Monday, May 29, 2006

Movement 06

I was pessimistic. It's not going to happen. I didn't plan ahead. I could only attend Saturday.

The weather was perfect.

It reminded me a little bit about who I am and how I have spent the last 10 years of my life. I felt some sort of essence that I haven't felt in a long time. As an adult, I touched my youth again for a weekend.

I stretched that Saturday well into Sunday's territory, and still made it to work on time, hangover free.

I had fun. Thanks Paxahau.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Desmond Dekker, R.I.P.

I've just recently become a big Desmond Dekker fan. Just wednesday I was out having a pint, chatting with a member of Mustard Plug and his name came up. Dekker's reggae was a simple yet infectious sound infused with a refeshing optimism. Check out his hits "Israelites," or "0.0.7. (Shanty Town)." Itunes has a good comp called "Desmond Dekker: Israelites - The Best of Desmond Dekker," which was released by reggae giant Trojan records and features 25 lovely Dekker tunes. Well worth your ten bucks. I'll listen today and feel good.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Beware the Signature Seekers

This evening as I entered my local supermarket for a DiGiorno frozen pizza I was stopped by a man looking for my signature. He was a black man, maybe in his late 30's, with graying hair pulled back in cornrows and an old track suit. He wanted me to sign his petition to reduce the amount of health care that our elected officials receive. At least that's what he said.

I was immediately skeptical because of the Affirmative Action petition, which many people signed under the assumption that it was in support of Affirmative Action ("Petition Signers Say They Were Duped" -G.R. Press, May 20). It is not.

I became more skeptical when this individual began to try to tell me that Michigan has a part time legislature. That was wrong. Michigan has a full time legislature. He must have sensed my reluctance because he switched rails and came at me with another petition. This one was a petition to end the "Small Business Tax," as he called it. The SBT is actually the Single Business Tax, and it is a prime target of Michigan Republicans at the moment.

The SBT petition he misinformed me about is an effort headed by Oakland County Commissioner L. Brooks Patterson. He's trying to collect 254,206 signatures by May 31st. Apparently he's two-thirds of the way there. Granholm says she won't kill the SBT until an adequate fund replacement is found, but if this petition drive works, she might not have the option
("Repeal petition in need of signatures, contributions"- The Oakland Press, May 6).

Since this guy was bullshitting me, I bullshitted back a bit. I told him that the SBT funds important services for the poor, which is true to some extent. If the SBT is cut, some programs will have to be cut, and it's a fair bet that the poor will bear the brunt of such cuts.

I can't find any info on the other petition he wanted me to sign. I tried to read it but couldn't concentrate with his constant chatter.

This guy did have an impressive little schpiel, even if it was total disinformation. I hope I run into someone like him again, now that I'm a little more informed on the subject. I'd like to ask them if they actually supports this effort, or it he would collect signatures for anything as long as they got paid. I thought about this while I shopped, but when I came out with my frozen pizza the guy was gone.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fast Food Nation Trailer

I have high expectations. I love Linklater, and the book was mindblowing. The trailer ain't doing it for me though.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Running On Acid

Lactic acid, that is. It's myth-bustin' time!

From the NYTimes
Through trial and error, coaches learned that athletic performance improved when athletes worked on endurance, running longer and longer distances, for example.

That, it turns out, increased the mass of their muscle mitochondria, letting them burn more lactic acid and allowing the muscles to work harder and longer.

Just before a race, coaches often tell athletes to train very hard in brief spurts.

That extra stress increases the mitochondria mass even more, Dr. Brooks said, and is the reason for improved performance.
Can you say Fartlek?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Gov't VS Media

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Exciting Conclusion (Part 2)

When I arrived at the start line I looked down and started my watch. The sea of runners in front of me on Market street was a sight to behold. Quite a nice crowd had gathered near the start to cheer on the runners. One little guy in a baby stroller was a bit freaked out by the sight, I think, based on his howling cry, but that reaction was a singularity. Most people smiled, waved, and cheered. Kids seemed to cheer the loudest. I looked down and realized that I hadn't started the stopwatch. I had spaced and pushed the wrong button. I started the clock, I guessed about 30 seconds late. In the opening miles, I found myself among runners at a slower pace, and I had to pick my openings to pass runners, sometimes having to leap laterally through gaps in moving humanity. As we passed the 2 mile mark, runners were already beginning to shed layers. Gloves, hats, windbreakers, etc. were tossed to the side of the course. At the same time I noticed that some runners were already having to stop to urinate. This I couldn't really understand and I thought of my father preparing the kids for a long car trip.

