Thursday, November 29, 2012

On Race and Other Things More Trivial

No Longer a Marathoner?
After seven years of considering myself a marathoner, I might have given it up. I'll probably still run the occasional 26.2, but this fall both the Portland and Seattle Marathon went by on the calendar and I hardly noticed. Pounding the pavement for mile after mile is just losing its appeal. Have I just turned into a trail runner? Should I get rid of all those street shoes? No. No. That would be rash.

Hooked on the Podcast
The digital world is paying off for me. Not tethered to the broadcast schedule of radio or television, I can get just about everything I want on demand. No one is airing "Arrested Development" at the moment, but we just watched all three seasons on Netflix. (I still maintain that "Arrested Development" is the best written, best acted, and best produced comedy ever...but I'll save that for the next update, in 8 months).

More important than on demand television is the world of the podcast. I am hooked. On my runs these days it's all about RadioLab or How Did This Get Made. Sometimes some This American Life.

The podcast has revolutionized road trips and long runs for me. And once in a while I learn a little something.

Sometimes it is About Race
Remember how the election of Barack Obama was supposed to signal a shift in American attitudes about race? How we were now somehow a "post-racial" country? Sorry. White people love to deny their racism ("But I have black friends! How can I be racist?") and after Obama's first election there were a lot of satisfied Caucasians who leaned back in their easy chairs, put their hands behind their heads, and said "there. We fixed racism."

Of course everyone knows this isn't actually true. There is no doubt that the US has come a long way in terms of race relations, but in a way this makes it even more shameful that we haven't moved even further down the road toward equal treatment and equal opportunity.

This week, the University of Colorado (otherwise known as the University of California at Boulder) fired its head football coach after two seasons. Football coaches get fired all the time, often at great cost to the university, as this article from the New York Times discusses. So what's at issue here?

Jon Embree, a Colorado alum and former tight end for the buffaloes, was announced as the head coach in December 2010. He was given a 5 year contract. At the time of his hiring, Embree was the 4th black head coach in Pac12 history. He was 1 of 5 black head coaches in all of the BCS.This in itself is a problem, given that the vast majority of college football players are black, most often disproportionally represented in terms of the overall demographics of the universities they are recruited to. This means the vast majority of players exiting the program - either to the NFL or to other careers - are African American. So why aren't these players coming back as coaches? Why aren't they working their way up through the coaching ranks at the same rate as white coaches?

The day of his firing, Embree lamented the lost opportunity. He had been given just two years to salvage a program that everyone admits had been ruined by his predecessor. Could he have turned the program around if given the full five years of his contract? We'll never know. And there is the problem. Embree's biggest worry, he said, was that black coaches don't get second chances. Of the black head coaches who have been fired from major college football, only one has ever been given a second job at another school. That one was Tyrone Willingham, who after being fired by Notre Dame was hired at Washington.

As the football season winds down we are seeing more and more coaches shown the exits. Most of them are white. Most of them are being fired for under-performing. And many of them will get another big contract at another school.

Of course it is possible that Embree is just a bad coach. But we probably won't ever know. Racial equality in college coaching requires minority coaches to be successful, to show the world that black head coaches can win championships.

Here's what we do know: college coaches are paid huge salaries to win. And the men who support college athletics at major universities are powerful, rich, mostly white men. These "boosters" put pressure on the athletic directors by withholding their millions until their bidding is done. At Washington a well-known booster publicly offered the school $250,000 if they fired Willingham.

Two days after Embree's dismissal, former CU coach Bill McCartney lambasted the university:

"I think men of color have a more difficult road to tread," he said. "I think that many people don't realize it.
"I heard the chancellor say it doesn't matter what color Jon Embree is. To me, that offends every person of color out there. It's as if to suggest that everything is done on a fair scale. It's not done on a fair scale. Men of color don't have the same priveleges or same opportunities and they are under greater pressure when they step in. For some reason our culture has dialed up something that causes us to have less confidence in people of color. I'm telling you, this guy can match wits with any white guy out there. This Embree guy is the real deal. He was doing it the right way."

I am among the many who think that had Embree been white, he'd still be the coach at Colorado, and the sports radio hosts, sports writers, and fans would be talking about how hard it is to build a program up from nothing, how you need to give a coach four years at least to see if his recruits can change the landscape. Instead, Embree is out of a head coaching job and Colorado will surely replace him with a white coach from another program. Likely one who has been fired for failing to perform.

Being Pretty Isn't Enough
Like it or not, its movie season. All of the Oscar hopefuls are jamming the theaters between now and the end of the year. This year we once again have a couple of movies that are leaning entirely on their visual appeal. In the age of digital imagery and CGI, it has become enough to make a "stunning" visual showcase and call it a great movie. When did this happen? Sure, a movie should be nice to look at, but why can't we also have good story and good acting? Maybe I'm still just angry that Avatar got as much love as it did (that movie was a steaming pile of terrible), and maybe that's not fair, but there is no part of me that wants to see Life of Pi, simply because the reviews harp on its visual beauty and use that to make it ok that the story doesn't really work and the acting is just average.

I'll have to see it, since it will be nominated and those are the rules for our Oscar Party, but I am not looking forward to it. I'm not looking forward to a lot of the Oscar movies, actually.

The Colleague and I have seen a few movies so far this season, and with only one exception they have all been too damn long. I'll sit through a 3 hour movie. But only if it needs to be 3 hours long. Lincoln is long (just under 2:30) but just barely too long. A bit more editing and some thought about character development could have made it a solid 2 hour movie. The animated mess Rise of the Guardians is at least 30 minutes too long, and even the kids who forgive the plot holes and bad writing started squirming with 20 full minutes yet to go.

