Saturday, March 31, 2007

Maybe

Here is a link to the video for Neko Case's "Maybe Sparrow." Watch it and listen -- it will make you a better person.

Running is Easy, Running is Hard

I took my second-longest continuous run ever today, covering a distance of 16 miles in 2 hours, 2 minutes. The good news: this cements my place among the finest athletes in the history of mankind. The bad news: this is slightly behind the pace I'll need for a Boston qualifying time when I run the Whidbey Island Marathon just 15 days from today. And, of course, I'll have to hit and maintain that faster pace for an additional 10.2 miles. Ulp.

I guess it has to be good news that I know I could have run that extra 10.2 miles. I'm not sure at what pace, but I know I could have covered the ground in a running-like motion.

I'm straining to think of good excuses for today that can give me confidence going into Whidbey. The weather was excellent, the course was soft and not too hilly, the golfers didn't bother me, and I stayed hydrated. Here are the best excuses I can scrape up, and please don't let my list stop you from offering more:

* I still have a touch of my cold.

* Nothing was really at stake. I was not in a 'real' race and I knew it.

* I was paying too much attention to my time and doing too little to get my mind off running. Running while thinking about running is roughly as successful as typing while thinking about typing. Thinking is the enemy (insert George W. Bush jape here).

* I wasn't wearing any black. I am supposed to wear at least some black.

* There were only two inspiring butts. By and large, the other people out there were either too old or too male. Anyone who discounts the importance of inspiring butts is either not a real runner or has ulterior motives for understating the importance. Easily two-thirds of this sport's appeal is in the shapely butts.

Friday, March 30, 2007

That Sleepy MAX Guy


Here's the MAX regular that I characterized in a previous post as follows: " ... dirty fat guy crumpled, as on most mornings, into a death-sleep crouch in his favorite window seat."

I wish I had audio.

At last! That butt I mentioned


Here are the photos of the exposed crack I mentioned a few posts back. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sickly Microcosm


This is my basketball goal in its new and temporary location at the side of my house, awaiting what will surely be my most ambitious home improvement undertaking of the entire 2007 regular season: the dismantling and trashing of the basketball goal.

The saga started in 1981 when I took a liking to basketball despite Brent Musberger's play-by-play on CBS's telecasts of NBA games, which invariably involved some combination of Dr. J's Philadelphia 76ers, Larry Bird's Boston Celtics, or Magic Johnson's L.A. Lakers. Once in a while they deigned to show the Sidney Moncrieff Milwakee Bucks or the Ralph Sampson Houston Rockets because of basketball's preoccupation with having two teams on the floor during any given game, and a fourth was needed for a proper "TV double-header." All the other NBA teams, if they existed at all, sucked back then and weren't worth even Brent Musberger's time.

Flash forward to last week, when my retarded neighbor Wendell ensnared his overlarge van in the rim and pulled the goal, bottom weight and all, off the curb and into the street, where I discovered it. (My drunk neighbor Henry crabbily explained how the goal had made it to the street.) Using a facial expression with which I intended to express "that tears it," I emptied the water from the weighted bottom and, at last, dragged this lawsuit-waiting-to-happen out of the reach of the public and into the spot where you see it here.

Some time later -- maybe this coming weekend, maybe in a few months -- I'll call up my deepest reserves of manly "DIY"-ness, or perhaps just get tired of mowing around it, and dismantle the thing. Then I'll put the pieces in the back of my truck and cart it to the dump, where smallish Hispanic men will look at me using a facial expression with which they will intend to express, "another stupid gringo is throwing away perfectly good things."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Yes, this is still a democracy

Go here to vote for your favorite Star Wars stamp. Each of the stamp designs is terrible in its own way, but I voted for the Stormtrooper one because, I don't know, I got tired of trying to decide.

All of which reminds me: I wish they'd finish off these wretched state quarters. It seemed like a nice idea, but the pursuit of state pride has more often resulted in deepening the state's shame. Some lowlights:

Alabama - "We used to have a famous blind lady."
North Dakota - "We used to have buffalos."
Montana - "We used to have living cows."
Texas, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, etc. - "Here is a map of our state. Think of us the next time you see a map."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What's your dangerous idea?

Massive quantities of food for thought are available in the responses to The Edge's 2006 World Question. For my part, I have no dangerous ideas, only dangerous memories and some small capacity to inflict discomfort. One needs ideas per se before they can be dangerous.

