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Vice Presidential Debate

The Presidential Debate nearly made me ill. That person has somehow found a way for me to like him even less. I’m sure he’ll release a tweetstorm about himself during the debate tonight as well. Thankfully, Pence should be a bit more behaved – he’s a lapdog, but he does sometimes display some characteristics of respectable breeding. I’m going to give it at try. It doesn’t bring me pleasure.

2059: Access Hollywood tape 4 years ago today. One of the million things that should have prevented this.

2102: New England Journal of Medicine just endorsed a candidate for the first time in their 208 years. That’s because Trump is the worst human to be “leading” us through a pandemic.

2105: Mike Pence totally forgot to remove the plug from his butt before he walked out.

2105: Pence looks wayyy worse than he did the last time I looked at him. He looks crusty. But he still has that glimmer in his eye.

2107: Something is funny with Pence’s eye. Covid? In his eyeball?!

2109: Pence looks so excited to tell us about the 210K dead people. Why are we so dead?

2111: Licking the boots, but…why are we so much WORSE than the rest of the world? Even if we did the things he said we did (which we didn’t), why are we so dead. Ms Harris points this out well.

2113: She shut him down, pow.

2115: Pence is pretty good at this. They asked him why the President ignores his regulations, and he says we should have the right to infect everyone around us if we’re idiots.

2118: These people are so old.

2119: The irony of Pence and vaccines. The irony of “stop playing politics in people’s lives.” Holy moly. This is rich. The Swine Flu, which killed a few thousand people, he’s ridiculous here.

2123: I admire Harris for not answering Pence’s utterly stupid assertion that the Swine Flu was somehow worse than this – everyone’s like, uhhh, I don’t remember that…uhh, was it like this? I can’t remember? Instead, she did the normal tangential sort-of-answer to the question.

2125: I think the Pence’s hair is painted on.

2128: This is an appropriate debate. It’s chippy in the right kind of way.

2129: Spool up the conspiracy theories “great segue” as though Harris knew the topics. But, as you know…the topics…are pretty clear…aren’t they?

2131: All of these people are nuts on the economy.

2134: If Trump is not tweeting, he’s not well.

2136: Lots of hands. Meanwhile, I heard that Trump was going to have a new health plan in 2 weeks.

2139: Hello: Donald Trump will listen to climate science? Are you #$%#’ing kidding me?! Get out of here. This is an absurd point. Trump could not give a single f#$% about the environment.

2141: Meh, he’s wrong on Hurricanes.

2143: Pattern that they don’t believe in science. I mean, I don’t need to hear much more of this. They are having a reasonable debate here. Harris is doing great. But Pence is fine too. He’s not doing a bad job here. He’s measured and eloquent.

2145: The Green New Deal is a gimmick. The idea is in the right place, but it’s a poison pill. How about 20 100 billion dollar deals over the next 10 years.

2149: Good news to Progressives! Harris is the most liberal member of the Senate! More Bernie Sanders than Bernie Sanders!

2150: Incidentally, most American Covid cases are from Europe.

2152: It’s actually 215,822 at the moment, not 210,000. Two more 9/11’s since 210K.

2155: Foreign policy – a disaster, because they don’t actually do that work. Trump doesn’t do any of that stuff.

2159: Here’s the Suckers and Losers part – she snuck this in! Wowser! What’s in it for him. She’s nailing him to the wall on this. Damn.

2202: Moderator is doing pretty well here.

2203: Harris should give Pence a few seconds to answer whether he’d ban abortion.

2206: It must be frustrating to be a moderator. You think you’ve got a great question. And then neither of them answer it.

2210: Change the rules if they don’t like it. Meanwhile. how many of his appointees are just “acting” despite what the “rules” say.

2215: Harris is strong on justice and race. Pence is going to talk about defunding and ignore Black people.

2216: State of the Union tactics from Pence here – I have these people in the audience.

2217: Umm, America IS systemically racist. Police DO have anti-Black biases.

2219: There’s a fly on his head because he’s a rotting corpse. It smells the Covid.

2220: It’s impossible to keep track of all the terrible things Trump has done over the past 4 years.

2221: President Trump knows a Jewish guy!

2223: Somebody in the audience has a Covid cough.

2226: We’re going to win this election, despite being down 14%. “Every walk of *uneducated white guy* life.”

2229: Mike Pence: Great Question, if Donald Trump is elected president he won’t be a national embarrassment.

2231: Which candidate will have you come together? Trump or Biden? Not Pence or Harris – Pence is a normal, complicit human.

2234: Everyone in the audience is wearing a mask (except for Karen)

I will be live blogging a few minutes before the start of the debate. At the moment, I’m trying to hack Joe Biden’s hearing aid so that I can try to make him look smarter than Donald Trump. Be back in 45 minutes!

I just spent an hour listening to an excellent presentation by the Maryland Native Plant Society on native grasses for garden and meadow. I have both a garden and a meadow. Anyway, exciting. Years ago, my first long backpacking trip was in Glacier National Park. I flew back with a stopover in O’Hare. It was a jolt, a total shock to the system. Transitioning from a seminar on native grasses to this is going to be utterly jarring.

2055: Bourbon is not my favorite. But this is an American presidential debate, and so, for tonight, an American whiskey. Basil Hayden is the bottle. It’s sweet, very sweet.

2057: It’ll be CBS tonight. I’m looking for something not entirely biased.

2059: There’s a show called Love Island where a bunch of couples sleep in beds 3 feet from each other and make-out.

2101: We’re at 7.3 MILLION cases and 210 THOUSAND deaths. It would have been tough to do worse.

2104: I don’t know any of these CBS people. Chris Wallace, you’re on the air. Chris? Chris?

2105: You can see Trump’s people in the audience, as they are not wearing masks. How quickly does Trump go low here?

2106: Question to Trump: The Supreme Court. Answer from Trump: He is answering the question. The answer is correct. It’s about power, and the Democrats would do the same thing.

2108: Biden has a weak hand on the Supreme Court. Yes, there is gruesome hypocrisy. Biden is mixing his Roe v Wade and ACA arguments together, by the way.

2111: I appreciate that their heads are centered on the green screen in such a way that the words are at the same place with respect to their ears.

2112: I am the party. This debate isn’t going to continue.

2113: What is Donald Trump’s plan? He really sucks, as a human.

2117: Trump is pushing Biden against Sanders, which is a good plan. He cannot stop interrupting, it is absurd. I can’t watch this.

2120: Biden just hit him pretty well there. It is true, he has no plan.

2121: Will this be the only debate? They have to have them in separate rooms with mikes that can be cut off.

2123: It is was it is because you are who you are. Yep.

2124: Millions would have died…hello! We are substantially worse than the rest of the world. He could have not done a much worse job.

2127: Trump, do we love pharmaceutical companies or hate them?

2129: I watched the bleach news conference. It was not sarcastic. He thought he came up with something awesome. He wanted it to be named the Trump Treatment.

2130: Biden has calmed down nicely. Trump had calmed down too until he called Joe the dumbest guy around – this is a rock fight.

2132: Objective fact, 210,000 deaths, contradicts everything that Trump says. But people will believe it.

2135: I am not paid to watch this, I have no blog anymore?

2137: Ask Herman Cain whether the rallies are safe.

2137: Not sure what K would mean on a plot.

2141: You can’t fix the economy until you fix the Covid crisis.

2142: They need to cut the mikes.

2144: I paid millions of dollars, except that I took advantage of the tax laws to not pay any taxes.

2147: He is literally bronze, like the Colossus or something.

2149: All right, I’m out. Let me know if a push-up contest breaks out.

On the School Board

If you told me a year ago that I would have opinions on the Board of Education, I would have thought you were crazy. I always read the bios and do my research before an election, but never had any personal opinions. This all changed about a year ago when my neighborhood was suddenly thrust into a heated redistricting debate in the 11th hour. The details aren’t important. In fact, at the time, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Eventually, I began organizing with some neighbors and fought hard to oppose the move. We lost, just barely. In the end, I went back to not being sure how I felt about it – in fact, I’m really completely fine with our new Elementary school. As I generally support the concepts driving the redistricting, my opposition was more NIMBY (not in my backyard) than anything.

Throughout that process, however, I got to know much more about the BoE members. Hosting one in my house as part of our Hail Mary play for a reversal of the redistrict was one of the highlights of the old days, 2019, back when the world was a simple place. I had the privilege of speaking to several on the phone (as a participant in group calls) and getting some insight into the inner workings of the Board. I also watched dozens of hours of BoE meetings.

And…now I have opinion on the Board of Education. With an election a month away, I thought I would share them, to anyone who cares. I am going to use initials. I don’t want to get into a debate on the topic with random Googlers. Further, these are neighbors and local politicians – though I will be honest, I will not say anything that I wouldn’t say if I were speaking to someone in their campaign, for instance. Not all of the BoE is up for election this cycle. I also don’t have any strong opinions on the non-incumbent candidates (though I know who I will be voting for in my district). For what it’s worth, the election process has changed, and you now vote by region.

So, just looking at the incumbents, and I have three categories: Would Support, It’s Complicated, and Would Not Support.

Before I get into that, I’ve got to start with the Elephant in the Room, JM. I respect the hell out of JM as a strategic thinker. She’s ferocious, savvy, and driven. She is an extremely skilled planner who, by her force of character and competence, dominates the majority voting block on the board. That said, I put her into the “It’s Complicated” category. She is an ends-justify-the-means politician who would exploit loopholes and strongarm her fellow board members to achieve her goals.

This is a County school board. I think I’d support her were she to run for a statewide office or a House of Representative’s office, but the bull-in-a-chinashop approach to managing our schools was too much for me. If JM were in the political minority on the Board, I think she’d be a great counter-balance to the majority opinion, but as it stands, she’s too potent an influence. When JM leads the majority, there’s almost no point in having anyone else in the room.

I really am torn on her – I’d want to hire her, for instance, but kind of don’t want her dictating elementary school policies. I generally agree with her political stances, but don’t like her scorched earth approach. Anyway, since she is the specter that looms over the rest of the board, I wanted to get her out of the way first. In any case, I’m in District 2, and she is not, so I don’t get a chance to wrestle with this particular decision anyway.

Now, on to the categories.

Support

CW: I love this guy. He’s data driven, non-partisan, full of moon-shot ideas and appropriate skepticism. He is cowed by no one, and approaches votes without ego. He cares about the students and wants to find an impartial way to evaluate his decisions. He is also a scientist/engineer – his rational approach shines through his decisions. He has my unwavering support.

He is not up for re-election this term.

VC: VC may not be a data scientist by trade, but she wrestles with the data and attempts to draw rational conclusions. That said, she is the most centrist board member politically, and can swing from one side to the next. She is empathetic and kind. I always appreciate her candor and her earnest attempts at grappling with both side of an issue. She too has my support.

She is not up for re-election this term.

It’s Complicated

JM: Already covered. She is up for re-election in District 4 and should win handily.

KC: I think she would do fine in a Board that did not have JM. But this one did. In our particular scenario, she was our swing vote. We very nearly got our swap overturned, but a few votes before ours KC was bullied (I’ll use the words used by our direct source) into swapping her vote. In any case, though she was up for re-election in District 4, she lost to the better known candidate, JM, and the opposition candidate. She will not be on the ticket for the general election.

Do Not Support

CDS: CDS is a populist who works in opposition without herself coming up with viable alternatives. She’s always good for a diatribe that panders to her base, but when you boil away the fluff, you’re left with an empty pan. She did support our cause – because she supported whatever opposed the majority opinion, and I appreciate that…but interestingly, her shocking abstention in the first vote is what sunk us the first time around. I think she just wasn’t paying attention.

She is up for election in District 1, where I expect her to win. But I wouldn’t vote for her.

ST: Speaking of not paying attention…ST didn’t strike me as being fully engaged. She would often ask questions that were previously addressed. She was reliable support for JM’s agenda, but without seeming to add much to it. She was also a bit of a populist – though far on the other side of the political aisle from CDS. I found her to be extreme while not being particularly dynamic, and this combination didn’t sit well with me.

She is not up for election this cycle.

ME: The moderator for the meetings, ME was inconsistent in her leadership of the room. She was hazy on the procedural details, and cut off some soapbox speeches while allowing others. As a rule, she followed JM’s lead – like if you don’t know the words to a song and sing a half-tick behind everyone else as you try to remember. She also lectured the crowd and other board members in the most condescending way possible. She does not have my support.

But she’s not up for election this cycle anyway, so it doesn’t matter!

Never Forget

Jen and I were just remembering 9/11. I said to myself, surely I blogged about this at the time. I didn’t. Surely I wrote about it the next year? I didn’t. But the next year’s post did remind me that I had a paper journal all through that Junior year in college. I located it. I wrote extensively, and have attached it.

A few things were as I remembered them: I did go to Goshen with Katie that weekend. My visceral reactions remain very similar – the collapse of the 2nd tower was the strongest reaction that I had.

A few things were different. I always claimed that I woke up between the first and second plane. I didn’t, it was just after the 2nd plane. I forgot that we had a large prayer meeting at FCA; I think I was president of that organization at that time. I forgot how we all assumed that 10s of thousands of people died that morning, and really, the number of casualties compared to the number of people those buildings could hold was, frankly, miraculous. And heroic.

Anyway, I still don’t want to talk about it anymore. But there’s what I was thinking at the time. And they (I) say that there’s no point learning to read cursive!

Prognostication

A few predictions:

First, I’m done talking about number of infections. Is is partly because we have no idea. The official tally says 1.3 million, but that’s an underestimate by a factor of 3 to 10x. That number starts to mean something once it hits around 100 million and the virus starts to run into problems finding new hosts. So, we’re not there yet, plenty of kindling to burn still. More interesting is total deaths.

We’re at 78,000 as of the end of the first week in May. Deaths have been steady at 13-15K a week for the last three weeks, and I see that continuing, as NY’s numbers fade but other states get worse. I think we’ll cross 100K dead by before Memorial Day. We should go into June around 110,000.

Into the realm of speculation. I see the environmental factors and the “opening of the economy” counter-balancing each other, so I think we’ll keep this death rate up through June. Put us around 150K by the 4th of July.

I bet we start to see a drop in death rates thereafter as we develop more effective treatment regiments, be they in the form of prophylaxis or treatments of those already infected. I think we’ll see a drop to half the death rate for the months of July, August, and September. In that case, we’d get into October between 200 and 250K. I think that we’ll see the first small scale roll outs of a vaccine by then. That said, with schools in session in most of the country in September, we’ll have a burst of cases in October, where we’ll bump the death rate back up, but at a lower fatality rate as our treatments improve. I see us adding 50K deaths a month through December, so that will put us around 400k total by the end of 2020. Beyond that will depend on what we’ve learned about antibodies and herd immunity and vaccines. I see that 400K as neither optimistic or pessimistic. The absolute worst case, in my mind, is around a million dead by 15 months from now. I hope that’s not possible.

All of these numbers are way worse than I would have predicted two months ago. We’ve done a horrible job.

As for other things, in no particular order…I think that…

…Trump embraces absentee and mail-in ballots for at-risk populations, as defined by voters over the age of 60. They are reliable Trump voters.

…many members of the cabinet already have access to the trial vaccine and that they will not get sick. I could be proved wrong in a matter of days on this one.

…the CDC becomes an unreliable source of death tallies and a massive misinformation campaign attempts to slow roll past numbers. They’ll claim you can’t trust the numbers, and will say that the true numbers are far less, but will have no evidence or alternative tallies. The media will continue to maintain accurate numbers, though some states will keep their tallies under strict control. Statisticians will note the excess deaths, however.

…unemployment will steady at around 15% and will remain their for the rest of the year. Consumer confidence will be in the toilet, no one will buy anything, attendance at sporting events will be either not allowed or very poor, and we’ll all be a bunch of ridiculous germophobes in a few months.

…the conspiracy theories will get worse and worse, and those who believe in them will be disproportionately infected and killed.

…it will be a bad hurricane season and Florida and/or Louisiana and/or Texas will be impacted. It will cause a spike in cases and deaths locally.

…the coronavirus will mutate in a way that makes it more contagious and less lethal (again).

…we’ll be out from under this cloud of infection by the start of the school year 2021.

…we’ll be getting SARS-CoV-2 vaccines alongside our flu shots until someone makes a discovery that eliminates the need for either in 10-20 years. The surge of research and development (in an effort to prevent the economy from once again losing 10s of trillions of dollars) will grow long term results. Unless the MAGAs start killing scientists. Which isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

…the Third World will catch up with the United States in the coming months, with major outbreaks in tropical South and Central America (starting in Brazil, whose president is even stupider than ours), Africa, and South Asia. Numbers will be difficult to measure.

…the economy, starvation, and the like will overtake the virus as the principle problem in the world. Some will blame those who overreacted to the virus (as many many die), but in reality, other scenarios were just as bad, with more dead people.

Subtitle: why the blog died.

I stopped posting with my previous regularity 10 years ago, roughly around the time that I got married. I always attributed it to being married – after all, the blog was meant to be a way to expose my inner thought life to people who may have cared when I was not always adept at doing so through the spoken word. Remove that motivation, the blog collapsed.

That was always my narrative. It may not be entirely accurate however. 40 days ago, I stopped interacting with social media routinely throughout the day. And all the sudden I wanted to blog again. I’ve always held a secondary narrative – that around 10 years ago I started gaining sufficient exposure and authority at work that I was privileged with the opportunity to write dozens of emails a day. I think that’s part of it too.

I don’t want to spend too long on this – indeed, I want to go to bed, and first I want to watch Picard. So, out with it. If I can post a 3 minute tidbit on my musings on social media, it releases the pressure that builds up in my brain of not being able to get a thought out. If I can write 2000 words in emails a day, it releases some of the pressure of needing to turn a phrase or amuse myself with some witticism (I sometimes write good emails). In the old days, I’d get an idea in my head, mull it for a while, go on a run, polish it in the rock tumbler of fatigue, and then spew it out in 700 words in a blog post. These days, I get an idea and I fling it into the world immediately. I don’t mull it. I don’t run so I don’t polish it. And, on top of that, I don’t have the existential dread associated with failing to procreate which drives my selfish genes to flash its peacock feathers pitifully across the internet. But it’s not entirely the fault of marriage. There’s one other factor – angst – which drove my writing back then. Most anyone who has been married knows that this does not decline when married. It’s just taboo and tacky to advertise it to the world. All came together to neuter then muzzle the blog. I hadn’t really realized the roll that social media played in the process, for, indeed, I joined Facebook about 10 years ago too.

