Friday, June 23, 2017

Face value

Glory be it to Freya, the Goddess of Fridays. Even after the audit working life is still frenetic and adrenal-draining. I've never been a big "TGIF" person but TGIF. My body succumbed to a cold last weekend and its dregs are still glooping within. Fortunately, while I'm fighting on several workplace fronts, I'm generally winning and where I'm not I'm not particularly caring.

Glory be it to Freya. We will be moving into a new apartment shortly. It'll be our space and domain. Running tracks are yet to be established but hill repeats of a certain mount are expected to be part of it. The search was an interesting one: We had one campaign earlier in the year but ran out of time and energy. The time and energy were just enough to get through the search and nail shut one of the two offers we got. Generally it was easy to tell if you could live in a place. You just know. And I'll be agents or landlords know it too when you come to inspect. And such is the case with interviewing new staff. And one of my work campaigns is very similar to this, the process of hiring new staff.

Recruiting is funny business. I've had full control and responsibility for hiring for about 6 months until just recently. These six months have had some hits and some extraordinarily bad misses. I remember early on the HR manager often told me about her feelings after speaking to someone over the phone - and often her feelings were proven true. I really should have listened to my feelings rather than believe in the potential of others to surprise. On this side of the interview table, first impressions are crucial information about whether to invest time and attention to any particular candidate.

If it weren't bad enough to be relying on first interactions, recruiting lets you understand customs better. Profiling. Works. (Most of the time, of course. And it is often recommended as a practical method when you are time poor and need someone who's more chance of being reliable.) I won't say what profiles are not the best bets. We've had three interviews just recently: One gave a poor impression over the phone by being impolite when we tried to bring the interview forward 15 miuntes; when that person arrived, they matched also a non-desired profile, and didn't really appeal in the interview. One gave a positive impression over the phone and looks the good in the interview, now it just remains whether they join the team and perform to expectations. I've learned through some painful experiences that certain demographics have a much higher risk factor.

But that being said, if I wanted to remind myself of the lack of hard-and-fast rules, the worst act of inappropriacy came from a teacher from the most reliable demographic. And that will be remembered for a long time.

The more I recruit and manage people the more I realise something that is rather obvious. Employment is an incredibly odd situation to be in: a new employee has to adapt to a bizarre new world; be told what to do, what to value; be assessed on your words and actions; have expectations put upon them. Simply put, it's unnatural. Not surprisingly it's not for everyone, except for that fact that it has to be for almost everybody. Work is the most common way of generating the main part of our wealth. Being both unnatural but necessary, most workers come with baggage, tics and scars. And it's hard not to let it show.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Swirling in the calm

Now that the worst of my busyness has passed, smaller problems that would have been disconcerting hardly registered on the worry-meter. A crisis of marking. A precipitous staffing situation. A series of unusual situations with a teacher. A relief teacher needing relief. But I haven't lost much sleep about them - they're nothing compared to what preceded. But one of these raised quite a lot of thoughts in my mind.

I would like to talk about it but I know however I say it it'll sound like some kind of "mansplaining". Let me preface the views below: Of course I have no idea what it is like to be a woman and to experience situations with men who still believe it's a man's world. But that doesn't mean I cannot imagine it and also make sure that those exposed to it are protected. It's only through trying to understand that we advance. I wouldn't try to "mansplain" as I will below with the company of any woman, but this is a blog and I'm happy to expose my ignorance into the vacuum.

One awkward realm is where men are looking for a relationship, or find themselves having affection towards someone, which might also be as strong as infatuation, with friends. I've been there, done that as a man. I was lucky I had an understanding person at the time. It must take an awful lot of patience and tolerance to put up with someone who has interest in you beyond what you have in them. I believe I still have a friend. In the recent situation, a friendship has ceased, the bridges are burned, there is confusion on one side and disgust and anger on the other. 

There's the ideal that friends help one another selflessly, and the cynical belief that there is no such thing as a platonic relationship between heterosexual men and women. In a clash of beliefs, men sometimes operate with the thought that they're owed something when they help women. Men might bemoan the fact that they are the ones who have to make the first move. But think about it from a woman's point of view: it's hard enough to have to be the one to say "no" politely to someone insistent, and harder when it's a friend, and a friend who has helped you who you are grateful to. Sometimes the help and attention is ceaseless, and the pressure mounts and something snaps. 

I won't go into any details of the incident but needless to say there was friendship, unwelcome interest, angst and a messy aftermath. The worst thing about it is that one party doesn't really know how this happened. And it doesn't help to school people in their own ignorance or lack of progress in understanding equality between the sexes and prefer to deal in old world sexual mores. In this case it could also be just a lack of self-knowledge.

White men have had to adapt to an increasingly pluralistic society that is changing in so many ways; their place as definer of mainstream values has eroded. Trump is hopefully the final reflux burp of mistaken nostalgia towards those old school values. As Bill Maher said, Trump will be the last 50's man in the White House, not that the Don's views are restricted to those born in that decade. Bill Maher had a rare slip of a similar kind. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWZ_uQwKpAo). White privilege is invisible to the white. Male privilege is invisible to men. I love the way that this has been attacked in creative ways (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51-hepLP8J4). 

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Trenches, in and out

This evening was one of my most yearned for. It was the evening after the education audit of our school ending. Ever since my interview in January last year, the audit has loomed larger and larger in its monstrosity. I don't want to know how much sleep has been lost in the lead-in to it.

When I joined, I knew I was taking over a Category 1 school, the highest tier of schools. But immediately after joining a few things became obvious. The school had been bought and moved from the South Island with no legacy staff. There were barely any paper documents, just a memory stick of 30 files; simply put, we didn't have any real knowledge about the things which made it was a great school in the past. It was as if almost everything of value had been stripped. So the school was just made from what I knew and what I learned from others. It was largely made in my own image.

Between the start and now have been innumerable developments, setbacks, challenges and surprises but the last two weeks take the cake as "hard yakka". And it was good to be working alongside the executive team who were also putting in the painful hard yards right to the end. I could see them more as people and less like distant agents controlling my fate.

The auditors left early this afternoon but the result will still be weeks away. Before leaving they gave verbal feedback and it sounded quite positive: Many of the last things that we put time into paid dividends. Many of our choices I made early on as well as in the last two weeks were noted.

The odds are now on my chief mission, to retain our category 1 status, being achieved. It's quite a relief. I'm going to sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bound to

Now, I'm almost half way through the Run Auckland series having done a lacklustre 5km and a personal best 10km (with an awesome half-marathon time at the Rotorua Marathon). Things seem to be quite well in general and I learned a lot from that mediocre 5km race.

