Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mt. Tabor Doggie Challenge 2011 - Dogs and Masters

Earlier today I completed the Mt. Tabor Doggie Challenge 8k in a time of 35:42 (7:11 min/mi pace), fast enough to earn the handsome trophy and cat (cat not included) shown here for first place among men's "Masters." I don't know how I feel about being in the "Masters" category of anything, but I do know that my opinion doesn't affect my inclusion in the category. Being over 40 does it.

Being over 40 is better than the available alternatives, and especially so when it comes along with the opportunity to run a well-organized event on the challenging hills of Portland's Mt. Tabor park. Compared with previous years, I was pleased to see how many people not only participated but seized on the "doggie" in the event's name and accompanied their dogs on the run. It was quite a thing to see -- hundreds of dogs gathered together on a sunny day in the park without anything worse than a stray bark or two.

I thank Terrapin Events, the sponsors, the volunteers, and all the participants, dogs and people alike, for making today's race such a success.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ruminations Upon the Successes and Failures of "Branding" Campaigns

Of the items pasted across this info-graphic posted by Maddow, concerning the important topic of which brands strike which voting demographics as favorable, I am slightly surprised by only this: that FOX should be separated from its self-styled "News Channel" wing for purposes of brand evaluation. I gather the FOX empire separates its propaganda organ from its tee-vee programming for the sake of faking financial numbers, diffusing accountability, and other routine corporate functions, but in terms of marketing, advertising, public relations, and other aspects of "branding," it's hard to say what vaults them so high above, say, UPS, Subway, and FedEx but below Lowe's and Ford in the esteem of Republicans. Is it Family Guy? House? The Simpsons? One or more of those idiotic singing / dancing / cooking / hording / dating / breaking-up / football-to-the-groin / child-rearing / dangerous fishing / cops v. hillbillies / hidden camera pedophile sting / animal attack / animal rescue / animal killing / doughy-hayseeds-in-peril / pawn store employees "reality" shows that FOX still, I assume, broadcasts in the same horrifying quantities as all the other channels?

I ask this fascinating question because my understanding of the right-wing dogma is that FOX's programming participates in the "Hollyweird" phenomenon that makes baby Jesus cry at the liberal domination of media, and as such should push it completely off the Republican list. Judging from this info-graphic, it would seem they enjoy its offerings despite all the caterwauling about the terrible, terrible culture, which suggests this caterwauling is akin to the fact that most of the porn gets viewed in red states, where porn is widely disparaged and condemned as a source of baby Jesus tears.

Also: Olive Garden. I assume that's a punchline all by itself.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Poem of the Day: Sonnets 63 and 64

It probably means I am feeling old, feeble, and impermanent that I was inclined to post "Sailing to Byzantium" by Yeats, but since I already did so, these two successive sonnets of Shakespeare will more than do. Whatever hope sonnet 63 seems to offer against "confounding age's cruel knife," sonnet 64 despairingly negates: "time will take my love away."

Sonnets 63 and 64

Against my love shall be, as I am now,
With Time's injurious hand crush'd and o'er-worn;
When hours have drain'd his blood and fill'd his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travell'd on to age's steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he's king
Are vanishing or vanish'd out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age's cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love's beauty, though my lover's life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.

When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

That Families Borrow Money

It should go without saying that the analogy between managing the finances of a nation state and managing the finances of a family can only go so far, and not very far at that. I don't know of any families who possess the unique distinction and sole authority of printing the very same currency in which most of the world's assets are denominated, for example.

It should go without saying, but that assumes a world in which the blindingly obvious isn't regularly contradicted by putatively credible figures such as elected officials, highly-paid political pundits, and others. Even if one insists on the analogy, however, it quickly fails to support the shibboleth it is most frequently used to promote, namely, a legal requirement to balance budgets. Matt Yglesias:

In the course of making the case for such an amendment, [some dumbass] observes that “[e]very day families in southeastern Pennsylvania make tough decisions in order to live within their means.”

I’m sure that’s true. But even without being intimately familiar with conditions in southeastern Pennsylvania, I feel confident that every day families in southeastern Pennsylvania do things like get mortgages to buy a house. Certainly that’s what families do in the Washington, DC area. And as I recall from my college years, people often take out student loans to go to school. Certainly I have a mortgage. I’ve used my credit card. Over the long term, clearly, a household’s income has to equal its expenditures. But what kind of a family balances its budget on a year-to-year basis? How would anyone ever start a business in a world like that? It’s kind of amazing to me what can be passed off as common sense if you just repeat it enough.
Families borrow money all the time. So do individuals, and so do businesses big and small, and moreover they often do so without a fool-proof, guaranteed, finely detailed plan for paying back the money: a mortgage borrower expects, but cannot project with mortal certainty, that his income one, five, and ten years from now will be sufficient to cover the payments; a business owner expects, perhaps based on all kinds of solid research, that a expenses associated with developing a new product or opening a new franchise will pay off in a way that will balance the debt used to fund it.