The Fatality Conundrum

Occasionally, you’ll hear some virus apologist say something like “of course our numbers are higher than other countries’ – we’re testing more!” Also comforting, you’ll hear statisticians saying that the fatality rate is likely must lower than is reported. Sure, the New York Times has plenty of anecdotal evidence of fatality undercounting, but given the vast quantities of deaths and the attention that everyone is paying to it, this is probably a small factor at this point.

And then you have this:

What this is showing is that the observed fatality rate is RISING. It was ambiguous a week or so ago, but now it’s clear. This is very concerning, because this rate is a very simple calculation: deaths/confirmed infections. This is especially problematic because the CDC notes that the death rates lag confirmed infections by 1-2 weeks. 10 days ago, there were only 86,000 cases, and now there are 337,000 cases. In the same way that there is a latency or lag between getting sick and dying, there is a latency between showing up in the “positive” column and showing up in the “fatality” column. Holding other factors equal, we’d expect 3x the deaths a week from now, as we have 3x the cases now than we had a week ago.

One of two things is happening:
1) Despite the fact that we are running more tests, we’d actually detecting a lower percentage of the infected population over time. So, three weeks ago, maybe we detected only 10,000 sick, when there were really 15,000. Now, we detected 338,000 sick…but…there are really more like 700,000 infected – and probably many more to account for the lag. That is what it would take to pull the fatality rate down to the 1.4% estimated in the study above. Not only must more people be sick, but more people have to be getting sick compared to the number we’re catching in the infection statistics – if not, the fatality rate would not be increasing.
2) It’s a lot deadlier than we think. Or, at least, now that portions of our health care system are overwhelmed, it’s a lot deadlier than the estimated fatality rate. The rate is rising because more people are having a chance to die from it, as earlier on, they were just on the road to death, not yet having arrived at their destination.

As with all things here, it’s probably a combination of the two – let’s hope that it’s mostly #1, though.

This is the problem with these statistics. Both solutions are possible, depending on which data are missing and by how much. We’ll start to gain some clarity when the antibody test comes online, as this will allow for us to start to understand what percentage of the population contracted the virus without ever getting a test to confirm it. Until then, that fatality rate is ugly, ugly stuff.

Some predictions:
We hit a million cases by Tax Day.
We hit 5,000 deaths in one day between now and then as well. Max so far is 1,400 or so, from yesterday.

He Is Not Going to Leave.

[From March 14th]

Let’s say we slow the spread and only a couple million people get sick between now and June. Then it fades to a few dozen isolated pockets for the summer (assuming it’s seasonal, which remains to be seen). In this scenario, it’ll come roaring back in September/October, simultaneously re-emerging from everywhere.

1) Does it seem prudent to, say, have 140 million people cram next to each other on November 3rd so that we can all touch a few surfaces one after the other?
2) Do you suppose that anyone in power currently finds this scenario to be sufficiently concerning to legislate universal absentee ballots?

Contrary to popular belief, this fiasco is of benefit to the incumbent. Rules be damned, it really, truly, is a terrible idea to hold an election during a pandemic.

Of course, we’ll all realize this during the primaries. Let’s see if we can do anything about it. Like protest from our socially distant homes.

Not the Flu

[From March 10th]

Yes, the flu is pretty bad. 34 million Americans got sick, as it is established throughout society. 350,000 people needed to be hospitalized (roughly 1%). 20,000 people died (roughly 0.05%).
Many people like to point this out as a response to the worldwide hysteria associated with COVID-19. Because, “believe” in the threat or not, I have not been alive for something that has had such a profound effect on everyday life for so many people. Entire nations on lock down, hundreds of millions quarantined at one point or another, ten trillion dollars erased from the global economy, schools shuddered, and so on.

But the flu makes more people sick, you say!

That’s because the flu is everywhere and has been for millennia. COVID-19, at this early stage where there is no widespread immunity, hospitalizes something on the order of 15% of the people that get it. It kills something between 1-3% (including an astounding 15% over 80!). If COVID-19 were allowed to become as widespread as the flu is in the United States, one would expect to see several million people hospitalized, with perhaps a million deaths. And that’s not taking into account the fact that tens of millions of Americans didn’t get the flu because they were immunized to it, whereas zero people are immunized to this disease.

Perhaps this helps explain the hysteria? This is why governments across the world are taking whatever measures necessary to delay the spread. This is why a nonchalant, “meh, just a cold” attitude is inaccurate.

So, don’t be scared that you’re going to get it in the coming days and weeks – the odds are pretty small given its limited spread to this point. But don’t downplay the valiant efforts of those attempting to thwart its advance.

And do bake a virologist a pie and mow his lawn over the summer, because the sooner the better on that vaccine. This contagion spread from a single source in central China to 90 countries throughout the world in the span of 2 and a half months. Come October – after rattling around the southern hemisphere for a few months and lying dormant in pockets across the northern hemisphere – we can expect to see it return in many locations all at once, with a longer season ahead of it. That’s assuming that it’s seasonal, which sounds like a decent assumption at this point, to our benefit.

[From March 8th]

Let’s call them alternative explanations since “conspiracy theory” is inherently pejorative. There are a few floating around surrounding Covid-19. In fact, you’ll often see the same people that say “no big deal” also claim that the disease is a Chinese Superbug or somehow released by Bill Gates or whatever. The thing about alternative explanations is that they are never internally consistent. The ability to hold contradictory evidence in one’s hand and simultaneously arrive at mutually exclusive conclusions is a hallmark of nutjobs…I mean, free-thinkers…across the globe. I’m going to make my version of one, and talk through it. Disclaimer: no doubt someone else has already created this one.

(to moderators, it ends up looking ridiculous)

In 1979 China introduced a One-Child Policy in order to stem population growth. As China’s per capita incomes have increased over time, life expectancies have increased. This has caused a demographic disaster. There are too many old people in China, and not enough young people to keep them alive while they are not enhancing the state. The old people are not dying quickly enough.

What if we could make a virus that would culle out the old and weak while leaving the young and virile virtually unscathed? We’d solve our demographic problems at the same time that we kept our populations in check. Money would be released to the younger generation, spending would increase, businesses would boom heralding another 20 years of 8% growth, medical expenditures would drop. It’s a perfect crime, a final solution.

So, in a secret lab, start with SARS. Using CRISPR, splice in the protein spike from Ebola to make it more contagious. Do some unintelligible mumbo-jumbo to make it target epithelial cells of old people (more plaque, less something, more something, lipase, cisplatin, who knows what). Problem solved.
Plausible, right?

So, who is the agent supporting this outcome? China
What is their goal? to cull the aged without resorting to unpopular state sponsored suicide
How did they do it? release a bio-engineered superbug into an area deeply integrated into the Chinese economy, yet distant from the politburo.

First off, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but we can’t make a vaccine for the flu that’s effective from year to you. Do you really think we’re capable of targeting a specific demographic with a super cold? I see this as all or nothing: we can wipe out half the planet, we can make someone have itchy eyes, we can’t do diddly in between.

Further, this premise has a problem. China has shuddered their entire economy for 2 months to try to stop it…right when it was accomplishing the goals that they had supposedly engineered it for. The whole motive falls apart when they implode their entire society to stop it from doing what they wanted it to do in the first place.

Another problem? Everybody in power basically everywhere in the entire world is old! The Illuminati? Old! The ruling classes? Old! Barons of industry (barring a few aging techies)? Old! Biting off our noses to spite our faces, much?

So, maybe it’s a rogue state new world order who wants to topple world governments and usher in their technocratic dystopia? WTF! Read that again! I have encountered nothing in my time on this celestial plane which would indicate to me that anyone is competent to pull off any substantial subterfuge, let alone architecting the clandestine development of a superbug that would kill everybody’s grandparents. Do you know what the masses don’t like? When they lose their video games (irrelevant for this example). Do you know what else? When you kill their grandma!

Anyway, you know what has made sense for the last 4,000 years of human history? People doing weird stuff with wild animals and getting sick and some of them dying because of microbes evolving via random Darwinian processes. No reason to dredge up theories that make no sense and fail under basic scrutiny!
I’m not much for conspiracy theor…I mean…alternative explanations.

[From March 3rd]

A few days ago, I read something about how China, with their repressive worldview and shoddy single payer health care system, was particularly predisposed to these sorts of viruses, and that they were currently reaping what they had sown (curiously, the article mentioned that they also eat weird creatures and that their kids crap on the street through holes in their pants, but this was of secondary importance to the author).
Before we go gloating about how China’s government causes problems like this, perhaps we should wait a few weeks, no? Their draconian response relied on a sort of nationalistic vigor that only a nightmarish authoritarian regime could muster. Had this virus started in Mumbai and not Wuhan, 400 million people would be sick now, but the Chinese somehow seem to have shoved the genie back in the bottle, against all odds.

As for us, we’re not testing people (because insurance won’t cover it, or because we botched the first generation of test kits?), and we now have a handful of hot spots of community transmission. I hope the guy’s silly article turns out to be prophetic, but fear it is destined to be ironic.

Also, updates: my last post about survival of the least lethal seems to have been premature, as more deaths from the past few weeks are being attributed to the virus. Of course, they weren’t tested at the time and all the health care providers and family members have had an opportunity to share in the intervening weeks. Also, better data is saying that only 1% develop no symptoms. That is good, because it’s detectable, but bad because it means that there are few missing cases that could be used to water down the lethality statistics.

Anyway, enjoy the story about what to do in Seattle if you have the virus.

To Be a Virus

[From March 1st, moving here since it really is a blog post]

Random viral thoughts for the day, inspired by https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/01/health/coronavirus-washington-spread.html, which hinted that several hundred undetected cases are currently in Washington state.

Viruses have one singular goal: to reproduce their genetic material. It’s a goal shared with the kingdoms of the living, though we like to decorate our intentions with varying amounts of window dressing to de-emphasize that goal.

It is clear that even within this sub-species (to misapply a term) of coronavirus, there is genetic variability. It is how researchers were able to tie the two cases together in WA, and how they were able to interpolate the life and times of the virus over the last few weeks.

I see two possibilities: one is that the researcher’s conclusions are a bunch of hooey, and what really happened was that the first case got his son-in-law sick, and that guy used a restroom at McDonalds right before this high school kid grabbed the same door knob then picked his nose, and that’s that. The other is that low levels of non-serious manifestations of the virus have been masquerading as common colds, viral bronchitis, and the like for weeks now, without raising alarm bells.

Let’s assume it’s the latter. It is my assertion that natural selection is going to push this novel coronavirus to a less lethal state. When someone gets a virus and immediately gets very sick, they are isolated and entire towns are locked down. The virus has cut off its own viral vectors. This was what happened with SARS – people got too sick, the virus was cut off from the population too quickly, it couldn’t spread.

Meanwhile, if someone can carry around a mild virus for weeks with limited symptoms, that virus can jump from person to person, host to host, making trillions of copies of its milder form. It is successful. It is naturally selected, as those hundreds of people remained within the broader population plenty long to give it to a friend. The virus means no ill-will, it doesn’t have some primal urge to kill its host – it merely loves itself and wants to share.

It seems to me that over time, the milder versions of this virus will become more successful than the more severe versions. Moreover (and maybe this invalidates part of my point), people will develop immunity to these particular cultivars, and this immunity will lessen the impact of the more potent strains. Every so often, one of those strains is like the Spanish Flu, but more often than not, it’s just the regular old flu, and it sucks, but is fine.

Anyway, all this to say, our feverish response to the more deadly and severe form of this virus should serve to deselect those versions when compared to their milder brethren. Within a couple of years, we’ll have all gotten it, but maybe it won’t amount to much.

Or maybe 2% of the population will die, or maybe we’ll snuff it out by the summer and have a vaccine ready by autumn. What do I know.

I’d lean toward the less severe solution, for this reason, and also because the virus has recently devoured 5 trillion rich-guy dollars, and if there’s one thing rich guys hate, it’s when something gobbles up 5 trillion of their dollars.

For night two, I’m feeling a bit peatier, with Kilchoman Machir Bay. Tonight, we have:
Marianne Williamson, who could be literally anyone.
John Hickenlooper, John Kasich’s superfriend.
Andrew Yang, wonks wonk, who I’m going to like.
Pete Buttigieg, who is too well spoken for politics and who is my current favorite.
Joe Biden, who has the opportunity to go toe to toe with Trump.
Bernie Sanders, who is delightfully unhinged, and perhaps the only pure candidate out there.
Kamala Harris, who is the presumptive Vice President.
Kirsten Gillibrand, who serves me tons of Facebook adds, including one where I might get a shot of whiskey with her.
Michael Bennet, who had that one speech a few months ago about something, and is now running for president.
Eric Swalwell, who I confuse with another Erik Prince, the guy who is responsible for some private army.

2101: Who is going to interrupt the most tonight? I’m thinking Bennet, Hickenlooper, and Swalwell. Because they are old, marginalized, white guys. (OK, Stalwell isn’t too old)
2103: Look at that guy. I love how Bernie is always the same. You’ve got to love someone who knows who he is.
2104: Bennet! I knew it. Man, I hate debate interrupters.
2108: The thing about Socialism is that it’s not inherently evil, nor is it communism. All of Northern Europe is better off than we are, and socialist.
2109: Bernie is going for the Trump jugular. Bang!
2110: Gillibrand just successfully interrupted. Good distinction between greed and capitalism. Andrew Yang is about to join the interruption club. Just wait your turn for a few minutes. Wait until they hit everyone once before you start interrupting.
2113: Buttigieg speaks like 7 languages. I love that guy.
2114: Swalwell with a successful, not entirely obnoxious interruption. Andrew Yang is obviously roughly as smart as Buttigieg. He might be Sanders’ Vice President.
2117: Swalwell, you go for the king, you best not miss. Joe Biden, with that million dollar smile just flipped it, no problem.
2120: Harris interrupts with a snarky comment about interrupting.
2121: Gillibrand, very tired of her already. She’s last on my list so far.
2123: I totally agree with Buttigieg on this. Let the government compete, on unfair terms, against the for profit insurance companies. Spectacular again.
2124: Yikes, who is going to interrupt Biden talking about his wife and two of his kids dying?
2126: Where is Williamson’s accent from? She will be the most googled this time around.
2132: Everyone wants to provide health care to immigrants. Disgraceful. Non-Americans show just die, especially, you know.
2134: Phew, break.
2139: Kamala Harris just tried to call immigrants people. By the way, great rant.
2140: I wonder what Andrew Yang is doing, other than waiting patiently. By the way, Buttigieg, not obnoxious. Biden, not obnoxious, because he knows this is all going to come to him.’
2144: Mayor Pete doing a sweet religious takedown. I, of course, agree with him.
2146: I think I’m going to tap out at 9 tonight, or the next time they ask Andrew Yang a question.
2150: Some people talked for a while, I was texting people.
2151: Senator Bennet, a rare appearance. Dropping the H-Bomb. If you only get to talk for a few minutes, you’ve got to drop the term Holocaust. Medieval Wall, that’s what he’s for.
2152: Yang! China! Russian asses!
2154: Tariffs are taxes. Export balance on dishwashers. Fantastic! I think Biden is listening to a man in his ear. Do they have men in their ears for these?
2155: Whiskey gone.
2157: Needs to come up with a high calorie, weight efficient version of GORP.
2159: Chuck Todd has to talk over music tonight, last night he had to talk over a live mike.
2200: Buttigieg gets a hard question. He’s answering it well. But it’s going to be a problem with the Blue Line folks.
2202: Jerry Stallwell just told Buttigieg how to run his city. And Williamson, who is there. Kamala Harris just dropped the race bomb. Meanwhile, she’s not the best with her prosecutorial record.
2205: Biden has to answer this one. He was a public defender, not a prosecutor. Zing. He’s not backing down. Bam! I’m surprised.
2207: Harris is coming back in, she’s smart to get herself this screen time on a personal, weepy, debate.
2208: Bernie glad they were yelling past him.
2210: I’m not going to last much longer. Kirsten Gillibrand, still not my favorite.
2211: Mitch McConnell is awful. True story. I’m about to tap out here.

——–
——–
OK.
Buttigieg is my guy, he wins for me. He’s brilliant.
Next was Bernie, because the dude is just so self-consistent.
Biden and Harris in the next tier. Biden was so smooth, in general, but has 40 years of skeletons. Harris was aggressive and strong.
Yang next, I wish that he got more air time, but he’s also a really bright guy.
Williamson was fine.
Hickenlooper, Swalwell, Bennet
Gillibrand last

Overall:
Buttigieg
Warren
Castro
Sanders
Harris
Booker
Biden
Yang
Klobuchar
Gabbard
Delaney
Ryan
Bennet
Williamson
Hickenlooper
Swalwell
Inslee
de Blasio
Gillibrand
Beto

The Democrats, smartly, did not set up a Varsity and JV debate as was the Republican approach 4ish years ago. Tonight, we have a mixed bag of biggish hitters and also rans:
Bill de Blasio, the maybe current mayor of NYC who no one likes much.
Tim Ryan, who I’ve never seen or heard of before in my life.
Julián Castro, who did something that I liked at some point, but I can’t remember what.
Cory Booker, who seems underwhelming, but fine.
Elizabeth Warren, who is in my top 3 and has a good head on her shoulders and a coherent set of plans that might find bi-partisan support.
Beto O’Rourke, the invisible man, raising his profile for some future run for office, or maybe a sex scandal.
Amy Klobuchar, who is considered awful by those who work for her.
Tulsi Gabbard, who, despite being pretty foxy, is the target of disdain from some of my liberal friends who think she’s also a Russian plant. I have no idea why.
Jay Inslee, who is all about the environment, which is the most important issue on the planet, but which nobody cares about.
John Delaney, who is Tim Ryan’s uncle.

Of these, I see myself liking Warren the best, appreciating Inslee though finding him to be a lost cause, and that’s probably about it. Overall, the only folks on tonight’s stage with even a puncher’s chance are Warren, Booker, and O’Rourke.

The ground rules: The Democratic president for candidate must either be female, minority (it’s not specified whether homosexual counts), or Joe Biden. The eventual running mate can be anyone, unless Joe Biden is the candidate, in which case the running mate shall be both female and minority and probably Stacey Abrams. The rest are around to waste our time and take up space on the stage, like most of the horses in the Kentucky Derby and the other people in the Peach Pit on Saved by the Bell.

