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The thoughts and viewpoints on this blog are my own and represent my skeptical, critical-thinking approach to martial arts, combative training, film, the field of cognitive science, and random subjects.
Updated: 1 hour 27 min ago

AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH

Thu, 2014-06-26 00:17
AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGHA MARTIAL ARTS PARABLE 


First there is a mountainThen there is no mountainThen there isDonovan
 
One does not simply climb a mountain.

I'm not talking about all the unique gear, the extreme conditioning and the specialized and dangerous training.

No, what I'm saying is that there is a process.

Here at the ABC (Always Be Climbing) Academy we understand that process better than most.  We can proudly say that while mountain climbing can be risky, in our 9 years of operation we have never had a death or even a serious injury at our academy.

So what is our process, you ask.  Here are the essential elements:

1.  Each new member of the ABC Academy participates in group classes.  Together, in unison, we work with imaginary gear, tie imaginary knots in imaginary rope, and perform carefully choreographed movements that prepare us for the imaginary climb.  Why imaginary?  Well, while actual mountains exist in the real world, they are all quite different.  Some are rugged and craggy while others are smooth.  Some are bare while others are covered in snow and ice.  And, let's face it, mountains are often quite far away.  Keep in mind that when George Mallory gave the answer "Because it's there," as to why he climbed the mountain, for most of us the mountain just isn't there.  On the other hand the mountain in our minds, let's call this the ideal mountain, is the tallest, most difficult mountain in the world, perhaps in the universe.  It is there ready for us at any time.  It will be the mountain we are always preparing to climb.

2.  During our training we will work with special scenarios and particular patterns of sequential movements.  Here are just a few you will learn:  "Leaping the precipice."  "Scaling the cliff."  "Traversing the wall."  Each of these and many many others may be performed as a group or in solo performance.  Each performance will be evaluated on form, emotional gravitas and physical skill.  Some movements require poise and grace, while others are explosive and powerful.  There are even special patterns that have been synchronized to carefully chosen music.

3.  Meditation and visualization is critical.  Being able to "see" each part of the mountain in our mind's eye means that our movements will be much more representational of reality.  After all, we consider ourselves a reality-based academy.

4.  Seminars and special training are also major features of the ABCA program.  Several times each year we will bring in guest instructors who have proven time and again that climbing the ideal mountain requires years of preparation.  Many of our guest instructors have gone on to become champions in climbing form competition, showing intensity and flawless style in choreographed routines.  Just this past weekend the National Mixed Pairs Abseiling (Rappelling) Champion visited our school for 2 great days of training.  Our students practiced the extremely difficult Australian rappel and the Tandem or Spider rappel (on flat surfaces of course).

5.  Thorough evaluation and certification.  As the old business mantra says "it's not over til the paperwork is complete."  This is also true in climbing.  Each phase of training is carefully graded using stringent standards of subjectivity.  When the student can demonstrate knowledge and proficiency at a particular level, then and only then will he or she be allowed to move to the next phase.  Each phase is identifiable by different colored climbing harnesses.  Red harness and black harness students, our most advanced and elite group, normally trains separately from the green and blue harness crowd.

6.  We honor the mountain goat and strive to exude the spirit of the goat in all that we do.  Fearless, agile, strong, confident--these are the attributes we aim to incorporate into our training.  We study the goat's movements, and we try our best to emulate each nuance of these magnificent creatures.

7.  Safety First.  We are sticklers for safety.  We follow careful safety protocol in all that we do.  When climbers in our advanced program work the 9 foot climbing wall, affectionately known at the Academy as "The Widow Maker," each climber will wear a safety harness with an instructor at the ready.  It goes without saying that climbing helmets, gloves, and elbow and knee pads must also be worn during these intense training sessions.

8.  It's not all serious, life-and-death training.  We also try to have fun.  Each quarter we host sleepovers, and each summer we conduct week long climbing camps so that our students can work out the kinks (pardon the pun).  We watch movies, such as The Eiger Sanction, Cliffhanger or Vertical Limit.  We have contests where we see who can throw the Monkey's Knot the farthest or who can hang the longest amount of time with only one hand (based on Tom Cruise's move from Mission Impossible 2).

