December 20, 2005

Vacation Update: Terrific Times!

Weather is here; wish you were beautiful.




December 16, 2005

I guess I'm royalty...

I've been elevated to the status of royalty recently. Someone eminently qualified to identify true value has linked to my blog and referred to me as Haiku/Novel King. A great honor, and I am humbled.

when will this day end?
clock, in slow motion, ticks once
vacation pending

December 14, 2005

Persistence

"Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
- Former US President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
Words for me to remember when my novel boomerangs back at me at a hundred miles an hour, having caught a rejection letter on its spinning arc. For the twentieth time.

December 11, 2005

coming to grips with my role

I have always thought of myself as a midfielder, wanted to be a midfielder. I played midfield for the past five years. I have the fitness and speed to be a very good winger, but this season I was forced into central defense because we had so much quality in midfield.

That was hard for me at first. As a sweeper, I don't run as much. I don't get involved in the attack. I have much less room for error--one mistake, and I'd better recover or it's one-on-one with the goalie.

Over the past several weeks, though, I've come to realize that I am a sweeper by nature. What seems to me to be natural and relatively effortless, other players have been praising as "great" play. I see the field and the play developing. I have good closing speed and recovery speed, and I couple that with good anticipation of where the play will go. I have even learned how to direct my other defenders on the field.

I still wish I were in midfield, attacking and building the game, but I have finally come to grips with the fact that I should be in central defense. That's just who I am, in my skills and in my personality. I have always loved watching great defensive play, whether it's football or soccer or even baseball (maybe that's why I never really got into tennis or golf or track, for example). And I do get a sublime satisfaction in thwarting an offensive threat and deflating the attackers' hopes.

Aw, hell, I never scored many goals anyway and wasn't about to turn into a serious offensive threat. Better to do what I'm good at and accept who I am than try to be something I'm not.

December 6, 2005

Polemicist

CLICK THIS LINK: [link]

My 16-year-old nephew, Max, is the bassist for this band in the DC area. They have two tracks on this web site at the time of this writing. "Numb" is great. The other is good, too.

December 5, 2005

Anchors Aweigh

Remember that feeling when you first had to ask a girl out? (OK, since more than half of my readers (2 of the 3) are women, perhaps you don't remember that.) Anyway... the hours of working up some semblance of nerve, the sweaty palms as you try to dial the phone, the absolute terror as you hear her voice on the other end of the line... and the anticipation of a rejection with a laugh track louder than the Cosby Show's followed by snickering and pointing at you all the next week as you walk down the halls of your junior high?

That's a little like the feeling I have as I print out my cover letter and first 40 pages of my manuscript to submit to a midlist publisher I think would be perfect for Across The Stream.

Wish me luck. Or don't. I guess it's up to you.

December 3, 2005

Proofreading Failure Leads to Distrubing Result

I'm happy the Cal Bears basketball team won their game over Akron tonight, but I was stumped by this portion of Yahoo! Sports' game summary:

Theo Robertson gave Cal a 62-49 lead with 12:50 to play on the front end of a fast break. Dambrot was forced to put Travis back on the floor, and he responded with two quick baskets that helped cut the advantage to 64-48 with 10:20 remaining.

I am not certain I would call going from a 13 point differential to a 16 point differential "cutting the lead." More distrubing is the fact that Akron appears to have lost a point despite getting two quick baskets. Curiouser and curiouser...

December 1, 2005

That Darned Survey

So here it is because someone asked for it. Blame that person.

  1. WHAT COLOR ARE YOUR KITCHEN PLATES?
    We have plates? Seriously, mostly they are white, but I prefer the plastic ones with drawings on them done by my children.
  2. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?
    I don't read books; I only write them. Last book I read was... um... hold on... nope, can't remember. It might have been the four books of the Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy.
  3. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?
    A renaissance-style map of the world.
  4. FAVORITE BOARD GAME?H
    aven't played it in 33 years, but I used to love Uncle Wiggly. Watch out for the Skeezix!
  5. FAVORITE SMELLS?
    evergreen; desert dust during a thunder shower
  6. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU WAKE UP IN THE MORNING?
    what time I have to be somewhere
  7. FAVORITE COLOR:
    generally forest green, though rich, dark blues are good, too
  8. LEAST FAVORITE COLOR:
    Red
  9. HOW MANY RINGS UNTIL YOU ANSWER THE PHONE?
    I am getting used to ignoring the phone, and it is quite liberating.
  10. FAVORITE CHILD'S NAME?
    I love both of my children equally and don't have a "favorite." The name for a child I liked best but didn't get to use is "Tess" for a girl. NOT "Tessie," though.
  11. CHOCOLATE OR VANILLA?
    Usually vanilla.
  12. DO YOU LIKE TO DRIVE FAST?
    I tend to drive fast, yes, but I don't look at it as a thrill or a recreational activity.
  13. DO YOU SLEEP WITH A STUFFED ANIMAL?
    Nope.
  14. DO YOU LIKE THUNDERSTORMS?
    Brilliant.
  15. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?
    1979 Subaru wagon. I was a junior in high school. There was a girl on the track team who had a white 1965 Mustang with red leather interior. It was sweet. My Subaru was not so sweet, but it got me around OK.
  16. WHAT IS YOUR SIGN?
    Cancer. But in the sense that BSP took the question, my sign is "DO NOT DISTRUB."
  17. DO YOU EAT THE STEMS OF BROCCOLI?
    Ayep.
  18. IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY JOB WHAT WOULD IT BE?
    If that isn't the best straight line I've seen today, I don't know what is. Anyway, one of the best jobs in the world is former president of the United States. You get like $200,000 a year, you get your own bodyguards... sweet.
  19. IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY COLOR HAIR, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
    I kind of like the color I used to have, when I had hair.
  20. IS THE GLASS HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY?
    Half full. And if I leave it out in the rain, it will soon be entirely full.
  21. FAVORITE MOVIE?
    The Sting, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Mary Poppins, Singin' in the Rain
  22. DO YOU TYPE WITH YOUR FINGERS ON THE RIGHT KEYS?
    Urd/
  23. WHAT'S UNDER YOUR BED?
    a big basket full of wrapping paper. some books. slippers. lots of dust.
  24. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH?
    Football and soccer. I can like hockey, too, and sometimes like to watch a good boxing match. Can't stand tennis, golf, baseball, etc. on TV.
  25. YOUR SINGLE BIGGEST INTENSE PAIN?
    A good friend totally crunched my ankle playing soccer several years ago. Needed crutches for a couple days, but it was OK. I've been fortunate otherwise.
  26. PERSON YOU SENT THIS TO WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND:
    No one, because I won’t send it.
  27. PERSON YOU SENT THIS TO WHO IS LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND?
    Everyone that I don’t send this to
  28. KETCHUP OR MUSTARD?
    This question needs a context.
  29. HAMBURGER OR HOT DOG?
    This question also needs a context, but I think I'll go with hamburger.
  30. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SEASON?
    I think it would be fall. Living in northern California, there really aren't any seasons.
  31. THE BEST PLACES YOU HAVE EVER BEEN?
    The Vermont mountains, Yosemite Valley, Lake Tahoe. Kauai is nice for the weather. Otherwise, I mostly like New England.
  32. WHAT SCREEN SAVER IS ON YOUR COMPUTER RIGHT NOW?
    It goes blank, like my mind when it's not used for ten minutes.
  33. FAVORITE FAST FOOD?
    Whopper and fries, probably.
  34. WHAT IS YOUR BIRTH NAME?
    Same as my given name, I think.

November 29, 2005

Now I've REALLY done it.

I can't believe I've actually written two novels. (Plus a novella a few years ago, but frankly that one works better as kindling than reading material.) Tonight (or this morning, for those scoring at home), I finished the final chapter of "Crossings", my second novel in two years. No idea if it's any good yet as I've not read it. I think I'll wait for the movie.

Perhaps most surprising to me is that when I was younger, I always envisioned myself as writing fantasy or science fiction. Instead, my first two novels really are more in the literary fiction/mainstream fiction category. Who'd have thunk it?

November 28, 2005

What a great job

Although I would much rather have no job at all, since I must be employed I am quite glad I have the job I do. I work for Wells Fargo, a little bank on the west coast. Maybe you've heard of it. Actually, it's one of only 17 publicly held American companies to have been in existence for over 150 years. It's got a cool history museum at the downtown San Francisco headquarters where you can see one of the old stage coaches that carried pioneers and gold across the old west. But that's just part of why I like my job. The real reason is that I help people give money away for a living.

Wells Fargo was just named by Business Week as the nation's #9 most generous company in terms of philanthropy. It's nice to know that my company, which has been making money by the supertanker-load for the last several years, does give some amount of that back. And it's nice to know that I helped directly in allowing the company to win all four top achievement awards from United Way of America in 2004. And that my work has helped our employees go from giving $12 million in charitable donations three years ago to somewhere near $22 million this year.

