Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Workout Update - Week 3 and Existentialism

"Work is not man's punishment.  It is his reward and his strength and his pleasure."  - George Sand

If one can look past the possibly sexist connotation of the above statement (made all the more ironic by the fact that it was made by a woman), you may see an attitude which is not terribly common in our present day.  It reminds me of the story Martin Luther King Jr. tells about the streetsweeper.  About how a man who sweeps the streets should take to his job like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, so that when he died all who knew him would say he was the best street sweeper who ever lived.

People scoff at these sorts of notions today.  Work on it's own is not anything to be proud of, unless it leads to some sort of financial gain or advantage.  These ideas are furthered by the cliff notes version of Marxism that pervades on many college campuses, which advances the notion that those who labor are trapped in an endless cycle which they are neither aware of nor are they capable of escaping.  To many within the "educated" classes, a person who enjoys hard labor for it's own sake is provincial and quaint.  A sort of relic of a bygone era when brawn mattered as much as brain. 

If so, I am definitely a relic.  People have asked me how I can workout the way I do and still go to law school.  I tell them I do not understand the question.  The real question to me is how I could do law school if I did not push myself physically.  There is something about physical labor that is gratifying on a level that my intellectual pursuits cannot touch.  For example, I can write a paper about one of my many random pursuits, and submit it for publication.  Some people will love it, some people will like it, some people will hate it, and some will be entirely indifferent.  Someone will poke a hole in the methodology, someone will question my conclusions, and someone will debate my structure.  Oftentimes, the only reason someone even weighs into the discussion is so they can essentially establish "yes, I too have read a book."  Other times, someone jumps in to a discussion because they believe they have some incredibly unique perspective on the conflict in question that no one has ever heard.  They are normally wrong.  In the end, intellectual discussion can quickly become a cock-fight wherein there is nothing truly gained or learned by anyone.

These two are actually about to discuss 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' 

On the other hand, physical labor is definite, concrete, and not up for debate or discussion.  You run a sub 6 minute mile, finish a half-marathon, dunk a basketball, bench 300 pounds, lose 100 pounds, drop into a perfect BMI range?  No one can take that from you and no one can question it.  Your work has reaped a bounty which is not up for criticism or debate.  There is freedom and beauty in that which few things in this world can create.

No.  If it were not for my physical pursuits, I would not survive my academic pursuits.  Well now that we have that high-minded BS out of the way.....

Operation Big Ass Bench Press Update

 Initially, I was slightly skeptical about my plan on this lift.  Exaggerating the sticking point is an old time tested method which gets results, but the other phase of my plan was a bit more radical.  The first two times I did it, I was extremely disappointed that I was not tired.  I kept telling myself that the point was not to be tired, but to work on my muscle's power output in a very limited scope.  And as I discovered on Friday, it is working.  It is really working.  I bench pressed 235 pounds on a whim, which is a gain of 15 pounds in two weeks. 

That pace cannot keep up for long, but its an exciting gain to make.  Also, I think I know how I made it.  Today, after I did my 9 sets of 3 at 115, I decided to see what 185 lbs would feel like.  It felt like it was made of lead.  The reason for this, as it turns out, is fairly simple.  Those short, punching lifts recruit Type 2 fibers to work.  Those fibers use large amounts of energy and oxygen, and can only fire over limited periods of time.  Those 9 sets of 3 blasted them out, leaving only the more numerous but weaker Type 1 fibers to help. So when I unracked that 185 today, I was really doing it on fumes.

Operation Squirrely

This has been some tougher going, but its a great example of how you need to think when you are working out for a purely athletic purpose.

I knew from step one that this would require a sort of fundamental shift in my approach.  I used to use what I like to call the 'Carpet Bombing' approach to athleticism.  This essentially just meant that I was going to lift hard, heavy, and long, until my body was completely trashed.  This is not a very nuanced approach.
Pictured:  A lack of nuance

But as I have already documented this is incredibly physically demanding and time consuming.  Therefore, not really an option for me.  So I have been working more on my balance and flexibility over the last two weeks than I have raw power.  This has required a fundamental change in my thinking about how I measure the effectiveness of workouts.  Instead of making sure that I feel like death when I get home, I pay attention to how I feel when I come back to the gym.

When this sort of exercise does what it is supposed to, you feel lighter, bouncier, and quicker.  So far that is working, but I am not jumping any higher than I was when I started.  Considering my starting point, its probably understandable;  I don't get into the really serious stuff until the 5th week.  This is going to be harder to accomplish and I knew that coming in.  On the other hand, my running vertical off of one leg has definitely increased.  So that is something to keep an eye on.  Considering my past, I don't think that running vertical will ever get back to where it was at it's highest.  But you never know......

