Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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As We Turn the Page on 2017

Chief Justice John Roberts gave a commencement speech to a group of 9th graders this year in which he wished them “bad luck”. Now, lest you think ill of the Chief Justice, that he was being churlish and mean-spirited, what he meant was that he wished that these young people would experience some degree of hardship in their youth so that they would develop tactics to persevere as adults when those same hardships inevitably arose.

“I hope you will be treated unfairly, to that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal, because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. I hope that you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so that you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you have just enough pain to learn compassion.”

My hope for each of you is encapsulated in Justice Roberts’ conclusion: I hope that you will have the ability to see the message in any of your misfortunes, and that you will express appreciation for the people who help you overcome them.

Let me leave 2017 with a final thought, inspired by Ben Reiter’s review of the movie “I, Tonya”.

“Each of us, “I, Tonya” suggests, is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done–or, in Tonya’s case, the worst thing she might have done.” In our present days of instantly available and infinitely scalable opinion, we should add that we are more than the worst thing that someone says we did.

Let us, each of us, resolve that in 2018 we will look first to that which is good about each other, and endeavor to see that each of us is more like the best thing we’ve ever done than not.

 

The Right Decision

There are some really big decisions in a life. I mean huge, consequential decisions that simply must be made. To do so is very, very hard. There is simply no escaping that fact. You reach a point where you have to make a call on something that matters. Really matters. Like, rest of your life hinges on your decision matters. As part of this monumental process you must make peace with the concept of “certainty”.

You can–you really must, actually– be certain that this is a really big decision, but you must at the same time be cognizant that you cannot be certain that you are making the best decision possible.

I am forever in search of a better vocabulary to describe things I know or things I feel very deeply. In that never-ending search I came across an article about the former GM of the Philadelphia 76′ers, Sam Hinkie. Mr. Hinkie is a polymath who is at any particular time either wildly sentimental or icily objective. Fascinating guy, actually (you can read the article in SI 12/5/16). Throughout the article it was somewhat difficult for me to establish common ground with him (except for our shared devotion to precise language) until I came upon a brief discussion of “certainty” in decision making. Both Hinkie and I had the same decision to make–to prioritize our courtship and subsequent marriage over other pursuits like education and vocation–and we both not only made the same call but continue to describe it as the best call we ever made.

We were certain of its importance, and in response at some point we went “all in” on the decision. Here is Hinkie on the process:

“You have to be careful that you are thinking reasonably. People are too willing to scratch the itch of the near thing. Discipline is the difference between what you want and what you really, really want…I think people often don’t bring that kind of rigor to whatever it is, if it’s important. Because they’d rather make lots of little tiny decisions that a few big ones.”

Certainty is a sword that cuts both ways. One cut you control is the one of knowing that something is really big. Something you really, really want. Something that matters. The quality of the next cut depends on your decision making process: are your motives proper? Are you making the decision in such a way that you not only maximize your chances of success, but at the same time minimize the likelihood that you will suffer remorse at the outcome? You cannot be certain that you will make the right decision, but the only way forward once you are certain about something is to pour everything you have into whatever that thing is.

Hinkie: “What wouldn’t you pay to make it so, if it’s right?”

Sunday musings…”Certainty”

Sunday musings…

1) Bufflehead. The official duck of Clan bingo.

2) Tortiere. Official cuisine of the occupied according to the NYT.

I dunno. Does occupation taste better if it has a fancy name?

3) Friendship. “Friendship without loyalty is like a lake without water.”

That’s pretty deep.

4) Reality. There are a number of movies that have just come out that deal, either directly or incidentally, with poverty. Characters are either in the act of overcoming their poverty, or are inextricably affected by poverty as they attend to whatever theme the movie other wise addresses. I am struck by a certain detail that I simply cannot ignore in each and every example: the actors all have perfect teeth.

Not only is there not a single tooth askew in the entire cast, but there is nary a blemish to be found on an incisor. Heck, I’ll bet that even the lowliest Grip or Best Boy has a perfect smile.

Don’t know about you, but I just think the mountain men of “Deliverance” or “Winter’s Bones” would have seemed a whole lot less dangerous if they had all of their teeth.

5) Certainty. There are some really big decisions in a life. I mean huge, consequential decisions that simply must be made. To do so is very, very hard. There is simply no escaping that fact. You reach a point where you have to make a call on something that matters. Really matters. Like, rest of your life hinges on your decision matters. As part of this monumental process you must make peace with the concept of “certainty”.