Speaking of dangerous ideas, the Sam Harris-Andrew Sullivan debate on god and religion continues, although as I read it, Harris is giving Sullivan such a thrashing that it hardly deserves the 'debate' label.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Hazards and Ethics of Snot Rocketry

I am still stricken with what I hope are the last symptoms of a cold, so today's Bridge to Bridge 10K called for a lot of snot rocketry. Is it ethical to blow a snot rocket during a road race? Nay, during a crowded road race conducted on public streets in full daylight? I say it is, and not only because I'll continue doing it regardless.

I say the public streets are properly considered a big paved hankie. After all, whatever I blast out of my nostril is organic and biodegradable, every bit as much as the pigeon scat, squirrel blood, and homeless pee that so blamelessly and inevitably finds its way there. Moreover, in all of today's snot rockets, I showed all courtesy for my fellow racers by carefully checking fore and aft for adequate clearance, rocketing only when and where my offal would hit pavement, never person.

I did fail on the latter at least once: at the end of the race, noticing that the little paper cup of Gleukos was sticking to my hand in an odd way, I saw that I had left a thick green streak over much of my left forearm and hand. Lesson learned: from now on I'll pick up the Gleukos with the right hand.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Something has gone awry

I seem to have become a country music fan somewhere along the way. At first it was just an innocent dalliance with Neko Case that began innocently enough with notice of her standout work with The New Pornographers. That dalliance burgeoned into complete and totalizing love that persists to this day and shall never subside, but still, she's not exactly a typical country music act. (Right?) And then, what could I do but become a Dixie Chicks fan after all the abuse they took from that belligerent troglodyte Bill O'Reilly and so much of the rest of slobbering rube America? The new-found appreciation of some of Johnny Cash's work seems ecumenical and harmless enough -- he was always on the rock-country line anyway.

But how to explain the latest, Laura Cantrell? Oh is she ever lovely, and the more I listen to her, the more I find the comparisons with Neko justified. I still say she's no Neko, but the comparisons -- in themes, poetic tone, vocal range, richness of arrangement, etc. -- are fair. And she's more firmly in the country camp, although her albums have been reviewed in the pages of Rolling Stone, if that's any consolation to those of you who best remember me as a fan of Rush, AC/DC, Van Halen, U2, Violent Femmes, the Cure, R.E.M., The Smiths, and all that.

And you thought I was preachy before!

Within a few weeks, I shall be the owner of a 2007 Toyota Prius, the car designed and built for people who want to shake their fists at drivers of SUVs. It will be black, won't cost too terribly much, and will represent a solid vote for ecological and geopolitical sanity. Granted, it won't be perfect, but as we learned in Nader v. Gore v. Bush, we cannot afford to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good in this world.

Should I get one of those "Draft SUV drivers first" bumper stickers? Or how about, "I'm a smug liberal asshole"?

Other suggestions?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The right stuff

I've called my wireless carrier, WALD (do sign up! WALD is great!), and bared my soul about my inability to connect to the internets, so they're currently "re-provisioning" the phone, after which I'll be able to connect and send those images of people's butt-cracks and whatever else I've collected. I'm so excited I just might soil myself! I'm so glad I'm at home and wearing my astronaut diaper.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Golfers are pricks

The title of this post is my studied opinion that was given an unexpected bounty of supporting evidence today on my weekly run at Glendoveer Golf Course. Lest you think I'm imposing my running habit on golfer's turf, note that this is a public park maintained and funded by Metro, the same beloved government entity that gives us our solid waste system and our precious, precious zoo. Glendoveer is a public facility not only for golf but for worthwhile activities like running, walking, bird-watching, and high quality squirrel-human interactions (the squirrels there are very friendly, to the point of amorous, but that's the subject of another post and another day -- for now I must scourge golf and golfers.)

Exhibit A: the golfer whose last shot was so wildly off course that he had to hit from the running path, and who had the gall to look at me like I was in his way. What could I do but slow down to prolong his inconvenience?

Exhibit B: not once but twice, golfers at the driving range managed to hook their drives so badly that the bright yellow balls flew over the protective netting and into the running path, landing only feet in front of me. I came within mere seconds of suffering a bruise!

Exhibit C: on my last lap around the park -- when my impatience for bullshit was already at its natural zenith -- a golf cart sat jack-knifing the path, blocking it entirely. What could I do but what I did? I made a wide arc around it, so wide, in fact, that it took me directly through the putting green and directly over the hole where the ass-clowns who most obviously belonged to the cart were playing their "sport." And I slowed down a little to prolong the inconvenience. They might have said something to go along with those scowls they aimed at me, but I listen to music while I run, so I can't say whether or what.

