Sunday, 30 June 2013

Full Throttle Towards Gomorrah

Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Supreme Court arrogated to itself the right to reinterpret the law as it alone sees fit:
In a blistering rebuke of the Supreme Court decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Antonin Scalia said the self-governing power of the people has been eroded. 

"Today's opinion aggrandizes the power of the court to pronounce the law," Scalia wrote in the dissenting opinion. It will have the predictable consequence of diminishing the "power of our people to govern themselves," wrote Scalia, who was joined in his dissent by Justices Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts, while Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate dissenting opinion. 

Scalia described the "assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s representatives in Congress and the executive" as "jaw-dropping." 

"It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and everywhere 'primary' in its role," said Scalia. "This image of the court would have been unrecognizable to those who wrote and ratified our national charter." 

Scalia had particular disdain for fellow Justice Anthony Kennedy's ruling in the 5-4 case, saying it opened the door for a federal law allowing same-sex marriages.

“It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here — when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it,” he wrote.
(Of course, anyone who knows anything about American history knows that this has been going on ever since John Marshall's judgement in Marbury v Madison was handed down.)

Now let me state two important things for the record.

First, government has absolutely no place in deciding who can get married. None whatsoever. These sorts of things are best decided at the most local level possible- local churches. And if freedom of association means anything, it means that churches should be free to marry whoever and whatever they want, provided that they accept the consequences of doing so. That means that if pastors and rabbis and imams want to marry gay couples, fine- just as long as they have no problem with the fact that this usually leads to their congregations abandoning those institutions rather rapidly.

Second, I do not, for one moment, agree with a homosexual lifestyle- but neither do I have any inclination to tell them how to live. Lesbian porn might be fun to watch, but in real life, homosexuality is not "normal"- any straight man who's ever walked down Christopher Street in New York, or through SoHo in London, knows what I'm on about. It has never been accepted as normal in any human society, including ones far more tolerant of unusual sexual mores than current American society. That said, if homosexuals wish to live their lives in peace, as long as they're not bothering me, I don't particularly care who they shack up with or who they wish to spend the rest of their lives with.

What the SCOTUS did with this decision is contrary to both of these basic libertarian tenets. In one stroke, the Court determined that government does have the right to determine the basic definition of marriage- which it does not- and, worse, has the right to overturn the accepted and acceptable definition of marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman before the eyes of the Lord. That is what marriage is, and no amount of legal torturing of the definition can change this basic fact.

Marriage is not a "convenience". It is not a "legal right". It is a commitment, one that should only ever be made with the most serious intent, and it is between one man, and one woman, consecrated before the Lord. That is all, and that is how it will remain no matter what the SCOTUS would like us to believe.

Music Review: Deceiver of the Gods by AMON AMARTH

It's an open secret that I am a huge fan of AMON AMARTH. These guys define Viking death metal. This latest eardrum-shattering epic is their ninth studio album, and it's hard to believe that they've been around for over 25 years now. It's also somewhat hard to believe that, in all honesty, their sound hasn't really changed all that much during that time- if anything, it's gotten more ferocious, more compact, and more brutal.

Like every other AMON AMARTH album, this is essentially a collection of songs about the lore and legends that define Viking culture. This means lots of blood-drenched paeans to battle, heavy use of references to the Poetic and Prose Edda traditions of Norse mythology, and epic storytelling. If you've been listening to AMON AMARTH for a long time, there is nothing new or groundbreaking here in terms of the direction of the album. What you will find, however, is ten songs of incredibly brutal, and immensely satisfying, melodic death metal, impeccably produced to assault your eardrums as fast and as hard as possible.

 If you're at all familiar with Viking mythology- and I am very familiar with it, having read the Prose Edda in various forms ever since I was 8 years old- then this album is a real treat due to the way it takes that core Viking mythology and reworks it into real stories, real songs, and really heavy music.

The album kicks off with the title track, which essentially tells of Loki Laufreyson's jealousy and rage directed towards his former Aesir brethren of Asgaard. This track is everything that AMON AMARTH's music should be- fast, brutal, extremely head-bangable.

"As Loke Falls" describes one of the pivotal battles of Ragnarok, the end of all things. The interesting thing about Ragnarok is that, unlike any other conception of Armageddon in any other pagan culture, the participants of Ragnarok all know exactly what will happen and what their parts in the coming cataclysm will be. Loki knows that he will be killed by Heimdall; Odin knows that he will be devoured by the Fenris wolf; Frey knows that Surtur will kill him first; and Vidarr knows that he will avenge his father's death by tearing the Fenris wolf apart with his bare hands. This song describes that final battle between Heimdall and Loki as a clash of titans, ending with Loki's decapitation. It's a slightly slower mid-tempo groove of a track which still crushes all before it.

"Father of the Wolf" is the first of three really standout tracks on this colossus. It tells the story of Loki's origins, from the unholy union of the giant Laufrey and the burned witch Gullveig. Now this is not canonical according to what I know of the Norse legends, but to be honest I don't really care given how awesome this track is. It's a brutal, mid-tempo blowout that is just incredibly headbangable. And that chorus just demands to be roared out along with the band playing onstage.

"Shape Shifter" kicks things up a notch, going to full-on speed mode with heavy dual-guitar riffing and telling the story of Loki's powers and jealous rage, basically giving his point of view on the need for a bit of anarchy in the world to provide a counterbalance to the order of the Aesir gods. Definitely a lot of fun to listen to, and some great lyrics from the band.

"Under Siege" is where the melodic side of the band really comes out to shine. This is actually the first of a two-part set of tracks on the album, telling the story of a group of besieged Vikings who know that they are doomed and choose an honourable death in one final terrible battle instead of dying slowly through sickness and starvation. Both the lyrics and the music are superb here, and it's definitely a lot better than some of the previous songs that the band has written in this vein- "Abandoned" from Once Sent from the Golden Hall comes to mind.

