In the last several years, Old Ellicott City has been flooded several times. Last night was the worst – worse even than when we got 2 feet of rain in a month a few years back. Why, then, was this the most devastating flood in EC’s 150 years of record keeping?

First, a quick disclaimer. I’m a hobbyist, not a hydrologist. That said, I don’t think anything I say will be objectively incorrect – an over-simplification, perhaps, but it should be pretty near to the truth. The reason why EC flooded is specifically related to rain rates. Here’s some data from the NWS last night:

NOUS41 KLWX 311619 CCA

Public Information Statement
National Weather Service Baltimore MD/Washington DC
1216 PM EDT Sun Jul 31 2016

…Historic heavy rainfall Saturday in Ellicott City…

Extremely heavy rain fell Saturday evening in Ellicott City,
Maryland. Thanks to rain gauge data from Ellicott City, which is
provided by Howard County to the National Weather Service, we have
detailed information on how quickly the heavy rain fell.

The following table lists the rain that was recorded by this
gauge. Note that the gauge reports in increments of 0.04 inch:

1 minute ..0.20 from 7:51pm-7:52pm
5 minutes ..0.80 from 7:50pm-7:55pm
10 minutes..1.44 from 7:50pm-8:00pm
15 minutes..2.04 from 7:46pm-8:01pm
20 minutes..2.48 from 7:44pm-8:04pm
30 minutes..3.16 from 7:36pm-8:06pm
60 minutes..4.56 from 7:30pm-8:30pm
90 minutes..5.52 from 7:00pm-8:30pm
2 hours…..5.92 from 6:45pm-8:45pm

The storm total at Ellicott City was recorded as 6.50 inches.

The nearest point precipitation frequency estimates in NOAA Atlas
14 come from Woodstock, which is approximately five miles away.
Based on this data, the precipitation amounts with duration 10
minutes to 2 hours statistically have a less than one tenth of
one percent (less than 0.1 percent) chance of occurring in any
given year.

This data is preliminary and is subject to correction.

This, folks, is insane. 2 inches in 15 minutes is an 8 in/hr rate. That rivals some of the rainiest places in the entire world. Though it has been dry, it is simply impossible for the ground to absorb that kind of rainfall that quickly. Think of your house’s downspouts. They collect water from your entire roof in gutters. The gutters funnel all of the water into a 3 inch wide downspout. You may have a 1000 square foot section of roof collecting into a downspout whose area is less than 1 half a square foot. If the rain rate is sufficient, you’ll back up that downspout and the water will cascade over your gutter. It’s even worse if you have several gutters joining together, both because it provides even more water to your downspout and also because the turbulence of that confluence inhibits the ability for the water to make smooth forward progress to the egress.

Something very similar happens in Ellicott City.

Drainage basin in the immediate vicinity of Old Ellicott City.

Drainage basin in the immediate vicinity of Old Ellicott City.

Here, you have a few dozen square miles of hilly terrain seeing rain rates of upwards of 8 inches per hour. All of this is funneled into a steep walled channel; the Tiber River running along Main Street, Ellicott City. This “downspout” dumps into the Patapsco on the far right hand side of the map – from there it has a much wider and more mature track on its way to the Harbor. But the confluence of these several tributaries around Old Ellicott City leads to a turbulent choke point. They water can’t drain fast enough. It overflows the banks.

Why did this much rain happen? Well, now you get into murkier territory. First, dew points were in the 70s. That, simplistically, means that there was a ton of moisture in the air. Why was there a ton of moisture in the air? You can keep rolling it back from one cause to the next, from heat waves to wind directions to ocean temperatures and on and on.

The safest thing to say is that every so often things like this happen. They happen in a lot of places. We got 4 inches of rain in two hours 2 miles easy of Old EC, and it didn’t really bother anything here as our drainage patterns are different. Every so often, that heavy rain happens in the wrong place and something catastrophic occurs. What is noteworthy about this particular event is its locality. Yes, we’ve been aware for days that heavy rain was expected in the area. But no one can predict this outlier event. One particular place got very unlucky.

End of objective fact and onto disputed ground.

Many climate models predict that more heavy rainfall events are expected under global warming conditions. This is VERY tricky to pin down, particularly when focusing on one locality compared to another. Some places will dry out, others will get wetter. It is, however, pretty well predicted that we’ll see heavier max rainfall events (again simplistically) because warmer oceans and atmospheres can hold more water. Let’s say that, under the paradigm of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries (the lifetime of Old Ellicott City), you’d expect by random chance to see an event like this once every 200 years. The global warming models might now be suggesting that you’d see an event like this once every 100 years, or 50 years, or 20 years. It doesn’t mean that any one storm is “caused by global warming”. It means that the witches brew that can spawn an event like this over some random swath of land will be available more often. More dice rolls means more snake eyes.

This is all still very controversial. In fact, I’ll say another controversial thing: I don’t know that global warming is a net negative to the planet. We may, in 50 years, have a globe that is more verdant than previously if examined broadly. The problem is that we’ve built our infrastructure in the previous few centuries (or longer in other places) given a particular climate paradigm, and that paradigm is changing. Maybe Manitoba will be the world’s breadbasket in 50 years, to the great benefit of some…while Oklahoma will be absorbed into the desert. Sucks for Oklahoma, benefits someone.

How do we adapt to our brave new world? I said something similar when Katrina destroyed New Orleans. To rebuild a city situated below sea level in a area prone to massive hurricanes is irresponsible. But here we are. The Army Corp of Engineers did what they could to reduce the possibility of disaster, but it’s still likely in our lifetimes. Same goes for Ellicott City. They can, will, and probably should rebuild. But it’s going to happen again, unless the overall dynamics of the fluid flow through the area are fundamentally changed. How does one do that? You got me! Dams upstream? Dredge both the Tiber and Patapsco? Or, maybe you abandon the lower floors of buildings? Do you move the location of parking lots? Even the best case might turn a once in 20 years disaster into a once in 100 years disaster. Given enough time and real estate, it is impossible to prevent every scenario.

It’s a difficult question. Last night was not the passage of a massive tropical system. It was a random summer storm. It could happen again tomorrow or not for 60 years. It’s nearly impossible to have predicted this, even two hours before it happened. Evacuations, once we could tell it was going to be a huge problem, would have put more people in cars during the 20 minutes when the river rose 20 feet. In a way, it’s merciful that we had zero warning because a half an hour warning would have led to people trying to save possessions and instead getting caught in the torrent.

Regardless of the causes, the whole thing leaves me sick to my stomach. Maryland is a state full of transplants, like myself, yet Old Ellicott City is a historically anchored area, full of character, history, and life. I have relationships with antique people there, my favorite bar is there, I’ve been there in the depth of winter and the heat of summer. My rehearsal dinner was there. We just brought the girls to the train museum two months ago and were in the caboose when a train rumbled down the tracks. It was a great experience in a great place, and I know that place is hurting now. I’m personally pretty bummed out today because in some way that place is also part of me. I do know that we’re supposed to stay away for awhile as emergency crews and those trained in this sort of catastrophe do their work. But I won’t stay away forever. Old Ellicott City will be back and I’ll be back there soon enough. History is shaped by events like these; last night is now part of Old EC’s history.


Clock, now gone



The other week, my daughter told her babysitter that she didn’t want to play with kids who had different color skin than her at the playground. I found this to be more disturbing than I should. My three year old occasionally comes off as a genocidal maniac when she speaks her ridiculous little mind. I generally know better than to pay her much heed. But, given the state of race relations these last few years and especially last few weeks, I couldn’t help but ruminate on it.

We don’t talk to our daughter about race beyond what the Big Book of Why tells us about melanin. Until we moved 3 weeks ago, our neighborhood was very diverse; say 40% white, 20% black, 20% Hispanic, and 20% Indian/East Asian. We were at the playground constantly, and my daughter played well with all kids, without distinction. She would occasionally make references to the girl with the brown skin, but the category “black” meant nothing to her. In fact, she once called an Asian girl with jet black hair “the black girl” while we were also playing with a girl with dark skin. It is the quintessential “color blind” approach. I kept thinking to myself that maybe if she grows up in an environment like this, she’ll know nothing different and her world will be better than the current one.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t grow up in an environment where the default is an equal footing. In fact, I think it’s impossible to passively maintain an understanding of racial equality. Now, humankind in general and white America in particular have a history of malice and are subconsciously tainted by our culturally inherited prejudices…but even in absence of that, I think it’s still impossible. Children cannot ignore obvious discriminating criteria when making value judgments. Race is too obvious for them to be blind to it.

For instance, you go out on a hot driveway barefoot, and you say “that’s hot, I don’t want to do that anymore.” We always correlate based on limited data. In the case of driveways, it’s called common sense, but in the case of people, it’s called stereotyping. In previously mentioned playground incident, we suspect that she came across some rowdy kids who happened to be black, and generated a theory in her head: kids that look like that always act like this. She then tests that theory with all of her future encounters. She’s said very similar things about big kids and boys previously – she doesn’t want to play with the people that recently made her uncomfortable.

The problem, in my mind, is because of confirmation bias. This is a statistically fallacy that we are all guilty of, and one that, I believe, is further strengthened by our deep seated cultural prejudices. Confirmation bias is the idea that you will make a theory, use all supporting data to support your theory, and ignore all opposing data. For instance, I’ve always thought that cops are more likely to pull over black people and pretty women on the highway. Now, some data would say that this profiling is probably statistically supported (at least the black people part), but that’s besides the point. I find myself seeing a car on the side of the road, making an internal bet (“I bet it’s a black person or pretty woman!”), and then giving myself a high five when it’s true. But when it’s false I don’t say “huh, what a crummy theory.” I instead forget that datapoint and wait for my next high five. Confirmation biases always support your own dumb theories, whether justified or not.

Certain characteristics are obvious and easy to associate. Gender, skin color, weight, height, hair color, and so on. We cannot help but draw correlations between these characteristics and behaviors. Once we make these stereotypes, we cannot help but amplify them with our confirmation biases. In order to avoid developing prejudices from these initially harmless daily observations, we must actively evaluate our thoughts. A three year old isn’t particularly introspective. In those cases, we adults have to help them avoid developing bad attitudes, in the same way that we force them to say please or thank you.

A few voices that I respect recently pointed out that the “colorblind” approach is not doing anyone any good. It’s for the same reason that the “all lives matter” rejoinder to the current discussion is useless. We’re not starting from a place where we are prone to respect everyone equally. To be blind is to ignore reality and to leave it unchanged. We certainly aren’t blind by nature. Look at human history – when have we not enslaved, degraded, and persecuted? To combat these trends, it takes an active approach in opposition to our nature.

I have been thinking about how I could handle it if my daughter popped the “I only want to play with kids with the same color skin as me” statement in my presence. One response is “you’ve played with plenty of people who are different than you, don’t be ridiculous.” But that doesn’t correct anything. Maybe a better one is “people are sometimes mean to other people because they are different than them. You’re not allowed to be. Everybody’s different and you can’t decide who you don’t want to play with until you get to know them. Now get out there and say hello or we’re going home.” She doesn’t get juice if she doesn’t say please, she doesn’t get the playground if she disqualifies friends because of how they look. And as adults, we need to do the same thing, either via deep introspection or by talking to someone who has a perspective that can shed lights on where we fall short. There’s no quick fix here, and we might only be able to identify and address a percentage of our own shortcomings. But we can at least help our kids develop less of them than we did.

No Shirt and Gloves

When I used to run constantly, I had my clothing program down to a science. It was based almost entirely on the temperature at the start of the run, which I found to be the most important factor, over precip, humidity, etc. I’d be no shirt down to 62-63 degrees. Short sleeves and gloves below 57-58. Long sleeve below 49-50. Something under my shorts starting at 37-38. Pants/tights around 22-23. But while temperature drove the decisions, the other factors did play a role. I was constantly in search of a very specific scenario…the rarely encountered no shirt and gloves day.

And I think I just ran in it tonight.

The no shirt and gloves day would occur in that narrow window between gloves and no shirt, say 59-60 degrees. It has to be very humid, so humid that your body retains heat due to having problems effectively sweating. But cold enough that my hands, poor circulation and all, got raw. Typically, you’d want the run to be at moderate intensity to generate more heat. Tonight was 59 degrees, calm, humid, just barely starting to drizzle. As for intensity, everything’s a harder effort to me since my resting heart rate is like 15 beats per minute higher than it was 10 years ago. This might have been my chance. But alas, I’m not the runner I used to be. Back in the day, I’d run through Centennial Park without a shirt on a double after work when it was 63 degrees and windy. People would be wearing fall jackets and hoodies. Kids would yell at me. Parents would be confused or disgusted. I didn’t care. When you’re fast, none of that noise matters. I did exactly what served me most optimally and could care less what they thought.

These days are different. I am not in nearly the physical shape I was 10 years ago. I’m pale white (these boundary cases often happened in the fall when I was tanned from hundreds of summer miles), simultaneously less skinny but also less muscular. More importantly, I’m trudging along at 7:30 pace rather than clipping through at 6:20 pace. These days, even in the heat of summer I feel like a creepy hobby jogger when I slog through the neighborhood in my doughy old age.

I have a vague recollection of encountering these conditions several years before, toward the end of my vain efforts to prolong my running career. I’m pretty sure I pulled the trigger on it, coming home red chested, but with a well wiped nose. I’m not sure though. I do know that there was one year where I was able to run without a shirt (at lunch, from work no less – it’s hard to imagine running around the work parking lots without a shirt now…geez) for 12 straight months. It was a Tiger Slam situation – not in the same calendar year, but Feb to Jan or something. I was very proud of it at the time.

Runners are typically nudists, as are backpackers, so I pretty much have it covered from both sides. Anyway, I’ll let you know if I ever find myself in this situation again and take the plunge.

Hillary Cheney

Many people despise Hilary Clinton. She is the ultimate opportunist, backroom oligarch. She has done things that would get other people fired, and is so far undisciplined. She may even end up president, despite all this.

In other words, she’s a liberal Dick Cheney. Recall, half of the population loathes Dick Cheney for equal and opposite reasons. He’s a shrewd operator who tests the bounds of legality to accomplish his goals. While Clinton is a woman who threatens the conservative mindset, Cheney is an old white man who personifies it.

I dislike both of them. I don’t like that they represent an America whose leaders are chosen from a privileged minority of power brokers. But I don’t really hate either. They are products of their environment, bred to fulfill a role in a system that requires such polarization. Maybe we can find some camaraderie in the fact that 80% of us loathe someone for similar reasons.


Let’s say that a third of Americans are Republicans, a third Democrats, and a third somewhere in the middle (with me). Right now, something like a third of Republicans are all about Donald Trump, which is noteworthy because he’s an insane neo-fascist megalomaniac. That’s about 1/9th of the population. I routinely cull my Facebook friends, but currently have about 250. Statistically speaking, I should have about 30 Trump supporting friends. They should be super excited since no one like him has ever attempted to run for president, and they should be overflowing my feed with calls to bomb Aladdin’s hometown or exterminate religious minorities. But they’re not. Silence. Since I stay fairly close to the center, I have a lot of conservative facebook friends who consider me a militant liberal since I’m the most liberal person in their circle and a lot of liberal facebook friends who think I’m the second coming of Newt Gingrich because they can tolerate no further right perspective than mine.