So far this season the best movie I've seen is Argo. Crisp, visually appealing, and well acted, Argo feels precisely the right length and there aren't any scenes that scream to be cut out. Like a good poem, every line seems important to the next. It's my 36 star lock of the week.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Keep 'em Waiting

Every once in a while, usually when I am far from a computer, I think to myself that I should sit down and write a new blog post for this here space. Then I get to a computer and spend an hour reading satirical news pieces at The Onion and forget that I was going to write something. Or if I remember that I was going to write something, I forget what it was. But trust me, all of the ideas I've had in the last month or so have been great. You would have liked them.

Things I Could Have Written About
I could have been updating you on the progress of our boat, for example. You would have liked that. She isn't done, that's for sure, but she's closer than she was before she was this close. The cool truck with the hydraulic stands comes to pick her up next week, which will will be a momentous day for us and for the pressure washer, which will have the task of cleaning off a driveway speckled with almost 3 years of boat detritus. I'm pretending that will go just fine.

But moving the boat will create a void and render The Boat Yard just The Yard. We can't have that. So to form I'm in the market for the next boat project. The next project must be on a trailer, must qualify as a day sailor, and must be serviceable from Day One.

(Editor's Note: I already have it picked out. It's awesome.)

Since the Chuckanut 50k I have fallen completely out of shape. This is a problem in part because I don't like being out of shape, but also because the Cle Elum Ridge 50k is coming up very soon. The elevation profile looks like this:

I am in no way ready for this race. No way. But I wasn't really ready for Chuckanut either, so I'll just take my friend JB's advice and "shut up and go run the damn thing." Cap'n Ron is running the 25k. Poor little fella is gonna be waiting a few hours for me to get to the finish. Don't eat all the pizza.

Uh. I should probably take this out of the title of the blog. I think people still climb things. I don't remember why I used to. But I know I don't do it now. Here's a list of things I've climbed recently:
  • The stairs in our house (but only because the bedroom and kitchen are on different floors)
  • The hill from The Boat Yard to the beach
That's it.

I did try to go for a ride the other day. Things went badly. The Fuji looks so good hanging in my office (and as a background for my Skype video calls) that I'm reluctant to take it down. Plus, I'm just not ready to invest in HGH, variations of which are apparently necessary in order to pedal a bike.

Of course, there are a lot of other things I could have written about.

I could have written about politics. But then Romney selected his running mate and I couldn't think of anything funny to say.

And I just spent an hour looking for a funny picture or video of Paul Ryan, so now I'm sad.

Better go running.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Data Charges, Literary References to Cats, and Don Draper.

The Cat Came Back. Sort of.
I think I remember "the cat came back" as a line from Stephen King's Pet Sematary, but it's been at least 20 years since I read that book. And maybe it was originally taken from a song? I could Google it,  but I don't really care. Anyway, that line comes to mind because our strange, neurotic, sometimes incontinent, overly vocal and often rude cat ran away last week, much to the sadness of Second Oldest Girl Child. I was just happy that I was in Los Angeles at the time and so couldn't be accused of assisting the cat in her disappearance.

I could give a rip about the actual cat, if I'm being perfectly honest. I find her rather useless as a pet. She sleeps all day and wanders around the house whining all night. Any hopes I have of the cat returning to the house are based only in not wanting SOGC to be sad. Also, the dumb thing ran away because it was scared of a new piece of furniture delivered to the house, might be happier outside anyway, so long as it stays away from the patio set in the backyard.

Acting as if I cared about the cat, I woke up at 4 this morning when I was pretty sure I heard it's weird little meow/howl outside our bedroom window. I trudged around in my pajamas like a T.S. Eliot character looking for an anthropomorphised T.S. Eliot character but saw nothing.*

Then, as I made coffee at the more respectable hour of 6 a.m., I saw the little black furry thing in the backyard. Ahh, she's so cute and stupid and useless.

It's hard to describe the combination of relief, disappointment, and exasperation I felt at that moment, but it is something like: "Yay the cat's back damn the cat's back what a stupid ass cat."

Hoping to lure the cat back inside, SOGC put a food dish right inside the door. So while we paid to heat the backyard with our hard-working forced air furnace, the cat snuck in, ate some food, and left. After a couple of hours of this, the door is closed. Cat might be inside. Might still be outside. Who knows. I have a hard time caring.

What self-respecting cat wouldn't just come right in? Stand at the door until someone opens it and then come in? Scratch at the screen? This thing is just plain moronic and probably deserves to live under the deck. For the record, she is welcome back inside, but I'm not going out of my way to accommodate her.

And this marks the last time I will ever write about a cat on this blog.

Where Do These Rates Go? They Go Up.
That's a Ghostbusters reference for you. You're welcome.

This week I read two separate pieces about tech companies changing their data plans. The first one is a tiny little startup that is struggling to be relevant in the mobile phone market. I'll call them Berizon. The Colleague and I are proud holders of grandfathered data plans with Berizon, which means despite their current tiered pricing plans, we pay a flat fee and get unlimited data. Our reward for being customers since mobile phones were the size of a small shoe is that this option will soon disappear. No love for the long time customer.

As of this summer, according to such unreliable sources as that liberal rag the New York Times, Berizon will require us to change to a tiered plan with any new two-year contract. I understand that moving data requires infrastructure and that infrastructure costs money, and we don't use enough data to make things appreciably more expensive under the new plan, but I sort of liked the idea of having this old-school, grandfathered cell plan. I imagine it's how people will feel in 15 years when they are still sitting on their 4% mortgages while new houses down the street are being financed at 11%.