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Islamic State - Islam v. Christianity/History of the Islamic State

"You would have no power over me, unless it were given to you from above."  Gospel of John 19:11

The unrest in Egypt, and much of the confusion and discourse about it, has inspired me to rehash some of my work from the University of Kentucky into some blog posts.  As some of you may be aware, while at UK, I studied Anthropology and Arab and Islamic Studies.  My focus in Anthropology was religious and cultural practice, doctrine, and theology.  While most of my writings were about communal violence and it's attendant causes, a great deal of my work focused in the history of Christianity and Islam. 

The thesis I advance in terms of the Islamic state is one of it's inevitable return to prominence in the Middle Eastern world.  This does not mean superiority to the secular state in practice or effect, but simply that it is a natural progression.  Today, we live in the death throes of the nationalist dictatorshps which dominate in the Middle East.  Egypt and Tunisia are two examples of countries which cannot sustain their practices, but the Middle East has longed for change ever since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

An Islamic state (be it democracy or otherwise) is nothing to fear.  While an absolute return to the Shari'a law is not likely, or practical frankly, most aspects of it will definitely pervade should Egypt write a new constitution.  The boogeyman of Shari'a law is not really the deathly spectre of violence, repression, and misogyny that many here make it out to be. I find it interesting that this appears to be one thing that the far right and far left can agree on.  Those on the far left seem to believe Shari'a is a codification of written law which condemns homosexuals to death and women to a life of servitude.  Those on the right seem to think it mandates an inevitable expansion of Islam and war with the west.

Both sides are incorrect.  The post I write today will be about the formation of the initial Islamic State, Medina, and its effect on history.  I do this to address two concerns:  First, the concerns of those on the left in this country seem to have more to do with certain practices in Afghanistan and other areas which they attribute to Islamic government.  This is a simple confusion; many of the practices are cultural ones which were maintained by the local people once Islam arrived.  They are not mandated (or many times not even authorized) by the Qu'ran or Hadiths.  The left also seems to lump all religious government together.  That a government based on religion is inevitably corrupt, repressive, inferior, and backwards.  This belief is primarily pressed by our experiences in the West with monarchies which claimed to be ruling "for God."

Let me say right off the top that this post has nothing to do with moralisms of either religion.  I am not here to advance the idea that any particular religion is better than another.  Religions and their theologies have their various "pros and cons."  For example, while I believe Islam establishes a far superior system of government structure than Christianity, Islam definitely accepts the institution of slavery.  Christ never did, which was why the first groups in Europe fighting against slavery were fringe Christian groups, and why the last country to ban slavery was Saudi Arabia.  Not a moral judgment; just a fact that comes from the bare reading of the texts.

The verse from the Gospel of John is the most critical to understanding the relationship of Western history to religious government.  This was spoken by Jesus Christ to Pontius Pilate.  In this statement, it appears that Christ accepts the legitimacy of human government.  But at the same time, he states explicitly that Pilate's power over him comes from God.  This, and a few like passages, were those which Christian kings used to rule with absolute impunity over their subjects.  It also justified and propagated the hereditary system of passing the throne, as it was accepted that no one would be born into a royal family that God did not intend to be King.  We often today cite the famous "render unto Caesar" passage as the most critical to us, but once the Christian Kingdoms of Europe were established, the above cited passage was more crucial to understanding the mindset.

This sentiment is echoed later in the Bible as well.  The book of Romans makes allusions to what will come to be understood as the Divine Right of kings.  Romans 13:1 basically translates to, "[l]et everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. "  Romans 13:5 establishes to principle that disobeying the King is disobeying God:  "Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience."

But here is what is critical:  During the three or four years of Christ's ministry, he did not explicitly create any system of social structure and government.  All of those things came later.  What the Gospel and the New Testament created was a claim for legitimacy of human led government, but definitely not a modicum of their execution.  There were no guidelines for Kings; this set the table for Monarchs to terrorize their subjects while claiming "Deus vult," Latin for "God wills it."

For a closer to home example of this, take a look at the "Laws and Liberties of Masschusetts," the document adopted by Massachusetts Bay in 1648.  The colony was established on the Christian religion, and drew it's authority for governing on the Bible.  The Laws and Liberties cite to the bible for all of their authority, and it is demonstrative of the complexity and difficulty of basing government upon Christian principles.  In the section titled "Capital Lawes," the drafters cite directly to biblical authority to use capital punishment.  However, they do not one time cite to the Gospel or New Testament for this proposition.  Only four books are mentioned:  Numbers, Leviticus, Deutoronomy, and Exodus.  Once we have moved past the Capital Lawes section, we notice no further citations to biblical authority. 

