Friday, November 4, 2011

The Joys of Mental Illness

In my previous post, I discussed my fallout with the Miami Secular Humanist's Meetup group. In the comments, something really interesting just happened, and by interesting I mean awful.

One of the commentors, Anthony Camilo, did one of those sarcastic parting shots that online dudes do when they're withdrawing from a conversation but feel the urge to get in some kind of last word. I'm certainly done it, recently, even.

Except . . . the subject we were talking about was, in part, my mental health. Let me lay out what he said, so you don't have to go fetch it from my last post:

Let me start by apologizing for each and every word I've written on your blog. I have been extremely unfair to you and after reflecting up on it I must admit that you are a reasonable human being and a well adjusted man who displays no sociopathic behavior whatsoever and is clearly in full control of all his faculties. A man who has empathy for others and has firm grasp on reality. There is not a hint of paranoia in you. You are also a paragon and hero to all those who are dealing with mental illness and most would be proud to call you their spokesman.

So, he basically calls me a sociopath who isn't in control of my faculties. To wit, he's saying what I've been quite honest about: I am mentally ill.

Which means he's mocking a sick person. He's making fun of my mental illness. I wonder if he also mocks people in wheelchairs?

Which is today's lesson about being mentally ill and the discrimination that mentally ill people face.

Edit: He removed the offending post. Too bad I'd already copied it here. D'oh! But before he did that, probably while responding to my post where I just said he should be sarcastic better, he posted:

You are a piece of shit and a douche-bag?

Classy, man, just classy. Then he deleted everything, made another sarcastic post (!!). Maybe this time he'll actually give up. Who can say?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bad time with the Secular Humanist Meetup

I had a poor showing at the Secular Humanist Meetup dinner this month. At the beginning, everything was going fine. But then one of the leaders of the meetup, an elderly man, decided to speak to us all.

Now, it struck me as paternalistic bullshit from the get-go. The daddy figure getting up to address us all, at whatever length he desired, about whatever topic he desired. The only reason I didn't leave the room, if not the meeting, is because I hadn't settled up my check. In retrospect, that's what I should have done. Ah, the clarity of vision of hindsight!

Then he talked a bit about a friend of his, the punchline being that this friend was insane, murdered his wife and then killed himself. Also in retrospect, that was just nuts to be talking about in that forum, anyway. It showed a complete lack of respect for the boundaries of the people at the meeting. No one there came to hear about this dude's crazy murder/suicide. I was a total stranger, as were several of the other people at the meeting, and burdening us with his horrific story was extraordinarily rude. I understand that a grieving person needs to get it out - I've had friends kill themselves, myself, though never along with a murder which is clearly a higher level of horror - but a meeting full of raw acquaintences, total strangers and a few friends is not the forum for that grief.

But what got me riled up in the moment was how he talked about mental illness - and I think we'll all agree a murderer/suicide had some pretty serious mental problems - "wasn't the man he knew" and he "made choices". I said, with considerable anger in my voice, that, no, that is not true. I said that I suffer from mental illness - which, of course, first drew jokes, because, hey, I guess it was a funny topic and is part of the problem of talking about mental illness, haha, it's funny, fuck you - and people with mental illness have a disease, about which they are no more responsible for than people who have cancer or birth defects. I said that I was deeply offended that the insinuation that people with serious mental problems "made choices".

Rather than apologize for his ignorance, this old man said that "he understood mental illness". Which, clearly, he did not. After all, he was a trial lawyer and his association with mentally ill people somehow gave him insight into their feelings. Which, like I said, was obviously untrue because he was repeating one of the biggest canards used to diminish the seriousness of mental illness: that we somehow have a choice. I found his assertion that he was a trial lawyer and thus understood mental illness to be akin to a racist saying he has some black friends.

(Oh, for the record, also he was a touch of a racist. Talking about those "Latins" are, about how they had gay family members and didn't talk about it because they were "Latin". Like Anglo families don't have that kind of idiotic dysfunction? We live in FLORIDA for crying out loud, one of the most generally homophobic states in the Union! You don't have to go down to Latin American countries to find homophobia!)

Well, the old dude wasn't buying what I was saying, he was dismissive and verbally bullying, which never, ever works on me. So we were going at it.

Then one of the other people, one of the long timers at the meetup, said that he had been in an institution for about a week and, hey, I was out of line.

No, no, I wasn't. The old guy shouldn't have been talking about this subject in the first place. He surprised and burdened strangers and people who barely knew him with disturbing and uncomfortable things. And in so doing, he repeated one of the most vicious canards used to justify bad treatment of the mentally ill - the idea we have a choice, a position that he repeated, I will note. He was rude from the onset, he took the position of a verbal bully, and was wholly unapologetic about it. Friends, however, support friends, I get that - but I wasn't this man's friend. If he had kept his grief among his friends, well, we would have never had the opportunity to argue, right? But, no, he decided that it was appropriate to surprise total strangers with his tale of horror, grief and madness, and in so doing he insulted me, personally, with one of the most terrible lies repeated about mental illness. So, yeah, taking that altogether, I figure I was totally in line.

However, at that point, I said, "Fuck you" and left. Which, again, I found appropriate because when the old guard start forming up the wagons around themselves, well, the conversation was over.

When I was settling the check, another new guy came out and tried to talk me down. He said he wanted me to come back. I'd given the old man something to think about, right? I said I wouldn't unless the older man apologized. I was so cute! I have done this sort of thing before and I knew what was going on. They weren't talking about how trenchant my observations were in the meeting; they were either trying to put it behind them or confirming to themselves that I was the unjustified aggressor. Again, this is common. Either way, the idea that I had somehow enlightened anyone was cute in its optimism, but I'd bet money it was not reflective of the general attitude in the room - which was probably relief I was gone.

So, I guess I'm done with that group of secular humanists. I don't see myself going back unless I get an apology and . . . I don't see that coming. I mean, if the group understood that what the guy was saying was out of line, they would have probably told him, "Hey, uh, maybe this isn't the place for you to talk about your murderer/suicide friend. Maybe that's wildly inappropriate to do in front of people you largely don't know, and you should seek support from your friends, family and perhaps a grief therapist." But when I left, he was being supported, so I doubt they even understand the inappropriateness of his remarks. Perhaps I am being uncharitable, though.

Anyway, that's the end of my story. Unlike the elderly man at the meetup, I am not going to hold anyone captive with my story and feelings. But I did feel the urge to get them out, and I'm writing this so I can post it to the meetup group so that they can understand my position. And I'm posting it publicly, because I want to be open about the difficulties of having mental illness and the hurdles that people face when trying to discuss it - how we are subject to bullying, or laughter, when we defend our rights to dignity.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Utah Trikes continues to suck

The story of how Utah Trikes sucks gets sadder. Today, my shifter cable stretched so much that I can't use the barrel screw to put it back into alignment. So I'm going to have to adjust the cable. I shouldn't already be needing to adjust the cable, to put it bluntly.

In addition, when I unpacked the crate, I found a screw that looked new. Well, I found where it goes, today. It was the screw that kept my right brake attached to the steering post. I tried to adjust it today, because it was wobbly, and went, "Huh, there's no screw there. But on the other side there's a screw just like the one I found when I uncrated the trike."

Boy, these guys suck.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Georges St-Pierre, Fighting Safe and It Takes Two

Recently, Chris Lytle submitted Dan Hardy. Even more recently, Jake Ellenburger knocked out Jake Shields. In both instances, part of the story was that Georges St-Pierre did neither. The narrative rules thus, “Because inferior fighters like Chris Lytle and Jake Ellenburger finished Dan Hardy and Jake Shields, this is proof that GSP fights ‘safe’.”

It’s a very interesting narrative because I don’t think it has much basis in fact.