And therein lies your explanation. Most people are entirely stovepiped. I’d love to see an infographic from Facebook showing the interconnectedness of people politically. Let’s say that we all just told everyone who we wanted to vote for right now. Then, let’s draw different colored lines from you to all your supporters. I’d have 100 Hilary people, 25 Sanders people, 50 Rubio people, a dozen Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Fiorina, and than like four Cruz and Carson and two closeted Trumps. But there are A LOT of Cruz and Trump supporters. They might have 80% of their friends split between Cruz/Trump (natural bed fellows), with their feeds all about making America Great again, like when we had slavery and so on.

That we are polarized as a country and planet is not a novel observation. I just want someone to render it in a graphic. We cluster ourselves into these narrow silos of like thought. It’s no wonder we hate everything else. We can’t possibly understand it. We drink our own bathwater, almost exclusively. We only hear the strawman version of other people’s views. Everyone on our feed bashes Obama, so we think that everyone must think he’s awful, regardless of what the economy says. There are people out there that think Trump is preaching the Gospel, and all of their friends confirm this assessment. No one reminds them that we all kind of felt bad about interning the Japanese in WWII, because all the people that would have that perspective are having apoplectic seizures about how horrible Cruz and Trump are to each other. No one is convinced. No one is educated. No one sees the other side. No one even looks.

This graphic would show a world divided, two ships, at full sail, passing in the night.

On Santa’s Origins

As it is Christmas season, you may be wondering, “Daddy, who is Santa and why does he bring people presents on Jesus’ birthday?” This is a good question. Recall, on your birthday, people bring YOU presents – it’s not like the Easter Bunny delivers candies to the elderly when it’s your birthday. So why does Santa do it at Jesus’ birthday? Is Jesus OK with it? Is Santa Jesus?

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Santa Claus is not Jesus Christ. They have some similarities though, and Santa knows Jesus. Both of them were born, both of them died, and both of them live on in the hearts of men, women, boys and girls. While Jesus rose from the dead and is still alive the same way he has always been alive, Santa lives in a different way.

Santa Claus is the new name for a man named Saint Nicholas, who lived in Turkey (the country, not the sandwich) a very long time ago, back when Turkey was part of the Roman Empire. He loved God and loved Jesus, and felt that giving people secret presents was a good way to show others that love. Jesus thought that this was a nice idea; after all, Jesus gives gifts to people that have done nothing to deserve them too. While Jesus’ gift is the biggest gift of all, eternal life, Santa gives littler gifts, gifts that you can hold and play with, or wear and play in. Jesus loves illustrations and parables. Santa is like a large, jolly parable in a red suit, giving gifts to the nice boys and girls, despite the fact that all are naughty and fall short of the high standards of true nice. Santa is like grace, if only grace rode a sleigh and ate far too many cookies.

So, how does it all work? Well, when St. Nick (that’s what his friends call him) died, he went to the heavenly registrar’s office and was given a few options for the jobs that he could fill in Heaven: gardener, roofer, lumberjack, poet. They were great jobs, but what he REALLY wanted to do, was to keep giving presents to boys and girls. He thought to himself, “When I was an imperfect man, I could give presents to a hundred children in my town. Now that I’m reborn with a perfected body, I should be able to give presents to all the children in the whole wide world!” As I mentioned before, Jesus thought this was a good idea. St. Nick was so happy to hear this that he decided to celebrate the yearly event on Jesus’ birthday.

There was a problem though: the people still living on Earth didn’t know when Jesus’ birthday was. You might think, “Come on, they didn’t know the most important person ever to live’s birthday??” Yup. They didn’t know it. Remember, Jesus wasn’t famous for almost 30 years after he was born. He was born in a manger, for crying out loud. His parents knew days and weeks and months based on the Jewish calendar, and most people on Earth were using a whole different calendar by this time. Everyone forgot, like when you don’t play with a toy for a month and it stays stuck behind the couch until you move.

Finally, someone decided to re-use a holiday called Saturnalia as Jesus’ birthday. This sent shivers down St. Nick’s spine. Saturnalia was at the end of December. Almost all the people in the world, particularly at that time, lived north of the equator. You see, in December, it is winter in the northern hemisphere. This is because of the way the earth is tilted with respect to its orbit around the Sun.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is St. Nick was going to get cold when he delivered all those presents. Very cold. So cold that he decided that there was no way he could do it unless he lived someplace that was cold all year round so that he could get used to the chill. This was actually convenient, as Jesus thought it was prudent for Santa to stay away from people during the rest of the year. Jesus knows people, you see. People will steal, they’ll pillage, they’ll do all manner of sinful things. It was best for St. Nick to keep out of sight. The North Pole was just the place.

There was another condition on his new employment. He still had relatives on earth. He didn’t want his friends and family to know that he was doing the presents, so he had to come up with a new name. He decided on Santa Claus, because his first elves all came from a place that would eventually become Holland. They had strange accents, and used to mess up his real name all the time. He finally just started calling himself what they were calling him by mistake. It stuck.

So, by a few dozen years after he started, Santa Claus was all set up on the North Pole. He had elves to make toys – mostly swords and baby dolls at first, but eventually everything up to micro-electronics. The big companies, you see, waive their patents for Santa, since it is fantastic marketing to have one of your products seen in a sleigh. He had some major logistical challenges when getting started as well. Back then, there were no airplanes, no trains, no cars, and barely even any roads. Horses found the North Pole to be far too cold. He thought about riding polar bears, but they would get too hot in certain parts of the world, and they occasionally eat children, which is particularly inappropriate during the Christmas season. Really, the only option was reindeer driven sleighs. He requested an allocation of supersonic magic dust which was delivered within two business days by an armored vehicle. He was all ready to go, but no one knew that he was coming.

He started it out as a secret, then, dropping a toy here, a book there, some sweets in a shoe (that’s what people called candy in the old days), tasty meat and so on. People were confused, but grateful. Soon, they started to realize that all of this stuff was showing up on the same day, December 25th, Jesus’ birthday. Even more confused, they set up guards to watch. Nobody could see Santa though, at least not anyone who was too tall to ride the rides at the amusement park. Only kids could see him at first, because believing is seeing.

People sometimes say that seeing is believing. But this is all backwards, especially when it comes to Santa Claus. In order to see him, you have to know that he’s there, and look based on that assumption. Me, I saw him a lot of times when I was a kid. I saw his sleigh in the sky when we were driving home from Grandma’s house some years. I heard him on the roof. Once, he even knocked over something in my room in the middle of the night! See, Santa, though quick, is not very graceful. It’s all those sweets (candy), and the fact that he only gets one really good workout a year, on Christmas Eve.

Anyway, since I saw him when I was a kid, I can still see him. In fact, your mother and I interviewed with one of his elves, Henry, right before you were born. It’s standard procedure for Santa to consult with parents before a baby’s first Christmas. Even though Santa’s a nice guy, he’s only around one day out of the year. Some large elves make believe they’re Santa in malls and such, something which Santa is fine with: this is also great marketing. Your parents are around all the time, so we make the rules and Santa is completely fine with that. In fact, he uses our rules when determining whether you’re naughty or nice. So, you better be good for goodness sake. And good is defined by this guy, right here, Little Pea. Don’t you forget that!

We told Santa to only bring you one or two presents each year. I know, I know – but think about it little baby. You have all you need already, right? We have a little house! A bunch of presents wouldn’t fit! So, when Jesus’ birthday comes around, you get a couple presents from Mom and Dad, and a couple from Santa Claus. Occasionally, an elf or a reindeer, or even Mrs. Claus (they met in Iceland when he was on his way to the North Pole – it’s a whole different story) will send you a little present.

One thing is very important to remember. Some kids get a lot of presents from Santa, and it’s a good thing because if they didn’t, the economy would collapse. Some get very few, and we set aside some of your presents to help bring holiday cheer to those less fortunate every year. For you, you must understand that you can be happy with what you’ve got; a little or a lot. Stuff isn’t what makes you happy, and presents aren’t what makes Christmas special. It is the bigger things like family and love, friends and fellowship, mystery and holiness, and most of all Jesus that make Christmas special.

One last thing…not everyone believes in Santa Claus. Some folks can’t even see him when he’s right in front of them, dancing a jig. They think it’s silly (though they don’t complain about the presents) and there are even some people who think that you shouldn’t believe in Santa either. It’s possible to live your life without believing in anything, or believing certain things so much that there’s no space for other things. Maybe one day your relationship with Santa will become a bit more complicated than it is now, and maybe you’ll start to see him a different way, but just remember: there’s mystery, magic, and miracle in this world. Whether it’s Santa and elves or not, doesn’t much matter. There’s more to life than what you can see with your eyes and hear with your ears. Believing is what makes life worth living.

So, Abigail, this year on Christmas Eve, keep your eyes on the sky. Listen for bells. Look for a jolly man in a red suit. It’s possible you’ll catch a glimpse, or even a smile and a wink if you’re lucky. Enjoy these simple, happy times. You’re only young once, and sometimes, it’s harder for old people to believe the way that you can. When you meet such people, give them a wink and a smile. Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll see Santa Claus too someday.

I’m not the first person to have had this thought. And this chain of events certainly won’t play out; I am, like everyone, apathetic and defeated when it comes to politics. But it would be interesting if it did.

Maybe one day I go to a democratic debate and tell them I’m going to ask a question about, I dunno, how to reform the health care system while still hanging on to the beneficial parts. A layup, they’re all excited to answer it. But instead, when I get the mike, I say, “There are 300 million people in this country, yet we get our leaders from two prominent families. Is there something wrong with our system, or are you really just better than the rest of us?” Hilary Clinton, who has heard this before, will brush it off, saying that she’s not her husband’s shadow and can stand on her own record. The other candidates will cower from it, since they know that Hilary will represent the party and they don’t want to step out of line. The most republicans won’t even touch it, lest they be blatant(er) hypocrites when the next Bush sibling wins their primary.

But maybe the press would give me my bully pulpit for a few days as a reward for my audacity. They’d say “Why do you think that we keep selecting candidates from the Bush/Clinton clan?” and they’d ask me if this is a bad thing.

Winning a presidential election requires two things: money and notoriety. Enough of the latter, and you’ll receive the former (ala Obama, circa 2008). The Clintons and the Bushes have both, in spades. Why does money matter so much? Because campaign finance is hopelessly broken. And why can only a select few achieve the required level of notoriety? Because the voting districts are so hopelessly gerrymandered that the party selects candidates that it knows can’t lose and breeds them to promulgate their political endgame.

Is it a bad thing that only rich and influential people are qualified to govern our country? Only indirectly. A lot of rich people are rich for a reason. They’re smarter, work harder, are savvier, are trickier, are more brutal. These are good qualities to have in a leader. There’s a reason why us listless youths aren’t in charge; we’re not particularly good at focusing on big picture plans. I’m fine with our leaders coming from a narrow aristocracy; say the top 0.5%. It’s how the founding father’s envisioned it, after all. If we pay enough lip service to the fact that we’re still a meritocracy, we’ll be OK despite this. That top 0.5% probably includes within it half of the qualified folks, and that’s a big enough sample size to have some choice. But when we elect on notoriety and money exclusively, we end up with bumbling Bushes election after election.

Surely we can do better than to select candidates from one family or another. Hilary Clinton, I’m sure she’s great. She’s nothing like her husband, none of the smooth charm, so she must have something else keeping her afloat. And Jeb Bush doesn’t seem quite as dunderheaded has his likable brother. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t elect them if for no other reason than the principle of the thing. That doesn’t mean we won’t; if you gave me even odds that either Jeb or Hilary would win, I’d take that bet in a heartbeat. But we shouldn’t. Chelsea’s not old enough to continue it after 8 years, so I feel like we’ll probably want to break that habit at some point. The Bush girls never really seemed serious enough to inherit the kingdom either.

The Second Law

Last Sunday, a lady at a ministry table at church gave Abby a red helium balloon. We attached a 7 foot long string to it, and Abby carried it around all afternoon, bouncing it off the ceiling like she was dribbling a basketball in zero gravity. She loved it.

But rubber balloons aren’t particularly good at keeping the inside in and the outside out. The helium slowly leeched out overnight. By morning, the balloon only had enough buoyancy to float a foot or two of the yarn. It hovered pitifully above the floor.

Abby was excited to see the balloon again when she woke up, but quickly became concerned. “Ut-oh…Up in the air! Up in the air” she encouraged, as she tried desperately to loft the balloon.


Alas, entropy


You want your daughter to be happy, you want things to always be perfect for her. You hate seeing disappointment. It was such a wonderful balloon, so different than those things bound to the earth by the pull of gravity. But now it’s broken. And it’s not the only thing. Life will be filled with expectations that fall short, promises that are broken, opportunities that evaporate, and dreams that are shattered. As much as I’d like to run out to the store and buy another helium balloon, I know that the next one will deflate too. Best get used to it, little girl. In the meantime, I’ll pray that balloons are the most of your problems, because this world can be a whole lot worse than that.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about weight and buoyancy, but I decided that wasn’t depressing enough to write about.


They have backed away from the assertion that the course was changed prior to the last communication. It was an accident. I still like meteor.

I find it unlikely that all of the key “evidence” in the MH370 case is accurate. Synthesizing the disparate evidence into a coherent story is difficult.

Here’s an attempt:
Co-Pilot shows up to work drunk…or maybe he tries to invite another lady to the cockpit, as he has in the past. A consummate professional, the Pilot is enraged…tells him he’s going to report him, tells him he’s a waste, tells him he’ll never fly again. Co-pilot, who is engaged to a daughter of a pilot, goes blind with fear and rage, stabs pilot in the throat with a pen. Self-righteous prick, I’ll show you.

In the next few minutes he regroups. Now he’s facing a murder charge…uhh…well…can’t go to China…turns off the transponder, changes course, calmly says good night as he’s already thinking about what to do. Slowly realizes he’s screwed no matter what. Locks the door to the cockpit. Flies as high as the plane will go, what the hell, always wanted to do that. Turns left, turns right…now he’s just flying, randomly. Gets out over the Indian Ocean. Turns south. Says to himself, “I wonder what happens if I just let the autopilot fly this thing indefinitely?” Wonders if they’d ever find him; at least no one will ever know what I’ve done.

Crew and passengers can’t breach the door. No cell coverage in the middle of the Indian Ocean. He runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere, no shipping lanes, equidistant to the satellite for ping purposes, has fulfilled all radar constraints, has the co-pilot saying goodnight calmly after already changing course. He fulfills a bizarre, non-premeditated but skillfully executed death wish.