This is indicative of the typical problem faced by attempts to set up a Christian government.  The New Testament and the Gospels acknowledge human government, but provide only skeletal guidance.  As a result, Christian governments were required to create a smattering of Jewish, Christian, and indigenous cultural practices.  Without going into too much detail for the purposes of this post, the inevitable result of this was widespread abuse by rulers, shaping the rules and doctrines to fit the needs of the current ruler, and sometimes just creating their own church.  See Henry VII, Vladmir the Great, etc.  Critical above all else was this simple fact:  The King of a Christian Kingdom of the Dark/Middle Ages before the Renaissance became a proxy for God himself.  The Christian dogma did not limit the power of the King, in fact it did quite the opposite. 

The formation of the first Islamic state was quite different from the first Christian states.  When Muhammad was driven out of Mecca, he fled to Yathrib (later renamed Medina).  The people there took him in and became the first Muslims.  This was the first Muslim state, with Muhammad at it's head.  At this point he was not just a religious leader, he was a political leader as well.  Muhammad dealt with taxation, warfare, welfare, slavery, trade, and every other issue that faced a leader of a state in the 600s. 

Upon Muhammad's death his followers were faced with a problem.  How to decide who the new leader would be.  The choice was a dramatic departure from the typical political unite of the day.  The leader was chosen democratically based upon his merit.  Abu Bakr was the first Caliph. 

Interestingly, a group of Muslims believed that Allah alone had the ability to choose the Caliph.  This led to their support of Ali, Muhammad's closest living male relative.  They believed that only Ahl al-Bayt (People of the House) had the authority to lead.  The Ahl al-Bayt referred to the people who were related to Muhammad.  Eventually, Ali did become Caliph (he was the fourth, after Uthman), but was assassinated by rivals due to their fear he would try to establish a hereditary title.  Ali's son Hussein rebelled, and those who supported his succession fought against those who supported Yazid, the new Caliph, at Karbala in 680. 

This war echoes to the present day.  Hussein's followers became the Shia Muslims and the followers of Yazid, the Sunni. 

The Sunni Muslims believed that the Hadiths and the Qu'ran served as a limit on the Caliphs.  By the time of the acension of the Umayyad and Fatimid empires, there was a very well established system of government using these sources.  In the event of a question, the first source was the Qu'ran itself.  If the Qu'ran was silent on the issue, than the Hadiths were referred to.  But these were generally not questions for the Caliph; they were for the scholars who operated pretty much independently of the Caliph.  The Caliph was expected to act in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence; failing to do so would render him vulnerable to being usurped by one who would.

An image of a 'Qadi,' a sort of Islamic Magistrate

This made the Caliph accountable to the law, which stemmed from many other sources than the Caliph himself.  For example, according to the Qu'ran, a person's right to personal and real property is inviolate.  Unless they are a criminal, they cannot be forced to cede any land or property to the State.  What does this mean?  Under the Caliphates, there were absolutely no government takings, no matter what the Caliph may have wanted to do.  We will examine some of this sort of thing in a later post.

Christ did not have the advantages Muhammad had.  He was living in Imperial Palestina, subject to the laws of the Pharisees and the Emperor of Rome.  Muhammad was the leader of a political state.  Therefore, establishing Islamic governments was a very ready-made sort of situation.  All of the Caliphates that arose from Iran to Spain from the 600s to the 1300s derived from that first state in Medina.  The first Christian state was (arguably) established in Edessa, Turkey, by Bardaisan the Gnostic.  This was done more than 100 years after the death of Christ, and was done by a sect which was later outlawed by Nicea.

The differences in experience between Christians and Muslims living in Theocracies could not have been anymore different.  Christians in the Dark and Middle Ages lived under the Rex Lex system; The King, The Law.  This has colored our perceptions in America about religious systems of governance, and still results in our misunderstandings about it today.

