8/15/16

Dear Cornucopia of Olympic Bodies,

The activities we do every day shape our bodies accordingly. It's why most of us exercise- the endorphins may or may not be enough motivation in and of themselves to jog twice a week, but what most of us really want are the corresponding corporal effects which we enjoy in between the jogs. We want to look like someone who jogs, we want to feel like someone who jogs, we want to enjoy the longevity of someone who jogs. We're after the adaptations which jogging forces our body to adopt.

And that's what makes the bodies in the Olympics so interesting. These are not joggers, or CrossFit devotees, or casual weight lifters. These are the bodies of people who do really weird stuff at an extreme intensity, all day every day.

Archaeologists can identify English longbowmen nearly a millennium after death based upon their skeletons alone. The nearly 200-pound pull of the heaviest longbows twisted the humerus, stretched the shoulder blades, and prompted the growth of bone spurs.

I can identify swimmers by their wide, flat, V-shaped upper bodies, giant extremities, and all the used razor cartridges clogged with body hair in their bathroom trashcan.

Of course not all of the physical hallmarks of each type of athlete are adaptive. Nearly all sports also self-select for a certain type or types of body. There are probably some great 6'4" gymnasts out there, but none of them make it to the Olympics because their big ungainly feet slap the floor when they try to make a complete rotation on the parallel bars.

Whether selective pressure or adaptive pressure, the end result is groups of crazy-looking freaks who all look crazy in the same way, all hanging out together, and I love it. The form of the athletes' bodies also tells us a lot about the sport that they play. Take the following four sports for example-





Synchronized diving, when you think about it, is mostly about falling. I mean, yes, you have to climb up the stairs to the 10 meter platform, and yes, you have to jump and turn, but let's be honest- at the end of the day, gravity is doing most of the heavy lifting. Which makes it all the more surprising that synchronized divers are so damn ripped. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you don't get a body like that from diving every day. I suspect the average diver's training day comprises three hours of diving and six hours of Pilates, P90X, protein shakes, staring into floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and tastefully erotic towl snapping in the changing room with plenty of giggling. It's an entire field of underwear models out there, and there's an undercurrent of unbridled sexuality running through the whole event that tells me those rock hard abs are more about pulling ass at the Olympic Village than jumping into a pool. I just hope special considerations have been made and the divers are getting considerably more than a normal Olympian's daily ration of two condoms and 30ml of Astroglide.





On the other side of the spectrum we've got the Olympic shooting sports. We know you guys don't need to be in peak physical condition to squeeze a trigger with a one pound pull. We know a 600-pounder could pull up on a Rascal, have an attendant position a pistol in their sweaty slab of a palm, and then win a gold medal in the 10 meter air pistol, but come on. We had a gentleman's agreement; you take a jog every other week and keep up appearances, at least within the realm of respectability, and in return we pretend that winning a gold in pistol shooting is every bit as admirable as landing a triple inverted whatever-the-fuck on the gymnastics vault. You've been slipping on your end of the deal recently.






The completely disgusting picture above comes to us by way of the poorly thought-out sport of Olympic weightlifting. The two weightlifting events in Rio are the clean-and-jerk and the snatch, both of which involve lifting increasingly heavy weights directly over your head with a heaving, jerky, eye-bulging strain of effort. It's everything anyone showing you how to lift weights for the first time would tell you not to do- sudden, jerky motions; lifting barbells to failure over your own body without a spotter; focusing on single-rep/high-weight sets to the exclusion of more balanced training. Eventually someone's going to take a weird fall and have their skull popped like a water balloon by a 470 lb. barbell on live television, and maybe, just maybe, as the crowd stares on in horror at the gurgling stump of a neck disappearing into a dent in the floor where a face used to be, those in the front rows dazed and splattered like Carrie on high school prom night by the brains, blood, and bone fragments of what used to be an Olympian's head, someone will finally whisper with a sense of alarm, "This whole thing was a bad idea."




Sometimes, when you've trained all you can train and you've prepared all you can prepare, you just run out of things to do. But preppers need to prep, and for them there are J.C. Whitney options and OCD busywork like cryotherapy, cupping, and kinesio tape. None of it's scientifically proven, and the studies that do exist generally suggest that these extraneous devices and therapies are about as effective as the pair of lucky socks which I assume Phelps won't be washing for the next two weeks. But that doesn't mean these superfluous rituals don't work great as placebos (which do have scientifically-observable effects on performance) so keep getting those Qi meridians unblocked, Michael.

Sincerely,
Sebastian Braff

7/17/16

Dear Cobblestone Streets,

Who doesn't love cobblestone streets? The romantic, old-world charm. The handlaid, historical implications. The quaint, aesthetic patterns. If a rough-hewn cobblestone street doesn't bring the cultivated Europhile to climax, it'll at least get them all warmed up.


Here's some cobblestone porn for the minority of you who weren't able to wack it to my Walmart Hottie post


But much like babies, living with cobblestone is a whole different experience than visiting once a year. As it turns out, cobblestone has a few "quirks" that make it less than pleasant to cohabitate with.

First off, this may come as a surprise to those who haven't had to regularly traverse cobblestone, but irregular 5" x 5" bumps aren't exactly an ideal surface... for doing anything.

