Archives for January 2012

Yael’s Variety Hour: Seeking Quiet, & A Great-grandma Who Deadlifts More Than You

I have a bazillion windows with interesting articles open in my browser(s), but I picked the cream of the crop out for you. Enjoy!

Top Picks of the Week

  • The Joy of Quiet. In a world of distraction and noise, the New York Times takes a look at the alternative.


Grappling & MMA

Conflict of Interest, Part 2: Q&A

To follow up on yesterday’s post, which may have been unnecessarily complex, I thought I’d just write out some questions I’ve gotten and what the answers would be. If you don’t care to understand the nuances and intricacies of conflicts of interest (real or perceived) but want to know if I’d work with you on something, check the Q+A below and see if it’s on there.

I hope it is clear that I have nothing against individuals or the companies they own or represent, but simply that I try to keep editorial and advertorial writing separate. If I write copy for a magazine or website, I  am working for that publication and my goal is to provide a service for their readers.  If I write ad copy, I am working for and serving the company… and never the ‘twain shall meet!

Without further ado, here’s the Q&A. Feel free to send me your own questions and I’ll answer them in the comments.

Would you ever accept payment from me to write articles about my company or product in magazines (which are also paying you)?


Would you consider ghostwriting promotional material for my company’s website, press releases, etc.?


Can I sponsor your site in exchange for positive reviews or publicity disguised as a normal blog post?


Can I send you a book or product to review?

Probably. You do, however, run the risk of me choosing not to review the product, or writing my honest opinion. If the review is on anywhere other than my blog, I also need to get permission from my editor.

If I pay you money, will you give me a glowing review?


Can I let you into an event for free in exchange for media coverage?

Possibly, if my editor approves it. It depends on what kind of event it is and whether it is of interest to our readers–some events may not be, even if they are free. However, they can nix the article at any time, and I might choose to write my honest opinion, which may or may not be positive.

Can I reprint an article you wrote about me as a paid advertisement?

Absolutely not.

But I saw an interview of yours which was an editorial feature reprinted as a paid advertisement in a major magazine.

That was done without my knowledge, let alone consent.

If you tell your editor that I’m giving you free things, or that we’ve done work together, they may not want you to write about us. Can we just keep this our little secret?


If I give you a percentage of the profits I made from product sales, will you try to get article assignments where you can mention the product?


Will you write my college or high school paper for me?


Would you consider proofreading my paper and tell me which parts need work and where there are errors?


I tried to give you something for free, and you turned it down, stating that there was a conflict of interest. Does this mean you are being polite, and I should insist you have it anyway?

No, not unless it’s also available free for everybody else.

I know you can’t write about me for magazines since we’re BFFs and you have worked with me for 5 years and any magazine worth their salt would not give you the assignment when you disclose this information. But can I hire you to help me out with my own media strategy, copywriting or SEO work?

I don’t see why not.

Can you share with me any information you’ve picked up about my competitors from research you’ve done for articles?


You wrote something about me a long time ago, and are now coming to me as a client and wanting to purchase training/a guest pass/a book/a ticket/another service I offer which you’ve raved about. Do I have to take you on as a client or hang out with you in exchange for the positive coverage, or in hopes of getting positive coverage in the future?


I hope this clears things up! Again, feel free to leave any questions in the comments.

Conflict of Interest: A Long-Winded But Basic Explanation

Just this past week, an individual asked me to accept payment to help him break into consumer magazines I write for. I turned the job down as a conflict of interest, trying to politely explain that it is unethical for me to compromise my relationship with my editors by acting as a PR agent in exchange for monetary benefit.

I will occasionally be offered some sort of freebie, and have to really play it by ear to see if it is acceptable. I will review free books on my blog (while disclosing to my readers that I did receive a review copy), but the sender runs the risk of either receiving a bad review or no review depending on how I feel about the book.

