I went on a tour of Medellin, Colombia today, and experienced something highly unexpected. For the final stop, we visited one of the 200 homes formerly owned by Medellin cartel leader, Pablo Escobar. Pablo´s brother, Roberto Escobar now lives in that particular house, and was there to greet us when we arrived. Roberto talked to us about his involvement with the Cartel.
Originally an elite level cyclist, Roberto was dragged into the cartel as Pablo´s infamy tarnished Roberto´s athletic reputation. Roberto acted as a financial manager, and was believed to be the closest person to Pablo during the hight of his career. For this reason, Roberto once had a reward of $10 million offered for assistance in his arrest. After Pablo was killed, Roberto spent several years in prison, but has now been out for more than a decade.
At the end of the tour, all 10 of us were given the opportunity to ask Roberto one question.
I was last to go of the group, listening as each tourist asked the comfortable predictable questions:
“did you enjoy your years in the cartel,”
“do you miss your brother,”
It was an intimidating experience, but I thought it unlikely that I would get more than one opportunity in my life to ask a question to an Escobar, and member of history’s more infamous drug cartel… so I didn’t mince words.
(approximate English translation)
Noah: “Your brother was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people. Many considered him the most violent individual in your country at the time. Knowing him as well as you did, do you believe that your brother was a bad person?“
Roberto did not take offense. He barely blinked. And after pausing a moment, he gave a profoundly insightful and genuine response.
Roberto: “Every person has some good and some bad within them. Pablo was no different. But because of who he was, that contrast was amplified way beyond that of a normal person. Pablo payed people to kill police, but not becuase he was evil, because they were hunting him. The media made him into a character, an iconic villain. But that’s not all we has. He was also a very loving husband, brother, and father. He cared a lot about the people of Medellin, and spent lots of money to improve the way they lived.”
His response was met with applause from our group.
I spoke later that night with one of the young men working at my hostel. Juan Pablo knew Mr. Escobar when he was a child, and did not see him as a villain.
“He never stole from anyone. He was a business man that took money from the United States and brought it here. He was Colombia´s Robin Hood.”
Juan Pablo´s sentiment is not unique. Many people in Medellin see Escobar as something of a Hero, a sign that they are not necessarily destined to the poverty into which they are born.
Obviously, Pablo was not all good. He housed a seemingly insatiable appetite for wealth and power. But nothing is ever as black and white as the voices of authority lead us to believe. As the old saying goes, histories are written by the victor.
The movie, Scarface is a thematically similar story to the life of Pablo Escobar. I believe that one of Tony Montana´s quotes from his drunken, coked-out monologue in the restaurant is especially fitting:
You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.”
The Need to Point Your Finger
For almost all of us, there are labels that we identify with: ´´I´m an American, I´m a Christian, I´m a law-abiding citizen.´´
We assert that these labels we have for ourselves are ´´good things,´´ and get very defensive if anyone challenges them. But Al Pacino´s words are worth considering. Why do we need these labels?
What if everyone was American?
What if everone was Christian?
What if all people obeyed the law?
Our labels would be meaningless without contrast. Its really easy to look at guys like Pablo Escobar and say ´´he sold coke, he´s the bad guy.´´ It takes a lot more courage acknowledge your own role.
Is my exclusive advocacy for the economic well-being of my nation´s economy coming at the expense of the rest of the world?
Could our laws, taxes, borders, and military operations be, in fact, much more violent?
Escobar ordered the killings of over 600 people. So far in Iraq, more than 45,000 Iraquis have been reported as casualties of war. Are we expected to believe that they are all, or even predominantly, terrorists?
Like our contry´s cause, that word has become completely ambiguous.
In pointing our fingers at people like Montana, and Escobar, are we simply trying to convince ourselves that we are not the bad guys?
As many of you know, I´ve recently set out on a trip to South America. I left Seattle on the 17th of January, and had an 8-hour layover in New York before flying down to Bogotá.
Big Apple in the Early Morning
Since I had never been to New York, I decided to spend my layover hustling into the city and seeing as much of it as I could. For those of you who have never seen New York in person, you probably have a romanticized notion of a picturesque metropolis from movies like Elf, You´ve Got Mail, or New Year´s Eve. At any rate, I did not find the real thing to be very much like these movies at all. New York is dirty- it´s as if a thin film of engine sludge is regularly applied to every visible surface. And the famous subway system? Absolutely archaic. Three stories underground. Dirtier than the restroom of a public park, and largely populated by homeless people displaying serious withdrawl symptoms. What´s more, the rails are still held together with wood, some of which is beginning to rot. Best of all, while I was there, there was a stream of running water underneath the tracks, through the subway tunnel. I was not expecting that.