I was still slowed a bit by the slower runners. I probably should have started with a faster group. At least my legs were feeling good. My fears about my left knee had been left at the start line, but I was still relieved that my stride felt smooth and not jerky like my last training run.

As we approached the freeway overpass, the sound of David Lee Roth was on the air. There was a DJ under the bridge playing "Beautiful Girls" LOUDLY. I looked around and spotted more than a few beautiful girls in the pack, looking good at the beginning of the race. That's enough to put a spring in anyone's step.

Next it was to Indian Mounds Rd, a two lane asphalt trail along the southern bank of the Grand River. Within another few mile or so, the pack had sufficiently thinned enough that I had plenty of space to run comfortably at my own pace. We had already passed two aid stations, but I ran right by them. Runners continued to pull off the trail to visit the woods for bladder breaks, and there was even a line 2 deep at a port-a-potty around mile five. I thought of those family car trips again. I had done the entire course a few weeks back, and I had run this leg every week for months. Only once did I have to take a break to pee.

At a first aid station a woman is seated, injured and in tears. Tears not of pain, but disappointment.

The aid stations were well manned with very enthusiastic volunteers of all ages. Served on outstretched arms to runners was water, Gatorade, and ice in cups. Also, at each station there were a few folks holding out hands thickly coated with petroleum jelly for runners who were experiencing chafing (I had lubed up before the race, but at the end of the day, my nipples were still a little tender). All this was something I had never seen before, since my longest race to date had been 5K.

Where Indian Mounds met up again with normal roadways, another roaring crowd off onlookers had gathered. I passed the first of three high school cheerleading teams. In the crowd was a lady who looked to be about 70 who held a sign that read "I Love You, Rick," her face beaming with what I assume was anticipation of seeing Rick pass by. I wondered, do I look cool? It didn't matter too much, because I felt cool. I looked at the faces of the people who stood in bunches at the side of the course. Most probably had gathered to cheer on a loved one, but surely some had come simply for the spectacle. In a lot of these faces I saw something like awe. Eyes wide with incredulity. Eyes that were hunting for the secret. Curious eyes that could not comprehend exactly what drove people to these levels of suffering. But also eyes that urged us on. Eyes that drove us to continue. Windows to the souls of these people who were living vicariously through us runners, who hoped we would not give in to pain.

Thanks to months of training, I was still feeling strong and really not suffering much. I was running at a pace just a tad quicker than my training pace. We crossed the bridge over the Grand River and headed back up off the North Bank. I crossed the halfway point at one hour and 4 minutes according to my calculations. I was off pace to finish in two hours, but all was not lost. I still had the second half of the race to quicken up, and I still had good legs. I turned it up half a notch.

The problem is that the second half of the course is the hilly half. Now, the course in general is pretty flat, but there are a few rolling hills, and they are all between miles 9 and 12. I had been particularly concerned about how my knee would perform on this part of the course. It's not the going up that I have trouble with, it's the pounding that comes along with running back down that racks the joints in my legs. I would have to deal with all this, and faster, if I was break the two hour mark, a goal set more by the pure roundness of the number rather than a sense that it was realistically attainable (hint).

There was a young lady running ahead of me that caught my eye. She had her long brown hair in a thick braid running down her back. She had a good stride, but her physique was not a purely economical one ideal for running. No, hers was a form enhanced with bounties ideal for other pursuits. But as the course began the fist mild incline she began to drift back in the pack and there I was passing her with no ceremony. The first downhill. I lengthened my stride and let gravity do more of the work as I accelerated down the slope. Knee feels good. On the second and more severe hill, more runners drop behind. One ahead on the left stops running altogether and is quickly behind me, but there's a core group of us that are still going strong. There's the short guy in the grey and the headphones. The tall guy in the dorky running singlet who looks like he's not working at all and his female friend who looks like she is. These are my pacers, and these are the people I want to keep in sight, unless I pass them first.

A few more hills. At around mile 12 I'm really starting to fatigue. This is the same spot I started to weaken when I ran the course a few weeks back. Just when I'm hating the fact that there are still more than 3 miles left, there's a guy on the left cheering us on.

"Good Job! You just finished the worst of it, It's flat from here on it!"

This is reassuring and I think about the time. I'm not making much headway on the 2 hour mark, but maybe I can take it up another notch on the flat course ahead. But now my legs are not so strong. I don't have a lot of reserve to dip into. I remember reading about long distance runners. They say that at the end of the race, your legs are done, and your head is done, and all that's left is heart. You're running on pure heart. To be honest, I don't think I was quite there, but I learned what it meant. As more and more runners broke stride to catch a breath, I had to rely on my heart for a lot.