I’ll be back in a bit to start typing some stuff.

Side note: yes, I have noticed that Trump doesn’t have Pence on his 2020 signs. I’d guess Jared Kushner would be his next choice, but that would threaten to overshadow Ivanka, which is his real heir apparent. Too bad she’s mute and not explicitly hate mongering. The base is really going to dig that, sure.

2047: Drink for this evening is Glenfiddich Solera 15. I’m barely into this bottle, maybe my third pour. No strong opinions yet.
2102: They say they’re not going to be shy about cutting people off. Elizabeth Warren comes out guns blazing right from the start. Wow. Imagine if the president could speak in complete sentences? That would be awesome!
2104: Klobuchar, the magic genie. She’s saying fine things, but billionaire yachts and student loans are two different things.
2106: Someone just asked Beto for specifics. Hilarious! What is your specific number? What the hell is he doing. That was like 30 seconds in Spanish, where he probably disclosed what his marginal tax rate was. Hehehe. No, he will not commit to anything. I love it. I like whoever that moderator is.
2109: This first round of questions is awkward. Everyone wants to get their opening statement out there, so they’re not answering questions. Senator Warren gets a second shot before Tim Ryan gets on camera. Please, someone aggregate the total time that each of these candidates get. I would love that.
2111: Julian Castro gets a softball about the wage gap. He also had a good start.
2112: Gabbard, good resume. Foxy gray streak. Not answering the question.
2113: de Blasio comes out strong, with an actual democratic policy.
2115: John Delaney, whoever he is, has some policy information lined up. I’ll tell you, I watch all of these debates. This is the most substantive I’ve seen in a while. Things we’re going to do. Good for them, people got the memo.
2116: Inslee jumps on with unions. Sounds strong, looks presidential.
2117: Tim Ryan! He gets in finally. Ohio. Came in with some heat. Just a dude.
2118: Elizabeth Warren, loving her. This has been a wonderfully organized debate so far. People on time, no gaps, get to everyone. Moderators barely showing up, just as they should.
2121: All foam and no beer. The other one that’s not Klobuchar, Gillibrand or whatever, wants me to donate and maybe she’ll have a shot of whiskey with me.
2122: Warren up again – she’s dominating the time. Remember how Fox News was all about Rubio last time? NBC is all about Elizabeth Warren. O’Rourke is doing the whole “let me tell you about this area man.” It’s not the State of the Union Beto.
2124: de Blasio does the first interruption. Beto looks like death warmed over. This guy Delaney, whoever he is, just jumped in too. How long until someone notices that the white men are all interrupting, and point out that if the women did this, they’d be excoriated.
2128: Warren does the interrupting with something specific and relevant. Governor Inslee shaking his fist, talking about reproductive rights.
2129: Klobuchar just did the obvious on women’s reproductive health. Guys, Gabbard is just stately, look at her.
2130: Pretty sure trans abortion isn’t really a thing.
2131: Wheels came off a bit for a minute or two there. Jay Inslee, the largest man, took over.
2131: New Jersey companies being held criminally liable. Cory Booker coming on strong against pharmaceutical companies, which are evil.
2132: What is Beto doing? Umm, something about being in jail for pot and Purdue pharma.
2133: Phew, take a break.

2135: So far, Warren is dominating. Booker, Castro, Delaney are all showing well. de Blasio and Inslee are bugging me. Klobuchar doesn’t sound like a president. Beto is a grown 9 year old. Tim Ryan spoke for 30 seconds.
2136: That image is going to give me nightmares forever. Castro, by the way, is awesome also.
2138: Second Spanish speaker has a better Spanish accent. I think. Castro knows the name of a law.
2141: What is going on. Beto is not going to win. I have no idea what Castro is busting him on.
2142: By the way, no Republican is going to go for this Spanish-off.
2143: Castro is pissed at O’Rourke.
2144: John Delaney, did not know he was a Maryland congressman.
2145: Klobuchar, maybe HUD Secretary or something.
2146: Congressman Ryan, with his dead eyes, was just caught staring off into space. Good Ole “Same Question, Congressman Ryan.” Give the man 45 seconds in a row, and he will get rolling though.
2147: Cory Booker has an interesting look on his face right now. I think I like this face; serious, enraged, focused.
2149: ICE Agents sounds funny when you say it out load.
2149: Isn’t it Tulsi Gabbard time again?
2150: Dulaney’s grandpa.
2150: Cory Booker, got himself back on stage. Senator Klobuchar, she’s not that bad. But she’s not going to be president.
2153: Chickenhawk Cabinet, nice one Tulsi. Did she just call him Michael Bolton, or did I do that in my own head. It’s not Michael Bolton right?

2159: Recapping the rules, where de Blasio, Inslee, and Delaney don’t interrupt. What is happening in the audience? Bad NBC. Let’s see if Trump is still watching.

2206: I’m getting tired. Guns. Remember when we cared about people shooting kids a few months ago? Too many problems. Warren, how are we going to keep kids safe. We can do the sensible things. Good for Warren.
2208: Warren/Booker. I like that ticket. Buttigieg is my guy though. I don’t know if the Dems would put out a Warren/Buttigieg ticket. I feel like there’s no way they’ll pick two white people.
2212: Tim Ryan, I’d give him a cabinet position. O’Rourke, not terrible on this one. It looks like he puked in a bag and ate some pretzels during the break.
2214: Klobuchar, I like her sidelong glances. And she has an Uncle Dick.
2215: License to buy a firearm is just common sense. Blah blah blah.
2216: Congressman Delaney, who is he again, and why does he keep interrupting? Yikes, de Blasio has a black son, this is awkward.
2218: I am Senator Warren, and I have a plan.
2220: I’m getting tired with this. Delaney punching above his weight, whoever he is.
2221: Governor Inslee pointing his finger ominously. Climate change. OK, I’ll stick around for this. Governor Inslee can’t do anything to save Miami, sorry. Miami is gone. I wish I could bet against the climate. Should I be buying land in Alberta, the world’s next bread basket.
2223: Congressman O’Rourke, you put out a “p-p-plan.” That’s what I’d call it.
2224: I’m going up after the next time Tulsi is given an opportunity to speak. But let’s be honest, she’s polling at like nothing, so why should she talk? Other than her poised posture and electric gray streak.
2227: Full question for crazy-eyed Tim Ryan. Elital! Nice!
2229: By the way, Cap and Trade on Carbon is the right approach.
2229: Tulsi! OK, I’m ready to go upstairs. I like her cadence. Not great for a time limit, but she speaks well.

—-
—-
OK, I’m done. Warren won. Booker and Castro did well, second tier. de Blasio, Delaney, and Inslee were annoying. Tim Ryan remains irrelevant, but says good things. Klobuchar seems wry, I like her, but she’s also not going to win. I can’t have an objective opinion on Gabbard since I have a crush on her, but I think she was pretty good. Beto O’Rourke lost.

Order:
Warren
Castro
Booker
Klobuchar
Gabbard
Delaney
Ryan
Inslee
de Blasio
Beto

Eric in Wonderland

Every year, we go to the Tacoma area to visit my in-laws. Most years, I take the opportunity to go on a guilt free backpacking trip, knowing that Grandma, Grandpa, my wife, and my kids are perfectly happy sharing each other’s company without me. I’ve gone to the North Cascades and The Olympics (two different trips)…but when you go to Washington, there is one singular feature that draws you, like a moth to flame: Rainier. I backpacked for 3 nights there a couple of years ago, completing about a third of the Wonderland Trail. At the time, I didn’t really feel the need to complete the entire 93 mile trail that circumnavigates “The Mountain.” But as I was out there, I learned that Wonderland is a different than my typical trips. First, there are hundreds of backpackers out there. Most are trying to do the full loop. They take anywhere from 7 to 14 days to do it. When I was there, I ran into a couple with a 11 month old baby, a family of 7 with the youngest at age 3, and a wide array of others. Though it was a solo hike, it was the most social hike I’d ever been on – lots of “where you coming from, where you going, are you doing the whole loop,” and I’ll tell you, it kind of stung to tell these people, nope, just a couple nights. I decided that I needed to do the full loop.

The problem is that 93 miles is a long trip to fit into a family vacation. While I was out there last time, I met a thru hiker, who had previously completed the Appalachian Trail as well as putting in long trips on the PCT and others. He was doing the trail in 7 days, 6 nights. He was crushing it – the people I ran into on the trail after I passed him spoke of him in hushed tones like he was some kind of superhuman (though he was really very mild to talk to).

Anyway, as you might have guessed, I’m going to do it in 7 days and 6 nights. Partly because I want to be in that top-2% who take it by force, but mostly because that’s the time that I have to do it.

I’m going right to left, starting and stopping at Mowich

Day 1: Arrive Mowich Lake, 15.1 miles to North Puyallup: Start at 4900 ft down to 2600 ft back up to 5200 ft down to 3700 ft. And this is the trick to walking around a huge, glacier capped, semi-dormant volcano. Every half dozen miles, some minor river gouges a valley into the flank of the mountain. You constantly descend and ascend, descend and ascend, 1000, 2000, or more feet at a time. The rule of thumb is 30 minutes a mile, 30 minutes a thousand feet. I’ve always found that this works for me on the long haul – I walk faster than this, but if you factor in 15 minute breaks every so often, it averages out. Keep in mind you’ve got 44 lbs on my back for this (if you’re me at least – smarter, dirtier, less comfortable, people can get away with 20 lbs less).
Day 2: North Puyallup 13.7 miles to Devil’s Dream: 3700-5600-4200-5600-4300-5300-5200. Up and down, up and down.
Day 3: Devil’s Dream 16.2 miles to Maple Creek: 5200-2800-4500-2800
Day 4: Maple Creek 14.4 miles to Summerland: 2800-2600-6800-5900. Yes, that’s 30 miles in two days with a FOUR THOUSAND foot climb at the end of the 2nd day. Gruesome. If I survive to Summerland, I’m golden.
Day 5: Summerland 9.8 miles to Sunrise via White River (food cache): 5900-3900-4300-6300
Day 6: Sunrise 12.2 miles to Dick Creek: 6300-6700-6400-6700-4600-6000-4300
Day 7: Dick Creek 9.9 miles to Mowich: 4300-3200-6400-4900 and out.

Last trip, I did the White River to Mowich segment.

I’ve got to say. I’m a bit daunted. Steve and I used to bang out huge days, but more recently we and, later, I by myself, have found that 10 miles, hiking from 8 AM to 3 PM, is a nice leisurely approach. The two hardest days are going to be 10-12 hour days on the trail. Break camp by 7, set camp by 7. Further, I sleep poorly on the trail, and over time that catches up with you. This is, by any definition, the longest trip that I’ve done.

Fortunately, I’m healthy. I’m running. I’m reasonably fit and active otherwise (though, I’ll be 38, which, you know, is old). I’m not yet where I’d need to be to thrive on a march like this one, but if I can stay healthy, I can get there. I’m planning on documenting the planning leading up to the trip, and then spending some time on the trail writing my thoughts (as I always do). I don’t know if this will be the last time I try to convince myself to do something crazy like this…but, for the time being at least, I’m too young to slowly taper my way to a placid death. And I <i>need</i> goals to function. So, here I stand.

A Question of Balance

We met a man who splits his life between the backcountry and a van. I go on few night trips to the backcountry. It is the right length. I like being warm, comfortable, and clean. I like being connected – to what, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t want to live in the woods. A second trip per year, a few more nights on each trip, that would be perfect, but I don’t want to retire from society.

Yet, whenever I leave the woods, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of existential dread. There is something very wrong with normative existence. There is something smothering, stifling, attached to life writ large. Having not touched my beleaguered fingers for days, I start idling gnawing on them once more. I feel my blood pressure rising, I feel the need to gird myself against a coming gale.

Every morning, I give myself a silent pep talk getting out of my car and walking into work. Something simple, “you can do this, you have this.” I take a deep breath and press against the weight of the world. A grown man, rarely flappable, repeating meaningless aphorisms to face standard existence.

I’ve mulled this, once more, these last few days. This likely isn’t the first time I’ve written about it. Having not written in some months, with months before that and years of limited output, I am writing to no one but webcrawlers and people who learned how to set up RSS feeds a decade ago but don’t know how to turn them off.

It comes down to a balancing of the humors. Competing personas. There’s the me who lives in the backcountry. Who runs to exhaustion (that limb is nearly severed). Who lifts weights and glowers ominously under the spell of the associated hormones. Who digs in dirt and grows flowers; listening to birds, encouraging the bees, drifting in the breeze, sweating in the sun. This is all one version, with the backcountry being the most extreme variant. This persona takes center stage only briefly during normal life, but in the woods wins out completely. It is physical, with little mental and social exertion required. Primal. Simple. But temporary.

Then there’s work, which I also tend to enjoy. It’s more aggressive, social but in a strategic manner. Mental. Humility as a tool to covert weaknesses into relatability. Eccentricity to hide awkwardness under a veneer of socially acceptable middling genius. It’s a tight-wire act, but one that I’m good at, and it’s the enabler of all other aspects of life. Sure, my profession itself is somewhere near morally bankrupt, but the day-to-day challenges are interesting and unique.

Domestic; there’s the rub. Socially exhausting, littered with failed expectations, constant responsibilities, and misplaced hopes and dreams.

Toward the middle of our trip, we took a wrong turn. We followed a gradually sloping rockface, toward points unknown. Eventually, we would come to a place where travel became difficult. We’d need to make a decision: confront our mistake and backtrack or embrace our mistake and push through. It is perhaps possible to get to the other side from where we are, but not easy. It is possible that this will waste even more time, or lead to an increasingly perilous situation, making matters worse for all parties. But one thing is certain: with each step down a path, one gets further from where he was supposed to be. And at some point, one finds himself on a different trail altogether. Maybe parts of the trail are good, but where does it go?

I’ve been cliffed out for years. I’m pressing forward. I have to. Too much is at stake. There is no way back. And one doesn’t walk alone through the domestic realms. Where would the victims of this meandering climb end up, and whose conscience would bear their own plights?

For completeness, add in a spiritual self. On good days, it connects all of these together with a sense of meaning; a larger world that makes suffering worthwhile and transforms minor things into eternal things. On the bad days, it’s a tin veneer, a delusion, a spit shine of a rusty hubcap, a wary bludgeon waiting to punish missteps or retreats.

In any case, given time, the humors balance. Potential alternate paths disappear into the mists that they came from. Purpose and clarity shine through the mire, not because something is fixed, but because something is. Being supersedes all other considerations. Existing requires effort, and this existence comes with its own worries and challenges. I’ve always made plans and followed them. One, followed by the next, followed by the next. The trail, whatever trail it might be, has this climb, then that turn, then I’ll be there, next I’ll be there, eventually, I’ll be elsewhere. Each stage, follow that stage’s plan. Sometimes it’s so godawful sad that it shakes the foundations of existence. Most of the time it just is. There’s some meaning in simply existing. Isn’t there?

Mind the Gaps

I recently read a book about disasters. One of the author’s principle points is that geological disasters, such as earthquakes and volcanoes, happen largely at random. We have little to no ability to predict their occurrence with any skill beyond saying that an event of a certain magnitude is likely to occur in a certain region at a certain rate. People hate random events, however. We ascribe meaning to everything, and refuse to accept that our actions have no bearing on the Universe writ large. As such, we look for supernatural explanations for events. We find some way to blame the event on ourselves, or, better yet, someone else, and then take steps to rectify the situation. When a rare event does not recur during our puny lifespans, we are satisfied that we have successfully appeased the previously affronted deity.

One example in the book was a massive earthquake in the eastern Atlantic which devastated Lisbon in 1755. As Portugal was a predominantly Catholic nation, their Calvinist Dutch allies refused to send aid, not wanting to subvert the chastisement brought upon them by a God who was trying to shake some sense into the papists. Meanwhile, the Jesuits in the city blamed the disaster instead upon the growing tolerance of Protestant groups in town. Were this disaster a message from God, it, apparently, carried with it no effective lesson. It’s like smacking your sleeping toddler upside the head in the middle of the night and leaving them to figure out what they did wrong.

The problem for the ancients is that these calamities were shrouded behind several layers of missing scientific theory. That which defied the logical explanations of the time was given over to the realm of God. Entire theologies were (and are, we’ll get to that) built around a providence that plugs holes in our understanding of our world and the Universe in general. There is a problem with building theology around miraculous events: what happens when we learn that they are not miracles? Lightning bolts occur for scientifically understandable reasons. They are not the whimsical fury of a God lashing out at trees and buildings and ships and the occasional person. Earthquakes don’t judge Papists. Volcanoes aren’t a chastisement of pagan Romans. Hurricanes aren’t sent by God to punish Oil Baron Texans. Tornadoes aren’t a judgment on sinful foundationless mobile houses. All of these things happen because the natural world functions by a set of rules. They are following the chaotic ramifications of natural law.

So, what happens when you build your theology around a God that casts lightning from his hands, or, on smaller scale, doles out pancreatic cancer on the righteous and unrighteous with statistically identical frequencies? One of two things. You ignore the world around you, denying truths for the sake of faith in an alternative reality. This requires that you put your head in the sand and avoid facts – these inconvenient realities shake the foundations of your faith and must be avoided. Alas, such people can’t go to the moon. They can’t cure cancer if cancer is God’s divine dart gun. The other option is that one day you learn, really internalize, a particular fact, and your worldview will fall to pieces like a house of cards. Putting God into your construct of the Universe, defined by your ignorance, is a good way to create for yourself a god as ignorant as you are.

Where does this leave one who would acknowledge that the world is on the order of 4.5 billion years old? That species arise by natural means – at least, that no hand is required to make it so? That disasters of all sorts: global, regional, local, and personal, happen for a variety of predictable reasons, and with deterministic likelihoods? The Universe and its inner workings were once filled with gaps, and with so many holes in our understanding, it was sensible to bundle them all up into a variety of natural gods. No longer. There are no remaining natural mysteries for which the most likely explanation is the supernatural. Even what we don’t know is adjacent to what we do know.

To me, the final frontier is the human condition; the human mind; the human soul. It is the gap that remains in the providence of a God who has intervened in demonstrable ways in the past. But what happens when the selfishness of sin is explainable by the selfishness of genes? Or when thoughts can be reprogrammed by a computer (future) or cable news (present)? Or when the soul is a natural manifestation of a consciousness struggling to negotiate that tricky moment when one day, in the arbitrary future, it will blink out of existence? Is it that all theologies are gap theologies? Plug the gaps, and what remains?