You can–you really must, actually– be certain that this is a really big decision, but you must at the same time be cognizant that you cannot be certain that you are making the best decision possible.

I am forever in search of a better vocabulary to describe things I know or things I feel very deeply. In that never-ending search I came across an article about the former GM of the Philadelphia 76′ers, Sam Hinkie. Mr. Hinkie is a polymath who is at any particular time either wildly sentimental or icily objective. Fascinating guy, actually (you can read the article in SI 12/5/16). Throughout the article it was somewhat difficult for me to establish common ground with him (except for our shared devotion to precise language) until I came upon a brief discussion of “certainty” in decision making. Both Hinkie and I had the same decision to make–to prioritize our courtship and subsequent marriage over other pursuits like education and vocation–and we both not only made the same call but continue to describe it as the best call we ever made.

We were certain of its importance, and in response at some point we went “all in” on the decision. Here is Hinkie on the process:

“You have to be careful that you are thinking reasonably. People are too willing to scratch the itch of the near thing. Discipline is the difference between what you want and what you really, really want…I think people often don’t bring that kind of rigor to whatever it is, if it’s important. Because they’d rather make lots of little tiny decisions that a few big ones.”

Certainty is a sword that cuts both ways. The only cut you control is the one of knowing that something is really big. Something you really, really want. Something that matters. You cannot be certain that you will make the right decision, but the only way forward once you are certain about something is to pour everything you have into whatever that thing is.

Hinkie: “What wouldn’t you pay to make it so, if it’s right?”

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo

Sunday musings 11/1/15

Sunday musings…

1) Fall Back. Needed that.

2) Pharoah. A champion goes out on top. Not a dry eye chez bingo. Google “Tim Layden” for a great review.

3) Jacket. The motorcycle jacket has been alternately called an iconic male look, and a caricature of masculinity. I do not own a motorcycle jacket. Am I somehow not masculine, or am I subtly making a statement about inclusivity?

Or do I just look stupid in a leather motorcycle jacket?

4) ACL. There is a veritable epidemic of non-contact ACL tears among young female athletes. Unlike concussions in young male athletes, the collective response from media sources of all kinds to this: crickets. Also absent, any hint of a change in how girls are training for their sports.

Why is that? How is that OK?

5) Relative. “Constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity.” What exactly does that mean? For whom does this apply? I’ve been perusing the programming of some CrossFit Affiliate (and a couple of recently de-affiliated gyms still programming CrossFit-type WODs), watching videos and looking at pics of their athletes, and it looks like there’s a bit of confusion out there.

The “relative” in that definition of CrossFit speaks to the universal scaleability of the physical part of the CrossFit prescription. Load can be moved up or down. Duration can be increased or decreased. Movements that maintain the desired stimulus of the posted WOD can be substituted where a particular skill has yet to be acquired. Intensity is relative to the individual athlete in question, and in the classic application of the CrossFit prescription it is only “high” after that athlete demonstrates mechanical proficiency on a consistent basis.

Watching last year’s Games and Regionals footage one of the things that impressed me was the tight correlation between the virtuosity of movement and the resulting work performed in the more accomplished athletes. One cannot help but notice at all levels of competition the movement flaws seen in athletes who could not sustain enough intensity to place highly in an event. If you go back in time and watch videos of the early days of CrossFit you are struck by the emphasis on proper mechanics as a vehicle to increased efficiency and therefore more work or power output. Form is the gateway to intensity.

At my Alma Mater there is a saying about teaching that goes like this: the perfect classroom is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log, and a student on the other. I always had that image when I watched videos of Coach at the original CrossFit Santa Cruz, when I read his earliest writings in the CFJ. You know, the perfect gym is Greg Glassman on one side of a barbell and a CrossFitter on the other. CrossFit, at least the CrossFit I learned from Coach, is more than just writing a WOD on the whiteboard and opening the garage door. Every solo CrossFitter I’ve ever met, even those doing Coach’s own programming, was better after being actively coached.

“Relatively high intensity” is both a highly personal, individual metric, and a constantly moving target. It requires a shared knowledge of an athlete’s mechanics and consistency by both athlete and trainer. Programming must not make high intensity either unobtainable or unavoidable. There is only one Greg Glassman, just as there was only one Mark Hopkins. Williams College today is much larger than that single log, and Heaven knows CrossFit is much larger than CrossFit Santa Cruz ca. 2003. There is, however, a lineage that we should be able to trace back to both men.