The first time I noticed it was after Matt Serra knocked out GSP. The rumors abounded that GSP had no heart to be punched, and his subsequent fights didn’t dispel this notion. He dominated Josh Koscheck and submitted Matt Hughes so completely that one might think it was true GSP didn't want to be punched - so, great performances by GSP, his incredible defense, were transformed into strikes against him. I found this very bizarre. Like getting punched was, somehow, a virtue in MMA.

Serra vs. GSP II was pretty interesting in the context of the narrative around GSP. When GSP immediately took Serra down, Eddie Bravo (filling in for Joe Rogan) talked about how that was a conservative strategy. In Eddie Bravo’s world, ground fighting with a high level Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt trained by Renzo Gracie is “conservative” instead of, oh, a demonstration of GSP’s utter confidence in his ability to dominate Serra on the ground. Which GSP then proceeds to do.

It gets worse in the second around. Even while GSP is destroying Serra’s internal organs in alphabetical order with some of the most brutal knee strikes seen in MMA, Eddie Bravo is talking about how conservative GSP is fighting. Even as GSP crushed Matt Serra, this was the narrative, even though the evidence against that narrative was literally happening in front of Bravo.

Since then, that narrative has taken on a life of it’s own because GSP hasn’t finished four opponents, though he has often dominated them. The idea that he's fighting safe has simply become accepted by large parts of the MMA community, even though the evidence against it right there. But, like Eddie Bravo, they refuse to see it.

When you look at GSP's fights, the truth is you find an extremely active fighter with an arsenal of diverse MMA techniques second to none. He throws many standing strikes, he has great takedowns and ground and pound, he's good at submissions. Indeed, one of the characteristic elements of GSP's style is he often goes after a fighter where he's strong - so he'll stand up with fighters like Thiago Alves, but take fighters like Jon Fitch to the ground.

Still, I think I do know why GSP doesn't finish more opponents. It's not because he doesn't fight - it's because they don't fight. GSP's opponents since Jon Fitch have not meaningfully tried to mount an offense against GSP. Even if they're aggressive against other opponents, against GSP they become timid, if not outright cowardly.

Really, if you look at GSP’s fights, he throws a lot of risky techniques and often meets fighters were they’re strongest in order to overwhelm them. This is not a particularly conservative strategy, it is not being risk adverse. You can’t throw a spinning high kick in a risk adverse way! But it’s one of GSP’s favorite techniques.

Well, my friends, it takes two to tango. It was almost a foregone conclusion that GSP vs. Fitch would go the distance. Fitch is a grinder with a really hard head and great submission defense. His entire fighting style is to neutralize his opponent’s offense . . . which he managed to do just barely enough to stop getting knocked out or submitted.

But things get really interesting when you look at GSP vs. BJ Penn II. Many people thought that Penn beat GSP in their first fight, and even GSP fans would generally concede that Penn got the better of GSP in striking. A lot of people thought that Penn was a bad stylistic match-up for GSP - Penn's got a great takedown defense and really fast hands with knockout power. Penn is also a notoriously aggressive fighter.

And let's look at Penn's offense. In four rounds, BJ Penn threw 37 significant strikes. Oh, sure, you might say, but most of the fight took place with Penn on the ground and GSP grinding him out. Yet, of standing strikes, GSP threw 47 strikes (landing 30) and Penn . . . threw 27 strikes (landing a mere 8). GSP launched almost twice as many attacks, standing, as BJ Penn.

Penn was supposed to want the fight standing, but even standing, GSP just tore him apart. And GSP was the clear aggressor. Penn was the person avoiding GSP, not GSP avoiding Penn. That's not even counting that all the takedowns (4 total) and seven of the eight takedown attempts were by GSP.

So, really, who fought the conservative fight there? The guy doing the punching, kicking and takedowns, or the guy who didn't do those things? BJ Penn is supposed to be one of those iron willed fighters who always goes forward - but that's just not true in his fight against GSP. He fought timidly, refusing to engage GSP both on the feet and on the ground.

In GSP’s fight with Thiago Alves, Alves was timid. I mean, I love Alves. He’s got shotgun shells for shins. He turns over a low kick like no one else. And if he’d been willing to use that against GSP. . . but, no, during the stand-up, Alves attacked GSP often, but timidly. Alves was so frightened of GSP’s various abilities that he landed only 19% of his blows - about half his average. Like with Penn, Alves was supposed to have the advantage in striking.

It was a pretty sad spectacle, watching the normally aggressive Alves unwilling to commit to attacks. He threw a fair number of blows, more than GSP, but GSP hit much, much more - almost three times as much - because one of them was committing to the attack. It wasn't Alves.

Worthy of note, Alves has some of the best leg kicks in MMA. He threw only fifteen significant leg strikes at GSP during the whole fight - even though it is one of this best attacks and was landing half of them.

(Of all the fights I'm going to talk about, this one is the hardest to say that Alves was timid. I've watched many Alves fights, most of them several times, and Alves was timid against GSP, and often against wrestlers. You can see this same timidity in the first two rounds of Alves' fight with Rick Story. Rather than throwing aggressive techniques, Alves was active on paper but when you watch the fight it's clear he's holding back. How much he was holding back became clearer in the third round when Alves tore Story apart. Alves can get timid around wrestlers, generally, failing to commit to attacks because he doesn't want to be taken down. This is a serious flaw in his fighting style and lost him title contention for the near future.)

Hardy wasn’t particularly timid, but let’s face it, we all know it, he had no right being in the same cage with GSP. People wonder why GSP didn’t finish him, they say his armbar technique was sloppy . . . but I’ll tell you what I think. GSP pitied Dan Hardy. Hardy was the opposite of a threat to GSP, so rather than cripple the man, GSP went light.

But still, Hardy was in a cage fight against GSP. To win, you’ve got to attack. How often did Hardy attack? In 25 minutes, Hardy attempted 27 significant strikes - that’s slightly more than one a minute - and connected with 4. He tried no takedowns, no submission attempts. Hardy’s entire offensive output was one punch a minute. At no point did the Outlaw try to seriously fight GSP.

(And against Chris Lytle, Hardy was not the same fighter. Against GSP, he was the spunky underdog that had, through highlight reel comebacks, had earned a title shot against GSP. Against Lytle, Hardy was 0-3, not having won since before GSP. Saying Hardy was beaten before he ever got into the cage is, I think, fair.)

Next up was Josh Koscheck. GSP “conservatively” punched Koscheck, punishing Kos with 110 significant blows, 70 to the head. But a clear part of that fight was Koscheck’s lack of meaningful offense. While GSP launched his 136 significant strikes, Koscheck only attempted 30 and landed only 16 - less than one a minute. Remember, almost all of this fight was standing. Unlike the Hardy fight, you can't actually say that GSP used his wrestling to neutralize Koscheck's offense. Koscheck had as many attempts to strike at GSP as GSP had to strike at Koscheck. It's just Koscheck didn't take them.

In the fourth and fifth rounds, Koscheck only attempted one significant strike. In ten minutes, he tried to punch GSP once. And takedowns? Koscheck tried only 4 times, all of them in the first round. Which means in rounds four and five, Koscheck’s entirely offensive activity consisted of one punch. But the whole fight was Koscheck tentatively approaching GSP, getting hit and backing off - pretty much the whole damn fight.

After that it was Jake Shields and Shields wasn’t timid. He just cheated. Gouging your opponent is a good way to win, but a serious part of Shield’s strategy was to keep GSP off of him. He fought with his hand out, his fingers out towards GSP’s eyes, making it hard for GSP to approach without getting gouged. And GSP did get gouged. Five times. This fight was a travesty, let’s face it. It should have been stopped and Shields disqualified for his repeated gouges and then kicked out of the UFC for willfully endangering another fight.

To sum up, it takes two to fight. GSP is an aggressive fighter. He throws a lot of strikes, he does a lot of takedowns - but what if the other fighter only wants to survive the fight? What if you’re Thiago Alves and you refuse to use your strongest weapon? Or you’re Dan Hardy or Josh Koscheck or BJ Penn and you’re barely in the fight at all? Or you’re Jake Shields who just cheats.