I've tried to transform my running towards how one is meant to train. Prior to the half-marathon, I'd only really done out-and-out runs, usually with the intent of speed. Probably this has helped me with speed - I've been quite satisfied with the speed that I've got in my short, stubby legs. But as I found out in January, constant speed can lead to an injury. Mixing things up and testing out the different systems of the body can help. Slow running exerts different challenges on the body that sprinting. Varying pace teaches your body to recover on the go. So now I'm trying to be a bit more methodical about it all, while listening and observing how my body reacts.

I've always had belief in the long run but now I am a bit more understanding of pace. The long run I did last weekend is a case in point: I did my "ideal" from last year, a 28km Titirangi loop. Even though it was my ideal I failed so many times to finish it until I eventually did in December last year. And I hadn't touched it since then. I have literally improved in pace and endurance in "leaps and bounds" since then but at the 10km mark was actually 3 minutes slower than December.  I overhauled my previous self at the 23rd kilometre and in the remaining 5km, I gained 3 minutes. This works out at a pace 36secs/km faster. And that is the truth of it: I was still able to be fresh and fast. I deliberately set out on Owairaka rd to run fast and did a sub-5min/km, and still felt fine to cruise to the end. I could have gone further. I'll run another long run soon, another "classic" that I've run only once - The Te Atatu loop, which if I get to the end will be over 32km. I'd like to think that I can finish these without feeling in any way impeded from enjoying the rest of the day. It is good to feel fresh after an exertion.

But speed has its place, too. Intervals, or fartlek, will play a role in getting me to push and recover, to push and recover. Even in that mediocre 5km race I recovered to a degree. After hurting from going to fast and being hit with hills, I slowed down for a lap and then in the last kilometre I really did push. In fact, whether it be Coatesville, Rotorua or any of these Run Auckland events, I've found that I have quite an effective sprint. I haven't been passed in either of these but have used the silhouettes of those ahead to drive me hurtling by.

The 3-lap Botany 10km race was like this. I really wanted to beat 45mins so stuck close to the 4:30min/km pacer for the first lap; in the second lap I decided to push ahead of her using some of the runners ahead as a target, but I fell back near the end of that lap. The pacer and her pals rounded me up and then passed me briefly. In the last half of the last lap, I pushed to keep up with them and then in the last km cruised by and the sprinted up the hill and through the gate. She must have been out of pace because I cracked 44mins (43:52). Thanks, Pacer Anne!

These events have been a lot of fun and I'm really glad I took the chance to get into them. With each run the lessons of the different runs are coming into fruition. I've made the move and registered for what will be my first marathon, North Shore Marathon. There's plenty of time and I can't wait for it.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

In my stride

 Pleased. As I entered the final stretch going from a slightly ragged gait to a sprint to beat a fellow runner through the finishing arch, I saw the numbers 1:38:27. It was far better than I'd imagined. I'd hoped to break 1:40 but knew it would require optimal pacing, good conditions and my body to hold up. In actuality, it was a flat course permitting runners to run naturally; conditions were perfect, dry and cool; and though the body had a touch of misbehaviour, on the course I was fine. All in all, what could go right, did. 
My lead-in started the day before. As planned I went for what should have been an easy jog. It was easy - but afterwards I noticed with a touch of dread that a tendon in my arch felt twinged. I gave it some treatment but the night before and on the morning of the event, it was still evident. These niggles can magnify over distance and 21 km is plenty of time for it to happen. The night before I did a set of stretches for all muscles, added heat and foam rolled them. 


The next morning I got up at 5am. This was based on something I read: Get up 3 hrs early to eat, digest and warm up. Apparently if you eat later, your body is hooked into burning glycogen and blood glucose and not fat. Giving yourself three hours means your glycogen is replete but your body won't burn it first. Anyway, I ate, drank, went for a run walk, stretched, foam rolled and got dressed. I left my dynamic stretches till 20 mins before the start. 

And then it was the start! As I feared and as I tend to, I got off to a quick start, roughly 4:34/km for the first 4km. I'd planned to keep my pace within 4:46-4:52 for the first 5km. I kept telling myself to slow down but like a swimmer in a current I struggled to decelerate until I bumped into another runner, "Pink Asian girl", who was falling back. I ran with her for a couple of kilometers and it got me to the pace I was planning. Perhaps some misinformation helped, too. The course map had implied a hill which wasn't there - I slowed preemptively but it never came. 

Either way I churned through the distance with my running app chirping updates with each kilometre. As I went I swang from one running companion to another. After "Pink Asian Girl", it was "The Argentine", who I chatted with. He was doing his first half marathon but did triathlons before. He said we should push forward but I declined and slipped back. "Nondescript Man" caught up to me and we exchanged some weather-related small talk. 
 After he pushed on I was without a partner till "Platinum Headphones" I kept pace with her for a while before thinking that I was going too slow and decided to take a corner to push past her. I knew my time was just about on target for my target time and needed to keep up the pace till the end. It was in the last 5-6 km's that I met the two people who'd be my most important pacers.

"Little Boy Black" was a teenager dressed in black t-shirts and shorts. He was an early companion around the 6km mark that I accompanied for a short time before passing. He must have paced the race well because he grinded past me at about the 16km mark. Or perhaps I was what kept him going. We all pace each other. In the final stage of the run, he was just a little bit faster than me but keeping up with him as much as I could helped me to maintain the speed I wanted. Though he was faster he didn't leave my view until the last stretch. In his slipstream I came within 10 metres of "Balding YMCA".  He was pretty quick, probably in my division too, and for a time, I never seemed to be catching up to him but I kept pushing with both of them as my targets. "Balding YMCA" stopped completely for a drink and I shot by him. He then overhauled me briefly within a kilometre but he couldn't maintain it and I grinded past him and never saw him again. While "Little Boy Black" was there, I knew I was certain of a good time and it was important to have him in the last five kilometres. My splits kept coming in below 4:50, mostly in the low 4:40s.

The final 5km were made easy by the fact that they were the same as the opening 5km. The familiarity meant you knew exactly how long it was to the end, and when you're running faster for the distance, you cannot wait till the end. With 500m to go, I felt like I was on the verge of being completely spent. Perhaps it's just because my legs knew it was so close to the end. Surprising the final kilometre was my fastest split, 4:20. The fact was that despite me feeling like I was out of speed, I was speeding. And with the line begging, I broke into a spring to overhaul the runner in front of me. According one app, I ran the last 30m in 3:48/min - a pretty fast sprint when I'm fresh.

Overall, this is going to be a high water mark that will be hard to surpass, at least in the short term. I'm unlikely to have such a flat course with such perfect conditions. But I feel like I've still go space to improve. This year will still be the year that I conquer the full marathon and this performance puts me in pretty good stead to do it with the endurance and power to achieve it. Fingers crossed I can keep my improvements up without injury.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

After the gun

I don't regard myself as an impulsive shopper but when it comes to running events, I seem to be a bit too quick to jump online and register for events. Last year, in a fit of motivation following my Auckland Half Marathon completion, I registered for both the Coatesville Half Marathon and the Rotorua Marathon, which were within 8 weeks of each other. It was only afterwards did I do that calculation and it didn't really make training sense - I needed some recovery time, surely. In the end, it was all academic; my calf strain in January made me revise and downgrade my events. Coatesville went down from a half-marathon to an 8km event, but it was a jolt to my imagination. It went like a dream - I was faster than I'd hoped at pace of 4:34min/km, a pace I'd have been proud of pre-injury for a hill course. I knew I'd come back from my injury and suddenly I wanted more. 