Golf carts are, incidentally, only part of the proof that golf is not a real sport, let alone an endurance sport, as I have heard it characterized. The better proof is that nearly everyone who plays it is visibly out of shape, and many of them smoke while doing it. When I see a group of pot-bellied middle-aged dudes cross the finish line of a bona-fide endurance event -- biking, swimming, running, etc. -- with cigarettes or cigars perched on their lips, I'll revisit this. Until then, QED.

And by the way, golfers: no one is impressed that you can "afford" to play golf -- please spare us the suspiciously public, elevated-decibel declarations about tee times. I know it's expensive. Lots of stupid things are expensive. Huge SUVs are expensive. Wars of choice are expensive.

In short, watch out, golfers -- I prick back.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The agony & the ecstasy of camera phones


I took a couple of terrific photos today with my camera phone, the subject being the exposed crack of a big fat guy sitting on a curb. I've finally been able to connect to the internets and send images from my camera phone, so voila.

Naturally, the subject was exposing himself near the train stop, where fully covered butts are the exceptions that prove the rule. I made an effort to conceal the fact that I was photographing the big butt crack that no one failed to miss, but it wasn't a strong effort. A meth-addled street urchin, seeing my taboo-shattering behavior, saw it as an opening to ask me for 75 cents for "bus fare," but I said no after making him repeat his request twice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chopra v. Dawkins

Here is an interesting commentary on Richard Dawkins by Deepak Chopra, and the following is my take on where and how Chopra gets it wrong.

For starters, Chopra gives a poor and tendentious rendering of Dawkins' view of 'randomness' -- Dawkins does not imply or assert that the universe or humans exist because we (in effect) beat the odds against a 747 assembling from the stirring of a gigantic vat of junkyard refuse. Dawkins has refuted this caricature of evolution science countless times in print, including in his latest book, The God Delusion, and once in book length, with Climbing Mount Improbable. This is not his view; the theory of natural selection depends on the opposite of 'randomness.' But I won't belabor that.

Chopra also understates how many and with what earnestness people the world over -- not just Christian fundamentalists but Islamic fundamentalists and exacting adherents of Judaism -- believe in a 'personal god.' They may drop that phrasing when decked in their best philosophical finery, so as not to be embarrassed by their more sophisticated associates in the faculty lounge, but that's the belief system. Jesus, Allah, Muhammad, Jehovah, Buddha, Vishnu, Krishna, Zeus and the rest are gods-as-men or men-as-gods, notwithstanding the dust kicked up under the rubrics of theology, apologetics, commentaries, and tradition. This is how their most fervent devotees conceive these beings, and how they come out upon any fair reading of their background works. The being labeled god (and variants) is a very person-like one who makes demands and proclamations that resonate on an everyday human level -- love thy neighbor, don't disbelieve, don't practice witchcraft, don't fornicate, don't eat pigs, don’t eat cows, treat others as you would be treated, etc. These instructions do not come from a 'field' or an 'emergent consciousness' but a rule-making king or father figure.

Fundamentally, Chopra is playing a game of equivocation with the word 'consciousness', using it to carry the same weight of ineffable mystery for which previous thinkers have used words like 'transcendence,' 'logos,' 'karma,' and 'holy spirit' and the like. Substitute 'holy spirit' everywhere Chopra uses 'consciousness,' and it will not alter the substance of what he's saying (and failing to spell out), although it will layer on Christian connotations he does not intend. Into the gaps he wants to insert 'consciousness' rather than 'god' or 'fate' or 'the flying spaghetti monster,' but the move is no less arbitrary and empty.

I agree with Chopra that it seems reductionist (in some nasty sense of the term) to pare human thought and feeling to the motions of particles. For whatever it's worth, Dawkins does not do this -- he's a zoologist, not a particle physicist. But the disquieting feelings created by materialistic reductionism don't make it false. Chopra points out that atoms are almost 100% empty space. Does it follow that a baseball is not made of atoms since a baseball is not (in any apparent or practical sense) almost 100% empty space? Does it follow that we should look to empty space as the best working model of the physical properties of a baseball? No and No! Once we depart from our world of human-scale phenomena and engage this sort of question -- how does what I observe about X boil down to the motions of subatomic particles? -- we enter very shaky ground, because intuition and our relative lack of understanding of subatomic particles leaves a lot of room for speculation and mystery. Tiny particles are extremely weird! It is a fallacy to expect subatomic particles to fit our intuitions in the same way that breadbox-sized items do, and when they do not, to declare that subatomic particles can't possibly be at the root of things. (Whether explanations need to go all the way to the subatomic level to validate materialism is a further question. I say this demand is made in bad faith.)