I thought I could trick Berizon and just wait until the day before the change happened in July and then re-up both of our iFruit Phones with a new 2 year contract on the old plan. But no. Any new two-year contract already requires moving to a new plan. When iFruit 5 comes out we will undoubtedly go through our semi-annual Let's Go Off the Grid talk before just bending over and taking whatever Berizon is going to give us.

The more worrisome move is by our local broadband provider, which I will all Comcast. This tiny little company, which has a "customer tolerance" policy and that has a near monopoly in our neighborhood is taking steps to implement a tiered pricing plan of their own. Again, we don't come close to using the top end of their planned tiers (300 GB), but given that everything these days is served to our house over broadband - including most of what we watch on television (Netflix and Hulu) how long before running up against usage limits turns us into relative Luddites. No SmartTV? What the hell will I do then?

The reality of our connectivity is a little embarrassing. Sitting here at my professional writer's station (a dark room behind the laundry room that was probably once dry food storage for the previous owner) I am listening to music on Pandora, my photos and music collections are magically populating my iFruit Desktop, my iFruit Laptop(s), iFruit Phone and my iFruit Tablet. Somewhere out in the family room there is a person I don't know waiting to play golf against me on the gaming system named after the pitch the Sounders play on. I can hear The Colleague listening to something or other on Spotify and all four of the kids are no doubt texting and doing important Facebook work up in their rooms.

Now that I write that, the depth of my iFruit illness is coming clear. But that's a separate (if related) issue. As more and more appliances become "smart" we are bound to get trapped by data limits. I don't want my Smart Dishwasher to quit in the middle of sanitizing my leaded martini glasses just because my latest download of a Neil Diamond** album took me over our monthly limit.

Don Draper is Marginally Interesting Again, and Other Television News To Make Me Seem Like I Know What I'm Talking About
Mad Men limped into the current season off contract negotiations and production delays, resulting in a seriously bad season opener and three subsequent episodes that seemed at the time to be the death knell of the show.

The last two episodes (thanks to the late start to the season, the Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes) have been interesting again. I wasn't sure at season's start that I'd still be watching, but I am, so something is going right, and that something is a refocusing on the main cast. Late last season and early this season the writers spent too much time trying to find interesting character threads outside the office, and all of them fell flat. By jettisoning a few lame characters (Betty's feckless new husband, Joan's obviously gay husband, etc) the action of the show has moved back to the agency, and that is where it is at its best.

This is a good lesson for show writers, especially as a franchise begins to age. When you find yourself in prolonged flashbacks, bringing in long lost family members, or spinning off your least repulsive secondary characters on their own storylines, your show is dying. The only way to revive it is counter-intuitive: You have to go back to the basics. Appeal to what made you good in the first place. Mad Men is Don Draper. Stay there.

This is also where I plug one of the best weekly blogs going: the Mad Men Power Rankings at Grantland. It's snarky good fun, which is my favorite kind of good fun. Granted, it makes no sense if you haven't just watched the episode in question, but if you have, the Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level is a little piece of genius every week. Mark Lisanti is one of my favorite Hollywood writers because of cold, perfect prose like this: "If you're not going to perform your basic job function, you can't really be surprised when someone throws a tiny plane at you." Context be damned, that's good stuff.

In other TV news, expect Community to die a fast, painful, cliche-ridden death next season. Show runner Dan Harmon has been unceremoniously canned by Sony Pictures Television and replaced by the guys who brought you Happy Endings. Never watched it? Never heard of it? Right. The last successful franchise the new show runners had was Just Shoot Me!, which was marginally good and was a decade ago. Chances of Community being relevant, interesting, or at all innovative in the future? I'll go with zero.

And finally we come to American Idol, which concluded its 11th season with a weird two-hour show full of painful duets, weird celebrity cameos, and Jennifer Lopez in a strange looking MC Hammer-esque bedazzled pajama costume. I don't get it.

But I still watch the show. I'm part of the "stagnant viewing base" that has led to 5 white male singers in a row being crowned the winner. It's not good television, and given the dozens of wannabe reality competitions on the slate every year, their days are numbered (maybe one more season? Two at most?).

I watch it because once in a while a really good singer comes along. That singer never wins, but for someone whose "going out to clubs to see a band no one has ever heard of in case they end up being big someday" days are over, it's actually kind of nice to see a new artist on the show whose record I might actually buy.

Mostly, American Idol is something I watch only because of the DVR. If I had to watch it live I'd never see it. In the network's quest to create true appointment television, they are losing out to technology. No one watches even reality TV live anymore, because the shows aren't about who wins, loses, goes home, or loses a top in a physical challenge. The shows are more and more like scripted TV, which doesn't require a front row seat at the live release.

A new model of TV is going to have to emerge. I know what it looks like, but I'm not telling you what it is. So there.

*For those who don't remember their comparative literature classes, that's a "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" reference followed by a "Cats" reference. Both written by T.S. Eliot. True story. That dude loved cats so much he wrote a freaky book about them called "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats." I think it was right before he finally went senile.

**Of course by Neil Diamond I mean porn. Does anyone read these footnotes? The Internet is for porn.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Recreational Obstructionism and Urban Recreational Opportunities

Just Say No. To Everything All The Time Always.
Let me start by saying that relentlessly happy and positive people drive me crazy. Those people who, regardless of circumstance or surroundings are painfully cheery to the point of giving the people around them diabetes. That sort of positivity is an act, and in my limited experience it is usually masking some serious darkness. Those are the people who end up going completely bananas and living alone in a room full of old newspapers.