Events have a lovely buzz to them. There was a Whenuapai event just a week later that I could so easily have jumped onto but instead I decided to take part in the Run Auckland series which started in April. The chief motivator was that it had six events, five of which were a choice of five or ten kilometres. Both of these distances were my standard training runs. What's more the last event was a half marathon, which I thought capped it off nicely. I wanted to formalise my achievements in all three distances and a competition would push me on. So I registered and paid. Only then did I think about what this meant for my running. I'd have a 5km event and the Rotorua Half Marathon separated by only 5 days; and then a 10km event 14 days after the half marathon. I didn't want to prioritise any event, and wanted to really achieve in each so there was no use thinking about using one to expressly prepare for the others. Any run you want to try for your peak performance will take a bit out of you that takes some time to recover. Nonetheless, that's the hand I dealt myself.

The first one was last weekend, a Run Auckland 5km event in Te Atatu. My lead-in as describe in previous blogs was not perfect but definitely more than adequate. I'd run my regular 5km in just over 21 minutes (4:12min/km), according to my GPS trackers, 3 days before the event which was close to the best I'd ever done. But that was a track that I know better than any other. It has hills but hills that go up then down in a way I can pace. The Te Atatu route was mostly an unknown quantity. I did have the map off MapMyRun but no hills were obvious. According to the app, it had just 21 metres of ascent compared to my run's 46 metres. I was pretty confident that I could improve my pace. 

To cut to the chase, I came, I ran and found it rather hard-going. I burst off the finish line slightly faster than my usual pace and went down what was a rather steady slope and then up the slope to a plateau. Perhaps in that one phase I scripted my own blow-out. I went fast partially in over-confidence in my previous performance, ignorance that the track wasn't flat and also with a feature I strangely hadn't encountered - a rise to a plateau. 

My over-confidence and ignorance could be my reliance on my app's to inform me. All my knowledge of my best pace was from my app's own measurements. Even though I thought I had done 5km in 21km, it wasn't necessarily the case. My app for this run had the length as 5.4km whereas the event is measured to 5km. The app isn't perfect with ascents either - I knew this from other runs but had believed it. The app doesn't have a perfect accurate three dimension map to refer to. Topography is sophisticated and the slope I mentioned is right next to an estuary. Probably it didn't feature digitally in the referenced map. I'd estimate that it would have about the same amount of ascent as my run but without the familiarity. 

The effect of a rise to a plateau feature might need some explaining. My runs go over mountains all the time; they go up and then they go down. For short runs there is nothing wrong in really hammering your way up the slope because you'd have the descent to gain the time back and also recoup the energy. At Te Atatu I hammer up the slope and then got none of the immediate pay-back. My first 2.5km lap where I had felt I'd pounded it was at 4:30min/km pace according to the official time. According to MapMyRun I was running at 4:08min/km pace. When the third kilometre was done I felt like I was tiring. Worse, there was no-one around me to pace me. My time ballooned by both the official and application reckoning. I went home only having the app timing and was moderately disappointed and even moreso when my official time was published: 23:31 (4:42min/km). The only solace being that that was somehow good enough for 8th place out of 107, coming second in my division (males between 30-39).

I am now 36 hours away from my second half marathon. In the few days since the 5km race, I've done a fitness session at the physio, rested a day, got up early and ran my fastest 10km loop (44:29) and then rested a day. Tomorrow I might go for a light jog in the morning to loosen up and then have a calm simple day to drive down to Rotorua. It promises to be a frosty cold start but fine and dry, too. 

I can't wait.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Short weeks

With the double-edge sword of multiple statutory holidays, life feels like it's flying along. The working week is a blur of five days into four and the resting week is far from restful as it's being filled with delight. We've had a few "bumps" at work - trouble joining an industry association; a resignation of an interesting team-mate; a death in the family for one, which led to a lot of teaching for me.

On the plus side, one team member can also do cryptics so I now have a little cruciverbal collegiality. Perhaps that has stimulated me in a way: I polished off a Kropotkin in a pre- and post- dinner sessions. (About two hours, which for me is a pretty good time.) Saturday morning I didn't have any cryptic grit to grind so I went looking for a Guardian Crossword, which is usually a harder proposition, but demolished it even faster. It was a delightful piece, too. One with the delightful clue, "Set about 30 8 of 18 3? (8)" for which you had to solve four other clues before it was clear what the clue was going on about.

I'm glad I've said the above because this blog has quickly become a running log. And the running has been interesting. I'm entering a "business" phase with two events in the next two weekends: the first 5km run of the Run Auckland series in 7 days' time, and my second official half-marathon in Rotorua in 13 days time. As mentioned previously I've had some good runs that suggest I should do well. In the last week, I've had interesting niggles that make me worry. Last week I got up early on three occasions and felt something "odd" in my right quadricep. It felt fine doing during the day, doing stress loading exercise but every time that I ran (i.e. accelerated from a walking pace) there was an unbearable tightness laterally about 5cm above my knee. It seemed to have developed spontaneously. Each time I got up early (and it's getting cold here now) and aborted my warm up because of the sensation. Yesterday morning, being a weekend I got up later and tried to walk more to warm it up but it was obvious again. I did some dynamic and static stretches and kept trying to run but there was no change. After a lot of hesitation, I decided to just do a proper run and try to run through it. And so I started what was going to be a half-marathon loop like the previous week but avoiding the ascents. Surprisingly I barely thought about it after the first 30 seconds. I ran again today and didn't feel it at all. My legs are like some old machinery with a mix of patch-up parts with varying compatibility with the rest of the set-up. I'm just glad it works in the end. I have had and continue to have interesting shin and ankle niggles that come and go, too.

Yesterday's run itself was to be a record. Having run my Twin Peak circuit at a great tme, I decided to do the same run but without peaks. Perhaps it was the delight of anticipation but my first 8km were at an excellent pace... perhaps too excellent because my pace slumped over the next 7km. And in the end after the 15th kilometre I wasn't feeling done and already thought it better to walk and rest my legs, with the intention of running today. The time overall was still good - but had I kept going with my pace dropping I would have had a time equal or over the time from the previous week, with the exception that I hadn't climbed any mountains.