If a gym is training people according to the CrossFit prescription, shouldn’t we be able to look at that gym and see that lineage?

I’ll see you next week…

bingo

The Dress, The CrossFit Open, and Jerry Tarkanian (Adopted from Sunday musings 3/8/15)

The Dress. You know what I’m talking about. Admit it. That picture showed up all over your internet stuff and you actually looked at it and thought about it. Admit it. So did I.

In my day job I spend my time thinking about vision. The Dress is all about wavelengths of light and direction of gaze and just-prior view. Not only do I understand the intersection of physics and physiology behind the color shifting, but as a semi-professional teacher I can actually explain what’s going on. Just not here. Sunday musings is a place for metaphor, more meta-physics than Mendellian. I see The Dress and I think Point of View, Frame of Reference, and of course since this started off as “Sunday musings” on CrossFit.com I go directly to The CrossFit Games.

Shocking, I know.

Last week brought us our annual kerfluffle about something CrossFit HQ did or didn’t do that will certainly be the ultimate destruction of the CrossFit Games. Happens every year. Usually not quite so quickly but, hey, The Dave Castro is getting better at everything CrossFit Games related so why not better and faster at Games controversy, too? For those who missed it (both of you), a few gyms and a few athletes figured out a “security flaw” in the rules for Open 15.1 and gamed the WOD. Once discovered Messieurs Castro and Berg “patched” the software as it were, and The Games 2015 were saved. Probably a penguin or two was also saved along the way.

If you read even .001% of the comments on internet posts that followed this “controversy” you had to be impressed by how broad and varied the viewpoints were. Who was to blame? Why did it happen? What should/shouldn’t be done? All of this with a heaping helping of ad hominem aimed at both HQ and the athletes/Affiliates. Like The Dress, what one thought or wrote about L’affaire 15.1 was driven by where you were looking from and what you had looked at before. Your POV, your Frame of Reference, the pre-conceived notions you apply color the issue and give it meaning that isn’t really there.

There really is no deeper meaning. What color dress you see when you look at your screen is a simple fact and has no extended significance whatsoever. The Dress does not provide any examination of your psyche or your soul, and the potential to game 15.1 provides no deeper insight into anyone involved.

HQ simply didn’t think 15.1 out the way a few competitors did. The Dress is just a dress.

Which brings me to Jerry Tarkanian the famous college basketball coach who died on February 11. You might find it odd that I choose to remember that today, right after talking about rules and rules enforcement in the CrossFit Open. For those of you who don’t know who Jerry Tarkanian was (no doubt the same two of you who didn’t hear about the Open rules Kerfluffle), the Tark spent much of his career battling the NCAA over what he felt was unequal application of the rules.

Did Tarkanian break any rules along the way? Was he singled out for more vigilant policing and enforcement of those rules? Kinda depends on where you are and where you’ve been when you are looking. I think there really is a difference between The Tark and the athletes/Affiliates who found a loophole in the rules. I’ll let the Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden explain:

“Tarkanian was a basketball junkie with a disdain for rules that impeded him.”

Like golfers who not only seek to know and follow the letter of the Rules of Golf (always capitalized, BTW), CrossFit in general is populated by folks who also follow the spirit or intention of the rules. That does leave room for the Bill Belichek approach of knowing the rules so well that you can sometimes use them to your advantage (see Woods, Tiger: The Masters). Again, Layden:

“[Tarkanian] was about the scoreboard, the money, the wins.”

We all cheer for winners. We can’t take our eyes off them. The ones who seem consumed with the winning appear almost larger than life. Their quest for victory fascinates us. Love him or loathe him, Belichek commands your attention, much like Jerry Tarkanian when he was battling the NCAA while winning basketball games by the bucketful. The difference, I think, is in that disdain for the rules that Layden ascribes to Tarkanian. Does Belichek feel the same way? Woods? You may agree or disagree about whether walking through the loophole in 15.1 is in keeping with the spirit of the rules, but you cannot find that there is disdain for the rules, or the Games, or CrossFit in general on the part of any CrossFit Games Open athlete.

Layden: “[Tarkanian] wasn’t larger than life at all. He was just lifeā€¦”

Life, and the Open, go on.