I can sometimes accept a free trip or attend a seminar to write a review–but again, I have to disclose this to my editor and receive approval, and often disclose the freebie my readers, and the seminar or workshop may not get a positive review (or any review, for that matter) depending on my experience.

The reason? My responsibility is to my editor and my readers, and it would be unethical to recommend or promote something when I don’t really mean it or don’t think it would fit my readers’ needs. If an editor believes a freebie would sway my opinion, I decline. If the gift-giver is trying to buy an insincerely positive review, I cannot oblige. And I will never, ever accept payment from an organization in exchange for covering them for a magazine or website which also provides compensation.

I’ve struggled with trying to explain these issues on many occasions, and my explanations are often met with confusion. The entire issue can be difficult, both because the face of media is really changing (gone are the days where newspaper reporters are not allowed to vote), and because often have to draw my own lines and voluntarily disclose information to readers (or pay for services and goods that are offered for free) as I face daily occurences of what I consider grey areas. But some of the situations I encounter are black and white.

Most recently, an article I wrote for a magazine was reprinted as an advertisement. I was livid, because it looked like I was working for the organization which reprinted the piece (a private company) AND the magazine which I was covering them for–a classic conflict of interest. (In reality, I turned down editorial work for the same company, citing a conflict of interest, though we had discussed the possibility of me editing and/or ghostwriting for the same organization. Despite appearances, the article was published as an ad without my knowledge, let alone consent–or payment from the company in question. Incidentally, some writers will not even do copywriting or any work in the same industries which they cover editorially, and I can see why.)

In any case, I’m hoping to try to clarify what exactly a conflict of interest is and why I sometimes turn certain opportunities down (and sometimes don’t). I’ll start with an explanation of what I believe a conflict of interest is. As I understand it, a conflict of interest is when a person (or company) has multiple interests, and one of them has the potential to corrupt their motivation for action in another. Let’s look to medicine for an example. Doctors are not permitted to sell the medicine which they prescribe. Patients must go to an outside pharmacy. This is because doctors could very well prescribe unnecessary drugs in order to make money. That is a conflict of interest. This conflict exists regardless of whether any wrongdoing has taken place. It is the potential/possibility of impropriety due to the circumstances that creates a conflict of interest.

As a professional writer, I am entrusted with a certain expectation of impartiality. A conflict of interest creates the perception that I lack impartiality, which kills trust and credibility (and often work, as many editors have no interest in dealing with writers who they think are incognito PR agents.)

Freelancing is a really difficult job, requiring a lot of different avenues of work in order to make a living. Last year, I wrote ad copy for businesses, did SEO consulting, taught classes, proofread manuscripts and papers, edited an online fitness journal, did a fair bit of test item writing, and wrote multiple articles for various trade journals, consumer magazines, custom publications, and websites. I also happen to cover health, fitness, nutrition, martial arts, and grappling…and exist in a world where I have my own goals and often am friends with various industry leaders, or train with interview sources outside of the context of my professional world. This makes it extremely difficult to avoid any conflict of interest. With that in mind, here are some measures I take.

I disclose any conflicts of interest, real or perceived, to my clients and editors–or readers, as necessary. For example, if I am asked to write about an organization I have done work with, I will mention this to my editor. S/he may choose to reassign the article, or to have me tell the readers what my connection is, and I comply with these requests. (I even sometimes offer the information when it is not requested.) I disclose potential conflicts of interest to my readers on this blog, For example, if I was going to plug a magazine I help edit on here, I would mention that in my description.

Similarly, I do not accept free trips or lodging without disclosing the gift to an editor, who may say no, or may ask me to disclose this to the reader. An exception is if this is for copywriting… Let me give an example. A fight promoter asked me to cover one of his events for a website I write for, and said he’d pay my lodging. I said no because it was a conflict of interest. First of all, I wouldn’t try to convince an editor that an event was worthy of coverage simply because I was getting freebies. (I’d also tell my editor about the freebies, and he’d nix the idea right there). Second, my readers would think I was covering the event due to its quality, but I wouldn’t, really–I’d be doing it because I got a freebie. This isn’t fair to the reader. However, if an event promoter wanted me to attend an event to ghostwrite promotional material for his own website, that’s a whole ‘nother story. (Again, though, note that there are a substantial amount of writers won’t do promotional work in the same industry they cover editorially, because things can get messy.)