Today though I tried something I've been meaning to try in a place I've been meaning to go to for a while. I went to the Jack Lovelock Track and did interval training. Interval training is doing slow running, with stretches (for me it was 200m) of all-out fastest running possible. In total I only did 5km with 6-7 bursts. There is all sorts of research into interval training these days. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_training). I intend to try this every week and try to stretch the sprints. I'd like to see if I could do a 400m sprint at some stage. Anyway, ANZAC day is around the corner, and it is well placed for another run. I'll taper a little for the 5km and moreso for the half marathon. It should be an interesting fortnight.

The Rotorua event is coincidentally just before my 5th anniversary. It's breezed by to 5 years of marital bliss. I'm not good at celebrating these things though so will have to think hard about what to do and how to spend it, apart from running.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Milestone

Just an addendum to my blog from Thursday: I did finish my Friday training run. I beat my fastest half-marathon time by about 2 minutes with a time of 1:42:41 and at a pace of 4:52min/km. Considering it was my Twin Peak course, I'm feeling like my fitness and body when well rested should be able to run a flatter course in less than 1:40:00 so that will be my goal in the Rotorua Half Marathon.

I remember listening to running blogs about "performance runs", i.e. when you are pretty much running to your limit. This run felt like this. I have to make sure that I "lock" in this performance and focus on other aspects like recovery, strengthening and endurance. If I try to blast my legs again there could be a risk of injury.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Better early than never

I've always been naturally inclined towards early rising. It might just be that my sleep is most prone to disturbance around 5am. Or maybe it's just that I have always had the pessimism that I can't fall back asleep. Those early hours though are rich with feeling. Pin-dropping. Sound always sounds so fresh when it has no precedent. Hues. Because unlike sound, they just develop on their own accord. I can recount all sorts of tales of times when I rose while it was still a darker shade of sparrowlight.

I remember in Taipei waking at 4am and getting up not long after just to walk the streets. There were already old people in the parks. I remember mornings on Marsden ave, waking and making sandwiches and breakfast. Or going for walks to pick up rubbish and nick off with the Hells Pizza tokens from discarded pizzas. I remember walks in the dark to my carpooling rendezvous point on Mt Albert Road. Even last years walking commutes stand out as something more than just walking merely for the early hour that they were made.

These mornings I've been using this tendency to my advantage with running. It was the only way to fit regular running into a busy life. 5am is now a standard alarm time for me and I aim for mid-week runs around that time. Lately there was another advantage to this habit - avoiding the rain. Twice now with torrential rain threatened I've awoken to find it still holding back and been able to sneak a run in. It's very motivating to think that the heavens could open up at any moment!

This is my first blog since the Coatesville Half Marathon in which I went in an 8km run called the Coatesville Classic. It had been a disappointment at first to downgrade it from the half marathon event, but I eventually reconsidered it as a "fitness test" of sorts to see how my recovery from a calf strain had gone. I trained specifically for it and planned how to pace myself. The run was very satisfactory exceeding my modest expectations and it sent me into all kinds of dangerous optimism.

It's 4 weeks later now and a lot has happened. On an impulse I entered the Run Auckland series (6 events) of which the first one was cancelled due to an inundation of the course. During the time I had all sorts of random short-term pains that I usually get when starting up again. In one week I thought I had shinsplints; after another couple of runs that problem was gone but then I thought I had stress fractures in my foot. On one 5am run I bailed after 800m on account of sudden discomfort in what I thought was the anterior cruciate ligament. I don't mind these irritations because it has always been how my legs feel getting back into running - I have to break them to make them. It's good to be concerned but then to treat, strengthen and then train them not to be niggles. I have to be careful that now that they feel invincible I don't repeat the same mistake and break them in a real way!

Presuming I finish my training run tomorrow as expected, I'll have run 100km in the last four weeks, which isn't a big amount. But the results have been pleasing: my last half-marathon length run was a PB (1:45:07). My last 10 kilometre run was a PB (45:40). My last 5 kilometre run was my second best ever (21:36, PB: 21:23). Things are going pretty fast and I'm not sure if I'm reaching a plateau or whether I can still make sizable progress. There is probably a ceiling of performance, i.e. what with perfect training my body might be able to achieve, that I must be getting closer to. I'd dream of doing a 20 minute 5km or a 42 minute 10km, or even a 1 hour 30 half marathon, or a sub 4 hour marathon. These might be above or below that ceiling because at this point they're all just theoretical conceptions as far as I'm concerned. Especially the marathon which is still just an idea whose reality is yet to brutalise my body.

5 kilometres is the length of my next event, my first Run Auckland event on 30 April. The following weekend I'll do my second official half marathon in Rotorua. The training for each serves the other. After that I have four more Run Auckland events culminating in what will be my 3rd half-marathon. Assuming I maintain my fitness through this, the next step would be to use this fitness for a marathon near the end of the year, with the choices being the North Shore, Auckland or Queenstown marathons. Unlike last year, I'll leave my decision later and not get ahead of myself.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Comeback

Just over eight weeks ago, on a run that I would have been immensely proud of had I finished, I strained my calf. Today, I can say that I'm back. It's a relief and has been a learning experience - probably one that I would have learned if I had been a proper runner in my twenties.

On that fateful run on 21 January (now I've probably already described this day but not the background, so please indulge me to go over the top with detail - it's a reflection I hope I learn from), I'd been ambitious - I decided to complete a newly conceived route, the double peak half-marathon, where I ran both One Tree Hill and Mt Eden with a total half-marathon distance. The previous weekend I felt I'd made a breakthrough with both of those mountains ascended with relative ease on a 18km loop and felt I had a new "cruising speed". It seemed that even with moderate effort I could maintain a sub-5 minute pace in between the peaks. And I felt good. I had already cut back on distance running because I was focussing on a half-marathon in Coatesville. I converted from semi-frequent long runs to more regular shorter runs. In the week before my injury I ran on three consecutive days. Perhaps that was where my over-ambition began: the second run was a new personal best for 10km. Making new personal-bests feeds the desire to go bigger and bigger. The three consecutive runs were all fast and strong, the third being a 7km run where I sprinted the last kilometre, which made me realise I was capable of a sprint finish at the end of a run. All three I was to the limit of my ability, I felt. I set my previous plan in stone: A rest day, Friday. A half-marathon dress rehearsal on Saturday 21 January. After that I could focus again on shorter runs and just do the distance again before tapering.

Saturday 21 January started sublimely. I got to the top of One Tree Hill a minute an a half faster than the previous weekend. Over 6km's, that's running every kilometre 15 seconds faster - that is a massive increase. And I wasn't feeling that much worse for wear. I managed to find that new normal "cruising speed" and made my way to Mt Eden on a longer route and was now 3 minutes ahead of myself. After descending though, perhaps as an omen, I felt tightness in my knee, which was unusual for me. I slowed down a little and it too disappeared. I hit Valley Road, which is a delightful downhill segment and felt great again. I turned the corner onto Dominion Road, the relative flat to the end and that's when I felt the strain. It meant I forwent training for well over a month and had to slowly build up once again in March. Today's run was just past what would have been advisable to run.