"Blood Eagle" is truly a vicious, face-melting track. If you have any idea of what the blood eagle entails, then the sound effects that kick off this track will truly sound ghastly to you- and that's the point. The blood eagle is perhaps the most brutal and horrific form of torture that ancient Vikings could inflict upon their victims, and they reserved it only for those they truly hated. It's unknown whether this sort of thing was actually done in real life, but the song leaves no stone unturned in describing how this torture is inflicted. This is NOT a track for those with weak stomachs- but then, if you had a weak stomach, you wouldn't be listening to these guys in the first place.

Then comes perhaps my favourite track on the album- "We Shall Destroy". This is the kind of song that AMON AMARTH simply excels at writing- it's a brutal, eardrum-shattering heavy metal anthem that simply screams to be played live in front of a raging mosh pit. It's not so slow that it reduces down to a simple groove; nor is it so fast that it will break people's pelvises if they try to mosh to it. And the bridge that leads to the final, extremely headbangable bars is simply perfect. This song is right up there with true classics like "Gods of War Arise", "Free Will Sacrifice", and "Varyags of Miklagaard".

"Hel" is where things get really interesting. Not only is this a song about Loki's bastard daughter, Hel, the ruler of the dread realm of Niflheim, but the "Mad Monk" Messiah Marcolin from CANDLEMASS is a guest singer on it. And my word, he does a phenomenal job. This track gives you some idea of what Niflheim is really like.

"Coming of the Tide" is the second and final part of the story started with "Under Siege". It tells the story of the kinsmen of the besieged Vikings riding hard to save their people, only to arrive too late. The song is one of those fast-burners that the band does really well- it's driven by intense percussive double-bass rhythms and vicious dual-guitar riffs, and Johan Hegg's death metal roar is perfectly attuned for the subject matter.

The final track, "Warriors of the North", is quite possibly the best- not my favourite, but the best. It tells the story of warriors exiled by their jealous king, who remain in that exile for over twenty years, growing old and weary- yet still answering the call of their aged king when he faces a Christian invasion. This is a very melodic, very well written track, but not one ounce of the band's legendary riffing and heaviness is lost in telling the story. It's simply a phenomenal story, told the way only AMON AMARTH can tell it- reminds me very much of "Hermod's Ride to Hel" in a lot of ways, it's that same combination of brutal riffing, great lyrics, and excellent storytelling.

All told, this album slays. I've been waiting for this ever since the end of last year when I heard that the mighty AMON AMARTH would be heading back into the studio to write and release their next album. I'm always amazed by the consistency of this band- there has not been a single bad track on the last four albums. This album is, quite simply, magnificent.

Didact's Verdict: 5/5- well it's not like anyone's surprised by that, after all.

KILLER KUTS: the whole damn album, but if I had to choose a single standout, it would be "We Shall Destroy".

The Panopticon Cometh...

The NSA has been working with at least seven European other countries to collect personal communications data, according to Wayne Madsen, a former NSA contractor who has come forward because he does not think the public should not be “kept in the dark.” According to Madsen, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain and Italy all have formed secret agreements with the US to submit sensitive data.
(h/t Vox)

And this all came from The Guardian- normally a place festooned with tofu-munching, sandal-wearing, pretentious hippies who think hummus is food and play whale songs at parties. At least for once they did everyone a public service by showing everyone just how pervasive the corruption is in the highest offices of this country- and just what a lying swine the current President has turned out to be. (Note that the original article at The Guardian has been taken down, which I find rather interesting.)

The good old Telly has this to say:
Germany's Der Spiegel magazine said National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden showed its reporters "parts" of a secret document from 2010 that outlined how the US had placed devices in the two EU embassies and gained access to their internal computer networks.

The document referred to the EU as a "target". According to Der Spiegel, the NSA also targeted telecommunications at the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, home to the European Council, the collective of EU national governments.

The allegations could be highly damaging to US-EU relations. EU officials have already demanded an explanation from the US on the alleged bugging.

"On behalf of the European Parliament, I demand full clarification and require further information speedily from the US authorities with regard to these allegations," Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament said in a statement.

The accusations, if proven true, would have a "severe impact" on transatlantic relations, Mr Schulz warned, saying he was "deeply worried and shocked" by the report.
Now normally I'd be quite snarky about this and point out that the Europeans are probably just angry that they didn't think of this first. But it seems that this time, a real line has been crossed. What the American government has done has seriously eroded trust in that government- maybe not on the part of the voting public, to which I don't give very much credit for intelligence anyway, but definitely on the part of those who deal with the government under the belief that we are doing so in good faith.

That said, I don't expect much to come from all of this outrage. I imagine that the American people, having so willingly traded freedom for security, will happily look the other way while their freedoms continue to be stripped from them at gunpoint. In this they are merely following the example of their European and Asian counterparts. That doesn't make the destruction of their freedoms any less tragic. If Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and even John Adams could see what has happened to the republic that they created, I can only imagine the righteous anger that they would bring to bear upon their descendants...

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Security in a Libertarian Society

I've been meaning to publish this one for months now but have literally never bothered to sit down and hammer it out properly. Well, given that this weekend is all about setting aside some time to do things that must be done, here goes.

The Libertarian Dilemma

Whenever we libertarians go off on one of our long-winded rambles about voluntary association and peaceful coexistence, people listening to us often try to shut us up with sentiments along the lines of, "that would never work in real life", or,"that sounds great in theory but it could never happen in practice". This is immensely irritating to us, especially when guys like D.J. Aurini (who as far as I can tell actually agrees with a lot of libertarian thinking) post things like this and then believe that they've won the argument. The most infuriating mind-hack, by far, is the one that goes along the lines of, "You want a society without government? Great! Go live in Mogadishu!". Never mind that each one of these so-called hacks is easily "refudiated" (to borrow an amusing Palinism).