America has a problem. It is caught in a feedback loop of fear. Guns beget shootings. Shooting beget more guns. More guns beget more shootings. This brand of mass violence is unique to the United States. I’ve been trying to reason out why.

First, let’s talk 2nd Amendment. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I’m not going to get into the nuance of the well-regulated militia, as the courts have ruled that the grammar allows for two separate rights: one for militias, one for people who also have the individual right to bear arms. I find that to be a mistake, but regardless, why do we have this right? Transport yourself back to the late 18th century. A ragtag group of revolutionaries, using the weaponry available to both individuals and militaries alike, overthrew the yolk of a tyrant. What is the surest way to ensure that they would never again fall under tyranny? To make the government as scare of the people as the people were scared of the government. Our constitution provided not only for institutional checks and balances, but also societal ones – try to enslave free men (well, you know, the right kind of free men), and face armed rebellion. For a nascent state, this was a real threat.

Many in the pro-gun community espouse this concept as their justification for the right to bear the biggest and best arms. I find this to be absurd, as an AR-15 (or whatever), is no match to an Abrams tank or an A-10 or a Predator drone. I think that most can see, at least at a subconscious level, the ridiculousness of this argument. Strip that away, and in reality, the motivation for owning guns is two-fold:
1) People like guns and think they are cool, in much the same way they like horses or cars or scotch or baseball cards or Van Goghs.
2) People are afraid of the world in which they live and need some way to assert control over it.

I reject #1. Some people think kiddie porn or slavery are cool. We don’t let those people and their destructive habits pollute society. #2, then, is the only valid reason to own a gun. And…part of me wants one for this very same reason.

Long ago, humanity evolved beyond toughness, nerve, and grit. In the past, if you wanted to come for my daughters, you’d have to come through me – and I have more to lose than you have to gain. Human ferocity was a buffer against violence. Deadly action at a distance emasculated the act of violence. Any coward with a fire stick could extinguish any number of brave men with everything to lose. In fact, this is what happens several thousand times a year in our country. Cowards with firearms kill the innocent and guilty alike. How is one to protect his family, when no amount of animal strength or righteous rage is sufficient? By fighting firearms with firearms.

This has led to a literal arms race. Half of society has decided that the toothpaste is out of the tube. They only can think to fight violence with additional violence, a sort of microcosm of the mutually assured destruction of the Cold War. The only way to protect the good guys is to kill before you are killed, or at least provide enough deterrence to make violence less likely in the first place.

But, we’ve all paid the price for this Faustian bargain. Our toddlers are far more likely to shoot themselves in the face with our protection than they are to be shot by a home invader. We are more likely to throw gasoline on a minor conflict when firearms immediately raise the stakes to life or death. We are more likely, in a moment of blind passion, to become the very same threat to our own families that we assumed would come from without. And, we become the enablers of the insane with our lax laws and prevalent weaponry. Most of these shooters are using a legally purchased firearm.

But even if we realize this, we are still unwilling to do anything about it. We refuse to relinquish the perceived control, even if it’s for our own good. This all comes down to control, or the illusion of control, over one’s life.

What I don’t understand is the scale of guns. Guns won’t go away. I think that #2 is a strong enough motivation that we will never be a gun free society. But…it’s the influence of the “guns are cool” crowd that gets us into real trouble. Because guns are cool, we need military grade rifles, with attachments that maximize their deadliness. It’s because guns are cool that people decide to shoot 600 of their fellow men from hotel windows. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. If the crazy person didn’t have a gun, he’d use something else. No. If he didn’t have an AR-15, he’d kill less people. He’d kill the other guy’s daughter, but be stopped before he killed yours too. These aren’t statistics, these are dead people, and less dead people is better than more dead people.

Here’s what I think.

1) Improve background checks because why would you not do that? The only reason because you believe restricting any gun right is the opening salvo in an attempt to roll back additional rights. And so people continue to die because we let terrorists and the mentally ill buy and keep guns. Stop it. And who needs a gun an hour from now, unless they intend to use it to shoot someone an hour from now? A mandatory several day cool off period is only sensible.
2) Limit the use of high powered weaponry to “well-regulated militias.” These well-regulated militias can fulfill the role of Civil War re-enacters. A martial hobby, guys that don’t like the gym getting some testosterone flowing with less effort. Fine. Even let them have MORE weaponry, to fulfill the original intent of the 2nd amendment and serve as a check on power. But also make them financially liable for the actions of their members. If your militia’s grand wizard shoots up a church with your grenade launcher, you are liable. You lose your well-regulated militia license and are sued for millions of dollars. This pretty well takes care of #1.

Let’s be clear. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. But people cannot change. People are what they are, and short of Christ returning, we’re going to keep being evil to each other. No extra hugs are going to eliminate sin. People with knives wound people. People with bricks bruise people. People with guns kill people. And our own fear has made us deserve this fate.

2052: Part of me likes the Balvenie Caribbean Cask, but part of me thinks it has a stomach bile taste early finish. It’s not the rum, I’ve had this with other Balvenie’s as well. Anyway. We don’t have cable, so if NBC is not broadcasting this after this Ellen DeGeneres flushes people down the toilet game show, this will be a very short live blog.
2055: Will and Grace is still on. I don’t watch TV.
2056: I just realized that I’m sitting on the couch cushion that my 2.5 year old peed on a few hours ago. I’m not going to mention it, less my wife take said cushion away.
2057: I’m not sure Ellen is going to be able to wrap this up on time. Wife asked if I’m live blogging the silent game show (which is on mute, because I don’t care what Ellen has to say really).
2058: Lost the cushion.
2059: Quit your yapping DeGeneres.
2100: It would appear that NBC is doing the SotU. By the way, most of the time I watch things like this on Fox, to see if it is possible to justify this moron. Spoiler alert, I loathe Trump. Other caveat. I won’t make it much past 10 PM.
2102: I forgot the punch line of the story – we do over-air TV and Fox doesn’t really come in.
2103: It’s funny that the Dow lost over 300 points today. Sad.
2103: Guy on NBC. I am the middle. I am also hate watching. Look it’s Megyn Kelly! She was like the 8th one to talk. She sounds more gravely than she used to. I think the Fox News made her perk it up, now she’s going for salty dog.
2105: Melania Trump is in attendance. I feel bad for her. Speaking of which, the Trump campaign (which is currently fund raising) has been reusing the term “complicit,” about 8 months after it was relevant, which gave all the home schools time to add it to their vocabulary list.
2108: I pray he doesn’t use a teleprompter. Is it typical to clap for oneself?
2109: Melania’s cold, dead eyes.
2110: WaPo reports that Melania rode to the speech by herself.
2111: He sounds hoarse, sort of like Megyn Kelly.
2112: I thought Las Vegas didn’t happen? He’s not really playing to his base.
2113: Is this going to be 100% stories of Trump supporters being good to people? It is possible.
2116: OK, we’re waiting for some content here.
2117: I miss watching Nancy Pelosi blink. Instead I can see her chew the inside of her face. By the way, I am the last person who should be standing placidly behind any president delivering a speech. Far too fidgety.
2118: Wife is sopping piss out of couch cushion as she watches. It’s the circle of life.
2119: Here’s where Trump takes credit for Obama’s economy, neglecting the fact that the economy of the socialist EU grow faster.
2121: Pooping Turtle Mitch McConnell.
2123: Our government is very creepy looking, all of them. Wife points out that Don keeps clapping in his own microphone.
2124: Trump just said that $4000 is a lot of money with a straight face. That would pay his Secret Service detail for about 14 seconds. Hey, Staub, bring a black guy with you, would you?
2127: If you believe in fairies, than clap your hands (into the microphone).
2128: Speaking of hands, Kevin Love just broke his.
2129: Ut oh – into the flag portion of the speech. This could be dicey.
2130: I thought that was Baron, but Preston. Clap clap clap clap clap.
2131: Melania really does have nice hair. Here we are in the anthem standing portion! Is Colin Kaepernik in the audience tonight?
2133: Neil Gorusch: Leave me out of this.
2135: Removing Federal Employees who “Undermine the public trust or fail the American people,” which sounds nice, except for who is defining the parameters. Good Lord, that’s scary.
2137: All those people with “Clean Coal Lung”.
2139: I’m want to put anyone who comments on Facebook in a ticker in the live blog. Except that that might be an indication of undermining the public trust or otherwise failing the American people.
2140: I agree with the idea of trying experimental trials. By the way, I was “cupped” at physical therapy today.
2141: Paul Ryan looks like a Vorta from the Dominion in Deep Space Nine. And to paraphrase some other person, Mike Pence looks like someone who does mean things to the X-Men.
2144: You know what would have been handy for updating the infrastructure? The trillion dollars that you just gave to the wealthy…
2146: I’m running out of steam. Go off script. Be a man. Tell us how you really feel!
2147: Bernie Sanders with the most pitiful clap of the night.
2148: Unrecognized by wife, by the way. “Older than I thought,” yes, they are all ancient. Sanders, Clinton, Biden, and Trump. Get rid of old people!
2148: Whatever, prison reform. Are you kidding me? Jeff Sessions wants everyone in jail.
2149: Guys, come in the audience, I’m going to talk about how your daughters were murdered. Seriously, this is in your best interest.
2153: Losing interest. Wife thought that he said cweed instead of creed. Americans are dreamers too – eff those immigrant kids!
2154: Trump located literally every minority Trump supporter and has them in the crowd tonight.
2157: Rubio did not clap about that. Wow. Little Marco Rubio.
2158: Awesome, the government will be evaluating “moral character”. I trust Donald with evaluating moral character.
2159: Ahem. I support letting in every single skilled person that wants to be an American. We should be pillaging the world of their best and brightest. I agree with that.
2200: Donald’s family came to America by Chain Migration.
2201: Running low on Scotch, but not buzzed enough to find this interesting anymore. I like the guy with the whooping cough in the background also. Vaccinate your children!
2203: Trump: good with numbers. That was some nice division there – he knew all the days in the year and the hours in the day. Amazing.
2204: Opiods…not obtained from pushers and drug dealers very often eh. Drug companies, can we call out drug companies? No? Are they on the Trump donation ticker, perhaps.
2205: Tell me she was breast feeding at the exact moment Trump called on them. I have to say, that is awesome!
2206: A young Woody Harrelson, that Ryan the police man. If Woody Harrelson were in American History X.
2208: It’s unfortunate, sadly.
2212: My arms are cold, I need a long sleeve shirt. When possible, we have no choice but to annihilate them!
2213: Got a jacket during the torture section.
2214: Interested in the second half of that sentence, the torture part. By the way, Obama, not very effective at closing Guantanamo Bay.
2216: The Democrats are a grim lot, aren’t they. Ivanka is excited about the Jerusalem thing. She’s got about 40 million reasons to be excited.
2218: How are those Russian sanctions going?
2221: Do people like the personal stories? I want him to cut to the chase. But I suppose this is what people want – reality TV.
2222: I am afraid he’s going to announce that bombers are en route.
2223: By the way, Jeff Session would throw that coal thief into jail.
2224: Are you saying that the Korean guy was a chain migrant or what?
2226: I’m going to pack this up soon. Hopefully Trump is also. It sounds like he’s wrapping it up. USA-USA-USA!
2230: Whoa, Alex Smith signed with the Redskins – I guess Kirk Cousins is out.
2230: He’s still talking, sorry, I faded out for a second. This is supposed to be the good part, written in Stephen Miller’s fever dream.
2231: I want to hear what Megyn Kelly has to say. Savannah Guthrie, never heard of her. He TRUMPeted the economy.
2232: Tillerson is still on the job, by the way. I’m ready to call all that strife fake news.
2233: Megyn Kelly is cynical. “I hate news, States of the Union are sucky, this is all stupid, life makes me empty.”
2235: OK, I’m done here. I can’t stand Trump. He’s signing hats now.

Twice in a Blue Moon

Tonight, into tomorrow, is a Blue Moon – the 2nd full moon of the calendar month. (This is the calendar definition – there are others). Because it is January, because February only has 28 days, and because the lunar period is around about 29.5 days, February will skip a full moon entirely, and we’ll have a second Blue Moon in March. This same thing happened back in 1999 and will happen again next in 2037. Blue moons occur in any form multiple times a century.

This got me to wondering – a double Blue Moon must be possible on a leap year, though barely. Turns out it happened last in 1608, and will not happen again until 2792. 2200 will have a double Blue Moon, but century boundaries skip leap years.

The more you know.

Dismount the High Horse

Stephen Paddock did not “snap”. He meticulously planned to do evil. It is my suspicion that he did this to prove that he could do it – to prove that those idiot amateurs were incompetent and anyone with half a brain could do tremendously more damage. But that’s irrelevant. Stephen Paddock is depraved. So are we.

You see it all the time; someone else’s kid grows up to be a drug addict and you tut-tut-tut at their parents and you look at your angelic kids. I’m better than those parents, a silent, hidden commentary says. But then your kids do the same. The families of mass murderers are always mystified and stunned. Don’t think they are just naive. YOU are naive. That could be your brother or father or son. The drug addled woman that leaves her kids in a hot car at Wal-Mart could be your sister or daughter. The jilted lover that takes out revenge, the loving father with a penchant for prostitutes, the trusted accountant with the off shore shell corporation, the kind housewife with an urge to steal things she doesn’t even want, the police officer whose mind goes blank for just the minute around the time when he shoots an unarmed perpetrator, the guy in the pickup who rams the distracted teenager off the road, the mom who drives home after one too many drinks and kills a toddler. These people are not remarkable. They are not outliers. They are representatives of the human condition, guilty of the corruption that infects all of mankind.

You included. Me included.

Thinks you’re better because you don’t murder? Jesus has news for you. The same infection is in your soul. Think maybe this is for one class of people, but not your class of people? You go to church! You are a police man! You are in the military! You are kind to animals! You donate time and money! You help the helpless! No, you are a whitewashed tomb. And no, you’re not exempt. No one is righteous, not even one.

This condition is not new, it’s as old as there are people. It’s restrained by the rule of law and the societal norms of morality. Both of those are crumbling around us. During the Enlightenment, humankind felt that it was getting better, smarter, more compassionate, more illuminated. Then we killed 100 million of our fellow men and women in a decade’s worth of World Wars. We will not heal ourselves. We will not evolve out of this. Evil, as a general trend, increases proportionally to the population. Sure, for a decade or two things might look better. Sure, specific societal ills may decrease. But our true nature will break through in the end, and we will, sometimes, shoot 600 people. Stephen Paddock was not an Other. He was an archetype of the depravity of all of us. Don’t think yourself immune, lest you too lose focus and expose the evil of your soul.

For all that it has been abused over the centuries, this is one of the key draws of Christianity. Biblical Christianity does not make believe that we are perfect. It acknowledges our universal brokenness. It points to a second archetype, a new Adam, in the form of Jesus. It doesn’t make believe that we become Jesus, it surrenders to that fact that we can’t, and instead falls upon its knees to humbly beg Jesus to save us. From ourselves.

House of Cards

Every few years, a deck of playing cards is generated immortalizing the “most wanted” within some band of miscreants. There was one for Iraq, one for Al Qaeda, one for ISIS, and more I’m sure. I don’t mind Trump’s choices for several roles. For instance, McMasters and Mattis seem to be perfectly acceptable picks. Others I really don’t know enough about to have an opinion. For the remainder, here’s my list of Trump Cabinet and Adviser playing cards. They are in order of Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, sorted by how much I’d like to see them removed from their position. I’ve left the originals and included their replacements if they are likewise deplorable (though such an organizational scheme is not really extensible).

Ace: Trump, Bannon, Pruitt, Kushner
King: Miller, Sessions, Pence, Ivanka Trump
Queen: Zinke, DeVos, Conway, Spicer
Jack: Priebus, Flynn, Price, Mnuchin
10: Tillerson, Huckabee Sanders, Scaramucci, Perry
9: Gorka, Ichan, McMahon, Pompeo

That’s about as deep as I can go. Now, if we were including Congresspeople, this would be a much harder list to make – lots of tough decisions near the top for the spineless collaborators.

Frozen Moments

This last Saturday, Abby and I flew to Charlotte. Uncle Steve and Pop-Pop (who arrived the night before) drove down from Raleigh to pick us up and drive us to River’s Edge, a lovely Airbnb about 8 miles south of Brevard, NC and a couple miles from DuPont State Forest. The journey took a long time – with 3 hours in the car. I only supported one side of road pee stop, but there was maybe a little bit of whining. No more than an hour or two.

Saturday night, Abby and some combination of all of us waded down Little River (which ran through the backyard). Stephen grilled T-Bones, and heated up a huge tin of Mac and Cheese that he made. We ate out on the porch, as the temperatures were about 13 degrees cooler than in Charlotte. Soon, the weekly concert at the country store next door started. It was the America that people are trying to save. Wholesome. Wild. Country-rock, with some nice young men from this county and the next. Pleases, thank yous, all in long drawls. Some ice cream all around.

A tight game of spades, then bed.

On Sunday, Stephen and I got out early for a ~10 mile run on the South side of DuPont State Forest; gentle trails, forest access roads, long gradual hills. Then eggs from the gorgeous chicken coup down the dirt road, bacon, cheese. We finally made it out the door after 10 and went to DuPont to hike to Triple Falls and High Falls – over three miles of walking, which Abby handled well, alternately sprinting down the trail (whipping past dozens of amused but impressed fellow hikers) and dragging piteously. We went to the river a number of times.
She got bolder in her bouldering at each successive swimming hole, leaping barefoot from one rock to the next, daring the slime slicked rocks to crack her skull and pull her over the falls. But she was no worse for the wear. We got to feed the chickens, walk around the property, visit the huge field at the top of the hill (where many would try to watch the next day).

Another tight game of spades and bed.

Monday was the day of the eclipse, with totality coming around 2:38 PM.

We started slowly, with a late wake up and an easy breakfast. We visited the chickens a few times and got some gas. The older lady at the counter commented on what a handsome young man I was – something which only happens to me in the country. Steve went on a run while Abby and I slogged down the Little River to the rope swing by the Country Store. Pop-Pop chatted up one of the guys in the band, as they were prepping for their big eclipse party. We planned to stay at River’s Edge, our beautiful, homey spot. Our hosts had an extra pair of eclipse googles, bringing our stash to 4 ISO certified ones (and a bunch of rip-offs). There was a spirit about this place, the folks were friendly and kind, the house beautiful, the land amazing. Skies were clear, we ate some lunch, took baths and showers, packed the car, and waited…as the clouds built.