If I am covering an event, such as a fight, and my mileage is being covered by a client…I will visit the gym where either of these fighters train (unless it is part of my assignment), both because it kills my semblance of impartiality, and because I don’t want people to feel like they need to hang out with me in their gym in order to get media coverage. (As mentioned, though, If an interview or gym visit is part of my assignment, that’s a different story.)

When I do visit a gym, I try really hard not to accept free classes in exchange for coverage, unless my editor and sometimes readers are aware that I got a freebie (which  may taint their view of my writing) and the gym owner is aware that the coverage may not be positive, and there many not be any coverage at all.

If I feel I cannot cover an assignment objectively, I will recuse myself from that assignment–unless there is an option to write an editorial, while disclosing my conflict in the article (usually in the beginning.)

I have in the past been an affiliate for certain products, such as Multipure filters, where I received a percentage of any items I sold. I  mentioned this affiliation in any blog posts where it existed, and also made sure to recommend more than one product.

If I am really confused and think my decision-making may be biased due to a conflict of interest, or I am worried about something which may or may not be a conflict of interest, I will ask an unbiased third party.

Lastly, I abide by any code of ethics available to me. One of my clients does not allow me to accept free food when reviewing restaurants. It can be challenging when the expense budget won’t cover a full meal, but I follow the rule and do the best I can. Another client allows me to accept freebies when part of promotional events, and still another actively tries to arrange for freebies.I do my best to follow both the spirit and letter of the law–working to eradicate the semblance of bias in my own writing, and abiding by any rules clearly laid out for me.

I hope this clears things up a bit. I will follow up with a Q+A on this issue, so feel free to add questions and comments or e-mail me directly.

Friday Musings, 2012 Edition

Wow. A clean slate, ey? Writing the first Friday Musings post of 2012 is kind of daunting… so I’ll start with a quote from Danielle LaPorte which I really like: “Be fiercely tender and still grow wild.” Nice, huh?

The good this week: Having a UFC viewing party with friends. Fun times. Getting cupcakes with Dawn. New Year’s brunch. A city-wide open mat/fundraiser at my gym. Writing about sprinting and ice cream and other fun things that don’t relate to each other at all. Reflecting on what I want to accomplish this year: to continue blossoming my writing career with patience, persistence, integrity, and confidence. To improve my grappling game with humility, consistency, open-mindedness and passion. To clean/organize/file/etc. all those boxes upstairs. And play around with vegetable gardening (plus some of that Kamana stuff).

The hard: My car being totally stuck in the ice. I hate it when my wheels just spin and I can’t move. But it did lead me to think about how this happens in my own life, namely with poorly expressed anger that I’m working on letting go of–also hard. Dealing with my (once again inaccurate) Comcast bill. And the not-so-geniuses at the Genius Bar in Edina on New Years Eve–wasting hours to find out they don’t have the part I needed. Trying to explain to people what a conflict of interest is, and why I don’t want my editorial work published as advertising. (I’ll write more on this next week.)

What I’m reading: The first book I started reading this year is The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs, who read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A-Z. It is a lot of fun to read through his reflections–part memoir, part recap–and have some of my own along the way, with far less work.

What I’m watching: The Swedish versions of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–a whole movie series!

What I’m listening to: Ani DiFranco’s Angry Anymore, on repeat. Enjoy the video–and feel free to tell me about your week!

Yael’s Variety Hour: The Usual. Plus a Car and a Rant

Welcome to the first Variety Hour of 2012! It’s also the first time I posted all my UFC 141-related content early (on Friday) so you could read it before the fights. That means we have less linkies this time around–an unlucky 13!