If you've ever thought about the potential thrill of mountain climbing, rock climbing, or ice climbing, I urge you to stop by our Academy and let one of our experienced Climbing Instructors put you through an introductory course, which we call "Base Camp."  It's absolutely free, and you might just learn a thing or two.

Remember:  A. B. C.  A-Always.  B-Be.  C-Climbing.



ROUND TRIP 32--NO, MR BOND, I EXPECT YOU TO DIET

Sat, 2014-06-07 17:26
NO, MR BOND, I EXPECT YOU TO DIETROUND TRIP 32JUST SAY NO

I recently had an epiphany.

There I was in the cafeteria, waiting on my burrito supreme (the one that has the extra sour cream), when I noticed some of the fit, healthy looking guys from the gym.

As they walked past me I glanced at their trays.  One guy had a small cup of soup, the other a tiny salad.  Appetizer, I thought.  First course, I hoped.

But then I saw them heading straight to the cashier, buying nothing else along the way.  They didn't even look at the potato salad.  No cookies.  No burger.  Not even banama puddin.  Nada.  

Then a thought hit me!  I seriously hated these S.O.B.s.  

Then the second thought hit me, they're lean because they eat lean.

So I decided that I too would strive to eat leaner.  "Stay hungry", wasn't that the mantra of the young body building champion, Arnold Schwarzenegger?  

The next day I packed my lunch.  A handful of almonds.  A few slices of lean, low-sodium lunch meat.  Some celery for roughage.  A cup of plain yogurt.  A thermos of skim milk.  A pear for dessert.

"I can do this!", I thought to myself, "I can just say no to bad foods and big servings!"

Trying to ignore the hunger pangs was the worst part of it.  I sipped cups of hot water with a slice of lemon.  I chugged bottled water every half hour or so and popped sugar free peppermint candy.

The first few days were the roughest.  But by the end of the week it started to get easier.

The first time I had to cinch up my belt was glorious.  And within a couple of weeks I even actually had to punch a new hole.

The other day I was back in the cafeteria, getting a small salad.  A big guy from the gym was standing in line waiting on his sub sandwich.  He looked at me and waved, and I'm pretty sure he glanced down at my tray.  

 

 
 

THE WAY YOU DO THE THINGS YOU DO

Fri, 2014-05-23 21:32
THE WAY YOU DO THE THINGS YOU DO
"Well, you could have been anything that you wanted to
And I can tell, the way you do the things you do.
"
The Temptations

According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business, more than 40 percent of the actions people perform each day aren’t due to some well planned, rational-based, decision-making process, but instead are actually habits.

To put it another way, we do what we do.  What we do regularly becomes a habit.  Most of us, without knowing it, are stuck on a hamster wheel, repeating the same old habits over and over.

So, if that's true, if we end up doing what we regularly do, why do we do such weird, wacky stuff in our martial arts training?  Why do we make a habit out of training for situations that are unlikely to occur?  Why do we practice highly technical, inefficient and ineffective or outdated techniques?  Why do we stress the art and the flash and the precision while often forgetting the practical and the common sense and the down to earth?  Why do we spend so much time on fancy flourishes?

Why don't we get off that hamster wheel?

Well, it's what we do, it's where we're comfortable.  Change is uncomfortable and often avoided.  

So now that I've got that off my chest, here are some pictures of people doing some of odd ball things.  It's what we do.

__________________________________________________

 There for a brief shining moment, 
Phil actually believed he was channeling his inner eagle. __________________________________________________

Bill's shadow puppets were very popular at kids' parties.  Here he is making a horsie.__________________________________________________

Everybody was kung fu fighting...no, seriously, 
EVERYbody.
__________________________________________________

Derrick never expected the inverted YMCA move...
but let's face it, no one ever does.
__________________________________________________

Andre calls this his pretzel stance.__________________________________________________


"I believe I can fly...(oof)"__________________________________________________

"I was in the alley when 3 big muggers approached me, 
and I went...something...like...this..."
__________________________________________________

No one gets to go to the outhouse until he gets past 
Larry, "Guardian of the Gate."
__________________________________________________

Smell it...go on, SMELL IT!
 __________________________________________________

Hey!  Nice jugs!
 __________________________________________________

Try as he might, Tony could not get that guy off his foot.