By 1:10 and the start of the partial eclipse, the clouds had just begun to lap up against the sun. We saw the wedge taken out of the top left of the sun. And this on the radar (us around the white dot, with the sun generally in the south):

A small storm on the ridgeline, typical of a warm summer day. That could linger for a while, especially the cloud cover. We watched it evolve for almost a half hour, then decided at 1:45 (less than an hour until totality) to roll the dice. We jumped in the car and ripped south, with Stephen slamming us into the corkscrew turns of Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in South Carolina. 25 minutes or so later, we cleared the mountain and started seeing holes in the clouds. We picked a point a few miles south of Cleveland – close to our egress (to beat the traffic), but a bit below the cloud line.

Now, you can’t predict what an individual cloud will do. In hindsight, three more miles down the road might have been better. No matter. It was within 15 minutes of totality, Pop-Pop was getting antsy, the sun was a thin fingernail, and there was an abandoned gas station in a sunny hole. An extended family with welder’s glass was watching there – Abby dove right in and made friends. Clouds got closer, occasionally obscuring the view. It got dimmer, yellower, dimmer, the sun having lost its sting in the South Carolina summer afternoon. It was gone, almost gone, then the flash of the diamond ring (just a second), then totality. A gap in the clouds; you could see it. I only looked for a few seconds, primarily concerned that Abby see it. It was dark, dark enough for street lights, darker than a heavy thunderstorm dark (though the clouds weren’t right). It was about as dark as a half hour after sunset. Light enough to run on a road, but not in a trail. The clouds were vaguely illuminated in all directions. We saw Jupiter in a gap. It was…different. Amazing. Different. Your mind doesn’t exactly know what to do with it. It’s incongruous. 36 years of life told me that this doesn’t work, that something was awry. The sun, a dim glow outgassing from all sides of a black, black hole punched into its center. It wasn’t long, apparently under 90 seconds where we were, then a sliver, a diamond ring flash, this time shrouded by enough clouds to see without the glasses. Then the sun came back, brilliant, bright.

Totality
[Note: The camera adjusts for the light too much, not at all doing justice to the real lighting. I also just wanted the camera on for the time, I wasn’t paying much attention to it. I was generally overstimulated by the whole experience, as you can hear and now also read.]

They say that the difference between totality and almost totality is immense. It was. Almost totality was strange and characterized by an orangey yellow glow. Totality was from a different universe. Any sliver of the sun provides brilliant light, but during totality it was cool, it was eerie. It was awe inspiring.

Abby got some glow sticks from the family nearby. Pop-Pop chatted up some folks who had chased eclipses before. Folks who found the same abandoned gas station south of Cleveland. As we drove in, there were dozens of clusters of people, each waiting for the moon to blot out the sun. It was like being in Boston after the Red Sox won or in Chicago after the Cubs. Everyone was happy. Everyone was glad to see you. You were all part of something together.

The fingernail sun was lost hopelessly behind the clouds by 2:50. We had a potential traffic disaster in front of us and a flight to catch. We, as we had for the rest of the day, made good navigational decisions, riding the chest of the traffic and only losing 20 minutes from a normal drive to Charlotte. Abby fell asleep in the car and hardly whined at all, though Pop-Pop may have whined about her 30 minute long song about nothing. We got Chic Fil A. We said goodbye to Pop-Pop and Steve and Abby and I played in the airport for a while. She befriended a burly tough-guy father of young girls who was traveling alone and willing to entertain an energetic 4 year old. People were cheerful.

My big girl and I made it home shortly after 10. She said she wasn’t tired but slept until after 8. I was giddy, I just wanted to talk to someone who saw it, just to talk about anything. I don’t want to forget the feeling of it, the thrill of the chase, the camaraderie of a spectacular and unique experience. I shared it with my father, brother, and daughter. I might think of it on my deathbed, for all I know. It is of that caliber experience. We are already talking about doing it again in 2024, this time with everyone. Wow.

The Rest

Long ago, I inherited one of my father’s workouts. 8-20 times 400 with 100 meter jog recovery. 400 intervals are not, as a rule, particularly hard for me. But 100 jog recovery is brutal. You have just enough time to catch your breath, say 35 seconds, and then, crap, there’s the line again. It was one of my favorites, though probably not the best workout for me. I was always good at shorter intervals, really anything up to a mile. What I needed in my running life was more long tempos. As I’ve slowly gotten back into marginal shape, I’ve been focusing on longer intervals – 4 mile threshold runs, 2 mile intervals, 1 mile repeats. However, I’m having a hard time pushing those times down because they feel fast, as my top-end speed is so slow. My body does not understand what it means to be fast anymore. I’ve lost a TREMENDOUS amount of speed.

And so, this Saturday I went to the track to do some 400 meter repeats, in hopes of slowly re-establishing some speed. I will never regain my previous speed – or anything close to it – as I am now 36, and 36 is not as fast as 26 or even 16. I peaked on speed at 21, and have been going downhill since, falling off a cliff when I had to shut down competitive running back in 2007 (at age 26).

I was a little bit encouraged by this week’s workout – 8×400 with 100 rest, first 4 in 81.3 with 40 seconds rest, next 4 in 80.1 with 45 seconds rest, then a 3:20 jog, then a 9th 400 in 75.5. And so I decided to do a deep dive and locate all of my instances of this workout, with hopes of using the information to access my fitness. Unfortunately, I’m so far off the scale this will be impossible. I don’t think there has ever been a previous instance of my running this workout where I was not in 16:30 5K shape or better, and I have little chance of sniffing that time without a year of steady training.

Sputtering through the finish, staggering punch drunk, repeating over and over again 3 to go, 3 to go, 3 to go, just 3, just 3, ugh 10 more meters to the…damn…rolling start, one more meaningful breath, and GO. Don’t think, don’t think, one foot, one foot, 300 to go, at the next line just 2.5 more to go, 1000 meters, and with recovery, there it is halfway done, halfway, stay off the rail…at the next line, 100 to go, finish this one out, bring it through the line, bring it through – you’re slipping, going to mess up your average, bring it through and split. Oogh…gasping, just 2 to go, just 2 to go, 2 to go and rolling….

I remember everything.

Before Senior year in High School
7/20/98: 8×400, 74 with 47 jog average recovery – believe that I was told that I was doing the recovery wrong after this. Too much time.
7/27/98: 12×400, 77.6 with 35 second jog
8/3/98: 16×400 76.9 with 37 rest
Before Freshmen year in College (unsanctioned workout)
7/19/99: 8×400 75.6 with 36 jog
Completely different workout, but on an indoor track, meat and potatoes training period my Junior year in college, which was not as good as either my Sophomore or Senior years..
1/22/02: 9×400: 60, 60, 60, 60, 58, 58, 59, 59, 62 with 3:00 rest – “took pace from #5 on and dropped people”. I remember that one. Lane 5 of the indoor track. I loved that workout.
Post-Collegiate:
6/28/03: 20×400 74.4 with 38 rest; I didn’t remember running such a serious workout so soon after I graduated. This was at Mt Hebron, a 440y track! I didn’t realize that it was 440y for another year.
3/6/04: 12×400 73.0 with 42 rest and this is the day I discovered the 440y track size. This was very early in my spring speedwork cycle for that year.
3/26/05: 12×400 in 72.0 with 39 rest on the 440y track – I used this workout as a standard candle to judge my fitness against…until I started having more pain and finding it difficult for my achilles’ to handle the longer intervals.
12/31/05: 12×400 73.1 with 38 rest, on Catonsville’s track 38 degrees and sleet. I remember that workout. That night was also the night that I got sick on Southern Comfort. Next day was 9.3 miles with comment “regular run, hung over”.
3/4/06: 1 mile in 4:56, then 12×400 in 72.5 with 39 rest and 34 degrees. Followed a week later with a 15:23 5K in Baltimore, my fastest time over that distance.
3/3/07: 8×400 74.3 and windy (rest not listed). This was after shutting down my 2006 season with achilles problems. Still hadn’t lost the fitness.
4/28/07: 8×400 72.5 with 40 rest on Mt Hebron’s 440y
7/10/07: 8×400 69.5 with 45 rest. Last 4 averaged 66 seconds. Less than two weeks later I ran the Rockville 8K in 26:09, my last competitive race.
And then today, way off. 8×400 in 80.6 with 43 rest. 11 seconds per lap. That’s a TON.

By the way, a couple of those are at Long Reach’s track, including the one this week. I’ve never run a workout on Howard’s track. I’ll be honest, I don’t care too much about the redistricting into Long Reach. I have history there.

Mount Rainier

I tend to jot some down notes during my backpacking trips. I didn’t really feel like thinking too hard this time. Last trip was my first solo trip, and that led to all kinds of self-reflection, coupled with loneliness and repressed fear. This time, not too lonely, not particularly scared. Mostly just walked. Chatted with folks when able. Read some books. Walked around. Took some pictures. Nothing really earth shattering. But I did still write a few things down.

7/24/17: Came in at the White River around 0820. 12.3 miles and a few thousand feet to Mystic Lake at 1330. This trail is a highway – encountered on the order of two dozen people on my trip here, very different than last year in the Olympics.
My most interesting encounter was a family with 5 kids ranging from 3.5 to maybe 12 [actually 13]. They are doing the entire Wonderland Loop. Today’s chunk is no joke. It’s very impressive that they are even trying. Sounds like I’ll see them again tomorrow.

7/25/17: Left Mystic Lake at 0800 and arrived in Eagles Roost at 1400, 11.7 miles traveled. Climbed 500 ft, dropped 2500 ft, climbed 3000 ft, then dropped another 1500 ft. Going a bit slower than yesterday. I think I need new rules of thumb. I can do 2.5 mph over all terrain on day 1. 2.0 mph on day 2. 1.8 mph thereafter. Includes breaks. To me, I still think this implies that Wonderland – 93 miles – is a 6 night, 7 day thing. I thought be fine with 12-15 mpd.
Out here, doing the circuit is THE thing. Most folks that I run into are trying it. Some, like the experienced through hiker, are going to do it as fast as 6 nights without resupply. He’s got several long hikes under his belt, including the Long Trail and AT. Others, like some girls I met, are doing it over 13 nights. Some seem doomed to fail, most will make it work. All are very pleasant.
It has been a much more social hike. I have chatted with a half dozen or so folks. I saw the family with 5 kids again – Scott and Clarissa [or something like that] the parents. They were struggling. I did the hike from Mystic through Cataract Valley – about 7 miles – this morning. They left Mystic at 2-3 PM yesterday…got there [to Cataract Valley] at 9:30, in the dark. It was a no-joke hike for anyone, let alone 5 kids. I secretly hope they pop out at Mowich tomorrow (they stay here [at Eagles Roost] tonight); I fear their plan is too ambitious.
[They would, indeed, end their hike at Mowich. An epic journey nonetheless. But 93 miles was going to be too much.]
Meanwhile, I also met Eric and Therera and their 9 month old Zoe (or something). They too were doing the whole loop. Probably easier than the 5 kid family.
I’ve begun to encounter day hikers going from Mowich to Seattle [and Spray] Park. They are slow but more than that, they seem out of place here.
7/25/17 1943: My social skills are marginal in the best of times. Put me in a room with people I know, or in situations where idle chit chat is the norm, I typically do fine. But I can go from normal to awkward in a blink. I may be deftly leading a meeting one minute and mumbling a confused response to a co-worker in the hallway the next.
Add to that physical exertion [such as backpacking], a mixture of introverts and extroverts, and miles between people, and things get worse. I had several pleasant conversations on the trail today. I had just as many awkward encounters. Some people are happy to chat. Others, not so much. You can’t tell the difference. My social intuition declines in proportion to the space between human encounters. On the trail, you might have hours, or, as last year, days between conversations. End of story. Mosquitoes are eating me through my clothes.
7/26/17: At Mowich, waiting for my ride, about an hour and 15 minutes early. This might have been too easy. Only one day “out”, waking and sleeping on the trail. Plus everyone, experts and novices alike are doing the Wonderland. But…the family of 7 is cutting the trip short at Mowich. I’m relieved. That was going to be too much. So, some Wonderland thoughts:
I can do it in 6 nights, which would make me in the top few percent of fastest. I should:
1) Not bring camera – that’s like 4 lbs right there.
2) Not bring [bear keg]
3) Resupply – don’t do 7 days in one bag. Resupply has food, first aid (in case I need it), fresh clothes)
4) Need new, lighter, tent
I should have two tech [fast drying, odor resistant] t-shirts, 3 tech underwear, 2 tech shorts. Everything else pretty good. It would be nice to have clean clothes for bed, but that might be a bridge too far. Crocs are perfect. Bear spray is optional. Fresh fuel in resupply.
One trip would be:
In Mowich, resupply White River.
16.4 to North Puyallup
14 to Devil’s Dream
15.7 to Maple Creek
14.2 to Summerland
Resupply White River
10.3 to Sunrise
12.5 to Dick Creek
8.5 to Mowich and out.
I’d say 7/24 or later to avoid any possible snow.

Not So Fast

The primary goal for the race last week was to see if I could do it without aggravating my achilles tendons. As it turns out, I had to wait several days before I knew that answer – they felt lousy on Monday and Tuesday, to the point where I modified my normal running schedule to give them another day off. The whole thing was a big bizarre to me because…I ran so slow. So, 5 K, 3.1 miles, or about 40 seconds longer than 3 miles at 6:00 pace. I ran 19:01 for fourth and my tendons felt awful afterwards. Meanwhile, my fastest 3 miles on the treadmill was 17:40 and my tendons feel fine after that – this confused me. 19:00 was my absolute outside number on the slow end. I thought I would run at least 30 seconds faster. But more importantly, I had every reason to believe that that if I did run that kind of time, my tendons would be no worse for the wear. This was a bit discouraging.

I did have a feeling I haven’t had for a long while. It was a few moments before the race; I was walking to join the other runners at the line for the start. A flashback to 10 or 12 or 15 or 18 years ago…

I had picked out the top 5 or 8 runners during the warm up. Runners know their own, and even after 10 years of not competing, I knew who the decent ones were by eye. I had no idea of names or times, but if you know what you’re looking for, you can see the ones who are there for some reason other than to see if they can survive the distance. I knew that none of them were extremely fast (though it turns out that the eventual winner is national caliber in his age group, at 50 year old). I walked toward the line and felt a sort of wistful sadness. I felt the beginnings of a feeling I would also get in small races like these – the feeling that it didn’t matter what the other runners thought about how the race was going to go. The feeling that I was going to go out, do what I wanted, and, in so doing, grind them to dust.

Since I’ve been a more normal person, I’ve learned that when most people go to run a road race, they are not actually doing it to race. Most aren’t even racing against a clock or against themselves, let alone racing against the other runners. Most are going to participate, to be a part of communal exertion for a cause, to encourage friends, to be social while being fit and healthy. If I think about it, it is a noble pursuit. I am an elitist to even consider this a lesser form of existing; if I received a participation medal rather than one that I earned, I would throw it out. This is not what normal people do.

But as I walked toward the line, I felt what I used to feel. My purpose was to cover the distance faster than anyone else. My purpose was to control some aspect of my life, to validate my hours and hours of training, to prove myself in some way, to earn my own approval. I rarely did, incidentally. I was reading through some old race descriptions – I document all of these. It spoke of showing up at a smallish race like this one in Mt Airy back in 2006. There, I flagged another runner in my general category. Normally, you run 400-800 meters in a 100-200 person race, and the pretenders fade away, leaving you to battle your own demons by yourself. This was the week before the last time I ran Damien’s Run. I was in peak form, immediately before my fall, and this other runner was a few ticks above the normal chaff, though a tick or two below me (I’d later learn that his half marathon PR was faster than mine, which wasn’t surprising – I was lousy beyond 10 miles). Anyway, I went out in 4:58 for the first mile, the other guy went with me. The other guy commented that he thought the pace was a bit quick – speaking in a race is a classic tell of weakness. I commented in my description that I disagreed, and proceeded to run the 2nd mile in 5:02, breaking him before struggling home myself.

That is what I wanted to do last week, but alas, I knew full well that was no where near that. I had no delusions. Instead, I went out with the top group, assessed who was who, passed the guys I should have passed, got in line, and ran by myself in 4th for the last two miles. I didn’t give much ground to the people in front, but didn’t gain either.

Anyway, my achilles feels OK now. My next training segment goes until our vacation mid-July. It will nominally consist of:
Saturday alternating between long-ish run (up to 10 miles), 5-ish mile tempo run on weekends when my wife works and I have less time, and track interval workouts before the rest of my family wakes up
Sunday 6-7 easy miles
Tuesday 4 hard-ish miles on the treadmill, until it’s under 24:00, then re-evaluate
Thursday 3-4 easy miles (when possible)

This would peak me at 25 mpw with some intensity. I’ll try to find a low key race in early August (not too many that time of year), then re-evaluate, possibly converting the easy Thursday evening run into a longer Thursday lunch run (as I lose daylight), boosting the other runs in intensity, and getting more serious about the exercise bike in the evenings. It would be nice to show up at a race like the one last week, assess the field, smirk inside, and win. That remains unlikely. But it would be nice.

Eleven years ago, I ran a 5K called Damien’s Run. Let me back up a bit. For the entire first hald of 2006, my running career was teetering on a razor’s edge, held hostage by my slowly declining achilles tendons. I was receiving regular massage and stim, I was doing tons of auxiliary treatment, and this was keeping them just barely serviceable. I was running 80-90 mile weeks nonetheless. A month before Damien’s Run, I ran one of the best races of my life – 52:45 for 10 miles in Broad Street Run. A month or so before that I ran 15:23 in Shamrock in Baltimore. I was likely in near to the best shape of my post-collegiate period.

But four days before the race in question, I was running an easy-ish 12 miles after work with a running buddy of mine and I badly sprained my ankle on a tree root. I know the spot to this day. It was nearly 5 miles from the parking lot when this happened. I managed to hobble back, but I knew it was bad. I had already spent $30 on a pre-registration for the race. And one of my principle rivals, Carlos, was going to be running it. Never learning the lessons of sunk costs, I took off a day or two and ran the race anyway. I never could establish a good rhythm, finishing 6th in 16:01. The winner was way out of my league, 14:30 something – I should have run around 15:40. It was some podunk 5K, like all the races I ran on my minor league circuit. It wasn’t worth it.