When you have to get up early and get on the train with people coughing and sneezing around you, and you have to sit in a cube all day in front of a computer, these are nice things to remember about your job. Best of all, since I work with other people who give money away for a living, I generally work with nice people. Not a lot of sales pressure in my line of work.

Why am I blogging this? I've found that when I'm writing, especially during NaNoWriMo, I think how wonderful it would be to quit everything and write novels full time. So I need to remind myself from time to time that what I do matters, and it's pretty good being able to do what I do.

By the way, I just passed 60,000 words and am closing in on the end of the book. Another 3,000 or so and it will be all over.

November 25, 2005

Quietly past 2,100

No, that's not my word count for the day. It's the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq. So far.

November 23, 2005

50,000

Last night I reached 50,000 words. That means I've reached my NaNoWriMo goal, but I still have a ways to go before the story is finished. I'm shooting for the end of the first week of December to finish the entire novel, earlier if I can swing it.

November 21, 2005

The writer's world, part 2

Tell me I'm smart.
Tell me I'm witty. Or charming. Or that I have nice teeth.
Tell me that my shirt goes with my eyes, or that my voice sounds unusually confident today.
Tell me that that girl, you know the one, has a crush on me.
Tell me my kids are so well-behaved that you have renewed hope for humanity's future.
Tell me you like my aftershave even though you know I didn't use any.
Tell me I am a credit to my parents.
Tell me you like my haircut, or that my shoes seem to fit exceedingly well.
Tell me my socks match my eyes, or that my frown makes me look intellectual.
Tell me you just finished reading a wildly successful book, and that not a word of it was worth a cent of your money.

Yes, I've been writing today. How can you tell?

November 18, 2005

a writer's world

inspiration comes
riding its huge, black charger, lance pointed,
an armored beast snorting steam and snot

inspiration comes
passing through the glass door and ordering a mocha,
floating into a plain, wooden chair the color of her hair

inspiration comes
with hiss of runners slicing snow,
the frigid breath of winter icing my lips and teeth

inspiration comes
gliding scarlet and gold on a black current, dancing on an eddy,
beconing its brethren to descend

inspiration comes
arm wrapped tight around fuzzy bear's neck,
eyes closed and soft, warm cheeks rose-pink in the night

November 17, 2005

The Big Game

It's that time of the week again. Read my Big Game Preview over at The Cal Insider to see why I'm predicting the Bears will retain the axe with a 28-10 final score.

Go Bears!

November 13, 2005

Textbook Disclaimer Stickers

Some of these textbook disclaimer stickers [PDF] are difficult to believe. I recommend you read them all before judging them.

And thanks to the wonders of TV advertising, I just learned that my life could be drastically improved if I had a car that could sense raindrops and automatically turn on my windshield wipers. I suppose that's designed for the people who are putting on mascara, drinking hot coffee, talking on the phone, and handing things to their small children in the back seat. Who has time to turn on windshield wipers? Come to think of it, who has time to look out the windshield anyway?

Winning isn't everything...

... but it sure feels better than losing, and even bad beer tastes good after a dominating win. For five years I managed my men's over-30 soccer team to mediocre records and eventual relegation. I sacked myself after last season but somehow was retained as assistant manager, and this year in the bottom division we are 2/3 of the way through the season with six wins, one draw, and one loss. Today's win virtually assured us a top-two spot in the division and put us in the driver's seat to win it outright. It's always been fun, but it's more fun to win.

Although I wrote only about 2,000 words this weekend, I'm still on a good pace to make well over 55,000 in November.

November 10, 2005

Big, Bad Cal Mauls Poor USC

I will never forget that huge headline the year that Cal demolished USC, scoring 50+ points in the process. That is not likely to happen this year, though I am predicting a Cal upset. The Bear will not quit; the Bear will not die.

Go Bears!

Nano Nano

Last Thursday I went to my first NaNoWriMo "write-in" at a local cafe. I was only slightly disappointed to have it be just me and the local coordinator--I was hoping for more people, but I was happy that the coordinator was an attractive, charming, interesting young woman. We both got a tremendous amount of writing done.

Tonight's write-in at the same location was also good: Ten writers showed up. I got less written because there was more chatting, but they were all nice people. I am hoping some subset of us form an ongoing writing group. I am very near 20,000 words now (somewhere near 19,700), and that is right on track for meeting my personal goal of 60,000 for the month.

If any of my regular readers (I think there are three of you) or any lurkers (yeah, right) want to read either my work in progress or the first draft of last year's novel, I would be happy to share.

You'll laugh; you'll cry. They're better than "Cats."

I have nearly perfect teeth

The dentist told me so today. She's a new dentist and was amazed at the quality of my choppers. I think if she wasn't married she would have taken me right there on the spot, so enamored of my pearly whites was she.

But maybe she says that to all the boys.

November 9, 2005

Tattoo

My tattoo is relatively inconspicuous. It is on my left calf, only about two inches tall and an inch and a half wide. That's it, over there, on the right.

What is it? Norse runes. Three separate runes, superimposed onto each other. I won't say I'm any expert on the subject, but google is a wondrous thing, and you can learn the basics pretty quickly. The three runes have the following meanings:

  • The first represents bravery, energy, passion, and victory;
  • The second represents health, wealth, and happiness;
  • The third represents harvest, eventual success, and the cycle of life.
As a gestalt symbol, to me it represents the idea of eventual success in all endeavors through a trusting in the cycles of life and the natural order, a trusting in one's own bravery and internal fortitude, and a focus on spiritual health (not in terms of religious study but in terms of personal spirit).

I have never regretted for one second getting it, and I find myself wearing shorts more often to show it off. I often forget I have it, but it does help me focus sometimes when I think about the meaning.

Update, several years later: I should have added an actual photo at the time.


Lonely Haiku

No comments in days.
What does a guy have to do?
Get a nose piercing?

November 8, 2005

An Even Better Feeling

I did not have one single bomb blow up on my street today. And it's an election day here! I thought that democracies were supposed to have bombs blowing up at polling places, marines and army positioned all over. I thought there were supposed to be lines and lines of people with purple thumbs. I guess it'll be a while before the kind of democracy that everyone is so proud of creating in Iraq makes its way to my town. Until then, I guess I'll just have to suffer through what we have.

And this year, for the first time since I turned 18, I was a Bad Citizen. I did not vote. Although I did help many voters cross the street safely to get to the polling place. Does that count?

November 7, 2005

A very good feeling

I love the feeling I get when I return to my desk at work and there is no voice mail for me.

10,582

On Sunday I managed to surpass 10,500 words. That puts me right on track, though my personal goal is actually 60,000, and I'm behind on that. This is the time of the month when I begin thinking that my story is crap, the characters are boring, the writing is mediocre at best, and what's the point of carrying such a loser pile of garbage all the way to 50,000 words? I know, however, that's a totally normal feeling at this point, so I'll power through it and aim for 28,000 by the end of this coming Sunday. That's an average of 2,500 a day, certainly achievable but not easy. Between 4 and 5 pages a day.

Years ago I used to read Dear Abby because it sat next to the comics in my local paper. I remember only one bit of good advice in all the years I read it. A young woman had written in to say she wanted to pursue a graduate degree through night school, but it would take her five years to complete, and by then she'd be 35 years old. Dear Abby wrote, "In five years you'll be 35 anyway, and wouldn't it be better to be 35 with your degree than 35 without it?"

I am figuring that next year I'll be 39 anyway, and wouldn't it be better to be 39 with two completed novels than 39 with only one? (Maybe some day I'll even submit them for publication.)

November 4, 2005

Bears to Stomp on Ducks

Cal visits Oregon tomorrow, ABC at 12:30. The Ducks are on fire at 7-1. But Smokey the Bear will stamp out the burning Ducks because a flock of Ducks without an experienced starting quarterback is like a grilled cheese sandwich without a jackhammer. Or something like that.

Read about it here.

November 2, 2005

WriMo Inspiration, Part Deux

Are you writing a romance novel? I'm not. But I still found this site to be extremely helpful in many ways. Mostly in helping me laugh. Be sure you have a half hour or more to give it the time it so richly deserves.

Some WriMo Inspiration

Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.
--Flannery O'Connor

Writing is not a profession, but a vocation of unhappiness.
--Georges Simenon

Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.
--Norman Mailer

Writing stopped being fun when I discovered the difference between good writing and bad and, even more terrifying, the difference between it and true art. And after that, the whip came down.
--Truman Capote

I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.
--Patrick Dennis

November 1, 2005

How is that possible?