Walking, for example, is something people sometimes like to do on streets. If I had to give cobblestone a grade for walkability, that grade would be an "F." Unless you wear big puffy running shoes around all the time like some slack-jawed Philistine, cobblestone eventually hurts your feet because you can feel the individual stones creating little, domed pressure points through your shoes. The only silver lining here is that cobblestone severely punishes those backpacking hippies who try to wear vegan hemp TOMS on their trek across Europe.

Cobblestone's irregular surface also snaps high heels with abandon. I guess gay men who don't go out in drag could be in the clear here, but otherwise, you will eventually find yourself lurching up and down while cursing cobblestone or walking next to a partner who is lurching up and down while cursing cobblestone.

In wet or icy weather I refer to cobblestone as "The Euthanizer" for its uncanny ability to take down the elderly and pulverize their bones to dust like so many sticks of chalk. Yes, you heard that right- softball-sized stones polished to a smooth sheen by years of foot traffic don't provide optimal traction under adverse weather conditions. Who knew?

Another thing people sometimes like to do on streets is use a wheeled vehicle. It's pretty much the only other thing streets are good for. Once again, cobblestone gets an "F" for rollability.

Riding a road bike on cobblestone streets shoots vibrations through your wrists like a jackhammer. You can feel the muscles in your neck and upper back tense up and start to cramp as they strain to keep your skull from bouncing up and down like a bobblehead. You'd think mountain bikes would have an easier time, but no, not really. The grapefruit-sized stones are cleverly designed so that they're just big enough to be obnoxious and just small enough so that your suspension fork can't rebound in time to soak up much of the blow.

The gaps between the cobblestones also serve as a perfect reservoir for shards of glass and other sharp objects.  There was a stretch of time before I started using tire liners where I actually had to keep spare inner tubes and a hand pump in my backpack at all times because I was reliably getting multiple flats per month.



I actually didn't notice the rusty screw when I took this picture, but finding sharp objects in cobblestone is like a Where's Waldo? poster- look long enough and eventually you'll find something. If the street lamps are bright, cobblestone surfaces actually sparkle at night with all of the glass shards. Walking barefoot on this surface is obviously an exercise in imprudence.


Cars don't often drive on cobblestone, but when they do the tires paradiddle a fluttering clack. I can't say I don't like it. The people who live on the street and have to fall asleep to that noise every night might have a different opinion. The ride is a little rough when you're in the car, but unlike the bicycle, at least the wheels are big, broad, heavy, and wide enough apart to tolerate the cobblestone's incessant needling.

Maybe you'd like to push a stroller or baby carriage. 

You can. You can. Your baby will probably suffer permanent brain damage or die of a cerebral hemorrhage on the spot, but you can do it.

Of course there's more to streets than just usability. Some things are awful in their own right, but they make up for it in other ways. The stuff at the dollar store sucks, but at least it's cheap. Instant coffee tastes like dog shit, but at least it's easy to make. 

Cobblestone gets an "A" for cost and ease of maintenance. The "A" stands for atrocious.



I realize that the top photo features pavers, which are technically not cobblestones, but the maintenance techniques are similar. The main difference is that cobblestone is more expensive and painstaking to lay.



I guess it's almost as quaint as the cobblestone itself that (thousands?) of Segmental Paving Foremen still have jobs in the year 2016, crawling around on their hands and knees, carefully arranging cobblestones into geometric patterns. And it's almost as surprising that (tens of thousands?) of city maintenance workers are tasked with caring for these cantankerous, labor-intensive streets. But they kind of remind me of blacksmiths. I mean, we could scrap the machines and keep tons of blacksmiths employed making nails and hammers and whatnot, but it would be an inefficient use of time and resources. Everyone is better off, at least economically, when the machines make the nails and the blacksmiths learn to do something that leverages rather than competes with technology, like repair the machines or design new, hitherto unimagined gadgets on a CAD program. Sans cobblestone, I bet half of the current maintenance workforce could be freed up to go do more useful, lucrative things. Imagine thousands of extra shiatsu masseurs.

Despite the constant preening by thousands of workers all year long, cobblestone does occasionally fall into disrepair. Cobblestone can also be dismantled rather easily, which leads me to my final gripe about cobblestone- security.

Normally, mob participants have to bring their own projectiles with them to the riot, but with cobblestone you've got a ready arsenal of grapefruit-sized stones just waiting for any malcontent with a crowbar, screwdriver, or simply the patience to find the stones that are already loose. 




Where did the missing cobblestone go? Maybe it's been thrown through a storefront window. Maybe it's lodged in the back of someone's skull. Missing cobblestones are like missing prison inmates- wherever they are, they're almost certainly up to no good. 



There's a long and storied tradition of cobblestone chucking. In Baltimore during the War of 1812, for example, a mob gathered cobblestones with which to stone Federalist peaceniks to death. But you don't have to go back two centuries to dig up an instance of rioters using cobblestones for something other than their intended purpose. 



Paris, 1968



Thanks to Europe's cobblestone infestation, pavement hurling is still very much an option for the modern mob.



Rennes, 2016


Cobblestones are like the 6-inch designer stiletto heels of pavement. They're expensive, they're dangerous, they're impractical, and they're uncomfortable... but they sure do look good.

Sincerely,
Sebastian Braff