Surfwise: A Film I Just Saw, and Suggest to You the Same.

Surfwise originally came to theaters and DVD last year (2008). It’s definitely worth seeing – even if you’ve never touched a surfboard.

Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz leads the sort of life that the weak ridicule, the mediocre lament and only the strong will attain. At face-value it may come across as an observation of zealous pride and cult-like elitism. As Stanford cum laude Medical graduate and the head of Hawaii’s American Medical Association, Doc chose at the height of all worldly and societal comforts to leave it behind for a soul-searching odyssey that ultimately gave him a third wife, nine children and a lifestyle of controversy and admonishment. His vessel on this quest–the surfboard.

After first introducing the art of surfing to the shores of Israel, one of his journey’s first stops, he came to the conclusion that his sexual ineffectiveness precipitated the loss of his first two wives. From that epiphany he set forth on a crusade of sexual mastery, learning new techniques (one in particular he labels as “life-changing”) and developing a “male deficiency quotient” system to rate women that he encountered. Upon taking his highest reading at a 93, he chooses a young woman from California and after an incredibly short courtship he proposes to a gladly-accepting bride-to-be.

In as short a time as anatomy would allow his wife is with-child and stays in said condition or nursing for the next ten years. His initial decree to her is that he would not be outdone by any monkey (or other primate) and so if it breast fed for two years than he would expect her to follow suit. With the children falling into order, so begins the wild chapters of the film–the rearing years, all housed in one form or another of a 24 ft. RV.

A Paskowitz family portrait in front of the RV

A Paskowitz family portrait in front of the RV

Surfing, true to its definition, becomes the only constant platform guiding the family through life’s waves of change. All of the children are taught to surf and the eat healthy, surf clean-live clean mantra becomes their code. Docs rules are absolute and simple, a demand to surf and a demand to stick to the family program–fireworks ensue.

Because of their perpetual movement and wave-chasing, the Paskowitz children were never formally schooled and didn’t necessarily exist in the “system.” Doc’s intention was to teach them the difference between knowledge and wisdom, the latter being the greater in his philosophy and therefore set out to give the children as many experiences as possible, thereby forging wisdom. The now-grown children reflect on this, at first with a resentment and ultimately with a gratitude for the irreplaceable memories. It’s beyond me to say if their upbringing is a viable crutch for their difficulties in reaching certain goals. Ultimately they all leave the 24′ nest for their own pursuits, all seemingly quite successful (by society’s standards). Only one son has chosen to replicate his childhood with his on progeny.

Adding raw gems of wisdom to the film is Dorian; commenting on true health (as opposed to the absence of illness), the healing power of the sea, human nature and the conquering of strife. Even beyond his high-brow education, he is a brilliant man and has the sort of grounded self-understanding that few can experience–even through someone else. His methods are his, pure and uncompromising; any substitute would be likened to blasphemy of his very being.

Admiring their unorthodoxy is not really my intent, however I do agree with one of the son’s in that people spend entire lives working, acquiring assets and preparing to live their ideal lives when this man was simply able to let go of everything and seize it, that spiritual utopia. I acknowledge and respect Dorian as a romanticist and someone who taught his children essential principles, but as paramount gave them his passion. In many of my other articles I’ve mentioned life priorities and how we actually allocate resources towards them. I think this man loves his family and surfing, hence they harness the finite energies of his life.

To learn more about the Paskowitz Family through their Surf Camp website>

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Try Not to Starve After Watching Food Inc.

Ammonia-soaked beef “product,” patents on “life” and 46,000 food products all coming from three main manufacturers are some of the snippets of info you’ll find in Food Inc.–the traceable food movement’s latest effort to educate the population on society’s nutritional woes.

The film hits me close to home considering my hometown of Salisbury, MD–also home to Perdue Chickens is featured in the film, though they declined comment. Unlike an uncouth PETA documentary, there are few shocking images trying to turn people away from carnivorous diets altogether but instead a focus on what created the monster factory farms in the first place–money.