Oh, and what about GSP’s “heart”. Sure, he doesn’t get hit very often, because no one seriously attacks him. When one fighter refuses to attack another, it’s very hard for the aggressive fighter to knock his opponent out. A perfect example of this are Anderson Silva's fights against Demian Maia and Thales Leites. Silva couldn’t put either away - and both Leites and Demian Maia had a greater offensive output than Dan Hardy and Josh Koscheck. Or Nate Quarry vs. Kalib Starnes. There was no possible way that Quarry could have finished Starnes . . . but Starnes fought harder than Hardy and Koscheck, given the fight was three rounds.

GSP doesn’t finish guys because they do not, in general, fight him. They either fight him timidly, failing to commit to their attacks, which is how Alves fought. Or they don’t mount any serious offense at all, such as with Penn, Koscheck and Hardy. Or they fight dirty, like Shields did.

GSP has broken the will of the entire welterweight division. Since GSP brutally punished Jon Fitch, his opponents have gone into the cage trying to survive, that’s all.

Unlike a grinder, who takes an opponent down and uses top control wrestling to shut down their foe’s offense, GSP is quite willing to stand up and trade blows. He did it with Alves, he did it with Koscheck and Shields. But he’s usually the only guy seriously throwing. He’s trying to get into a fight, and he gets timidity, backpedalling and lack of any serious offense at all - or cheating.

So, a shadow of Dan Hardy got submitted by Chris Lytle. Yes. But Hardy fought a totally different fight against Lytle. To wit, Hardy fought it. Against GSP, Hardy threw a meager 27 significant strikes. Against Lytle, Hardy threw 238 significant strikes. Naturally, with Hardy winging blows with abandon, with no defense, it shouldn’t be surprising that Lytle was able to submit him. Hardy fought a stupid fight and he lost.

Likewise with Shields and Ellenburger. I’m guessing fighters and referees are now watching for the eye pokes. But instead of trying to keeping Ellenburger away, Shields instead charged in for takedowns with no attempt at defense. He fought stupid and got knocked out. How does that reflect on GSP? Shields fought a totally different fight - a cleaner, dumber fight - and got caught. (Not to mention that Shields’ dad died three weeks before. It is hard for me to count that loss too much against Shields, and I think the dude should have been kicked out of the UFC when the amount of cheating he performed against GSP became evident.)

Fighters fight timidly against GSP, so he can’t finish them. Just like Anderson Silva could not finish Thales Leites or Demian Maia and Nate Quarry could not finish Kalib Starnes; it’s hard to fight a guy running away from you. You watch Carlos Condit, next. Watch how he comes out. What he’s learning from Winklejohn, right now, is that there is nothing he does that GSP doesn’t do better. Condit will have to make a decision. He will have to decide either to fight GSP like he has fought everyone else, in which case we’ll see Condit go out on his shield, or he will spend the whole fight looking for a weak spot that simply is not there . . . the fight will go long, and Condit will probably see all five rounds. (I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope Condit tries to win, I seriously do, rather than meekly pressing the attack and hoping for GSP to make a mistake. But I believe that what we'll factually see is a timid, meek Condit.)

If you look at the numbers and kinds of attacks GSP uses, he is an extremely active fighter against unusually timid opponents. He does not grind. He throws a lot of leather, he does takedowns, he tries submissions. But when the other guy is focusing solely on surviving the fight, well, these are the best fighters in the world. They’re probably going to make it.

However, the narrative is that GSP is a conservative fighter. He’s a “safe” fighter. Perhaps so. I don’t think this is a slur. The guy is almost impossible to hit or take down and that’s a testament to his incredible skill. But if the other fighters don’t launch a sustained offense, how on earth can GSP finish them? It takes two to fight.

It also means that when someone else finishes a fighter GSP did not finish, it means nothing. The narrative that GSP is somehow a timid fighter is bizarre and absurd. It’s his opponents who are timid, when fighting him.

PS with Anderson Silva. And, in comparison, Anderson Silva is lucky in his opponents. Yushin Okami, after getting rocked twice by Anderson Silva, pressed ahead, anyway, winging clumsy blows at Silva. As one BEer said, the secret hero of UFC Rio was Okami. He decided to go out on his shield. Vitor Belfort stuck right in the pocket, right in front of Anderson Silva, and paid the price for his aggression.

You can even see it happen. In Silva’s fight with Forrest Griffin, Silva goaded Griffin into the attacks that allowed the counterpunch that drove Forrest’s will to fight right out of his body, never to return. Silva did the same thing against Hendo - instead of sticking to the gameplan, Dan Henderson decided to get into a punching match with Silva and paid the price.

Silva is an incredible fighter, but much of his legend must be attributed to the people he fights. As a rule, they are there to fight. The come forward, even when it’s foolish or even hopeless to do so.

But when faced with fighters who fight like the fighters GSP fights - people like Maia and Leites, except GSP's opponents are more generally skilled than Maia or Leites - Silva fares no better than GSP. Indeed, he fares worse because Silva is a more defensive fighter than GSP and, unlike many of his opponents, Silva can not be swayed from his game plan. Even if it makes him look ridiculous.

It really takes two to fight. Silva is fortunate that his weight class is filled with so many brawlers and tough guys. That Silva can get matched up against Rich Franklins and Forrest Griffins and and Dan Hendersons instead of Josh Koschecks, Dan Hardys and Thiago Alveses.

Which is why after GSP takes apart Condit, I hope he goes up in weight. I think Chris Leben would be a good first fight for GSP. It would draw an instant comparison with Anderson Silva, who’s first UFC fight was with Leben, it would be exciting because Leben is definitely a “go out on your shield” type of fighter, and we would get to see how GSP handles a brawler. My guess would be “easily”. I believe that GSP at middleweight would produce more interesting fights . . . until GSP crushed the division’s will to fight, too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Utah Trikes and their (lack) of customer service

I mostly don’t talk about places I buy from that fail to deliver good customer service, but I’m going to make an exception to talk about Utah Trikes.

I went to Utah Trikes to buy my trike because they seemed to have almost everything that I wanted in a trike - so rather than having to order to half a dozen places, I could just go to one place, order it all and they’d even assemble it. Furthermore, I liked the site - they seemed helpful, they’d do special orders and work on trikes for, say, the handicapped. So I ordered from them.

The bad customer service started almost immediately. If it was just this that happened, well, I’d’ve shrugged it off as that’s the way business sometimes goes. I was told that they had all the components in stock but when the trike was shipped (a couple of days later than they said it would), all the components were not shipped. Four hundred dollars worth of things - including a flag which is a safety feature and fairly important in Miami’s busy streets, and panniers that I wanted so I could do proper shopping - were not included. They also put on the wrong thing, in one case - a long mudguard instead of the small one I ordered . . . and which costs $10 more. Mind you, they kept the money . . .

Well, then, the first day I had the trike, it broke. I described the problems in an email - that the trike would not shift, not at all, into any gear - and the response was “the shifter is stiff”. It wasn’t stiff. It wasn’t shifting. On my own, I was able to troubleshoot the problem - the shifter cable had popped out of the socket inside the shifter. I put it back on, no problem, but I was pretty disappointed in their lack of willingness to engage in troubleshooting. Additionally, the problem with the wrong mudguard was simply not discussed. Oh, I brought it up but . . . hey, I guess that they shipped the wrong part, a part I didn’t want and the part they did ship cost less than the part I paid for doesn’t matter.