Worse are the perpetually negative. Recreational obstructionists. The "no" for the sake of "no" crowd. These people aren't saying "no" to things for any deep-seeded reasons. They object because they think objection is the starting point of debate.

I think it's a personality disorder, but it might just as well be a learned behavior. Either way, it's crazy-making.

The Learning Factory has a strong contingent of recreational obstructionists. Most of them are very well-meaning and they think they are doing their academic duty by opposing anything new, but in a system that is already an incredibly complicated labyrinth of redundant bureaucratic systems, adding meaningless and recreational obstructionism to any process just means nothing gets done. Ever.

And yes, I just wrote "redundant bureaucratic systems." I'm aware of the implications.

Here is a completely fictional* example of how this goes down. Remember, this is pure fiction**.

Learning Factory Instructional Drone (LFID) sees a need for a new program and does the leg work and research to set up the foundations of said program. This LFID brings this simple proposal to his or her colleagues, makes a simple but thoughtful presentation meant simply to inform his or her colleagues that this is happening, and plans to move on and, when it gets to the stage of implementation, bring it to the proper group for approval. Remember, this presentation is merely informational, and perhaps an invitation for others to get involved if they are interested.

Level One Response: We tried this in the 70s, and it didn't work. Have you talked to the retired guy who lives in Palm Desert now about this? You should. He probably has some interesting things to say.

Level Two Response: This sounds an awful lot like a plan I was hoping to put together in my own department, and if you do it, then I can't. So I think you should have invited all of us in on this conversation.

Level Three Response: This seems inequitable. If you get to spearhead this new thing, doesn't that privilege you over the rest of us? We should all be equal in every way all the time.

Level Four Response: There are far better ways to spend our time/money than this. What about the _________ students/programs?

And the Level Five Response is a very complicated passive-aggressive campaign against whatever said initiative may be. It starts with a small alliance forming in opposition. Then the existing bureaucracy is used to slow down any progress on the initiative. Meetings are held. Committees are formed. Committees dissolve. Academic years end, putting initiative on hold for the summer. In the fall key members of the opposition are on leave, so no meetings are held.

Meanwhile, the grant money that was available to start the initiative is no longer available. And nothing changes. Opposition wins without ever actually having to articulate an actual objection. It's genius, really. And now you know why I seldom try to do anything new and interesting at The Learning Factory any more. Not that you were wondering.

It is amazing how resistant to change we are at The Learning Factory, but I didn't start thinking of this in terms of my place of employment. It all started when I got into an argument with someone about the proposed NBA/NHL arena in Seattle.

Seattle is famously obstructionist when it comes to public policy and infrastructure. For a liberal town, we sure are afraid of change and progress. The proposed NBA/NHL arena, in case you haven't been following it, is the investment idea of hedge-fund gatrillionaire Chris Hansen. It is a $490 million project that would build an 18,000 seat arena south of Safeco Field in the Sodo district. Hansen already owns all of the land and has proposed to build the arena without any public money (necessary because of a weirdly entrenched and now legislated attitude of Seattle voters, more on this in a minute).

His plan asks for the county to use their bonding authority to borrow $200 million for construction, all of which would be paid back through gate taxes, concessions, and the like at the new arena. With a few exceptions and concerns (traffic and access to the Port of Seattle seems to be a hangup, an issue Hansen has agreed to use his money to study), it is pretty well agreed that as stadium and arena plans go, it is a deal you just aren't going to get very often. It fits the anti-tax attitude of "pay to play," and it creates a few jobs where before there would be none.

But in Seattle, the answer from the public is no. Irrationally, uncontrollably, and defiantly NO!

No to the monorail system because it might not serve my neighborhood and sometimes they break down.

No to light rail because no one will ride it and we need more freeways.

No to new freeways because they cost too much to build.

No to a tunnel because I want a different option.

No to anything the government wants to do. Put it to a public vote!

Just no! To everything. It's bloody maddening. I understand transparent process and I understand the need for things to be vetted and discussed, but we in Seattle have a strange attachment to direct democracy that is just plain unhealthy. Why do elect anyone in the first place?

And why are we so bent on looking for reasons to say no to things? How different would life here be if we just flipped it over a little bit and looked for reasons to say yes to things? We can still debate the issues and we can still ultimately say no to things that deserve to be turned down. Maybe a little positivity in the public discourse? Shit.

Urban Recreation and Cocktails. Civilized.
Back many moons ago I used to windsurf. A lot. And I used to snow ski just as much in the winter as I sailed in the spring and summer.

One of the great joys of that lifestyle was the Wednesday night races. Around 6 pm at Magnussen Park and Alki Beach we would get together, race around some buoys, have a beer or two (let's say for today's purposes that I was 21 years old for this. I wasn't. But let's say I was) and then go home when it got dark. I remember it being very civilized and communal. Generally a nice way to spend an evening.

In the winter, we would drive up to Alpental to race around the gates under the lights, have a beer or two in the lodge (see above disclaimer about my age) and be home by 10. Again, very civilized and fun.

This week I had that feeling again at the  Ravenna Weeknight Run put on by Northwest Trail Runs. About 100 or so runners got together for a 6:45 start and a friendly "race" through the trails of Ravenna Park. There were prizes, there was food, there was a very well organized race, there was comedy, and there was community. And afterward, RPD and I grabbed a nice cocktail and appetizer at Franks Oyster House in Ravenna.

This weeknight series is a great idea, and I hope they continue it. Sure, the longer weekend races at more exotic locations are a bigger "sell" but being able to decide at the last minute to leave the office and drive 15 minutes to the park for a nice run and some community is a nice addition to the local running scene. There are running groups and there are training runs and all that, but a race event is just different.