I was reading a 401(k) newsletter from my employer this morning, and in one sidebar graphic they showed the US savings rate declining over the past several years. This is the amount that US families are saving from their income. The savings rate declined to zero percent (0%) in June of this year.

What confuses me, though, is the caption. It said that 0% was the "second-lowest rate since the great depression."

How, exactly, is zero percent the second-lowest rate in 60 years?

October 31, 2005

Two Books in Two Years

I realized today that for the first time I actually feel like a writer. For years, ever since I was in junior high, I wanted to be a writer. I've written as part of my jobs since college--articles in high-tech magazines like EE Times, vast reference tomes for operating systems programming, press releases and brochures, and hundreds of thousands of words of web content. But I really have had that yearning to be a fiction writer. Stories, novels, whatever. But that's where I wanted to be.

And all along, the thought that I was really just a poseur, a wannabe, hovered just behind me saying "no" constantly, just like the "bit" that followed Jeff Bridges around in Tron. I read articles about writing, and every one of them says things like, "A real writer has stories that just have to be written. A real writer simply can't not write." And the dread that I was getting older and no stories had knocked me in the head to say, "WRITE ME" kept growing.

Earlier this year I finished my first novel, which began as an experimental foray into NaNoWriMo. Nope, haven't even tried to publish it yet, but the three people who've read it seem to like it. This year I will write another, then return to the first to revise with the intent to publish in the future.

And now, today, for the first time, I feel like a real writer. NaNoWriMo doesn't start until tomorrow. I can't officially start my novel until then. But my characters have been with me for a year, like friends who moved away and are coming back to town, and they are tugging me forward into November, eager to fill me in on what they've been up to and the people they've met and the changes in their lives. There is a story there that wants to be written. It may not make a publishable book in the end, but it's a story I want to hear, and the characters are ready to tell it.

I think I'll wait until December first to see how well I do. Needing to write is only part of being a writer. Actually writing is the other part. My "bit" hovering behind me won't start saying "yes" until December 1st, and maybe not even then because revising is the third part of being a writer, and I've not conquered that yet. But I can feel the tide turning, and now I know that indeed, a writer is what I am in the same way that a father is what I am.

October 25, 2005

2000

2,000 casualties in Iraq. That's deaths. Of American military personnel. Not counting deaths of other country's soldiers. Or Iraqi police deaths. Or civilian deaths. Or injured or maimed soldiers. Or soldiers who come home and end up sick or emotionally scarred. Or orphaned children. Or injured or maimed civilians.

2,000 is a lot. My high school had about 1,600 kids in it. Maybe 1,800 people when you add up all the administrators, teachers, custodians, etc. You'd have to throw in 200 more and kill them all to reach 2,000.

If every life is sacred, why does it seem that the life of a fertilized egg is so much more sacred to some people than the life of an American soldier?

October 20, 2005

Hungry Cougars

So, the Bears lost again last week in another stinker against Oregon State. Somehow Cal manages to stink against the Beavers most years. Not sure why. Now WSU comes to town the best 0-3 Pac-10 team on the planet. They are, I think, better than the Beavers but manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory where OSU does the opposite. In my preview, I say why I think this game could be a defensive battle right to the end, and I do end up predicting that the Bears will make it back into the W column.

October 17, 2005

25... 24... 23... 22...

Just in case anyone has forgotten, US soldiers continue to die in Iraq. At this moment, the stats say that we're just 24 martyrs away from two thousand.

I've been pretty silent on this topic for a long while now. I didn't chime in with the obvious, "Where were the national guard when Katrina hit? Oh, yeah, Iraq!" I have not mentioned the indictment of Tom Delay or the growing black cloud over Carl Rove and Scotter Libby. It's good to know, though, that if any are convicted of a crime, Bush will probably ask them to leave their jobs before he pardons them at the end of his term. I've stayed away from the supreme court nominations--mostly because I have no opinion on them--and only stood by silently, mildly amused at the run-up to Hurricane Rita, as I pondered the no-win situation for Bush: If Texas were over-served by military and national guard, he'd look like he played favorites. If Texas were under-served, he'd look like a two-time failure.

There, I've had my say on those. But let's not forget Iraq and the soldiers there, the Americans being killed and injured for the sake of... what, exactly? I forget. First it was WMD. Then it was to get rid of a brutal dictator. Then it was to secure and rebuild the country we'd bombed to smithereens. Then it was to "stay the course" in order not to disrespect the deaths already suffered.

A week ago I was chatting with the custodian at my kids' school. He mentioned he was treated like pond scum when he returned from Viet Nam--people actually came to the airport to insult and accost him and his fellow soldiers as they finally arrived back on US soil. Tragic. I have another good friend, in the Army, who has a support role for troops in Iraq; he lives on a base overseas and frequently visits Iraq as part of his job. Many wives and children live on the base, often not hearing any news of their husbands and fathers for days at a time, knowing they are in danger every minute.

We just held a memorial service for my father-in-law on Saturday, and it was really wonderful how many friends showed up, the stories they told, the love for him. Most of us would consider him young at his death--just 63. All of us will miss him, think about him often, feel the absence of him at holidays, on sunny weekends, when the wind is high, whenever I see a sail on bay or lake or river or ocean.

1,976 American soldiers dead in Iraq. Every one of them has a story, people who loved them, people who will mourn them for years to come. I am no expert on grief, and I hope I never become more than its casual acquaintance. Grief knows no economic, ethnic, or educational boundaries.

Where are all those voices who cried out in support of Terry Schiavo's parents? All those who tried so desperately to keep that one unfortunate woman on life support indefinitely? Why are they not crying out to save #1,977? Will not the parents, spouse, children, friends, cousins all mourn #1,977 as sincerely and powerfully as Terry's parents mourn her?

October 13, 2005

why do I even bother...

If there's anyone left out there reading this blog, you can see my preview of how Cal will lick the Beavers this Saturday here. Go Bears.

October 12, 2005

ashes to ashes

This Saturday we will be laying to rest my father-in-law, spreading his ashes in the bay from the deck of a sailboat owned by one of his best friends. Afterwards, we will retreat to his yacht club for a memorial of sorts, with a looped slide show of photos from his life.

I have been so busy the past month that I have not had time to reflect deeply on Gary's passing, but many thoughts and feelings have been lurking behind me, making themselves felt like when you walk into a dark room from a dimly lit hallway and feel that someone has passed in right behind you.

Gary was a wonderful man, a truly kind person. We got along very well even though we held diametrically opposed political views. We rarely argued; it's an unwise son-in-law that does not nod, smile knowingly, and keep his mouth shut when his father-in-law discusses politics. Yet I always respected his viewpoints no matter how misguided I thought them for he always had logical and consistent thought process behind them.

Through this past five weeks, however, I have come to learn a bit about myself. I am surprised at how easy I have found it to let go, to say goodbye, to continue on. At first I felt a guilt about that--shouldn't I be feeling devastated and stricken with grief, shouldn't I be crying a lot and feeling a deep void in my life? The truth was that although I was sad and am sad, and I do miss Gary somewhat, those things did not happen to me.

It's not that I don't feel emotions, and feel them deeply. One look at either of my sleeping children reminds me the depths of the feeling that can strike me. Rather, I have a strong sense inside, an unconscious and innate sense, that all things are temporary. Everything has an end, and tomorrow I will wake up and adjust my life based on tomorrow's reality, not based on how I used to think tomorrow would be. When things change around me, I flow with that change rather than rail against it like many of my coworkers. I do not think of life in linear terms but rather as a wholistic totality, ebbing and flooding and swirling in patterns simple and complex. We all are part of this beautiful pattern, both shaping it and responding to it just as the planets pull and push each other as they glide around the sun.

It is a nice philosophy, I think. Yet it leaves a cold, empty spot that is filled by most religions: mortality. I like to think of an afterlife; it is comforting to hope that we all move on to some other place and retain our essence, our self, our soul. Yet I can not bring myself to believe in it as most religions have proposed it to be. Our bodies are made, as Carl Sagan would have said, of starstuff. All living things die, and their physical components are reduced to their base forms and recycled by the universe, to be made into other living things. Dust to dust. This is true of the wealthiest robber baron and the basest crackhead, the most beautiful starlet and the most inane talk show host.

I do not pretend to know whether our "souls" are distinct things that transcend the physical world, or whether our essence is just another aspect of this swirling soup of a universe. The living may never know. What I do know is that we all return to the earth, and for whatever reason, that thought allows me to let go.

When I was little, we had many cats, and it seemed that at least two a year would get run over by cars. It also seemed that several more were born each year in my sister's closet. So perhaps I grew up with a vague, mixed sense of the circle of life: all things die eventually, and there are more where those came from.