During that time, I also asked about the items that hadn’t been shipped. The guy said that he’d ship the items, and work out a trade with something I accidentally ordered and replace it with the thing I actually wanted, but I received no communication that the items had actually shipped. This was vexing because I’d also said in that email communication that I was moving, soon, so if the items didn’t get here by the end of the month then we’d need to wait until the beginning of October to be able to ship them to the proper address. So, another little bit of lousy customer service - it was reasonably important to me to know the time the package would arrive. Additionally, it was important because I need to know when the package will get here so I can be there to pick it up. I live in a lousy apartment and UPS and cargo carriers have trouble getting in - so without knowing when the package will arrive, I didn’t know when I should be on the lookout for it’s arrival. So, like I said, lousy service.

The next to last bit of lousy customer service is when I wanted to register my trike with the National Bicycle Registry. Something like half of all stolen bikes are recovered - and then auctioned off by the cops because they can’t find the bike’s owner. So, the NBR exists to help people get their bikes back. To register, however, you need to give them the serial number of the bike.

My trike, a TerraTrike Path, has it hidden. You’ve literally got to disassemble the trike to get to it. The TerraTrike website says that the serial number is with your packing slip. Damn. I’d thrown that out, already! If you don’t have that, the TerraTrike site advises you contact the retailer of the trike to get it, because they realize taking apart the trike is fairly difficult.

So I do. I write to TerraTrike explaining the situation, that I want to register my bike with the NBR and I need the serial number. The letter I get back tells me to take my trike apart to get the serial number. Uh-huh. So, I write back - and I admit I’m now a little snarky because I’m getting upset - in a disbelieving tone that they can’t actually expect that to be the solution. Well, I get a very terse letter back saying that TerraTrike has never provided them with serial number information - which would have been nice to know in the first letter, but, hey, why bother explaining things to customers!

In the letter where I asked about the serial number, I also asked for the status on the items that I hadn’t received. Neither of the letters I got after I asked that told me about the status of those items.

So, I made a decision. It was now time for me to cut off business dealings with Utah Trikes. I wrote back saying that I no longer wanted their assistance and I would like the charges reversed for the items they had not sent. I was terse because I was no longer looking for engagement with them. Like I said, I’d made a decision. I had decided I would rather get the pieces separately and assemble them myself than continue to deal with Utah Trikes. I think this was a rational decision on my part. I was frustrated and upset and why continue to deal with uncommunicative people who have not done what they said they’d do?

Then I got a call from Brice down at Utah Trikes. This was the last bit of bad customer service and, lordy, it was awful. I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to save the account. But I’d decided, like I said, and all you who know me can verify that when I have decided on something, when I’ve really decided, it is hard to get me to go back on that decision - when I have decided, it is unilateral. I am no longer looking to engage. I get that Brice didn’t know this, so after a bit, I said to him, “Look, I don’t want anything to do with your company, anymore. I just want to close my accounts with you so I don’t have to deal with you ever again.”

Then he said something like, “Well, then you won’t be wanting our customer service?” And I said, “I’m not getting any customer service!” Then he said, “I don’t see what the problem is.” And I said,”That’s the problem.” Then he tried to get me to tell him the problem, but he wouldn’t shut the hell up. I swore because rather than shutting up and letting me explain the situation, well, I dunno why he shouldn’t shut up, but he wouldn’t, but that got him angry, and after a bit of me saying, “Shut up and I’ll tell you” and him saying, “You can’t talk to me like that”, he agreed it was best that I not deal with Utah Trikes and hung up.

Here are the caveats. I have worked retail jobs and I have done customer service over the phone. As a result, I know how hard and weird and demanding customers can be. I try not to be that person and I largely succeed. Which is why I didn’t make a fuss of things when Utah Trikes lied about having the parts in stock. Business is hard, I know. It’s why I didn’t make a fuss when the troubleshooter blew off my problems with the shifter. Troubleshooting over email is hard, I know tihs. But after a while, it just became clear their customer service, at least their phone and email service, sucks. And, even then, what I wanted to do was a clean break - they give me back the money I gave them for the things they didn’t ship, and we’ll call it even. But, no. They had an representative that was clearly untrained in how to handle upset customers give me a call and made the problems worse.

So, that’s my story with Utah Trikes. I’m not even saying don’t buy from them - I’m just saying if you do, be warned that their customer service can, particularly on email and on the phone, can really, really stink.

Later that day: ld refund the money for the items not sent and said, "They only wanted to help." So I sent him a copy of the post above.

The response was that, y'know, it was just a mix-up in the tone of the email! Not sending the items I paid for it a mix-up in tone? Failure to answer my direct questions is a mix-up in tone? Je-zuz KEE-rist. Sure, dude, whatever. And now I've got to fix my eyes, which are rolled so far back into their sockets I can't see properly.

The next day: Other ways Utah Trike’s customer service blew chunks.

They violated many of the rock bottom elements of customer service - they didn’t deliver on their word (they said they had all the times in stock and would ship them promptly, but that did not happen, the trike arrived missing several things and another thing totally wrong), they didn’t keep me in the loop with communication, they ignored my direct questions.

But when Brice called me, he cold called me. That’s another little violation of customer service - you never call a person unless you have their expression permission to call. And when he did call, he did not immediately identify himself. Rather brusquely, he said, “I want to speak to Chris Bradley.” When cold calling people, the first thing you always do is identify yourself. And then, after having called me, when I spoke in a tone he didn’t like, he tried to get me to stop. Fuck you, motherfucker! You called me! You can’t call me, cold call me, and expect me to conform to your rules!

Also, something I forgot. One of the things I ordered, a Double Century Hydration Pack, doesn’t work on the actual trike I bought. The seat is the wrong shape. So, they sold it to me ($90) and didn’t bother to tell me that it doesn’t work on mesh seats. This information is not on their website for the Double Century Hydration Pack, I should add. So there was no way I could have known that. On the other hand, it’s very much the sort of thing that they should know - and when I contacted the TerraTrike people asking for a way to install it (you have to buy a $30 widget to put over the top of your seat that has connectors to hang things off of - I am certainly not blaming TerraTrike and I almost certainly would have gotten the other widget if I’d known, but I didn’t know and I should have been told. Rather than buying a $90 gadget that wouldn’t work with the trike I bought.

The same thing happened with the water bladders for the hydration pack. It takes two 2 liter bladders. I accidentally ordered 3 liter bladders. But at no point did anyone think to ask why I’d order a Double Century Hydration Pack and two 3L bladders.

As one of my friends said to me, “You spent three thousand dollars there and they still treat you like this?” Indeed.

Lastly, when the owner of the shop, Ashley, got around to emailing me, he did not apologize for his employee’s behavior. That’s also basic customer service - when your people screw up, you acknowledge it. That not only goes a long way to mollify angry consumers, it’s the right thing to do. When a customer has been wronged, they really like to have it acknowledged that they were wronged - and then assured that it was a mistake and they’ll honestly try not to do it in the future. Well, I didn’t get that from Ashley. What I got instead is prevarication about the “tone” of email, ignoring the numerous instances where his people either provided me with false information, didn’t do what they said they’d do and ignored direct questions. That isn’t tone.

Again, I do not think I’m particularly harsh on customer service. I’ve been there. I know it’s a rough job. But it’s gets a lot rougher if you don’t treat people well. I don’t demand perfect service, I am not one of those people who freaks out with every little thing that goes wrong. When they didn’t ship everything they said they’d ship, I didn’t freak out. When they didn’t engage me to fix the broken shifter, I didn’t freak out. But things just kept piling on up. It stopped being a mere mistake and became, in my eyes, poor business practice.

Just documenting it all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Team Velvet Fist Moves to Miami

When I heard that Team Velvet Fist was moving to Miami, I went down to their Santa Cruz gym. It was chaos, everyone go and fro, things disassembled and awaiting shipment, all very busy. Still, the fighters and staff were willing to speak to me. I asked about the move, why they’re doing it and what they expect to gain - or lose - from such a move. The response from the fighters was varied. First I spoke to Keema the Camel. She was, of course, calm:

It’s a big change, of course, but there’s much to be excited about. The presence of American Top Team is splendid, of course, because of the large number of high level Brazilian jiu jitsu black belts. It provides a unique opportunity to train with many of the best rollers in the world. Likewise, the wrestling culture of Florida is something I’m very much looking forward to. As a camel, of course, grappling is my primary focus, and this move provides many new and exciting training opportunities.