Entering the city again after the hills meant more cheering supporters. This really does make a difference, especially at this point. I just keep thinking that only 3 miles left, 2.5 miles left, 2 miles left. I want to take it up another notch, because the 2 hour mark is all but lost. I know it's unrealistic that I'll break it, but I want to come as close as I can. But I have a hard time digging deeper. I'm no longer as confident that I look cool. I think that maybe I look like I'm flagging, because that's how I'm feeling.

I'm touched as I see more than one runner, and then another, pause (very) briefly to greet friends at the side of the course. I'm thinking about time, and not stopping, but these folks have a broader view, and are smiling more than me.

We pass the last aid station.

"One more mile! Keep going! You can do it!"

There ahead of me are two old guys. I'm reminded that apart from the elites, you can't tell by looking who might be a good runner.

Finally we turn the last corner and the finish is almost in sight.

"Go Joe!!"

I look left and there's Bridget, the wife of my coworker and co-runner Carl, the first familiar face I've seen all day. I smile with a wave, and think of those with the broader view, but there ain't no way I'm stopping now. I dig for something and find enough to prepare for a strong finish. I can see the banners and hear the ruckus. Even as I find more strength, it's comes with a hint of disappointment. I know that I could have run this race just a little faster. But that emotion is quickly overwhelmed with relief when I cross the finish line.

In seconds my legs feel like concrete. I'm walking to seats to remove my timing chip. Give me some protein!! Some yogurt and a banana, and a free massage, and then I'm heading home. I leave the post-race party pumped with adrenaline and exhausted. There's a sense of accomplishment and also the sweet sadness that is the end of anticipation. Crossing that finish line was the end of a journey that started months earlier when I began to train. Now it's over. My official time is 2 hours 7 minutes and 10 seconds. I ran the second half just about a minute faster than the first. I was running 8 minute 13 second miles, on average. I'll take a few days to let my legs recover and have a few beers in the meantime.

What's next?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Exciting Conclusion (Part 1)

When we last left you, dear reader, your hero was mulling over his mild leg issues on the night before the big race. His pre-race jitters were mounting and he only wanted to get a good night's rest.

As the night grew deep, sleep was indeed in short supply. I lay down at midnight and tossed and turned for hours. I tried counting sheep, counting my exhalations, visualizing pure relaxation. None of it worked, until after 5am. My alarm was set for 6:30, and I awoke before it went off.

The ground was wet, but the rain was no longer falling. The temperature was in the mid 40's. My supplies were prepared, and I brewed a cup of coffee for a jump start. By twenty after seven I was in the car on the way downtown. I had to invent a parking space and I walked a few blocks to the start area. Runners (and some wheelchair racers) were mulling about in great numbers. I did some stretches and took my spot with the 9 minute milers. I was being conservative because I wanted to pass rather than be passed. The wheelchair riders were the first to go, and the rest of us waited in place for a few more minutes. I was easily 150 yards from the actual start line. This is not a problem due to modern race technology. "Chips" tied into shoelaces keep track of the time, so that a runner's true time can be determined.

This was good, because when the gun went off (I don't think there was actually a gun, though), the mass of humanity immediately in front of me was slow to react. This was because they were waiting for the people in front of them to move. It was humorous how we would begin a walk, and slowly begin a trot in tight formation. Then the bottleneck at the start would lead to a clog of runners almost like concertgoers squashed among humanity. This was repeated again before we actually crossed the start line more than 2 minutes after the first runners had begun. (to be cont'd)

Friday, May 12, 2006


Paperback edition now avaiable. Goes well with Basic Channel.

Pre Race Status Report

It's the night before the Fifth Third Riverbank Run 25K, and I have a hammy issue. At least it feels like a hammy issue. It's really a whole left leg issue. It popped up this week. Maybe I ramped things up just a bit too much before I tapered. I got a soreness in my hamstring that I can't exactly pinpoint or explain. As I went out for one last hard 5 mile run on Tuesday night, I was having to really check my stride. Something was definitely not right. I haven't run since then, but on a long walk this evening, the left knee feels a little weak. Not solid like the right knee. No real pain, exactly, but I'm walking around a little gingerly.

Luckily, the course is relatively flat, so there will be no hard pounding on the joints from hills. The forecast is for rain and temps in the 40s and 50s. Not ideal, but could be worse, I guess. At the prerace check-in today I bought a shirt off a guy who said that rain is good for bum legs. Runners are wierd like that.

So, will I break the 2 hour mark tommorow? Will I even finish? WIll I cross with the Kenyans or break down in tears at the 10 mile mark? Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion.