One such troll argument against a libertarian society naturally concerns security and policing. Most Americans don't have to think twice about living in peace with their neighbours, and don't generally worry too much about being burgled or having their houses broken into by hostile assailants. And most Americans still believe, for whatever reason, that the police are a positive force in their society. Libertarians who wish to build a society on the principles of voluntary association and non-aggression must, in good conscience, answer a very simple question: how can private security possibly replace publicly paid police?

If we fail to answer this question properly, we are then vulnerable to a number of other (mostly very stupid) liberal arguments about the need for taxation to fund public services such as police and firefighters. And this leaves us with a huge credibility problem. After all, taxation (of income, at least) is anathema to libertarians. We believe unequivocally that taxation is theft. It is the unconscionable use of potentially lethal force against those who have done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

Libertarians and the Police State

Before looking into the ways in which a libertarian society would provide security in theory and then in practice, it's worth asking whether the society we currently live in, represented by an increasing police presence and the corresponding deep decline in civil liberties, is really worth the price we're paying for it.

If you live in the American Northeast, you know full well that police departments everywhere are feeling a major monetary crunch. State governments in this hyper-liberal, and therefore not particularly economically literate, part of the country are facing major budget shortfalls due to decades of mindless tax-and-spend economics. They make up for it, naturally, by squeezing citizens, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. That means that they'll come after you for the most trivial of traffic violations, with speed cameras at stupid locations, and will harass you continually by pretending that you are constantly under suspicion. As this country moves ever closer toward a totalitarian police state, the pervasive influence of the police will make itself ever more heavily felt.

And let's not forget that police tend to become positively dangerous towards the people that they're supposed to be protecting. Fact is, you are much more likely to be killed by a supposed "servant of the public" than by those great American bogeymen, the terrorists (!!!) that you're supposed to be fighting over there so that they don't end up over here, or some such arrant nonsense.

A Libertarian Alternative

The libertarian solution to these problems is really very simple: set people free to defend themselves as they see fit. The common (and frankly hysterical) complaint from advocates of government control is and has always been that if you let people defend themselves, you'll end up with blood on the streets because people can't be trusted to look after themselves. There are several things very wrong with this argument, which I'll examine in turn.

What most proponents of government-backed violence don't understand is that most ordinary people are perfectly capable of figuring out a "proportional response" to aggression on their own. A good example came from one of my Krav Maga classes recently, in which the instructor (a black belt who looks a bit like a hippie but could beat the crap out of me with just one hand) pointed out that if someone comes up to you and taps you on the shoulder slightly aggressively, you don't pluck his eye out; but if he comes after you with a broken bottle, tries to choke you, or pushes you hard to the rear, you do whatever it takes to stop him.

It is worth noting here that libertarian solutions to self-defence really only work in societies that are racially homogeneous and where people have something of a vested interest in maintaining civilisation. Half-savage societies, like the kind you find so common in Africa and parts of South America, simply cannot maintain civilisation because of a concept called time preference, which is absolutely critical to maintaining order and civility. Only when you have a largely homogeneous people, united by common values and ideals, can you maintain a free and orderly society in which people protect those like them because it is the right thing to do.

When this happens in real life, the comparison between the often inept and haphazard efforts of the police, and the highly effective, much lower cost efforts of private citizens, is often startling:
Even kids know that nobody messes with bikers. Bikers look big, and strong, and mean, both in real life and in how they are portrayed on television and in films. They are easy riders, sons of anarchy, not afraid of anything. And they take care of their own. 
A child who has been abused by someone bigger and stronger knows too well what it feels like to be small and vulnerable. BACA shifts that balance by putting even bigger and stronger people - and more of them - on the child's side. 
And if those even-bigger and stronger people are scary-looking too, perhaps with flaming-skull tattoos, chains on their belts and scars of questionable origin, so much the better. 
"The biker image is what makes this work," says Rembrandt, 54, who is tall and wiry strong. "Golfers against child abuse does not have the same feel. The pink alligator shirt and golf shoes standing in the driveway doesn't do the same thing." 
(No offense to golfers. Some bikers golf, too.) 
What Rembrandt knows is that a biker's power and intimidating image can even the playing field for a little kid who has been hurt. If the man who hurt this little girl calls or drives by, or even if she is just scared, another nightmare, the bikers will ride over and stand guard all night. 
If she is afraid to go to school, they will take her and watch until she's safely inside.
(h/t Vox)

When you have this combination of attributes- a homogeneous, non-immigrant society, a common set of beliefs, high time preferences, and the willingness to protect those like yourself- then you have the right environment for a truly libertarian solution to crime, theft, and abuse. A society that is armed to the teeth and unafraid of protecting itself against marauders is almost always vastly more peaceful and better organised and safer than any government-run alternative.

This is something that left-liberals, with their instinctive desire for control and their badly underdeveloped amygdalae, will never understand, because it flies in the face of everything that they have convinced themselves is true. Yet it is true, and we have over 5,000 years worth of evidence telling us that ultimately, the only guarantor of your freedom and security is you.

When an entire society operates on that principle, the result is stability and safety- provided that the society is largely homogeneous and largely united by common beliefs. When a society instead cedes that responsibility to government, instability and even chaos will ensue.

Weekend Linkage

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

This Is Your Life on Steroids...

A couple of prominent Manosphere bloggers- Danger & Play and Bold & Determined, to be specific- have posted in the past about the benefits of steroid use for becoming big. Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, I want to make this very clear: I am NOT saying that either Victor Pride or D&P are advocating that men use steroids. They are simply stating that steroids are a viable method of building muscle and getting big.

Here I'll lay out what I think of the issue. Given that I am an all-natural, drug-free powerlifter who just loves deadlifts and squats, it's not difficult to figure out which side I'm going to come down on. But first, let's look at two different points of view on the subject.