Sandy the Shark’s reply was ominous:

I have a lot of family offshore in the Miami area. They tell me the Cuban food is just excellent. I can’t wait to take a bite out of the area.

Bette the Bair had a different take on things, as is her idiom:

Do they have vodka in Miami? Is so, good. If not, bad, very bad. You know, when a polar bair such as myself gets too hot with no vodka, there is being killing spree. Da. Very violent. Very frequent. So, best to be having vodka.

When I was finally able to force Patty the Parrot away from her training, she said:

One place to train is much the same as any other. The MMA scene in Miami is rooted in complacency, so there is not much for me to learn there - nothing unorthodox, nothing that takes the art to the next level. Still, that very orthodoxy will allow me to hone my skills because they represent the ne plus ultra of how MMA has become fossilized. I will hone my techniques against these cookie cutter robot “fighters” and through that bring a devastating new style to the cage.

Then Patty returned to training, of course. Then I asked Edward the Efalunt what he thought:

I think this move is going to be great! I mean, wow, I mean, we’ll be right there next to Thiago Alves! How cool is that! The Muay Thai Wrecking Machine! Ohemgee, I am so totally stoked about this!

Then he did a little muay Thai dance and did a back flip. Petey the Edge was not so enthusiastic.

I think this is a terrible move. I mean, really? Gulf pelicans? I know what that’s trying to say, they’re trying to keep a California brown pelican down. But that is not going to happen. I am going to show those lily white Gulf pelicans what a real, hardcore pelican is like. This is insulting. But I will persevere and, of course, triumph.

Then he spread his wings to show where he’d recently gotten his new Brown Pride tattoo.

I do this to show my solidarity with my brown Californian brothers and sisters regardless of species. We are Californian, we are brown and we are here to stay!

Some people, of course, do not change. Demon the Ducky:

Do they bleed in Miami? They’re all the same to me. I will beat them bloody and then drink their blood. No offense, but I’m gonna murdalize every last motherfucking last one of them.

When I tried to ask Roxie the Rhino about the move, I got headbutted. Repeatedly. Here is the last, horrified picture taken by my cameraman before he was struck with Roxie’s trademark flying headbutt:

It was, sadly, the last picture he will ever take.

But the the brains of the operation is, without, Dao the Dragon. As the inventor of kung-fu and the chief trainer of Team Velvet Fist, his insights were most illuminating.

Life is a series of changes! We flow from one to the other. It is best not to be captured by the details! We were in Santa Cruz, we will be in Miami. There are no whys, only the natural rhythm of events.

Of course, I intend to take this opportunity to further my students’ oneness with the infinite. In particular, the fierce hurricanes that scour the area - caused by my tempestuous brothers and sisters - will be an allegory for their burgeoning abilities. To be as the wind and wave! What is softer than water, save air? And, yet, what can stand before them! Cities fall, coastlines reshaped, because of this air, this water. Magnificent! Through understanding the oneness with all things, my students will be able to harness that natural power, soft and yet fierce, born of the lightest things but able to wreck incalculable havoc.

Godzilla was more prosaic.

Well, it was mostly a money thing. Santa Cruz is nice, but really expensive. We looked around and Miami just made the most sense because of it’s access to a diverse array of trainers and we like to train outside a lot, and Miami has mild winters. So, to spare Santa Cruz being destroyed by me in a firestorm of nuclear annihilation, Dao suggested be blow out of there when our rents got jacked up.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Internet Arguments That Piss Me Off: Racism Edition

Confrontations with racists suck, especially when you kinna liked them. But that gives me a reason to bitch and moan about argument forms that annoy me: the racism edition.

1. "It's just a joke"

This is almost always the first lame, pathetic justification that racists use to disguise their awful habits and beliefs. It's okay to be a racist pig because it's supposed to be funny. The flaw in this "reasoning" is the idea that hate speak is incompatible with humor. Obviously, that's not true. It's really easy to make ugly, mean jokes and some of them are pretty funny. But humor is not worth racism plus racism isn't necessary for humor. If you think racist humor is funny, you're a racist. You might also be a comic, but you're definitely a racist.

2. "It's just the way I am/was raised"

Then you are, or were raised, a racist. What? Did you think racists just magically appeared? No. People are racists, actual human beings, and they're usually racist because they were raised that way; racism begets racism, this is a known thing. So, saying that's the way you are or the way you're raised is not a justification for racism, but an acknowledgement of you being a racist.

3. "I belong to persecuted group X therefore I could never be racist towards persecuted group Y"

This one falls apart on two levels. The first is that everyone is discriminated against by someone else, so pretty much anyone can make this claim . . . thus, when applied to racism (or any other kind of social hatred) it falls apart as being without descriptive value because it applies to everyone indiscriminately. It's basically saying that racism doesn't exist because, in the end, everyone is victimized by someone else, justifying racism. Circular reasoning is not high in meaning.

The second way it falls apart is because harm committed against a person does not justify them committing further harm. Just because Louis Farrakhan has really been legitimately persecuted on a bunch of different levels does not justify his anti-Semitism. Because you or your loved ones have been hurt doesn't give you a free pass to hurt other people. Two wrongs still do not make a right.

4. "I have an X friend"

Fortunately, I quit the conversation before the person got to this one. But we've all heard it. Because, y'know, you are on speaking terms with someone from a persecuted group, it's okay to say nasty things about that group. This one has been sufficiently debunked that I doubt I'll go anywhere describing it more.

So, anyway, if you find yourself falling into any of these patterns, you might want to hold up a second and give a thought or two. At least, y'know, if you want to keep talking to me, at any rate.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Profiles of Team Velvet Fist: Petey the Pelican

Favorite Fighters: Georges St-Pierre, Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture
Nickname: the Edge

Age: 5 years
Height: 13"
Weight: 11.9 oz/0.37 kg/0.053 stone
Reach: 21.5"
Styles: Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, second degree black belt in Kyokushinkai karate
Fighting Out Of: Santa Cruz, California

Bio: The Santa Cruz native, born on a cliff near Natural Bridges State Park, Petey has long been interested in high level competition. With his long reach and the natural ferocity of a pelican killing machine, Petey dominated the NCAA Division I plushieweight Greco-Roman wrestling league, wrestling out of UCLA. He racked up an impressive four times All-American wrestler and his in his final year went 42-0.

But Petey says, "I don't think of myself as a wrestler, but as a mixed martial artist. I see the strengths of wrestling, of course, in controlling the action of the fight, but I know that in modern MMA you can't just do one thing well, you've got to do everything. And I've been doing Kyokushinkai for years so I've got a good basis for striking."

Petey has racked up an impressive series of wins, not only because of his completionist mindset, but also his clever tactical abilities.

Petey says, "I see it as a chess match. Most fighters are predictable. I know what they're going to do. I just need to figure out a way to counter that, to predict them to the second or third level. Then, victory inevitably follows."

What about his name, the Edge? "I'm edgy, that's just the way it is. I take everything to the edge! I think it's my vicious predatory nature, I like to go in for the kill, I live life in an extreme way, I don't back down, I don't give up or chicken out. It's just who I am."

Watching Petey fight is impressive. Not simply because he is skilled, but because of his remarkable composure and intelligence. The chess metaphor grows in believability watching him predict his opponent's tactics and having counters for every one. And yet, when the moment comes, Petey swoops in for the kill with the instinct of a natural born killer. Covered in the blood of his enemies, Petey is inevitable to reach the top of the fiercely competitive plushieweight division.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz -- FIGHT!