Guns and Aggression

Guns don't kill people, they make people want to kill people.

It's a classic logical inconsistency in modern liberal thought that banning guns is good, but criminalizing drugs is bad. Do we trust each other to make behave responsibly or not? Well, it's not that cut and dry. That's because guns seem to hijack the aggression impulse men's brains, according to pyschologists at Knox College in Illinois. It was found that handling a gun spikes a man's testosterone levels.

From the NYTimes:
Handling a gun stirs a hormonal reaction in men that primes them for aggression, new research suggests. . . .the young men were asked to rate the taste of a drink, a cup of water with a drop of hot sauce in it. They were then told to prepare a drink for the next person in the experiment, adding as much hot sauce as they liked.

"Those who had handled the gun put in about three times as much as the others — 13 grams on average, which is a lot," said Tim Kasser, one of the authors.
So back the the guns/drugs arguement. You could now make the case that both guns and drugs alter the brains of the people who like to use them, but I haven't seen any evidence that a doobie makes a person want to burn his neighbor's mouth with hotsauce. Liberals need a better arguement on this topic. I propose an anti-violence stance. Guns lend themselves to violence and are therefore to be regulated. Doobies decrease violence and increase jam sessions. Whether you think doobies should be regulated depends on your taste for drum circles.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Stop Blogging, Start Reading

Why am I sitting here blogging when I could be reading these books? A bunch of critics have voted on the best American fiction of the last 25 years. Some of the selections have been on my list for some time, but I can speak from experience on DeLillo. White Noise and Underworld (best read in that order) are both spectacular. Looking forward to reading my first Philip Roth (he's everywhere these days!), but gotta finish Marquez's . . .Cholera first. I'm a slow reader, unfortunately.

From the NYTimes:
Early this year, the Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, sent out a short letter to a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." [Read A. O. Scott's essay. See a list of the judges.] Following are the results.
I really liked Infinite Jest, but it's kinda left field. I wonder if it got any votes at all. I'm going to read now.

Big Brother Unmasked

Might have to switch back to tin cups and twine.

From AP:
AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth telephone companies began turning over records of tens of millions of their customers' phone calls to the National Security Agency program shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said USA Today, citing anonymous sources it said had direct knowledge of the arrangement.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel "to find out exactly what is going on."

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the panel, sounded incredulous about the program and railed against what he called a lack of congressional oversight. He argued that the media was doing the job of Congress.

"Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al Qaida?" Leahy asked. "These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything ... Where does it stop?"
Denver based Qwest was asked for records but denied the government on privacy grounds. So, if you are trying to decide who to give your service to, Cingular is an AT&T company. My German T-Mobile appears to be in the clear, and I'm assuming that the US govt isn't so eager to ask a foreign based company for internal information. I guess the lesson is Buy Non American, huh?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Yip Yip Yip Yip

Friday, May 05, 2006

More Love and Cholera

I started reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez years ago, but somehow never finished, despite having loved One Hundred Years of Solitude. Recently I thought it was time again for some good 'ol Magical Realism, so I picked up Cholera again. Marquez infuses so much color into each paragraph that I think I'll burst.
He was the first man that Fermina Daza heard urinate. She heard him on their wedding night, while she lay prostrate with seasickness in the stateroom on the ship that was carrying them to France, and the sound of his stallion's stream seemed so potent, so replete with authority, that it increased her terror of the devastation to come. That memory often returned to her as the years weakened the stream, for she could never resign herself to his wetting the rim of the toilet bowl each time he used it. Dr. Urbino tried to convince her, with arguments readily understandable to anyone who wished to understand them, that the mishap was not repeated everyday through carelessness on his part, as she insisted, but because of organic reasons: as a young man his stream was so defined and so direct that when he was at school he won contests for marksmanship in filling bottles, but with the ravages of age it was not only decreasing, it was also becoming oblique and scattered, and had at last turned into a fantastic fountain, impossible to control despite his many efforts to direct it. He would say: "The toilet must have been invented by someone who knew nothing about men."
Toilet humor, yes, and very funny.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Everyday Low Prices

The NYTimes has a story on Jordanian sweatshops. Jones Aparrel, Wal-Mart and Target are all supplied by the problem factories.

From the NYTimes:
"These are the worst conditions I've ever seen," he said. "You have people working 48 hours straight. You have workers who were stripped of their passports, who don't have ID cards that allow them to go out on the street. If they're stopped, they can be imprisoned or deported, so they're trapped, often held under conditions of involuntary servitude."
Don't support slavery with your commerce.