Corn is the lifeblood of our modern, industrialized food industry and the film very thoroughly links farm subsidies in corn to the decrease in meat prices for consumers (but at what real cost?), saturation of corn-derivative products and even the increase in Mexican immigration when subsidized U.S. corn and NAFTA precipitated the unemployment of 1 million (yes million) once-employed in Mexico corn farmers. Meanwhile so many Americans are wondering why they don’t just find jobs in Mexico. They then had footage of a meat-packing company, who notoriously hires the immigrants in the U.S., instigating INS raids on their worker housing to deport unneeded, undocumented workers instead of offering due-diligence through layoffs.

Killing the appetite further is the legal aspect of the food system, from the protection of companies over the consumers, as seen in the denial of Kevin’s law (not me), to the veto of California’s GMO labeling act–shot down by Governor Schwarzenegger (shame on you Arnold). Putting a face to the names of these bastards, they listed several FDA and governmental decision-makers all making a direct transition to and from executive slots in the global food conglomerates. It’s nice to see the governmental regulators are watching out for our best interests.

Sowing the greatest seeds of wisdom in the film are by far the actual farmers, who thoroughly understand the nature of the proverbial shaft they’re being subjected to through the law of economic scales. One of the film’s traditional and organic farmers beautifully encapsulates our food system by saying that we have become a nation of technicians constantly asking “how” we are to achieve the next objective, but never considering “why” that may or may not be a good idea in the first place.

Being only 93 minutes, it doesn’t have the depth of each individual topic as King Corn does for corn production or In Defense of Food can for dietary revolutionaries, but it’s a palatable start and will hopefully act as a wake up call for the populace–people may even make the obvious connection that eating garbage will turn us into exactly that.

If you want to change to an unadulterated, nutrient-rich diet I suggest exploring realmilk.com and the Weston A. Price Foundation. Be warned the rabbit hole of information goes deep, but it just might save your life.

PS – Another thing the movie stated is that I could probably be sued for saying that factory-farmed food isn’t good for you. Bring it on : )

Harnessing My Inner Samurai in Osaka’s Eastern Mountains

Original story from August, 2006

In Katano Japan, when your hosts asks if you can ride a motorbike, the answer is always YES – even if the last time you mounted such a steed it ended with you rolling across the pavement while watching your friend’s motorcycle skid by. Seeing true Japanese drifting in the mountains outside of Osaka is by far worth the risk.

Taking my word for it, Takashi and I sped off into the warm summer night in search of the infamous racing circuits. My transport, his father’s motorbike, ran beautifully all the way to the fuel depot–our first stop and just far enough to get my confidence up for the rest of the journey. Staying true to their formal and hospitable reputation, Japanese gas station attendants wear full-mechanic jumpsuits make quick work of filling up our small tanks. The scent of gasoline ignites my courage for the rest of the trip and certainly not taking time to chit-chat, we proceed.

With as much of a roar as our small bikes could muster, I followed Takashi through a few more winding roads–driving on the left for the first time in my life, until I could soon hear the whining screams of performance Japanese engines; I knew we must be close. Coming to a new, wider road ahead of us I could see the cars brooding, searching for the next race. We merged onto their path before pulling off to meet some other observers stationed on the opposite side of the road. Takashi spoke with them for a bit, far too fast for me to understand, and explained that the races were higher up the mountain and that if I wanted to go, we would have to ride our bikes on the track…

Knowing that I only live once, I agreed to go for it and we took off on our bikes, climbing steadily into the dark mountains. Suddenly from behind I could hear an approaching predator, fast and blaring with its electric blue headlights–our first visitor, passing us furiously to continue the circuit. Then came others, most far enough away to just be loud, one coming so close I feared the concussion would’ve put me into the grassy, gravel shoulder. But we persevered and reached a lookout point with the cars, and motorcycles, below.

I soon realized that the bikes, buzzing like turbo-injected hornets, were in a tight line formation and that only the lead bike had his headlights on! Takashi explained that headlights sap electrical engine power and so to add into the thrills–and to take a competitive edge, bike racers will turn off their lights when hot on the pack leader until they are able to overtake him. This shocked and bewildered me, and despite the inherent danger in this, I didn’t see stupidity, I saw bravery–the kind that isn’t exactly common in everyday modern life. It started to make many things about Japan make sense, the high regard of honor, saving face, and now these young men – the “swordless” Samurai, willing to perfect their craft above all costs…they inspired me.