It seems increasingly likely that Georges St-Pierre is going to fight Nick Diaz, probably in Montreal, probably in December. While part of me would like GSP to go up to middleweight (not just for Anderson Silva, but because he needs new people to fight, generally), I like the idea of GSP-Diaz, too, because fuck Nick Diaz. He's a jerk. I generally root for Californians, and Diaz is Cali to the bone, but he's such a jerk I can't do that.

It is also looking like there's a grudge happening between GSP's gym, Tri-Star in Montreal, and the Cesar Gracie camp in Stockton, CA. In UFC 129, Tri-Star's Rory MacDonald defeated Cesar Gracie's Nate Diaz (younger brother to Nick). The same night, a mostly blind GSP defeated cheating bastard Jake Shields. (C'mon, Jake? Five eye pokes in one fight? You should be fuckin' fired. But, hey, I guess your buddy Chuck Liddell covered for you.) And it seems probable that GSP will be fighting Diaz, next. I guess the UFC has decided that Tri-Star needs to clear out Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu.

I don't think Nick has much of a chance. (Neither do the bookmakers. The odds are about 7 to 2 in GSP's favor, right now.) When Diaz fights guys with good takedowns, his high volume punching skills degrade because his footwork changes. He has to try to defend takedowns, so he can't put his feet in the right way to keep up his volume punching. Additionally, GSP is faster and has a longer reach, so Diaz's normal tactic of pitter-patting a fighter on the way in won't work with GSP. GSP also has great disengages -- it's like teleportation, a guy tries to punch him and he'll be across the ring, it's beautiful to watch and GSP is one of the most elusive fighters in MMA, right now. (I believe he is the most elusive fighter actually fighting, with the possible exception of Lyoto Machida.) GSP will snap out with that jab like an iron bar that destroyed Koscheck's face, or lunging overhand rights, to set up spinning body kicks while looking for the roundhouse kick to the head. If Diaz adjusts his footwork for a lot of punches and GSP doesn't want to engage and disengage (which he might, he has liked to defeat people where they're strong in the past), he'll just take Diaz down.

Indeed, there is probably no condition under which Diaz won't be taken down by GSP if GSP wants to take Diaz down. And there is no condition under which Diaz will be able to take GSP down. No one has been able to dominate GSP on the ground. Not Matt Hughes, not Josh Koscheck, not Jon Fitch. If GSP can dominate Hughes, Kos and Fitch on the ground, I don't think anyone doubts that Diaz will be easy. GSP hasn't been in any threat of submission for half a decade against better submission artists than Diaz.

GSP will also have a massive advantage in physical strength. He's probably the strongest welterweight in the world (with the possible exception of Thiago Alves). He's stronger than all middleweights with the exception, perhaps, of Yushin Okami and Chael Sonnen.

(In terms of endurance, they're probably equal. I gotta give Diaz's conditioning credit. If it goes to the later rounds, it will be as hard fought in the fifth as the first. Both men are machines.)

So, how can Diaz win? Diaz needs to work on engaging, he needs to press the fight, cut off GSP and land precision shots. He also can't let it go to the ground, he needs to work on his takedown defense.

Will it be enough? Probably not. GSP has really good evasions, he's got speed, strength and reach. GSP was equal to Thiago Alves on his feet when GSP had a pulled groin muscle. Still, that's probably Nick's best shot. He is a high skilled, well-rounded fighter and if he can keep it standing and cut off GSP, he has a chance.

For me, the good thing is . . . this will be the first fighter in a long time that won't be frightened of GSP. Diaz won't work on his footwork to cut off GSP. He'll press forward, basically offering his head to GSP, like he does to everyone else. And when GSP bangs him up, Diaz will keep offering it. I think that will make the fight exciting, rather than the line of timid fighters GSP has had to deal with since obliterating BJ Penn.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rockin' the medical high

I don't believe in free will. Recently, this belief has been reinforced by my experiences with medicine. I'm gonna explain what I mean about that.

Some of my earliest memories were of incredibly fury and frustration. As a child of single digit years, I would literally be writhing on my bed in silent fury so intense it was a kind of agony. Other times, I felt a mind-numbing ennui that robbed me of all strength. I told no one of these feelings . . . except my mother, who helpfully told me to hide it. After all, said she, everyone feels angry and frustrated sometimes.

That's what I did. For years, decades. I assumed everyone else felt the same way I did. That they felt the same curious, intense and unspecified angers and frustration. That they felt the same crushing helplessness and hopelessness. I just assumed that they had more determination or willpower than I had.

It wasn't until I lived with Adrienne that I realized that, no, that wasn't normal. Not even a little bit. During this time, I was able to structure my life (or our lives) in such a way as to more or less remove all external sources of meaningful anxiety or frustration. By this time, I could give voice to the specific forms of the malady -- depression and anxiety. Still, despite a long standing belief that willpower is a sham primarily used to manipulate people, I was captured by the old belief that my problem was my will. If only I were stronger!

Several years ago, I started taking St. John's wort for depression. It worked pretty well, not completely, but it took the edge off. I noticed about this time, however, a worsening of my creativity and drive. Still, the respite from depression made SJW worth it. This January, I talked to my doctor about my depression and anxiety. She gave me citalopram which dismantled my depression in the middle of winter, where I have my darkest moods.

However, my creativity and my sense of language failed me. So I talked to a psychiatrist about that. My psychiatrist gave me Adderall.

Again, my life changed. I realized that the happiness I felt under St. John's wort and citalopram was merely the absence of depression. Which is an amazing feeling after being depressed my life long. I also realized that I was suffering a side effect common to both SJW and citalopram: emotional flattening. The absence of pain is not the presence of joy. Adderall, a combination of different flavors of medical speed, reintroduced (introduced?) me to that. Suddenly, women were prettier, music sounded sweeter and I was occasionally struck by the remarkable beauty that surrounds me here in Santa Cruz.*

Additionally, under citalopram, I was able to lose weight. Forty pounds since late January. This is unprecedented in my life. It appears that eating food was a kind of crude self-medication for depression -- fatty and sugary foods increase serotonin, which regulates mood. Adderall has the side-effect of making me not hungry, which is a different pathway . . .

Where is willpower through all of this? All I can find is a bunch of messed up neurochemistry. It just seems like, during my various development phases, or perhaps genetically, I got some damaged neurological pathways. My body doesn't regulate serotonin very well. My body has a damaged dopamine pathway. So taking one drug helps one, another drug helps the other. It gives me clarity of mind, calmness of spirit and . . . I can feel my command of language and creativity returning. I can focus.

At the same time, my problem with weight seems to be diminishing. I don't eat to feel better because I already feel better. And I'm just hungry less often. I have never had such a command over my diet! But I didn't "do" anything to get this command except take a couple of pills.

Wither will? I can't see it. I just see myself as a big ol' chemical reaction, doing things because the interplay of atoms and energy that I call "me" interacts with the environment in particular ways, determined by no one, going nowhere. My life has all metaphysical intentionality as ripples in a pond. What I feel to be intentionality is a chimera, a fantasy created by a heavily negentropic system that evolved in terrestial environment.**

Plus, as a nifty side-effect of all of this, I feel great. Even if I can't sleep as much or as well as I might want. It is a tiny, tiny price to pay!

* Medically, the current theory of what was going on in my brain runs like this: my depression was caused by too little serotonin. The citalopram increased the amount of serotonin in my body, removing the depression. However, I likely also have a short circuit in my dopamine pathways, which are important in the regulation of "rewards" for successfully completing tasks and even simple things like appreciation of beauty. The Adderall stimulates those pathways, making me happier, which allows me to focus better and take pleasure from the exercise of creativity.