Borrowing is not some kind of moral vice. Not just commerce, but capitalism itself would stop without it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Deficit Nihilism

Reproduced by Ezra Klein, this chart is a good-enough illustration of the fraud into which US domestic politics has plunged over the last few weeks: screaming Deficit Panic after several straight years of amassing deficits with little to no concern (to wit: 130 currently-serving GOP Congressmen have voted to raise the debt ceiling at least once in recent years), let alone panic, let alone the sort of nihilistic histrionics that would shame a mugger.

Suddenly, these last few weeks, even as the economy continues to crawl to a grinding stop, cutting deficits and debt must be consuming priority of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, no matter what, even if -- no, make that especially if -- it means worsening the economic crisis, and true to form, the coward in chief is validating the scripts of the deficit nihilists by repeating them rather than declaring them the despicable, destructive frauds they are.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Back to Black

Amy Winehouse has been found dead by police in London:

According to the BBC, 27-year-old singer Amy Winehouse has been found dead in her North London home. Police are so far saying that her death is unexplained, though her heavy drinking past has been well publicized.
That knife-edge between artistic giftedness and personal instability has cut another down. Sad.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Haiku for Bag

As I write this, I am badly losing a like count battle, the prize of which is the "handsome" bag shown above being offered by the Multnomah County Library's facebook page:
Haiku throw-down! Write a book or movie review in haiku form and post your creative concoction in the comments here - please include the title and author. The poem with the most 'likes' will win this fabulous book bag from the Friends' Library Store.[emphasis mine]
See, that's why I put handsome in scare-quotes above -- fabulous was the word I was searching for; handsome was only a draft. That bag is indeed fabulous.

My review in haiku, which has currently garnered zero likes, is of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Jar-Jar:
George Lucas needs cash -
fourth mansions are expensive!
CGI slapdash.
I am not, by the way, fishing for likes here. I didn't even give it a like myself -- frankly, I think I could crap a better haiku review than that. For example, Hamlet:
Something's rotten there.
Revenge trumps indecision
Regicide repeats.
Or how about The Shawshank Redemption?
Wrongly convicted,
Andy gets busy living,
heads to Mexico.
Not quite last but always least, there's the four to six hours of visual effects on which James Cameron hung the title Avatar:
Spears beat tanks. Like Dances with
, only no good.
I didn't think much of Inception, either --- and clearly, I have turned this into a chance to snark about movies I dislike using the power of haiku:
In dreams, our secrets
are there for the taking. Thieves
hack in. Confusing.
Likes remain at zero.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes (Etc.)

As ever, each headline brings more hope and uplift than the last:
  • A meth-addled hillbilly lady -- pardon me, alleged meth-addled hillbilly lady -- tried selling her infant for $500 to $5000 just across the river in Vancouver, Washington, out of the parking lot of a Taco Bell. If the rumors are right, she offered to throw in a bucket of Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes for any winning bid over $2500. Here's the unexpected twist to the story -- the infant-peddling hillbilly was not Vancouver's most famous alleged drug-addled hillbilly, Tanya Harding.
  • Whoever had this week in the Borders Death Watch has won the pool:
    Any hope that Borders would find a buyer and keep its nearly four hundred American stores open for business ended on Monday when the bookseller chain announced that it would liquidate its assets in an effort to pay creditors.
    I have no idea where we are going to spend several dollars too many on CDs we don't want, or very-near-full-retail on books Oprah has recently promoted, but I totally know a parking lot where you can score a cheap infant.
  • Apparently, only 19% of Republicans believe Obama would be rapture-vacuumed up to heaven if Jesus exercised that option. I'm surprised the figure is as high as that. Maybe 19% of them momentarily forgot he has dark skin and reads books?
  • Breaking Bad has started a new season (spoilers afoot), so the wrong-headed commentary has begun:
    Walt is weak. Sure, he's a great chemist, and by now he knows just what to do when confronted with an inconvenient dead body, but his attempts to sweet-talk Gus were just as spectacularly ineffective as his attempts to sweet-talk his wife, Skyler, back in his early days in the meth business. His head is packed with facts, but is the heart inside that Kenny Rogers T-shirt strong enough to survive this brutal business?
    I say the Kenny Rogers t-shirt is the perfect complement to the sand-toned Pontiac Aztek, but no one asked me. However: sweet-talk? That was someone's idea of sweet-talk? No, that was Walt doing what Walt always does when cornered or anxious: over-explaining, saying too much, getting didactic, waxing preachy. This is a bad idea in the best of circumstances, but Walt has a knack for entering this mode even in the immediate presence of proven sociopaths. He is way past lucky to be alive by now, which brings me to the last counterpoint: no, Walt is not going to survive all of this. One way or another, whether by cancer or box-cutter or bullet, Walt is doomed. He might provide for his family, and might even contrive to extricate Jesse from their chaotic miasma, and he will surely beat the odds a few more times before the end, but he has known from the start that he is a walking cadaver. He has turned this to his favor by mastering his fears and maintaining a strict focus on what he must do, but he cannot ultimately endure.
As with Walt, so with us all.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Prayers for Rain

