places back to us in ways that subtly justified foreign intervention. Thus we begin to see how the Orient was envisioned as this mysterious, wild frontier, crying out to be brought to bear by western hegemony. They didn’t even understand the wealth they were sitting on!

In a word, be mindful of the gaze in which subjects are rendered.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment

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Had to sneak this one in. A classic from the Russian master about a character who self-righteously commits murder, insisting the end justifies the means.

Likewise, I have a feeling the whole thing about Russian hacking is gonna go from “this is bullshit!” to “Russia was right to infiltrate the election.” Recently, Marine Le Pen visited Trump Tower (which is ominously accruing Sauron vibes), which can only be interpreted as Putin pushing plotting his next move to subvert democracy in Europe. As this plays out, expect a lot of rationalization about how the means of fascism justify the ends.

 

Anyways, I think that should be enough. Enjoy your Three Doors Down concert, losers.

Cheers,

-b

Sing the Body Electric: Lifting Our Feels

•December 8, 2016 • 1 Comment

A while back,  a playboy bunny got in trouble for posting an unsolicited picture of a fat woman showering naked at the gym. I was surprised and disappointed by this, because my experience at the gym has always been generally supportive. Obviously, there’s assholes in all walks of live. Unfortunately, this will only help to foster the stereotype that gyms are full of judgemental snobs shaming people for their bodies; that unfit people are unwelcome.

Personally, I can say that when I see a beginner at the gym, I feel very motivated. It’s great to see people trying to improve their bodies. And I think most of my fellow lifters feel the same. I’ve had lots of friends who were intimidated by the gym because of the stereotypical meatheads that supposedly inhabit it; a gay friend who was wary of homophobic bros, or women afraid of–well all the shit women have to deal with. But, generally, they’ve all been pleasantly surprised by how chill and welcoming the environment is.

As such, I’ve never felt self-conscious working out at the gym. For example, whenever I put on weight, I refuse to buy new workout clothes. I’m taking a page outta Arnold’s book here. Early in his career, Arnold had great gains in his upper-body, but had small legs and calves. To push himself, he’d wear bulky long sleeve shirts and shorts to hide his strengths and expose his weaknesses. Likewise, whenever I see fat spilling out of my shirt on an overhead lift, it motivates me to work harder.

That being said, even though I’m confident when it comes to my appearance, that doesn’t mean I don’t deal with my share of mental hangups when it comes to exercising. As one anon once famously said, “perhaps the heaviest things that we lift are not our weights but our feels.” Here is a list of cognitive distortions that I find myself dealing with regularly.

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1) All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things as black or white, perfection or failure

Fitness goals are achieved by building on small successes one at a time. The ultimate goal is to have a consistent routine complimented by a clean diet. I struggle with the latter. Unfortunately, I love junk food. So whenever I cheat too much on my nutrition I really beat myself up over it. Or I’ll design a regimen and whenever I fall short of expectation, I get down on myself. I’m always having to remind myself that it’s all just a work in progress, and to learn from my mistakes. Also, like Salvatore Dali said, “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.”

2) Filtering: Dwelling on a negative so much that other successes somehow don’t count

I’ve written before about my admiration of my father’s running career and my own weaknesses as a runner. While I’m not a great endurance athlete, I’ve always been explosively strong. However, because I’ll probably never run a marathon, my strengths are diminished by this one deficiency. In addition, in terms of bodybuilding, I get really fast gains in my legs, triceps and shoulders. However, my chest and my biceps are slow gainers. This is frustrating because these are traditionally the glamour muscles; they give you that “wow” factor. To combat these thoughts I remind myself of what I should be grateful for. For example, I have really big calves, which don’t require much work to maintain. This is something even professional competitors lack. A lot of people struggle with chicken legs but I have natural tree trunks. Dad used to say I have cows not calves. Gratefulness is definitely a powerful force that I’ve learned to embrace as I get older.

3) Overgeneralization: Seeing one bad experience as a never-ending pattern of defeat

Returning to my weak points, sometimes I get discouraged and think that I’ll never get them up to par. In these moments, I remind myself that everyone has weak points and it just means having to adopt different strategies. Lately, to bring my biceps up, I emphasize the negative phase of a lift, or use half-reps to go beyond failure. For chest, I start with a lower-pec movement, because prioritizing a weak area is a great way to sustain stress on it throughout the workout. In a word, when you have a weakness, strategize.

4) Personalization: When you think everything people do or think is a reaction to you

Like I said, I’m not really self-conscious at the gym these days, but I get why some people are. You think everyone around you is judging you. I think most serious lifters/athletes are more focused on their own workout to worry about other people. I think people have to remember that while you may be looking at someone thinking, “Oh, if I only could look like that,” someone is looking at you and thinking the same thing. Ultimately, you have no idea what people are thinking so don’t sweat it.

5) Control fallacy: That you have supreme control over everything and thus all shortcomings are your fault

Again, coming back to my weaknesses, some things are genetically beyond my control. No one is the perfect all around athlete. You can’t look like Dorian Yates and perform like Lance Armstrong at the same time. Recognize your natural strengths and weaknesses and work with them.