** Which isn't as nihilistic as it sounds. Even if there is no spiritual component to human existence, no dualistic "mind", the existentialist truth still abides: we invest value into all components of our existence. How splendid! How . . . liberating! But, Chris, you might ask, how about me deciding if I want to get Cheetos or Doritos at 7-11? Clearly, you might say, I have some free will, if I can choose between those two tasty snacks? I believe that it is simply that we don't have the sense or intellectual ability to process all the factors going into our decisions. This creates a very powerful illusion of free will, but it is no more than the die not understanding the forces acting upon it as it is rolled. And, of course, we are going to react to that sensation, but insofar as no one, anywhere, can understand the factors acting upon us, ideas of will remain a useful fiction for purposes legal, moral and so forth and so on. But we shouldn't kid ourselves, I feel. We are controlled by forces we cannot understand, both internal and external. As we understand these internal and external forces, we will be able to act upon them -- we are acting upon them, which is basically the point of this entire post! My fallacy of free will was getting in the way of my mental health, and because lovely scientists were able to figure out some of the mechanisms of depression and reward, I am subsequently much healthier. And, of course, medical science isn't the only field interested in controlling you. There's always advertising . . .

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fedor Emelianeko's team goes off the deep end

Fedor Emelianenko was my first MMA crush. The goofy looking Russian seemed . . . well, unbeatable. He was also the first fighter I'd seen who didn't fight standing up and then fight on the ground -- every strike seemed to be a takedown attempt. It was beautiful to watch. But time marches on. The unbeatable Fedor has lost twice in a row, once to Fabricio Werdum and a few days ago to Antonio Silva. Both fighters are great fighters, it's not any sort of shame to lose to either one, but it's clear that the indestructible Fedor is gone. He's getting a bit long in the tooth for sports, his conditioning was never the best, and the sport has changed since his heyday.

When any athlete reaches this place, what most fans really want is for them to exit with grace. This is particularly true of contact sports, where continuing past your prime is a recipe for brain damage. And even if they continue in the sport, their fans want them to accept that they're no longer in their prime.

Often, this is not the case. In MMA, you have people like Frank Shamrock, an early legend of the sport, "the most dangerous man alive", who in their late forties insist on fighting. These fights are taking place in increasingly sketchy venues against opponents who verge on outright incompetent . . . and Frank can still barely eek by, his body a mass of bruised flesh, old scars and the natural enemy of everyone, everywhere: time. You can see the same sort of thing in the later career of Muhammad Ali. Mike Tyson is a bitter case, not only because of his rape conviction, but how he allowed himself to become a sideshow attraction.

Fedor could continue to have a career in MMA, of course. He could teach. He has a lot of experience and skills that could be used to raise the next generation of Russian and Ukranian MMA fighters. For the opportunity to learn from the great Fedor Emelianenko, people would literally travel from the ends of the earth. It's a dignified, respectable career and a lot of the MMA guys from Fedor's time are transitioning very well to their new role as, primarily, trainers -- the Noguiera brothers being standout in this area. Alternately, since he was once the highest paid MMA professional in the world with a reputation for a humble existence, he could also do whatever he wants. Or return to firefighting . . .

Clearly, that's not what's happening if I'm writing this article like that. What's happening, instead, is Fedor's management is going crazy.

Fighters with crazy management teams is nothing new. Fighting sports are rife with criminal activity, if nothing else. I don't imagine this is less true in the kleptocracy of Russia as it is in countries that aren't basically run by the mob. But you rarely get this kind of crazy.

First, Fedor's management team said that the guy who beat him, Antonio Silva, couldn't POSSIBLY be twenty pounds heavier the day of the fight than he was thirty-six hours earlier at the weigh-in without the use of "chemicals". Which is just nonsense. In fighting sports that do their weigh-ins the day before the fight, it's normal for the fighters to dehydrate and starve themselves in order to cut weight. Then, in the thirty-six hours leading up to the fight, they rehydrate and have a couple of huge meals to put the weight back on. Twenty pounds is a lot of weight to cut, yeah, but Bigfoot Silva is a really big guy. Cutting from 285 to 265 is a reasonable cut. Cutting weight is normal for fighters in any professional fighting sport, and it is certainly something Russian fighters do.

Second, steroids don't work that way. You don't take steroids and instantly bulk up. This isn't a comic book. It takes weeks of effort, even with steroids, to gain appreciable weight. There are illegal diuretics that can help cutting weight, but Silva's cut, for a man his size, is simply reasonable. And it isn't like the state of California didn't test all the fighters after the fight -- due diligence will be observed.

More generally, this is something the Fedor camp has been fussing about for years. The idea that someone, somewhere, was taking steroids. They have been very critical of Alistair Overeem because they assert that no one could achieve his physique without the use of steroids. It is, indeed, a rare guy who can naturally get up to 260 pounds of lean muscle, which is what the Reem carries, but he's also legendary for his training discipline. He eats right, he works out all the time and if you look at his family it's clear the Overeems won the genetic lottery in a big way -- they're all big, strong guys. Plus, Overeem has never been caught taking steroids. Not in dozens and dozens of fights. But Fedor's camp has repeatedly insinuated that it's impossible for people to have the kind of physique that Overeem has without steroids.

When Fedor's camp has whined about steroids, it hasn't come off as some principled stand against performance enhancing drugs. It comes off like they're creating a justification as to why their guy might not win. Which is unfortunate.

(And, humorously, they asserted that Russian athletes don't take steroids. We call that "rewriting history". The Russians pioneered the use of steroids as performance enhancing drugs. Additionally, the steroids that most Americans take come from one of two places: Mexico and Russia. For a country where the athletes don't use steroids, it's incredibly easy to get Russian steroids.)

The second bit is even crazier. One of Fedor's coaches, Vladimir Voronov, said, okay, I'm just going to quote it:

"We believe that forbidden psychological technology was used… It seems to us that not everything was right, and that certain technologies were used. Not ones that could be seen by the naked eye but psychological technologies that worked on both fighters at a distance," he said to Russian website

"That is why during the fight Fedor was just not like himself. It seemed very strange behaviour from Fedor. He stepped into the ring and did everything exactly the opposite of what we practiced before the fight. We were all shocked! Fedor had never previously done such a thing.

"Now nearly a week passes, everything settles, and we understand why all this happened."

Voronov also observed with suspicion the fact that Fedor seemed to look "a little depressed" while Silva "literally glowed from the overflowing of his energy". Voronov suspects the use of a person or persons in the audience capable of "blocking energy" and "transferring energy from one person to another".

Uh, Silva's camp used superpowers to transfer some form of life energy away from Fedor?! Am I the only person who thinks this sounds like Scientology? Next he'll be rambling about body thetans!

It makes me sigh. Fedor was, at one time, the best fighter in the world. He had twenty-eight victories in a row, often against the finest competition in the world. He fought better than anyone. But if this keeps up, he'll be a parody of himself. Even if he decides to fight again, I hope he casts off this dead weight and finds himself new representation. The Minotauro Noguiera has offered Fedor a place in the Black House. Which is, in the first place, a measure of the incredible respect Minotauro has for Fedor -- some of Fedor's wins were at Minotauro's expense, after all -- but the Black House is one of the best training camps in the world, handling the likes of Anderson Silva and Junior dos Santos. And even if Fedor were not to fight out of the Black House he could teach free of the poisonous team he's got around him, now.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pat Miletich on Strikeforce Challengers 13

I have decided that Strikeforce color commentator Pat Miletich stinks. For you non-mixed martial arts fans out there, Miletich is a former UFC champion and he has a martial arts school that's actually really good. My bone is not with his fighting or his teaching, but with his commentary in MMA events.

In particular, watching Strikeforce Challengers 13, several times he opined it was a bad idea for fighters with top control on the ground to attempt submissions because of the likelihood of losing top control. He suggested, apparently quite sincerely, that the best way to win is to grind out a victory using wrestling lay-and-pray techniques . . . which is a big "ugh" for me. Wrestling in MMA is probably the perfect defensive art. Good takedowns, takedown defense, reversals and escapes, it allows a fighter to decide if the fight is going to go to the ground and if it's going to stay there. Being able to control position is one of the keys to victory in MMA. I grasp that. Wrestling is, and should be, a part of MMA.