I have also had many goodbyes in my life. My parents divorced when I was two, and my dad moved out. When I was not much older, my mom moved across the country. My brother and sister moved off to college when I was in middle school. Through the years, I have never been much troubled when friends fade from my life or when coworkers move on. It seems natural, and there are more where those came from. The wheel turns.

I know there are not more Garys where Gary came from. I know my boys can no longer say things like, "Maybe Grandpa can fix it." I know I will surf past McLaughlin Group some night and feel a sharp emptiness where Gary's voice would have been. And I know that some day I will follow him and the billions of other people who have returned their bodies back to the earth. What happens afterwards, I have no idea. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps something. Perhaps both.

On Saturday we will commend Gary's ashes to the waters of the earth, and we will each contemplate not just the man and his vast roles in our lives but also our own mortality and the part we each play in this ever-changing cosmos, and the parts we each play in the lives of so many others. Life is a wondrous and mysterious thing.

October 5, 2005

Cal Visits UCLA (eat my shorts)

The Bears travel to the Rose Bowl this week, hopefully for the first of two appearances there this season. My preview is now posted at The Bear Insider.

September 22, 2005

Cal at NMSU

My preview of the Cal game at New Mexico State is now posted online.

Go Bears!

September 15, 2005

Cal v Illinois

My preview of Illinois at Cal has been posted to The Bear Insider. Go Bears!

September 9, 2005

Cal at UW

Cal plays at Husky stadium for the second year in a row. The Bears are #17 in the country, 8-point favorites. The gamblers like the Huskies to cover; the line started at 11 and has fallen rapidly. Sagarin says the Bears are #45 because their 1-0 record is against a terribly weak, 1-AA opponent. Washington is #75, with sagarin predicting a 4-point Cal victory.

The Huskies stunk up the joint last year, going 1-10. Fortunately, they played San Jose State, though they only managed 21 points in their win against the Spartans. That was under Gilby, though, and the Huskies have Willingham in charge now. That alone should make Old Blues nervous. As we've all read by now, Willingham was 7-0 as a head coach against Cal, and 3-0 as an assistant. There is little doubt he will turn around the UW program and make them powerful once more, but it is hard to say how quickly.

Personally, I think the Willingham substory in this game is overblown and overwritten. He will make the Huskies better, but this game has more to do with the players than the coaches. Certainly this year's game will be much closer than last year's 42-12 whomping, in which the Bears gained over 300 yards rushing, but it shouldn't be a real nail-biter.

The story of this game is that of two offenses with big, experienced offensive lines but youth at their skill positions. The story of this game is turnovers. The story of this game is fourth quarter fitness.

Last week, UW held a 17-6 lead going into the fourth quarter but lost, 20-17, to a decent but not dominant Air Force team in Seattle. The game was just 3-3 at halftime, and even though the Husky offense seemed to improve after intermission, they didn't have enough to overcome the defense's weakness against the run. Air Force gained more than 200 yards rushing on the day, and they had two turnovers in Husky territory. The Huskies did show improvement on last year's 14 points-per-game average, and they did not turn the ball over once (in 2004 they were worst in the Pac-10 in turnovers). They start a new QB and have youth in other skill spots, but RB Rankin gained 112 yards on 23 carries for the Huskies. Essentially, they looked steady and reliable, but they went neither fast nor far. They had only two drives of five minutes or longer, both in the second half. They were 0 for 5 in 3rd down conversions in the first half, though they improved to 6 of 7 in the second half. They had just two drives of 3-and-out, but only two drives had 10 or more plays. They punted four times on the day.

All that is to say that the Huskies are not what you would call a dominant offense. Considering they scored 20 or more points last year only three times and were held to 16 or fewer seven times, they look improved but not terribly so. So far. I see no reason to think that they will improve significantly on their 17 points when they face the Bears on Saturday; Cal has a more athletic defense with more speed than Air Force, and experience in the DBs that will hold the passing game of the young QB in check.

The real question will be how Cal's offense performs.

UW's defense sports four seniors and four juniors, so there is experience there. The D line is not big, though, averaging 272 pounds. DT Hopoi is the giant of the group at 290. Compare to Cal, which has two D linemen at 305 and averages 283 pounds. Now, compare to Cal's O line which averages 334 pounds. I don't know about you, but I would rather not play an entire game giving up an average of one fifth of my body weight every play. This will be the single biggest factor in the game if the Bears win--Cal's O line will dominate the much smaller Husky line and linebackers (who as a group average 222--exactly the same as Cal's LB crew) as the game goes on.

We all know the question marks in the Bears offense, however. QB is the main one, where the Bears will start Ayoob, who was 0 for 10 in his debut. The good news? He is the only Cal QB who did not throw an
interception in the opener. There is little doubt Ayoob will improve on his first game; now, however, he'll be in a hostile environment on the road for the first time. Personally, I have confidence that he will have a solid game and will play well, though I have no basis in fact for this. Tedford will, no doubt, design a ball protection offense to allow Ayoob easy passes so he can take the pressure off the running game and really turn it on in the second half. The Bears MUST protect the ball after five fumbles (two lost) and two interceptions against the Hornets. Last year's Bears started the season with too many turnovers, but they controlled that problem by mid-season before going to the positive side of the differential.

My Prediction:
The Bears will again start slowly, and the game will be close at halftime. Like most of their games last year, however, they will begin to dominate with superior fitness and size in the second half. It is impossible to predict from statistics how the two offenses will execute, but Cal's offense was weak against Sacramento State and still put up 41 points. They will focus this week on execution and ball protection, so I expect to see very few fumbles and improved passing statistics as Tedford goes to simple passes and short gains to control the clock, keep the DBs and LBs honest, and open up the running game in the second half. Cal's astounding fitness will simply overwhelm the Huskies in the fourth quarter, allowing the Bears to expand their lead and keep the ball away from the dawgs. I look for Cal to score 13 in the first half and another 21 in the second for a total of 34.

The Husky offense is also unpredictable at this stage, but it is safe to say they will not put up big numbers against a fast, physically gifted Cal defense. They will have a reasonably balanced attack and gain some yards and score some points, but I will be surprised if they get into the end zone more than three times. I think their ceiling is 24 points, and I think they'll actually be held to 20.

Halftime: Cal 13, Huskies 10. Final gun: Cal 34, Huskies 20.


Go Bears!

September 4, 2005

in memory

Gary will never again need that fifth computer hummingly quietly by my side right now. He passed on shortly after 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 4th, seven days after going to the emergency room, two days after being discharged from the hospital, and 16 days before his daughter's 37th birthday.

September 2, 2005

that fifth computer

It's officially reached "ridiculous." I'm talking about my office. I have one desk and three computers, one lap and two laptops. Yes, I have five computers in my office, now that we've become the foster home for my father-in-law's Mac. That makes one Mac, two Windows PCs, and two linux machines. I'd say that makes a full house, unix over Windows. We don't even have five people living here.

I am loving this Mac, though. My father-in-law is a graphic artist, so when he got a new computer a few years back, he got some cool-looking Mac with this awesome, crisp, beautiful flat screen. Plus, it's not Windows, so it's got that going for it.

We are not sure whether my father-in-law will need it back. He spent this week in the hospital, and he was discharged just today to head home under the care of hospice. On Sunday he was in a very bad state with a terrible infection, but the infection is under control and he's become more lucid and at least can walk again in small bits, slowly, with a walker. The cancer has gotten very aggressive, and complications have caused the doctors to stop chemotherapy treatments.

We hope that he gets well enough, for a short time at least, to need his computer back. We would love it if he could answer his own emails. If he could converse with his friends and clients. If he could be strong enough to want to do those things. I hope that this beautiful Mac does not stay in my office long.

I hope, but a part of me sadly thinks there is little hope to be had here, really. We cling to that little bit of hope, but at the same time I can feel the clock ticking down. There is no doubt of the result, only the timing. It's that little bit of hope that we cling to, like a piece of driftwood on the ocean, that keeps us from slipping into a cold, dark despair. Just a little more time. Just a little better, even just for a short while.

August 22, 2005

one man's trash...

... can get to be quite voluminous over 35 years in one house. We helped my father-in-law run a garage sale on Saturday, and I was astounded by what people bought. There were some useful things, and some not-so-useful things, but by the end of the day quite a few of both had sold. There was plenty left over so the people at the dump would not feel left out, however. And we hadn't even gotten to go through about 40% of the garage before the sale.

I hate garage sales. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Garage sales have only three benefits in my mind: First, they give you an excuse to sit around and not do yard work or other home projects for most of the day. Second, you generally do end up with less stuff and more cash at the end of the day. Third, the people you see come through can be strange and wonderful things.

