The Casual Blog

Tag: massage

Spinning, credit card fraud problems, and the tax system for the super rich

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On Saturday morning I had a particularly good spinning outing led by Heather at Flywheel. The previous week was a disappointing one, when I tried hard to reach 300 but finished with a total score of 286.  It made me wonder if I’d finally started that long slide down to the bottom. But this week I finished first in the class with 341! My average heart rate for the 45 minutes was 157 — a record.  There was one guy who stayed close on my tail the whole way, and was just two points behind when the music stopped. Whew!

That afternoon, I had my monthly deep tissue massage session with Ken Katchuk (K2). Ken is really generous with his skills and time, and we set a new personal best: two hours and twenty minutes on the table. It was challenging at times, but we had a good talk about sports, movies, politics, and dogs, and I felt great afterwards.

One of the greatest of modern conveniences has got to be the credit card, which has greatly shrunk the time and distance between a wish and its fulfillment. How amazing to have a need or want, have an online merchant, have a credit card, and very quickly have that object of desire. At the end of this week, though, I had my Visa card declined, first at Happy and Hale (for a lovely salad), then at Hayes Barton Pharmacy, then at Fandango (movie tickets).

I called Capital One, and a cheery fellow in the fraud department read out several charges from Ft. Worth, Texas that were definitely not mine. He said someone had made a counterfeit version of my card. Anyhow, that account is now history. I’m happy Capital One detected the fraud promptly, and happy I won’t be responsible for the fraudulent charges. Still, it’s a bit of a pain, since I’ve got to get a new card and remember to pass then new number to various providers of goods and services.

I don’t suppose we’ll ever prevent all fraud, and we may even be headed in the opposite direction. There’s little doubt that our electronic transaction system is a point of vulnerability. There are highly skilled, ethically challenged people in front of computer screens all around the globe searching for ways to take our money. Thus I’ve gradually converted to non-obvious passwords. You do what you can.

Tiller7Bug 1-2Speaking of systems and fraud, the Times had a significant piece recently about the corruption just below the surface of the US tax system. Here’s a bit from the beginning:

With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.”

The article gives various examples, and explains that the very wealthiest and their tax experts are continually devising sophisticated new schemes. These same people are also the biggest contributors to political campaigns. Could these facts not be related? Once you begin to get you head around this, you might (unless you’re in the one-thousandth percentile) start to get mad. It’s not fair.

So why is this not a huge political issue? I see two main reasons. 1. The existing candidates for the most part are complicit in the status quo. 2. It’s too complicated. That’s part of the point: the tax dodges are designed by experts to defy understanding. Just comprehending a single tax scheme (there are many such) is beyond the mental capacity of most of us, including the IRS, and we’ve got other demands on our time and brain power.

I should note that there’s one major exception among the presidential candidates, who is very focused on the unfairness of favoring the super rich in the tax system: Bernie Sanders. He’s put the issue of addressing inequality and eliminating their special tax breaks  front and center. And against all odds, he’s still in the hunt for the democratic nomination. I have trouble picturing him in the oval office, but I’m very glad he’s getting fundamental issues like this one onto the discussion agenda.

Business + pleasure at the Grove Park Inn, including the spa and the Blue Ridge Parkway

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On Friday Sally and I took Clara from Raleigh to Asheville for a business + pleasure trip. I’d been invited to speak at the Federal Circuit’s Bench and Bar conference, which was being held at the famous Grove Park Inn, and after that ended we thought we’d do a little hiking near the Blue Ridge Parkway and get a treatment at the spa.

The Grove Park Inn is an odd but appealing place, with lovely views of the Blue Ridge mountains. It has massive stone masonry walls inside and out. It turned 100 last year, and is proud of its history. We found our room perfectly fine, and the service at the hotel, the various restaurants, and the spa to be attentive and exceptionally friendly.
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As usual for me with professional speaking engagements, I enjoyed the actual doing of it, though I felt a certain dread in the last few days beforehand. I was one of four panelists, and it was far from clear even shortly beforehand how it was going to go. Fortunately, all were seasoned veterans, and it went fine. I had a chance to point up some of the serious problems with software patents, and give the conference an open source perspective on other issues. I gave my perspective that the patent system is seriously dysfunctional, and was happy that it sparked some debate, and I didn’t get run out of town on a rail.