It is hot in Oklahoma -- not boring-hot as it was most summers in my home town of Ponca City, or not only boring-hot, but temperature-hot. Fear not, though, the state's governor is on it:

In response to Oklahoma's record drought and heat wave, Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK) called for a statewide day of prayer on Sunday to pray for rain. For 47 straight days, temperatures in Oklahoma City have been above 90 degrees ...
For the safety of our firefighters and our communities and the well-being of our crops and livestock, this state needs the current drought to come to an end. The power of prayer is a wonderful thing, and I would ask every Oklahoman to look to a greater power this weekend and ask for rain.
Oklahoma's governor encourages all Oklahomans to direct skyward mumbling, e-mails, texts, IMs, voice-messages, and the like toward the leading god, making explicit entreaties for better weather. Standard data charges apply. Offer not valid for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Taoists, Pagans, Jains, Zoroastrians, Deists, and Christians of the wrong sect (they know who they are).

If, three or four days out, the prayers of Oklahomans have not delivered the state from this drought, the governor will presumably conclude what most people already assume, namely, that god doesn't think very highly of Oklahoma, or more reasonably, that begging deities for weather favors is pointless.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Carlin! Thou should'st be living at this hour

Everything is a fen of stagnant waters, but more on that presently. This week's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast raised two interesting topics: Right Place at the Right Time, concerning pop culture that arrived at just the right time to make a positive or inspirational or otherwise substantial impact; and Wish You Were Here, concerning
the things that have sadly left us too early — artists who died young, series that aren't made anymore, whatever it is that we're missing.
My entry for Right Place at the Right Time is M*A*S*H, which entered continuous replay in syndication at about the time I was reaching an age when I was ready to start giving a damn about wit. I recall stumbling on the weird-to-me realization that girls will like me if I am funny at exactly the same time that Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John, Frank Burns, Col. Blake, BJ Honeycutt, Charles Emerson Winchester, Col. Potter, Radar, Klinger, Hotlips Hoolihan, and all their wacky cohorts were launching one-liners, breaking hearts, saving lives, defying the powers, and teaching us all a little something about ourselves six or eight times a day on the tee-vee. It assured that for any situation, however freighted with geopolitics and human suffering, the proper response is a smartass remark. I have since realized that M*A*S*H was just a televised recapitulation of a previous generation of comedic sensibility, stretching from Vaudeville and serialized radio programs to early television, so it spared me ever having to pay any attention to any of that. I have further realized M*A*S*H was not really that witty, and therefore draw your own conclusions about whether and to what degree girls ever especially liked me.

As for Wish You Were Here, that's easier: I wish John Lennon were still alive and responding to the artistic, musical, social, commercial, and political developments of the times. Whatever he might have done, the sure bet is that it would have been unexpected, riveting, and uneven without being merely cheaply shocking. (I prefer to think he would dig deeper than a meat dress -- which is not to say I'm ready to dismiss Lady Gaga. She has time.) That's an obvious pick -- anyone who doesn't think of John Lennon in this connection joins the ranks of history's greatest monsters.*

I wish Deadwood hadn't stopped prematurely. The series that showed us the power of shouting "cocksuckers!" at any problematic person or situation had so much more to give.

Lastly and above all, in agreement with the Pop Culture Happy Hour regulars, I bemoan the loss of George Carlin, who would have forced the Twitter people to double their server capacity to handle the traffic of follows, tweets and retweets he alone would have generated.

* Counterpoint: for every day Lennon lived on, the pressures for a regrettable Beatles reunion would have increased.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Make the Easy Parts Easy

People often ask me* my single best piece of advice for becoming a runner, and my answer is always the same: have excellent genes for it. There's just no substitute for being born with the right propensities for targeted muscle mass, VO2 capacity, pain tolerance, sturdy knees, sturdy ankles, sturdy feet, sturdy toes, and a collection of subtler qualities of mind I'll summarize as being too damn stubborn to stop running once you've started. Being selectively stupid helps the latter.