That ankle sprain destabilized the entire joint. My achilles went from whimpering to screaming. I took time off, then tried to ratchet back up the miles in preparation for my seeded entry into the Chicago Marathon that fall, even getting to 90+ mile weeks a few times by mid summer. Then one day tried to run at marathon pace around a dirt track on the Eastern Shore…and could not. It felt like my foot was going to rip off my calf. While I did have a meaningful two or three months of high level racing in the spring of 2007, Damien’s Run was the beginning of the end of my running career.

After that, I went from boot to self-injected acupuncture to boot to shockwave therapy back to boot to debridement to boot to sort of moving on with my life by around 2009. In the spring of 2010 I stumbled upon decent shape (we’ll call it 17:00 5K shape), but never raced; the tendons flared back up and I shut it down for weeks. In the fall of 2012 I was able to run consistently for a couple of months and actually raced – a 4 mile in 23:20, not so bad. But then things tightened back up, and I had a kid a few months later.

I am now in the best shape that I’ve been in since summer/fall 2012. It is only because of consistency, I’ve been running regularly since the fall. After all these months, my mileage remains at around 15 miles per week on 3 runs a week. Nothing. But my body is accepting it greedily. My pace is steadily improving. I feel faster than I have in a while. Some days, I actually feel fast…I have decided to run a race so that I can put a line in the sand for the future…just in case. I looked at the calendar, and low and behold, there’s Damien’s Run, now held in my favorite place in Maryland (Patapsco State Park) and at a time when my girls will be up and ready to watch it. I decided to give it a shot. It happens next Sunday.

And so, a couple of weeks ago I transitioned from running haphazardly to training. I am still doing 15 mpw; I don’t want to risk it just yet. I have, for months now, been running faster on a treadmill at the YMCA every Tuesday night; low impact stuff. I cranked the pace down further, most recently running 3 miles in 17:40. But the treadmill isn’t real running (no wind resistance for one), so last weekend, I went to the track. It was a horror. I did 2×3200 with full (8 minute) recovery. Both splits were slower than 12:00, I’m embarrassed to even say them. To put it in perspective, I came through 20 miles of my first marathon faster than 6:00 pace. That Broad Street Run was 5:16 pace for 10 miles in a row. Not being able to run 2 miles in 12:00 was very humbling.

This weekend was a little better – 3×1600 all around 5:42 though still with 6:00 rest (aka, full recovery). Not as bad. But the times aren’t that important now. More important is re-acclimating my psyche to an intentional subjection to pain. Not having enough air in my lungs. Various places in my body going number. The voices in my head telling me to stop, telling me it’s not worth it, telling me I’m weak, telling me there is no point, telling me I’ll put forth all this effort and nonetheless look like a fool. Well, fine, I am weak. But I’m still finishing the intervals. These voices were there in every race I’ve ever run; hell, they’re there whenever I do something hard. I never listen to them. I needed those workouts not because they would improve my fitness substantially in three weeks, but because I could not expect to tolerate that pain in the race if I had zero exposure to it in five years, 10 if you’re talking about the real stuff. The whole trick to being a runner is convincing your body to hurt worse than it wants to for longer than it can. That’s what all that training is for.

The course is generally flat. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I am trying to decide if I should wear racing flats or stay with more supportive shoes (the achilles heel remains my Achilles heel after all). Either way, I will get a bump of adrenaline during the race. Something old, some old magic, will awaken. Though the race itself is greatly diminished in the last few years (the winners barely crack 17:00 these days), I nonetheless have no chance of winning. I do not expect a miracle. I don’t expect to not sniff 5:20 pace for 10 years, only to magically be able to string together 3 of them in a row to come away with the win. It’s not going to happen. But I’ll probably run around 18:30 give or take. 17:45 is probably the absolute fastest. 19:00 is the absolute slowest.

These days, I come home from a run and my two year old gets all perky and asks, “Good run, Daddy?” They may never know me as I really am, having amputated all four of my existential limbs from my body – Cross Country, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, and Road Racing – long before they were born. And they may never see me powerfully striding away from all opponents, dominating the hobby joggers and elderly while out-dueling the handful of semi-pros for a victory in any sort of real race. My tendons may fall apart again in a week. But please God, just one race for old time’s sake. I just need to make it until the 4th – my 36th birthday by the way.

(And, if that works, I’ll add another few miles on Thursdays, start alternating Saturday between an interval workout and a long run, and then target an early August race, 30-60 seconds faster than this time. But it never works. But it might. Then there’s another day, 30 mpw, and a crack at something respectable in October. Then train through the winter and see what happens in Shamrock in March. You know, I’m only a few years away from being in the Masters division. Yes, I always chain together this many low probably events into completely unrealistic scenarios.)

Podcast Power Ratings

You should subscribe to exactly what I listen to, and then we can talk about them all the time. Though I tend to not remember the specifics of what I hear for more than 5 minutes after I hear them.

Top Tier: I listen to every episode of these podcasts, flushing other ones to make time as needed.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: At the top of the list because when he drops a 5 hour episode, I stop listening to everything else until it’s done. Yes, he’s over the top. Yes, he focuses on gore and yes, he can get repetitive. Yes, it takes an hour for you to figure out what the topic is, then the next two hours feels like introduction, then you’re done. But it’s still high quality, well presented, good production value, always informative.
Revolutions: From the creator of my old favorite “History of Rome” podcast, Michael Duncan does a great job summarizing (with some impressive depth) events surrounding some of the world’s great revolutions. There was a time when this was the only podcast I listened to at 1.0x speed, just because I didn’t want to miss details.
Reply All: Always intriguing. Light, funny, well done.
Radiolab: Interesting, balanced, amusing.
Crimetown: Interesting stories, told well.
S-Town: A one time event; heart rending, a spiritual successor to season 1 of Serial.
The Fall of Rome Podcast: Patrick Wyman is a real historian, and this history goes into greater depth than the other two above. The production value is lower and he can be a little dry, but the content is heady as Wyman focuses on the forces behind the key historical figures and events.
Common Sense with Dan Carlin: Carlin’s libertarian political/society podcast, but aptly named. Lots of well thought out ideas. And anti-Trump.

Safe for Now: Listen to most, pleased to see new episodes.
The Bill Simmons Podcast: Light and easy, sometimes funny, often about the NBA, good for listening to while doing labor intensive tasks they may force you to miss a few minutes at a time.
Serial: Absence makes you forget. Season 1 was a force of nature. Season 2 wasn’t. Not sure if there will be a season 3.
PTI: Sometimes funny, informative for keeping up on the day-to-day of the sports’ world. Repetitve after 15 or so years, but still decent. Light listening.
This American Life: Thought provoking, but often depressing and highly slanted. Slanted toward things that I happen to agree with mostly, but you can’t really make believe that they select a full spectrum of stories to represent “this american life.”
Pod Save America: Funny, liberal political show. You listen to it and wonder how the Trump people can exist.
99% Invisible: Generally interesting. A little dry in presentation. Subject matter is tangentially related to stuff that I’m interested in. Listening to it at the behest of a friend.
Transforming Grace Podcast: I’ll be honest, I skip the ones not done by Glenn Parkinson, pastor at my old church. He’s just so excellent. But I am like 3 months behind always.
History Matters Podcast: Legit PhD historians talking about history, though perhaps overlaughing at things that aren’t particularly funny. Some interesting parallels, and occasionally you’ll hear a point that seems so ironclad that you have a hard time seeing why it can’t be policy.

The Cut Line: Things I’m going to delete now that I’m done with this list.
The Ringer NBA Show: I want to like the Ringer’s NBA show. I just don’t like that guy that much. Much preferred Zach Lowe. Maybe I’ll see if he’s still around.
With Friends Like These: Reportedly about some liberals getting the opinions of conservatives, then hashing out the differences and coming to some mutual understanding of their positions. But not really about this. And the liberals come off as preaching and condescending in the end. A good example of what people dislike about the left without also being funny, clever, or particularly informed (like Pod Save America).

TBD
The Liturgists Podcast: Recently subscribed after Gungor concert. Will see if I like it.

Weight

Weight, past 11 years, closest to today’s date (+/- 4 days):
2007: 167.6 (first year I couldn’t run)
2008: 161.8 (training)
2009: 161.4
2010: 166.0 (first year I permanently was not in racing shape)
2011: 166.4
2012: 165.4
2013: 167.4
2014: 167.4
2015: 167.6
2016: 167.2
2017: 168.6

If anyone wants $15, I will pay that to get all thousand or so datapoints entered into Excel. This requires a plot. I wonder how closely it mirrors global temperatures.

Automata

Some jobs don’t require humans. In the last 300 years, the number of humanless jobs have increased exponentially. This increase has led to an increase in the overall quality of life of mankind. Without first beasts, then machinery, humanity could not support the billions of people on the planet as we currently do – few would say that agricultural automation has been bad for mankind.

At the time, they did. At the time, machines that would spin cloth were thought to be disruptive to the economy. But we would not have drawers full of clothes without them. Automation has, without question, improved quality of life. More goods, and higher quality goods, at less cost.

But in every age, there is a subset of the population resistant to these enhancements. Don’t automate Wendy’s ordering, for instance, because that will put 18 year olds without a GED out of a job. They need some way to make money. Don’t automate manufacturing jobs, because where else will those people work? But time and again, more automation has led to cheaper, higher quality goods. Do we intentionally hamstring society to provide busywork for the uneducated?

But what about those people who lose their jobs to automation? In theory, we should start working less hours, while the machines generate the wealth (in the form of inexpensive cars or clothes or hamburgers) on our behalf. In theory, there should be less of us – birth rates always decline as a function of societal wealth. But in practice, there will be millions left in the lurch until society adjusts to the new norm. Millions that would prefer their well-being over the “greater good”. And rightfully so. Millions didn’t get an education for one reason or another (some would say it was their fault for not working hard – I wouldn’t always agree with him), 50 of whom can be replaced by a single machine. So do we “make work” to keep them busy? If we had a different sort of government, we might find ourselves with a new WPA, where the state flushes the economy with jobs for the greater good – while bankrupting itself. If we had a different sort of government, we might have a guaranteed minimum income; enough for those left in transition to survive, but still too little to disincentivize some from wanting to earn more through more education and hard work. But nanny states are expensive.

I don’t know the solution. But to me the solution is never willful ignorance. One way or another, time and technology marches on.

By the way, side note…the only way to curb inequality is through cataclysm. Perhaps we’re on the right track after all.

Preaching to the Choir

I haven’t heard anything back from the Honorable Senator from Montana. Many representatives do not care at all what non-constituents think, even those representatives who sit on committees that impact the entire nation. No matter. I’ll write to our Maryland representatives, even though they already are opposed to our current executive and his feckless policies. Anyway, here’s what I just sent to my representative. It’s some words and then my feelings on gerrymandering. I don’t expect he would have read that far – tl/dr, but what’s the harm. I’m effectively sending blog posts to congressmen.

Representative Cummings,
I wish to offer you encouragement in this difficult time. Without a majority in either the House or Senate, and with a President seemingly unfettered by the bonds of civil decorum or basic human dignity, the majority of Americans can do nothing to affect policy. From the so called Muslim Ban to a multitude of measures meant to enrich his fellow billionaires, most disturbingly those at the expense of the natural beauty of this great nation, there is little to be encouraged about from this legislature and our executive branch.

But even in this time, the seeds of change have been sown. The people have embraced their civic duty and risen united against the perceived tyranny. Our President’s approval rating is at an historic low. At this stage, though you may have few political options, you do hold something more dear: the moral high ground. I encourage you and your fellow Democrats to shine a light of dignity and respect that stands in stark contrast to the darkness that otherwise surrounds us. Embrace your colleagues across the aisle who also operate with integrity in opposition to unamerican orders. Right now, the best thing that we can do is to show kindness and restraint in the face of bluster and blunder. The contrast will be clear come Fall of 2018, when the people will ensure that their voices are again heard in the voting booths.

I would like to take this moment to also encourage you to take a stand against what I believe is the central political evil that brought our country to this current situation: gerrymandering. I know that you did not draw our 7th Congressional District, but its tentacles and holes are illustrative of the problem.

When congressional candidates run for office in a “secure” district, they must embrace more polarized views in order to make it out of the primary. We are left with a legislature that does not represent our national centrist tendencies. Instead, we have a House full of extremists, who answer to the most vocal minorities on the far left and right at the peril of being flushed in the next primary. With no room to compromise with those in the middle, the legislative branch deadlocks. Presidents from both parties rule by fiat via executive orders to fill the void left by an ineffectual legislature.

Because of this, I believe that independent redistricting is the only way to elect candidates that properly represent the rank and file citizens of the Unites States. Please consider supporting all measures that would free our country from its comically intertwined districts and allow the majority of the people to have a say in our government.

Thank you for your time, I appreciate your service, and God Bless America,

Eric Furst

Spacious Skies

My letter to Montana Senator Steve Daines, chairman of the subcommittee on National Parks:

Senator Daines,
Several years ago, my brother and I spent six nights in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. Though I’ve been on many trips before and since, my visit to your great state and its jewel of a park sticks with me. We saw more wildlife in that week than in any other trip before or since; moose by the dozen, grizzlies, black bears, bighorn sheep, foxes, trout (on my plate), and the biggest owl I’ve ever seen. We spent four nights on the same itinerary as an Army Ranger and his wife – his pack was more than 70 lbs, I swear they brought a cast iron skillet or something. We met a man who hikes hundreds of miles a summer in the park in Crocs and a Jansen book bag. We picked up tips on how to eat like normal humans on the trail, we swam next to a glacier in a mountain lake at Stoney Indian pass, and we celebrated our trip with a huge pizza and a couple of delicious beers.

Why am I telling you this? I don’t have a specific agenda. I want to offer you encouragement. There may come a time when someone who doesn’t know anything about the wild places of our national heritage wants to make decisions that imperil those places. Those of us who love the wild look to folks like you to protect it – fellow backpackers who understand that these places are national treasures. Please look out for our national parks and our state parks. In 20 years I want my daughters to see the same big skies, the same cascading waterfalls, the same stark rock faces, and the same grizzlies (whether the glaciers will be there is a different topic). I want them to toil for 20 miles under a heavy pack to earn vistas only seen by those who seek with determination and struggle.

While I have your ear, I encourage you to support our National Park Service workers. I’ve never met an NPS employee that I didn’t respect and admire. They share in our love for the outdoors. That they are also idealistic and politically active makes them true Americans, even if not everyone agrees with their opinions. I am proud to live in a country where we can safely voice our views, where we practice the refined art of checks and balances both via our governmental structure and directly through the voices of our people, and where the protectors of our sovereign lands would also stand up as protectors of our ideals. Please look past the political inconvenience of their acts to the heart behind them.

Thank you for your time, thank you for your great state, and thank you for your beautiful public lands. I hope to visit again soon.

Eric Furst

Things I Love About America

I’ve been thinking a bit about patriotism. For instance, if you see a pick-up truck with three American flags flapping in the breeze, you can say “this is a guy who wants to make America great again.” I roll my eyes and check to see if truck nuts are dangling from the back. The question is, are these ostensible displays really indicative of a more profound love for one’s country?

As I take a step back, I wonder what it means to love one’s country. Is it because of something intrinsic in the nature of the country? Because of what the country stands for, what it represents, what it means to others? Is it because the country gives you something? It is irrespective of any properties of the nation itself, but instead a function of the sacrifice made on its behalf, as though the effort used to forge it imbues value into an inherently neutral apparatus?

And why should I love my country? I love people, is that the same? I love God – is his entangled with this country above others? I love my family – but doesn’t everyone in every country? What makes this country special, and more worthy of love? Or does that miss the point? You love the country because you’re there, if you were somewhere else, it’s your duty to love that place just the same.

What is the currency that this country communicates its value to me? What aspects of the country are worth defending? What, if lost, would leave this place different, other, less lovable? What things make America itself and not something else?

When I think of America, I think fondly of the following – and probably countless more, but at least these:

  • Free Speech – simply “freedom” is too vague; define it please.
  • Freedom of the Press – no power answers to no one.
  • Freedom of Religion – that the nation provides a refuge from whatever theocracy would impose its belief system forcibly upon any people.
  • National Park Service – the crown jewels of the world, specifically the backcountry.
  • State Park System – the land of the people, for the people.
  • Interstate Highway System – the land, all of it, free to all the people.
  • Wartime Mobilization and the Ass Kicking we dealt in WWII and to a lesser extend WWI as a result – those moments of clarity, collective will, civic duty, and unshakable resolve.
  • That we didn’t start a nuclear war during the Cold War – that civilians could think of more than military goals when considering what was good, right, and smart.
  • 4th of July – freedom from tyranny, the voice of the people.
  • Tired and huddled masses – melting pot; take the best from the nations and incorporate them into our social fabric to make us more distinctive, stronger, and smarter.
  • Land of opportunity – to the extent that it exists, to the extent that it is available to certain peoples.
  • Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, FDR, and TBD – philosopher leaders, thinkers, brilliant people.
  • Martin Luther King Jr, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and more – exceptionalism in word and deed.
  • Amber waves of grain – open spaces, majestic skies, towering mountains, rolling hills, dense forests, regal deserts, rivers, lakes, the oceans…and America the Beautiful the song.
  • That we went to the moon when we tried – that it hasn’t happened in 40 years, a testament to our ability if given focus.
  • The Postal Service – people hate the USPS, but imagine the mission they have – to provide mail to every address in the entire nation daily; daunting.
  • Public Libraries – so useful, so worth whatever we pay for them.
  • Public Radio – the vector of free speech, the press with the least motivation to skew.
  • Our engineers, scientists and soldiers – the reason why others have to steal our work rather than try to make their own.
  • The Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail – interstates for seekers who can find anything they look for within the very land itself.
  • That our Founding Fathers had such high minded ideals – they were attempting to make a different kind of nation.

I wonder what other items should be on my list. As you can probably see, I value things that are not valued by everyone. I see two thirds of these items as being threatened by forces at work in our current administration.

One thing that I would point out: this list is not a list of demands or a list of what the country owes me. It doesn’t owe me anything. I was born wherever I happened to be born, to whatever parents happened to bear me. I wasn’t owed a factory job, inherent in my DNA. That I came to a land that represents life, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness is a fortunate accident. I am grateful, and not resentful. It seems that many feel that the country, the land itself, must give something of itself to make it worthy of their adoration. That it exists to service their fancy. And maybe it does; a country is not a physical thing, it is a construct upon which people are invited to exist in a certain way. Perhaps they should expect that the country do their particular bidding. I don’t know.