For the record, I finished the 12k race in 1:01:05, just missing perfect 20 minute splits. Now I have a goal for the next race.

Coming Soon: I reflect on traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Can't wait, can you?

*It's totally true.

**Not at all fiction. This totally happens all the time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pimento and Cheese

I Totally F-ing Went to the Masters!
While my DVR was recording the HD feed of The Masters last weekend, I was in Augusta, Georgia, eating pimento and cheese sandwiches and watching the best golfers in the world make their way around Augusta National Golf Club.

It's true. Here are my credentials. I have no other pictures, because just like women*, cameras are not allowed at Augusta National.
I'm not exactly what magic The Colleague pulled to make this one happen, but I can tell you I've never been so surprised to receive a gift in my life. The sequence went something like this:
  • I arrived home to an obviously golf-themed birthday party. Brain says: But I haven't played golf in 4 years. Maybe I'm taking it up again!
  • Guests unscrambled names of flowers and plants as a little party game. Brain says: It's spring!
  • I am asked to make sense of the list of these flower names. Brain says: There are 18 of them. And one of them is "Azalea." This clearly has to do with The Masters. But what the hell is going on?
  • I open a package from Premiere Sports Travel that includes an itinerary for the weekend rounds at Augusta National. Brain says: Error error error.
I know at least two of my two readers think golf is ridiculous to play, let alone watch. But this is Augusta National, and other than The Old Course at St. Andrews, there is no more storied golf course on the planet. And there is no tournament with more compelling stories and history than The Masters. I vividly remember watching as my golf hero, Fred Couples, landed his tee shot on #12 short of the green and staring amazed as his ball defied gravity and somehow didn't roll back into Rae's Creek.

So on day one, after running the gauntlet of Augusta National Security (no cell phones, no electronics, no cameras, no food, no water, no women*...) I walked straight to Amen Corner and sat on the grass, marveling at the fact that I was there. That feeling never wore off. 

Even if this year's tournament had been a bust on the course, it would have been worth it just to be on those grounds. It really was amazing. I will never eat a pimento and cheese sandwich again, but if I do, it will be because I had about 100 of them ($1 a piece) while I was there.

But the tournament was amazing. By nothing more than pure dumb luck, I saw 2 holes in one and a double eagle on the same day. Let me explain the double eagle for both of you. Hole #2 is a 575 yard par 5. I walked up to the ropes near the green just as Louis Oosthuizen was walking up to his first shot, perfectly placed in the middle of the fairway. I'd seen several groups come through here already and very few made much noise. #2 is not the hardest hole on the course, but in tournament play it gives up the fewest eagles of any of the par 5s on the course. 

So Oosthuizen hits his shot from about 255 yards away. Three and a half football fields. The guy next to me says, "Oh, he left it short." His kid says, "It looks pretty good!"

The best thing about this shot is that the ball landed in South Carolina before rolling slowly up and across the green. The crowd applauded a little. It kept rolling. The crowd murmered. It curved toward the hole. The crowd got up on their toes to watch. It kept rolling. Some asshole from 1995 yelled "Get in the hole!" forgetting that John Daly wasn't there. It kept rolling. I said to the guy next to me, "That damn thing is going in the-" It dropped into the hole "-cup."

And the place just went bananas. There is something special about a golf tournament roar. For starters, you can hear one from anywhere on the course. So every fan, sorry, patron, and every golfer on the course knew something amazing happened. And because the course is usually so subdued, it goes from silent to Sounder's home game loud in 3 seconds. As sporting moments go, it is one of the most emotionally overwhelming moments possible, right behing the fighter jet fly-over at the Rose Bowl, which even gets to the sports-resistant Colleague.

So, The Masters was incredible on every level. Augusta, GA? That's another story. What a hole that place is.

*If you were the female CEO of IBM, would you want to be a member of Augusta National? I think not.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mad Meh, Stand Your Ground, and Golf

A Little Language Usage Complaint
I'm not sure how you would define the phrase "Stand Your Ground," but to me it doesn't mean "seek out people who seem threatening, chase them down, confront them, and then shoot them in 'self-defense.'"  But maybe I'm quibbling about nuance...

Oh golf. You're so nice to look at.
What High Definition Was Made For
This past weekend The Colleague was visiting friends in San Francisco, where rather than party it up and lose her purse, as has happened before in that town, she took the time to muse about motherhood and social responsibility, which you can (should) read about here.

But while she was there I had The Shack to myself, and for the first time in several years I sat down and watched a round of golf on television. Now I know most people think watching golf on TV is the equivalent of whatever else they find boring and pointless, but I love it. And in high definition on a big TV? Oh yeah. That's the stuff.

It's also true that golf is just more fun to watch when Tiger Woods is playing. Yeah he's a dick and he screwed his life up pretty massively. I would have been surprised if he didn't. He's really, really fun to watch play. And if we keep watching long enough, he's going to finally snap and murder someone on the course for taking his picture during a backswing. Set your DVR to CBSHD, the Masters is coming up.

Pete Campbell going dark? I'd watch that.
The Colleague and I sat down to watch the first episode of the new Mad Men season. Not live. On DVR. We're not cave people.

I don't know if we just weren't paying as much attention last time the show was on, but since their long hiatus, they seem to have gotten sloppy. Every couple of minutes we would look at each other as if to say, "Did you just see that?" I had a running list of grievances in my head as we watched. An awkward voice dub here, poorly delivered lines there, sloppy editing everywhere. And really lazy writing. Really. Lazy.