I have another one too, which involves a meteor. But it doesn’t fit the “already programmed the turn before saying goodnight” scenario, which basically eliminates natural causes. My top-4 least trusted pieces of information that have the most important impact on the theories of what happened:
1) The course change happened prior to the goodnight. This effectively eliminates mechanical failure and points toward premeditation. Yet, how do you explain both pilots going along with it without any communication between them? They were randomly paired. One of them has to have done it alone, and the co-pilot is the one that said good night after the supposed course change. This is key if true. I’m unconvinced.
2) Radar data showing the altitude. I once saw a radar signature going like 10,000 miles an hour. Radar’s flaky, especially at long ranges when the tracker has to make assumptions based on low SNR data with huge error bars…especially whatever the Malaysians are running. I wouldn’t put too much stock in that.
3) Ping data leading to those concentric arcs. I question the synchronicity of the satellite. They’re using it for location but that’s not what that satellite is for. Are you sure it sent out the request exactly when it said it did? Sure, GPS can, but is this satellite built with that in mind? If we can throw out #1, then we really want to throw out #3 too. I think that mechanical or natural causes is more likely psychologically (and from a “what the heck is the point” perspective), but complex maneuvers out over the Indian Ocean or subcontinent don’t really make sense if it’s mechanical. I would favor a “ghost ship” scenario – something terrible happened. Rapid decompression or fire…everyone died…plane flew on for hours in whatever direction it was pointed after a brief and ill-fated attempt at recovery.
4) The Co-Pilot is the one that said good night. If we find out the pilot had the simulator set to do weird things like the plane did, the the suspicion falls on the pilot. I have a hard time visualizing two unrelated people being complicit in this scheme; ergo, the pilot incapacitated the co-pilot and said goodnight calmly.

Anyway, I remain enthralled. My meteor theory remains my favorite, but it’s really out there.

Outtakes with no Non-Outtakes

Abby begs for my phone. She doesn’t know how to make the screen illuminate, it’s a crummy phone due to be upgraded, and it’s in a protective sleeve: there’s not much she can do that will hurt it, so, why not, I give it to her. Almost every single time I do this, she begins to “talk” into it. Now, Abby doesn’t know words. Not unless you count “a-pfff” for Winnie the Pooh, “hhhh” for water, and “ih” for would you take this from my hand or give it back to me please? at least. Most time she gets my phone however, it’s a steady combination of “ap. ooh. Uhhhhhh. Ap oop ap ahh…uhhhhh….” This is strange because Jen and I rarely use the phone. For instance, I spoke on the phone for 27 total minutes this week, of which I think that Abby was in bed for 17 of them. I’m not sure why she knows how to use the phone.

Anyway, this evening after she talked on the phone for several minutes, I decided I needed to document it. She refused to comply. But it’s still a good slice of what her life is like – this the last 10 minutes of her day prior to bath and bed.

Not talking on the phone properly 1
Not talking on the phone properly 2
Not talking on the phone properly 3
Not talking on the phone properly 4

And finally…
Walking up the stairs


“I have just returned from a party of which I was the life and soul; wit poured from my lips, everyone laughed and admired me – but I went away – and the dash should be as long as the earth’s orbit———and wanted to shoot myself.”

It’s been too long since I last read Kierkegaard.

In Media Res

I haven’t written anything in several months, and then this. I acknowledge up front that this is going to be a little, uhh, outlandish, obscure, and, for most, mind numbingly stupid or incoherent. But, here it goes.

About 12 years ago, I tried to believe in a Young Earth creation scheme. I worked at it for at least half a year. I read a few books. I was a physics major at the time. I found the books to be insulting. They were written by people who were scientists in fields other than physics or cosmology or geology, folks who could leverage an impressive sounding title into sales while they dabbled in fields that were clearly not their day jobs. Not that I was the bees knees in theoretical physics – but it’s pretty easy to spot a charlatan. But I admired them for trying. They felt strongly obliged to believe that the Universe and all is in it was created 6,000 years ago and worked hard to justify that belief using some semblance of science. Having hit a few dead ends in that foray, I decided that the only way that one could believe in Young Earth creationism was to believe that God made a young Universe to look old – very much older than 6,000 years (let’s just call it 13.8 billion years, plus or minus a couple hundred million). He made galaxies way far away, all hurling away from each other for some reason or another. He made light en route, a trillion raised to the quintillion photons made in a flash, all looking as though they came from somewhere else, but, apparently, didn’t. They just were. It would be an incredible deceit, one that doesn’t seem very much in God’s character.

For a few solid years after I just ignored the problem. Then I started to ignore that I was ignoring it. Next, I started getting into real science and history a little bit again; after that decided, you know what, enough of this. And now I’m back on the path of regular science. I still have seen only two ways for someone to believe in Young Earth creationism without holding tremendous contradictions in their mind: 1) To believe that God created the Universe in media res, or 2) To be completely ignorant of science and to distrust all who grapple with scientific inquiry hence avoiding the problem of dealing with their ideas (ps, there’s no global warming).

Recently, this came up again, this time at Bible study with some really bright people who are legitimately struggling with how to synthesize the Bible with what they see in reality. When I moved away from everything looking like Young Earth creationism, I didn’t flush the Bible down the toilet as gobbledygook, mind you. While my goal here is not to explain what I actually believe, in brief, I see the creation account as being a true framework for the concepts under girding the generation of the Universe while not meant to describe the blow by blow with anything resembling scientific rigor. Much of Genesis falls into that category for me. Just as the incarnate Jesus didn’t know how to build a laser, the human authors of the Bible weren’t aware of string theory. Putting that aside, I spent the last few days trying to come up with something anyway. I was looking for a 3rd option to the Young Earth creation account; one that was a bit less implausible, one that could not have holes punched in it quite so easily, and one that didn’t ignore the Universe as we see it currently. It involves a bit of slight of hand, a bit of technicality, but I think it fits the bill.

So, what about this…

We know that the Universe is not the first thing to exist. God existed beforehand (and that’s a necessary assumption for this worldview, so you must grant me it or obviously we’re not having this discussion). Not only did God exist beforehand, but SOMETHING else did too. Angels were, prior to the creation of the world, cast from heaven to hell. So, God, angels (many of them), at least two locations. What housed this? Some spirit world, but where does that occupy with no Universe, no space, no time? Eh. Who knows. Unimportant, just know that when the Bible says “in the beginning”, it doesn’t mean “in the beginning of everything.” It just means “in the beginning of this thing, this reality in which the reader is currently living.”

What if God made many many Universes from his other-world beyond the beginning and the end of the horizon? What if he made trillions of them, boiling and bubbling, exploding and collapsing, coalescing and dissolving. There was a flash, there was heat, eventually light, then gas, then swirly collections of it. On fusion, on gravity, on nova and star dust. Ho planets and comets and asteroids and satellites. As these trillions of Universes writhed and convulsed, each every so slightly different from the other, God selected one and said, “this is the one in which I’m going to reveal my glory.”

From here, this basis, our (“the”) Universe was copy and pasted into existence. First the void, the fabric. Next the light; already en route because it was already made, just not “made”, not “real” because it was elsewhere not “here”. Then a planet, then oceans, then land, a story repeated quadrillions of times, a massive merger from an existing place into a newly created realm. Plants, here, maybe everywhere. Animals, here at least, why not everywhere else? Lastly man, he too already in progress, copied en masse with a pre-history all his own.

It’s hard to contradict such a theory. After all, this new Universe looks just like an old one. It basically IS the old one, though it isn’t. I don’t know how it all works, dimensions and whatever; the question of what exists before the Universe is part incomprehensible (as in, it’s not a valid question) but mostly metaphysics. There are problems with my idea, for instance, at what point does man become MAN? Where do Adam and Eve fit in? I’ve always liked them as the first spiritual man, the first man in God’s own image, in the image of his Son. There were men since who were not bearers of Christ’s image, why not also men before? It’s a bit herky-jerky I know, but no worse than Adam and Eve’s children moving into cities made up of who exactly?

Anyway, that’s what I came up with. If I die and learn that the Universe is 6,000 years old, maybe this is the general mechanism. At least this way, I wouldn’t have to ask, “but yeah, why does it LOOK so old,” because this at least builds in an explanation for that. Or maybe it’s 6,000 years old and the shells in the mountains are from the flood and anything else is a sort of demonic conspiracy. Consider me duped.

Devil’s Path, NY

This Saturday, Stephen and I did the 24.8 mile, 18,000 vertical foot (9,000 up, 9,000 down) Devil’s Path in the Catskills. My quads continue to scream two days later. The hike climbs 6 mountains (summiting 5 of them), dipping at least 1200 feet down between each peak. It’s a constant up and down, up and down, all of it on loose, steep, rocky and occasionally slick terrain. I’ve got the High Sierra, Glacier, North Cascades, the Uintas, and a few other spare day hikes to compare it to – it’s the most difficult terrain and probably the most difficult hike that I’ve done.

We started at 0700 at the Prediger Trailhead and finished around 1815 on Spruceton Rd, stopping for an hour or so total in between. The 25 mile day hike is a challenge that is not to be taken lightly. By our lunch date with my family at Devil’s Tombstone Campground off 214 (around 1230 and 14 miles in), my quads were already quivering under the eccentric loading. I was having a hard time visualizing how I’d possibly handle that pounding under a 40 lb pack (a nice example of the terrain). You do not, of course, do it all in one day in that case.

The views were pretty sweet for what they were, though they don’t stack up against the views out west. The hike was perfectly pleasant until it transitioned from “oh, how nice, nature!” to the long, painful slog toward the finishing goal. That was the point of it, so it remains pleasant as I struggle up and down stairs even today. The terrain was definitely interesting, and I enjoyed the uphills. These were on the very edge of what you need switchbacks for – most parks out west would take hills as steep as these tangentially and with switches. Here, probably due to the denseness of vegetation and desire to avoid having to maintain a longer route than minimally necessary, the trail plowed straight up the hill. Down was, unfortunately, just as steep, with loose rocks and crevasses requiring full concentration for huge stretches at a time.

Other than very nearly smashing my camera when I slipped on a wet rock a few miles in (I’m very impressed that it wasn’t destroyed, I really smashed that thing), there weren’t too many noteworthy occurrences. We saw a few small snakes in a tree. We saw a guy with no shirt in a transparent poncho, despite the beautiful weather. Actually, there were TONS of hikers out – we probably saw 50+ folks on the trail, though most doing shorter loops. Apparently a girl that started before us also finished the full trip before us (we never saw her). I can’t visualize covering the distance much faster than we did. We ran sporadically in the very occasional flat portions (maybe 2-3 total miles, and probably no faster than 9:00 mile pace because the terrain was still treacherous), we made very good time up the hills…I was a liability going down the hills, which was never my strength, even in running cross country.

No backpacking this year, given the baby. This was good enough to evoke sufficient physical misery to sustain me for a bit. That’s really all I need.


In soft regions are born soft men.


Stephen ran a workout on Goshen’s track today. It’s 47 degrees, spitting drizzle and with a 20 mph headwind that follows you around the track, like running through 8 inches of water. It’s a feeling I know well.

In NY in the spring, if the wind isn’t in your face, it’s not because there’s no wind. Just turn left, and it’ll slap you, affronting any forward motion, insulted by your efforts to oppose it. I was jogging around in lane 4, hobbled by 25,000 miles worth of tendon degradation. It was many years ago now, 19 perhaps, when I first started running track workouts on Goshen’s track. 4×800. 5×800. 2:47. 2:44. 2:41. It was 7th grade and I was running 800 meter repeats on muggy spring evenings, the sun setting, twilight closing in, but my running life just then dawning. I’ve always loved track workouts. I can attack anything 3 minutes at a time.

Stephen’s workout today was fairly easy – nothing I couldn’t have done in my sophomore through senior years in college, even with the headwind. 5×400 in 65 with a minute and a half recovery. A split 1000 – 500, 300, 200 with 60 seconds rest between. He handled it gracefully and on perfect pace. It was a tune up, but Goshen’s track never lets you off the hook. The wind is somehow captured by the trees and hills, as it swirls in your face on the homestretch and both curves, then dies when it’s at your back.

In 8th grade, it was the 800 meter record I was after – owned by Brett Walker, 2:13. I came up a half a second short, blaming the smoke in my eyes from the starter’s pistol. In 9th grade, an epic dual with Manuel Thomas from Washingtonville. 4:39 was it? I was hobbled then by a hamstring problem – the beginning of 9 months worth of hamstring problems that left me waking in cold sweats as a dreamed of clawing my way around the track, digging my hands into the rubber trying to gallop, dragging my leg behind. Never fast enough, never fast enough, never fast enough. I still have the dream at least once a year, clawing, clawing, losing, failing.

Today I jogged in lane 4, with the clouds swirling, the leaves flailing, confused by the 47 degree highs during late May. But New York is not a place where you take your nice days for granted. The leaves said to themselves, “next Tuesday then, spring comes next Tuesday, for good this time”, only to see temperatures dip back into the 40s again – “fine, surely by mid-June, surely.”

In 10th grade, in the middle of track season, a warm day in late April, Coach Conklin tells us we’re doing 200s, at race pace. A reasonable idea. “Which race?” we ask – because this is an important piece of information. “The 200, of course!” he answers to our amusement. That’s not really how it’s supposed to work. But Brett Walker and I were very competitive, and you could never count out JB in a speed workout, and the St’s weren’t about to be exposed as slow distance runners. I remember Jeff Smith bringing it that day too. We hammered the first two in 25point. Walker, always one to fling his feet at your shins with his back-kick, clipped my hand with his foot on the second one, nearly falling. He was out of whack for two weeks. We slogged through the last 3 200s, out legs burning. 26, 27, 27 – in tatters. We can barely do the warm down and the whole team is in the tank for a week. This is why you don’t run 200s at 200 race pace.

Steve rams a 500 in 71 down the wind’s throat, coming through the 400 in a perfectly smooth 57. I pick up the pace in lane 4, giving him something to run at, in theory, but in practice just annoying him and fulfilling a never-dying urge to run fast despite screaming tendons.

In 11th grade, Cornwall comes for a dual meet in April. Kory Klowe and I lock horns in an 800 – I eek past for the win in 1:58.2, my fastest time of the season. I beat everyone that first time, but Klowe later gets into my head and takes the state meet spot come June. My house floods. I sit on the tires at the elementary school in the pouring rain and weep having lost my chance my house no place to hide from my failure. But after the 800 on that day with Cornwall, there was a 4×400. I was the anchor. I am one of the only people who negative splits 400s. I always approached it the same; I learned from my father in 7th grade. 100 as fast as you can. Ease into a fast rhythm for the next 100-150. Then pour everything you have into the finish. It’s Klowe again on the anchor. Arthur Ahr, a long-time Goshen track supporter who is thrilled to see a competitive team, is standing with 190 to go. No one else is there. I’m right on Klowe’s shoulder. “BLOW HIS DOORS OFF” he bellows. My pleasure, I think, as he fades, flushed off the back. I should have never given him my spot in that state meet.