That afternoon, we did a bit of driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway and took a pleasant hike at Craggy Gardens. When we returned, we went down to the spa to prepare for our massage.
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I’m a late convert to spa-ing. Until recently, I really could not see the point, and considered it a waste of valuable time. Both at work and play, I am normally a busy person, with more to do than there is time to do it. Workwise, the challenges are never ending. A lot of my leisure activities, like playing the piano and playing golf, demand a lot of commitment to improve, and that commitment requires time. And there are so many things I’m curious to know more about, and learning also requires time. Time is so valuable, and I try very hard not to waste it.

But I’ve gradually come to consider massage as valuable to good health, both physical and mental, and wanted to share a couples massage with Sally. Other than massage, I wasn’t quite sure what the Grove Park spa involved.

I’m here to tell you, it’s very nice. It carries forward the stone masonry motif of the Inn. There are numerous pools of different sizes and carefully graded temperatures, some with little waterfalls and some with big waterfalls. There was a eucalyptus infused steam room, pared with a whirlpool and a cold dunking tank. I was persuaded to go from the hot sweatiness of the steam room to a plunge in the cold tank, and it was definitely a shock — almost agonizing, but also refreshing.

After soaking in various pools inside and out, we repaired to a lounge and sat quietly for a few minutes in plush chairs next to a big fireplace. Then our massage therapists arrived, introduced themselves, and debriefed us on our health issues and massage likes and dislikes. My therapist, Sarah, was very good. She described her technique as basically Swedish massage, but she was very responsive to my request for firmer pressure, and attentive to the various knots and tensions of my body.

An aspect of the treatment was scented lotions and oils, as well as scents generally – aromatherapy, as they call it. I experienced something described as detoxifying citrus, with oils of lemon, orange and petitgrain (no idea what that is), and various other exotic substances. Did they do anything significant for my health and well-being? It’s hard to say. But it was very pleasant, and I certainly wouldn’t mind doing it again.

We felt quite wonderful after our massages, and though we had a dinner reservation pending, didn’t want to leave the spa immediately. Sarah helped us get the reservation pushed back, and we did some more soaking in the hot tub and other pools. It was delicious.

We eventually made our way to the Sunset Terrace restaurant, where they gave us a great seat on the edge of the porch looking out toward the mountains. So many restaurants try to seat you in the less desirable spaces unless you push back, but they did not try that on us at the Inn. They had a vegetarian entrée involving tofu, and it was fine. Afterwards, we sipped the last of our wine and listened to a local flamenco quartet. The musicians seemed quite fine, and their singer, a blonde Swedish-looking gringo, sang in Spanish that sounded appropriately tragic and passionate. It was an unexpected pleasure.
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On Sunday, we did a little more driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It really is a national treasure – a road that exists for the pure beauty and pleasure of driving. It winds and twists along ridges with views of adjacent mountains and valleys. For a few miles, there was no one in front of us, and Clara could stretch her legs a little.
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Clara catching her breath

Clara catching her breath

Ecstasy and agony: a sweet homecoming, my first handstand, a good massage, a difficult dental appointment, and some beastly Brahms

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Happy birthday to Gabe! He’s 29 today, and his mumsy and popsy are proud as can be. He came out from Telluride to visit us for a few days, and it’s been good to catch up.

He’s working hard on his music, experimenting and doing some recording with his band mates. In high school, he got to be a strong drummer, but then lost interest. But he’s come back to making music! All those music lessons were not wasted! And he’s learned the secret of getting better at his instrument (and other things): practice, practice, practice.