 
 __________________________________________________

Once again the Marines had to cancel their landing because the beach was just too heavily protected.
 __________________________________________________

Here's Stan, a man outstanding in his field.  Get it?  
Out standing in his field?  Oh forget it.
 __________________________________________________

Wait, before you attack, you might just want to take a second and read what it says right there on my headband.
 __________________________________________________

Meditation...it's all about stillness, and relaxation and being calm...unless Pat forgets the Ritalin again.


__________________________________________________

Guess who lost a bet earlier that day?
 __________________________________________________

Open your mouth and say "aaaaaah"
__________________________________________________

Gymkata.  I don't have any funny comments.  
I paid good money to go and see it.
Let THAT sink in.
 __________________________________________________

Flex Stick...never leave home without it. __________________________________________________

Paul preferred a subtle look for his martial arts fashion.
 __________________________________________________ Of COURSE I'm a member...eat your heart out.   __________________________________________________ 

Seriously, I'm not kidding...this is a real, intentional, undoctored picture.  

THE DEEP END

Sun, 2014-05-04 02:22
THE DEEP ENDLearn to swim to avoid swimming.Coach Richards, Dolphin Club
As I sat in the crowded bleachers overlooking the Olympic pool I couldn't help but be proud of my little Michael.  There he was, 8 years old, sitting on the edge of the pool, his feet in the cool, clear water.  It was his first night, but he acted so brave, trying to hide his fear.  

Two boys from the neighborhood, the Parkinson boys, were down there next to Michael, and their dad, Phillip, sat beside me in the stands playing with his smart phone.  His boys were senior students at the Dolphin Club.

Me:  "Your sons don't seem to mind the water."
Him:  "What's that?"
Me:  "I was just saying that your two boys seem comfortable near the edge."
Him:  "Oh, right.  No they don't mind it.  They've been down there so many times that it's nothing to them any more.  We even went out deep sea fishing last year off the coast of Florida, and there they were sitting on the side of the boat like it was just another day at the pool."
Me:  "Wow.  Micheal seems a little scared, but he's doing a good job hiding it."
Him:  "Sure, he'll get used to it."
Me: "So, when do they actually get in the water?"

At this point the conversations around me stopped, and Phillip actually put his phone in his pocket.  He got up and moved next to me.

Him:  "What do you mean 'get in the water'?"
Me:  "I'm just wondering when they'll learn to swim, that's all."
Him:  "You better talk to Coach Richards.  He'll fill you in.  But (and he lowered his voice), don't get the other parents upset."

I went to the Dolphin Club office and knocked on Coach Richard's door.  He invited me in and shook my hand, and I introduced myself.  I took a seat and looked around the office.  Trophies, pennants, ribbons, medals, and certificates were prominently on display.

Coach Richard:  "I apologize, but I've only got a few minutes.  Planning for the big meet scheduled for next weekend you know.  How can I help you?"
Me:  "Phillip Parkinson suggested I talk to you.  He was concerned that I might be upsetting some of the parents."
CR:  "What exactly did you say?"
Me:  "I just asked when the boys would actually learn to swim."

He got up and closed the office door.  He sat down and thought for a minute before speaking.