The next post in this series will be about the Islam's Golden Age which spanned about 500 years.  This is what most people who want to return to an Islamic government are referring to.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Courthouse and the Icy-Hot back patch

There is one thing you find out pretty quickly doing your first work as a Law Clerk:  Law school has taught me absolutely nothing about being a lawyer.  It is true.  I remember being so lost my first week of clerking for a firm downtown that I thought my face might show up on a milk carton.  Fortunately, I was in a smaller firm with a few great attorneys who were extremely patient with me in guiding me through the process.  Most notably Dan Canon, Laura Landenwich, and Garry Adams.  Those 3 were the attorneys I worked most closely with.  It is interesting how you react when you know that out of everyone in the room, you know the very least.  Some people fake like they know whats going on (don't do that), others simply clam up and offer nothing, and some people just try to offer what help or assistance they can.

I am number three on that list.  When I feel like I am not able to offer excellence, I try my best to offer pure effort.  I become Johnny Hustle. 

I tell you that story to tell you this story.  My internship was unpaid, and as a result the law firm was very flexible with me in terms of the hours I would work.  Most days I did not even arrive until about 10 or so, with the exception of the week we were in trial.  The best thing about the flexibility was that it afforded me the opportunity to spend a lot of time at the gym.

Here is where I got a practical lesson in lawyering.

I don't remember what day of the week this happened on, but I want to say it happened on a Friday.  I had just gotten done lifting weights and I decided that I would go play some basketball.  Now this is a pretty serious decision if you are playing at the Downtown Y in Louisville, but not for the reason you may think.  The Downtown Y (for whatever reason) is sort of a haven for guys who never really played basketball, but have played a lot of pickup.  Oh right, most of these guys also fancy themselves as being some pretty tough customers. 

I honestly think I have played with all four of these gentlemen

Now this would not be a big deal, if it were not for the fact that oftentimes this results in some fundamental misunderstandings about the game.  For example, there is a fine difference between a 'hard foul,' which prevents a person from shooting an easy ball, and 'assault' which is a misdemeanor in the state of Kentucky.  Basketball provides an interesting sort of setting for the fake tough guy to act tough.  Because there are a lot of people around, it is unlikely that if a fight should break out it will really go too far.  Secondly, it provides unlimited opportunities to take shots are people who are not in a position to really defend themselves.  There are always two or three of these guys playing Downtown.  Ergo, if you choose to play pickup at the Downtown Y, gird your loins for battle, because 'chippy' is the name of the game. 

That looks about right

I don't really mind the physicality.  I'm not a little guy, and in reality competitive basketball is far more physical then most people realize.  But it's certain kinds of physicality that the Y brings that make it an interesting venue for 'hoopbang.' 

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with basketball.  I have never really been that good of a player compared to the folks I played with, but I was always good enough to contribute something.  Normally rebounds, assists, the random breakaway dunk, and sometimes I would make a shot.  But as much as I love the game, the game does not always love me back.

Pictured:  Me and Basketball

I have had some pretty serious injuries in the past, the worst one while I was trying to make it work at Itasca Community College (I didn't), and my knees and left ankle are still basically a mess.  The combination of globetrotting and the attendant pressure have pretty much sapped my competitive basketball juices.  I play to have fun and stay in shape now, and really hate when people start getting too serious.  But every now and then, someone will do something, or say something, that makes me start playing 'for real' again.  And that is how I inevitably will injure myself.

On this particular afternoon, I wound up being guarded by one of the gentlemen pictured above.  He was probably about 5'8 and maybe 140 lbs.  So I had around 7 inches and 50 pounds on this little piece of stool.  He decided that in guarding me, he would keep me away from the basket essentially by just trying to physically push me out of the lane with his hands.  I found this humorous, and pushed back to get myself into the lane, and scored our teams first couple of baskets.  This particular gentleman also decided he wanted to bring the ball up for his team, and did not realize that as an ex point guard, I am not particularly slow.  Because the guy could barely dribble, I managed to strip him on a possession, and thought I was taking it to the other end for an easy two.  And then the easily predictable happened.

My opponent in honorable athletic contest had decided that he could run me down and block me.  What he didn't realize is that I can jump decently high.   He also didn't realize that he was rather short.  And rather slow.  The end result was that while I was in the air, dropping the ball in, he ran directly underneath me.  Suddenly, I am aware that the world was upside down.  In a fit of brilliance (or utter panic) I tried to tuck my head up as fast as I could hoping to prevent the inevitable whiplash head slam that normally accompanies this situation.  So what I discovered instead was a new and exciting way to injure yourself in this predicament:  You can curl into the fetal position mid-air, and land almost exclusively on your lower back.  Don't worry, I informed N.A.S.A. of this development.