Along with his music, Gabe has been experimenting with photography using his iPhone and Snapseed. He starts with something straightforward and does various color processes for a new look. It’s lively and interesting. He’s also following others on Instagram, including someone called yoga_girl. He showed me a couple of yoga_girl’s yoga feats, which included some extraordinary handstand variations.

I hadn’t mentioned that I’d made up my mind to learn how to do a handstand against a wall. I’d gotten a short lesson from Larisa, my wonderful functional fitness trainer, and also gotten Suzanne, my wonderful yoga teacher, to show me her approach after a recent class. And I’d given it several serious tries, which were close – but no cigar.

But after seeing Gabe and yoga_girl, the next morning I had my 5:30 a.m. session with Larissa, and amidst her other challenges, requested another handstand lesson. She suggested approaching it like a cartwheel. We worked on cartwheels for a bit, with some improvement, and then tried again. And I did it! Thanks, Larisa!

When I told Gabe of my milestone the next evening, he was of the view that I also owed some thanks to him and yoga_girl. True enough. He was inspired to try his own handstand. Without a wall. He was there by the third try. That’s my boy!
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The same day I did my first handstand, at lunchtime, I had my first massage with Kirsten Bachmann. After a massage hiatus, I’d decided to audition some new massage talent, and possibly get a regular routine for taking care of that part of my make up. I liked Kirsten. She started out with this surprisingly effective machine called the Thumper, which gives you a good Thumping. She did some great work on my right shoulder, which needed it. I look forward to our next session.
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But not all my experiences with new technology this week were as wonderful. I was two months late for my six-month tooth cleaning, and drew a new hygienist who used a device called the Cavitron. The tool vibrates at a high frequency, which, she said, “blasts the bacteria.” Maybe. But my it also caused my tooth nerves to vibrate at a frequency resembling a root canal. I like to think that I have a fairly high pain threshold, and tried hard to bear up, but finally had to say, no mas.

Also unpleasant was the piano soloist at the N.C. Symphony on Friday night. Beforehand we had tasty empanadas and margaritas at Calavera, and we enjoyed the first half of the program, which featured Sibelius’s moody and quirky Third Symphony.

But the second half of the concert, Brahms’s First Piano Concerto, featured a Finnish pianist named Olli Mustonen, who was almost comically bad. For the first few minutes, I thought perhaps I was simply not understanding his radical conception, or was just put off by his ridiculously broad gesticulating and other affectations.

But I ultimately concluded that he wasn’t listening to the orchestra, or even to himself. At times he shrugged off the conventions of normal musical phrasing and shaping, and what was left was just not musical. To me, it was painful. I should note, though, that many in the audience apparently found his waving, swaying, banging, and jumping around exciting, since a majority stood up and clapped at the end.

Utah skiing, a relaxing massage, and The Righteous Mind

The view from room at Deer Valley, Utah

Last week I had some meetings in Deer Valley, Utah, and also managed to get in one last bout of skiing for the season. Deer Valley is famous for coddling a high-end clientele with personal service and carefully groomed slopes. This doesn’t sit well with my personal skiing value system, which is more about rugged natural beauty, self-reliance, adventure, and transcendence. But I have to say, particularly in variable spring conditions, Deer Valley was pretty sweet.

At my hotel, there was friendly, attentive service. A personable young people offered to help you get boots on and off (to which I said no thank you), and carried your skis on and off the slopes. I rented Volkyl Mantra skis, which Gabe had recommended last year. They turned out to be a good choice – a very versatile all mountain ski that performed well in powder, packed powder, crud, and mush, all of which I eventually experienced. It was reasonably quick edge to edge, stable when carving at higher speeds, and workable in bumps and trees.

My rented Volka Mantras (the red and white ones on the end)

It’s been a disappointing year for snow over most of the U.S. Could global warming be to blame? Utah had not had snow for some time, and the mountains looked much more brown than white on the drive from the SLC airport. I had my doubts as to whether skiing would be worth the pain, but in the end, it was.