I pick up the pace today as Steve his about to start his final 200. I’m still in lane 4, but I have a 25 meter headstart. Slowly at first, then faster, I’m on my toes, in a dead sprint as Steve marches me down on my inside. The curve ends and I hold him even for about 70 yards, my left achilles treatening to sever and my lungs tasting the iron of my own blood. “I looked up at the finish and said, ‘oh no, he’s struggling,'” says my Dad concerned about Steve’s workout, “but then I realized it was you.”

Coach Graham pulled Mike St and I aside before a Burke dual meet, of all things, in 12th grade. “I want someone to show some balls out there,” he barked. A football coach, he loved me despite the fact that I was a distance runner. I was a distance runner who always worked harder than everyone else. Who (almost) always won. Who (almost) always could be counted on. You wanted to make Coach Graham proud of you – distance runners always want football coaches to recognize that they’re as tough as their players from the fall. And he knew it. Burke had a guy that could run 4:55. Mike and I could have played with him for a few laps, dropped a 30 second 200, then jogged in with trainers if we wanted – we did such things in these sorts of dual meets. But I took it out in 63, to Graham’s delight. “BALLS” he shouted after the gun. We both run 4:22, the fastest times thus far in the state that early in April. Our fastest for the year also.

I cut the corner after my first fast 200 in several years. The sky is a little grayer, the rain a little harder, the wind a little more fierce, my achilles screaming accusations of abuse. I’m grinning from ear to ear. I just got to open my stride and run. In 12th grade, I did 12×200 in 27.5 with 90 seconds rest on that track. Always find the straight that has the wind, run into that straight. Champions never run with the wind at their back. Always into the wind. Never the easy way. That track won’t let you. The ghosts aren’t holding your legs and punching your face to make you fail; the ghosts are there to make you stronger.


Last year, we had a family of House Finches in our arbor vitae in front of our house. The male and female had three chicks. One of the chicks died that first morning. The other two – who knows, they seemed to have survived the first day or two at least before they went somewhere else.
120408IMG_0388_800 x 533Phineas Finch, 2012
120408IMG_0385_800 x 533Fiona Finch, 2012
120405IMG_0351_800 x 533Baby Finch, 2012

They’re back. This time, they live in the bush closest to our front door. In fact, the nest is visible out of our kitchen window. As of yesterday, there were no eggs, though Fiona was frantically preparing the nest. She built it out of normal nest stuff, plus the freshly cut grass from my lawn, plus long white dog hair from somewhere nearby. While she works, Phineas is perched on a tree above the front door. They chatter back and forth in a steady stream, Fiona at a ~100 Hz rate, and Phineas several times faster. It’s a keep-alive, a heartbeat if you will. Think about it for a second. Let’s say the birds had an alarm system along the line of “hey, I’ll chirp like crazy if something bad is about to happen and then you should escape.” That works great…until a cat pounces and snaps your neck before you can even shriek in terror. This is a better system. “We’ll keep chatting. If I’m ever quiet, you can assume something’s wrong and should get the hell out of here.” When one of us gets out of the car or goes through the front door, Phineas falls silent and Fiona bolts for a nearby tree. It’s a good system – we use that concept in designing electronic monitoring too.

Anyway, Phineas particularly enjoys the dandelions that grow throughout our yard (later, they’ll love the Zinnia).
130427_MG_2347_800 x 534Phineas Finch, 2013
And here’s Fiona in the nest:
130428_MG_2362_3253 x 2171Fiona Finch, 2013

This is wonderful and all…but if you’re familiar with our house animals, you might see some tension brewing. We do have one other more sinister resident – at least we used to. We haven’t seen him (well, her…) since last spring, but Mr Slithersworth and the Finch family do not make good neighbors. Mr Slithersworth would enjoy a meal of eggs or chicks. I’d prefer he stuck to grasshoppers, of which their are many. If he could eat the yet unnamed 10 lb rabbit that lives in the back, I’d be OK with that too. Or, he could leave. In any case, we’ll be watching the Finches closely. I think that Fiona laid her eggs today – she’s been sitting on the nest all afternoon. She’s about a month later than last year, for whatever that’s worth. We’ll see what we get.

Get a Haircut


Stephen apparently has long hair again. I’ve never particularly liked it (though I should talk – mine is mighty poofy at the moment), but it’s only really a problem when it makes him look like the most wanted person on the planet. This is a picture of Steve from about 7 years ago. He looks roughly the same now. I hope he at least shaves his ratty ‘stache.

See, this is why I don’t want lunatics with hero complexes carrying guns.

The Incorrect Perspective

Honestly, when I heard that a bomb went off near the finish line at Boston, the first thing I thought about was what would happen if I was 100 meters away from running a 2:35 and that happened. I would have dragged myself across the line. I know it’s the incorrect perspective to have, that I should see some bigger picture. Maybe this is why I can’t run anymore, as a punishment because I had misappropriated my passions. But 8 months of training, 26.15 miles of misery, and a final breakthrough toward a time I could have died satisfied with…I was getting across the damn line. It’d not like my spent body was going to be doing much in the way of rescuing; I could barely carry myself across the line in my marathons, and that was without shrapnel.

I mentioned this to my wife. She looked at me with a placid, resigned, incredulity – the sort she uses when she says to herself, “yup, I really need an exit strategy here.”

And then, when some normal person from Grantland expressed dismay at a runner who had commented that this race was his first DNF, I had the same reaction. What was wrong with this person? He still wasn’t done running the marathon 4:09 into the race and he was complaining about DNFs?? I mean, if he were that 78 year old guy, that’s one thing. If I had gone there and run another 2:45 (you know, if I weren’t crippled – a 2:45 ever again in my life would involve an act of God) I would have been thankful to be put out of my misery.

Dear children, these are all inappropriate reactions in such an event! But when I was a senior in high school, meet officials pulled me off the track with 100 meters to go at the end of a po-dunk, 11:00, dual meet 3200 because of a very impending thunderstorm and I was FURIOUS. I could have gone home and run that time in khakis with an elegant toothpick in my mouth, and I was nonetheless irate. A marathon, a hard effort, a good result – no way.


Once a year I go to Food Lion in Elkridge (or maybe Ellicott City…somewhere in the demilitarized zone between them perhaps), since it’s the only place around here that consistently carries Sabretts hot dogs. Today, I had to get some other staples as well. When the cashier scanned my milk, she asked me if I wanted a (plastic) bag for it. “Nah, I’ll carry it,” I said. “Saving trees,” she responded, thoughtfully. I looked at her for half a second before deciding that the production of plastic probably indirectly consumes trees, or at least forested land. She looked a little embarrassed. This is why God invented the disinterested “yeah”.

Then on the way home I stopped at Meadowridge Liquors. Not only was I not shot, but no one else in the store was shot while I was there. The Yuengling was held together by plastic and a rubber band (no box), but I’ll take not getting shot.

Once I got done with my outdoor chores, I started listening to Radio Paradise. Peter Gabriel was singing a song where I thought he was saying “Shingles hurts” over and over again. He’s getting older; I was surprised that he had embraced it. I later decided he was saying something along the lines of “shake the hands”.

But I have heard that shingles does hurt. At least, that’s what pharmacists tell people when selling them $200 vaccines. I might have had shingles once, actually. I had a nondescript rash on my back that occasionally felt like someone was simulating jabs from searing hot pokers straight into my nervous system. It was only vaguely localized; it mostly just felt like someone was confusing my brain into thinking I was being tortured. Maybe it felt like a bee sting 2 minutes after the bee stings, once it starts to itch slightly, but before the itch is the primary mode of irritation.

Radio Paradise just started on Gary Jules, “Mad World”. I do love that song.

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles, it’s a very, very
Mad world. Mad world.

Zen of Zipper

The slider is the portion of the zipper that pulls together the two chains to zip two sides together. On your jacket, the slider “belongs” to one side. It may mate with the other side, but it doesn’t belong with it. But look at your pants. The slider is not a citizen of either chain. The zipper, as a whole, is simply the zipper.

Deterministic Sovereignty

I have little spare mental energy to write things most of the time, so when I have an idea for a post, I make an appointment in Outlook for it. Then Outlook nags me for weeks, as I kick the reminder 8 hours into the future over and over again. I do the same thing with Outlook at work for any number of chores, but I’m not here to talk about Microsoft Outlook.

My most recent pending topic has been about the predictability of nature and in how that impacts God’s sovereignty. This is a topic with obvious ramifications to both Christians and non-Christians alike, though oppositely obvious.

Hurricane Sandy came ashore after being predicted roughly 9 days before landfall. The models were sniffing at the solution that ended up occurring for a week – a preposterously long time and, as an aside, a marvelous job. The timing of this prediction doesn’t really matter. We understand nature to work in a certain way and make predictions based on this. It is, then, a deterministic system. Given more perfect knowledge, more accurate predictions can be made.

Such systems occur all throughout science. Exactly what should happen most often does happen given a set of well understood initial conditions. There are some exceptions to this of course. There used to be more exceptions. As time passes and our understanding of our environment increases, there are fewer and fewer unexpected results.

For centuries, people, not so much theologians, but regular people, have assigned to God the unexplained. Natural events of unexplained origins, are assigned divine cause. The idea that God has authority over all things is called sovereignty. I’ve been thinking about exactly when this sovereignty has to take place to have its effect recently. In a very real sense, God did not have to control where Hurricane Sandy went. We, with our computer models, knew where it would go, just based on the physical dynamics of the atmospheric system. There was no needs for divine steering of anything. Sure, two weeks out we didn’t know where it would go. If we had more data, better models and faster computers, would we? What if we were able to push it to three or four weeks? At some point, God barely fits into the system – in the limiting case, he’d have to perturb the young universe in such a precise manner that 13 billion years later, Hurricane Sandy would interact with a blocking high pressure system and slam into the New Jersey coast – everything else could be predicted. Once set in motion, it was not to be stopped. (pardon my passive voice)

To the atheist, this is all painfully obvious. It’s because there is no God, and all divine manipulation that we perceive is our own layer of interpretation on top of perfectly reasonable outcomes driven by an initial set of conditions. For the Christian, the opposite is true. Yes these things happen, but they happen to us for a reason, specifically to steer us to some greater trust or faith, some deeper understanding and some more transcendent experience of LIFE, real life. They happen for ANY reason – a plausible reason can be generated for any outcome in hindsight. This worldview could, if abused (or possibly, if allowed to reach its own conclusions), support the abolition of science in favor of the comfort of faith.

To do so would be dishonest. The world is not as simple as that. It does wheel through the universe under the control of knowable laws and forces. If there is a God who is somehow sovereign in the universe, he must operate through the determined courses of predictive science.

Now, I happen to believe that God can intervene within this system, though it certainly doesn’t seem that he does so on a macro sense very often. I may have less answers now that I did in the past, but I do know that the sun will rise and then set tomorrow. I could even tell you the times. But I still can’t explain to you why I find it beautiful. Somewhere in there, there’s truth.

Algonquin from Back in 2009

In posting this year’s log, I noticed that I never typed up the one from 2009 for our canoeing trip in Algonquin PP, Ontario. After a brief search of my files, I found the log written on the back of the one from Glacier. I’m gonna lose this thing – it’s time to type it up before I do.

8/8/09 6:50 PM EST
After 7+ hours of driving, taken up mostly by computer games, we are in tiny Maynooth, Ontario. Maynooth sits on the junction between routes 62 and 127. It’s a solid hour and a half from anywhere, though there is a cell tower around here somewhere. We’re staying at the Arlington Hotel – a hostel. The room is sufficiently cozy, no complaints here. The goal is to be out on the water by 9:30 AM tomorrow. Long day in front of us – best to get away from people ASAP. Day punctuated by a 1.5 mile portage.

8/9/09 5:56 PM
Steve and I are currently at a beautiful site near the Timberwolf to Misty Lake portage, right on the water, 20 ft from Misty Lake.

We started from Canoe Lake this morning just before 10 AM. Literally 5 minutes later, it started to rain. 10 more minutes and it was pouring, During the next few hours, we paddled amonst ominous rumbles of not so distant thunder. By the time we got to an inconvenient beaver dam near Tom Thompson Lake, we were both cold and fairly miserable. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the mile and a half long portage (pronounced port-age in Canadian). There was, by that point, a few gallons of water in the basin of the canoe, though our packs were helpful in absorbing most of it.

As an aside, I just watched a loon dive into the water and resurface 80 meters away. Impressive animals.

So far, canoeing wasn’t much fun. But it’s a blast compared to portaging. That was hard, hard work. There is a reason why people take two trips to do it – canoe+pack=miserable.

Still, by the time we emerged from the portage, the skies had cleared – completely. The remainder of the trip was a pleasure, as short portages are not terrible.

We’ve been drying out stuff out for the last two hours, and we’ve made good progress. However, as I write there are dark clouds gathering in the west. Distant thunder is rumbling, quietly still. The woman at the diner this morning said “So, I hear there’s hurricanes comin! Err, tornadoes.” The real answer is neither – I’m just hoping not rain, though I would not bet on that outcome.

Rain is fine, as long as stuff can dry in between. Still, we’ve on land now and we can control a lot more on land. The canoe, which earlier collected water, is now flipped over, ready to protect our packs instead of saturate them.

At least it’s warm. Probably 68 degrees right now. Water is a very comfortable 64, we swam earlier.

8/10/09 ~6 PM EST
After another cloud day – which was welcome given our long haul on the water, the sun as finally arrived, blazing brightly. I’m sitting on a rock on our island camp site on the east end of Big Trout Lake, wearing tiny running shorts and crocs. I just finished pumping water, before that swimming, bathing for the second time in as many hours. The tent is set up and once Steve gets back from his fishing trip, we’ll be all ready to cook. Rice tonight, probably with some BBQ salami.

Today featured somewhere in the vicinity of 14 miles of paddling. Most everything is sore by now, not the least our bruised butts. The canoe took a beating as we skipped two portages on the river, one accidentally, but we made it through unscathed. Then followed three intense hours of open water canoeing across White Trout, then Big Trout. We continued to alternate between strong side (me to my left, Steve to his right) and weak side (opposite) every so often, originally switching every 8 minutes though today switching, on timer of course, every 10 minutes.

We were greeted, upon arriving at the island, by two little brown squirrels. They came right up to us and cackled like velociraptors in Jurassic Park. They were keenly interested in our food.

We threw rocks at them and tried to whip them away with my belt. Some people think that squirrels are nature’s version of their cat – they feed them, thus making them semi-domesticated and fully annoying.

Steve and I hatched a plan to capture them and transport them to the mainland, where we needed to go to get firewood anyway. Unfortunately, we had no bag that we thought would hold them – we’d have to paddle them into the lake if they escaped on the voyage. We’ll see how cute and cuddly they are trapped on a boat!