I also grasp that MMA needs scoring criteria and it is reasonable that one of those scoring criteria should be who "dominates" the fight. Often, particularly with defensive fighters, like wrestlers vs. Brazilian jiu jitsu fighters, nothing much will happen. Both wrestling and BJJ basically teach fighters how to stop the action from progressing. Given this reality, at least some fights are going to end with the fighters basically holding onto each other for fifteen minutes as two defensive grapplers refuse to do anything, waiting for the other fighter to make the move that will never come. No one is going to be really pleased with those kinds of fights, but they happen. So you're going to need to come up with a scoring mechanism and dominance is it . . . and as the rules currently stand, being on top is "domination". So when very little happens in a fight, the guy who stayed on top longest wins.

I think this is a problem in a couple of different ways. First, it's boring. MMA fights are entertainment. Boring fights should be avoided whenever possible. While it's true that every sport is going to have boring events now and then, it's wrong, I feel, to encourage athletes to be dull.

Second, it's bad self-defense. One of the reason MMA is so popular is the notion that these guys really are the best unarmed fighters in the world. That MMA fighters, with their skill at so many talents, are the guys you least want to meet in a dark alley at night. That MMA would work in a fight. Lay-and-pray tactics hurt that idea. In a real fight, finishing it quickly is of great importance. If you're engaged in violence in the real world, it's because something is tragically wrong (dismissing as irrelevant those situations where guys brawl for fun), because you're fighting for your life. Laying on the ground for five minutes trying to smother your opponent is a pretty stupid idea when at any moment some of his pals might come by and stomp your guts out. Sure, a cop might also come by and save your ass, but do you really want to take that chance? Also, in grappling where you're not doing very much, desperation starts to set in. If, while grappling, you keep moving, you radically reduce the odds of your opponent deciding to start the really dirty techniques that make ground fighting on the street so mind bogglingly dangerous. For the less bloody minded out there, I'm talking primarily about eye gouges, but also fish hooks, head butts, throat grabs and groin pulls. If you're moving from position to position, it's harder for a person to visualize and execute the brutal moves not to mention a submission, by defeating your opponent or going very substantially in that direction (sure, a person COULD fight with a broken arm, but most won't and even if they do, uh, they've got a broken arm) makes it impossible or almost impossible for them to pull anything off. So, in a self-defense situation, pretty much the last thing you want to do is lay on top of your opponent while they figure out how to gouge out your eyes or hope one of their friends comes along.

So, when a wrestler wins by top control, they're gaming the rules in such a way that breaks the idea that MMA is good for self-defense. This idea is pretty important for the popularity of MMA. The decline in interest in boxing in the US is attributable in large part for the lack of faith Americans have in the "utility" of boxing as a self-defense art. Vulnerable to kicks and grappling, boxing is seen as a kind of "partial art". MMA, I feel, better fits the ethos that combat sports should be self-defense oriented, that what happens in the ring or cage should be useful "on the street".

Gaming the rules to grind out a boring victory, then, is bad for MMA generally. (The way to fix the problem is to recognize, in grappling in MMA, position is neutral. While I can be occasionally frustrated at the defensiveness of BJJ fighters (when it slips into "doing nothing"), the truth is that they can win from the bottom. That they want to be on the bottom. Yes, the top position is good for ground-and-pound, but the bottom position is good for submissions. Indeed, there is hardly a single submission in MMA from heel hook to guillotine choke that isn't best finished with your back to the ground. It's sort of silly, I think, to say that the guy on top, in MMA, is somehow "winning". How can putting yourself in the position to be submitted be considered winning just because you might launch a couple of leverage-less punches? By recognizing that a top position is not inherently superior, you could get rid of most lay-and-pray fighting techniques. I think this would be for the best.)

Additionally, from an MMA-rules based point of view, saying that you shouldn't try for submissions because you'll lose top position isn't particularly good tactics. While some fighters ought to lay-and-pray, in order to win a fight, they should do that only if they don't have a good submissions game. Submissions end fights. Lay-and-pray grinding means giving your opponent additional opportunities for them to win the fight. Many a good wrestler has lost because, rather than submitting their opponent, they've tried to grind out a victory and found themselves in a triangle armbar. Yeah, they were really winning until they lost.

To top it all off, it's a disservice to pretty much the only reason color commentators in MMA shows exist - to give new fans an idea of what the hell is going on and to clarify complex action. When Miletich opines on what he thinks the fighters ought to do rather than describe what they are doing in the midst of a fight, he's not being real useful to anyone. At that point, he might as well shut the fuck up.

Which is the whole point of this: he should shut the fuck up. What he's advocating is bad for MMA. No one wants to see boring lay-and-pray grinding victories. What he's advocating isn't necessarily good advice -- a submission, ending a fight, means you win. Maybe that's worth giving up top control for a bit. And by trying to coach the fighters rather than commenting on the fight, in the sense of describing the action to make it more comprehensible to the audience who isn't right there at ringside with three monitors viewing the action from different angles with people pointing out where subtle action is going on, he's voiding the warranty for why he should be on the show at all. I like it when an MMA pro is right there to talk us through the action, and I don't mind if they have opinions -- my favorite in this regard is Bas Rutten from when he was doing commentary for Pride FC -- it's just that if they're criticizing the strategy of the fighters rather than explaining it, why do they exist at all?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

MMA Live with Chael Sonnen . . .

. . . made me realize Sonnen's an idiot and loser scum. The first sign was that his jacket didn't fit him. He has, apparently, gained some weight over the holiday season, shall we say, and didn't buy a new jacket. Normally, I don't notice (or care) about that kind of thing, but this is national television. Still, okay, that's not it.

The next bit was when he called San Luis Obispo "San Louis Obiscopo". I was, "Dude, really?" It was embarrassing.

But the big this is that I don't like it when my intelligence is insulted. After losing to Anderson Silva, Sonnen's piss test came back hot. He got caught taking steroids. At an appeals hearing, he said he pissed hot because he was undergoing testosterone replacement therapy and he claimed that he told some doctor that he was undergoing TRT . . .

Well, no. Like everywhere, California has laws concerning professional sports. There is a specific form that an athlete has to disclose by a specific date that includes all drugs that they're taking. This is, indeed, part of any urine analysis. They need to know what's in your body that might effect the drug screenings. On that form, the only form that counts in this regard, Sonnen was not forthcoming. And as with all things legal, ignorance is not an excuse. It doesn't matter if Sonnen thought he'd fulfilled his obligations by telling a doctor on the California State Athletic Commission. What matters is the form. Hell, it's not even a silly, frivolous rule. Since a copy of that form is what gets sent along with the urine sample for screening, since that's the form that the lab doing the screening actually sees and informs their decision about what tests to do and what biases to take, you can't even say that it's just meaningless bureaucracy.

Unless you're Chael Sonnen. Rather than show some respect and admitting there was a bureaucratic hassle, that he just didn't file the proper paperwork at the proper time, and it won't happen, again, he decided, instead, to repeat a bunch of lies and blame the CSAC. His ego is so fragile that rather than saving face, he repeated a lie.

It isn't even a particularly good lie. He's a professional athlete. He should have had his testosterone checked well before the pre-fight piss test. Because the CSAC's rules say that testosterone replacement therapy can't be used to exceed specific (and reasonably high) values. Regardless of whether the testosterone was legally obtained, he was still over the legal limit of testosterone for purposes of being roided up. Controlling his medication to fit inside the legal limit is his responsibility and, regardless of other issues, he failed. Not the CSAC but Chael Sonnen. He wouldn't have been in this bind at all if he'd been responsible about his drug use.

So, fuck that guy. I don't like mincing, mealy-mouthed braggarts who can't pronounce the words they use and whose suits don't fit right.