On Wednesday I skied with business friends and did mostly blue cruisers, with a few bump runs. It was a beautiful, sunny day, with temperatures in the 40s. The snow got soft and mushy in the afternoon, but it was still skiable. Spring skiing, as they say.

Thursday I had work to do, but Friday I got over to Park City to do some skiing by myself. It snowed most of the day, but only lightly, and visibility was limited. The winds were so strong in the morning that only half the lifts were operating. The only double black terrain open in the morning was off the McConkey lift. There were swatches of powder, but much of the skiable area was hard, rutted ice, or worse, ice with a deceptive thin dusting of snow – ice that looked like powder. On one lift ride, I chatted with a couple who’d lived there ten years. They wanted to apologize to visitors for the conditions, which were the worst they’d ever seen. But it got better in the afternoon. The Jupiter lift opened after lunch, and I found some fun steeps that hadn’t been skiied. The bumps were crusty. There were some interesting looking gladed areas that were, unfortunately, closed for lack of snow.

On Saturday it was another chilly bluebird day, which I spent at Deer Valley. The packed powder stayed good until mid-afternoon. I spent most of the time working the Empire and Lady Morgan lifts, both high speed quads that I generally had to myself, and listened to Mahler symphonies on my iPod. I particularly liked the Lady Morgan bowl, where I saw only a handful of other skiers. The lower part of the run is gladed, and after following the tracks of others, I began composing my own routes. It went well, except for one collision between my left ski and a pine tree.

After lunch, I did some carving on the cruisers off the Northside and Silverstrike lifts. After watching one kid catch some good air on a small jump, I tried to follow suit, but figured out a beat too late that the jump was canted to one side. I came down hard on my right hip, lost the right ski, and sprained my left thumb. It hurt! I’ve hurt that thumb the same way before, and it took a long time to heal. But I regrouped and pressed on.

Late in the afternoon, I treated myself to a massage at the Remede spa. Although I’ve become a big fan of deep tissue massage as therapy, I’ve assume that spa massage was mostly about relaxing, which is something I tend to regard as time-wasting. A sad legacy of my Calvinist heritage, no doubt, and I’m working on it. Anyhow, the Swedish massage was wonderful. It was a bit rougher in places than I expected, but also more sweet and sensual. My masseuse put hot was bags on my feet, which made no logical sense yet somehow worked. Over the course of the hour, my little fears melted away. Afterwards, I soaked for a bit in the hot tub, cooled off in the shower, and then sweated for a few minutes in the steam room. I felt a bit limp, and thoroughly relaxed.

On the way home I finished reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. In this new book, Haidt, a psychology professor at University of Virginia, offers a theory of the origins of morality and an explanation of the divide between liberals and conservatives. It’s ambitious, and he’s not kidding. I found it easy to accept his view that most human activity is driven primarily by emotion and intuition rather than reason. He was also persuasive in arguing that moral philosophy is primarily instrumental – a tool in service of other social goals, rather than a disinterested search for truth. He sees it as a vital instrument for human communities, and therefore for progress.

I was less persuaded, but still intrigued, by his idea that conservatives had a richer array of moral values than liberals. He argues that liberals define morality primarily in terms of reducing harm and increasing fairness, whereas conservatives also place significant weight on values such as loyalty, authority, and sacredness. That seems possible, but it doesn’t seem to connect up to the truly goofy aspects of conservative ideology, like demonization of liberals and discounting of science. I’ll go along with his idea that we need to figure out how to engage with ideas we don’t necessarily agree with if we’re to overcome our dysfunctional politics. I found the book thought provoking, and especially considering the density and breadth of the ideas, a surprisingly lively read.

