Latest reading – Shoe Dog: A memoir by Nike Creator Phil Knight

shoe-dog-9781471146725_hr

Besides getting a lot of exercise this summer, I also found some time to read more. Using the Great Lakes Digital Library and access through the wonderful West Iron County District Library in my hometown of Iron River, Michigan, I can download digital books and audible books. I still like a paper copy, but living abroad, digital gives me access to books I would have to order and ship.

I didn’t realize how long of a struggle it was for  Phil Knight to build Nike into the global behemoth that it is today. He started in 1962 and for many years was on the verge of bankruptcy and fighting legal and financial battles with suppliers, US customs, banks, etc. I took it for granted that people always ran long distances for physical and mental health. However, in the 1960s and most of the 1970s, running was a something very few people did.

Phil ran track at the University of Oregon and many of the early employees of Nike either coached or ran track and field there. The “hippie” or “alternative lifestyle” of Oregon and dedication to track and field carried his company through hard times. For a long time they were a private company and on the verge of bankruptcy many times due to cash flow problems. They went public in 1980 and Knight and the founding employees became super wealthy. The term “shoe dog”, refers to a person who is obsessed with shoes and spend many hours designing and constructing better shoes. Thanks to the University of Oregon and Nike, running shoes today are much better than a generation ago. The recent attempt to run a sub 2: 00-hour marathon shows Nike continues to try to improve human performance and athletic shoes.

Knight has strong ties to Japan. He started the Blue Ribbon Sports company by importing Onitsuka “Tiger” shoes. Today Onitsuka is still based in Kobe and is known as ASICS. ASICS is an acronym for the Latin phrase, “healthy soul in a healthy body”. Onitsuka in the 1960s made some of the best shoes around and combined with the expertise and passion Knight and his friends from University of Oregon athletics program, they pushed ADIDAS and Converse, the two giants in the shoe industry of the 1970s. Knight eventually manufactured his own shoes and clothing, etc. and with powerful marketing, they are almost more of a lifestyle and sports/celebrity agency than just a shoe company.

It was sad to hear his regrets regarding his son and his regret of not spending enough time with his wife and children while building Nike. His eldest son tragically drowned in a diving accident in El Salvador in his 20s while working for an NGO.

I highly recommend the book. It gave me a new appreciation for the athletic shoe market, finding a balance between work and family and it was interesting to hear how long and hard Knight and his early partners worked on building Nike.

“How to Change Your Mind” Michael Pollan

41yw3jt4kal-_sx327_bo1204203200_

Michael Pollan, the Harvard and California-Berkeley professor is one of my favorite thinkers and writers. I have read all of his books and his horticulture and healthy eating books have deeply influenced how I live my life. His latest book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence” discusses the history of and current research of using psilocybin and LSD to treat mental illness and for people with healthy minds, a way of bringing meaning to one’s life. I’ve listened to him as he made the rounds of the podcasts I listen to, New York Times Book Review, Slate, Fresh Air, etc. His ideas are engrossing and I am thoroughly enjoying the book.

Pollan illustrates the growth of how psychedelics are being used in conjunction with therapy, to cure people with mental illnesses like depression and addiction and help terminal illness patients deal with death. Doctors and therapists use psilocybin (the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”) LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) and other drugs to break the mind out of obsessive thought patterns of people in these situations. Like many, when I think of “acid” or “magic mushrooms” I think of former Harvard professor Timothy Leary and the 1960s counterculture movement. Pollan shows how medical research into psychedelics started decades before Leary and before the “turn on, tune in and drop out” mantra became popular, scientists were conducting research on how the compounds could be used to help humanity. The current trials of using psychedelics by New York University, John Hopkins, and Imperial College of London are quite promising and it is a shame that reckless recreational use and bad publicity caused governments to make them illegal so long ago.

The most interesting part of the book for me, especially as an educator, was Chapter 5, the section explaining the neuroscience of the human brain on psychedelics. These compounds quiet the DMN (Default Mode Network) of the brain. Discovered in 2001, this network links the cerebral cortex to the deeper, older inner networks of the brain, which control one’s emotions and memories. The DMN controls all of the different networks of the brain, keeping them separate and using the brain’s energy most efficiently to survive and solve problems. The DMN is our “self” or “ego”, or in other words and it is the story we tell ourselves about who we are. This “sense of self” was a great evolutionary achievement and other animals lack such a developed cerebral cortex. However, having a conscience separates us from nature and others. Buddhists and other ancient civilizations have said this for a long time. Even Albert Einstein saw this when he said:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Pollan also interestingly talks with researchers working with children. Young children do not have the ingrained patterns of thought of adults and this section of the book reminded me that often novel or “out-of-the-box” solutions to problems come easier to younger people who do not have such a highly developed DSM and entrenched thinking patterns as adults.