But I shouldn´t be too negative. It was certainly a cool thing to finally see. I was walking through Times Square around 8 in the morning, and got to be in the crowd directly behind the filming of the Today show and Good Morning America. If you happened to be watching GMA on the 17th, the camera pointed directly at me for about 4.5 seconds. I´m pretty sure I was on national TV lol.
Highlights and Fun Facts from Bogotá
My experiences in Bogotá are too numerous to list, but here are a few that I will remember:
- Spending time with the indescribably hospitable and generous Familia Suarez.
- I´ve stayed with them for the past week and they have showed me a warmer welcome than I ever could have imagined, taking me to see the sights of the area and insisting on feeding me every meal. Teresa, the mother, is a wonderful cook.
- (Edgar) Andres, the son, was an exchange student at my high school freshman year. It was awesome to see him again, and meet his whole huge, hilarious family.
- Hiking up to Monserrate, a church at the top of the east mountains of bogota
- Exploring Zipaquira, a salt-mine turned church 40 meters underground
- Visiting the mountain pueblos (villages) around bogota.
- Experiencing Colombian food for the first time! (awesome)
Ignoring my greeting the girls looked at each other and gigled uncontrollably. Finally the youngest one looked up and said, ´´Tú eres gringo??!´´
Bogotá is a city of 8 million and the political capital of Colombia. And this 9-year-old girl had never seen a white person before.
The girls and their (slighly less excited) older brother joined Edgar, Laura and me at our table and gained endless entertainment from simply saying words or phrases in Spanish, and having me repeat them in English. It was very fun and funny experience for all of us
I got on a bus this morning and rode for more than 10 hours through the Colombian mountains. The best I can describe it is like seeing a live, constantly changing, 10-hour shot of the background from a Jurassic Park movie. It was one of the most beautiful settings I have ever seen.
I arrived tonight in Medellin, Colombia, home town to the most infamous and wealthy drug dealer in history: the late Pablo Escobar.
(any Entourage watchers in the audience?)
I´m excited to see what Medellin has in store. Everyone says that the women and the empenadas are both wonderful.
I wrote an article a while back in which I asserted that most issues of “muscle tightness” are not questions of muscularity, but of neurology. In other words, when you have tight hamstrings or hip-flexors, the most accurate description of what’s going on with your muscles is not being tight but being on.
That hypothesis was based on experiential and anecdotal evidence, but I had yet to find a text that really confirmed my theory with any type of formal analysis. This week, however, I discovered Relax into Stretch, by Pavel Tsatsouline. Long story short: this guy is the shit.
Pavel served as “physical training instructor” to the Soviet Special Forces during the 1980s. After the cold war, he came to the US, and is widely credited for single-handedly bringing the Russian kettle-bell revolution with him. Since coming to the US, Pavel has authored several books and now serves as “subject matter expert” to the US Marine Corps, Secret Service, and Navy SEALs. Now, I’m not one for credential-ism… but it’s hard not to be impressed by this guy’s resume. But before we get to Pavel, lets take a quick look at conventional “static” stretching, and consider why would be interested in exploring new techniques like Pavel’s.
The Limitations of Static Stretching
The conventional model for stretching involves getting yourself into a painful position and simply holding it for as long as possible. This is predicated on the assumption that your problem is muscle fibers being stuck together, which need to be stretched apart. What’s really going on with your muscles, however, is a state of chronic tension that is coded for by your central nervous system. Let’s consider hip flexors, for example. The average American sits in a chair for 9.3 hours each day. While in the sitting position, your hip-flexors must maintain constant tension to keep your torso upright. You get so used to contracting this muscle group, that you become completely unaware that you are even doing it. When you then try to stand up, run around, and lift weights, you are doing so with your hip flexors constantly “on,” rotating your pelvis anteriorly and skewing your alignment.
|Looks pretty silly once you understand what you’re looking at|
Most health professionals understand that the iliopsoas (hip-flexor) muscle group is the problem here, but they usually try to rectify the imbalance through static stretching. During static stretching, what you are doing is holding a contracted muscle at the end of its range of motion. This does two things:
- It creates microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. This is a good thing if your tissues actually are matted together. However it also makes serious pulls and tears more likely. Imagine perforating a piece of paper before you rip it. Hamstrings are the most commonly stretched muscle group; just think- toe touches are a part of almost every warm-up routine. Hamstrings are also the most commonly pulled/ torn muscle in sprinting. This is not a coincidence.