These genetic and arguably-genetic draws being notoriously difficult to obtain if your parents didn't bestow them, if I had to choose a second bit of advice, I would say: make the easy parts easy. A mistake I see people make is to turn running into a gigantic production -- it has to happen across town, or an hour's drive into the country, or at the end of some distant rainbow or at the base of some enchanted waterfall; or it cannot possibly happen unless in the presence of the workout buddy or buddies; or it has to take place during the most productive two-hour window of the day, when your psychic alertness peaks and Saturn is in aspect for your microsign or whatever; or it has to be attended by an onerous routine of scrupulous record-keeping and progress-tracking and spreadsheets and smartphones and diet plans and meditative practices and thoughtful journal entries.


Just put on clothes and shoes that stay out of your way, go outside, and start running. I recommend early morning before anyone has a chance to intrude on your time, but opinions vary, as do internal clocks. Do the same the next day, but stay out a little longer and go a little farther. While you're out, look at what other runners are wearing and not wearing, and follow their example. Grab more running-ish shorts or shoes or a shirt the next time you're going by a store that sells that kind of thing, or dig something out of a closet, or borrow a friend's.

By all means invite a friend if that's your inclination, but don't make your running dependent on the friend's participation. If he/she/they "can't" be there, it's a signal that it has become too complicated. Simplify it.

The running itself should be the difficult part. Make everything else as simple, direct, quick, effortless, and routine as possible. To become a runner, go straight outside, pick a direction, and run. Let the finer points fill in later. Repeat.

* Not really.

Netflix - Angering the Internets

As I write this, the internets are angry. The number was nine the last time I checked, but today, Netflix's own list of top 100 films contains only eight items that are available via its streaming service -- and of those, only one is in the top 30, and of that one, 100% is The Unexpectedly Disappointing Case of Benjamin Button or Who's Afraid of Benjamin Button or Benjamin Button: Time Will Seem to Flow Backwards as You Watch or Benjamin Button: Dark Side of the Moon, or whatever that lachrymose piece of crap is called.

Naturally, given the manifestly middling quality of its streaming service, Netflix is increasing its rates in order to pull more money from its customers properly price its offerings:
[W]e are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into separate plans to better reflect the costs of each and to give our members a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan or the option to subscribe to both. With this change, we will no longer offer a plan that includes both unlimited streaming and DVDs by mail.
Lance Ulanoff thinks Netflix is doomed. Doomed, I tells ye!
Over time, the world will walk away from physical media. Broadband access (wired or wireless) will reach every part of the U.S. and further and further around the globe, and consumers will get their HD video content exclusively from the Web ... With Netflix making almost no headway in accessing first-run films for instant streaming, and no hurdles to stop consumers like me from switching, Netflix's future looks very dire indeed.
Well, sure, but raising the price on a lackluster service is something beyond not-a-hurdle -- it's all but asking people to leave.

For me, Netflix streaming is worth little because of poor selection, poor sound quality, and the unavailability of subtitles (closed caption), commentary, and other extras that frequently come with physical disks. That means it's good for (a) the narrow band of videos it offers -- fans of Cheers, Family Ties, and Hawaii Five-O rejoice! -- where (b) you don't really care that you're only hearing it in two-channel stereo -- most tee-vee shows and films were recorded and mixed long before surround sound was widely adopted --  and (c) you can confidently assume there are no special features of interest and, of course, (d) you don't need closed caption because your hearing is perfect and you have no trouble with anyone's accent in any production. Oh, and don't forget that it works well only if (e) your internet connection is stable and swift, but with (d) and (e), I unfairly speak as though we live in an imperfect world.

So, with whatever apologies are due to Lance Ulanoff, I don't join him in welcoming the twilight of physical disks and the dawn of the streaming-only video age. Perhaps events will prove him right, but I see nothing to cheer about if so.

Still, for all my grousing, I will not drop Netflix --- not completely, and not yet. I will drop the streaming thing as soon as the price goes above zero. Until it drops off my account, it will remain a 'nice-to-have' for the rare case when something worth watching arrives there. Who knows? Maybe between now and September I'll want to remind myself of why I never thought much of Family Ties in the first place, or maybe their catalog of streaming titles will markedly expand. I will drop Netflix entirely the moment they seem to be skimping on their inventory of physical disks.