  • Why working at home is both awesome and horrible. A very funny cartoon on the Oatmeal which hits a little too close to home. (One of my teammates posted this on my facebook page–what is he trying to say?!)
  • A Departing Q & A with George Vecsey The Morning Delivery interviews former New York Times sports columnist George Veskey. My favorite quote: “Without editors planning assignments and copy editors fixing mistakes, reporters quickly deteriorate into Underwear Guys writing blogs from their den.”

Dude. You Totally Want This Car.

Health, Fitness & Science

  • The Year in Fitness. The New York Times provides a nice summary of the major stories of 2011.
  • The Fat Trap. Our body biologically makes it very, very difficult to keep off lost weight.



Enjoy! As always, feel free to post your comments on these or your favorite link(s) of the week.

Beyond Resolutions: Five Baby Steps for Lasting Health

Had I made any New Year’s resolutions, they’d already be broken. I was invited to brunch on New Year’s day, and there was chocolate (among other things). In addition, a friend brought me a loaf of delicious, freshly baked homemade bread. I typically don’t eat grains at all, let alone wheat, but just couldn’t resist. I try to at least limit my consumption to post-workout time, which diminishes the negative effects for me. And after the delicious loaf of bread is gone, I probably won’t eat any bread for weeks, if not months. But trying to maintain a puritanical attitude towards my own diet hasn’t been effective for me. I simply cannot maintain 100% consistency for more than, say, 30 days–and even then there is a backlash.

It’s important, I feel, to break out of the either/or cycle, 100% or 0%. I’m not trying to de-emphasize the importance of having goals and tracking progress, but setting realistic goals or even working towards something slowly–or looking at the big picture instead of expecting yourself to follow a very strict protocol simply because the calendar year has changed doesn’t seem to be the best strategy.

Here are some simple steps for creating lasting change in your diet. As always, this can be applied towards any other goal  you have that is too much of a shift to just jump into wholeheartedly.

  • Make sure you have an abundance of “good” food around. This gives you multiple options to choose from, and can only help you on your quest.
  • Push “bad” foods to post-workout. Not ready to give up some foods completely? At least shift the timing of them to right after a workout, so that your body can use some of the empty calories to help build your muscles and aid in your recovery. There are clean post-workout foods that may have a more favorable effect, but we’re talking baby steps.
  • Cut your junk food servings in half. Not ready to quit cold turkey? No problem. Just eat half of the amount you  normally would. Over time, you can decrease it in half again… Get where we’re going?
  • Focus on one meal or one habit at a time. Make sure you’re eating healthy, nutritious breakfasts (or whatever meal of your choice.) Make sure you’re staying hydrated or taking your fish oil. Pick just one habit (or one meal) and let it become habit. After a month or two, add another.
  • Set action-based goals. It’s easy to decide you want to lose X amount of pounds or lift X amount of pounds, and those are great long-term goals to keep an eye on your progress towards. But what’s even more effective is setting goals based on your activity. You can’t force your body to lose a certain amount of poundage a week, but you can certainly decide to lift 3 days a week and do 2 days of cardio. Focusing on your own actions is a lot more empowering, especially when results are slower than you’d like.

Anything else? Feel free to share your favorite strategy.

Book Review: Advanced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Techniques by Marcelo Garcia (with Marshal D. Carper & Glen Cordoza)

First things first: Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2012 brings you joy and fulfillment.

If you set some goals for 2012, perhaps improving your grappling is on the list. Luckily, a plethora of instructional books and DVDs are out on the market–the problem is often which one to choose. But it’s hard to go wrong with Marcelo Garcia, who is arguably the best pound-for-pound grappler in the world in addition to being one of the most sought-after instructors. Marcelo has five world championship titles as a black belt, as well as countless submission grappling awards from ADCC. He has won many absolute divisions against larger, stronger opponents at the highest levels… and in his instructionals (on, he seems like a very down-to-earth person as well.