Circuit racing, what I was observing, has apparently gained in popularity in these mountains over drifting because the police have studded the roads with reflective beacons to deter drifters from crossing the lanes (while sliding sideways). Now on many roads the goal has become having the fastest lap times, and not necessarily an actual overtaking victory. After a while more, Takashi and I decided to head home, it was after all late given my 2-hour delay in arriving to Hirakata-shi, not Hirahata as I mistakenly had done…

Taking a few pointers from my Japanese compatriots, I rode as fast as I could down the mountain roads even to the point of maxing out the bike (appx. 45mph). Admittedly–Takashi was a bit hard to keep up with. Everything was smooth sailing until close to his house there was what I saw to be a construction site on the road with strobes, flashers and men in reflective blue vests (actually a Japanese sobriety checkpoint). Takashi was stopped ahead of me and then allowed to pass, I cautiously rode up and after hearing something indistinguishable in Japanese I uttered “wakarimasen” (I don’t understand) and the officer chuckled “ahh…uhh…alcohol check…please blow here.” Though put off as an American by the involuntary breathalyzer, I was damn happy not to be arrested–Takashi later found out that I should have had an international driving permit to operate the motorbike. We arrived safely at his home and I ended what was one of the most incredible nights of my life–all possible only because I believed the idea that there’s a little Samurai in all of us.

My host, friend and motorbike guide - Takashi

My host, friend and motorbike guide - Takashi

Author’s notes: Takashi was a friend I met through HospitalityClub.org– a way to meet friends and gain free lodgings almost anywhere in the world. Katano, his town is nestled just east of the region between Kyoto and Osaka Japan. My stay with him included not only this biking adventure, but more motored tours to temples, towns and sushi spots–even a Japanese grocery store. None of it would’ve been possible without the generosity of him and his family. As for pictures, Tak and I agreed that camera flashes are not a good idea for midnight mountain racers.

Retooling Your Drawers

With travel season in full-swing, people from all walks of life are gearing up for the summer’s adventures–be it to Kilimanjaro or Uncle Bob’s house in Michigan. Equipped with a ravenous desire for bigger bags and lighter, smaller gadgets many people are overlooking the most basic travel essential, the one your mother always made you take more of–the underwear. If you’re wondering “what’s so hard about packing a few pairs of tighty whities” well, things have come a long way, and I’ll expand it a bit further than just the unmentionables.

Imagine 2 shirts, 2 underwear for a 3-month trip.

Imagine 2 shirts, 2 underwear for a 3-month trip.

Leveraging my Guide position at Eastern Mountain Sports Soho I’ve learned not only a great deal about what’s out there in the travel apparel industry, but also seen how frequently people are more concerned with buying a bigger bag to hold all of their existing wardrobe than simply getting more practical clothing–and “practical” is just the tip of the iceberg (keep reading for pun).

In the mid-90’s two companies came into the scene that literally pulled the wool over the technical apparel industry. The first SmartWool may be known to many as a magnificent sock company, when in reality they have a full line of clothing, also magnificent, and fit for many activities and outings. The second, Icebreaker (hence the prior pun) is a New Zealand-based company, rising in fame stateside. Smart Wool leans towards a folky, more organic aesthetic while Icebreaker is well, sexy…make that, very sexy.

Smartwool/IceBreaker Undies

Smartwool/IceBreaker Undies

What they share in common is that they’ve both perfected Merino wool rendering and production to the point where now underwear, or even a teeshirt can be made to feel equal to or better than a cotton counterpart. It will also wick moisture away while in the vapor state, keeping you dry and preventing the age-old dilemma of “monkey butt” brought on by cotton.

Secondly, merino wool and wool in general is a temperature regulating material–and shouldn’t be seen as something to wear just in the cold. Considering its source, New Zealand wool, the sheep need their fleece both for the cold winter in the mountains and the hot summers in the sunny, valley pastures. Both companies make shirts in different weights, which do correspond to being lighter in the summer months but given its versatility, there’s no reason why your summer travel tee shirt can’t become your base layer for winter sports when the slopes open.

Continuing on its regulating attributes, wool insulates much better when wet as compared to cotton, which drops to approximately 20% of its insulation capability as compared to 70-80% with wool. You may not think this matters in the summer, but consider the fact that warmer areas often have higher instances of hypothermia than places known for frigidness–largely because of a lack of preparation in the visitors. Higher altitudes and coastal regions with evening winds also have volatile weather and rapid drops in temperature. Wool also dries faster if it does get wet; on my most recent hiking outing, laying my shirt on a sunny rock brought it back to just-cleaned feeling in 3-5 minutes.