We had two ladies hobble by (I think one was the sister of Moses), and one of them asked about a few balls of blue yarn. She makes small American flags out of yarn; apparently she has some sort of machine that helps. It was late in the day, so we just gave her the yarn for free (don't tell my father-in-law). The next day she came back and gave us one of those little flags made from that yarn.

Early on a woman stopped by and found a smallish picture frame in our 25-cent box. She had no cash, so we told her to take it anyway (don't tell my father-in-law). She came back around noon to drop off the quarter.

One guy drove up in what looked like a 30-year-old, hand-camoflaughed Suburban with a low-walled trailer bumping behind it. He had long, greasy-looking hair and a long, gaunt face that suggested the cigar sticking out of his mouth was just the latest in a very, very long line of predecessors. He quietly stalked about the tables for a while, investigating every nook until he'd found a half dozen things he wanted and had piled them in the middle of the driveway. I don't know how much he ended up paying, but this was definitely a case of one man's trash turning to another man's treasure.

A lot of the locals had opinions they felt like sharing on the real estate market, since the house had a "sold" sign in front. The concensus is that we've passed the peak and prices will continue to soften for a bit, perhaps even decline significantly. Everyone spoke about it with knitted brows and grave concern, then merrily went along and bought the $3 badminton set or a few old music boxes or a dozen shelf brackets found in a box full of random garage leftovers.

August 21, 2005

Science in the "Age of Reasons"

The Onion discusses the Theory of Intelligent Falling.

It has become well documented that the current administration in charge of the USA simply ignores scientific findings that it does not agree with. It has also become well known that they alter intelligence information to justify policy rather than use intelligence information to inform policy.

I suggest that eight years of the Bush administration is a long enough time to give it some sort of name (just like during Reagan's time, we had the "Me Generation"). I propose we call the current time the "Age of Reasons."

August 15, 2005

Tax-and-spend Big Brother

While I admit that the Washington Post is by no means a haven for ultra-conservative thinking, today's editorial expresses something I've been very confused about for several years now. All Democrats have for years been labeled "tax-and-spend Liberals" by Republicans; it appears, however, that with the Republicans in control of pretty much everything, the spending just keeps going up. Used to be that the Republicans were known as the party of fiscal responsibility. I don't think anyone could really make that argument today without using a lot of Orwellian double-speak. Even the most liberal Democrat knows that at some point if you cut your revenue you have to keep your spending in check. Since the Republicans keeps cutting taxes, shouldn't they also attempt to rein in the spending? Perhaps they need to take a class in financial literacy.

August 12, 2005

small world, big world

My 20th high school reunion is coming up, and I volunteered to run the email list for it. Twenty years ago I left Connecticut, smack in the middle of Ivy League territory, and came west for Berkeley. Since then I've seen only a handful of my classmates from high school and kept in touch with fewer than that.

Now all these names are flooding back into my in-box, and it's surreal. Some I remember quite well and would like to see again. Others I remember with a vague fondness or smoky animosity. The vast majority, though, are like names I've never seen before. It's odd--I expected that I would remember nearly everyone, but so many of the names mean nothing to me. The ones I remember bring back instants in my life--a certain party or class or team or moment, or even their faces return. Some get jumbled, like the girl I thought had performed a song but it was actually one of her best friends.

The most surprising thing is how many of us are now out on the west coast, specifically in the Bay Area.

I'm not the type normally to seek people out for any reason. The prototypical loner, I'm quite happy with my own company thankyouverymuch. But I am intrigued by the people who have moved out here and stayed, and I hope I get to see them and get to know them again. I doubt many, if any, will go the 3,000 miles back to our reunion in November (I will), so I guess I'll just have to break out of my crab shell and make contact. With an actual human.

The reunion, I guess, will be strange just for the fact that there will be so many strangers there.

August 4, 2005

Cal vs Sacramento State

Bears Fans,

It's that time of year again! Football is just around the corner, and Cal has been voted to finish #2 in the Pac-10 by the local media. (USC was the unanimous #1 and is expected to be #1 in all preseason national polls.) The only Pac-10 team Cal misses this year is ASU, the team picked by the media to finish third (maybe they saw that ASU gets to miss Cal). UW (Cal's first conference opponent, on Sept 10) and Stanford (Cal's final conference opponent) are picked to finish 10th and 9th, respectively.

But on to the opener:
Cal [media guide] vs Sacramento State Hornets [media guide]

Cal has had strong home openers since Tedford came to town:
2004: Beat NMSU, 41-14
2003: Beat Southern Miss, 34-2
2002: Beat Baylor, 70-22

Of those, only Baylor was the actual season opener, with Cal losing on the road to Kansas State in 2003 and beating Air Force handily on the road in last year's opener. This year, there is good reason to think that the average differential of 38 points in Cal's home openers under Tedford will be matched, and possibly surpassed.

The I-AA Hornets have been picked to finish 7th in their conference, the Big Sky, behind such powerhouse programs as Eastern Washington, Montana, and Northern Arizona. In fact, they were picked as a tie for 7th place in both the media and conference coaches polls... in an 8-team conference. Last season, the Hornets finished 7th in the conference with a conference record of 2-5.

The Hornets return 17 starters from last season, including 9 that were some level of all-conference selection. They lose their starting QB as well as an All-America wide receiver who had been a standout for four years. The top QB is a senior who appeared in four games and had just 27 pass attempts (11 completions, 1 TD). They also have a pair of JC transfers, one of whom has been at four colleges including Fresno State (greyshirt) and Marshall (redshirt).

The running backs look talented with a little depth and a strong starter in honorable mention Freshman All-American Ryan Mole. They are thin at receiver, where they lose the All-American star and have just 500 yards receiving in their top three returning WRs. There are depth and youth at WR and tailback, but that can be a double-edged sword. It will hurt the Hornets mightily against the larger, more athletic, more fit Bears.

The Hornets do have all five starters returning on the OL. Not one player on the OL has more than one year of starting, though. That's right--they were all first-year starters at the beginning of last season, and they all return this year. Clearly, they will be much improved, but there's still not a ton of experience, and they'll have a new QB behind them. They are not what you would call undersized, but they would be a very small line for the Pac-10. Their starters will average somewhere around 280, whereas most OL in the Pac-10 are closer to 300, with several, like Cal's O line, significantly heavier.

On defense, the Hornets return seven starters: two linemen, two linebackers, and three DBs. In addition, they have seven other DL who saw significant playing time last year. Again, "undersized" would be inaccurate for their line, but they are small for a Pac-10 team. Inside, the tackles average about 280, which is pretty good, but outside, the ends average about 240. Not tiny, but not the kind of line that will hold up well to Cal's punishing size and fitness over sixty minutes. The linebackers are in the 220 range, which makes them small targets and possible roadkill for Marshawn Lynch.

The only DBs taller than 6'0" are the three free safeties; all the other DBs are six feet or under. The unit has talent, with two of the three returning starters earning either Freshman all-conference or honorable mention Freshman all-conference. The other returning starter also was an honorable mention all-conference player last year. I think the Bears will match up well here, too, with a height advantage and also the powerful running game that will distract the safeties and Cal's big offensive line which will give the incoming Cal QB a lot of time.

One interesting connection: Hornet DL Brandon Povio is a Cal transfer who is new to the Sac State roster.

On special teams, the Hornets return both their kickers but are searching for a new long-snapper.

Cal has their own problems to deal with, and this game against Sacramento State at home will provide a very good opportunity to check how the motor runs in a relatively safe and easy full-game situation.

We all know the Bears need to replace Aaron Rodgers. None of the top candidates has ever taken a snap at the Div I-A level. Tedford has a choice between a highly regarded JC transfer (Ayoob), a redshirt freshman who was a star in high school (Longshore), a converted fullback (Levy) and a true freshman phenom (Reed). Ayoob and Longshore are the frontrunners with Longshore getting Tedford's nod as "the incumbent." I would expect both to play in the first two games, though, just as Tedford played Rodgers and Robertson together when they were both new.

It's interesting to think that Bears fans are probably already salivating at the idea of watching Marshawn Lynch in his second year in the Blue & Gold. Remember who was the featured tailback last year? Some guy named Joe... Jay... JJ? Arrington, that's right! Yeah, he gained something like 2,000 yards and had over 100 yards in all 12 games... but what about that kid Lynch! Plus, there's depth. Terrell Williams (senior) and Marcus O'Keith are capable backups that would be featured backs in any mid-major conference. In addition, Chris Mandarino is back at fullback after three years as a starter. Add him to the outstanding offensive line, and this team will have one scary, bad-ass rushing attack this year.