The "return" episode was slotted for two hours, so they had about 1:45 to work with. But they didn't need it. There were at least a dozen unnecessary cut scenes or speeches that seemed only to be there to make sure a character had a certain amount of screen time. And nothing happened! In the few opportunities the writers had to create some drama or conflict, they backed off, and the result was that the whole episode just sort of flat-lined its way along. Yawn. The only saving grace for me is that Pete Campbell (played by Vincent Kartheiser) is emerging as the most compelling character on the show. If the writers don't start using his character to give the show its dark edge back, they are missing out on a golden opportunity. Honestly, he's the only character I find interesting on a show that in its first two seasons was full of cool characters. There's hope that Betty (January Jones) will come back (she wasn't in episode one at all) and continue to devolve into insanity. Does anyone else think she is a rather terrible actor? Or is that just me? I digress.

This is season five of the show, and I have a bad feeling about it. My theory is that shows like Mad Men have a good three season window and after that the wheels start coming off. Compare Deadwood (three total seasons) to The Sopranos (six seasons). Deadwood ended before it lost its momentum. The Sopranos beat us about the head and neck with blunt storylines and dream sequences, long lost relatives, and all sorts of crazy shit. Season 4 was questionable. It became unwatchable in season 5.

For the record, I loved Deadwood. The Colleague never liked it. So use that information before you go out and buy the DVD set. Also for the record, the production value of both shows is far and above what we get on Mad Men. Deadwood was downright stunning to watch.

So for Mad Men, when the writers run out of their planned character arcs and start killing people off or bringing in long-lost relatives and whatnot, you will know they are sliding. I expect this season to slide into melodramatic crap. But I'm willing to give it a shot because...well it's Mad Men.

I'm also willing to give it a try because our harshest household critic, The Colleague, made a solid point after we finished watching episode one. After the long hiatus, the writers had to treat this episode much like a pilot, reintroducing characters and story lines, but they also had to skip ahead in time while keeping some continuity with where they left off. No easy task. The Draper kids have grown, history has moved along (which they tried to show with the inclusion of race riots and protests), and characters have matured since we last saw them. So the staff had a big challenge on their hands. I think they messed it up. But time will tell. They have at least one more season of Mad Men cocktail parties to support.

All Toenails Go to Heaven
The only long term injury I suffered at the Chuckanut 50k was one dead toenail on my right foot. Well, that and whatever damage I am doing to my relationships by spending so much damn time running in preparation for my next event...

One Way Winter is Better than Spring
There is no way you can convince me that a "spring beer" is interesting. Winter beers I can get onboard with. Spring beers? What the hell is a spring beer? Most of them are Nut Brown Ales with some sort of catchy name (Red Hook's apparently defunk "Mudslinger" was a decent name for a terrible beer).


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Hate This Song! And Other Things, Too.

What is This Drivel?
16 miles into my recent Chuckanut 50k adventure (report forthcoming from Nobody Cares Press) I switched on my trusty iPod so my music could help me forget that I had 15 miles yet to go. A mile later I realized that I hate every song in my library. Help please. I need some new music suggestions. The music doesn't have to be new, but the suggestions do. 

Can We Agree...
That the driver of this truck has some issues?
Yet another eloquent argument from the right.

I just completed my first full time, all online teaching quarter at The Learning Factory. It's an experiment in lowering my stress level and keeping me from going ballistic on a few of my colleagues, and so far, success! It has been three months since my last academic rampage. But this remoteness isn't, to use a phrase that is ever so popular around the cinderblock hallways of TLF, "sustainable" for the long term. I could be wrong, but I think the appetite for online learning is waning, and students seem to be catching on that they pay more for an experience that is usually more limiting and less engaging than face to face classes.

More importantly, when I look into the future using my Obvious Outcomes Glasses, I can see that The Learning Factory and especially the union drones therein are going to start squawking about equity when it comes to online versus face to face learning. But until that happens, weeeeeeeeeee! I'm working from home, baby.

Not having to go to the office on a regular basis takes a lot more discipline and organization than I actually have. I have to have my iPhone remind me on a regular basis that I am supposed to be working, not playing Tropico on the XBOX, which is what I spend most of my time doing these days.

How cool is Tropico? I'll tell you. Super. That's how. But not as cool as this, spotted recently on a Washington State Ferry while commuting to The Boat Yard...

Old School!
Drill Baby Drill?

Both of my readers know that I am no fan of the Grand Ole Party and their conservative (regressive) stances on social issues. And it's no secret that I have little patience for the incredibly simplistic rhetoric that dominates political discourse. Everything gets boiled down to simple dichotomous stances on what are usually incredibly complex issues, which helps no one but lobbyists and politicians.

Today from the Associated Press comes a "Fact Check" that will doubtlessly be ignored or cast aside as the "liberal media" doing the dirty work for the Obama administration...

Headline: More US Drilling Wouldn't Drop Gas Prices

Here's a tickler:

Supporters of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline say it would bring 25 million barrels of oil to the United States a month. That's the same increase in U.S. production that occurred between February and November last year. Monthly gas prices went up a dime a gallon in that time.
The late 1980s and 1990s show exactly how domestic drilling is not related to gas prices.

Duh. Guess what? Most domestic oil is exported as crude oil, not refined in the US. And guess what? Adapting US refining capabilities to process domestic crude (which is different chemically that crude that is currently imported) would be so prohibitively expensive that it is actually cheaper to export our crude and import crude oil to be refined into precious, precious gasoline.

Plus, US production of crude oil can barely scratch the overall world market.