6) Fallacy of fairness: Being resentful because things don’t play out according to your pre-conceived notions of fairness

One of my favourite movie quotes is from Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood is about to shoot the sheriff, who says “I don’t deserve to die like this!” To which Clint responds, “‘Should’ ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.” A lot of people have preconceived ideas of how their fitness goals should play out and when things don’t go according to plan, they piss and moan about how it isn’t fair, etc. Abandon whatever notions you have of “fairness.” Maybe you’re following a plan that doesn’t suit your morphology. Get over it, re-group, strategize.

 

I’m sure there’s more I could think out but these give a pretty good overview of the mental hangups I, and probably a lot of people, deal with at the gym. One concept that kept coming up, I noticed, was strategizing. Overwhelming challenges always seem to disintegrate when you break them apart with potential solutions. Whenever I feel I’ve hit a plateau at the gym, I look up videos on YouTube. It’s insane how much material is out there. When I started working out in the early 00s as a teenager, all we really had were magazines and whatever bro science was being disseminated at the local gym. And don’t get me started on all the “motivational gurus” out there, but that’s for another post. Anyways, get out there and get after it!

Cheers,

-b

Sing the Body Electric: Born to Lift

•June 19, 2016 • 1 Comment

My dad was an incredible runner. Throughout the 70s he dominated Newfoundland races. He won the Tely 10 in 1975 with a time of 56:00, he finished the Boston Marathon in under three hours, and he’s probably started or organized more runs than anyone in the province.

However, I’ve never caught the running bug. I’ve had a few stabs at 10K races and had some decent success training. That’s about it.

Partly it’s genetics. I don’t have my dad’s wiry physique. I inherited my maternal grandfather’s bulkier build. Mostly, though, I just hate running. Like, pure distilled hatred. Every time, I’d have to pump myself up like I was heading into a battle. Granted, I usually felt happy for doing it afterwards, but in the same way you feel good about doing yard work or eating a salad.  Occasionally, I’d have a good run and feel positive all the way through. Most times, the best I could hope for was indifference. And then there were those hellish times when I just felt like shit the whole way through.

With weight training, it’s totally different. I’m amped to get lifting. On the rare occasion that I’m tired and gotta drag my ass to the gym, I quickly get into the grove after a couple sets. It doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s fun.

And it’s not like I’m anti-cardio. I love swimming and I enjoy mixing up different cardio machines. I also love hiking and walking. It’s something about pushing my feet to go one after the other too fast for too long that rots me.

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Thing is, I want to love running. Why won’t you let me love you, running? I wish I could run like my father did. Not even because I wanna win races. The way he talked about running was very zen. He took a very simplified approach. He didn’t give a shit about expensive shoes or those Batman belts you see now with high performance gels. Just two feet and a heartbeat. People would ask him, “How should I breath?” With your lungs. “What’s the proper stride?” One foot in front of the other.

Dad also despised headphones. He was big on the mind-body connection (something that’s also really important for weight training). He talked a lot about listening to what your body was telling you as the klicks rolled by. That’s what I would like to experience running. But I just can’t get past the pain.

I really enjoyed Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. McDougall also champions a simplified approach to running. In the book, he tracks down an isolated Mexican tribe who run ultra marathons on the daily, which inspires him to do as the Romans do. McDougall’s ultimate thesis is that capitalism has obfuscated running and we need to get back to basics. Moreover, long distance running is a distinctly human activity. It is our ability to run for extended periods of time that allowed us to succeed as a species.

I love that kinda shit. Tapping into a primeval experience of being human. Running has a romanticism that bodybuilding just doesn’t have, which I envy.

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However, running also has a kind of snobbery that I don’t care for. It seems like our culture considers running to be more sophisticated and distinguished than bodybuilding. Runners are generally thought to be middle-class professionals, whereas bodybuilders are blue collar meat heats. These are obviously stereotypes and nowadays bodybuilding has really breached the mainstream. But I still believe that lifters are generally deemed neanderthals compared to all those homo sapiens runners.

The fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the most famous bodybuilder of all time might have some hand in this. But what a lot of people underestimate about Arnold, and bodybuilding in general, is how cerebral the work is. It’s not as simple as popping some ‘roids and repping out bicep curls. In order to build a great physique, you have to change up your routines and think critically about how each exercise affects each muscle. There are tons of variables. Moreover, it takes a great deal of focus. If you go through your workout absent minded, you won’t get the same results. “You must get inside the muscle,” as Arnold always says.

Say you want to improve your back. You look in the mirror and decide that you’re happy with the size and mass of your lats, but you’d like it to be more defined. So, you expand your rep range or experiment with different grips on chin-ups, pull-downs, or rows. The you have to think about how your back is in proportion with the rest of your body, etc.

That’s what I love about bodybuilding. You get to be a scientist, artist, and athlete all at the same time. To you, that may sound tedious. Perhaps you find the repetitive motion of running meditative. The point is that you should find something you enjoy doing for your own reasons. Otherwise you’ll just bail.

Cheers,

-b