Alas, 10 minutes later, I found Steve 30 feet up in a tree, pulling down dead branches. On an island, wood is hard to come by. When the squirrels saw Steve’s haul, they seemed to realize he was not one to trifle with. Though I won’t leave them alone with the food, they at least respect our space now.

After about 5 fitful hours of sleep last night, I had enough energy to make it through the day. There has been a veritable cacophony of rodent and duck/loon noise at dusk, though nary a large mammal (or trace of them) in sight.

I’ll need another respectable night’s sleep tonight as tomorrow features 3 portages, 2 of them over a mile. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that portages are hard, miserable work. We have a 1.5 trip concept that is probably our best bet – still, any time one lugs one of those damn boats overhead for more than a few hundred meters, it’s downright crappy work. It won’t be fun. But look at that blue sky!

8/11/09 4:50 PM EST
It’s just a minor shower – we knew it was coming and I began readying camp for its arrival while Steve sat on a rock. Somewhere in there, he decided to take the canoe, the same canoe that shelters our stuff when it rains, out to the middle of the lake.

5:21 PM EST
Yes, that rustling in the birches and firs WAS rain. Having already closed up the tent, I hurriedly put the sacks in to the original plan – giant plastic bags. Despite my threat when Steve took the canoe, I covered his bag as well. My job, lacking the skills to actually do anything scout-like on camping trips is to do every little thing. Steve does the laissez-faire approach, though he won’t hesitate to complain about wet gear. Steve’s the adventurer, and yes, I’m the wet blanket, but with dry clothes.

5:40 PM EST
As for the rest of the day…last night was a good night for sleeping. After watching the distant lightning flash dimly in the northern sky, I drifted off fairly quickly. I only woke up because my arm was literally about to fall off – I was so tired I slept through depriving it of blood for God knows how long. I literally [literally for real this time] had to move it with my other arm. When I awoke, I noticed the moon was out. No more than 5 seconds later, I heard a wolf how. I did not hear another for the remainder of the night.

Today was a day of portages. While we figured it out somewhat, I am glad to be done with it – lugging that thing is miserable work.

We set camp on a south facing rockface in the North Arm of Lake Opeongo. With time to kill, Steve decided to swim to the small island 800 meters away. I followed in the canoe and gave him a ride back. With no gear in the canoe, we were alarmingly fast. We normally go 6 km an hour – this was easily 10. Tomorrow we’ll put our skills to good us – 13 km in open water, now with the added challenge of motor boat wakes.

For whatever it’s worth, it would be easy to take twice the food when you only need to lug it for a mile at a time. This sort of trip would be sustainable for a full week.

Though it looks like more rain on the horizon. Steve, of course, is back out on the lake.

North Cascades National Park

In previous years, I have kept a journal on Stephen and I’s backpacking trips. I’ve been better about posting these in a timely fashion in the past – except for Algonquin, which I never posted at all (but which I plan to type up soon). Anyway, previous entries are here:
The High Uintas, 2010
Algonquin Provincial Park, 2009
Glacier National Park, 2008
King’s Canyon National Park, 2007

There was no trip in 2011, as Steve was living in Germany. Jen and I visited him there instead.

Each time we do this, it’s a little less stressful, less exciting, less noteworthy. That’s not to say it’s not wonderful, it is. Now, I see the mountains, and I say, wow, these are epic, sort of like …, and name a previous range I’ve backpacked in. The first time you see the mountains (from IN the mountains because it’s VERY different), it changes your world. World was changed a while ago now, and recollection is less intense an experience than discovery.

Anyway, here’s the log from this last trip.

8/20/12 1750 PST
About 8 miles in at McAlester Lake, around 5500 ft elevation. We got out of the Monin house around 6:15 this morning. We stopped for Steve’s run at the North Cascades station and got to the Bridge Creek trailhead around 1215. After giving three damsels in distress a jump and opening the door in the bathroom on a naked dude, (“YO! Don’t you knock?” “Yo, don’t you lock?” I inadvertently rhymed back) we left for the woods before he got out.

It was a comedy of errors in the first mile, as we interpreted a trail sign for Stiletto Spur to be for the spur itself and not the trail TO the spur (which we wanted). Instead we took this marginal trail which became progressively more primitive until it basically evaporated at an unsanctioned stream crossing. We persevered and eventually intersected the PCT, getting on our way.

Once in the right place, it was uneventful. It’s nice country, but the hike was not noteworthy for anything in particular.

Since we’ve arrived, Steve has caught a small cutthroat trout, not big enough to eat. We saw a bird dive bomb into the lake for a fish. It was fat and black with a white head and looked more like a duck than a bird of prey. Have since heard his huge kersplash another time. Mosquitoes, by the way, have necessitated full body protection. It’s about 68, so not a big deal. I doubt the water is colder than 55 – fairly pleasant. We jumped in to bathe for a few minutes. There’s a middle aged couple nearby, but otherwise it’s pretty peaceful out here.

8/21/12 1650 PST
I got my typical poor night’s sleep, with about 3 good hours from 1-4 and another 2 hrs sprinkled here and there. Not awful, and had the opportunity to see the stars at 4. So many, I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at.

After some oatmeal and crasins, we broke camp around 7:30, to do the 10 miles to Rainbow Lake. After a long descent, we had just as long of an ascent, for no net elevation gain, but down and back up more than 2500 ft. The highlight of the day was Steve’s yearly foray into danger. This year, scaling the mountain to the south side of Rainbow Lake was quite good. We had excellent views of Chelan, the western mountains in the Cascade range, and most all of the park. The weather was once again perfect, though the western range looked to be getting some rain.

I’m now sitting in an west facing meadow, absorbing sum after my daily bathing. The water is surprisingly warm, maybe even 60 degrees. It’s tough getting into it, but you can stand it for a few minutes once you’re in.

By the way, really fresh black bear skat in the camp. Full of berries. I think we may be seeing him later…

8/22/12 1825 PST
The walk from Rainbow Lake to South Fork was uneventful. We got up around 7 – I slept reasonably well; despite waking up a dozen or so times. I got a few decent chunks. On the trail before 9, we covered the 7 miles by ~12:30.

With lots of time to kill, we started following the river downstream. The river was fast enough and deep enough to require some skill, and the density of the vegetation forced us to cover most ground in the river itself. The water here is still amazingly warm – probably near to 60 degrees.

Along the way, Steve dropped his line in whenever we hit a spot deeper than 4 ft, catching several dozen fish (I even caught 2). Of those, we ate 6 for dinner. Good to add some calories.

Meanwhile, the sun is setting straight down the river valley – perfect for pictures. This site is underrated. It’s a great place with enormous cyprus and [unk] trees and a lovely river. We’re the only ones here, making it better. Good stuff.

8/23/12 1030 PST
After the 6.3 miles from South Fork to the Bridge Creek Trailhead in 2.5 hrs, we were done by 1030. Last night I took some pictures before sitting on Steve’s fishing log for a bit, watching the fish as the sun set behind the mountains. Eventually, dozens of bats patrolled above our heads – very few mosquitoes here by the way.

It dropped to 35 degrees last night – cold in the bags. Steve’s going to freeze in Yellowstone. Broke camp in just over an hour – a quick turn around when you include the hot meal. Decent enough sleep too – 10 hrs of the very fragment sort.

Once again, the trip was sustainable. The perfect weather helped, but we easily could have gone longer – with more food. Good stuff, all of it.

I’ve done all the other debates, might as well do the last one. I like foreign policy. I’m sure there will be a lot of pointless rhetoric (as with everything) but at least the other people are the bad guys. I also think there’s a big distinction between the candidates, with Romney favoring a more traditional American Superpower worldview, with Obama taking a more subtle worldview which doesn’t project power so virulently.

Anyway, coverage to start when the debate does.

2058: I’m watching this on ABC again, and Broke Girls is on before the debate. I’d atrocious, and I’ve only seen 3 minutes of it.

2100: Bob Schieffer huh. Good, both Jen and I like the seated debates better. It’s harder to be an asshat to the moderator when he’s 2.5 feet in front of you.

2103: The Cuban Missile Crisis was pretty nutty. We did a great job on that one.

2104: I wish they’d just start the debate. Romney is sometimes funny not on purpose. I like his new, gentler approach. Apparently “mean” didn’t poll well. We can’t “kill our way out of this mess”. We’re currently trying to Drone our way out of it, and it’s not working very well. We kill some good people to kill, but every dead child destabilizes Pakistan a little more. Forget Iran, Pakistan HAS nukes.

2107: Obama now taking credit for Libya. And going after Romney.

2108: Romney to go after the bad guys. He’s going to interrupt them. He’s very skilled at that. Al Qaeda Interrupted.

2109: Ugh. I hate economic development in the Middle East, but it’s perhaps a necessity. Again, think of Pakistan. We give them so much money, and all they do is suck.

2110: Obama is picking at gaffes, not answering questions. He’s fixated on Romney’s flip-flopping, not on himself. I don’t like the tenor of his style tonight. Romney is conciliatory tonight, and Obama is coming out as a jerk. He’s doing it haltingly too.

2112: “Attacking me is not an agenda.” So far, Romney is winning, no question.

2114: Status of forces something something something. He said he said going on here.

2115: Ha! Obama got the Israel name drop in first! Vegas had Romney as a huge favorite on that. He’s got to be boiling.

2116: Let’s be clear, we’ve been ineffective in Syria. And it’s true, it’s a giant cluster. We can’t just arm whomever, ala Al Qaeda in the 80s.

2118: Romney and Obama just agreed. Let’s see if they argue about it anyway.

2121: For the record, killing Ghadfi WAS scope creep, when compared to the original UN resolution.

2124: Sorry, drifted off for a second. Obama namedropped Israel again. I thought he was anti-Israel.

2125: It’s hard to predict the future, and we liked Mubarak for long enough and he’s not a radical. This enlightened despot thing has always been a sticky subject for America.

2127: Yeah, Iran should be criticizing OUR economy. His opinion really matters…

2128: That’s awkward – Romney jumped the gun on the next question, and then had the first statement on that question. He has to say the same thing twice in a row.

2129: Man, I have another hour of this? By the way, I go in to work at 11:30 tonight and stay until 9 AM. That should be fun. Then repeat for the rest of the week.

2130: Romney just spoke for about 4 minutes in a row. I’d say our alliances are plenty strong in Asia, as Japan, S. Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and sort of Taiwan are all terrified of China.

2132: We cut oil because of the great recession. Everyone cut oil when industrial output plummeted.

2133: Romney just ignored the question, and now we’re talking about the economy. He has a 5-point plan! Yeah, zap those unions! I can’t stand unions. Meh, we’re far from Greece. I bet he had that statement prepared, and his handlers said, “if you find a question boring, just throw in that 5 point plan.”

2137: Give the kids an iPad!

2138: Where is Romney gonna get the money for defense? Obamacare.

2140: Obama back to the economy again. Yes, but our engineers make more than China’s engineers. Different costs to execute the same program between countries.

2143: Good news, the sequestration will not happen. Phew. Hey! Horses and bayonets! Ever heard of an aircraft carrier Governor Romney?! Heheheh! That was great. And he doesn’t like Romney’s website! I like that section, it was funny.

2145: Is an attack on Israel an attack on the United States? Obama: it already sort of is and it will sort of continue to be. Iran’s economy is falling to pieces, true.

2147: Romney’s got Israel’s back. Romney wants MORE crippling sanctions. Well, what is Israel picks the fight with Iran, then what do we do? Cause once they hit Netanyahooooo’s cartoon bomb red line, they’re going to try to ineffectively bust their bunkers.

2152: Romney is accusing Obama of trying to engage in diplomacy with other countries. Shame on you, you filthy apologist.

2154: Whoppers. Did you know that Wendy’s is bigger than Burger King? I was confused when I heard that.

2156: We have not dictated to other nations, we have freed from dictators. That’s a packaged remark.

2157: Obama saw real things in Israel, Romney raised money.

2159: Glad you threw out that question, instead of just ignoring it. Which is OK, it was a semi-dumb question. But then he took the rest of the time to talk about other stuff. First rule of debating: Always use as much time as you possibly can.

2202: In Obama’s opinion, we should have killed Bin Laden. Controversial to no one.

2203: Schieffer points out that Romney rambled also. Glad Romney took it in stride. He’s not terrible. I liked Huntsman the best, but the Etch-A-Sketch Romney’s not terrible.

2207: Afghanistan and Iraq might both fall apart before the end of the next term, whoever is president.

2208: Did Schieffer just called him Obama Bin Laden? And what about that Dr that helped us get Bin Laden? What an injustice that was…we should have taken him with us when we got Bin Laden. I’d divorce Jen if she had 100 nuclear weapons. No offense honey, but that’s just irresponsible.

2211: The F-35 is the US’s last manned fighter aircraft. Drones to reign supreme, and we are going to need to make some real rules about that. What if Mexico started bombing drug figures in Arizona? Would we be cool with that?

2216: I don’t like protectionism. But I would have lived cheaper tires.

2217: Romney and Obama both make conciliatory statements toward China.

2219: Romney just made a good point about the trade war, and illustrated it well too. Good stuff from Romney.

2221: Obama is not doing well tonight. He’s trying to fixate on Romney and it’s not working.

2223: All the sudden Romney is trying to stay above the mud slinging. It’s a tactical move, not a life choice. But it’s still working for me at least. It makes Obama look childish. He antagonized him for two debates, got him all stirred up, then backed off. A clever plan.

2226: I wonder who was wrong about that whole bankruptcy business.

2227: Both Obama and Romney are tweeting while they’re debating. Are they doing it directly from their minds? Don’t tell me those tweets aren’t really from them. Appleton, WI! I think he used that last time.

2228: Closing statements. BTW, Lynn University? Never heard of it. Obama in the middle of a good closing statement. Unless Romney really botches his closing, he won this debate, however.

2231: I do get the sense that Romney is winging this closing statement. Bad idea. Obama was muddled throughout, but left everyone with a good taste in their mouth. Romney is now going to work across the aisle. He would NEVER have made it out of the primary if he said that then.

2233: Romney won this, 65-35. America’s not the hope of the earth though, but whatever. Mormon might not understand that.

Live blogging on the crazy, town hall style debate with Bess.

2102: When do we get one of those hot Fox News anchors to moderate one of these. I love what they do with the English language.

2103: Jeremy’s question can be ignored by the opening statement. He wants a job, Mitt is gonna give him a scholarship.

2105: I’m going to have more fun with the questioners than the candidates I think. He knows how to make jobs, but doesn’t mention how.

2106: The president didn’t ask him if he had a liberal arts degree before saying that his future was bright. It’s the attention to detail that the president lacks. Now he’s offering him a job in a factory. The man’s got a Interdisciplinary Studies degree, he doesn’t want to work in a factory!

2107: Now he’s giving him a windmill. An energy efficient car. And no war. So, a job I guess. To summarize, Mitt mentions that he can make a job, gives no detail how. The president mentions several things unrelated to Jeremy’s job. Good answers.