Another tickler:

Unlike natural gas or electricity, the United States alone does not have the power to change the supply-and-demand equation in the world oil market, said Christopher Knittel, a professor of energy economics at MIT. American oil production is about 11 percent of the world's output, so even if the U.S. were to increase its oil production by 50 percent - that is more than drilling in the Arctic, increased public-lands and offshore drilling, and the Canadian pipeline would provide - it would at most cut gas prices by 10 percent.

Of course, if Sudan and South Sudan fall into all-out war and cut off their supply of oil to China, we could all be screwed...But that's in Africa, and we like to pretend Africa doesn't exist outside of Disney movies about funny hyenas, recent Kony-related viral videos excepted.

Monday, March 12, 2012

March Madness. And College Basketball, Too!

The Huskies were a few free throws from the NCAA Tournament.
I'm Filling Out my NIT Bracket Right Now!
Did you know that the Washington Huskies are 3-5 all time in the NIT? I didn't either until today, when the field of 68 was revealed for this year's "amateur" collegiate basketball tournament. The Huskies, despite winning the Pac12 title in the regular season, were left out of the NCAA Tournament. In the week leading up the selection they went from a predicted #8 seed to out of the field based, essentially, on their first-round lost in the Pac12 Tournament. Colorado went on to win the Pac12 post-season title, and the automatic bid, and Cal somehow got an at-large bid despite finishing behind Washington in the regular season. Conventional wisdom is that Washington had to win just one more game to be a lock for the tournament. One game against Oregon State is the difference between a 10 or 11 seed and being out completely?

Now, I'm not enough of a homer that I am blind to the fact that the Huskies aren't very good. They can't hit free throws and they lost a few games they should have won. But there is no way they are worse than all 68 teams in the field. Their exclusion from the field was a combination of national basketball writers who have been putting down the Pac12 all season as "soft" and the NCAA Tournament selection committee making an example of Washington. The message? The regular conference season doesn't matter. Win out of conference, have a hard out of conference schedule, and make a run in the conference post season. This is the first time the regular season Pac10(12) winner has been left out of the tournament in...ever.

Again, I didn't think the Huskies were a tournament team. I like to watch them, and I hoped they would get in because they're the sort of team that could throw together a great game or two and upset a few higher seeds, but they had a chance to force the NCAA to take them, and they blew it.

All that said, the bad taste in my mouth here is the same as the one I get every winter when the BCS bowl games are played. Adding games, consolidating leagues, creating complex ranking systems, and developing playoff systems are all serving one purpose: making money for the leagues, the schools, and the NCAA. And all of that revenue is made on the backs of amateur athletes who are expressly forbidden to make a dime from any of it. And because many of these athletes know it's a scam, and they know their lifespan as an athlete is already precariously short as 19 year old college stars, we may only get a couple more changes to see the likes of Tony Wroten on a college basketball court.

The reason for the Pac12 tournament is to make more television money. And the existence of the Pac12 tournament fundamentally devalues the Pac12 regular season. This is a separate issue from the fact that the Huskies tanked it at the end of the season (and against Marquette earlier in the year, and against South Dakota State, and...).

More on Social Networking
It took me a few years to figure out the point of Twitter. I get it now. I get it in large part because of my iPhone. Twitter makes sense on a smartphone. I'm sitting in a meeting, more bored than during a wedding of someone I barely know, and none of my Words With Friends opponents have played a word in 10 minutes. I open my Twitter app and read little bits of linguistic joy from some of my favorites. In addition to following me (@GregVanBelle), try these Twitter faves:

For Brief Clips of Satirical Genius:
  • @TheOnion
  • @BorowitzReport
  • @SarahKSilverman
For Meaningful Social Media Connections:
  • @HuffingtonPost
  • @CuraOrphanage
  • @TheDailyShow
  •  @CNN
Liquid Money
Some many years ago I wrote something about the fact that printer ink was the most expensive liquid per gallon a general consumer could buy ($8,000 per gallon!, and yet we still have three ink jet printers in our house and we still march obediently to the local Staples to buy more every other month or so.

And we have recently added another unnecessarily expensive liquid to our household. No, not the good scotch I have hidden in a super-secret lock box. No, we have fallen head over heels for our new Keurig single-serving coffee maker.  We are effectively paying about $1.00 per cup of home brewed coffee (which works out, according to some, to about $25 a pound).

We spent about a week rationalizing this purchase and the cost associated with it (it was wasteful to make a whole pot and throw it out...I drink less coffee now than I used to!'s still much cheaper than going down to Starbucks or Tullys!). That's all bullshit, of course. We just like the cool space age machine and the variety of little coffee and tea pods we can buy. And the coffee is actually good.

(2 minute break while I make a second cup of coffee)

Yeah. That's good stuff...cha ching!

50k is 31 miles. No Way Around It.
This Saturday is the Chuckanut 50k. I have the course map on my desk and I stare at it often. I still haven't decided whether to attack this one or not. My Achilles tendons are still fighting me a bit and they kept me from my last long run. I can do the mileage, and I'm not in bad shape otherwise, but I'm worried already about blowing up. Not a good feeling.

So I'm stuck in this spot between the desire to get my first ultra under my shoes and not wanting to have to drop out of the race after it starts.

I've done 31 miles on trails before (last summer's epic 'Round St Helens adventure) but it took me 11 hours. That's my only comparative baseline.

I have no real reason to write this other than to bitch about my first-world problem of having to decide whether to spend a Saturday running around in the forest for recreation.

Stay tuned for more of same.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Serious and the Ridiculous. And Running, which is Both.