I was a bit intimidated when Victory Belt Publishing sent me this book for review. It is, after all, advanced techniques and I’m just a baby when it comes to BJJ. But Marcelo Garcia’s system is always intriguing, as he provides numerous variations to techniques that are unique to his system and often more effective–especially if you’re smaller than most of the people at your gym. (As I mentioned, Marcelo has competed in absolute divisions at the highest levels and done brilliantly, a testament to his technical mastery in the sport.)

Advanced BJJ Techniques is divided into 6 sections: arm drags, establishing back control, submissions from back control, takedowns, attacking the guard and submissions. But first, there’s the introduction–written by Josh Waitzkin, author of the Art of Learning (which, incidentally, is an amazing book about learning, interwoven with Waitzkin’s experiences in competing in both chess and Tai Chi at an elite level). Waitzkin is a chess prodigy and writes with so much beauty and precision. Like Marcelo, he is absolutely brilliant; birds of a feather and all that.) Reading Waitzkin’s descriptions of Marcelo–his personality, his learning processes and his approach–is an absolute treat. Some interesting tidbits: Marcelo does not study opponents ahead of time, will not use techniques that won’t work against bigger and stronger opponents (including D’arce chokes, head and arm chokes, and kimuras) and is always up for a challenge, perhaps sometimes to his own detriment. I found myself wanting to read more about Marcelo as a person, but alas, this book is an instructional and not a biography.

Who is this book for? It is definitely an advanced book, though I think intermediate students may benefit from it as well. Almost all of the techniques are for the gi, so if you train primarily in no-gi, this may not be the best book for you. I think it would be difficult to use as more than a resource if you are a beginner…unless your coach uses techniques from the book in their instruction and you’d like to have something to refer to.

The book’s strengths? It is incredibly comprehensive, focusing not only on techniques but also on the set-ups and options for failed attempts. There is a lot of emphasis on transitions, which is missing from many BJJ instructional books. The photographs are great, like with all Victory Belt books, but specifically they also include minor steps for the techniques as well as photographs of the main steps. And Marcelo always has very technical variations of moves that work against bigger, stronger opponents. The book was co-written by Marshal Carper (author of the Cauliflower Chronicles) and Glen Cordoza, so it’s very well-written and easy to understand.

Onto the meat of the book. It starts with the arm drag section, which is divided into three parts: arm drag grips, arm drags to back takes and transitions from failed arm drags. There’s descriptions of times when Marcelo used these arm drags in competitions, and he describes both gi and non-gi variations with various grips. As with all Victory Belt books, photographs are abundant, making it easy to understand each technique.

The section on establishing back control is very extensive, and includes the basic body lock, ways to secure the second hook, and 8 counters to common escapes.

Submissions from back control include a detailed breakdown of the rear naked choke, an alternate back choke, ways to trap the arm to get the rear choke, information on the bow and arrow choke (including grip fighting and counters to escapes), and a counter to the back escape from a belly-down rear choke.

Takedowns are often underemphasized in grappling–usually due to space–so I was psyched to see the takedown section in this book. Marcelo prefers wrestling style takedowns to those used in judo and that’s what he emphasized: shooting in (double leg and single leg takedowns and trips and counters to sprawls), and the over/under clinch, plus some counters to sprawls.

The next-to-last section is attacking the guard and includes strategies for breaking the closed guard (including 3 breaks and a sweep counter), passing the open guard (3 methods), passing the half-guard (6 methods, including 2 counters) and passing the butterfly guard (3 methods.)

Last but not least, there’s a chapter on submissions. It is divided into three sections: chokes, armbars and omoplatas, and counter omoplata defense. These often include a transition: throat crush to guillotine; single leg counter to guillotine, failed choke crush to forward roll to bridge choke, plus the North/South choke, armbar from mount and various omo plata setups.

The book will run you $34.95–but it’s less on Amazon or BudoVideos, so check around.