Rewinding, every single run wasn't bad but together they were always going to injure me, if not the 21 January, the 23rd. Listening to a running podcast, I heard the idea of a recovery run, which is simply the run the day after you go bananas on an ambitious run, where you just let it all hang out and not worry about time. I'd never done that before: every single run I was aiming to exceed my previous self. The maxim of listening to your body is great, but my body was saying all was fine. It needs a rational judgement, like that of a coach, to say that several of your runs must be expressly for recovery and to schedule them, in spite of the over-exuberance that comes from success.

Today marks my recovery. I ran 8km in 36.39, 4:34 minutes per kilometre. This is on par with the best I ran pre-injury. The route itself was an interesting beast and part of the success was that I approached it rationally and my training suited the course. It was essentially a 3 kilometres of smooth ascent, 3 kilometres of flat and 2 kilometres of smooth descent. My normal training has included hills, whether they be the grinding subtle incline of Landscape Rd to Mt Eden road, or the steep Landscape section to St Andrews, which were my common access ways on runs to the east, not to mention the volcanoes in my immediate vicinity. I knew if I went up the 3km section at good pace, I'd be able to sustain a reasonable pace on the flat and the descent. It worked well - even with the sub-optimal training.

For my spirits, it was good to get to a fast start, overtake a few people and not be overtaken by many. The last segment I literally heard someone breathing down my neck. (Well, perhaps not literally, but  heard the breathing loud and clear and the person was just behind me for the last 500 metres.) I may have stopped surging early too as there were two arches at the finish - the last one being the actual finish. And they'd warned us as well that the final section was a grassy section with potholes and warned us that we should be careful where we put our feet. I half-thought I'd finished and also was very mindful of the surface.

My next target is the Rotorua half-marathon in May. I'd like to get back to the distance running form I was in 21 January, but with a bit more prudence of course, and then use the solid platform training for that would give me to run a marathon before the end of the year. Training options are opening up again although I still need to temper them with the knowledge that my legs are always going to be prone to niggles and recovery runs are just as important as personal-bests.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Invasion

Workday mornings are regimented affairs. There's the making of the breakfast, eating of the breakfast, the brushing, the cleaning, the clothing, the socking and shoeing and the exiting of the home. Workdays mornings are designed to be done with your eyes closed because they're controlled situations. Everything should be in its right place (except my glasses which have always wandered).

One morning in the past week things weren't quite in their right place. We'd gone through the routine above when we opened the car door to find all the compartments open and the contents all over the floor of the car. Clearly I'd accidentally left the doors unlocked the day before and someone had wandered up the driveway to look for soft opportunities at theft. Our car was right outside our bedroom window so they must have been quiet. That morning I'd woken before 5am for a run too, and had popped out the door at about 5:15am but hadn't noticed anything astray then, although it's possible it'd already happened. Heaven forbid I came out while they were cowering behind the car. 

It was all a sobering shock and a sharp reminder. I knew I'd become lazy about locking the car doors and some mornings when I noticed them unlocked I'd had momentary fantasies about opening the back door (where I put my backpack) to find someone sleeping there. Fortunately that fantasy didn't become real but the ransacking of your car is definitely akin. 

They didn't get anything as far as we know. I'm not sure what people commonly leave in their car overnight. Emergency cash? GPS devices to fence? Snacks? In our car, they turned down the Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses I never wear (given by my old manager in GZ; I hate sunglasses though; this pair are widely thought to be fake). They fortunately turned down my swipe card. Who knows why they'd pinch a swipe card but that'd have really messed up my morning. And the only mess they left was the upturning of travel brochures. Besides requiring us to put things away again, the only other bother was the sense of violation of our private space. Roughly 10 years ago I had the "classic" small rear passenger window smashed by someone similarly minded. I'm glad I haven't had that which is a terrible hassle. 

Last year aside from negligence with the left side and corners of the car, I'd had reasonable automotive luck. This year it has deserted me a little. Just after New Year, I was caught doing 54km/hr on Dominion Rd, which I can scarcely believe - Dominion Road is very difficult to speed on. I'm not saying I don't ever exceed 50, but in my current habits it's rare. There were options for challenge but I thought just like when a friend or family comments on a past you can't remember,  just let it slide and paid the fine. Fortunately it was by a stationary camera and not by a police car or else our trip to Northland would have really got off to a bad start.

Then a few weeks back we went to Newmarket for a massage for my injury and parked on Khyber Pass. I walked up the road and looking for a meter but there wasn't one. It was in a bus lane but well outside the hours for use. Other cars were there so I wasn't too worried. My massage finished first and I went to get a snack when I glanced up the road a saw flashing lights. Injured or not, I ran up the road. Cars were getting towed away from the area and being ticketed. Fortunately the towie hadn't gotten to mine yet but there was already a ticket. I asked the warden who said that it was Lantern festival night and that there was signage, which he pointed out (in picture). It was about 50m away from the front of our vehicle and another one 50m back up the road and facing the other direction (to the flow of traffic). It irked me as unfair - if they didn't want people to park there, two signs 100m apart are always going to catch people out. I could quickly think of four points that made their method seem unfair. And I was annoyed because I had made a reasonable effort to check that the space was OK.

I put my case to the council via their website but they maintained their claim. If I wanted to fight the fine I'd have to go to court. And if the court still found in favour of the fine, I'd have to pay the fine and court costs. In better times, I would have probably still fought. But with work the way it was I was not in the mood. I rolled over and paid the fine.

Whether it is criminal invasion of my car's space or bureaucratic, it feels just as bad. Yet the police and the council made off with $70 and the criminal made off with nothing. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Story of my life!"

Like a lot of people, I've been enjoying the Trump Presidency, if only for the joy of outrage and seeing people apoplectic at apparent brazen ignorance. A colleague of mine said that his election would be a goldmine for the comedians, but I contend that it is a self-mockery that cannot really be beaten. "You cannot write stuff like that!". You'll never meet a better mockery of Trump than himself. The only satire I'd laugh at would be to have him making sense and playing it straight. Have a comedian answer the question with a cogent answer.

As we have this kind of personality pushing the envelope of reality, it really does make me think about how beliefs and narratives work for people. Clearly some people are listening to his words and making sense of it all, which might strike his detractors as impossible. 

If there is anything that is true though, it is that a story matters, and we all have stories about ourselves and the worlds. We, after all, "aren't that kind of person" except for that time when you weren't. And it's the "story of my life" and we successfully fulfill our own prophecies both good and bad. I sigh a little when my family and colleagues say they are a particular kind of person or identify themselves as an agent in a recurring narrative. We do though seem to make a narrative of our lives as narratives make sense of otherwise meaningless events and actions. Our world too needs a narrative, and if there is a singularly big achievement that distinguishes Trump from other candidates it was that he wasn't just about what he was (which admittedly he did hammer on about). He created talked about a bigger narrative that more people found matching their own. Obama, being the speaker that he was, did something similar in a far more well-spoken way. "Fake news" may be an unsophisticated catch-cry but it does chime with the suspicions of many. 