The first comes from a video that D&P linked to over at his pad. In it, a chap named Bostin tells you all in about 30 minutes just what it means to take serious supplements and serious steroids in order to get big.

Watch or listen to the whole thing, all the way through. It's worth the listen just to understand the sheer amount of drugs that you have to put into your system in order to achieve results as a bodybuilder.

Now take a look at what Mehdi Hadim, who runs, has to say about the subject. This is a (very slightly edited and redacted) read through an email that he sent his entire Gold Members mailing list recently.
I've always thought of steroid-users as cheaters. 
Powerlifitng champion Mike Tuchscherer told me something in Italy that just confirmed that those guys are indeed cheaters. 
Here's what this is all about: Mike looked at the kind of training program that were popular amongst guys who compete in drug-tested powerlifters federations. 
And he then compared that to the training program of guys from whom it was well-known they were on steroids all year-through.

Guess what? 
The guys in drug-tested feds trained MORE frequently and with MORE volume (more sets and reps) than the guy on steroids. 
We were sitting at terrace in Italy when Mike shared that with me. I was sipping on my green tea and said: "well I always thought

steroid-users were cheaters, but that just confirms it now". 
And it does makes sense: we got to train MORE frequently and HARDER in order to make up for the crap they inject in their butt. 
Well at least my balls aren't shrinking! 
Meanwhile I'm getting this kind of questions in my mailbox:

"Mehdi, how come some guys in the gym aren't doing any Squats but still seem to get big and ripped?" 
He means those guys walking all macho in the gym. 
You might have noticed them, the captain upper-bodies with their imaginary lat syndrome. 
They're almost always training the exact opposite way that I'm recommending - no Squats, if they do it quarters, high reps until failure, mostly benching and curls, you name it... 
...but they're still getting ripped. 
And here's why: because the steroids they put in their butt are doing MOST of the work. 
Which is my problem with them. 
They aren't honest. 
They walk big in the gym but don't have the balls to admit that they are actually using steroids. 
Big man on the outside, little insecure man on the inside. 
Cheating. Hiding. Lying. 
And it pisses me off - because every new guy in the gym, it could be you, sees these steroid-drenched jerks doing all that bodybuilding crap and *thinks* that's the correct way to train. 
After all, they're "big". 
And that's why thousands of new guys, hoping to get in the best shape of their life, end up emulating these clowns. 
Unfortunately, you're never going to get the same results training like them. Because they're using steroids while you're not. 
That's why, in order to get results, you got to stop paying attention to what all those steroid-drenched jerks are doing. 
You got to pay attention to what regular guys, with average genetics, and who train naturally like you are doing. 
Otherwise you'll 
a) gain little to no results

b) get frustrated and lose motivation

c) quit 
And then it's back to being fat, weak and out of shape.
The reactions to Mehdi's polemic among the bodybuilder community has been telling. They all attack him for having puny legs; they tell him to stop whining; they think he's gay for drinking green tea.

Now Mehdi does not need me to defend him. He's way, way stronger than me- his idea of fun is squatting 315lbs 5x5, whereas I can manage maybe 2 reps per set at that weight. The guy is so much stronger than me, in fact, that in the extremely unlikely event that we were ever in the same gym, he would make me look like a complete pussy. And his "puny" legs are fully capable of squatting 419lbs- which happens to be far more than most bodybuilders will ever squat. And therein lies the key difference between a powerlifter and a bodybuilder. A powerlifter's strength is real. A bodybuilder's strength is an illusion. The body that is created through drugs and puffery is not really a body at all- it's just a drug-enhanced mockery of what a human body should be. (Hey ladies, this happens to apply to you lot too- women who squat and deadlift are seriously hot, but women who do steroids and bodybuild are just... ugly).

The reality is that if you want strength- true strength, not just a body- then there simply are no shortcuts. Likewise, if you want a body, then there are no shortcuts there either. The difference is that the hard work required to lift really heavy weights naturally and with proper form will outlast any of the illusory, steroid-enhanced gains that you will find in bodybuilding. Tellingly, Bostin Lloyd's own testimony in that video says it all- the use of synthol and steroids IS cheating, and he openly admits as much. 

The other aspect of this debate that you have to consider is the sheer monetary drain that comes from using steroids and other drugs. That stuff is expensive. Ever walked into your local GNC or Vitamin Shoppe and had a look at their range of protein powders alone? The cost of those supplements, powders, potions, and pills adds up at incredible speed- my last visit to such an establishment resulted in a $250 bill for a big tub of protein powder, two bottles of fish oil, creatine, some multivitamin packs (big mistake), and some "recovery chews" (slightly less big mistake), and other vitamins. If you decide to get big, you have to understand that your sex drive and your interest in doing basically anything else will go straight out the window.

If you're willing to make those sacrifices, well, fine, that's your choice and your life. But if you're interested in applying what you've learned to creating a healthier, wealthier, more sexually successful lifestyle, then stick with the advice of natural powerlifters like me- leave those drugs alone, get your ass into the gym, and SHUT UP AND SQUAT. The end.

Two Years of Powerlifting

I had intended to spend some time writing this weekend and putting thoughts to paper (so to speak), but as usual, I got lazy and decided to enjoy the summer sunshine and sleeping on my couch instead. I'm rather hoping to change that trend this week, now that things are a little slower at work. My time spent relaxing did, however, give me a chance to reflect on an important milestone.