CR: "How much do you know about swimming?"
Me:  "Well, I'm from the country.  We did a lot of swimming when I was kid...had a big place in the local creek...spent a lot of time down there in the hot summer."
CR:  "I see.  And did you ever know anyone who drowned?"
Me:  "No!  Thank God.  Why do you ask?"
CR:  "Surely you know the statistics.  The water is dangerous.  Swimming is risky.  You can easily drown in a pool, or a lake, or a river."
Me:  "Are you kidding?"
CR:  "No sir...I can assure you I'm very serious."
Me:  "But this is the Dolphin Club.  You have a big pool.  Are you telling me the kids don't swim?!  And what about the big swim meet coming up?"
CR:  "First off, I didn't say it was a 'swim meet.'  Look, our students know more about water safety than most.  They learn all of the basic strokes, learn first aid and watch videos about drown proofing and life guard duties..."
Me, interrupting:  "Just no swimming, right?"
CR:  "I'll have you know that I have a responsibility to the children and their parents, and I take that responsibility to heart.  I can't let them get in the water where they could just drown!"
Me:  "But I thought they knew all there was to know about water safety.  Surely they've done a little swimming..."
CR:  "Not at MY school they didn't!  At Dolphin Club the kids learn to swim to avoid swimming.  Getting in the water is not necessary.  Everything you need to know you can learn on dry land!"
Me:  "That's just ridiculous!  Kids can't learn to swim on dry land!  Besides, what's the fun in that?"
CR:  "It's a different world than it was when we were kids.  Things have changed.  Kids are more technologically savvy than we were.  They play video games and do most of their learning on the computer.  Believe me, they most certainly can learn to swim without getting wet.  Heck, just last weekend we had a sleepover at the club, gave parents the weekend off!  And you know what we did?  We watched UWS on pay per view!"
Me:  "UWS?"
CR:  "Yeah, UWS--ULTIMATE WATER SWIMMING--and the kids loved it.  I'm surprised you haven't heard about it.  It's a competition where 2 people at a time actually get in the water and swim with all the energy they can muster.  And essentially there's no rules!  There have actually been several near drownings in the UWS!  Of course, that's for the professionals.  Our kids mostly watch that for the entertainment value.  They talk every now and then about entering the UWS when they grow up, but it's a pipe dream. The average Dolphin Club member, I'm sad to say, gives up the pool after only a few months.  Some might stay for a year or two, but in the end we lose most of them to other sports."
Me:  "To be perfectly candid with you, I'm not surprised.  It sounds boring as hell at this club!"
CR:  "I'm sorry you feel that way, but we have lots of activities.  The kids learn choreographed swim routines.  They can join the demo team.  And they can earn special patches and certificates.  Some can even enter competitions, like the big meet next weekend."
Me:  "You mentioned that before.  But if they don't swim, what is it they actually compete in?"
CR:  "Several events:  Sitting at the deep end.  Breath holding competitions.  Simulated first aid to a drowning victim.  And those choreographed swim routines I mentioned are a big hit."
Me:  "Well, I'm sorry.  I thought my kids would learn to swim.  I'm going to pull them out of this academy and find another swim club."
CR:  "Be advised that you'll be in violation of the contract you signed.  And besides, you'll be putting your son in danger!"
Me:  "Screw you AND your contract.  We're getting out, the sooner the better!"

I got up, left the office, and yelled for my son to get his feet out of the pool because we were going home.  He looked confused but started jogging towards me.  A lifeguard blew his whistle, and reminded my son that there was no running by the pool.  

DON'T LET THE SCREEN DOOR HIT YOU ON YOUR WAY OUT

Sat, 2014-05-03 03:10
DON'T LET THE SCREEN DOOR HIT YOU ON YOUR WAY OUT
LET'S HAVE A RETIREMENT PARTY!
Following are my nominations for retirement.  Some should have never been around in the first place.  Others were fun for awhile, maybe even a little interesting.  But that ship has sailed, that shark has been jumped.  So adios, bonjour, auf wiedersehen, au revoir, ciao, and aloha.
__________________________________________
TRYING TO MAKE THE WORD 'KARATE' LOOK LIKE ASIAN WRITING__________________________________________
PATRIOTIC MARTIAL ARTS CLOTHING__________________________________________
 THAT DAMNED KICK FROM THE KARATE KID 
__________________________________________
SHOWING OFF YOUR MARTIAL ARTS SPLITS TALENT  _________________________________________
  GI PATCHES__________________________________________
CHRISTIAN KARATE CLUBS
__________________________________________
NINJAS__________________________________________
BOARD BREAKING DEMONSTRATIONS__________________________________________
PRESSURE POINT KNOCKOUTS__________________________________________
ANIMAL INSPIRED MARTIAL ARTS BULLSHIT__________________________________________
THESE GUYS
__________________________________________
NUNCHUCKS
__________________________________________
THAT POSE THAT TRIES TO MAKE YOU BELIEVE KICKS ARE POWERFUL

7 DEADLIER SINS

Fri, 2014-05-02 16:05
7 DEADLIER SINS“The essence of training is to allow error without consequence.”
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game


Let's imagine you're on Jeopardy, and the question is:  The 7 Deadly Sins, and be sure to phrase your answer in the form of a question.