The narrative doesn't have to be reality; in fact, by definition it's not. It should be in line with their aspirations or their fears. If want to lead my team well, I really need to project that my school is a body generally pulling in the right direction, that teaching is fun and changing lives, and that the job of teacher is special one. All or most of these could be wrong. The real situation must be textured, fractal and complex.

Narratives do have a rubber-meets-the-road element at some stage; ragged reality is bound to intrude at some stage. Apocalyptic cults meet that with the passing of their last day, after all. Invincible youths meet a sharp corner. And "winning" Trump has had moments where he met defeat. It's only cognitive dissonance or willful ignorance that makes him see his administration as a "smoothly running machine".

But narratives do shape the road because the road is partly paved by the humans who are participants from in some way. I think about this when watching cricket - the best chasers in cricket are not necessarily the most skillful but the ones who make the other team stop believing in their own winning narrative. When the bowler knows he cannot be the hero, that the ball will almost certainly go into the crowd, he's lost the game for his team. Sports games have their own narrative viewers give to them as well as what the players create, and the cheers or otherwise of the crowd may sway the players as well.

I remember hearing the theory that consciousness itself is a narrative. I like it. It fits my story perfectly.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Kiwi maths

Look at this picture, which was taken at the Auckland Lantern Festival last night. Notice anything interesting? (Besides the spelling of Mongolia) My wife was quite amused by it, while we were waiting in the long queue for the lamb kebabs, because it's another example of a phenomenon that she'd often seen in New Zealand and a contrast to what you'd see in China. In China, you'd often see signs like this but only when there is a discount for buying more. $2.5/p = $10/4p is simple maths, so it makes you think of numerous possibilities: (1) their maths is bad and they don't realise that it is not a discount; (2) they think your maths is bad and you won't realise that $10/4p and buy more for no discount; (3) they think you're bad at maths and would like to help you to figure out how to get the appropriate serving of 4 pieces, i.e. skewers. None of these possibilities work in China, perhaps because people are generally sharp with maths (apparently) or people would laugh at it, just like my wife. 
I was trying to think of a reason for people doing this, apart from filling up the sign or the reasoning above. Anyone got a solution? 

I've got a couple of possible rationales mostly revolving around the idea that they can change the price (which may or may not be possible). Firstly, it's interesting to think of the situation of a stall in a big event like this. They prepare lots of supplies based on an estimate of how much they think they can sell. There is a limited of space to store meat and prepare it. Also price signs like the above can be changed and adapt for changes in the market prices. The key for a successful food stall is to sell them all that you have estimated for the highest price. The first goal is to get people into kebabs and ideally forming a queue, so a low price at least at the beginning is good. Then you need to make sure you set a trajectory to sell all your lamb, and that would be best to have a discount for more. So either raising the one-piece price or setting up a discount for a bulk quantity would be smart. But what happens if you are selling too many, especially at the bulk price? Well, you can either raise the price of both, or you can just make the bulk price no longer discounted. Possible? Probably not, but that's all I got. 

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Debate

There's been a lot of talk about how Facebook's algorithms and slanted or vapid media has given us our own information echo-chambers. Watching cats begets more cat news. Liking right-wing links begets Fox news. At least on Facebook there are people who have a free pass past the wall, and they are our family and friends.

"I know you don't agree with me," someone mentioned to me. "I saw what you wrote on Facebook." Now, I knew that I had views polar opposite to him and he had mentioned this several times in the past; but, this was the first time that he'd raised Facebook as the source of his inkling.  I asked about the particular items but the specifics were a bit vague. He could remember me mentioning something or liking something that was against Israel making settlements in certain areas. It was probably in response to the backlash from NZ sponsoring a UN resolution against Israeli settlements in certain places.

The funny thing is that I never really imagined that he cared about Israel, but that was a bit naive. He's got clear views about muslims and your enemy's enemy must be your friend. He adores Trump and said that I must love Hillary or something to that effect. I said that I'd said some positive things about Trump on Facebook and even read it aloud to him:

"I think tuning out for a while is a pretty wise idea for all concerned. Re: optimism and the US election, I think there are reasons to look forward to the next few years. This is someone who will shake up the US's meagre quotient of parties and even the system itself. The US system is bizarrely corrupt and even an out-of-the-mould character like Obama left it just as it was. If this apparent American idiot can trigger change, either by himself or the response to him, it can only be good. Let's just hope he doesn't put his little fingers on the wrong button in the meantime." - Me, 11 November 2016.

I read it out but every time I got to "apparent American idiot" he stopped me. I clarified the meaning of "apparent" but he still wouldn't let me get to the end. I eventually just said "apparent American" and it slid. Leaving out other aspects of the discussion, it is interesting what things get through and what things don't.

As for my original sentiment on 11 November, I still stand by it, especially what Trump may trigger. I just wished that it was easier to tune it out in the meantime.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chance to shine

I've probably spoken enough about the challenges of my current job. The size and scale of the workload, the feeling of a lack of support and communication, a lack of appreciation and other things have dominated my emotions on either side of the summer break. One small plus after all that blueness was a chance to shine, and shine in a way that I had confidence in.

Yesterday we had a conference in which I had to speak for at least 15-20 minutes. I'd been told a week and a half ahead but it was still a headache to prepare on top of my already excessive list of things to do. The day before in particular was heavy with rather crucial operational matters. My manager, who gave me the opportunity, was a technocrat to boot; she lives on numbers and policy and I knew that she'd probably want the 15-20 minutes to be solidly about the number side of the stated topic, preferably with solid numbers comparing years etc. which I thought wouldn't be useful. I counter-proposed by e-mail something a little more qualitative but didn't get a response. The day before the event I finally sat down with her briefly and she unexpectedly green-lighted my content, which was somewhat of a relief. The real preparation began and went till 11pm the night before.

Public speaking and presenting is something that I've learned to be able to handle quite well. My previous job gave plenty of opportunities to handle the limelight, to cover content without notes, to think on my feet and adapt. Also managing schools in China meant saying the same message in different ways to different groups. Teaching for so long, especially ESOL, has had its benefit, too. We naturally think of staged presentations, of audience involvement. And we are trained, too, to think in terms of how to visually present important information. I wouldn't say for a moment that I'm any great talent in speaking but these advantages can transform average speaking to something that you can listen to easily.