Two years ago, I came to the realisation that my life was going nowhere. I had a comfortable job, a very comfortable apartment, and an exceptionally comfortable lifestyle for a single bloke in a large city. However, none of it meant anything to me- and worse, I was not where I wanted to be. Physically, my body was degenerating; spending 50-60 hours a week sitting in the same chair, eating the same sort of food every day, was turning me into a pudgy joke of a man. And this was despite the fact that I never drank on weekdays, ate lots of hearthealthywholegrains, and woke up every morning at 5 to hit the gym. I thought that I was doing everything right, yet I wasn't all that much stronger than I had been when I left college and was at least 10kg heavier. Add to that the fact that I was living in a city and in an apartment that actually should have been outside my means had I not been earning (rather a lot of) overtime, and I eventually realised that it was time to make a change.

I didn't really know where to start, but I knew that I wanted to drop the extra weight that I'd added over the years since I'd left college- seemed as good a place as any to start a program of self-improvement. My "weightlifting", such as it was, consisted of using dumbbells and chin-ups and what I thought were bench-presses- you know, the half-assed kind that 95% of all guys in the gym do where they lower the bar no farther than a 90-degree bend of their elbows, if that. It took me a while to figure out how to get going, but that all changed when I stumbled across this site.

I can still remember exactly how it happened. I had been trying to figure out the proper form for deadlifts, since I'd read somewhere that deadlifts were a great way to add muscle and strength. When I came across Stronglifts, the program just... made sense. Here at last was a simple, practical, results-driven program that promised to build strength- not looks, mind you, but power. And it proposed to do so by starting with a handful of basic exercises and then adding weight with each workout.

I started on that program in mid-June, 2011. It's been over two years and it's frankly amazing to think I've come this far.

Stronglifts 5x5 consists of just 5 exercises, done three per workout for five sets of five reps each. You add 5lbs with each workout, aiming to increase strength by simply increasing the sheer amount of weight that your body is pushing against. You start with:

  • Squats- the core of any strength-building program
  • Bench presses
  • Deadlifts
  • Overhead presses
  • Barbell (or Pendlay) rows
That's it. That's all you have to figure out. It takes maybe 45min per workout when you start and you will rapidly see results if you persist. I sure as hell did.

I started out with a completely empty 45lb bar. I quickly went up to 225lbs 5x5, then 245, then stalled and switched to 3x5 around that weight. I hit a plateau at 275lbs and couldn't progress further, mostly because my form was poor; then I took a couple of weeks off to go home, came back, corrected a few things with my form, and went right back to squatting. I blew through that 275lb plateau and eventually hit 350lbs as my 1RM weight. And I'm looking to break that soon.

Today, at my gym, I'm easily one of the strongest guys there, and I'm a good 10kg, maybe 15kg, lighter than I was before I started. I'm not the most muscular guy at the gym, by the way- actually, if you stood me next to some of the meatheads there you'd quickly see that I'm a bit of a runt compared to them- but by far the strongest. In two years of going to this gym 3 times per week with very few exceptions, I've seen maybe 3 guys who can squat more than me. I've seen only one guy who can bench more than me (and do it properly; of course, he benches 315lbs and I can barely bench 210, so there is a rather large difference in terms of raw strength). I have seen no one who can deadlift more than me, and I'm not even an elite powerlifter for someone in my weight class. I deadlift with nothing more than a belt and chalk, and yet I'm capable of doing things with weights that guys twice my size can't do with lifting straps.

If you'd told me two years ago that I would be benching 1.3x my bodyweight, squatting 350lbs, and deadlifting 435lbs or more, I'd have told you that you were crazy. Back before I knew what the hell I was doing, I tried deadlifting 225lbs for a single set of 10 reps, and ended up with my back hurting so badly that I could barely sit down that day. Today, I'll deadlift 405lbs just for fun.

Lest you think that I'm some kind of genetic freak, let me tell you right now- I'm not. I don't have six-pack abs, and probably never will. My family tends to fat; both parents have had weight problems since their late twenties, my grandmother was morbidly obese for close to thirty years before she died, and my sister is a butterball even though she's the better part of 10 years younger than me. I alone, out of my entire extended family, love lifting weights.

If you are reading this and you want to improve your body, your health, and your self-confidence- and I don't care whether you are male or female here- then pay attention to what I've learned over the last two years:

  1. Consistency is key. You don't get good at something by saying you're going to get good at it. You get good at it by doing it, and doing it a lot. Powerlifting works exactly the same way. Show up to the gym, three times a week, regardless of whether you've got a mild cold, your muscles are sore, you're tired, your woman kicked you to the curb- whatever, just lift.
  2. If you think you're going to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger, think again. You're not going to get ripped and shredded by following a powerlifting workout schedule. But that's not the point. The point is to build strength, not to pose. Bodybuilders, with very few exceptions, lift weights like pussies. Powerlifters, however, start with a core of strength training; those powerlifters who go on to become bodybuilders actually have an easier time lifting very heavy weights. Case in point: Jay Cutler is about twice my size and about ten times more muscular than I am. He also happens to seriously struggle to deadlift 405lbs, whereas that is my heaviest warmup weight for deadlifts with overhand grip before I move on to my 1RM work set.
  3. Form is everything. If you're struggling to lift a particular weight level, then the first thing to do is to check your form and correct it. Seek the advice of others who are smarter, stronger, and more experienced than you (like the guys on the Stronglifts Inner Circle forums, for instance- I'm one of them). Lower the weights, correct your form, and stick with it.
  4. Deep introverts in particular will benefit massively from powerlifting. Introverts, as I've written several times before, are literally wired differently from extroverts. Exercise for us often becomes about far more than mere fitness. I don't go to the gym because it makes me stronger or fitter; I go to the gym because it is my haven, my sanctuary, my zone of comfort and my realm of mastery. Lifting weights gives me a rush that is impossible to describe to an extrovert. The fitness and strength are, in my opinion, (great) side benefits.
  5. Stop spending your money on supplements. They're a colossal waste of time, and as I'm going to show you in another post shortly, the amount of crap you end up putting in your body to achieve bodybuilder-style results is truly staggering.
  6. Leave the attitude at the door. Guys who expect to come in and see instant results from powerlifting are going to be sorely disappointed. Guys who come in with humility and realise that the road to strength is long and often slow are the ones who will see real gains and will really benefit from it.
  7. Don't be one of THOSE assclowns at the gym. You know the ones I'm talking about. The curl fags who clog up the squat racks doing half-assed bicep curls while you could be squatting serious weight. The morons on the bench press going about a quarter of the way down before pushing back up and thinking that they're the s*** because they can "bench" 225lbs or more when in reality, they can't bench 180lbs. The idiots who deadlift with rounded lower backs and then wonder why it hurts so much. The tools who engage in those stupid "chili workouts" that Bronan (RIP) hated so much. If you're at the gym, you're there to LIFT.
Learn from my example. Start your journey towards true strength of mind, body, and character. Get your butt into a gym, start squatting, and take up the StrongLifts 5x5 program.