Now the real beauty in wool garments is the fact that the pathogenic bacteria that make clothes stink cannot readily adhere to merino fibers, therefore you can wear the shirts time after time without washing them as often! That also means that you can take less clothes, thereby saving you weight and space–and ultimately money if you don’t have to splurge on a bigger bag for your trip! I myself have been wearing one of my merino tees at least ten times without a wash and have found no traces of odor in it. Icebreaker especially touts this and has reported a certain adventurer wearing the same shirt while sailing for 60 continuous days…but you can of course moderate your own behaviors…

But let’s not forget about style. Both companies offer fits for almost all body types–with Icebreaker being the more athletic of the two. They even make polos with and without pockets for the gents and cocktail dresses for the ladies, so your casual evening wear is covered. And did I mention how hard it is to wrinkle these things?

From the green standpoint, their sourced wool is a completely sustainable and humane industry. Icebreaker goes so far as offering a BAA code on every garment, allowing you to view the sheep that grew the fleece and to have a relative idea of its living conditions. Both companies openly disapprove of the barbaric practice of mulesing and have close relationships with their supplying farms.

Origins of my Icebreaker 150GT shirt

Origins of my Icebreaker 150GT shirt

So before you go out and spend an amount equal to your plane ticket on a massive travel duffel, consider the investment of wool underwear and clothes and see how much space, weight and money you could end up saving in the long-run.

2009’s Thomas Paine on the Stimulus Package

I featured this gentleman’s video a few weeks ago and he has since made another. It already has over 2 million views on YouTube.

This one is much more aggressive and demanding in action–what’re your thoughts?

If not guns, then arrows?

No one likes seeing fire-arm related killings in the headlines. Given the 10 year anniversary of the Columbine Shooting and the recent killings in Binghamton, the issue of gun regulation is back on the headlines. NYTimes Article> The thing I think to be avoided however is the knee jerk reaction in making irrational and immediate means of regulation to “fix” future problems. Fixing the real problem–the evil possibilities of man’s existence, is something that probably won’t be solved by any act of congress.

Chilling and eye-opening, I loved the movie Lord of War. It features Nicholas Cage acting out the “memoir” of an international arms dealer, though in reality it was based on two such persons:

Beyond the actual trade of the weapons it sheds light on humanity’s eternal need for such implements. Cage opens in a monologue stating that the earliest known human skeletons have arrow heads in their bellies; his father opened a restaurant to fill human need, he became an arms dealer for the same reason.

In the issue of firearms, I think that it is their ability to cause rapid and far-reaching carnage that causes such negative stigma. Even considering this, if fertilizer is used at times for bombs, then should we relegate it to only licensed farmers? To me, the man beheading a Greyhound passenger with a machete last summer is horrific and grizzly; but I think in the eyes of the populace they will let this go unnoticed because only one person was killed. Even in countries with strict gun laws, or even prohibition of fire arms, people still kill other people through whatever means they have.

The statistics I never see in the media are what percentage of the U.S. populace owns firearms as opposed to how many are used in violent crimes. Given the privacy people hold in owning the firearms, it may be for the best that the real number isn’t out in the open. In the basis of democracy I perhaps naively think that the majority, and large trend would be the cause to dictate national policy and not isolated incidents.

I grew up seeing firearms, learning how to use firearms and was surrounded by a region full of hunters and firearm advocates. From a young age I was taught to respect them and even as an adult view them with a certain awe because they hold the potential to quickly and easily end life. They’re not something to be taken lightly.

Recently I had a chance to see a friend’s new acquisitions: a Beretta 9mm and a Colt M-4. Despite having fired firearms for my entire eligible life, I had mixed feelings about these simply because they have the specific intent of ending human life–though my friend assured me the M-4 would be supreme for deer hunting (provided you need 30 semi-automatic rounds).

There are also parts of the world with highly unregulated firearms laws, and they tend to not be the problem areas. A friend of mine traveled to the Czech Republic where he saw widespread possession of handguns in the public. No pun intended, but the idea that everyone has a handgun tends to keep people in “check.” The other side of this coin though is that when things do break out, you better hope there’s a Wyatt Earp around to keep the peace.