Speaking of the OL, only Jonathan Giesel is missing from last year's starters (he is going to play in Japan's X-League). All five starters last year made some level of all-Pac-10 honor, and Cal was the league's rushing champion last year. Marvin Philip and Ryan O'Callaghan are the stalwarts and are on all the national award watch lists. Andrew Merz and Aaron Cameron are the other returning starters. O'Callaghan is 6'7" and 360 pounds. Merz is 6'4", 340 pounds. Cameron is 6'5", 305 pounds. Philip is 6'2", 305 pounds. This is a big, athletic, talented line that won games last year by wearing down opponents and owning the fourth quarter. No reason to assume this year will be different.

The biggest problem will be the passing game. (I can hear you all saying, "Duh. He thinks he's so smart. I could write that." Yeah, well, you're the one reading it.) Not only will the Bears have the new QB after one of the best in Cal history, but the Bears lost their top four receivers in McArthur, Lyman, Makonnen, and Toler. The names we recognize returning are Robert Jordan, who looked athletic and fresh last year, ending with over 330 yards receiving and starting the final six games; and Noah Smith, David Gray, and Sam DeSa. Not a lineup that strikes fear in opposing DBs' hearts. Not only that, but the Bears also lost TE Garrett Cross and have virtually no experience to take over there, though there is some talent.

On defense, the Bears are also rebuilding a bit. Gone are Lorenzo Alexander and Ryan Riddle, but returning are Tosh Lupoi and Brandon Mebane. It will be hard to replace the departing talent, but before last year, Riddle was relatively unknown. With the incoming talent and available backups, I think there is hope for a solid unit here.

Linebacker is the same story. Gone are Wendell Hunter, Sid Slater, Joe Maningo, and Francis Blay-Miezah. Yet the talent coming in, while inexperienced, is very highly rated and decorated. This is another reason Cal fans should be happy that Sac State is the first game of the season.

In the defensive backfield, it's another mixed bag. Cornerback is looking good with returning players Donnie McCleskey, Daymeion Hughes, and Harrison Smith. The hole is at safety, where Matt Giordano and Ryan Gutierrez, both reliable, speedy hard-hitters, have departed. With Tim Mixon and Thomas DeCoud back as well, the Bears have a good group in the DBs and a lot of experience and talent to work with.

In the kicking department... well, all the same guys are back, but the field goals were hit-and-miss last year. David Lonie was a capable punter and should be better after last year.

It would be better not to predict the outcome of the opening game. There are so many unknowns on both teams with new QBs and inexperienced receiving corps, and other rebuilding opportunities. I would give the Bears at least 32 points, and actually I expect it to be far more lopsided than that. I am thinking that the Hornets will not make it to the end zone unless it's on a kick return. The Bears, however, should be able to run roughshod all game, and the second half will be all Cal due to the superior size, strength, and fitness. I expect the second half alone to be 35-0. The first half should be similar though a little lower scoring. I think we are likely to see a final score somewhere around 56-0 or 63-0.

Go Bears!

August 2, 2005

Over 1,800... and counting

Yesterday on BART I sat in the only empty seat left, near the middle of the car, next to a guy who looked like he maybe was on his way to work at a house-painting job. He had a dirty, old baseball cap, a scrungy white tee shirt, and dirty, well-worn jeans. His face was stubble-covered, and he smiled at me with bleary eyes and crooked teeth and a stink of something that maybe was rum.

As I sat down next to him, he held his hand out and said, "My son just got back from Iraq." I shook his hand, smiled back. "That's great," I said. I asked how long he was back for. Just a couple weeks, then he's going to some fort in Texas or the Carolinas or somewhere east. After a year there, he's scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan. The pride shone in this guy's voice, his smile, his bleary, drunken, teary eyes. He'd also just seen his 10-month-old granddaughter for the first time. He was truly a happy man.

It's strange sitting next to a stereotype straight out of a movie. This guy, Mike, told me that he'd called his boss to say that a bus had broken down and he couldn't get to work; his boss knew that Mike had been drunk the night before and there was no broken down bus. His boss had recently remarked that every day Mike missed work was a Monday. At one point Mike called a friend on his cell phone and said, "I ran into my son last night, he's been back ten days" before the phone dropped the signal. This was clearly a man who did not think much of himself, who had never aspired to much, who was content getting drunk every weekend and just holding down a menial job. But he was also a man who knew he'd done something right because his soldier son was back from war, home to a growing family... and was likely to go back to war in a year's time.

Later yesterday I read an op-ed column saying that it's easy to send others off to war, to have others sacrifice for war. There is no "moral cost" to the people making the decisions in their halls of marble and tapestry and granite. The average, middle-class and upper-crust American does not personally know anyone in harm's way in Iraq or Afghanistan, does not have to sacrifice job or family or even money to support the war. Even the $200 billion spent on it so far, and the $1 billion a week Iraq is costing US taxpayers is like raising the temperature one degree on a 90-degree day, or like having your tomato garden yeild only 500 tomatoes instead of 501--we just don't notice any cost or pain or sacrifice because we are not asked to make any.

It's easy to support a war, to say "we'll do whatever it takes," if all it takes is to stick a yellow magnet on your car and put a flag out on July 4th. With over 250,000 different individuals having cycled through Iraq, it is perhaps an amazing statistic that only 1,800 have died and some 10,000 have been maimed or seriously wounded. Mike's son is lucky not to be among those. Other daughters-in-law, other baby granddaughters, are not so lucky--their moms or dads are dead, forever. Or perhaps they are missing a leg and have to make do with virtually no support from the government that sent them into danger.

When Mike got off at his stop, though, I said, "Right on" to his parting delivery of "God bless America, huh?" The people making the real sacrifices are hidden, silent, and invisible. It will always be easy for the rest of us to support a war when we have no cost associated with saying, "Bring 'em on."

July 31, 2005

Star Wors, Epusowd 1

I think Ethan was seven when he wrote a book called Star Wors, Epusowd 1. It is pretty true to the plot of the movie, though it's tough to tell unless you're actually his parent. I have chosen my favorite illustration from the book to share. I have no idea where "diyoxin" comes from, or who is yelling it in this illustration. But it's pretty clearly two Jedi knights with light sabres. Perhaps it's Quai-gon and Obi-wan being gassed by the Bad Guys at the beginning of the movie.

July 29, 2005

The Gym: It's a Good Thing

After three years of working across the street from a 24Hour Fitness here in SF, I finally got a 10-day free pass of their web site and went to check it out. Nice facility. After hearing all the plans, they finally hit on one that was perfect for me: M/W/F/Su only, this club only, for $25 a month. Since I'm in the office only on M/W/F, that was all I needed. So I joined.

Best thing I've done for my body in years. Pretty much everyone reading this knows I play soccer regularly and am generally a pretty fit person. During the summer and fall I usually play soccer three times a week--on Tuesday lunchtime, Thursday evening, and Sunday morning.

In the past few years I've begun suffering from age--creaky joints, desperate pain in my ankles each morning, tired hamstrings and thighs. I could pretty much count on pain in some joint or other whenever I moved, especially up and down the stairs. Not any more. I thought lifting weights three times a week in addition to the soccer would make everything hurt more--and it did, for about a week. Now, there's no pain at all except the general soreness after a really hard workout or a really hot afternoon soccer game. It's all gone.

I haven't been a member of a gym since college, when it was free for students at Cal. And I think I can honestly say that I haven't been in this good shape and felt this good in at least a decade. At least, I can't remember feeling any better than this. But that may just be my memory going. The gym is good for counteracting some symptoms of aging, but apparently not all of them.

July 27, 2005

The God Thing

I think I may be a closet pagan. Not Pagan with a capital 'P', worshiping the "Goddess" and going to Burning Man and celebrating the solstice instead of Christmas. Not my style. My spirituality is much more personal and eschews all forms of organized worship and ritual. I just don't think ritual really has anything to do with real spirituality. Claiming that you have to say certain things at certain times, face certain directions, and put your body in certain positions seems to me to be like saying that your relationship with your spouse is based on the time of day you brush your teeth; the order in which you turn on the car, put on the seat belt, and adjust the mirror; whether you say "hello" or something else when you answer the phone.

I also simply don't believe in a God, a single infinite intelligence that is responsible for creating and running everything. People tell me that because the universe is so well ordered, it couldn't possibly be random chance that atoms formed and things evolved to the point where the particular bunch of atoms that make up my body can be causing these thoughts to manifest and be transferred to your mind. People also ask that if there's no God, how can there be intelligence? How can we think and feel and love and hate?

The answer is simple, and it uses the same argument that people of faith use: God is infinite, and God works in mysterious ways. People of faith very readily admit that they don't understand God because God simply can't be fully understood by our limited minds. Well, if God is so infinite, then why isn't it possible that God actually doesn't exist and it's just a different infinity--the infinity of random chance--that causes us to be here?