Coping with pollen, trying Pilates, and news on how to eat to reduce cancer risks

Spring is definitely here, greener and greener and blossoms everywhere. Also here is a cloud of heavy yellow pine pollen settling on cars, including mine. The pollen surprises me every year. Last year it arrived the day after I got Clara detailed, and the pollen turned the beautiful dark blue car yellow. This year, I resolved to get the big spring car cleaning done well in advance of pine pollination, and got the full treatment from Dave of A to Z Auto Detailing. She looked great, until the pollen arrived, two days later. Pine trees, stop trying to impregnate Clara!

It was a homey week — no travel — and I got up early each day and had a work out done by 7:00 or 7:30. On Monday, I did intervals on the elliptical machine on the roof and then some weights and stretching. Tuesday I did forty minutes on the elliptical machine first, then went across the street to early bird yoga at Blue Lotus. Wednesday I went to Pullen Park pool and swam intervals and then stretched. A lifeguard complimented my stretch routine (though not, I noted, my swimming).

Friday I went to O2 gym at Seaboard Station for an hour-long RPM spinning class. Spinning means riding an exercise bike to loud music at the intensity the teacher directs, and it is much more demanding than it sounds. The teacher Friday was a substitute who was six months pregnant. At the start, I felt fairly confident that I could keep up with her, but in fact she kicked my butt. I predict her baby will be a champion.

Backing up, Thursday I had my third Pilates lesson at Evolve with Julee. What is Pilates? My friend Chuck and others had recommended it, but I found it hard to get a clear description. But I felt ready to try some new type of exercising. It’s good to shake things up from time to time. Meredith, my wonderful massage therapist, turned out to be a big Pilates fan, and she recommended Julee, whom she regarded as highly gifted.

Pilates is named for its inventor, a German named Joseph Pilates, who came up with his system early in the twentieth century. It involves various contraptions that he invented. It entails a particular way of breathing, of focusing on the core area, and of contracting various muscles. Yes, it could be yet another nutty exercise fad, but there seems to be more to it. I say this based on (1) my very limited experience trying it and (2) observing that Pilates students are exceptionally fit looking.

It seems to involve a sophisticated understanding of human biology, and as an experience it nicely balances the physical and the mental. As Julee has introduced me to the various exercises, I’ve found myself focusing hard on just one thing: the movements. I’m just starting to get my bearings on the system, but so far it seems stimulating in a healthy, fun way.

In other health news, there was an interesting news story this week on the health effects of aspirin. Two significant new British studies found that a daily dose of aspirin was associated with large reductions in cancer. One study found a 46% reduction in colon, lung, and prostate cancer, and both found large reductions in other common cancers. That’s huge!

I’d taken a baby aspirin for some time to reduce the risk of a heart attack, but quit after a recent study indicated that for healthy patients the heart benefits may not outweigh the risks. I was sufficiently impressed by the new studies to dig out my aspirin bottle and start taking the little pill again.

Also noteworthy is a NY Times report of a new study that eating red meat is associated with death from heart disease and cancer, with the risk increasing with increased consumption of meat. The study involved 121,342 men and women and data from 1980 to 2006. Each increase of meat consumption by three ounces increased the risk of death from cancer by 10 percent and death from cardiovascular disease by 16 percent. It sounds like, if the norm is six ounces of meat a day, eating no meat would reduce your cancer risk by 20 percent and cardiovascular disease by 32 percent. That’s also huge!

For some reason, the Times did not put this on the front page, or even as the lead item in the health section, but rather buried it deep in general news section. A new drug that dramatically reduced cancer and heart disease would surely have been treated as a major news event. I’d think this new study would be something most people would want to think about.

Of course, people generally don’t like hearing that their ingrained habits are unhealthy, and tune out news that causes dissonance, so I will leave the subject for now. On a more cheerful note, I will just mention that I greatly enjoyed listening to some Haydn symphonies on my iPod touch while exercising and doing other activities this week. I had sort of forgotten how wonderful they are. I was listening to numbers 100, 101, 103, and 104. Here’s the second movement of number 100. My recording, which I prefer, is by Christopher Hogwood directing the Academy of Ancient Music (on period instruments).