I may or may not have then called this person a 'stupid little bastard'

The whole gym uttered a harmonious 'oooooooo' as I hit the floor like a sack of nickels.  The next sensation I had was a tingling all over my legs, followed by the realization I was having a hard time moving them.  As a few of the other players helped me up, I felt a pain in my back that forced me to walk hunched over, and at a snail's pace.  Every step was agonizing.  Walking the block home to my apartment from the gym was a nightmare, compounded by the fact that no one leaving the Y parking lot seems to understand that pedestrians have the right of way when the little walking man symbol is on.  I spent the next two days at home, laying on the couch, with a heating pad and Chardonnay.

But then came Monday.  I had told the firm what happened, and that I may not be able to come into work.  Everyone was fine with that, and told me to take all the time that I needed.  But Johnny Hustle plays hurt.  Because playing hurt is better than not playing at all right?

Maybe not.

On Monday, I was walking around the office like a zombie trying to balance books on his head.  Any slight bending on my part resulted in pain shooting through my lower back and hips.  Getting into and out of my desk was a ten step ordeal that required significant planning and preparation. One misstep would result in me falling down face first in front of several lawyers I respect and their suddenly confused and mortified clients.  Not to mention that this likely would have resulted in some muffled wailing as I expressed my dissatisfaction with the situation and attempted to roll over like a mentally slow turtle.  I was in this state for a few days.

During the week I discovered the miracle that is the Icy-Hot back patch.  While I have never discovered the exact nature of the injury I received (what's a hospital, by the way?), I did discover that the Icy-Hot back patch made me slightly more mobile.  With the patch on, I could walk like a rather spry elderly woman, which was infinitely better than the first option.  With my new found swagger, I bounced around the office like Betty White, as opposed to one of the extras from Thriller.  Before the dance, not during the dance.

So with my newfound mobility, I was looking forward to again adding what I could to the logistical aspects of the law.  For example, moving boxes around and running stuff to other offices and the courthouse are really an actual necessity that sometimes becomes troublesome.  I genuinely did not mind when I was asked to do these things, because I felt like as a very physically able person, I should be ready and willing to do them.  It was rare that I was enlisted into these jobs, but I was from time to time. Around this point, one of the other attorneys in the firm announces he needs someone to 'run something to the courthouse real quick.'  For me, that was like the Bat Signal going up in Gotham.  I was on that job like a drunk 8th Grade Gym teacher on Snooki's face. 

It is very important, before you take on a task, to ensure that you have all of the necessary information before giving the thumbs up.  I forgot that truism during this misadventure.  After I excitedly accepted the job, the attorney then said, "oh yeah, we need to have that there in 20 minutes.  At the most."  Given my physical condition, he may as well have said "can you possibly carry this sack of bowling balls over there as well?"  But remember, I was playing hurt, and I was hiding the pain.  And I had just slapped on an Icy-Hot back patch.  So what did I say to myself?  "Johnny boy.....you can make it.  Be a hero, son."

(Do you know what the difference is between a hero and a complete idiot?  Two things:  The outcome, and the stake.  If a person dives in front of a bus to knock a watermelon out of the way and is killed in the process, he isn't a hero; he's a moron.  Just an aside, not germane to the story......)

So there I am, waddling at the speed of smell down the streets of downtown Louisville, with a motion in hand.  What its for?  I have no idea.  To this day.  Johnny Hustle does not stop to smell the roses, or read the motions when the clock is a factor.  It is sometime after I walk across Fifth Street that I realized my particular 'gait,' and my attempt at speed made it look as though I had just shit myself.  And it is also around this point that my Icy-Hot backpatch goes from 'Icy' to 'Hot.'

Oh right.  Its also around 100 degrees outside and I am wearing a shirt, tie, and khakis.

Needless to say, by the time I reach the courthouse, I am sweating like a fat guy in the sauna.  Combine this with the way I am walking, borderline delirium from the pain, and the fact that I'm waving around a motion like its an American flag and I'm at the Daytona 500, and you may imagine that I am drawing some attention.  A person I knew from the Y who works at the County Attorney's Office saw me and waved hello, to which I quite calmly responded, "*GASP* I'VE GOT TO FILE A MOTION!" and waddled away post haste.

I stormed up the stairs like the French peasantry storming the Bastille.  In the process, I very nearly ran over a District Court judge (who probably mistook me for someone late for the Drug Court hearing).  When I filed the motion, I looked at my cell phone.  The trip had taken 18 minutes.  The trip back took about 40.  When I got back, I was greeted with some bemused looks, and an invitation to take the rest of the day off.  I did.

That's the kind of thing they don't teach in law school.