- Static stretching fatigues the muscle. Holding a contraction at end-range is exhausting for the muscle. Thus, improved range of motion is commonly observed because the motor units eventually “give up,” and let you elongate them. Because they are so fatigued, however, they cannot contract as powerfully afterward. For this reason, sprint coaches generally tell their athletes not to stretch statically before races- it makes them temporarily weaker! Unfortunately, the benefits to static stretching are also short-lived. The muscle has only “let go” because it is exhausted. Once it has recovered the next day, it usually returns to the same state of chronic tension.
- Take and hold a breath (aka valsalva maneuver), note: you do not need to take a monstrous breath or hold it until your face turns purple. About 5 seconds is all you will ever need.
- Isometrically contract the muscle against its antagonist. Hold this contraction for about 5 seconds. Ex. if you are working the splits, you will isometrically pull your feet toward each other (isometrically means they do no not actually move- you’re really just pulling them into the floor)
- As you exhale your breath, release the contraction, and allow yourself to sink deeper into the stretch. When done correctly, this feels effortless- you will sink deeper into the stretch, though you will not “feel the burn” of stretching.
- Repeat as many times as desired. Each time you relax, you should sink deeper into the stretch. You may feel a bit of a burn at some times. This is not a big deal, just recognize that it is not the sensation that we are focussing on for the contract-relax exercise.
As noted before, this method can be used for any stretch- simply contract against whatever you would ordinarily leverage to stretch with.
Just about every diet book that I have come across spends hundreds of pages telling you exactly which foods you should and should not eat. This approach is inherently flawed. It assumes that the limiting factor in your ability to eat well is your lack of knowledge about which foods are and are not good for you. Consider that for a moment.
Do most people who eat like crap think that junk food is healthy?
No, everyone with body-composition issues already knows that ice cream, pastries, and beer are not good for them. Yet they continue to consume copious amounts of each. How can they justify this?
The short answer is, they don’t. Those of us who eat significant amounts of junk food are in some sort of denial about it. I’m very confident of this, and as this article goes on, I think you’ll see why.
Food Journals- Make it Conscious
According to a study from Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research, keeping a food journal DOUBLES the effectiveness of dieting.
|…daunting in its simplicity|
Keeping a food journal is simple. Just write down what you eat. No counting calories or carbs, no math involved at all. Just one rule: if you pound a bag of m&m’s, you have to write it down in your food journal afterward. When people acknowledge their actions, even retroactively, they bring consciousness to their compulsion, and realize that they don’t need the junk food at all.
Let me reiterate what I said just a second ago: simply writing your food down afterward DOUBLES the effectiveness of your diet.
But wait, what’s that I hear? Off in the distance… is someone feeling negative and looking for reasons to discard the validity of what I’m saying?
…Well yeah! it’s such a CHORE to write down everything you eat every day. I could never remember it all, and who wants to carry a notebook with them everywhere they go? It’s like communism: nice idea, but it would never work for me…
There she is! The purple-fonted complainer Well, first of all, I hate that analogy. Either you believe in your economic system or you don’t. People who say something “could never work” are just lazy. And secondly…
It’s a Good thing they invented Cell Phones!
A similar study was done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in which researchers concluded that simply taking cell phone photographs of your food before eating it was even more effective than keeping a food diary. Anterograde cognizance has the added benefit of creating awareness before the damage has been done.
In most cases, the simple act of taking a cell phone snapshot is enough of a disincentive to keep people from eating garbage.
Inevitably though, instances will arise in which dieters say to themselves (in a hoarse, rabid voice)
“I don’t care if I have to take a picture, I want some fucking cheese cake!!
|go ahead, tell me that doesn’t look dank…|
Well, interestingly enough, taking pictures helps with that too. You see, it’s a little known fact that junk food, while delicious, actually makes you feel like crap once ingested. However, for those unconscious eaters who are in denial about their junk food consumption, it’s hard to draw that connection. Think of it this way: if you don’t acknowledge that you eat like crap, how would you ever realize that your poor diet is the source behind your malaise? In short, you wouldn’t.
But, when you take a picture just moments prior to the aforementioned cheesecake binge, you become exponentially more aware of the fact that you just did a fucking cheesecake binge, and are more likely to connect the dots.
In conclusion, most people try to treat their diet issues in one of two ways:
A) They learn more and more about what is the absolute healthiest way to eat,
B) They look at pictures/YouTube videos of fit-ass models and celebrities in an attempt to “pump themselves up” for better eating.
For many people, the first approach becomes increasingly unproductive, and the second one is just plain weird (side note: sometimes being a good friend means saying, “come on dude… seriously? you’re looking at the Abercrombie site again…)
So, if you’ve never photographed your meals, give it a try. Commit to photographing all your food for the next 5 days. If you don’t notice a marked improvement in how you feel, leave me a long, angry, detailed description of what you think of my and my blog.
If it works, feel free to do the same