To make these meagre advantages more prominent I knew that almost no other presenter on the list really had more than one advantage. Some speakers had presence either by position or standing. There were some naturally interesting speakers. Some used the space well. There were some who had a few gimmicks for keeping attention. Some were witty and off-the-cuff. Others had very clear Powerpoint presentations (the worst speaker had the best PPT - the online marketing manager no less). But very few had the techniques of engagement or had adapted their delivery to an audience. In fact most of the performances were to do a stated task "despite" the audience. I recall a mini-conference last year where all speakers just hammered through their material to a catatonic group of about 100. It was painful. I anticipated that this conference would be roughly the same and I was roughly right.

I came straight after a colleague, who though sincere, was also in this mold: he had the brief of what he was told to cover but couldn't change his delivery for the audience. He had a gimmick to hold attention though and in the end it was better than most. He had been kind enough to ask ahead how we'd segue and it was a smooth hand-off. I then got up and cracked everyone up introducing myself. It was good to be a personality, rather than a speaker. It was my first time really addressing the group about what our school was so I went from humour into a very sentimental story about what the previous incarnation of our school must have been through in Christchurch before it moved to Auckland. I made up for an inadequacy in the company's concept of the conference - Mine was the only session that mixed the different companies from within the groups and ensured that the smaller two companies could speak more. In ESOL talk, I got "group-work" going. I capped off with two ways to look at academic quality, the focus of the talk, but from my experience in my industry and I got the participants to analogise it back to their settings.

I finished and I had lots of people approach me to express appreciation for the presentation, including all but one of the directors of the group. My manager in particular said she many of her fears for the coming education audit were allayed now that she saw how much thought I'd put into the big picture and vision. In retrospect, the tasks I'd been previously given that were of interest to the directors were in areas that I hadn't been trained, hadn't experienced or weren't familiar with so quite possibly they'd developed a lack of confidence in me. In a year, this was the first time I could speak at length and respond to the combined executive and greater company about what our school is and what I'm about. Even though my teachers know what I'm about and what I believe in, it is also rather consolidating for them to hear and see it pronounced not just in the office or a team meeting but to the group, to see that the goals are not small goals. One team member approached me to say that he had never realised I'd done so much in the last year.

It was great to finish Friday before a long weekend on a high. It's rough when the thoughts of work follow me home and pester me and my rest. Now I can have my own weekend.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tear away

Running since December has been rather extraordinary. My body has really adapted to distance running. Recalling back to the time when I was starting up again after tendonitis, mid-last year, there had always been discomforts that I'd refer to as each part of my body "reporting in for duty". First there'd be discomfort in one heel, then an oddness in a knee, then both would fade before a twang in my arch and a tightness in my buttock, which would, too, fade. And then by the end of my runs I'd be a little ginger. But things have changed. I remember, with some surprise, that when I finished my first 30km run I didn't have any real muscular or joint problems - my only ailment had been an impressive blister.

My previous blog detailed a surreal run. I'd chosen to run both One Tree Hill and Mt Eden and managed to smoothly run it, finishing 18km's at a scratch over 5 mins/km. I would have been happy to run 18km at 5's even without having running up central Auckland's two most significant speed bumps. It was scarcely believeable to myself because after coming down the mountains my general pace wasn't slowed at all. I ran throughout the following week, making a new 10km personal best (4:36m/km pace).

Perhaps it bred overconfidence. Last Saturday I tried running One Tree Hill and Mt Eden again but as a 21km loop to mimic a hilly half-marathon like I'd be running in March. Again surreally I was running far too smoothly, at about 4:52 mins/km for the first 18km, and not feeling bad for it.  I plowed down from Mt Eden and felt a sensation in my knee, but ran further and it disappeared; I went into cruise-control on Mt Eden road before charging down the Valley Road slope. I knew that after that I'd just have the gentle undulation of Dominion Road to take me home and clock me into what would have been my best half-marathon distance by some way (around 1 hour 42-43 minutes, my previous best 21km was a flat 1:47). But it was just as I was starting to think about stardom and the home straight that I was brought back to Earth.

I now know that runners with too much mileage should be careful going around corners. Shortly after going around the 90 degree corner of Valley and Dominion I felt a "pressing" sensation on my calf. It wasn't pain, per se. As with other ailments I ran a bit further to see if it changed, but it didn't. I stopped and stretched it thinking it could be cramp and tried running again, but it was perhaps even more evident. It felt a little bit like pain. And so I walked back the final three kilometres home and RICEd my calf.

So now four days down I've been resting and recovering. There is no longer a sensation of injury so I've started doing strengthening exercises and might try a jog on the weekend with stretches. I've got the settled mind though that as long as I heal properly, I have enough fitness to do a great half-marathon in seven weeks. It is a slightly similar situation to last year when I'd achieved the breakthroughs to finish a half-marathon months before the event, and even with the curve ball of incorrect shoes and IT band sydrome, I still recovered to exceed my expectations.

But it's a good week to rest: Our company conference is coming up in two days and last week I was informed I should do a 15-20 minute presentation with a focus on Academic Quality. I have about 36 hours to really move my interesting ideas into something beyond burbling bluster. It does however give me a chance to do something I enjoy about my job, public speaking. It gives me the chance to show a different side of myself than people see in the office. It gives me a chance to present vision, as well.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Building on up


As mentioned after my half-marathon at the end of October last year, I had to decide whether to take the next natural step, or rather the next rather less natural feeling 18,000 steps, to complete a full marathon. It only took a week or two to consolidate my resolve and rashly register myself into two events, the Coatesville Half Marathon in March and the Rotorua Marathon in May. (Rashly because I overlooked another big engagement in May that made the latter event inopportune.) Two months since then and preparation is in full swing. For better or worse, I'm following my own haphazard training plan, relying on tidbits online as well as advice from others. And two months from the Coatesville event, my own vision for training has clarified itself.

Originally when registering, I thought I'd do another half-marathon in preparation for the full marathon. This thought might have diminished the first event itself as just a prelude, but after some thought, both are just distances and events. Being able to master the first as a half marathon is a worthy goal. My self-made strategy thus was to use the summer vacation period to really up my distance, hopefully breaking the 30km ceiling (which I finally did last weekend) and then switch into 90% half-marathon oriented training and 10% marathon training until Coatesville. After a rest of a week, I'd switch back to marathon preparation, taper and then do Rotorua. In retrospect the two events are a little close together. But as long as I train well now, I believe it should be fine.

I'm a numbers man so every run I do is logged for comparison with other runs, with splits (how fast you ran each 1km, 2km or 5km's) and the elevation gain (i.e. how many metres of incline you ran up, not factoring in the descents). I'm still in that nice building up period where I can make personal bests on a regular basis. When I get closer to my peak, hopefully around the time of the marathon, I might have to switch focus by joining a running club and getting something more social out of my running. Right now I'm still hunting for interesting challenges locally as well as bringing my running gear on holidays just in case conditions or the situation allows me a run. As my ability progresses my goals change too: originally I wanted to run Coatesville under 5min/km (which would be touch-and-go scraping into the 1 hour 40 - 1 hour 45 range). After yesterday's run, I felt that I could almost certainly aim for this range.  