Good luck, and Godspeed.

Don't Talk to Me About Tennis Anymore

It's like watching Pete Sampras lose to Georg Bastl all over again.

I suppose it's only to be expected given that Federer's days of absolute and total all-court domination are long behind him. But it's still really painful to see the greatest tennis player of all time- perhaps the greatest athlete of all time- knocked out like this so early in the sport's greatest event.

I just hope that, like Sampras before him, Federer can come back and win that one last Wimbledon to add to his staggering collection of silverware before he finally calls time on his glittering career.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Well, That Was... Unexpected

It's rare that I get to watch tennis anymore, now that I've given up my subscriptions to traditional media via cable and television. But, there is a big-screen television at work that is normally tuned to the sort of mindless rubbish that passes for entertainment in the world today- football, baseball, CNBC, Bloomberg, that sort of thing.

Today, however, was a real treat. Someone sensible had finally turned the telly to something truly civilised- the first round of the championships at Wimbledon. And, my word, what a show.

First we were treated to Roger Federer (a.k.a. "the Greatest Of All Time", a.k.a. simply "The Man") showing us all how it's done on a true grass court. The Man didn't even look the least bit bothered, stomping all over his opponent in a little over an hour. That is the kind of tennis that I have really missed from the man that I have come to revere as an exemplar of everything great about the sport of tennis- stylish, effortless, clinical, and ruthless yet beautiful. I was watching the maestro at work, and boy was it fun.

And then, just when I thought opening day at the world's greatest tennis tournament could not get any better, this happened:
In retrospect, given the injury, these events made a certain kind of sense. But how to explainthis? How to make sense of what happened on Court No. 1 on Monday when Darcis beat the eight-time French Open champion? 
The score was 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4, and it was punctuated by a terrific ace down the middle (his 13th of the match). 
What on earth happened? 
"Sometimes you play well and have the chance to win," Nadal said later, "and sometimes you play worse and lose. That's all. At the end, it's not a tragedy, it's the sport." 
Nadal declined to actually say he was injured, but essentially admitted he was: "Is not the right day. I tried my best out there in every moment. It was not possible for me this afternoon." 
Later, he added: "I don't want to talk about my knee this afternoon. All I want to say is congratulations to Steve Darcis. Anything I say about my knee is an excuse."
Now I will say that although I cannot stand Nadal's style of play, I have nothing but respect and admiration for his demeanour both on and off the court. He is a true gentleman and a great champion. And while I've been predicting for years (literally since Nadal was 23) that his extremely physical style of play would inevitably wear down his body past the point of recovery, I think that it is premature to write him off- the guy just won the single most physical of all of the Grand Slams, after all.

That said, the only way this could possibly have gotten any better is if Murray had lost as well. Sadly, he didn't.

And if you want a great reminder of just what a genius Federer is- well, here's one:

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Misdiagnosing the Problem

In which a woman who plainly thinks far too highly of herself completely misses the point:
Men of my father's generation would never have dreamed of telling their wives they could not have another child because they wanted more time to themselves. They just got on with it. 
To return to my own situation, I called off a wedding in my early 30s amid serious doubts about the direction in which my fiancĂ© and I were heading - doubts made worse when he kept saying 'maybe next year' to the prospect of a baby. 
Then I met the broker. We had been together for three years,  six months of those casually  trying for a baby, before I went to see a specialist. 
I was nearly 38 by then and as there was no sign of a pregnancy, I had my suspicions that it was not going to happen without intervention. 
But the best thing I could do to maximise my chances was to give up on the idea that I might get pregnant naturally and embark on a course of IVF. The sooner we got started the better.The specialist told me in  no uncertain terms that I had to be more proactive. He could run endless tests, which would take time and money, to find out why exactly I was having trouble conceiving. 
When my boyfriend and I were trying for a baby naturally, I think he found it manageable. He liked the idea that it might not happen. It made him able to cope. 
While initially he seemed keen about IVF, when it came to actually signing up to a medical process geared to making children happen, he took fright. 
The most shocking thing was the gulf between his cowardly decision to back out and the caring impression he gave me at the start of our relationship.
The article starts, continues, and ends in pretty much that same hectoring tone throughout. Of course, if the author had bothered to pay the slightest bit of attention to details that otherwise escaped her solipsistic rant, she would quickly realise that the endemic problem she is describing is a reaction to everything that she and her kind wanted in the first place.

Anyone who has read Dr. Helen Smith's Men on Strike (Didact's review forthcoming) knows that this world in which men are desperately trying to escape the responsibilities which were once theirs is one that we have been forced into. What the author of that agony aunt piece doesn't realise is that men are not stupid. Nor are we the irresponsible children she would have everyone else believe we are. We merely recognise that there are severe costs to fatherhood these days. We recognise that marriage and fatherhood present truly staggering risks- emotional, financial, and moral- in today's feminised society.