Faith is a personal choice. I really don't have a problem with anyone who chooses to believe in God. I do, however, have a problem with organized religion. I know it has its benefits, particularly as a center of social activity, humanitarian work, and education. But organized religion has also been the cause of hatred, bigotry, war, terrorism, and genocide. My grandmother disowned one of her two sons because he married a woman outside their Faith--they were all Christians, but the wife's Christianity was apparently not the right kind. Grandma never spoke to her son again.

I have read portions of the Bible and taken classes on world religions. I would not call myself a scholar of religion by any means except through some reading and a lot of exposure to history, particularly European history. European history does not paint the Curch as a kind and gentle organization. More often than not, bishops were as powerful as kings politically, sometimes moreso. Christianity's spread was so successful because of three primary things: A strong missionary culture; a powerful use of the sword and torture when diplomacy did not work; and a successful tradition of embracing local pagan traditions into Christian ritual.

I digress. Some people are born with Faith, some achieve Faith, and some have Faith thrust upon them. I do not believe in God, yet I consider myself a person of Faith. I believe in many things outside the realm of human perception; I believe in the interconnectedness of all life and all things; I believe in the infinite possibilities and configurations of nature. My Faith is a bit bleak in that it includes no afterlife, no idea of a single soul living in my body. Instead, my Faith allows for a univeral soul of sorts, and some portion of that inhabits my body while I live and returns to the universe when I die. Perhaps this is the same idea as God; I've heard God described sometimes thus.

But it's not the God of the Bible, an old man with a beard who created Adam in His image. It's not a God who rules over a Heaven, with a host of angels at his command. It's not a God that controls things with the authority of a fascist dictator.

That's why I'm having a problem with the whole God thing right now. Number One Son is on his way to a God-oriented camp for a week with some friends. I know he'll have a great time and learn some things, and it will do wonders for his growth and independence. But he has to have his Very Own Bible. I guess the Gideons haven't been to this particular campsite yet. Additionally, he and Little Brother just finished a week of day camp that I later found out was called "Vacation Bible Camp." People of Faith will be offended, but the idea of Bible Camp creeps me out. Maybe it's because of the creepy guys who kept trying to recruit me to go to "bible study" while I was in college.

Number One Son says he doesn't believe in God. When he was six, he asked me, "If God made everything, who made God?" He asked the wrong person if he wanted an answer that supported the theory of God. I am not expecting him to come home from this camp asking to go to church every Sunday, but I do worry that there are forces beginning to shape him that are outside my control. Forces that I do not necessarily agree with. This is part of growing up, and it's the first test of my ability to let him grow into the man he will become. We will have conversations, eventually, about friends and drugs and sex and all that, and perhaps I should be grateful that the first conversations are about God and not sex or drugs or finding a bail bondsman open on a Sunday night.

July 23, 2005

The worst trip I've ever had

Remember the trip that began with the three-hour seatbelt light and the excruciating pain, and the two-hour delay for a 38-minute flight? It got better.

The first day was fine, until about 11 at night, when I began feeling the first symptoms of what can only be relatively mild food poisoning. Finally, at 3 a.m. after revisiting all of my dinner, lunch, and breakfast in that order, I managed to get to sleep. Of course I skipped the first half of my meetings which started at 8 a.m., but with PowerAde in hand I managed to attend the 10-12 portion. Then on to the airport for the return journey. By now I was feeling OK enough to eat a banana and half a plain bagel, so I thought my troubles were behind me.

Don't you hate this boarding by "zones" thing airlines are doing now? What is this? Zones seem arbitrarily defined and, in my experience, have significantly slowed the boarding process. I think they must put you in a zone based on how many flight miles you have with the airline. On this flight, I was in zone 8, so I was the third-to-last to board. Of course, this meant that my rollaboard bag had to be gate checked through to San Francisco. I had specifically not checked the bag so I could (a) make sure it did not get lost and (b) not have to wait for it at SFO before my hour-and-a-half train ride home.

They lost my luggage.

So not only did I wait at SFO for the LAST BAG block to tumble onto the carousel, but then I had to spend 20 extra minutes informing them mine was lost. They promised to deliver it this morning, but their web site says "Bag Status: We have not received any updates on this bag."

Finally got home just before midnight. This is definitely the worst trip I've ever taken for business. And I will never, ever, ever fly Delta again even though I had a wonderful experience a year ago going from DC through Salt Lake to SFO.

July 21, 2005

Born Learning

Everyone who knows anyone about to have a baby should know about Born Learning. The most critical stage of a baby's development is the first three years, and Born Learning is an effort to educate new parents about how to make every activity an opportunity for stimulation of that little mind. The Born Learning site has three cute TV PSAs that highlight what the program is about. Share this with anyone you know who may be in a position to share it with new parents. It's Good Stuff.

Research proves that investment in early childhood development makes more economic development sense to a community than investment in any other so-called "economic development" (think about $350 million for a new baseball stadium, say, or $200 million to build a new office park to lure a big company's headquarters away from another city).

People scoffed at the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child," but that's the simple truth. If we, each and every one of us, don't take an active interest in ensuring that the babies born today in our poorest neighborhoods--and even in wealthy neighborhoods where TV has become the de facto nanny--are given the best chances for development and eventual success, then the country will continue to decline, and there isn't a damn thing the president or congress or Supreme Court can do about it.

There's Caution, and then there's Cruel and Unusual

I may not fly Delta Airlines again because of the weather. But when you have a bad experience, it's a bad experience, and you don't want to repeat it. Then again, I'd pobably never fly again if I stopped flying every airline on which I'd ever had a bad experience.

My flight yesterday left SFO just about on time, headed for Atlanta. The pilot said we'd arrive in Atlanta "just about on time," so I was hopeful I'd make my connection with just a 35 minute layover, but I didn't worry about it. We had a movie, which I didn't watch because I was working while my laptop's battery still had juice.

I am one of those people who will do almost anything, suffer nearly any discomfort so as not to inconvenience other people, particularly in public. So when I realized halfway through the movie I had to use the lavatory, I decided to wait until the end so I wouldn't have to make my rowmate miss any of the movie.

An experienced traveler, I knew that a line would form just after the movie ended. So, I waited for the line to reduce, which it never did. Eventually, after a half hour, I got up and stood in line. I stood for no more than three minutes and was still about #5 in line, worrying that I was making the people sitting around me uncomfortable by my presence, when the captain turned on the seat belt sign and said he expected turbulence. OK, so I returned to my seat, being a good passenger.

This was about an hour into my discomfort, with about 90 minutes left in the flight. At least five times over the course of the next 70 minutes, either the captain or the flight attendants announced that they whould be turning off the seat belt sign "in just a few moments" and that they really needed everyone seated. The captain explained this was for "our safety as well as the safety of the other passengers," and that he'd been "watching the radar" because we were skirting the edge of the system caused by a local hurricane. He thought there might be a few bumps.

By the time the captain announced we were beginning our initial descent into Atlanta (usually that's about 20-25 minutes from touching down, then another 5-10 minutes to the gate, then another 10-15 for everyone in front of you to get the hell out of the way), my pain was spectacular and I was in real danger of having an embarrassing second-grade style moment. Still, I told myself that I could make it and tried not to think how long it would be before landing.

Right about this time they'd begun showing the flight status--map, elevation, air speed, ground speed, etc.--on the LCD panels popped down from the ceiling. I began to notice that we'd been at 11,000 feet and 250 miles per hour for quite a while, longer than I would normally expect on approach. Moments later, the engines whined back up again, and the captain announced that due to thunderstorms just in front of the runway approach, we were being held off for 10 to 15 minutes and would be entering a holding pattern.

Since I'd been in a holding pattern for well over two hours now, I decided to break the rules. I stood, forced my rowmate to let me out, and sped to the rear of the plane, aggressively ignoring all the glowing read seat belt icons glaring at me as I passed. I got to the rear of the plane, and the flight attendant gave me a nasty look and said in her best bad-white-trash-mother-voice, "Can't hold it? We really need everyone seated." I mumbled something about two hours and being in line when the light went on and just hurried into the bathroom.

The rest of the ride was fine. What really steamed me, though, was that I had more bumps on the 30-second BART ride between 19th St and 12 St that morning than I had on the entire 4-hour flight from SFO to Atlanta. Either this pilot was simply overly cautious or overly cruel, or they need to get their weather radar calibrated.

By now, of course, I figured I'd miss my connection with just a 35 minute layover. I had to get from terminal A to terminal B in probably 10 minutes. As we taxied to our gate, I saw that B20, the gate my connection was supposed to depart from, was empty. Relief set in again because if there was no equipment yet, I couldn't possibly miss the flight.