Just don’t mess with my national parks, or I will come for you.

The Crucible

I was considering live blogging election night, and apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking I should. So, here we go. I can’t imagine this having any where near the density of calamity of the debates. I have no idea what I’ll have to say. I do know that I drank a bunch of water just now with the express purpose of not waking up dehydrated after my double shot of Talisker scotch.

2035: I’m going with George Stephanoplous (or whatever) and ABC for election coverage. They have like 14 people on their panel. Impossible to get the mike on at the right time. They need to raise their hands or pass the conch or something.

2042: I’m rooting for Clinton here, even though I myself didn’t vote for either of them. So far, VA and Florida don’t look very good. I wonder if they’ve counted Richmond or the DC suburbs yet?

2048: But NC and OH look pretty good. Those two would more or less lock it up.

2049: I’m going to blog whatever my three year old whines about when Jen or I go visit her.

2049: There is an inexhaustible supply of analysts here on ABC. They just went to a war room with a pile of people, and then a secret table.

2052: There are these strange, random interstitial messages that keep interrupting the show that we’re watching. I’m unfamiliar with these things. For instance, one involves chasing a dog, but having psoriasis. I don’t understand these strange messages.

2054: I think I sat on the remote a few minutes ago, because now we’re watching CBS. That explains why there are so many new analysts.

2056: Remind me never to go to Kentucky: 2:1 for Trump.

2100: The second the midwest polls close, the states turn red.

2104: I like NE and ME. Why would you not split your vote? We should split it at the county level. At the individual level! Get rid of the college!

2106: The way I see it, Trump will definitely arrest a few hundred dissenters in the first 6 months after he’s elected (if he’s elected). I feel like I’m maybe at the 10,000 mark? 5,000? How many people would Trump have to elect before he came for me?

2111: Sadly, my three year old is asleep already. I was wondering what she’d harass me about, and what adjective she would use to describe my whiskey breath. Because this is boring.

2119: So, the thing about Florida – Boward (or however you spell it) is half reporting. Trump has a 100,000 vote lead, but in Boward, Clinton currently has a 200,000 vote lead. If you extrapolate that difference, Clinton flips it. But, most people don’t understand thing sort of crazy addition and will instead claim that it is fixed.

2125: I don’t understand how the … no idea what I was talking about.

2136: Is this the first time Pence has been in the same place as Trump?

2140: Stephanie Rawlings Blake from Baltimore on ABC! She’s kinda foxy, was unaware.

2146: I think the late precincts are going to be the city districts. Because they make the city people sit in line for four hours, whereas I sit in line for zero seconds since I live in a place with a real infrastructure.

2201: I need some food, depressed.

2216: Nate Silver just said that betting markets have Trump as a narrow favorite. That’s not good. They don’t tend to lose money.

2232: Our ABC affiliate is covering the Baltimore mayoral elections. And the Senate elections. I need more national fear mongering.

2243: I can only hope that Republicans will impeach him in a few months. It all depends on how Michigan shakes out when the cities report.

2254: Maybe I’ll go to bed and wait for Abby to wake me up and check it then.

2303: I’m done. If this isn’t a spectacular disaster, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. The power of low expectations may define the Trump presidency.

The Government We Deserve

According to Real Clear Politics, 55% of voters find Hilary Clinton to be an unfavorable candidate. 58% say the same about He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN). We’ve put ourselves in quite the predicament. The resistible object against the movable force. I do not like either choice, but I do not believe that they are on equal footing. One is a corrupt lifelong politician. The other is a swindling demagogue with authoritarian impulses and a propensity for rash behavior that could destroy life as we know it. Interestingly, none of the 5 living presidents supports HWSNBN. They understand that he lacks the knowledge, temperament, and self-reflection to hold an office with the gravity of president. I share their greatest fear – that the republic will not stand under his rule. Clinton may be business as usual, but in four years there will be an election and another chance to get things right. Are we sure that will be the case if HWSNBN is president?

So, what’s a boy to do? First, according to 538’s Election Forecast, Maryland is the safest state in the union – with greater than a 99.9% chance that Clinton will win. In that case, my presidential vote will not sway the general election. This is freeing to me. My strident opposition to HWSNBN need not force me into the camp of a corrupt oligarch. So, I’m going to vote for Jill Stein.

In the past three years, the myth of the “pause” in global warming has been debunked, as we march ever forward to the desolation of our planet. The topic was barely raised. Politicians stay away from the topic, or outright deny it. I’m voting two ways: 1) against the political parties that gave us two uniformly loathed candidates and 2) for an under appreciated issue of huge importance.

Down ballot is more informative. I am voting against HWSNBN’s right to rule. If I see your sign on the same yard as a sign for him, I am voting for your opponent. I will vote against any candidate who thinks that he is a good idea for this country. I will vote against any ballot measure supported by anyone who thinks he is a good idea for this country. He is a dangerous tyrant who must be opposed, either directly or in the form of a strong bulwark to his political standing. And you thought that Obama abused his executive privilege – be ready for the hypocrite train to pull into the station.

Or maybe he won’t be so bad. Maybe he gets into office, quickly bores of it, blowing off meeting with our allies and enemies, preferring to give speeches about programs he has no authority or money to implement. Maybe he becomes increasingly tired of attempts at his life and holes up in the White House, not even delivering the State of the Union. Maybe he’s elected and the markets tank, millions lose their jobs, and the demographic that brought him to power abandons him. Maybe he does three different things worthy of impeachment in the first year of his presidency, and maybe we end up with 2 and a half years of President Pence and a Republican party split between White Nationalists and Small Government Conservatives. Maybe 3/4ths of his supporters in the aristocracy back-peddle with a sort of revisionist history that’s hard to do in the age of social media. Maybe America is resilient against the strong hand of a dictator to be. It was built to be resilient against it.

Or, maybe it’s as a 55 year old, white, retired military man at my work says – if he loses, there will be a civil war. Maybe if he loses, the rural south is inflamed with racial violence. If he wins, the violence may shift to the cities.

Who knows. Protect your family, hope for the best. I’m apprehensive in any scenario. I would rather live in no country other than America. But we are not immune to the sort of fears and strife that threatens the world as a whole. Humans are capable of all forms of evil. God created government to restrain our sin. It does so imperfectly. We will, as always, reap what we have sown.

Our National Nightmare

I’m trying to decide if I want to punish the entire Republican ticket. I’m actually kind of torn: currently, I’m planning on voting Green for president (why not), Democrat for House (because the republican’s website is only half complete and looks completely unprofessional), and Republican for Senate (because Szeliga is the most reasonable candidate I’ve seen in a while). But the Republicans nominated the Anti-Christ for president. They need to be learn that this kind of pandering does not fly. So, anyway, another debate.

Tonight: A big glass of Laphroaig 10 years. Tawny Port for Jen.

2100: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show event is tomorrow night.” I thought it was tonight!

2101: Watching with Fox today. I hate Trump so much that I want the coverage to be as friendly to him as possible. Shep Smith doing a good job here. Starting to forgive him for saying that Hurricane Matthew was going to kill all your children.

2102: Fox has a tight rope walk ahead tonight. The Trump ship is sinking, and Fox is as tied up with him as you can get. AND Trump is talking about making his own news station…which will be in direct competition with Fox (not MSNBC, I suspect). How do they treat him here tonight?

2105: Mix Trump’s skin with Clinton’s suit, and you have a creamsicle.

2106: Surprised that Clinton got right to the question rather than 45 seconds of preamble. Impressed. Hey, how about this for the Supreme Court – can they just interpret the law?

2107: Laphroaig is often described as “medicinal”. But man, it’s deep. A nice warmth. Oh, news flash, Clinton wants to push along Obama’s nominee. OK, cool.

2108: Trump subdued again. How long would 2 mg of Xanax take to wear off on a bull moose like Trump? 15 minutes? 20 minutes? We’ll check in later.

2110: 10 minutes of open arguing. This is the Fox style.

2111: Sensible gun control (background checks, terror watch list checks, storage etc). I have no idea who would argue against this. I read a good article on Newtown, CT recently.

2114: So far, Chris Wallace is owning this debate. We’ll see how this goes. He comes in with more authority than the previous moderators.

2115: Roe v Wade was passed by a conservative court, I’m told. Abortion is the worst. Gross. A sobering topic, unlike scotch.

2119: Abortion is an evil evil.

2120: Trump doesn’t actually know how birth works; not on a schedule. But so far, I am not mad with him.

2121: Xanax hasn’t worn off yet, and yet he remains coherent. Still sniffing though. He is backpedaling on a full deportation, focusing instead on the hombres.

2125: Andrew Miller, how about him. Cleveland in the World Series. Sorry, zoned out.

2126: If Chris Wallace alienates Trump and Trump starts boycotting Fox News…will he just hang out in his house until the election?

2127: This is why I don’t like it when my 3.5 year old takes a nap. Isn’t it good that Obama deported millions of people?

2129: It is interesting that the Russian government wants Trump to be president. Do we trust them?

2130: Chris Wallace scolds the audience again. I am enjoying this guy. While I was typing that sentence, we got on to Radical Islamic Terrorism. I’m not following his train of thought anymore.

2131: You’re the puppet! Wow, she struck a nerve there. 23 minutes, he’s starting to come off the rails. What was it last time? To the tape!

2132: It was 22 minutes last time. Off the rails. Chris Wallace. Woooo.

2134: Putin’s not my BFF!

2135: He’s sniffing still, but less.

2136: At least Trump can pronounce Nuclear.

2137: I’m digging Chris Wallace.

2137: Abby, who has no soccer ball, has decided that she want’s to be a soccer ball for halloween. She has wanted this for a month. But she wants to be a soccer ball with red patches rather than black. All right. Whatever.

2138: I’ll be honest, I’ve got the bottle right here with me. I’m not really following this baloney anymore. I keep hearing about this “free school” thing, but I’m skeptical.

2140: No one gives Donald more credit than Donald.

2143: Just watched the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer. Just saying. By the way, I agree – Obama did inherit a tremendous catastrophe economically. Dude’s one of the better presidents we’ve had, as people will acknowledge in a decade or two. Especially in comparison with these dopes.

2146: India is growing at 8% but their per capita income is like $4000 a year or something. It’s really not a fair comparison.

2147: Totally lied, and fact checkers actually said I was right. He was very surprised about that. It’s maybe the first time that he’s ever said something true.

2149: Condescending. Bad experience. He’s doing a good job this time. Less incoherent.

2151: That was a powerful Clinton set piece on experience. She rehearsed that well.

2152: By the way, we would be interested in hosting refugees. These are families feeling terrible situations to keep their kids alive. If Trump actually raised his kids, he would have a little more compassion.

2154: Not attractive enough to be assaulted. Yes, that’s a good point. Chris Wallace, still keeping things under control Another strong Clinton set piece by Clinton here, on women.

2156: Nobody in the whole world has more respect for women than Trump. Not even one. There are 3.5 billion men in the world, and Trump is literally the number one respecter of women.

2159: Third powerful set piece of Clinton, this time about all the people he has belittled.

2200: I’m getting sleepy.

2203: Something something something; someone just sent me to Edible Arrangements Facebook page.

2204: Rather than paying a lawsuit, Trump put up an American flag. OK. Good zing on tax returns.

2205: Chris Wallace, please come back.

2206: Rigged election. This is the scariest part of this whole thing. This is terrifying. Peaceful transition of power from Chris Wallace.

2209: Here we are, a fourth Clinton set piece, this on rigging.

2210: Trump as a human is completely off the rails, but he has gotten better at the debates as he’s gone. Less incoherent stories this time. But he’s letting Clinton dominate. She sounds so much smarter than he does.

2214: Trump’s theories on warfare – the element of surprise – a little naive. The Iraqis are in on the Clinton fix too…

2216: Who cares if Trump was for Iraq in 2003, when he was a blubbering idiot who was not running for president.

2217: I hate the look Clinton gets on her face when she thinks she’s said something funny.

2220: Putin, Assad…let’s see if Clinton does a set piece on the axis of evil world leaders that Trump admires.

2221: Lots of luck Hilary. So, did Trump just concede the election to her?

2223: I want some food. This is silly. He didn’t implode. She continued to only say smart things. That is the standard against which the two of them are judged.

2224: Vast swatches of land. I remember swatches!

2225: Trump is delusional. But he believes it. I guess that’s the definition of delusional.

2227: I think the talking point from this debate will be the part where Trump said he was still considering whether he’d stage a coup against a democratically elected government.

2230: I thought it was going to be over at 10:30, yet here we are. I’m going to get something and go to bed.

On Your Left

I spent the summer of 2001 in Pittsburgh working doing an undergraduate research project. Most days, I ran in Schenley Park; both close to the Towers of Ignorance and a pretty great place for running. I had a ~10.5 mile loop out the park and into Squirrel Hill that I did most days. One day, another runner darted out 50 yards in front of me from another trail. Having patrolled those woods for a few weeks already, I considered it my duty to follow this runner and eventually crush his will. But he was fast. Faster than me. After fruitlessly chasing him at 5:45 pace for 3 miles, as he slowly pulled away from me, he turned and I continued my loop, relieved that my pursuit was over.

Why this story? I have never been passed on a run and that was the closest I had come. Several years ago, I took a swag – I think I’ve run between 22,000 and 25,000 miles since I was in 7th grade. While fast by most standards, I was sub-elite when compared to national elite runners. But 12 years ago, if you drew a 30 mile circle centered on Baltimore, you’d probably grab 2.5 million people, only maybe 5 of which could beat me. The chances of one of them running the same route as me at the same time was next to nil. I knew that every time I stepped on the road or track or trail that I was the fastest person. I knew when I walked in a room, I was the fastest person in the room. Whatever else was going on in my life, I always had that to fall back on, and, as a matter of principle, I wasn’t interested in letting anyone take my scalp, even on an easy run through the woods.

Now, I’ve probably only run 500-1000 miles in the last 9 ish years since my Achilles finally went south. I run between 3-6 miles a week these days. I’m out of shape and slow. But when I was 15 seconds into my run today, legs creaking from disuse, and someone passed me, I knew had a streak to maintain. He was pretty decent – a halting stride but defined legs and runner approved clothing. He was a runner, and comfortable on the trails. Another tidbit though – I was superlative in the woods. My bulky, short legs may not have been ideal for a tempo run on a flat road, but they were perfect for grinding through the woods. The trail from Landing to the waterfall in Patapsco is not very hilly, but it is quite technical. I decided that in these conditions, even if the guy that passed me could put two minutes on old man me in a 5K, I could still give it a go. So, I gave him 40 meters so that he wouldn’t hear me, then latched on to see what was what. Eventually, he did hear me, eventually, I started closing, eventually I decided, yes, today was not the day that someone was going to break my streak. And then he stopped, right in the middle of the trail. And I passed him. And then a minute later, I started hearing footfalls behind me. I had turned the right past the waterfall by then, entering an even more technical and hillier section of the park. I started pressing the hills where I could induce more pain on him, started hearing the footfalls fade until a turn off when he took a hard left for the road. I decided that he was either annoyed that I was following him, or that he was doing some kind of weird fartlek run, or who knows, maybe he was just a Sunday jogger too. Regardless, this unofficial victory over a stranger was satisfying.

All of this took roughly 11 minutes. By 12 minutes, the adrenaline had worn off. A metallic burn filled my throat. My legs got heavy. I started seeing a halo in my eyes. The bounding skip up the hills from 2 minutes earlier became a slogging plod as my body ceased to respond to even modest demands. In my mind, I maintain a truism, a mantra…that there is old magic in my legs. That if I need to run a 60 second quarter or if I need to grind out a couple of fast miles on the trails, muscle memory will take over, 4 mile weeks be damned. But whereas I might have chased an elite runner for 3 miles as a rising junior in college, I have very limited supply of this residual potency left. Enough to wear down some shlub who was probably 7 miles into an easy day and not interested in ruining his upcoming speed workout on some Sunday jogger, but not enough to actually walk the walk in any real capacity. But by then I was in a more remote part of the woods, occasionally passing 50 year olds on nature walks, with no more sub-elites in sight. I trudged back to my car – a mere 27:00 and surely less than 4 miles – after I had started, red faced with lungs burning. Maybe back in the day I’d have to run 9 miles at 6:00 pace to feel like that. Now, 12 minutes at probably 6:30 pace followed by a 7:30 pace death march for another 2 miles was sufficient. But I still felt the same burn, the same flush, the same ache…and man, do I miss it.

I’m actually not sure where my non-surgically repaired Achilles will crap out these days, because my home life precludes me from running enough to stress it. It holds together pretty well at 3-6 miles a week. A couple years ago – when Abby was a baby, two months of 30 miles a week jacked it up for a few months. But before it could, I was able to patrol the woods at a decent pace, like the old days. I hope to patrol once again. One of these days, some youngster is going to pass me, and my old magic will run out. But not today.

Presidential Debate Two

Another live blog. I think this time I’m going to stop paying attention and riff longer on things that strike my fancy. We shall see.

2057: I’m watching on Fox to be more fair and balanced. Currently, an animated HeMan of some sort is killing an bird in a suburban driveway. I think I can expect some hard hitting analysis.

2100: Hey, it’s the guy that told us that Hurricane Matthew was going to kill our children. Have all the other Fox News people distanced themselves from this cancer?

2102: We’ll be using this debate stage to find out who has raped more women, Donald Trump or the Clinton family. We’re reaping what we’ve sown.

2103: Shep Smith: In the mud, as deep as a really deep thing in the mud.

2106: Are you modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth!? HA! ZAP. Children. Any chance this question will keep them being behaving like children in 15 minutes? Start the timer.

2107: Unrelated, we just found a box with a bunch of shoes appropriate for a 18-24 month old. Emily will have shoes. Trump has come out as measured and calm.

2110: More than calm, he would appear to be actually sedated. He’s going to grab ISIS by the p****!

2112: Clinton making a nice point here – Trump not fit to serve, other Republicans are. “We’ve seen him rape women” is what both Jen and I heard. Rate. Rate. Phew. By the way, it’s awkward that they’re both standing up and walking around. I feel like Trump is going to cram that mike into her skull at some point. By the way, Trump is absolutely calm right now. Last time, he would have interrupted 5 times by now. He has a better strategy this time. Can he do it?