An earthquake, a hurricane, a massage, a yoga lesson, and a haircut

Sunset before Hurricane Irene

We’ve had a couple of unusual disturbances this week. On Tuesday, Raleigh was shaken for a few seconds by an earthquake that was centered in northern Virginia. In my office, it felt at first like heavy equipment was passing by, but it got more intense, and I started to consider evacuating. We seldom have earthquakes in the eastern U.S. We’re used to thinking of the earth as something solid that does not move, and it’s disturbing when it does.

A hurricane named Irene has been heading toward the eastern U.S. for several days, and finally hit the Outer Banks of N.C. this morning. We get hurricanes here from time to time, but this one has caused more than usual worry. In 1996 when Hurricane Fran hit our area, trees snapped in two in my yard, and the storm left us without power for days. Ever since, I’ve taken hurricanes seriously. At the moment, we’re getting light rain and gusty winds.

Meanwhile life goes on, with chores and challenges. This week I was particularly conscious of being part of a pleasing network of humans, including some who helped take good care of me, with some vivid moments of connection.

On Monday, I got over to Hands on Health, where Meredith had agreed to come in on her day off to give me a deep tissue massage. I’d anticipated that all the driving to, from, and at Road Atlanta would leave me with a tight neck and back, which it did, and that Meredith could help, which she did. She was cheerful and chatty, but deadly serious when it came to knotty muscles. There were some intense and difficult moments, but I left feeling wonderful.

On Wednesday, I had my first individual yoga lesson with Suzanne. I’ve taken one or two “early bird” classes a week with her for the last year or so, and have gradually come to really trust her. My main objective in taking an individual lesson was to make sure I had sound mechanics for my head stand and wasn’t about to hurt my neck. I also wanted to understand more about increasing my flexibility. Lately I’ve gone to a few advanced classes, and found them fairly humbling. There are certain things they do that I just can’t do.

Anyway, Suzanne helped me adjust expectations and feel better about where I am, as well as improving in some areas. For head stands, she taught me how to find the top of my head and where my weight needed to be. We did some bending and twisting, and talked about how you can have too much of a good thing. Although it looks good in class to have loose joints, as she does, she noted that looseness brings with it more risk of certain injuries. I also got her guidance on what to do with my mind during savasana. I’ve slowly come to really value yoga’s insistence on relaxation as an integral part of class. At the end of the session, I felt tremendous gratitude, both for Suzanne, and for my good health and well-being.

Because of the Road Atlanta trip, I’d missed my regular monthly haircut with Ann. She invited me to come in after work as her last appointment on Wednesday. Ann’s been cutting hair for me, Sally, and Gabe for many years. It’s always fun seeing her. She likes to talk, and we have great chats about our families, cars, restaurants, travel, and sports. As usual, I left looking better, and smiling.

A post-drive neck massage

The road trip last weekend was great fun, but the many miles of sport driving left me with a stiff neck. It was difficult to turn my head enough to back Clara out of her parking space. After three days, it was not much better. I got to early bird yoga early to ask Suzanne if she had a recommendation for a massage therapist. She did, and also was so kind as to take the class through some neck and shoulder stretches.

The next day I got the first appointment of the day with Meredith at Hands on Health. I was impressed with the professional atmosphere. The place seemed like a PT’s office, with a reception area, waiting room, and offices for several massage specialist. Meredith seemed friendly and chipper, and turned out to know a lot about neck problems.

She worked on my shoulders and lower back as well as my neck. In spite of her friendliness, she was not all sweetness and light. Parts of the work were amazingly painful. This was deep tissue work. She located muscular knots, and spent time digging into them. She’d given me permission to ask her to stop, but I wanted to get results. But it was a struggle. I worked on breathing deeply.

But afterwards I felt much better. Massage, like yoga, is a thing that I used to consider somewhat bogus, and have gradually come to think of as a wonderful gift.

Thanks to for the pictures of Clara on US 129, the Tail of the Dragon, on July 3, 2011.