Psilocybin and other methods like meditation, fasting, etc. quiet DMN activity and the ego dissolves. This allows the other brain networks to connect with each other and you get all sorts of crazy ideas, visions, feelings, memories, etc. The DMN also filters what input we take in. This helps us get things done and not staring at the clouds or sunlight filtering in through the window. However, something is lost. When the networks are able to connect and take in stimulus from the environment that is usually filtered, sometimes profound insights and new ways of thought take place. That is why people often say they have been profoundly changed after an acid trip.

Pollan describes his experiences in trying psilocybin, LSD, toad venom and ayahuasca. He is a California Berkeley and Harvard professor and celebrated author so he is not going into these like a hippie from the 60s. Pollan is also in his 60s and entered it with fear of heart failure and the impact the experience would have on his health. He experiences these “trips” with a trained therapist who guides him through taking the drugs and then making sense of it afterward. Pollan is enthusiastic about “healthy normals”, people without mental or a terminal illness using psychedelics to reinvigorate their minds and see life through the filters of a range of their brain networks. It is like a brain “shake-up” and it changes how one interprets the world.

Pollan makes a compelling case for trying psychedelics, especially older people in controlled situations. In his detailed history of psychedelic research and use, he discusses the risks and rewards. I do not want to sound like former Harvard researcher and doctor, Richard Alpert, now Ram Dass, and do not think it is for everyone. However, as I enter late middle age, it may be a good way to refresh my thinking and redefine meaning in my life. I never would have considered trying it, but after reading this book, I see the potential benefits. The book also reinforced the practice of meditation and how good it is for the mind and I should be doing more of it. Currently, most psychedelics are illegal and there is still a negative view on their use in our society, but more government agencies and universities and hospitals are changing their thinking about this. After reading about the research taking place at New York University, Johns Hopkins, London, etc., it seems like they should be used more in therapy.

I highly recommend the book. It is a long, detailed read but worth the time investment. Below are some other notes I picked up from the book.

  • Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist, identified, synthesized, and named both LSD and psilocybin. LSD was originally derived from the ergot, the fungus that infects rye and other grains. Psilocybin is a blue chemical compound found in species of  the mushroom genus Psilocybe that has profound effects on the brain. There are approximately 180 species of “magic mushrooms” containing psilocybin found on all continents. Most are in the Psilocybe genus, but some are found in several genera. All are considered LBM (little brown mushrooms) and are difficult to find and identify.
  • The top expert in Psilocybe mushrooms is former Evergreen State College professor Paul Stamets. The love his TED Talk linked here and his description of the millions of mushroom threads (mycelium) weaving through the soils of forests allows trees to communicate with each other.
  • Aldous Huxley the British author of Brave New World was a fascinating thinker and I should read some of his work. He comes up time and again in the book.

Summer Journal: July 1, 2018

43140099871_3565516401_c
Owen and Mom walking the main street of Minoh

I am going to try to write more and make more video and audio recordings this summer.

The school year finished with our last day of classes on Friday. A group of teachers celebrated by heading down to the Temma section of downtown Osaka. The Temma (or Temna) district is located just east of Umeda in the center of Osaka. The two landmarks are Ogimachi Park and the JR Temma station. Near the station is a warren of narrow streets, packed with restaurants and bars. It is a really cool area to head down for an evening of laughs with friends. Enjoying conversation and jokes with friends is one of the best things one can do for your health. The Beer Belly serves our local Minoh craft beer on tap. We also went to an izakaya, an informal Japanese-style pub for grilled meats on a stick. A great time was had by all!

41329065890_3897182714_z
Minoh Recycling Center

Saturday was spent on errands and catching up with things around the house. My friend Art and I took a load of unwanted stuff to the Minoh Recycling Center. They are not charging for the dumping of anything until July 8 due to the recent earthquake. They wouldn’t take our old television however, and I needed to pay 3,400 yen for the local electronics store to recycle it for me. It was good to clean out the garage and I hope to make another trip on Tuesday to help a friend and get rid of some more of our clutter.