2108: Good point by Romney on people dropping out of the workforce. We keep not mentioning that.

2110: Obama coming out swinging. Rich people have different rules, he says.

2111: Phillip is from Long Island. He wants to know if the president can change gas prices, despite the fact that it’s nearly impossible since it’s a global commodity. Romney will say he’ll get it to $2.00 a gallon, and no one will offer me a bet against him.

2114: Policies instead of rhetoric says Romney. Romney is whacking him. Now, as it turns out, I agree with Obama’s environmental policy. But the court of public opinion is against him.

2116: Candy is going after the president with this “new normal” business.

2118: I think I see a block of Mormons just to the left of Romney.

2118: They might actually fight. Wow. The fact checkers are going to tell us whether his claim is true.

2120: This is awkwardly contentious.

2121: Obama got a laugh from the audience at Romney’s expense.

2122: Romney just forced himself in, Candy, Candy, Candy. BTW, Candy?

2126: I can’t imagine how Romney’s math adds up.

2128: I can’t imagine how Obama’s math adds up.

2130: A little big of mathematical slight of hand here. He says the top-5% will continue to pay 60%. So, if you reduce the total tax income by giving a break to the middle class, you’ll have to cut it at the top too to keep it balanced. In fact, they’ll get 60% of the break.

2133: Loved Obama’s math lesson. It was just addition, even Long Islanders could follow. Great points here, this is the president’s best diatribe yet.

2136: Yes, trust me, the numbers add up, says Romney.

2137: Romney did definitely get less time there.

2138: Obama has women in his life. Romney’s a Mormon though, so he has MORE women in his life.

2139: Romney threw a bone or two to some poor women when governor. It is true that women have lost more good jobs in the last 4 years.

2142: Why don’t I get paternity leave?

2143: That’s a pocketbook issue? Come on Obama, that’s clearly a sexist phrase. Makeup is a pocketbook issue too.

2145: Pile on Uncle George! And Mitt is talking about something else.

2147: Poor Uncle George. He was like a sleeper Liberal in the White House, but the liberal’s hated him anyway because they’re such a bunch of intellectual elitists.

2148: Not that anyone is reading this, but Bess is putting some funny stuff up over there.

2150: I do like Bush’s immigration policy.

2151: Like the black guy’s gonna vote for Mitt Romney. Speaking of Al Qaeda, I’m not positive that this administration’s drone policies have been appropriate/legal.

2154: Obama is getting a huge percentage of the time.

2155: And, what about Guantanamo Bay?

2156: Not too hard to take shots at Obama’s record. Reagan, schmeagan. Romney knows that not all recessions are created equal.

2158: The immigrant just called Romney Mr. President. And she told him her name was GilLorraine and he believed her. Wow, that was classic.

2159: Agreed! Green cards to educated immigrants! It’s so obvious – steal the talented people from other countries. And he has a good point that illegal immigrants take the spots of legal immigrants. But legal immigrants don’t pick oranges, and neither do Americans. Illegal immigration is the bastard child of capitalism. We don’t want to be $7 a lb for oranges. We don’t want to earn $7 an hour to pick them either.

2202: The flow of illegal immigrants is because the economy is in the tank. Come on Barack, don’t even bring that up. Obama did make the economy so bad that the immigrants self-deported.

2204: Romney does point out that it wasn’t HIS fault 4 years ago. He was drinking Shirley Temples in a dark closet.

2206: Hip hip-hipp hipp hippity hippity hop. Obama’s pension not as big as Romney’s. Good point.

2208: A boy named Sue. Obama confused by looking for a girl named Kerry.

2210: Obama didn’t answer Sue’s question.

2215: Crowds can be terrifying too. Romney just felt chastised, I think.

2217: I can never remember anyone’s name when they tell it to me. Nor can I pronounce my own name. We actually sent assault rifles to Mexico!

2218: I think guns are dumb. We need to get rid of almost all of those.

2219: Yes, we don’t need assault rifles.

2220: Why is it “of course not automatic weapons”, but “of course yes semi-automatic weapons”?

2221: Get married before your kid. Also, get a haircut and get a real job.

2222: Fast and Furious – killed AN American, points out Jen.

2223: I don’t hunt, but if I could hunt with a bazooka, I might try it.

2224: I wonder if Candy knew she’d only get like 7 questions in. I wanted more questions.

2225: The president wants to talk about something else.

2226: Manufacturing leaves because it’s cheaper there. Let’s get rid of unions. Seriously though folks, rapid prototyping is what is going to put America back on top.

2228: Yuck on the currency manipulator business. I doubt he’ll introduce tariffs…because Americans will impeach him if iPhones get even more expensive.

2229: Interestingly, Canada has universal health care. They call it HoserCare.

2230: I was hoping to go to bed at 10:30 guys. Blah blah, OK, time to move on.

2232: The IP stuff is real. Den of thieves over there.

2234: Barry Green loves him some Barry Green. And what a softball!

2235: Massachusetts under Romney sounds like nirvana. And with all those Kennedys!

2236: Most common misconception about Romney? “I will get America working again.”

2237: Most common misconception about Obama? “The next generation has the same opportunities.”

2238: Thanks for answering the questions fellas.

2241: Meh, I don’t know who won. Obama was better than last time. Romney wasn’t any better, and the expectations were higher. We’ll split it.

Vice Presidential Debate

I’m late because of Bible Study, but here we go.

2108: Biden blibbering and blabbering, uhh, umm, well, uhh, let me tell you, bleh, blah.

2111: Good for Paul Ryan pointing out we should apologize for Taliban urination.

2113: Wife home, hang on. OK, she’s taken care of.

2115: I like this debate better. These guys are less polished.

2116: Biden not going to disclose classified information. Good for you Joe. Good citizen there.

2117: What’s the deal with the little triangle of hair in the middle of Ryan’s forehead.

2118: Biden looks ridiculous. He’s going to explode. I can’t wait until he does.

2119: Ryan charming there, calling Biden Irish. They had to taser Biden for a week of intensive training to keep him from just saying “shit” outright.

2120: Biden is right – nuclear fission is not an easy process. It requires an awful lot of engineering prowess that not a lot of people have.

2122: Biden is patronizing and seething. I love this. He’s a loose cannon. They need to get him off the ticket. Zing! Romney’s a flip-flopper! Just like John Kerry!

2123: Jen notices that the VPs are sitting. Good observation. They should always do that. They seem more comfortable.

2124: Jen confused about Joe Biden’s age, thinks it’s implausible that his parents are still alive.

2125: Biden’s a bulldog. If I remember right, I liked him best in the democratic debates in 2008. Here’s the post from that debate.

2126: Here’s a nice story. Mitt Romney’s a good guy. Ryan zings Biden for his gaffes! Funny! Hahah!

2129: Biden’s family died. Did not know that. That’s a sad story. Biden just knocked out his speech, until the moderator cut him off. She’s got a ton more authority than Lehrer. She should be the democratic vice president.

2132: Martha, Martha, Martha.

2133: The stimulus was a good idea. Sorry Republicans. We’re in a really bad state if that doesn’t happen.

2134: Biden is being something of a condescending ass though.

2135: Ryan gave a nice little speech. Yes, you need to entitlement reform too. See this is easy.

2136: No, Ryan didn’t talk about death panels Joe. Yes, Sarah Palin is a clown. We need to merge these people and together they might be sensible.

2138: Ryan hasn’t been obnoxious. But Biden is twice as aggressive as Romney. Ryan annoyed at interruptions.

2139: O’s tied 1-1.

2140: Yes, Joe, quite interrupting.

2141: Yes, we need to raise the retirement age. People live longer now.

2144: Joe, hush! Ryan just zapped him, and he got obnoxious.

2145: Biden arguing with Raddatz now too.

2145: 800 million billion dollars! I think we call that quadrillion.

2147: You guys interpret numbers differently. You have your own statisticians and your own think tanks supporting you. You’re throwing numbers at each other that are meaningless.

2148: From former college teammate:
“…We need to be careful about raising the retirement age not bc its wrong but because life expectancy is different for different groups of people. Don’t call it retirement if parts of the population wont live that long.” Nice point. Maybe if those different groups had health care, their life expectancy would change too.

2150: This is is an obnoxious back and forth. Biden interrupts to ask if he can interrupt.

2153: I wonder what it means to “demagogue” them?

2153: Ryan has been very patient. He should snap.

2154: Wow, it’s hard to get anything out of this.

2156: Biden is right on one point – we don’t need more tanks and our military agrees with that premise.

2157: OK, not for nothing, but we have a decade long war and lost 2000 men? Vietnam was like 60,000 wasn’t it?

2158: The Afghans just mow through superpowers.

2200: Jeter just struck out. Yeah boy!

2202: Let me tell you what will happen in Afghanistan in 2014. We’ll still have 10s of thousands of troops there. The “combat” mission will end, but we will still be there. Our troops will still die. Biden is going to deal in semantics.

2203: They say Martha’s name a lot more than they were saying Jim’s name last week. Maybe they should say “Martha, Sweetheart”.

2205: Both of these guys are less polished in their English than the presidential debate.

2206: The calendar works the same every year. They agree on that. Sort of.

2207: Biden is correct – a lot easier to fight a war in Libya than Syria. I think he answered that Syria question properly.

2209: Never fight a ground war in Asia.

2210: Ryan right too. Though I think it’s irresponsible to completely bypass the UN. Good point on Biden – you say you don’t go through the UN – but what DO you do?

2213: This debate IS historic. Historically obnoxious and contentious.

2214: Statements of faith. And now abortion. By the way, the baby is alive at 7 weeks. That heart was pounding away. The baby was squirming and moving.

2216: You can hear Biden huffing in the background when he’s off the screen.

2217: Biden’s religion makes him interrupt, because that’s who he is, an interrupter. Now, here he goes on abortion.

2218: Interestingly, there are people out there that are trying to outlaw circumcision, but they’re cool with abortion. Silly, I know.

2220: Come on, the Dems would pick someone equally radical for the Supreme Court – just the opposite sort of radical.

2222: Wow, the moderator asked Biden if he was embarrassed about the tone of the campaign. Let’s see if it answers the question. About the campaign. Here’s a 47% comment. Are you going to answer the question? There we go, finally. For about 4 seconds he talked about SuperPACs which I hate because I think we need major campaign finance reform.

2224: Let’s see if Ryan gets to the part about the campaign attack ads. He, ironically, goes on the attack in answer to the question. OK, he’s not answering that question very well either, as he can’t criticize the SuperPACs.

2226: Ryan’s character is about 12 million jobs. Glad we did that.

2228: Biden’s character is the middle class.

2229: Biden’s closing, he calls his inheritance godawful. Yup, true.

2230: Top of the 9th. Thome up. How about a home run. Put poor Jim Johnson out there again with a one run lead.

2230: Paul Ryan thanks Joe Biden. I like these token statements.

First Presidential Debate

I’m on ABC today – time for the Presidential Debate. I’ll be blogging live alongside Bess, a raging feminist liberal who is apparently currently drunk. Me, I’m tearing up my house for the baby.

I don’t know if ABC is a liberal news establishment, but I do know that they have a PBS guy moderating. He doesn’t want boos and hisses, that won’t be fun.

2103: They meet in the middle – I wish I could read lips. Fraudulent smiles all around.

2105: Obama gets us off on the right foot – he’s asked a question, he talks about things other than the question. That’s my main metric for tonight, number of times the candidates answer something other than the question.
BO: 1, MR: –

2106: Mitt has a “tender” moment with Barack. Mitt’s finding Joe the Plumber in Dayton and Denver. Mitt is answering the question. Independence, free trade, skills, small business, and something in the middle. He did answer the question. He’s falling behind. “Tickle down government”. Zing!

2108: BO, please respond directly to Mitt’s statement. BO: Let me tell you something about job training.
BO: 2, MR: 0

2111: Romney makes a good point – the rich will live richly regardless of the president. Good point. Uhh, no gas hasn’t doubled. Bess also makes a good point. Mitt’s hair is plasticine.

2112: I do like lists. Romney keeps making lists. I don’t want permits on government land. But it’s consistent with his view.

2114: Obama pointing out that Romney is making promises that are impossible. I do like the differences in body language. Romney looks excited while Obama is talking, possibly even coked up. Obama looks bored, possibly asleep.

2118: Obama oversells the amount of extra money the government will be able to extract from the wealthy. That said, I’m cool with them paying a higher tax rate. He just oversells its economic impact.

2120: Romney does seem to be enjoying himself. He’s not a train wreck.

2122: Not for nothing, but I have tons and tons of deductions and exemptions. I can see why people would like to get rid of them…but I like them. BTW, reducing deductions and loopholes is probably regressive against the middle class, what with their mortgages and whatever.

2125: Don’t bully Jim Lehrer, Mitt. Bullies never win and winners never bully!

2126: Deficit is immoral. How do you cut it? Taxes, cut spending, grow economy. How about all three? Why do we have to throw out one entirely?

2127: Mitt hit a home run with the borrow to China thing, with the Big Bird thing, and with the liking Jim thing. That said, I rather like PBS, except for when they call me CONSTANTLY as they are now. They’re almost as bad as the Red Cross.

2129: Mitt’s patronizing smirk is bothering me. Not gonna lie.

2130: Good for Obama, both revenue and spending cuts.

2131: Mitt’s trillion and “hey, you had 4 years” business was good work. He’s totally wrong about the bi-partisan budget plan. Obama let that rot on the vine. That was bad. He had to grab that and work off of it.

2135: Yes, eliminate government subsidies. Start with biofuels.

2136: Just got bored. Zzzz…

2137: I think Mitt has allergies are something. He’s looking nostalgic.

2139: I kinda like states covering the poor. “States are the laboratories of democracy”. Good.

2143: Bess just had a good Pelosi joke.

2143: I grilled some cabbage tonight for dinner. It was tasty, as far as cabbage goes.

2145: Romney and Ryan have such a complicated relationship. They both want to keep the stick of the other off of them, but they need each other to maintain their internal, Republican power base.

2147: Romney’s blinking a lot too. He has eye problems, medical ones. I’m not sure I need to hold his glassiness against him. What do you think about the voucher system Mitt?

2148: Obama has made universal healthcare the standard. Now Romney needs a plan which includes some aspect of universal health care. In that sense, Obamacare is a success.

2152: Jim’s getting catty. I’m losing focus.

2153: We did a reasonable job on regulation. Dodd-Frank is too complicated. Was their too much oversight? Obviously not.

2155: Good point on clear regulations for Mitt. Nobody’s winning this debate. Jim wants to go to Health Care. I thought we were already talking about that.

2156: I hate personal stories. People from Wisconsin and small businesses blah blah blah. I hate it when they put a human face on things. I’m with Elliot – how about we get some real numbers, and look at those. If there’s anything that needs a good statistic, it’s government.

2158: We’re in an anecdotal evidence fight now. A family in Sheboygan, Michigan pitted against a small business in Duluth, Minnesota. Grudge match.