Little did I know that this flight from Atlanta to Charlotte, which they announced as being 38 minutes in the air, would be nearly two hours delayed. It was supposed to depart at 8:03 and finally left the gate around 9:45. This was because the plane, coming from Chicago, was so late getting in. Then there was lightning around the airport, so they couldn't finish fueling it quickly. Needless to say, because of the weather we were something like #24 in line to take off when we pushed back, so we did not arrive in Charlotte until after 11:30 p.m., four hours after I landed in Atlanta.

Checking maps.google.com, I see that Atlanta to Charlotte by road is about 240 miles, or probably about four hours driving.

Excruciating
Silent, painful suffering
Airplane bathroom line

July 18, 2005

Raising the Bar

First, Clinton split hairs over whether getting blown by an intern in your office constitutes "sexual relations." I think there is room for debate on that point, but clearly getting blown by an intern in your office while you're married to someone else is not a highly ethical activity, whether it constitutes "sexual relations" or not.

Our current president, W, originally said he would fire anyone involved in leaking the identity of a CIA agent. Today, according to the NYT, he said he would fire anyone who committed a crime. While I would certainly hope that is the case regardless of the current scandal, one would like to see the president perhaps take a greater interest in ethics and less of an interest in splitting linguistic hairs. The fact that Karl Rove may be able to avoid actual indictment on a technicality (he did not utter the woman's name, though he certainly did clearly indicate her as a specific, unique individual) should be immaterial at this point. What Rove did was highly unethical, and how the president deals with the situation shines a bright light into his true character.

By changing his promise, Bush is essentially allowing unlimited room for having his staff filled with unethical manipulators of the law. As long as they know how to keep from being indicted, it does not matter to W how dirty or slimy or sleazy they may be.

In a world where a college football coach is fired for the ethical misstep of joining a basketball pool, and a basketball coach can be fired for having gone to a perfectly legal topless bar, it seems to me that perhaps we might consider raising the ethical standards for our elected officials.

I agree that Bush should fire anyone that has committed a crime on his staff. Isn't it a little troubling, though, that the NCAA has a stronger code of ethics than the white house?

monday haiku

empty, hot darkness
pale voices adrift outside
one pillow vacant

July 11, 2005

Not white, not Christian... not registered to vote?

My jaw dropped, and I had to read this quotation over three times to be sure I'd gotten it right. A CNN.com article quoted president Bush's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, from an interview she gave on "Fox News Sunday":

The war in Iraq, she said, attracts terrorists there "where we have a fighting military and a coalition that can take them on and not have the sort of civilian casualties that you saw in London."

On July 9th alone, at least 9 Iraqi civilians were killed by violent attacks. Car bombs and mortar attacks routinely are killing groups of five, ten, twenty Iraqi civilians. These incidents and statistics are not created by a liberal media but are real: civilians are being killed every day by terrorist insurgents in Iraq.

That must be why Townsend qualified her statement with the short phrase, "the sort." You don't have "the sort" of civilian casualties when the terrorists are blowing people up in Iraq that you have when they're blowing people up in London. One wonders what she meant by that. I would think that civilian casualties amounted to dead innocents no matter where they happened. Perhaps she meant that dead Iraqi civilians are different because they're not white. or maybe because they're not Christian. Or maybe because they're in a different time zone, or speak a different language, or eat different sorts of foods. Or maybe because they can't vote for Republicans.

With those two words, Townsend defined the Bush homeland security policy more clearly than Bush has ever done himself. Clearly, Bush's policy of "taking the fight to the terrorists" supposes that people who aren't citizens of his country are less valuable. OK, I admit that it's his job to take that approach, and I can't fault him entirely for it. But it is a terribly cynical and un-American way to approach the world.

Perhaps it's no different than any administration has attempted to do in a hundred years. Perhaps Bush and his staff are just more clumsy and less subtle about how they go about it.

But it's a dangerous policy because some day the terrorists will wise up and realize that they're fighting an army in a place that American citizens don't see as having actual people and children and mothers and brothers and cousins and shopkeepers and librarians and teachers and all other types of regular folks living there. Civilian deaths in Iraq simply don't have any impact on the psyche of the average American. At least, not today.

Bush's policy banks on two things: First, that Americans will never grow to care about Iraqi civilians. (I think this is actually a pretty good bet.) Second, that the "insurgents" will stay in Iraq, getting killed by the best-trained and best-equipped military in the world. That, I think, is not a very good bet. Now, I understand that the insurgents won't be able to charter a flight and just show up at LAX, but all it takes is a few to cause the kind of havoc and death and destruction in our own towns that we saw last week in London.

Perhaps it's enough just to keep them busy until our homeland security is improved. Perhaps the short-term tactic of war in Iraq is just a first step in a much longer and more complex strategy. I have a hard time believing that.

No, I think the simpler answer is more likely. The Bush administration is simply hoping that by having soldiers in Iraq, we will keep the terrorists busy there while obese Americans happily watch "The Bachelor" and believe that no regular civilian people are being hurt in Iraq.

July 8, 2005

happy anniversary to us

Fifteen years. Seems like a long time, and I guess it is. It will be another eight years before I've been married half my life. I haven't lived in any one house for fifteen years. Last year was my 15th year college reunion (which I did not attend). This is the 20th year reunion for high school, which I will attend.

I will have been married 25 years when I'm 48, and 50 years when I'm 73. I remember attending my grandparents' 50th anniversary party when I was small, but mostly it comes to me through hazy memories of photographs and a vague feeling that I had fun with my cousins while everyone else did the grown-up party thing. I want to say there was some Hawaiian theme, or maybe the memories and photos get mixed in my head and it was just that someone wore a Hawaiian shirt or everyone wore leis. I think I had to dress up--that meant a button-down shirt and a belt with my chinos.

I won't go gushing and goo-goo about how much I love my wife and how wonderful she is--anyone reading this knows that already, and after all you don't get to 15 years without a tremendous amount of love, a bit of good luck, and some hard work.

Happy anniversary to us, sweetie. Here's to the next 15 and the 50 after that.

July 6, 2005

too cool for me

I hate people who think they are witty and cool. They tend to think everyone else also thinks they're witty and cool when in fact they are simply tediously self-interested. They should read this [pdf].

July 4, 2005

Happy Independence Day

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
-- Benjamin Franklin

Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1801

Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.
-- Rosa Luxemburg

The freedom to share one’s insights and judgments verbally or in writing is, just like the freedom to think, a holy and inalienable right of humanity that, as a universal human right, is above all the rights of princes.
-- Carl Friedrich Bahrdt

Freedom in art, freedom in society, this is the double goal towards which all consistent and logical minds must strive.
-- Victor Hugo

Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.
-- Hubert Humphrey

To preserve the freedom of the human mind … and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think the condition of man will proceed in improvement. The generation which is going off the stage has deserved well of mankind for the struggles it has made, and for having arrested the course of despotism which had overwhelmed the world for thousands and thousands of years. If there seems to be danger that the ground they have gained will be lost again, that danger comes from the generation your contemporary. But that the enthusiasm which characterizes youth should lift its parricide hands against freedom and science would be such a monstrous phenomenon as I cannot place among possible things in this age and country.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1799

Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.
-- Thomas Jefferson

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
-- Mark Twain

... a discriminating irreverence is the creator and protector of human liberty.
-- Mark Twain

God grant, that not only the Love of Liberty, but a thorough Knowledge of the Rights of Man, may pervade all the Nations of the Earth, so that a Philosopher may set his Foot anywhere on its Surface, and say, “This is my Country.”
-- Benjamin Franklin

Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.
-- Benjamin Franklin

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
-- Response attributed to B. Franklin at the close of the Constitutional Convention

What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of living might mankind have acquired, if the money spent in wars had been employed in works of public utility; what an extension of agriculture even to the tops of our mountains; what rivers rendered navigable, or joined by canals; what bridges, aqueducts, new roads, and other public works, edifices, and improvements ... might not have been obtained by spending those millions in doing good, which in the last war have been spent in doing mischief.
-- Benjamin Franklin

July 1, 2005

A vacation would be good right now

I could really use three or four weeks in a mountain cabin on a lake right now. Or maybe a couple weeks in a cottage in the English countryside. Any place I could sit for hours watching nature and hearing silence; any place I could walk in the woods and fields and feel the sky on my neck and the world in my breath and life tingling just beyond my fingertips. Any place I could forget everything and just be.

I have some magnetic poetry up on my filing cabinet at the office. I got it at a United Way conference, so of course it is filled with inspirational words such as 110%, happy, winner, successful, soar. My favorite creation that came together and which draws the most compliments is this:

I
expect
to
quit
today

I also like these:

your dreams limit my success

and

me
achieve
happy
time

I don't think that's what United Way expected when they gave me the pack, but that's what creativity is about, yes?

June 26, 2005

happy birthday to me

1,738 and counting. These valiant souls will never celebrate another birthday. Bring the rest of them home.