You might remember 3 or 4 if you regularly attended Sunday school, but all 7?  That's a tough one.  Okay, try this mnemonic:  "All Private Colleges Leave Serious Educational Gaps"--Anger, Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Sloth, Envy, Greed.

Now, let's see if you know the 7 even deadlier sins of self defense training.

Here are the ones I propose:

1.  COOPERATION  Save the 3 verses of Kumbayah for bonfire night at summer camp.  If your self defense training involves flashy, choreographed, over the top Hollywood movie techniques, you're fooling yourself.  It's chaos not cooperation!
__________________________________________________

2.  PRECISION

I've seen it a million times...guys who focus on form over function.  Where getting it right is more important than making it work.  Just remember, it's more hand grenades than horseshoes, more shotgun than a sniper's rifle.  It's not a karate club demonstration at the mall on Saturday morning, it's real life. 
Save your precision for the dart tournament. 
__________________________________________________

3.  STERILE CONDITIONS
The dojo with an open training area and mats to soften your fall is a great area for much of your training.  But every now and then you need to train in realistic conditions...outdoors, in a parking lot, in limited space, on uneven terrain, or in a crowded room with things to trip on and objects that can be used as shields or expedient weapons.  Fight standing up, in a clinch, kneeling and on the ground! 
__________________________________________________

4.  FORGETTING TO CHECK YOUR SIX

Lots of people practice self defense as if it was a duel.  The opponent is in front of you, and there is time to see and plan for what's coming.  But remember, the sneak attack or ambush might just come at you from the side or even from behind you. 
__________________________________________________
  5.  TOUCH NOT TACKLE
In the movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden asks:  "How much can you know yourself if you've never been in a fight?"  I'm not suggesting that you've gotta punch each other out, but seriously, if you haven't been hit, if all your training is dainty and soft and safe, then you won't be prepared.  Every now and then you need to gear up and go hard.  You need to box, and kickbox, stick fight and grapple.  My mantra:  How you rehearse is how you react.  How you practice is how you perform.
__________________________________________________

 6.  MAGIC TRICKS
We've all seen the magician at work.  After the trick there's this "TA DA" moment where the magician and his lovely assistant seek your applause for a job well done.  I'm here to tell you to forget the TA DA.  Don't think that your technique is like a magic trick.  Don't imagine that you'll do one dramatic move and your attacker will drop like a sack of cement.  It only works that way on TV or in the movies or on the stage in Vegas.While I'm at it, forget the chi training.  Forget all the fancy stances and specialized hand strikes.  That crap will get you hurt.Stick to practical, low maintenance, energy efficient, nuts and bolts skills.
__________________________________________________

7. IS THAT A GUN IN YOUR POCKET?
There is a very good chance that your attacker will be armed.  If weapons training and weapons defense is not part of your program, then you are missing an important dimension.  Learning the capabilities and limitations of weapons--guns, knives and edged weapons such as box cutters and razor blades, and blunt force weapons such as pool cues, hammers and tire tools--should be a critical part of your self defense training.  Incorporate weapons into your training, and be ready to react to neutralize the weapon before it can be brought into play.  Forget the instructors who tell you that you can't disarm a weapon.  Learn some simple, universal disarms and practice them until you can do them in your sleep.  

THE WIND, AND NOTHING MORE---A VERY TOUCHY SUBJECT

Thu, 2014-04-17 03:17
A VERY TOUCHY SUBJECT...the wind and nothing more

“When it is not in our power to determine what is true, 
we ought to follow what is most probable.” 

René Descartes

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning, Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.  'Surely,' said I, 'surely that is something at my window lattice; Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore - Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'
Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

I remember when I was a kid how easy it was to enter into a make-believe world.  Within seconds I could lift myself out of the boring, day-to-day reality and transport myself to the ancient past or to another planet or into the heat of battle.  Those imaginary worlds felt so real that I could actually smell the gunpowder, hear the battle cries of attacking soldiers, and feel the weight of a musket or a bazooka in my hands.

As I got older it became more and more difficult to use my imagination.  Now I have to close my eyes and concentrate in order to vaguely imagine what used to come so easily, so automatically to me.