43140100231_6475491e01_c
Near the town of Izuhara in the municipality of Ibaraki

I am also closing the school year and doing some final hirings among other assorted tasks. Sunday morning I went for a 19.2 kilometer bike ride up into the Minoh National Park. It was a beautiful morning, but I learned I need to bring more water with me. Japanese summers are known for their humidity and I went through the 800 ml bottle quite quickly. I intend on biking a lot this summer, so need to take out the Camelback water bladders.

Sunday was spent getting Owen ready for his trip to USA. He is spending two weeks in Iowa with a classmate and attending a basketball camp at Wartburg College. We packed his bags and saw him off this morning to the airport.

41329066760_4748c00e64_z
Go France! Go Argentina! 

We are loving the World Cup 2018 in the Kralovec household and the betting pool is on! A fantastic game between France and Argentina. The games come on at 11:00 PM now, so it is a commitment and a nap for me to make it! Owen, Oliver and his friend Evan enjoyed watching the BBC coverage of the game.

A quote from last week. Ocean said to me as I was heading out the door to work, “Are you going to do some exciting director things, or will it be the boring stuff like meetings and typing.”

The Great Northern Osaka Earthquake 6/18

Update: Last night (Saturday June 23) at 11:08 PM we experienced a 4.0 magnitude aftershock. I had just finished putting the mattresses from our bedroom back into the kids’ rooms. Alas, Nadia insisted on the kids sleeping in our room another night. 

Our family experienced our first serious earthquake on Monday since we moved to Japan almost four years ago. It was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had. Awesome meaning the formal definition of the word, awe-inspiring, with awe being “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”. Without warning, having the room shake violently for 10 seconds is awesome. I’ve been through many minor shakes and rattles, but never one where it made the room look blurry due to the intense shaking. I never thought the ceiling would collapse on me or I was in danger of dying. My mind was in awe and all of us in the school community were shaken, both physically for the 10 seconds of the earthquake, but more importantly, emotionally and psychologically.

I listened to a recent Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast about memory and he refers to the concept of a “flashbulb memory” This is a person remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news of a big or historical event, like the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. This earthquake for the Kralovec family will be a flashbulb memory. In the episode linked above, Gladwell argues that our flashbulb memories fade and change over time and details become mixed with other events and times. I asked our family members to write down their memories for posterity. To my descendants and others who may be reading this in the future, you should do this for the big events that take place in your life.

42916499472_1d4a30b73b_c
Art displays knocked down at school.

The earthquake hit at 7:58 AM on Monday, June 18. The epicenter was only 10 kilometers from our school in the neighboring suburb of Takatski. It measured a 6.1 on the moment magnitude scale and 6-minus on the Japanese intensity scale and we felt the full strength of the quake in our suburb of Minoh.  I was in our daily administrative morning meeting when suddenly the room started moving. The first big jolt was an up-and-down motion, not the side-to-side that I’ve experienced before. We quickly went under the table. One of the other administrators let out an audible cry. Because we were so close to the epicenter, the “advanced” warning call of “jishin!” (earthquake in Japanese) sounded on our phones while we were under the table.

Once it stopped, we left the conference room to assess the damage. There were books and papers all over the floor in the business office. After seeing that everyone was OK, I went on the PA system and asked for everyone to evacuate the building and go to the soccer field as we practice in our crisis response drills. This was different from our protocol because we usually ask people to stay put while we assess the damage and check for fire. However, with so few people in the building and so many people soon to be arriving, I didn’t want a stream of people coming into the school and felt that the soccer field was the safest place to be.

41155752150_7367e022e5_z
Nadia had the kids sleep with us in fear of aftershocks

It was an odd time for the school because students and parents are just arriving for our 8:30 AM start. For those students who live close to the school, they may have been at home and many were in transit. 75% of our school lives in one of the three neighbouring suburbs, although 25% have longer commutes and use public transport.

As the head of school, I first thought of my responsibilities to our students, faculty and staff. However, I am a father and husband and I was worried about them. When I got onto the field, I saw Oliver’s blonde head and soon thereafter arrived a hysterical Nadia clutching Ocean, so I was relieved they OK.  My eldest son Owen was in Malaysia at the World Scholar’s Cup. He called later in the morning to make sure we were safe.