Last and least, to assure both readers that I am nothing if not richly layered, I note that I have made the final edits to this post while playing X-Men via Netflix streaming.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Onrushing Maw

As it happens, in that same filmspotting podcast I was caterwauling about yesterday, Matty Robinson had positive things to say of -- of all things -- Paul Blart Mall Cop, the Kevin James vehicle set in a mall in which a man (who is, you see, funny because he is fat) re-enacts the slapstick crime-busting antics that were already agonizingly tedious ten minutes into Home Alone. After which something something he gets the girl --- or we should say, the attractive girl is saddled with the character played by Kevin James, including all his ravenous insecurities and dawning medical infirmities.

Granted, for all that, PBMC is slightly more endurable than Congo, but with the prospect of The Zookeeper darkening our collective near futures, can we afford to permit a positive mention of the film oevre of Kevin James? I say we cannot.

Fortunately, as the image to the right illustrates, Jeffrey Sconce is already doing more than caterwauling --  he has situated The Zookeeper in the context of Biblical preachments, and has provided a helpful Zookeeper Checklist for those sad sacks who have been conked out and dragged to a showing of it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Saw Someone Wrong on the Internet

Adam Kempenaar and Matty Robinson of Filmspotting podcast fame did not like I Saw the Devil, not even a little bit. It was not what they were hoping to see -- they were hoping to see something else, and this film was not that something else.

Adam, for example, declares

there are no insights into the nature of evil, there's just a lot of pain and anguish ...
But what if the film is saying that evil is a condition that produces lots of pain and anguish in the interactions of people? I would say that is exactly what the film is saying, and saying quite clearly: that evil occurs when people produce pain and anguish in one another.

Both reviewers go on to explain that what they were hoping to see was something redeeming in all the evil the film presents -- progression, growth, lessons learned, a deserved chastening or two, a conclusion featuring a wistful stroll into a sadder and wiser sunset by at least one of the main characters.

Here's the thing: this is not trying to be that film; it is not telling that story. There are plenty of films that feature a dramatic arc of roughly that sort -- take True Grit (2010) for an example of a well-executed one, or take Taken for an example of a so-so one -- but I Saw the Devil makes precisely the statement about evil that the filmspotting guys accuse it of making, namely, that a wrathful seeking of vengeance creates a self-accelerating cycle of pain and a widening circle of broken minds and mangled bodies. Full stop.

The film suggests that rage-fueled evil burns through people indiscriminately; that while rage and hatred are motivating the choices people make, nothing is learned, and the choices become less and less comprehensible to observers. On this note, Matty sharpens his criticisms in an especially odd way:
He [the antagonist of I Saw the Devil] is not Anton Chigur from No Country for Old Men, not in the least bit; where you at least have some insight into what is driving these characters. ... Here there is no depth to these characters, it is completely flat.
As to the latter part: exactly! It is completely 'flat' in the sense that as the film's action proceeds, it becomes ever harder to detect any rationale for the shocking deeds being carried out -- the two main characters increasingly demonstrate nothing but hatred for one another and indifference (at best) toward anyone or anything that impedes their rage. Hatred and the wish for vengeance become the only notes anyone sounds. Precisely.

As to the Anton Chigur comparison, Matty is exactly wrong. Where in No Country for Old Men is any clear indication of what drives Chigur's relentless, wanton cruelty? Both the film and the book announce rather plainly, over and over, that Chigur lies beyond any moral, practical, or pecuniary calculus. Chigur is "something you don't understand," as the Sheriff muses; one of his victims compares him with the bubonic plague; he openly mocks everyone who bothers to try to bargain, negotiate, rationalize, justify, deal, or reason with him.

The antagonist of I Saw the Devil --- and as the film progresses, increasingly the protagonist as well -- fit this mold exactly.  If anything, the principals get more evil as their reactions build on their own ugly momentum, and everyone in the vicinity is noticeably worse off, or dead, by the end.

Roll credits.

If the above sounds like a faithful portrait of revenge, I Saw the Devil might be to your liking -- which is far from saying it is pleasant to watch. It is a beautifully choreographed and visualized image of the darkest, ugliest realities one would ever want to witness in the interactions of people.

Monday, July 11, 2011


A blogger I admire has seen fit to prepend a post as follows:

Now, I'm not naive. I knew that there would be epic levels of butthurt in response to this post.
What's the controversial topic, you ask? Picard versus Kirk? Mac versus Windows? Oprah versus Dr. Phil? Batman versus Superman? Bigfoot versus Loch Ness Monster? Michael Bay versus Meghan Fox? The rights of the accused versus the rights of victims? Dill pickles versus cocktail wieners? Dolphins versus sharks? Jets versus sharks? Propeller planes versus jets? Santa Claus versus Fabric Softener? Cursive versus print? Smokey and the Bandit versus Congo?