But there are people out there, some of whom mean well, and others who are nothing but shysters and con men out for a quick buck, who hope that the rest of us haven't quite lost that special power of make believe.  They want us to have a vivid imagination that allows us, just for a few minutes, to separate our minds from everyday reality and to walk into an imaginary world.

They want us to imagine that we have limitless energy right at our fingertips and to pretend that this energy can be used for the good of mankind.  With this energy we can help people reduce their stress and lower their blood pressure.  As if by magic we can help them to get rid of negative emotions, reduce pain, and prepare themselves to be healed from injury and disease.  We can use it on others, on ourselves, and even perform it in proxy for the benefit of another far far away.  We don't have to have a medical degree to help people with this healing energy.   

These are the proponents of energy psychology.  They use nebulous words like synergy, and psychoneuroimmunology, epi-genetics, neuroplasticity, and interpersonal neurobiology.  

They want us to believe that we can transcend conscious effort and instead grow in touch with a spontaneous flow of chi/ki/qi/prana, a "life energy field."  They sincerely hope that we can shut off our rational thought processes, the part of our brain that tries to think things through and understand them--what they would refer to as limiting beliefs--and free ourselves from obstacles which prevent us from living in harmony with the universe.  

They want us to rid ourselves of emotional blockages, to reclaim confidence and self esteem, and to step away from anxiety and depression and compulsive and additive behaviors.  If we have a chronic illness, or if we have a friend or family member who suffers from disease, they want us to believe that this pure power, this limitless energy, could flow from our fingertips if we would just accept it, and change could take place.

Here's another thing they would have us believe:  The problems we experience, the sad feelings, the disappointments, the frustration, the anxiety, the fear, all of this creates an imbalance in the flow of energy through our bodies.  Energy workers, those with "training" and special, intuitive powers, claim that they can manipulate the energy field. They can remove clogs, they can restore the flow of energy, and they might even be able to transfer some of their own energy to help our bodies heal.  

There is no scientific basis for what they do.  But that won't stop them from claiming that their methods are old, maybe even ancient.   They will suggest that what they do is just common sense.  And they will blatantly misappropriate ideas and terminology from cutting edge nuclear physicists, claiming that we are all nothing but energy and vibrational patterns.

They will use all kinds of labels to describe what they do:  EFT, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch.  They sincerely believe that they are ushering in a method to bridge the ancient and the modern paradigms.  They claim that what they do works and works fast, and that those who accept the efforts of energy workers will achieve both emotional and physical well-being.   One does not need to study human anatomy, toxicology, biochemistry or other rational, scientific fields in order to claim to be a healer.  In fact, they will boldly assert that those areas may steer one away from the truth of the natural, instinctive, intuitive ways of energy work.  They genuinely have faith in what they do, believing that they can augment Western medicine, contribute to the healing process, and that they can be beneficial to healthcare professionals.

And, as far as helping someone to relax, to bring care and consideration to those in pain and fear and depression, I'm all for these actions.  Being present, holding a hand, offering calm and soothing words, mopping a hot brow with a cool cloth, these can go a long way in helping someone who is suffering to feel better.  And if that helps accelerate the healing process, fine.

But don't claim otherwise.  Don't pretend that there is some magical energy, some supernatural force, that there are pathways of 'energy' that can be blocked by negative emotion.  Don't act like you have healed others of cancer, of diabetes, of some rare genetic malady.  

To those who believe?  I say let it go.  To those who are charlatans, shame on you.  

I've grown weary of the drip, drip, drip of their claims.  The new age is nothing new.  Prehistoric shamans and tribal healers did not have knowledge about parasites, or DNA, or hygiene.  They believed that disease and pain were sent by the gods to punish or were a result of curses from one's enemies.  They did the best they could with what they had.  A potion, some herbal tea, a fowl smelling ointment or salve, incense, drumming, chanting and rituals.  We cannot judge what they did.  

But, as they say, that was then, and this is now.  If they claim otherwise, if they claim that they have discovered secret, hidden, veiled, obscure, and ancient wisdom, or conversely if they claim that they have knowledge from beings outside of our own galaxy or from another dimension or even from the future, just remember this:



'Tis the wind and nothing more.

It would actually constitute more than a miracle, he realised. It would take divine intervention plus luck, plus some unknown element of cosmic wizardry.” David Baldacci, The Whole Truth