We eventually got everyone home safely, including loading up a school bus and driving down to Kobe with the students that lived over there. All of the trains and buses were stopped. Luckily, the electricity and internet was not cut and you could text and call people with your mobile phone. Without that, I am not sure what we would have done! We cancelled classes on Monday and Tuesday and the faculty and staff spent two days cleaning and tidying the school. The quake was powerful enough to knock paintings off the wall, dislodge books and equipment from shelves, etc. Not only at school, but at homes as well.

42916499302_e0a5bdbfab_z
A sheet of stucco fell on our wall at our home

At our home, one painting cracked, one light fixture came down and some drywall/wall paper cracked. On our patio, we noticed some of the stucco foundation of the house crumbled and a big sheet of concrete sheeting fell off our wall around our property. It also split the brick bench on the patio.

Nadia was in the bathroom of our house with Ocean brushing their hair in anticipation of leaving for school. Oliver was on his bicycle waiting at a stoplight a few blocks from our house. I’ll record them talking about the earthquake and upload it as a podcast for posterity.

Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in our community. The quake killed five people and injured 420 people. Sadly, a nine-year-old schoolgirl was crushed to death by a 2-meter wall collapsing near her school. There were many aftershocks, ranging from 4.0 to 2.1 the two days following the initial earthquake. As I am revising this on Saturday June 23, there has not be any recently.

The earthquake put people on edge, waiting for a similarly sized tremor. Some families left the city and checked into hotels in case of another big quake. I think finally, people are settling down and getting back into their routines.

Japan probably knows more about earthquakes than any nation. I read several good articles quoting geologists and university professors. I am learning a lot about earthquakes!

active fault zones around the epicenter

Scientists believe the earthquake was caused by three possible faults (see diagram). The Uemachi fault runs directly through downtown Osaka is the most likely of the three to have an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 or greater in the next 30 years, with geologists giving it a 2-3% chance. My town of Minoh is 10 kilometers directly west of the epicenter, probably on the Arima-Takatsuki fault line. This earthquake was the biggest ever to strike Osaka.

The Great Awaji Earthquake of 1995 was the last big earthquake to hit here in the Kansai region of Japan. That one struck at 5:46 AM on January 17, 1995 and had a magnitude of 6.9. Over 6,000 people died and there was a lot of damage in Kobe.  

Japan also has the most extensive network of earthquake detection equipment in the world with 180 seismographs and 627 seismic intensity meters. They even have their own measurement scale for earthquakes, which is older than the Richter scale. It measures earthquakes in units of shindo (震度, seismic intensity, “degree of shaking”) In the west, the Richter Scale (1930) and its replacement (1970s) the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS) measure the amount of energy released.  The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) scale goes from 0-7. Strong earthquakes, the ones where people are frightened and notice a lot of shaking start at 3.5. We experienced a 6.1 (MMS) and 6 minus (JMA) earthquake this week.

nankaiTrough-mxlf
The Nankai Trough off the coast of Japan – the west section across from the Nagoya airport has not had an earthquake in over 160 years. The other two sections, near Wakayama and Shikoku have had quakes more recently.

Disconcertingly, the JMA predicts there is a 70-80% chance that a powerful quake with a magnitude of 8 or 9 will occur in Japan within the next 30 years. Mega-quakes have repeatedly occurred in the Nankai Trough (see diagram) off Japan’s Pacific coast at intervals of 100-200 years.  It says the quake will inflict serious damage mainly on the Shikoku (smallest of the four main islands of Japan, just south of Osaka), Kinki (our region) and Tokai (north of us, basically the city of Nagoya and adjacent prefectures).

I read an article by Robert Geller, professor emeritus at Tokyo University that says seismologists cannot accurately predict earthquakes and the public should disregard the JMA predictions, and I kind of feel he is right. Science does not yet have the understanding and insight of plate tectonics to be able to accurately predict earthquakes. I am surprised that the Osaka Earthquake already has a wikipedia page.

Best reference:

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/nhknewsline/backstories/threefaultzones/

Owen Competes at World Scholar’s Cup Global Round – Kuala Lumpur

42202529474_69425c741c_c
Owen with his teammates at World Scholar’s Cup 

This week Owen is participating in the World Scholar’s Cup (WSC) Global Round – Kuala Lumpur. WSC is an academic competition featuring debate, writing, knowledge bowl and other fun stuff. It is such a clever program with a curriculum that is much more interesting and engaging than students get in their regular school.