This is just a sample of what can happen to a man after he becomes a father:
  • If the child is not biologically his, he can still be forced to pay for the child's upbringing, education, and welfare- despite having done nothing to deserve such an imposition
  • If the mother decides to walk out on him, the courts are so biased against him, by default, that he will have to spend years and enormous resources to fight for the chance to have his children back in his life
  • If his wife or partner alleges abuse against him, the burden of proof is upon him, not upon the accuser- he is guilty until proven innocent, in a ghastly perversion of the rights of Man
I do have some sympathy for this lady's desire to have a child. But, like many women of her generation, she left it far too late. She should have avoided the carousel and the inevitable rapid decline in her own SMV that resulted, and settled down in her mid-to-late twenties at the latest. Instead, she left her decision until far too late. The reality of trying to conceive a child in one's forties as a woman is that one's biology simply will not cooperate; the chances of conception are very low and the chances of birth defects or other disorders are exceedingly high.

One last word of advice to anyone out there who is either a young bloke looking to settle down, or an older Beta-to-Gamma male being hectored by his woman: if you want to avoid making possibly the biggest mistake of your entire life, DO NOT give in to pressure from any woman to have a child. It must be YOUR decision, and yours alone. If you are biologically incapable of conception, that is one thing; but if your wife or partner is telling you that she wants a child RIGHT NOW, you have to understand that the imperatives of female biology will override any and all rights that you thought were yours. So for your own sake, be very careful.

(Late) Weekend Linkage

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Get the Hell Off Facebook

Your Faceborg profile may well be used against you:
Since this story was first reported, we’ve been in discussions with U.S. national security authorities urging them to allow more transparency and flexibility around national security-related orders we are required to comply with. We’re pleased that as a result of our discussions, we can now include in a transparency report all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters) – which until now no company has been permitted to do. As of today, the government will only authorize us to communicate about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range. This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds. 
For the six months ending December 31, 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received from any and all government entities in the U.S. (including local, state, and federal, and including criminal and national security-related requests) – was between 9,000 and 10,000. These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat. The total number of Facebook user accounts for which data was requested pursuant to the entirety of those 9-10 thousand requests was between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.
I closed down by Facebook account over 2 years ago. I've never looked back since. I have little patience for social media- I find it a rather pointless exercise in navel-gazing and Beta-orbiting. And now, like everything else, it will be turned against you.

The power of the Panopticon grows daily. This blog is undoubtedly being surveilled for "undesirable elements"- as, I'm sure, are many others like it. Your dating profiles, your bank accounts, your credit card statements- they're all available for the government to draw whatever conclusions it wants. Much of this is unavoidable; we opened the electronic genie's bottle and there's no way of stuffing it back in now. But you should not, under any circumstances, be deceived about the intentions of those who watch you. They don't need you to commit wrongdoing anymore to find you; they can now infer wrongdoing from nothing other than an innocent email conversation for "thoughtcrime".

Security or Freedom?

Obarmy's reaction to the outrage of the people at his efforts to establish an American Panopticon are exactly what I expected from a high Delta with a massive inferiority complex:
President Obama said Friday that the programs have made a difference in tracking terrorists and are not tantamount to "Big Brother."

The president acknowledged the U.S. government is collecting reams of phone records, including phone numbers and the duration of calls, but said this does not include listening to calls or gathering the names of callers.

"You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said. “We're going to have to make some choices as a society."
He would say something that silly, of course. He's not half as intelligent as his biggest supporters would like to believe he is- no, literally, he isn't. Even given my well-documented, utter and total disdain for the man, though, I will readily concede that he has a point.

Americans do have a choice to make. He's presented it in the most absurd possible binary terms- as if 100% security is somehow possible, which it is not. There is simply no way that you will ever be secure as a society against ANY and ALL forms of attack. You can, however, take steps to be relatively secure.

Your choices are simple. Either you:

  • continue letting illegal immigrants into this country and assume that they will all somehow play nice with your laws;
  • continue to engage in costly and unnecessary wars of imperial maintenance around the world;
  • insist on poking your noses in where they don't belong insofar as wars and revolutions are concerned;
  • continue to blindly and stupidly believe that Islam is a "religion of peace" and that Muslims generally do NOT wish you ill as a nation;
  • persist in the belief that a vibrant, multicultural society is always and everywhere a Good Thing in the teeth of considerable empirical evidence against that nonsensical notion;
or you wake the hell up and realise that ultimately, the citizen is the last and final line of defence that his nation possesses. That's right- you are responsible for defending your land, your people, and your way of life.

Your Bill of Rights lays out the rights and freedoms that Americans take for granted- because, well, they are granted, by the Lord Almighty and not by any state or government authority- in a very specific and yet seemingly random order. Your right to free speech and free association is followed immediately thereafter by the right to defend yourself, by force if necessary. You are given protections against unlawful searches and seizures by requiring government authorities to present specific warrants with probable cause justifying those seizures. You are guaranteed the right to due process, the right to avoid self-incrimination, and the right to be silent if questioned. Your right to a trial by jury is mentioned twice. The enumeration of these rights is not supposed to be the end of the story, either- just because it's not in the Constitution, that doesn't mean that rights stronger than the ones mentioned above by the several States are not protected by it.

This order seems random and chaotic. In fact it's a work of certifiable genius. The First Amendment was the most important out of the lot- the one that every government will always seek to take away first because it poses the biggest threat to government power. The Second Amendment is there to provide the teeth necessary to protect that right. The Third and Fourth Amendments stop government from using muscle alone to defang the Second. The Fifth through Eighth Amendments impose (what used to be) significant barriers against the ability of the State to intrude upon the private sphere. And the Ninth and Tenth Amendments make it perfectly clear that the government is not your ultimate defender- you are.