Dawkins directly addresses this fallacy of scale in, among other works, The God Delusion, supposedly the book to which Chopra is responding. Chopra is offering nothing more than a bias here, a well-traveled one that has interfered with scientific insight time and time again, other clear examples being heliocentrism and plate techtonics. These scientific theories are bodies of counterintuitive claims belied by commonplace, straight observation. And yet they're true, and we know it to be so. One day, thanks to the same kind of rigorous scientific work that has brought us all of our "streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes" -- not to mention the internets, air travel, cures for diseases, and the unweaving of genomes -- we will crack the mind-body relationship, and maybe with that will come a real purchase on what we mean by the word 'consciousness.' The end result may prove to be beyond the grasp (not to say the reach) of non-specialists, and more likely, will strike most non-specialists as spectacularly arcane and boring in the same way as the most advanced forms of math and physics. But if humankind gets there, it will be via the scientific method, not through hand-waving about mysteries and certainly not through prayer. If we do discover that consciousness turns out to be the fundamental unit of everything in the cosmos, then Chopra will be credited, rightly, for having somehow seen this in advance of the science.

Incidentally, as I read him, Chopra would agree with much of what I've said above. He does not dismiss science in favor of muddy mysticism, and I credit him for that. But he does create space for that kind of thinking.

By way of further reading, it is worth noting that David Hume long ago did away with the hypothesis that consciousness precedes all existence -- if not falsifying it outright, doing it irreversible damage as a notion that can help anyone understand anything. He did so in depth; it was the view of Demea, one of the three personas in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. You can still read that without being hanged these days, and you should!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My clown college

Since Daylight Savings Time was already stealing an hour, I decided to whizz another one away today by running the 2007 Shamrock Run (Official results, which add about 90 seconds to my actual time. Grr.) The weather was perfect -- overcast but rain-free, not windy, temperature in the high 50's to low 60's -- so I went ahead and gave it a good effort for all 15 kilometers, finishing in 1:06:30 or so.

The way I crossed the finish line brings to mind a scene from the Simpsons (itself an homage to a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind) in which Homer, obsessed with signing up for clown college, builds a circus tent from mashed potatoes as his family looks on in horror at the depth of his reverie. So I must have seemed to the large crowd gathered around the race's finish area as I came sprinting in at maximum effort, bothering to pass those last few people in the final 50 yards or so. For trying so hard with nothing at stake, did they see me with horror? Pity? Or was the joke ultimately on them? (You'd think I'd know the answer: am I serious about running or am I playing the part of someone who is serious about running?)

While I appreciated the free post-race Widmer to cancel out the rehydrating effects of the free bottled water, the post-race food offerings were wretched, consisting of a choice between a hot dog and a bowl of clam chowder (McCormick and Schmick's was one of the event's sponsors). For me, this might as well have been a choice between a plate of hair and a bowl of toenail clippings. I think clams should stay away from chowder, and as for hot dogs, the less said of those, the better.

In that same Simpsons episode, now at clown school, Homer's pants get caught in the gears of his tiny stunt bike and expose his bare ass to the seat. Seeing this, Krusty orders the bike seat burned. The shorts I wore today should probably be burned too, and for the same reason.

Friday, March 9, 2007

These headphones don't suck

To quote Montgomery Burns, I know what I hate, and I don't hate this: Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones. No, they won't work for running, but I can hear all the imperfections of all my favorite music when listening through them: Bob Dylan's little farts in the background of "Bob Dylan's Blues," the mosquitos flitting around the studio when DevotchKa recorded Una Volta, the way Neko Case's drummer's stomach kept growling during the recording of "South Tacoma Way" -- almost enough to ruin the mood. Almost.

I continue to maintain that most headphones are crap.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Um, support our troops and stuff

Now that we know that housing the combat-wounded in facilities unfit for farm animals counts as "supporting the troops," it makes me wonder what else is allowed. If I spit in their food, is that also supporting them? What if I replace the fine coffee Halliburton normally serves with filthy top soil? How about if I knot their shoestrings together while they're standing in line waiting for body armor the Bush administration can't be bothered to provide?

It sounds like a smart-alecky rhetorical question but I really don't know what I can and can't do to qualify as "supporting the troops," which all those insipid bumper stickers want me to do. I've donated money to the USO, which seemed like a safe bet at the time, but apparently it's within bounds to sit on the couch demanding tax cuts too.

Anything goes! If it feels good, do it, and label it "supporting the troops!"