Beyond hunting, I know one consideration in establishing the 2nd Amendment was to allow the citizen the right to protect his/her possessions and family. A lot of people advocating gun control argue that in our civilized world man has no need for such militant measures. The consideration however is not how things are now, but the potential for things in the future. If you take away someone’s right to personal protection during a time of peace, then there will be no or little chance to rearm during a time of war.

Foreign and criminal threat aside, it was also a means of keeping the government in check. Throughout history, whenever a populace is to be subjugated, one of the first measures it to remove their means of personal protection, be it swords, bows or tomahawks, etc. I think it’s quite a consideration to think what would’ve happened throughout any of history’s genocides if the victimized populace was armed.

The argument goes back and forth, but I do think that all things should be considered before punishing the majority for the actions of a very, very limited number of sick and misguided citizens. For those who are raised knowing firearms, they understand the tradition of respect and responsibility that comes with such power. And to think that people will stop dying violently by restricting the possession of arms is simply sophomoric and negligent. Maybe it’s overplayed, but I can’t see why guns are such a pressing issue when alcohol and cigarettes kill endlessly more people–hell, why not outlaw Twinkies.

Mad Science is Rad Science, until they’re bored with you.

When you think back to your grade school science class you probably learned about Newton and Galileo among other great scientists of note–and were also taught that they were shunned for their work and often killed as heretics to the current belief system. The idea was henceforth put into your head that such barbarism and nonacceptance of unconventional thought are something long gone. If you believe that very little has changed in mankind beyond our implements, then I encourage you to revoke your grade school teaching–because scientists are being repressed even today.

My first experience hearing of a semi-modern scientist feeling the wrath of society is in the case of Nikola Tesla. He had to fight what amounted to be a near war with Thomas Edison and the public to gain acceptance of the superior, now the standard, alternating current system of electricity. Prior to a video game featuring the “tesla coil” to zap enemies, I had never heard of him–despite the fact that in his life he developed 700 patents for distinct inventions. If you saw the movie “The Prestige” I think the film does a fantastic job highlighting some of Tesla’s mystique, as well as his sentiments towards how much advancement society is willing to actually accept at any given time.

Now to my knowledge I don’t think he ever made a replication machine, but I do believe that he knew more about electricity than anyone in the history of mankind. Perhaps the most prestigious honor bestowed upon him in his lifetime was the offer of a Nobel Prize–a co-recipient with Thomas Edison. Tesla refused to accept it, largely because it had been given earlier to Marconi, who was given the credit for inventing the radio, even though the patent was reversed in 1943 because Tesla had already developed it much earlier. The second cause of his denial being that Edison had invented a light bulb and little else compared to Tesla. To learn more about Tesla, I suggest searching for PBS documentaries, and going to the NYTimes archives> where you can find his actual features and editorial writings.

Today we have another scientist being written off as becoming rogue and senile–Freeman Dyson. See recent NYTimes article> For over fifty years Dyson contributed to several scientific disciplines, not to mention his teaching and residency at Princeton. Attributed with developing the Dyson sphere and contributing to the Orion project, society had no problem accepting his work until it went against the ideologies of the “en vogue.”

Dyson questions the true nature of global warming and has simply asked for more data, which the article rightly states is after all the crux of science. He also arguea that increased carbon levels are quite good for plant life (essential for photosynthesis) and though seemingly a bit stray, proposes a breed of tree one day that would guide lost hikers. That at face value may seem “crazy” but I thought the idea of flowers changing colors to designate land mines was “crazy” too–until I saw them. See CNN article>

The curse of knowledge it seems, is becoming widespread in our information society. We know so much that we think there’s little else to be discovered. It becomes our natural defense I suppose to ignore, discredit and right off anything that falls out of line with what “experts are saying.” As a result of this, our scientists are commercialized and used up until the point that there is no longer an obvious place for them.

Yes, we have stopped crucifying and burning them at the stake–but perhaps the most devastating tragedy of our time is the prevention of unbridled brilliance to realize the full extent of it’s potential. My only advice is to remember how rebellious and unorthodox scientists of the past must have been in their days and realize that when we shut out notions and ideas because they can’t be explained, we may very well be continuing the same scientific oppression of days past.