Ultra Delusions
Just under one week from now I am supposed to lace up the shoes and set out for 31+ miles of light exercise in the Chuckanut 50k. I have the mileage and training in for sure (thanks to some serious mileage on the very serious trails in New Zealand) but it's starting to feel like my Achilles Tendons are going to get in the way of this one. My typical self-diagnosis suggests tendonitis, but who knows. One thing is for sure, if my lower legs don't feel better in a week, there will be no 50k for me...

The Learning Factory. Now With More Cogs.
I admit to not always paying complete attention in faculty meetings, so it is partly my fault, but I tried for 45 minutes the other day to remember what the various initiatives and projects are that us Teaching Drones are responsible for this year. Connecting the project to the acronym is great sport. But I couldn't tell you what they all are.

What I do know is that about half of the faculty in my division are "reassigned" from teaching to working on these initiatives, most of which are ostensibly about quality in teaching. How many students are not served by those faculty so they can work on projects to improve teaching and learning for those students who are not being served? Students at the Learning Factory already have about a 75% chance that their teachers will be adjuncts who work for less pay with fewer benefits and with no obligation to consult with students outside of class. Then we take more full time faculty out of the classroom to do administrative work related to initiatives funded with soft money and that require more time out of the classroom for additional training? What? How top heavy can this thing get before it tumbles down into the parking lot?

I am deeply cynical of these things, especially those without a research base behind them, and I still marvel at how much of our teaching jobs have absolutely nothing to do with actually teaching students.

Which is why I wrote this while I as scheduled to serve as academic advisor to drop-in students (only about 25% of whom "dropped in"). The Learning Factory "lets" us cancel classes with our own students to help other students pick which math class they should take next term. What?

Adventures in TeenagerLand
I am not yet to the point of wanting to apologize to my parents for being between the ages of 15-18, but it's getting close.

If It Weren't So Sad, It Would be Hilarious
For the short term, I am really getting a kick out of watching the GOP "hopefuls" drift farther and farther to the right, pandering to a smaller and smaller group of primary voters who are really, really a-scared of that black guy running the country. Then it hits me that these people have about a 50/50 shot of becoming president and I wake up with my passport in my hand and my laptop open to Expedia, looking for cheap flights to Europe.

A Little Something Serious
Not to bring the real world into this fiction I have created, but allow me to use social media to make a comment about social media. (Somewhere in that last sentence is the start of a master's thesis someone will start but never finish.)

As I write this the name Joseph Kony has gone from almost complete western obscurity to household name, thanks to this video on YouTube. Viral status on YouTube is generally reserved for cats who play pianos or white trash girls being thrown from the back of motorcycles. But this time, not only was the video more than 68 seconds long, it was about something that matters.

So the video starts getting linked to Facebook pages and blogs all around the west. My 14 year old niece shared it on her Facebook page, and I guarantee you she had no idea who Kony was before this. The last time America was reminded that Uganda existed was when we all learned that Idi Amin was actually Forrest Whitaker. And even after that film, I doubt most Americas could find Uganda on a map (hint: it's in East Africa). But once something gets traction, there is internet traffic to be had in criticizing it and poking holes in it.

Invisible Children, the organization that produced the 20 minute YouTube video on Kony, deserves scrutiny and attention. Most organizations do. And I strongly believe that non-profits asking for money from the public need to be as open and transparent as possible (which is why I think The Colleague/My Personal Rock Star is doing such great work at Cura). Bloggers and other media outlets have criticized Invisible Children for being overly simple about a complex issue, for their expenditures, for their fundraising, and even for potentially interfering with the mission to capture Kony.

Questions abound. Is Invisible Children over-simplifying the issue? Well, yeah. You can't exactly distill decades of post-colonial chaos into one 30 minute video. Is the portrayal of Kony incomplete and perhaps factually challenge? Probably. Are there flaws? Yes.

But so what? The entire point of the video is to raise awareness. Does it do that? It does. Very well. There are people on Twitter with literally millions of followers who are clicking that link and learning about the Lord's Resistance Army. There are people in the west who are becoming more aware of one of the many issues in sub-Saharan Africa for the first time. How can that be a bad thing? It's complicated, for sure, but we live in the age of social media, and this is an example of how it can be used to educate and mobilize rather than just entertain.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

SailRunClimbRide is back. For now.

I'm Back. Sorry.
I received an email from Blogger today notifying me that someone had posted a comment on this long lost blog space of mine. Of course it was a spam post about ED pills or some such damn thing, but the email served to remind me that I have this space here and that I abandoned it entirely in favor of what I thought was going to become a more regular space related to my monthly Northwest Runner column (which I know you are all reading religiously anyway...but just in case you aren't, you can click the link and be swept over there instantly.)

Best plans and all that...I post my columns there and a few people read them, but the combination of limited subject matter and lack of real interest from my publisher has made that blog look like one of those Halloween stores in August.

So instead of working harder to fix the problems with the Real Running blog, I stupidly compounded the problem by starting yet another well-intentioned but doomed blog. The Non Project was going to work. But then it didn't. I blame Congress. Anyway, even though I liked the idea of that one, it was one too many.

So as I was sitting at my desk today feeling guilty for over-indulging in recreational social media (to be contrasted with the sort of meaningful social media work people like Hayden and Laura are doing) and feeling even more guilty for not reading the manuscript DVB just sent me (I'll get to it!), I decided to dig up my old login information and come back here.

I wanted my old space back. Where I could post race reports, rant about politics, link to my friend's more important projects, and basically just haunt the blogosphere a bit. So here we go.

I'll sweep up the cobwebs a bit, maybe throw a coat of paint on, and get to work making this a semi-respectful if purposeless project. You're warned.