Don't be silly. Wait? What was that penultimate one? The topic is the decline of cursive writing in primary education, and Marcotte's conclusion is one I share with qualifications:
A lot of educational standards are things that continue on only because bitter adults don't want kids today to avoid having to suffer the same bullshit we had to go through ... The low grade sadism that's pointed at children for the crime of being young when we're not isn't justification enough for this nonsense.
Certainly resentment should not determine educational standards or much else. One would hope primary schools can find ways to develop fine motor skills and the confidence that goes with them, while imparting the value of creating something elegant on a blank paper or canvas. Cursive writing can be a simple, inexpensive, and practical introduction to artistic creation -- it can be -- but whether schools as presently constituted can accomplish such a delicate feat, let alone on a mass scale, is highly doubtful. I say let it go. It would be better to let cursive pass away than to grind it under the wheels of rote and budget-tightening.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dear 2011 Fueled By Fine Wine Half Marathon

I was wrong about you, Fueled by Fine Wine half marathon. I was wrong when, a few days ago, I e-mailed a friend who ran it alongside me last year:
Back in my day, the Fueled by Fine Wine half-marathon was difficult.

Last year's course --

Kids these days have it so easy. This year's course --

Having run the event today in 1:43:44 (7:55 mile/min), I now realize you maintained your humbling, mind-boggling level of difficulty despite the course changes. As it was last year, so this year: no race has ever given me a stronger urge to stop and rest along the way.

This year's version managed to begin breaking spirits from the very start, when we looped through lovely neighborhood streets of Dundee, Oregon along a path that only a sadistic track coach could dream up. I exaggerate not at all when I report that very fit looking runners were already reduced to walking within the first two miles. Subsequent miles had us passing over hill after hill on a thorough sampler of ground surfaces found in the Willamette Valley: asphalt, concrete, gravel, grass, dirt, and the tractor ruts of tilled fields. I adore that those surfaces did this to my shoes (today's shoes on the left; a previous generation of the same model, size, and style of shoe on the right, shown for contrast):

Shoes after a race should look like they've been in a race.

As I said, I was wrong. You retain your reputation for difficulty, and that would make you extraordinary and worth cherishing, but you also continue to tower above all other races in my experience in quality of swag (see above for a sample), quality of post-race treats (wine from the very same vineyards we ran through; excellent bread and cheese; fresh strawberries and bananas), and quality of finisher shirt.

On top of all that, I can think of one or two races that match, but none that exceed the natural beauty of your course -- every vista atop every hill looked like a well-composed pastoral painting. I only wish I had been freer to take my concentration off my footing to enjoy it more.

This race's organizers deserve to be counted as the models of all race organizers. The volunteers were unfailingly generous, and as I always say, but with more emphasis: I heartily congratulate everyone who finished this race today.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Neko Case at Edgefield - Someone Above Me

Soooo, Neko Case played a live show at the Edgefield amphitheater last evening, and I was among the fortunates there to experience it. The show featured three layered, interesting new songs that I hope to see released on an album soon, and the back-to-back performances of "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" and "Vengeance is Sleeping" were, for my part, the highlight of the night, if not the month.

Neko justifiably uses a particular moment from "Fox Confessor" to showcase the power of her voice -- the lines

Will I ever see you again? / Will there be no one above me to put my faith in?
...but even as I knew it was coming, last night's rendition of these lines was stunning. Apart from those words as phrased in her voice, you could have heard a mouse sneak across the Edgefield grass.

I could easily have taken very good photos of the performers and the lovely venue, but I contributed to the well-mannered mien of the audience by honoring the no-photography rule.

Well-mannered, I said? Yes, this was by far the most well-behaved concert audience I've ever joined. People were downright civilized in the way they made room for each other, drank, ate, and smoked only what they were permitted to drink, eat, and smoke (within reasonable limits), and declined to insert any hooliganism into the affair. It was weird. Maybe Neko Case fans aren't idiots? I'd like to think so.

Close, I say? Yes, I could easily have tossed a football to Neko Case from where I was sitting for most of the show, and could have done so even more easily from where I moved during the last five or six songs -- and I could even more easily have tossed one to vocalist Kelly Hogan. I probably could have reached either with my underwear from the closer spot, but as I said, this was a well-mannered concert, not the sort of event in which people pull off their undergarments and throw them on stage, no matter how much they might wish to.