Yesterday was my first weekend run of my half-marathon training phase. I chose to do an 18km loop with One Tree Hill summit and Mt Eden summit. It was the first time I'd run up Mt Eden and the first time I'd done two Auckland named hills on the same run, which had an elevation gain of 320m according to MapMyRun and I managed it a 5:02min/km pace. With two more months to go, I imagine I should be able to do 21km on a flatter course at a faster pace that 5min/km. 

On the social front, I joined a "running clinic" which is a group with guided exercise routines to strengthen muscles, joints and tendons for runners. My first one was last Monday and I look forward to another tomorrow. Some of the particular exercises are quite tough and had me wanting to do preparation before the clinic so that there was no risk of embarrassing fails. The group consisted of people who'd done the clinic before and already knew each other. I felt a little bit like an outsider but I'll see how things change as we get a bit more familiar.

Staying injury-free is the most important thing over the next four months so this group will be as important as an evening run to me. That being said, training for a run like this is a good education on your muscles and joints. The half-marathon last year taught me about IT bands. My only real concern right now is a peculiar left ankle. I've felt tenderness around it for several weeks now, it being most noticeable when I'm not running. In fact, I felt it most during the periods where I haven't been running. Last weekend after running 30km on it, it wasn't any more sore than any other part of my body. At some stage I really should have it checked. 

Running was something that was important to me in my late mid-teens, only to be thwarted by flat feet, sprained ankles and a lack of strong goals. I'm glad in my mid-thirties I've been able to work my way towards the goals I could have always had.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Problematically Correct

A spiritualist vegan friend of mine did an unusual thing the other day; he went into bat for Donald Trump with the line: "If there is any reason to believe that Hillary or Obama are any less racist or sexist than Trump, I have never come across it." He did it on Facebook and there began the expected long threads of discussion, outrage, confusion, anger and stubbornness. I chose not to participate in that melee mainly because I've fallen into that muck before and it's not easy to get out. Last time I even dropped in a neutral comment into one of his "discussions" it was read as contrary. But this discussion itself bred a few interesting bones to chew on.

The vegan contended that Trump was merely being honest and that the slurs against him and those that voted for him were a "politically correct" response. He bemoaned the effect of this as stifling of debate, that immigration isn't a racial issue. There is an ounce of truth to this but I wanted to elaborate a non-partisan way of understanding political correctness in the pluralistic world.

Political correctness developed its current meaning in the 1990s and is used often in a pejorative way to indicate an excessive consideration to minority groups and to make everything safe, physically and psychologically, for all people. For conservative New Zealanders, it manifests itself in the entrenchment of the Treaty of Waitangi, Maori council seats, reactions to racial and racist comments, OSH, gay marriage, anti-smacking, and a host of other trends that make them groan. As they groaned though, so did others around the world at the acceptance of refugees, racial and gender quotas, white guilt, evolution and climate change. It all fell under that same label, "political correctness", even when much of it wasn't political; in fact, it was hard to really narrow down the definition of what was PC and what wasn't - it seemed an amorphous catch-all. Then with the rise of PC, whatever it was, the response against the encroachment of this phantom rose too. Just as people were shouted down for their non-PC opinions, so was heat directed to "the PC brigade".

The "PC brigade" must be up there with Luminati as a shadowy group of people that no-one knows but have power beyond all of our democratic institutions. Even if you ask those who decry the invasiveness of PC, if they name the people who are part of this movement in NZ, they're invariably people on the fringe, who by definition cannot hold much sway.

If you indulge me with a chance to hypothesise for a moment (and others may have said the same or disproven it while I've been occupied with life), I'd say political correctness is the response of the former mainstream to the general social changes since the "good old days". The good old days weren't particularly good: child abuse was hidden; sexual and domestic assaults weren't reported; workers died from a lack of safety; bars were full of second-hand smoke; black characters always perished first in the movies; gays were persecuted; sexist beliefs prevented female career progression; historical wrongs continued to ferment social and racial ill and disparities; and so on. And importantly, the mainstream socio-racial group was the power, the standard and the bedrock of values. She'll be right.

Society changed though and the power moved from a cultural monolith to a pluralistic society. The people with purchasing power, with the vote, with the memes to spread were increasingly not those who identified with the post-Christian white middle-aged male conservative views. Values and systems became more democratised. It's not hard to imagine how if feels to see the erosion of your own position from the group at the top of the natural order, to see values other than your own rise, and even those values in complete contradiction to your own values. This is where the phantom of political correctness came. It wasn't a single trend; it was all change away from that old standard.

Society has a spectrum of views; the median has moved along away from what it used to be. Some though are "ahead of the curve", impatient with the inertia of change. They are the powerless radicals that are often seen as the PC brigade - but actually the increasing majority of society is the PC brigade. If you ask most people they would agree that people should be hired based on their qualifications and experience not their sex nor ethnicity; that workers should have rules to mean they have the same chance of returning home alive and well as others; that not all stereotypes are true; that crimes should be punished; that historical wrongs should have some redress.

I agree with my friend that decisions to reduce immigration or the number of refugees needn't be an issue of racism, that if can and should be a pragmatic decision relating to the needs of the country, the ability of the country to accept people and its obligations. But whether Trump is any more racist (let alone sexist) than Obama and Clinton is a completely different question and Trump's documented words and actions speak volumes.

Interesting another case came up at the same time. A brochure from the Running Clinic advised: "Unfortunately, it's the reality that, even in Wellington, women need to take extra care when running.
"Find a running club or regular running buddies ... wear loose fitting clothing, run in the day in well-populated areas and interpret whistles as compliments (all the running is obviously paying off)."
There was an outraged Twitter response and an apology from Shoe Clinic to say that this had a shadow of victim blaming and positively framed a form of sexual harassment.

Obviously, women shouldn't be assaulted nor harassed on runs. Women have every right to run in the attire of their choosing. But there are had people out there and bad things do happen. Suggesting prudence in clothing is not a bad thing in my mind. Advocating prudence of any sort is not supporting misfortune, in the same way that I'd recommend my Chinese students not to carry cash (a common tendency) and not to work through parks at night while using a cellphone. Gay men have the same rights to express their affection for each other in the same ways that heterosexual couples do, but it isn't the best thing to do in certain communities. Some behaviour is ahead of the trend, regardless of the fact that it is in the right direction. Of course, the point about wolf-whistling seems behind the times and in the wrong direction.

Happy New Year! It's been a refreshing end to a horrendously busy year. And it is promising to be even more of the same for me in the first working weeks. I've been glad to travel, have quality family time and a good time for my health. Regrettably work thoughts invade my sparrowlight dreams, even while away on holiday. I hope the coming days give me a proper rest.