2159: Another personal tidbit, I was up at 4:45 this morning so that I could start a bench shift at 6 AM.

2159: Does anyone else think that kids should grow up sooner? Move off the parent’s health insurance?

2200: Obama just charmed his way out of the 2-minute warning. And that little point to the side was him motioning for the Navy Seals to be deployed to Jim Lehrer’s house. I see a neck snap in his future.

2202: What if they mandated that states guarantee insurance? Cut a bunch of federal aid if they don’t do it. Is that a terrible idea?

2204: Reduce health care costs = make medical school cost less + make liability less of an issue.

2205: Obama likes buying health care in bulk and trying to find efficient testing methodologies. What’s the downside there? By the way, my health insurance at work costs a whole lot more than it did 4 years ago. Just saying.

22:06: My eyeballs are tired.

2207: Something funny just happened off stage. Was there a streaker? I wish I could see what Barack was looking at.

2207: A while ago, Hanna “I” told me I could never run for political office. Now, I am pretty good with words. But I could never do a debate like this – these guys are so well drilled. In addition, I’d be fidgeting like crazy. Would people find it endearing? Probably not. Bess would make fun of me.

2210: This has been a good debate. Maybe not particularly exciting, but Mitt is doing well, and Obama is his normal eloquent self. He’s becoming more sacrastic and ironic though.

2211: Jen wants to punch Mitt in the face for pushing Jim around. Obama did it 10 minutes ago, but was charming about it.

2214: Even when Obama bumbles, he does it well. Everything he says sounds halfway epic.

2217: Mitt is doing a decent job answering the role of gov’t question. He really is doing quite well.

2218: Romney just called “low income” kids “poor” kids. Who does he think he is, a normal person? A president can’t call people poor.

2219: Budgets reflect principles says Obama, good point. Non-detailed Republican trend, says Obama, good point.

2220: I am getting bored. Jim really is giving Obama more leeway with the time thing.

2222: He’s still going. Cut him off. President not entitled to his own facts, says Romney. Romney is doing a good job hammering the green job thing – by the way, government subsidies in new technologies is not bad.

2224: Jim just used 1 of those last 3 minutes warning about the lack of minutes left.

2225: Bess keep hammering Mormons, and I’m cool with that, since they made up their religion less than 200 years ago and use a bastardized version of Christianity as their basis. But Obama is nominally protestant, and we’re not a whole lot less evangelical in our worldview.

2227:53: Obama starts his “two minute” closing statement. Here’s more “people”. Woman in NC, company in Minnesota. Auto workers in Toledo and Detroit. How many conceptual names can he drop? I wonder if those people or businesses actually exist. No one could call him on it, as they are too vague to be verifiable. 2230:07 – not bad.

2230:10: Romney’s up. Boy, he’s been pretty good. His campaign’s decision to make him into the underdog was a good idea – he was not overmatched here. He hasn’t fake name dropped yet. 2:01 for Mitt! Wow.Good timing.

Man. I’m going to bed.

2233: Look at all those robot children Romney has! That was a nice moment, those families milling about.

My brother, not impressed by bullying rhetoric, did not find Alan Miller’s Spiritual But Not Religious article on CNN compelling. I tend to agree. He misses the point, interpreting religion primarily as something to be affiliated with. He would like to draw a line in the sand and bunker down on one side of it – it is this that he seems to define as the value of religion.

I don’t disagree with his theme, even if I think he has missed the importance of it. To be “spiritual but not religious” is shorthand for “to define one’s own set of beliefs that provide succor and personal satisfaction”. As with many modern discussions on spirituality, the disconnect between modern society and the generations before boils down to a fundamental misalignment in the understanding of truth and reality. If there is some divine being, particularly an all-powerful one, then that god defines reality. To think that we could envelope ourselves in our individualized shroud of self-generated spiritual ecstasy does not make sense when the God of the universe has revealed the truth of himself in some different way.

If there is such an all-powerful being, our existences would be defined in terms of him. The spiritualism of today defines our existence in terms of ourselves. If there is an external, objective truth, a greater reality, then we do not define it, by definition. Doing so would make us to be god. In a sense, this is what the spiritualism movement attempts to do – start with oneself and learn to understand the universe in that egocentric manner.

If there is no universal truth, no reality, nothing external or eternal, then it makes no sense to worship a higher power – nothing could be higher in such a universe, as nothing really IS. In this universe, religion makes no sense, and humanism is the only meaningful “god”.

“Religion” is in need of a new PR man, as people tend to see the results of religion more than the genesis of it. Religion is a way of relating to something higher than you. It assumes an ultimate reality, and provides the framework through which mankind can interface with such a reality. In Christianity and Judaism, it is the God-inspired words of the Bible. In Islam, it is also the God-breathed word, though this time through the Prophet Muhammad. Eastern religions muddy the waters a bit more, but there is still an enlightenment, a higher form of life to be aspired for – with the middleware of religion providing ability to access the divine.

In generations past, everyone assumed that things were real, and that truths were true. In modern times, this has made people very uncomfortable, likely because a single truth renders many other statements false. People do not like this sort of exclusivity. Spiritual but not Religious is a rebellion against the idea that a truth exists and/or can be known. Because of this, science and religion find themselves as strange bedfellows in their common distaste of post-modern cuisine. Science sees the universe as an objective reality that can be understood and should be studied for this purpose. Religion sees the purpose of the universe as an objective reality that can be understood and studied. In both cases, reality is assumed, and systems are built from that basis.

Miller’s article didn’t deal with this at all. He says that we live in a world with sides, and you should pick one rather than stay on the sidelines. This is a necessary step in learning how to live in a world where truth exists, but to focus on a point further downstream is to highlight why religion should cause division – it’s no wonder that the areligious would find his style distasteful. First, establish that there is a truth. Next, point out that it is knowable. Lastly, mold your life around the outcomes of such an understanding. That’s where one starts down the road of religion.

I’ve been running a little bit. 5-6 miles, 3-4 times a week. The Achilles is serviceable. I’d say it’s at least as good as it was right before the surgery. My non-Achilles side calf has been bugging me; it’s annoyed that I’ve been making that leg do a disproportionate amount of work these last few months. Today, I ran my second day in a row. Legs are taking it without whining too loudly about it.

Take it slow. Take it slow.

Plan to keep this up, maybe push it to 6-7 miles 4-5 times a week by my backpacking trip in late August. If I survive that (there’s something about lugging 50 lbs of stuff up and down mountains over rocky terrain that can aggravate your feet and tendons. Bunch of cry babies.) then I try to pseudo-train for a month and run the company race. Not trying to run fast. Trying to run 6:00 pace, just to whet my whistle a bit. Then, God willing, I’ll still feel decent. That’s when we ramp to 60 mpw for Dec/Jan, start running some workouts Feb/Mar then race Shamrock in Baltimore in March. It’s a downhill course; if I am in 16:00 pace for that course, I’ll go to work a bit, try to race May/June and get my flat 5K down under 16:00. If I survive all that…back to the summer, no more than 75 mpw, more aerobic threshold, less speed, race the fall season, up to 10Ks. That’s the 15 month plan.

Lots of people ramp up to 60 mpw while having a baby, right?

But nothing’s guaranteed I’m happy to get out on the trails and run, slow though it may be. I’m not owed this. We’ll see. But I’m a runner. Runners run, we can’t help it.

The Conflict Mandate

It is impossible to deal with universal health care and the individual mandate debate without getting sucked into a bizarre menagerie of misinformation, twisted truths and politicized contradictions. On one hand, the democrats want to stifle your freedoms while pandering to huddled masses of lazy society-sucking leeches. On the other hand, the republicans, who play king of the hill on the moral high ground, feel that it is the American way to deprive the poor of a decent quality of life because of whatever inborn moral failings rendered them poor from birth. Battle lines are drawn, as each prepares for war against fictitious straw men of their own creations. Everyone argues past everyone else, no one is ever able to find common ground to start a real, civil discussion. I don’t get why people see this as so cut and dry, but I believe that humans are conflict-driven. We don’t find our identity until we oppose something, and as such compromise becomes an existential threat to our core. I don’t see this as a black and white issue. Here’s the way that I view the health care problem.

The Individual Mandate
Many see this as a wanton attack on their personal freedoms. Why, after all, should you be forced to purchase health insurance? I see several reasons – we’ll start with the most basic and move to the more subtle.

Because you can avoid driving, but can’t avoid dying
You should be forced to have health insurance for the same reason you’re forced to purchase car insurance. You are a drain on society at large when you show up to a hospital with some expensive condition, but no way to pay for it. You see, despite how the republicans would probably like it to function, when someone shows up at a hospital bleeding, they treat first, ask questions later. In fact, they’ll willingly treat patients that they know don’t have insurance. It a strange sort of ethics, helping those in need. Whether or not you’re prepared for sickness or injury, it will happen anyway.

But, you aren’t forced to by car insurance, you might say. That’s very true – you are free to not drive a car. But you’re not free to not live. The only way one can avoid the possibility of ever needing medical attention is to cease to exist, and the dead rarely vote in enough numbers to have their views properly represented.

Because medical expenses are ridiculously expensive
But why is medical treatment so expensive? Partly because doctors have to go to school for like a decade before they can practice. As with basically every field in a free market, the more difficult and time consuming your skill is to acquire, the more money you make to practice it. There are other principle drivers in health care cost beyond this obvious and necessary one, as only the very ignorant begrudge the skilled of their just payment. One is overhead, something the government is very good at (in the “they are so inefficient that there is a lot of overhead” sort of way). Another is liability. If a doctor can be sued for $4 million dollars, that money has to be made up somewhere. You don’t show up for your physical and see a $4 million dollar tab because the last guy sued, but 4 million people see an extra dollar, and you’re paying for hundreds of such egregiously overboard lawsuits whenever you see a doctor. It’s a fine line, as lawsuits are a good way to enforce good policy (don’t let your doctors work 36 hours in a row) and dissuade careless mistakes. But I believe reform is needed.

By the way, an aside here. Last year, it cost Medicare $55 billion to cover the last two months of patient’s lives, 30% of which was completely meaningless expense (a source, if that’s allowed). If a treatment doesn’t have any scientific usefulness, why should we pay for it? It’s not like the patient is paying for it – the patient’s insurance and my premiums are paying for it. It sounds reasonable to me that evidence-based medicine, regulated by experts, researchers and doctors should be making decisions about what is and what is not a useful expenditure. We might, for lack of better term, call such a group of experts a Death Panel. You’ve got to give it to Sarah Palin, she’s got a way with the people. Terminology like that is what has gotten us into this political civil war.

Because insurance is supposed to win more bets than it loses
But none of this is why there’s an individual mandate. The reason why Romneycare and Obamacare entail an individual mandate is because there’s no way the insurance companies would take on the rest of the bill without it. When asked what they like about Obamacare, people respond by saying that they like things like a) keeping your dependents on your insurance until they’re 26, b) not having a lifetime max, and c) not being denied insurance for existing conditions. All of these things cost the insurance companies lots of money. If you were an insurance company, why in the world would you provide insurance to someone with a pre-existing condition??? The way you make money is by betting that people, as a whole, will pay more in premiums than they spend in expenses. It’s a guaranteed loss if you insure someone with an existing condition. So…why do people want the ability to get insurance with a pre-existing condition? Because they don’t like the idea of dying! Or they lose their job, and then get a new job, despite the fact that they have cancer. It’s not rocket science (though it might be brain surgery, which will set you back 6 figures). The individual mandate exists for the purpose of providing a guaranteed pool of good bets to counter-balance the bad bets that the insurance companies are forced to take on by the other provisions. Romney’s no economic dummy; that’s why he did it in MA.

Because something’s wrong with this picture
Here’s a survey of who doesn’t have health insurance. Let’s cover “who does have health insurance”:
1) Rich people
2) White people
3) Old people (from the government)
Who doesn’t? Minorities and the poor. Really, it’s the poor – and were you aware that minorities were disproportionately poor? They must lack the good, old, puritan work ethic, right? Or perhaps we’re not as much the land of the free that we think we are? Maybe there exist conditions that foster a tiny bit of injustice? I don’t want to sound too much like one of those bleeding heart liberals or anything, but, really, you’d rather just let people rot in a miserable existence and then die due to lack of care?

The current way doesn’t work!
This is almost too obvious. Here are some more facts. We are horribly inefficient RIGHT NOW, with no Obamacare, with no Romneycare, with our plain old busted up system. Somebody’s got to do something!

In conclusion
There are reasons for an individual mandate, and a whole different set of reasons for why some form of universal health care is a good idea in general. Perhaps this isn’t an issue for the federal government – I can buy that. Perhaps we’d be better off if the state governments set up exchanges, provided a subsidy system akin to food stamps for health care vouchers, then privatized the industry in a decade. There are ways that such a system could be implemented better. But this isn’t about freedom. No one is free to choose to screw over the rest of society. And society isn’t free to choose to screw over those whose voices are too weak to buy themselves the influence to represent their viewpoints either.

For further reading, see Jen K, who has my full support in all things she does, though I find her bolded quote to be an oversimplification, one seeped in conflict and one that would be hard pressed to compromise. Trench warfare with an impossible gap between.

Flying Over Stuff

When you take a month or two off, the best way to get back into it is to copy and paste something that you wrote for another purpose, this time to the customer service department of United.

I’ve always been fascinated by the features below while flying, be they topographic or man-made. I even intentionally cram all 6 feet of myself into the window seat so that I can watch the ground for hours at a time. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m looking at. On Flight 753 from BWI to SFO on the morning of 6/24, however, I got all the information I could possibly want from a First Officer who provided non-stop commentary of the ground below on channel 9.

I very much appreciate the First Officer’s efforts (though, fascinated as I was, I did not listen to the entire narration, which was 5 hours long). I have always thought that this sort of interactivity was in the future of air travel – with basic internet connectivity and access to Google Maps and Wikipedia, anyone would give himself a running commentary of the ground below. I spent some time trying to figure out how to make a system such as that cost effective for you, and couldn’t really come up with any easy, unobtrusive way…so, for now, I appreciate the First Officer’s efforts.

There was a problem, however. The ATC chatter interrupted her feed constantly. The interruption itself wasn’t a big issue…but the fact that the volume of the ATC feed was many decibels louder than the FO’s made listening uncomfortable. I’d crank up the volume to hear her narration, only to be startled over and over by a blast of shorthand jibberish. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to listen to that too…but the disparate volumes was unfortunate. Perhaps the FO’s Cockpit Topics could be placed on a separate channel from the ATC chatter? There were many unused stations.

Anyway, thanks for all the useful info. I hope that you encourage more of your staff to follow her lead. I enjoyed knowing what I was looking at.

And if you ever want help brainstorming how to make a better system, drop me a line…or give me a pad of paper on my next flight and I’ll fill it up for you, gratis. I spend most of the flight thinking about that problem anyway.