2116: Semi-related, breath right strips are awesome. Really opens up the nasal passages.

2117: I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms – high school, college and so on. I’ve never encountered any distance runner who had any sort of leverage over any women whatsoever. The difference between Trump and people in locker rooms is that Trump thinks he’s allowed to do whatever he wants because of who he is. We might joke about bombing North Korea too, but, yeah, we’re not the damn president.

2122: Bernie Sanders “signed on with the devil”. It’s like they are competing for the souls of the damned over there. They both are collecting souls.

2124: I wonder what Pence’s first name is.

2125: Audience: if they can’t talk or clap, why are they there? Whose fault is that?

2127: For laymen. If you see a “C” on a document, it means “Confidential”, one step lower than “Secret” and two steps lower than “Top Secret”. One thing that Trump has never dealt with is anything associated with anything that a president might do.

2128: The sedation is wearing off. 22 minutes. He did bring up the emails Donald. Actually she might have. He doesn’t listen to anyone who speaks other than himself.

2133: Trump doing better on health insurance. I think he has a self-regulated ativan drip in his pants pocket or something.

2135: Steve Pence?

2136: I want to hear what the woman that looks like a 62 year old Terry Hatcher (behind Trump) is going to ask. She’s trying not to give the stink eye, but failing.

2138: Recently, a Muslim reported another Muslim for using the Arabic term for ISIS on a flight. Witch hunts tend to be a problem.

2140: Donald Trump prefers troops who don’t die in combat (or get captures, or have PTSD).

2141: I don’t think that’s how you pronounce Demagogic. Then again, that is not how you pronounce “terror” either.

2143: Extreme vetting = enhanced interrogation

2145: Someone should give Sean Hannity a call to sort this whole Iraq war thing out.

2147: He’s getting time info from people in the audience. It’s a good idea. I’m not sure the times are equitable either. Someone could do an analysis on it.

2150: Google tells me that it’s Mike Pence. I wonder who Steve Pence is.

2152: I stopped paying attention for a second and now he’s talking about building a post office?

2153: Trump is good on tax here. People like the both of them take advantage of all the loop holes. I think that his tax plan is absolute malarkey, but it would be helpful if these super rich people paid some taxes.

2156: I wonder which of them is more corrupt.

2157: How long is this debate? I think I want to go to bed soon.

2158: I feel like Trump is strong on the tax thing and he probably does understand the tax code better than any other candidate. I have no idea what a carried interest deduction is. By the way, that last thing on Hilary having 30 years to do something about all this and not is probably his best set of debate shots so far.

2202: Aleppo? What’s an Aleppo?

2206: Trump is doing much, much better this time. He may have lost the election a few days ago, but he’s not losing it here.

2207: I’m bored, let’s talk about me. I use breath right strips maybe 4 times a week. I can’t say I’ve ever worn one during a televised debate, but I would consider it under some circumstances.

2210: I like Steve Pence’s stance on Russia in Syria, but Trump just repudiated it. But…do we really want a proxy war against Russia in Syria? Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea to show them our tech. At least the stuff they haven’t already stolen.

2210: Anderson, you need to poke your co-moderator and remind her that she’s not running for president. She’s getting hostile. Trump is handling her though.

2215: Trump, for what it’s worth, is going over on this question as well. He keeps complaining, but sometimes he gets to go over too.

2216: Clinton’s getting too laughy and snarky recently. People don’t like that.

2217: Trump’s doing much better in this debate. If not for his enormous disaster this week, he’d be grabbing the American public by the p*ssy and giving them a big wet kiss.

2219: The basket of deplorables thing was kind of accurate. Trump could have gotten away with saying something like that, no problem.

2221: You know what Barack Obama has that Trump doesn’t? Dignity. I like the guy. I have very little beef with him.

2223: Just had to go bring my big ole nose to sniff around for smoke. What’d I miss?

2224: We should just cut the mikes. Can they cut the mikes? Why not?!

2225: I was thinking about the Supreme Court justice thing while on my run today. I’d want smart Supreme Court justices. People that know the law backwards and forwards. People that understand the constitution. I don’t think we should be able to cook the books when it comes to the court, and appoint people that will fight for our political agendas. As a result, somehow, I think we need to change the way that the Supreme Court is selected, taking away from both the President and Congress. How about some kind of election among the bar…or something.

2229: Under absolute, literal siege by the Obama administration. Obama and his cabinet are absolutely camped out outside of coal plants, literally bombarding the coal plants with cannonballs and molten oil.

2231: That fly is absolutely feasting on these literal piles of steaming….I actually don’t believe that, I just thought it was funny.

2233: Climate change, poor, marginalized, climate change.

2234: Karl Becker for the win. Clinton was struggling, but pulled it out. She’s no longer talking about the question, however. Waiting for Trump’s answer, but jabber jabber jabber. Hilary doesn’t quit, doesn’t give up. That’s a good compliment. That was a good question. I’m writing in Karl Becker.

2238: I don’t get Fox’s strategy here. They are submarining the entire political process, talking about how ugly this election is. I mean, I agree with them. Actually, try to put your finger on why people hate Clinton, based on the debates at least. She hasn’t been an awful person in the debates. Nor was Trump this debate. This wasn’t that bad.

Rock and the Hard Place

Full disclosure: I loath Donald Trump and only dislike Hilary Clinton. I find it unlikely that these opinions will change. That said, I will do my best to impartially judge the one liners and ranting lunacy.

2055: Why is Kevin James’ TV wife so good looking? What is it about Kevin James?

2100: I’m watching on CBS. I don’t think it makes a difference.

2101: Why did we do this to ourselves? Yuck.

2102: I’m not impressed by these people on CBS.

2104: They just showed up – more undecided? I don’t know anyone who might possibly like the Don that does not already.

2104: I think I’m going to get some scotch if there’s a commercial break.

2105: It’s sexist to talk about Clinton’s hideous red pant suit so I’m not going to.

2106: Income inequality is bad, economy is good – I smell a tax cut for the rich.

2108: I think we have a child out of bed and wandering around.

2109: Trump is hilarious. Mexico and China; bang that drum. Forget the job report, forget the economic data.

2111: Trickle down economics. “Trumped up Trickle down”. That’s the fourth time she’s spat some hokey pre-planned comment.

2113: Very small $14 million dollar loan. Very very few maids and butlers, a minimal fleet of cars.

2114: That’s Administrative Assistant Clinton, thank you.

2115: Bring them back by not letting them leave. Someone points out he’s sniffely, he is. Ironic that he’s sick.

2117: Trump cannot not bud in. In 12 minutes, he’ll be interrupting and talking over her every 20 seconds.

2119: Thesaurus: Semi-Exact –> approximate. “Pseudo-Precise” thinks Jen.

2119: I mean 2 minutes, not 12 minutes.

2121: She may never get another word in edgewise.

2122: “Donald, I know you live in your own reality.” Zing!

2123: He cannot help himself. The meds are already wearing off.

2124: “Lester, I tell you this”…Who is Lester? Wait, doesn’t someone normally ask questions in these debates?

2125: HilaryClinton.com is a fact checker. Good idea. Side note: Neither of your plans are going to be implemented.

2126: Cut the mike.

2128: Guys, I’m not going to make it another 20 minutes.

2129: Shut up!

2131: I hope Obama does golf the rest of his life. He keeps saying he’s under audit and cannot release. That’s not a thing.

2133: He’s been under audit for 15 years – I doubt he’ll be done in the next month.

2134: Yeah Lester, tough guy on the audience. Can’t get Trump to shut his mouth for 20 seconds in a row, pick on the faceless peons.

2135: “That makes me smart.”

2136: Something he’s hiding…kinda like those emails. Both of you, ugh.

2138: Braggadocios. That’s how spell check renders it.

2139: Or maybe because you haven’t paid any income tax! Zing! Big hit.

2142: I’m getting bored with this. Also, I don’t really blame him for taking advantage of the laws. I also think he’ll tailor the laws to suit his interests.

2143: If he thinks he’s going to confine the defense industry into a fixed price box…that ain’t gonna fly.

2146: The problem for Clinton. She’s talking right now, saying, blah blah blah. Straightforward, what everyone always says. I want to hear Trump blow hot air again. But then he doesn’t say anything that means anything. I just want him to talk so that he can implode. Surely he will soon.

2148: He’s about to say he doesn’t like guns. Say it, say it!

2149: Note: if you want to build a relationship with me, feel free to stop and frisk.

2151: Let’s talk about black people, a topic on which we are both experts.

2153: I also loath the gun lobby as much as I loath the Donald.

2154: Agree on implicit bias. No one else will that doesn’t already believe it.

2155: The Donald and the no fly list, good for you.

2156: I think Trumps people have a way to taser him. He’s calmed down a lot in the last 20 minutes.

2158: Trump and the manipulation of black voters for temporary gains.

2200: Trump is telling a very confusing story about Maclachi.

2204: Holier than though barb is decent.

2206: One of those things…one of those things you know about if you make $649 million a year.

2208: Private sector hacking is probably worse.

2210: He just lost the obese vote.

2211: Donald wants to cyber.

2214: Whenever she goes off script she says something awkward.

2216: “Longest military alliance in the history of the world…” Fact checkers!? Get on that one. NATO is like 65 years old. No.

2218: Donald is very focused on Donald.

2221: I think Lester is about to ask Donald when he stopped beating his wife, if Lester ever gets to speak again.

2222: Trump’s temperament.

2225: I almost want him to be president to prove him wrong.

2227: They’ve both dropped “cavalier” in 3 minutes.

2228: I’m going to bed. This is paining me. I’m depressed. Clinton was far less of a obnoxious blowhard, but no one changed their mind.

Olympic National Park

Over the years, I’ve kept a journal while backpacking. I did it again this time, only I was more bored, so it is longer.  I don’t really proofread these, nor do they go through the same editing process that I go through when I type.  I don’t find the right words.  I don’t down select for relevance.  I just slowly scribble on a tiny notebook.

Some previous versions…

https://furstwords.wordpress.com/category/miscellaneous/backpacking/

8/26/16 1415
At Deception Creek camp, having covered 13.3 miles and 2500 ft of elevation gain in less than 6 hours. A few miles ago, I was complimenting myself on my pace. Now, I’m tired. I should have broken that up more. I’ve set camp and am on my way for the first of many pumps [water filtering]. On the western horizon, which is maybe 4 miles away because it’s a ridgeline, there is an ominous haze of smoke [from the wildfire in the park]. Other than a very smokey few minutes in the car, however, the air has been clean. I think that will be changing by the morning [it did not].

So, a solo hike. So far, not that eventful. I had no particularly profound thoughts. I didn’t solve any problems or reform my life. I mostly just walked. Thought about walking. And what I would do if the volcano blew or the Cascadia fault line slipped…but mostly just walked.

I did come to the realization of how alone I was. Not lonesome, but spatially separate. I do not believe that it is an exaggeration to say that you could have drawn a 2 mile radius circle about me and, for a couple of hours at least, I would have been the only one in said circle. It doesn’t seem like much, but think about that for a minute. 7 billion people on the planet and I have 12 square miles [or 7680 acres] all to myself. Alone. Not so anymore, there are two other tents here already. But for a while, I was a solitary red dot walking my way through the woods in an area that would include 5 million people around Manhattan.

8/26 1834
I’ve been reading and doing camp activities all afternoon and evening – peaceful. My two neighbors are still nowhere to be seen. I got here before 2 and have not seen them since. My best guess is that they know each other and are on some common adventure – bushwhacking to the top of a nearby mountain or down at the Dosewallips River proper (we’re a few hundred meters up a tributary). since they haven’t returned and since they seem to be on the same schedule, I’m wondering if they will return together and find that someone (me) has set camp in the common area between the sites. I’m going to keep reading out there to see if they return. Note: there are too many hours in the day here. I should have gone longer. Optimal solo hike distance? 15-17 miles [not so on subsequent days!]. I’ll have to do another activity, less I get too bored.

8/26 2000
Still no sign of one of them. The tarp guy is a massive [not very] guy with long white hair. OK, not that massive, gold guy. Still no one for the Big Agnes site.

Deception Creek
First night video [Intro was chopped off. I am showing my sites to the girls.]
Near Lost Pass, between first and second night
Upper Cameron Basin outflow

8/27/16 1430
5360 ft. Stephen is not here. Normally I go with him. When Steve is here, when we get to camp at 2 PM and there is a 7200 ft mountain a mile away, you can be sure that a summit will be attempted. I always go too, out of a faternal obligation to keep one’s little brother from an early grave [or at least see where the body ends up]. I am getting old. I don’t think I’ve ever felt it as acutely as I did while gaining 2000 ft of elevation between Dose Meadows and Cameron Pass. I had to stop to catch my breath every ten minutes. I was majorly sucking wind. Steve would have left me in the dust.
But Steve isn’t here. So, rather than clumb the extra mountain, I’m going to lay down and ready a book. He can keep himself alive without my help.

I did take some time to drop my pack and scout for sites here at Upper Cameron Basin. Walking around the glacier fed meadow, with nothing but a hat brought me back to my time at Belly River at Glacier NP, many years ago. There’s something extra wild about being packless, away from everything. There is no one else yet at the basin. I may be in my 2 mile bubble all night this time [it was probably a 3 mile bubble, and I was].

1844
There’s something familiar about this place. Imposing ridgeline shelters glaciers. Relatively flat meadow, sometimes with a lake, criss-crossed by frigid snowmelt. Rocks as large as schoolbuses where you cook. Water smells chalky, some distinct mineral, magnesium perhaps? Basin drains through cascading waterfall, you pump the water right near where it drains.
I first saw this place at Stoney Indian in Glacier and was overawed by the gradeur. Then again on our second night in the North Cascades. Then again at Heart Lake the first time I was in the Olympics. Here in the Upper Cameron Basin, I have the entire basin – who knows how much more with the nearest campsite 3 miles away as the crow files. But it’s still basically the same. Maybe that is why I enjoyed Big Bend so much last year – it was distinctive. Peaceful as it is here, I’m a bit bored and definitely dreading the 10 hours of waiting for dawn as I alternatively deprive my arms of oxygen trying to fitfully sleep while shivering in my tent.
And I miss my girls, all of them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and maybe I need that every so often.
BTW: today was 9 miles and 3000 feet. It took all of 6 hours –> 30 minutes per miles, 30 minutes per 1000 ft. Includes rest and lunch.

The meadow at Upper Cameron Basin [sideways]
My camp at Upper Cameron Basin
Grand Pass between night two and three

8/28/16 1422
Arrived at Grand Lake a little while ago and scramble to set camp in the rain. I say scrambled, but I’m not actually moving quickly. Nothing out here does. Even the flies are lazy.
I’ve been talking to myself more today, though I actually felt stronger on the trail today. That might be because I made two walking sticks to serve as trekking poles. It made a big difference climbing to Grand Pass. So, it’s raining and I’m basically killing time until 6 AM tomorrow when I can break camp and hoof it out of here. One downside of being stuck in one’s tent? One is confronted with one’s overwhelming stench. I haven’t really felt complelled to jump into the 53 degree lake or 45 degree river – to wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway without soap. I’ve been rinsing my shift, shorts, and briefs in bodies of water, and that helps some. But they don’t call it swamp ass for nothing and no amount of lipstick is making that pig smell pretty. Or something.

One noteworthy event! I had human interaction! So, 25 or so miles into my adventure, and I finally saw another soul on the trail. And wouldn’t you know it, it was a lost young couple in need of assistance, having only meager navigation skills and subpar maps!

No, no, I swear, I haven’t spent 3 hours starring at this map in the last three days! It was nice to help. I miss people, it turns out. You see, I’m a extrovert in a narrow range of social scenarios. First, I can’t compete for attention. I’m an introvert around dominant personalities. But when I’m the dominant personality, bam, let’s all talk and acknowledge my cleverness and wit. Want to hear about the time I lugged 50 lbs on my back for 4 days? I was all by myself! Picture a 2 mile circle!

Vanity, vanity. I should have a blog! I can control the discussion, framing it in ways to make my views unassailable. Or talk radio? Or maybe I’ll just dominate meetings at work!
All this self-reflecting, you know? But I already knew all these things, enlightened and self-aware as I am. I’m just bored and trapped in a tent with nothing to think about but how much I stink.
(Full circle! Get it? OK, I’ll stop.)

8/28 1556
I think it’s important to do things like go backpacking. It forces you to confront things that you take for granted in your daily life.

The acquisition of water. While I have two hundred viable water sources on this particular route, that wasn’t the case in Big Bend. In fact, we ran out of water on our first hiking trip in New Hampshire. I dreamt of faucets that night. Then there’s the provision of food. Calories and protein, but also fiber. Then you have to force yourselve to eat it. I, for instance, currently have a profound lack of “give a shit”. I mostly just want to sit and sate. But, I suspect this is due to too few calories and too many miles on too few hours of sleep. Low blood sugar. Low something. Whatever the case, this apathy is something I only get under this specific set of conditions. Then there’s shelter. You have to BYO shelter.
And warmth. Last night, I wore 4 shirts (aka, all of them), pants, two pairs of socks, a winter hat, gloves, a silk liner and a sleeping back largely because I neglected to bring my own bag and am borrowing my mother-in-laws’ and she’s not 6′ tall. Sleep. Hard to do on the ground. Hygiene? A losing battle. And there are 7000 ft mountains (they were 11000 feet in King’s Canyon and the Uintas). Maybe hoardes of mosquitoes. And wild animals! Everyone knows about mountain lions and bears (I have no idea why I have yet to see any!), but also goats and deer that will chew on your clothes for salt if you leave them out.

Goats don’t chew your clothes in normal life. Water comes from faucets. Beds have blankets and pillows. Houses have bathrooms and in them you can wash off your filth and dispose of your excrement.

Trust me, it’s good to do without every so often. You should totally try it sometime.
Grand Lake

Badger Valley
Badger Valley again [BTW, it’s possible to get to this place with a strenuous 7 mile day hike. Worth it.]
Deer Path to Obstruction Point, nearer to Obstruction Point
Maiden Peak

8/29/16 12:34
Today’s walk was a celebration. Broke camp early, on the trail by 7:25. Finished 10 miles and about 2000 feet in just under 5 hrs. Felt strong and cheerful. Badger Valley and the ridge were both beautiful. Waiting for extraction, eager to see the girls.

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