Maybe I was imagining it, but I thought I saw Ben Gibbard and Zooey Deschanel admiring the show from backstage. They, too, held back on the urge to throw any underwear or otherwise make spectacles of themselves. Maybe I was only imagining it was those two I saw, so chalk it up to the way Neko Case tends to magnify and elevate the familiar.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Of Energy Drains (Part II)

Speaking of that which needlessly drains energy, the National Resources Defense Counsel has published a study [PDF, sorry] showing that box-top DVRs will soon destroy the biosphere by consuming too large a share of the world's energy. On average, they report, a set-top HD DVR will chew through 275 KwH per year (a terrifying quantity, or so I gather), a surprisingly large share of that chewing while the machine is in an 'off' state.

There's the rub, of course -- by design, these machines don't have a true 'off' state. They are designed to sit there like ambush predators waiting to pounce on and record all the tee-vee programs and movies you can't be bothered to watch when they're broadcast if only because they're too overloaded with commercials to bear -- in other words, nearly all of the tee-vee programs and movies you can be bothered to watch. If you unplug the DVR -- achieving the true 'off' that will cut power consumption down to zero -- you thereby defeat the purpose and miss those idiotically-timed broadcasts of, say, Hunger and Louie and A Clockwork Orange*, which the networks tend to play at times tailored to reach those viewers who don't sleep at night and/or don't work during the day. For the non-trust-fund-non-insomniacs among us, to go without a DVR is to waste all that money we're wasting on cable. Surely you can see the bind we're in.

Unwilling (for purposes of this blog post) to accept the NRDC's statistics on faith, I checked it with my own Kill-a-Watt device as applied to my Motorola HD DVR. I found that it used 1.73 KwH over 62.1 hours (62 hrs 6 min) of "typical" use spanning a Sunday afternoon to Tuesday evening, a period that included plenty of 'off' time. That maps out to a little over 244 KwH over the 8766-hour year, which is tolerably close to NDRC's number, and frighteningly close to this guy's measurement of the same thing.

It would be nice to think the cable companies will move to more energy-efficient devices, or give their customers the chance to purchase and use more energy-efficient devices on their networks, or that people like me can finally be persuaded that cable tee-vee is a game that's not worth the candle. I would be nice to think a lot of things. For now, inasmuch as DVRs-as-energy-drains is a problem, I am very much part of it.

* These are three actual examples of items currently stored on my DVR, as my minders at the local cable monopoly no doubt know.

Of Energy Drains (Part I)

Having experienced Google Plus for upwards of a day (via a kind invitation from SJKP), I am prepared to pronounce a meh upon it.

It's not that Google Plus won't revolutionize the way we can plausibly claim to pay passing attention to the comings, goings, ups, downs, travails, victories, doings, and strivings of our friends and "friends," -- for surely I would be a so-last-year, hidebound, utterly dismissible retrograde crank to say otherwise -- it's just that the experience of joining a new social network has exposed how exhausting it is to participate in a web-based social network (don't even get me started on the life-force-draining effects of a flesh-based social network).

Joining a new social network means I have to wait for all my friends and "friends" to show up in this new place, invite them to my circles or whatever (and thereafter attend to the inevitable "will they or won't they accept?" dramas that ensue), establish my security settings, upload my pictures (but surely not those pictures), alter my security settings, enumerate all my interests, affiliations, and loyalties so as to be fed the proper set of advertisements, re-work my security settings once more, touch up my profile so that I present a slightly interesting version of myself -- a tiresome feat in itself -- make some additional tweaks to my security settings, link the Google Plus account to all the proper feeds to and from Twitter and Facebook and whatever else, enable these but not those applications, applets, gadgets, add-ins, widgets ad infinitum, and embark on a final and never-ending course of refinements to my goddamn security settings.

As I said, it's exhausting, and while I have mostly warm feelings about google, and at best lukewarm feelings about Facebook, I will need to see something truly compelling before I go to the effort of abandoning the latter and moving to the former. A one-click "upload everything from Facebook to Google Plus and then delete Facebook account" utility would be a good start, assuming it didn't steal my identity in the process. It probably would steal my identity, or threaten to, whereupon I would need to update all my security settings again. Exhausting.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Don Draper and the Hipsters

Having joined approximately 13,000 (as of this writing) others who Facebook-shared this The Oatmeal comic, "What Would Don Draper Do?", I am now ready to relate to both readers of this precious, precious blog that the comic reminded me of one of several perfect moments from Mad Men:

Hipster: You invent the lie. You invent 'want.' You are for them, not us.