Now if you're going to do the same thing that almost every other Western nation (other than Switzerland) has done, and surrender your freedoms in exchange for illusory "security", then you have no one to blame for what is coming other than yourself. If, however, you choose to take responsibility, as your Founders wanted you to, and secure your freedoms, then you know what to do- train yourself in firearms, educate yourself about the threat posed by Islam, get yourself to a gym, learn a martial art.

You have nothing to lose from doing so, and everything to gain.

Welcome to the Panopticon

Think what you will of Edward Snowden, but before you make up your mind, watch the entire interview that he did with The Guardian while on the run in Hong Kong. As far as I'm concerned, he's a goddamn hero. This man sacrificed everything- a very lucrative career, a home in paradise, an absolute stunner of a girlfriend, and very probably his life and future physical safety- to tell his people what their government is doing to them. Nothing and no one is safe from the prying eyes of the government. There is no possible expectation of privacy anymore.

Reading through various articles and posts on this situation, I find myself amazed that Americans are still stupid and delusional enough to believe that they live in a republic, where their basic rights are protected. The dream of the American republic, of a land of liberty and light, is dead and gone. It was destroyed the moment Americans decided to swap freedom for safety. The fulsome praise of otherwise sensible optimists notwithstanding, your country as your Founders imagined it is dead and gone. It can never be recovered again. And it is your fault that this happened. You have no one else to blame. You decided that freedom, with all of its responsibilities and burdens, was less important than blind obedience and safety.

Surely It's Not That Bad?

Most Americans probably cannot imagine living under a government that has more access to their lives, thoughts, and personal information than the KGB or the Stasi ever dreamed of having- indeed, the Nazis and Soviets would have killed (literally) for the kind of power that these clueless bastards that you people keep electing routinely arrogate to themselves. That is because most Americans have never lived in a surveillance state, where every move is recorded and every interaction can be tracked.

I have lived in such a society, and here's where I play the Devil's advocate for a bit.

Anyone who has ever visited Singapore knows what I'm talking about when I say that government there has truly astonishing presence in and power over people's lives. In Singapore, there are cameras quite literally everywhere. You cannot go anywhere without being photographed or video-taped. The government has the ability to track every single one of your daily interactions should it so choose- and I'm not being hyperbolic here. Back when I was in high school there, we lived down the road from a former High Court Judge, and my father once asked him what would happen in a court case to prove a defendant's innocence, or something along those lines. The judge simply replied, "all I have to do is ask for the video showing where you were at that particular time on that particular day". In Singapore, defendants are presumed guilty- in other words, the Constitutional protection of presumed innocence does not apply, and the burden of proof is on the defendant. It doesn't take much to figure out how quickly and completely this shifts the relationship between citizen and State.

Here's the funny thing: Singapore is actually a great place to live. It's my favourite place on Earth because it is safe, clean, and very, very efficient. I love going home to Singapore, which I do at least once a year, and not once have I ever felt threatened or unsafe. My sister can stay out at night until 1am without any problems, a taxi is always a safe mode of transport, there are no bums on the trains or buses, things get done quickly and easily, and everything runs with almost clockwork efficiency.

In theory, this sounds like a great future. Surely everything would be fine in a surveillance state like this? And surely, if you obey the law and stay out of trouble, nothing will ever happen to you, right? Surely there is no harm in turning over this kind of power to your government, the way Singapore has done?

This Is Your Future

Here's the one little problem with this line of thought: the Singaporeans wanted this future. The social compact that founded the country was very clear: the Singaporean people would give the People's Action Party almost unlimited power, provided that the PAP provided jobs, economic growth, and prosperity to the people of Singapore. By following an open-market, free-trade, capitalist model, a resource-poor backwater island pimple on the arse-end of Malaysia became Asia's richest country, and the world's third richest, on a per capita basis, in the span of fifty years. As long as that growth has endured, Singaporeans have been more than happy to give up their expectations of privacy and freedom in exchange.

You Americans never explicitly granted this power to government, for your country was founded on a vastly different premise and promise. Sure, you voted in Republicrats and Demoblicans who promised bread and circuses and safety, but you never clearly said to your Benevolent Government Overlords that you were willing to surrender every last basic expectation of privacy and freedom in exchange for illusory security. You elected a man who went farther than any of his predecessors in terms of using the power of government to kill American citizens without trial, but you did so on the understanding that this would be for "special cases only". (That you did not foresee the consequences of this galactically stupid decision says rather a lot about whether or not you deserve your country's Constitutional rights.) You elected his predecessor, who authorised a massive extrajudicial wiretapping program, on the understanding that it would be to protect you from "terrorists" in your midst, not from your neighbours and relatives.

It's gotten to the point now where in some ways Singapore and Hong Kong have stronger protections for free speech than you do. In Singapore, as long as you don't criticise the government too much and don't cause a fuss by organising protests or strikes, you can say and think pretty much whatever you want. In Hong Kong, you still have the ability to protest and speak out. In America, those freedoms are disappearing so fast that I sometimes wonder whether you people even understand what it is you are losing.

In short, your government did this without your knowledge, and without your explicit permission. Now, if this is what you want, then by all means go forth and be damned by your own choices; as far as I'm concerned, I have no quarrel whatsoever with the way Singapore operates because that is what the Singaporean people want, and more power to them. But if this is not what you want, then you have a very clear and very stark choice to make.

Either you can continue to acquiesce, to let these people have complete power over you, and hope timidly and blindly that they will never abuse it. Or you can heed the lessons of history and understand that you are sovereign over yourself and should never surrender that basic freedom to anyone, for any reason.

If you choose the former, then you have no one but yourself to blame when your government cracks down on gun possession, "deviant thinking", "aberrant behaviour", and "socially unacceptable conduct" through its all-seeing Panopticon powers.

If you choose the latter course, then remember: the only logical outcome of pushing back against this country's government is eventual open armed revolution. Understand this well, and be ready for the day it happens.

Choose carefully, and choose well.