New look


People keep saying how different I look with my new hair cut and reading glasses. Maybe, maybe not.

But seriously: let's pause for a moment in honor of that poor, poor snake. For all the garter snakes I handled as a kid, I never once entertained the thought of routing one through my nostril. To each his own, I suppose.

Netherlands beware

If spiders ate humans instead of bugs, after factoring in the estimated number of spiders in the Netherlands, their rate of meat consumption, and the human population, all the people would be eaten within three days.

I read it in a magazine. The Netherlands are just a few spider mutations away from total depopulation -- as are we all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I am not anemic

The nice intake lady at today's blood donation asked me my name and social security number at least twelve times and had to puncture two fingers to get the sample proving I am not anemic. I am not anemic.

Had she asked for my name one more time, I vowed I would decline the self-administered questionnaire and insist that she ask all those terribly embarrassing questions about my sexual history with people from Africa and use of hair-growth potions. But no, our fun together ended before that, I did the questions myself, and she handed me off to the helpful volunteers, each more elderly than the last, who escorted me to the big lawn chair in which I sat as they exsanguinated me.

Now I'm thirsty.

I hate headphones.

In case you wondered, these Sennheiser 'sport' headphones suck: there's no way to adjust them to fit better (so good luck if your head isn't exactly the size of the stunt model's head they used) and the bass response is no match for my $12 Phillips headphones. Oh, and don't even think about moving your head during the "active lifestyle" these are said to support, because if you do, the back of your head might collide with that stupid neck brace and knock out whatever temporary alignment you'd managed to achieve.

Why can't someone make a decent pair of headphones for people who actually move while listening to music? Let me break this down and abstract it from running: isn't the iPod such a great idea because it's portable? Don't we tend to move when we're doing whatever calls for something portable? Why does the body's motion, then, expose so many flaws of so many headphones?

Don't even get me started on those inside-the-ear monstrosities. Those should be gathered from the world over and destroyed in a massive bonfire -- every pair of every brand.

Grr.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Nipple chafe!

A terrible case of nipple chafing this morning revealed itself in a harsh surprise when I allowed the water from the shower to strike them. Surely it's a sign of Spring that the orange "wicking" shirt now poses a danger when worn under the gray sweatshirt. As the buds form and the squirrels chatter, so our running clothes must change with the passing of the seasons.

Lesson learned: no more bathing of the nipples.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Answers about the Tooth Fairy

Inspired by a broadcast of This American Life, I asked my son today what he thinks the Tooth Fairy does with all the teeth she collects.

"Turns them into coins," he answered so matter-of-factly that I could be forgiven for feeling culturally illiterate.

"You mean she actually turns the teeth into the money she gives?" I asked for clarification.

"Yes."

So there it is.

Friday, March 2, 2007

It's alright, ma, I'm only bleeding

Today was one of those days when frequent coffee runs, even more frequent bathroom breaks, non-business e-mails, "web research," and even ensconcing myself in the less insulting portions of my assigned duties were powerless to beguile me of the horror and absurdity in which I whore out my labors.

Others' superior laziness hemmed me into following our IT department's formal change process in connection with a minor change I made in the syntax of a small query of a small application. This entailed, first, completing an online form -- everything is better when it's web-based! -- describing the nature, extent, timing, impact (financial no less than psycho-social and spiritual) of the change -- and, second, generating the supporting documentation, which included the Deployment Plan, the Communication Plan, and the Test Plan. That templates exist for these Plans does nothing to lessen the nauseating superfluity.

... I can't even continue this. It was one goddamn line of one goddamn query that affects, at most, two reports, neither of which anyone even thought significant enough to test before now. The bug was discovered, as so many bugs are, by some dude who was fishing for reasons to discount the validity of the application and thereby to escape having to use it. (Bravo! Please succeed in this so that your princess-and-the-pea whining will no longer encumber me!)

I wanted to tear my cubicle down, grind its parts into a powder, and eat it with fava beans. (And that's just the legal daydream I entertained over this.) It was all I could do to hold on until a time approximating my normal end-of-day.

Back to the hills

I just knew denial would fail me again: I discovered this morning that my hill-training route up to the zoo and back should be considered available. There is no longer any ice to consider, and the sun is rising early enough to allow me to see all the hobo campers in Washington Park before they've actually knifed me.

Here's the route, more or less, if you want to run me down some morning. Make it quick, please. I don't want to have to watch you stop and make a second pass over me.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

It's OK because of the English accent

I am not a car fanatic but this is amazing.

I haven't decided if my next car will be one of these or a Prius.