Draper: Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.
This is such an exquisite moment because of the eloquence of the exchange and for how it reaches the viewer. I think I speak for all passionate fans of Mad Men -- now and always -- when I say I can relate to both sides of this exchange, the suited businessman and the rejectionist hipsters. The exponents of youth culture in the 1960s made much of their departures from the formulas and conventions to which they were born; the avatars of the establishment made much of brushing these complaints aside as unserious, immature, irrelevant, and feckless. All of us, Mad Men viewers and non-viewers alike, now inhabit the society that these two factions have squabbled into shape ever since. They are both right and they are both wrong: whatever we might think or project or hope, we were born to a particular moment in time, and history is not undirected but it is indifferent.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Totalitarianism Refined

Starting at ~4:30 in this video, Father Jacobse asserts -- I'm being careful to quote him exactly here -- "I'm not saying all atheists are totalitarians; I'm saying totalitarianism is by necessity atheistic."

Here goes:

So there you have it -- the Taliban was not totalitarian. The Islamist movements that issue death warrants over works of art, institute intricate rules for interpersonal conduct, and seek to install a worldwide Caliphate are likewise something other than totalitarian in nature. At the height of its powers, even when it was executing people for expressing the wrong opinions and sending armies to seize "the Holy Lands," the Catholic church was something other than totalitarian in its aspirations, practices, and effects.

Totalitarian is, you see, something atheists do -- you know, atheists such as the Nazis. So Father Jacobse assures us, and who would dare gainsay the good word of a member of the Catholic clergy?

We the Hostages

I would like to believe Matt Yglesias is wrong with this analysis of the USA's ongoing "negotiations" over the debt ceiling -- of course, I would like to believe a lot of things. Yglesias:

After all, if Cantor, McConnell, and Boehner are able to say "national default unless we have an all-cuts deficit reduction package," then why not also say "national default unless we bomb North Korea" or "national default unless we reinstate Don't Ask Don’t Tell?" Over the longer term, I don't think serious people of any ideological persuasion seriously think it'll be a good thing for America to turn all public policy debates into a series of hostage scenarios with debt default as the price. This is in part a testament to why it was a mistake of Obama to get sucked into this negotiation in the first place, regardless of what you think his real motives were. But it's also reflective of the truly breathtaking cynicism with which McConnell has been leading the GOP ever since the 2008 election. The priority, at every turn, has in his own words been to turn Obama into a one-term president by using powers of obstruction. But the American constitutional system can't function if both parties play [by] these rules. [emphasis mine]
Whatever "serious people" might "seriously think" about these matters, it is clear that the Republicans are dedicated to seeing how far they can bully and contort public policy in their favor. Given the weakness of the president and his party -- if not their complicity -- there is no good reason to think we are nearing the end of a process whereby sane public policy, and the human beings affected by it, serve as hostages to the far right.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I Saw the Rage

I wasn't expecting much from I Saw the Devil, so I am here to reaffirm the wisdom of allowing a movie to exceed one's expectations: I Saw the Devil (IStD) is an excellent film. [Spoilers below]

By that I mean IStD takes the familiar tropes and themes of a "revenge story" but plays them through unflinchingly, as vividly distinguished from, say, the last and next few mailed-in Mel Gibson revenge-y blockbusters. IStD looks and feels like a revenge fantasy enacted in the really-existing world with its really-existing evils, which is to say it starts and ends with wrath, with all its limitations and rawness. There is no saving grace, no sober re-thinking, no inward reckoning, no redemption:

IStD shows the stakes of revenge and the wild swerves of cause and effect that expose those stakes, and surely this is what we would want from a revenge story made for the big screen, if we should ever hazard to want such a thing. See this one.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Standing Athwart God's Short Bus

ThinkProgress has helpfully cataloged National Review's fete of caterwauling over the achievement of marriage equality in New York, one entry of which is this piece of sober analysis from Maggie Gallagher:

Gay people are children of God and each one matters. But they are also about 2 percent of the population, while a new Gallup poll shows Americans on average think they are 25 percent of the population.

That's cultural power.
Note the juxtaposition of "children of god" with "only 2 percent of the population" and "cultural power:" sure, yes, Gallagher is willing to allow that the gays are among god's kids, but they are clearly the duds, the defectives, the ones that god sends out on sleep-overs when he's having respectable company over for dinner, the ones that (in His almighty heart of hearts) he wishes he had never special-created, and all the more when they not only embrace their hideous infirmities but convince the other kids to abide them.

To summarize Gallagher without her empty euphemisms: gay people are the "children of god" that proper people join her favorite god in not-so-secretly reviling. Happily, more and more Americans are coming around to the view that gay people are people, whatever Maggie Gallagher, her god, or or her magazine says; and better yet, the laws of the land are increasingly treating them as such.