State of Misbelief

A couple days ago, North Carolina passed an amendment to their constitution defining marriage to be between a man and a woman.  I don’t agree with such an amendment, though I’m not as fired up (and frankly, as closed minded and vitriolic) as others who have been lambasting the vote.

A few things about the State here…

  1. I don’t see why the state should be involved in this question.
  2. That said, citizens in North Carolina have a right to define their laws via constitutional amendments…
  3. …which is an epically stupid way to run a state, as California can attest to.  Referendums are a horrid way to govern.  There’s a reason why we have a representative government.  The people are short sighted.  Mob rule has never and will never work.  My apologies to the communists and anarchists.  It’s against human nature for the individual to look out for the good of the community.

Despite the civic forum, however, this is primarily a religious question.  And the concept of gay marriage does fall into the religious arena.  Like it or not, the Bible is clear on the issue.  At risk of being burned at the stake as a heretic…that still doesn’t matter in this case.  The Bible Inc never trademarked any of its terminology.  Marriage, as recognized by Christian institutions, should adhere to the rules of the specific religious institutions.  Marriage, as a civil union between consenting individuals, is outside of the church’s scope.

The church (could use a capital C for the Church universal) is a body of believers.  Unbelievers get married every day.  Well, at least every weekend.  The church doesn’t seem to mind this – unbelievers mimicking the Christian institution of marriage.  In fact, I think that the church agrees with this idea.  As a God-ordained sacrament, marriage is an instrument of common grace.  It exposes sin, it roots out selfishness, it can act as an agent of sanctification.  So, if the church sees marriage as a useful tool for evangelism, why limit it through the creation of a legally binding glossary?

If I were to guess, however, legal marriage is only half of what the gay community wants here.  I’d guess that they not only want to be allowed to be married, they want people to agree that it’s not wrong for them to do so.  Can you imagine a state legislating “Gay marriage is both legal, and it is illegal for you to say that it’s wrong?”  I don’t think we’re particularly close to that happening.  Nor should we write a constitutional amendment condemning the wrongness of certain varieties of lifestyle.  We have a sort of constitution that already does that, and, while all men will one day be held accountable to its judgment, the state is not that court.  The Bible was never meant to be a basis for a Christian Sharia law.  We can’t be so aghast about Islam’s legislative morality if we’re so eager to pass our own brand.

So why did this pass so overwhelmingly?  Because people interpreted the amendment as a call to arms.  Because people thought that they were being asked “Please check YES for ‘Good’ and NO for ‘Evil'”.  Because this topic is a shibboleth, a representative issue used to prove your holiness against a tide of worldliness. But I don’t think this sort of legislation helps Christendom.

I’ve been wondering what I’d do if I lived in North Carolina.  I don’t like the question, so I would not provide an answer.  If this were put to a vote in my presbytery, I’d vote.  But in my state…it’s not a battle that I think needs to be fought.


Too lazy to write this again:

Here’s the link.

A copy of the letter I just sent to the US Postal Service:

Since moving into our neighborhood in Elkridge, MD, my wife and I have adored our normal letter carrier, Barbara. She always takes care of everyone’s packages, even wrapping them in plastic and tucking them into the door when it rains. She consistently has a kind word at the mail box, and is a bright spot in our days.

Lately she has been very rushed. I understand that the US Postal Service is in an awkward position – you’re an essential part of our infrastructure and are mandated to service locations far and wide, yet are expected to be profitable despite these onerous constraints. It’s a difficult task, and cutting back on workers or delivery days is a reasonable approach to it. I do not begrudge you the tough decisions that you must make.

But for the life of me, I can’t understand why you had a second mail car following Barbara through her route last Thursday. At first, I assumed that he was just switching out a bag or dropping off something – who knows – but as I got closer, I could tell that he wasn’t doing anything in particular. He was listening to Led Zeppelin (a good choice) and gazing off into space. I jokingly asked Barbara if they were sending managers to follow her around and make sure she was working fast enough. A consummate professional, she didn’t answer, though she was clearly upset. But I believe that he was doing just that.

This cannot possibly be efficient. Give the man a bag and let him help at least.

The USPS has a lot of factors working against it in a frugal economy. As a government agency, you are bloated and unwieldy – you will never be as nimble as your competitors. One thing that you do have is a lot of quality people like Barbara who have been serving the community for decades. If you lost that…I’d rather just send an email. Cut costs to stay alive, but remember not to lose your soul in the process.


I’ve probably posted my Weather Links before. Today, thanks to Carlos, I added a new one, an awesome Vectorized Wind Map. Even if you’re not a nerd, click on that, you’ll think it’s pretty sweet.

The Thin Gray Line

In days past, I’ve been prone to developing unrequited crushes. Eventually, you start thinking to yourself, “hmmm – see that look? I think she notices me too.” You have conversations in your head, you run simulations, you start planning for the next, blissful step – if only you can take the first step. And then one day, you run into this girl in the hallway. You introduce yourself, and she asks if you’re new – she hasn’t seen you around before. It was all in your head. Only your head.

Maybe that’s not the sort of thing that you think about in your head. Maybe you think you’re a hero – a protector of the people, someone who looks out for the little guy, someone who takes a stand. You join the neighborhood watch, a selfless thing to do, you think. You keep a vigilant eye on your friends and neighbors – a thin gray-ish line between your peaceful little community and the chaos constantly rapping at the gates.

One day, you see a kid, a black kid, head down and hidden in a hood, talking to himself, walking just a certain way. You know trouble when you see it. This is it, this is why they trusted you with this responsibility. You follow, calling the police so that they can get the right name in the paper when they haul this mope in on an outstanding warrant. He looks back – damnit, he sees you. He walks faster, he’s hiding something, what’s in his pocket? You keep following. He starts to run.

Are you a MAN or are you a coward, George? Are you a man? How many chances will you have to step it up, to put your foot down, to show the thugs and thieves that you’re watching, that the people won’t stand it. There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to decide.

You pursue, he scrambles. It’s a chase, it’s on. You’re gonna be a hero, you think, as you finger the pistol in your jacket pocket…but you ain’t no martyr.

Now let’s say you’re Trayvon Martin. You’re lost in a conversation with your girlfriend – you’ve been talking all day, about pointless things mostly. You get yourself some candy from the convenience store because you’re 17 years old and skittles never killed anybody. As you walk away, you gradually become aware of a man a few dozen paces back. Whenever you turn, he’s there. He’s staring straight at you, a wild look in his eyes. You tell your girlfriend he’s watching you, and her frenzied reaction doesn’t help. You make a left at the stop sign, so does he. You pick up the pace, so does he. You run. So does he. He’s catching you. Heart pounding, it’s fight or flight…and flight’s not working. You turn to face the wild-eyed man, terrified, and he lunges toward you. You fight. You die.

I don’t think George Zimmerman set out to shoot a black kid on February 26th. I’d guess he got lost in his own head, in the illusions of his own heroism. We’ve all be lost in a fantasy before. Maybe it’s about your crush, maybe you’re the boss at work now, and everyone listens to you. Maybe you’re thwarting terrorists, maybe you’re saving a lost soul. And maybe you kept your friends and neighbors safe, aww shucks, any real American would have done the same. And the accolades rain down.

A hero’s complex with a gun is a bad combination. Call me crazy, but I’d rather that those with hero complexes also had martyr complexes. You give your life to save others. There’s a cost, a dear one, and so your heroism and the resultant glory does not come lightly. Nature does it best in the honey bee. The stinger is only to be used for causes so noble that the bee must give up its life to use it.

If George Zimmerman didn’t have his ballistic bravery, he’d never have confronted Trayvon Martin. He would have been forced to snap out of his fantasy, consider the cost, and weigh the evidence. It was a case of the wrong kind of power in the hands of the wrong kind of man.

One man’s life is ruined for nothing, another’s was ended for nothing. Remember that when you get wound into a knot of pseudo-reality. Step back. Count the costs, and not just the cost to you.


I wish these could be better.  But, here’s a small collection from <a href=”http://furstie.smugmug.com/NewPictures/New-Pictures/2094521_MP4pDg#!i=1753033513&k=p6DgJsj”>DC this morning</a>.

They are building an elementary school near my house. I’ve seen the design plans; it’s pretty spiffy looking, nice lighting, efficient energy usage and all that. They’re replacing a chunk of wetlands/woods with it. Overcrowding is an issue, as people continue to procreate.

Sounds pretty straightforward. But all is not well in sleepy (industrial) Elkridge. We went to a town hall type meeting on the topic with the Hannas tonight. There, we encountered people who were:
1) Angry
2) Ignorant
3) Outspoken

They were angry about a few different things – traffic, parking, a fence, construction noise, and life in general. Some of their consternation was justified – I, for one, agree that traffic will be an issue. But people have NO concept of how to communicate their concerns effectively. Shrill, repetitive, abrasive, abusive, selfish, over-the-top, and occasionally incoherent – 80% of the comments exhibited one of more of those characteristics. One comment found a way to use the phrase “unmitigated nightmare” twice in one compound sentence (though the second time was referring to her grammar). All and all, there were some decent points – but horrid tone throughout, and completely ineffective.

While there were about 75 people there, most of the comments came from 8ish particularly obnoxious individuals. I get the feeling that these people travel from meeting to meeting, rousing ramble spewing venom to anyone who is held hostage in the forum. It was almost not worth it to try to keep order, no one left happy, and nothing was solved.

While the politicians spoke a lot of typical politician jargon, it was all that the people deserved. We are not fit, as a nation, to govern ourselves. We require representatives who are somewhat less ignorant to make our decisions for us. We would never decide anything, and we’d argue a lot while not deciding it. In that way, our politicians are perfect archetypes for us – they represent the barely repressed hatred of the mob toward civility and compromise.

It was definitely a little depressing to see us in action. But at least it was funny.

Waking Dream

To those who know me, it’s no real surprise that I am spasmodically obsessive. When I latch on to something, I fixate. I’ve taken some steps to avoid this – I don’t do puzzles, I stay away from most needlessly strenuous mental exercises, and I mostly read non-fiction. You can’t become fixated on non-fiction; it’s too boring.

But every so often I decide to become involved with a book. If I catch hold of it, I’ll read hundreds of pages a day. I completely immerse myself in the world, until I might as well trade out my existence for a fabricated one. Over the last 9 days, I plowed through the 1200 pages of the Hunger Games Trilogy. I lived in that disturbing world, even beginning to evaluate the meddle of reality against the alternate reality presented in its pages.

I’m fortunate that books eventually end. Delusion can be powerful, and life, real life, is always so much less interesting than fake life. For most, there are no travails that define our lives in these frantic, but peaceful times. In a book (particular in popular teen fiction), meaning and purpose are so cut and dry. In life, not so much. We are not the olden generation. We’re listless, our lives are haphazard, and much of what we face every day is utterly unimportant.

In general terms, these books do a fantastic job at presenting a world that is disturbingly depraved, yet still vaguely plausible. They sugar coat nothing, and fall into cliches infrequently. They even blur the lines between good and evil, leaving you with a realistic sort of bad evil and less bad evil view of the institutions of mankind.

If done well, it’ll make a great movie. At least the first two books will. The last one…kinda ran out of steam, though it had its moments. I have a hard time visualizing them making these PG-13, as a faithful account of the books’ vicious and dark world could easily necessitate an R. It’s tough to sugar coat children killing children for the amusement of adults, particularly given the brutally graphic ways in which people – most everyone, really – dies.

Still, I’ll be watching it.

FYI, this review is simulcast here. Just in case you want to emulate my eclectic reading habits.

Garden 2012

The newest batch of seeds is here. I have crocuses blooming three weeks early outside and tulips out probably five weeks early outside, but I’m holding the line with when the seeds go in the ground in the basement. 2/21 for the first plants, 3/1 for the next batch, then 3/8 for the last. I’ll start sending a few out to the deck mid-April, with the first going into the ground around May 1.

I’m going to add another row of bricks around the garden border this year – I already have more volume of topsoil from all the extra that I’ve added over the last few years, and this is going to be a substantial increase in my topsoil depth. It’ll probably take me a few years to build it up to the full level, and I’ll have to be careful to keep the soil graded away from the house. This is going to further segregate the garden from the lawn – hopefully the weeds stop trying to jump the wall en masse.

Otherwise, I’m still just experimenting. The zinnias were big winners last year, and I’m propagating some lilies because I had a hard time throwing out healthy bulbs, but once more, most of the plants are new. I’m definitely intending to keep everything more spread out this year; that’s the big focus point in my planting strategy. Less is more.

That said, I’ll have many spare seedlings, should anyone be interested. Here’s this year’s crop:
Dwarf Zinnia
Queen Red Lime Zinnia
Ornamental Maple
Marigold Scarlet Sophie
Marigold Durango Bee
Primula You and Me Blue

Republican Debate

I’m not going to live blog this debate. I don’t want to watch the whole thing. But this is too fantastic.

9:10 PM: Romney just hammered Gingrich. Hammered him. Obama could use those exact words against him. Wow. And Gingrich is horrid.

9:13 PM: Santorum sounding sensible here, comparatively at least.

9:15 PM: Paul whacks Gingrich again – says Congress was chaos when he was in charge.

9:18 PM: Why exactly is gold useful as a currency? It’s sort of arbitrary, isn’t it?

9:21 PM: Romney won’t pay more taxes than he owes. But he should owe more.

9:23 PM: Brian Williams doing a good job here. Jen points out that he looks good too.

9:24 PM: Bet Romney’s not bragging about Staples in 5 years. Hashtag ExpectExtinction.

9:25 PM: So, are we looking at Romney and Santorum vs Gingrich and Paul? By the way, I’m thinking that Wall Street’s failure would have been a good thing.

9:27 PM: So all this about lobbyists being bad, does that mean we’re going to get rid of it? Maybe we should make laws against lobbyists?

9:30 PM: Both Romney and Gingrich started off being very civil. Not any more.

9:32 PM: Gingrich just made sense on the insensibility of government medicare policies.

9:38 PM: I am looking forward to when Obama debates whoever comes out of this. I’d like to hear something different. Everybody sounds smart when they’re the only ones presenting an argument.

9:43 PM: Romney sounds like he knows something about money.

9:44 PM: Wait, Fidel Castro isn’t dead?

9:44 PM: OK, fine, Fidel Castro is going to hell. Glad you guys have that figured out.

9:45 PM: We didn’t generate the Arab Spring.

9:46 PM: I like Paul talking about Cuba. Wow, great answer from Ron Paul. Too bad he’s an anarchist.

9:48 PM: Santorum! Axis of Evil! Al Qaeda’s going to nuke us from Cuba! Hehehehe!

9:49 PM: Love the two hawkish young white guys sitting behind Williams.

9:50 PM: I agree, navy ships are going to be around forever. We should make sure they have bayonets too.

9:51 PM: I’m about ready to leave this.

9:53 PM: Ron Paul just pointed out we committed the first act of war against Iran. Holy cow. Ron Paul on foreign policy!

OK, that’s all for me. Going to bed.

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