Owen’s team competed in the debates yesterday. The motions they were debating were as follows:

  • It should be allowed to access the memories of the dead.
  • Negotiations between the US and North Korea have been a success.
  • Secrets can make relationships stronger.

42921065781_92564594a6_c

The topics they study are fascinating. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Science – The Science of Memory
  2. History – The History of Diplomacy
  3. Social Studies – Black Markets
  4. Literature – Voices of the Inseparable

Under the Literature category, there is an extensive reading list that includes poems, novels, films and include guided questions and case studies. I would love to dive in on the works!

The founders include much theatre and comedy that really resonates with teenagers.

Saigon: Scooters & Coffee

41865116145_1e51e76d3d_c
Scooters Rule the Streets of Saigon

I spent a few days in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam this past week for work and wanted to give my impressions of life there. After seeing so many movies and reading so much about the Vietnam War, I was interested in seeing what it was like there.

In some ways, it is another big Southeast Asian city like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. In living in developed and sedate Osaka, I am struck by the noise and traffic, masses of electrical wires and general disarray of city life. When I lived in Europe I was getting used to all of the cities having their historic centers with plazas and Hapsburg era buildings. Southeast Asia is like that because of the tropical heat and the huge number of people on the streets.

42844730521_0276b07acd_z
Landmines in the War Remnants Museum

Saigon had two characteristics right away that jump out.

When you disturb an ant nest, thousands of ants scurry in every direction and create a web of movement. The streets of Saigon are similar, but with motorized scooters (mopeds) instead of ants. Literally, at major intersections, you will see over a hundred scooters shooting through. There is obviously a helmet law and the different styles and colors made my taxi ride in from the airport colorful. There are mostly single men and women, but I noticed several families, including one guy with his wife on the back and one child on the gas tank in front of him and another squeezed between him and the wife. They weave around cars and trucks and even go on sidewalks, so when crossing streets or walking in the city, I needed to be alert and agile. There is no staring at an iPhone and walking in Saigon!

The second characteristic that stands out is the numerous coffee shops. There were several upscale chains, Starbucks and Highland Coffee the two most prominent, but there were also coffee houses for the poor, with plastic chairs set out on the sidewalk and independent shops set in old colonial buildings. I tried the famous “Vietnamese Coffee” as described by Nicola Graydon from the Guardian.

I ordered the classic Vietnamese coffee known as ca phe sua da – literally “coffee, milk, ice”. It comprises strong coffee, dripped from a small metal filter into a cup containing a quarter as much sweetened condensed milk, then stirred and poured over ice in a glass.

At first I couldn’t bear its cloying sweetness, but three days in I’d grown addicted to the sweet buzz that follows a refreshing coolness on the tongue. It suits the humidity of the place in a way that an ordinary latte wouldn’t.

I love coffee and so I like the French introducing it to Vietnam in the 19th century. You can see remnants of the 60+ years the French colonized Indochina in the architecture of the Opera House, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office and in the street names.

27896440907_f9f7c6660e_c
Government Public Service Announcements 

Because the conference hotel was located downtown, I had time to visit the War Remnants Museum and see the famous front gate of the Independence Palace. For Americans, the country is known because of the 20 years of the US fighting the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Over 50,000 US troops were killed and over a trillion dollars spent in trying to stop the spread of communism. The museum is well worth visiting, telling the story in photographs of the tragedy of war. I was troubled by the images of fleeing families, traumatized children, young men killed before they could experience the full arc of life. As always, war is such a waste of life for everyone involved. I was particularly interested in the section documenting the use of Agent Orange, an herbicide used by the US military. The government and NGOs are still trying to clean up areas that were sprayed 50 years ago. The room dedicated to the reporters that were killed in action was also poignant.  Definitely worth a visit. I will continue watching The Vietnam War: A Film By Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. 

 

27896438227_696f494a3b_c
Scene of the famous photo of the North Vietnamese Tank crashing through the gate symbolizing the end of the Vietnam War

The city is vibrant and I felt the energy of the place. Perhaps because of so many young people and me staying downtown. The walking street, a huge long plaza running perpendicular from the Saigon River, was full of families. At the end was a statue of the father of Socialist Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. Thankfully they have a good open public space because trying to cross the street is difficult because of traffic. It took me 10 minutes to cross the main avenue that runs along the Saigon River. It reminded me of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya, with many barges, small boats and mats of floating vegetation.

28891766748_e648a929de_c
Panoramic View of the Saigon River