May 31, 2005

Cal gets snubbed again

The BCS fiasco was bad enough last winter when Cal was cheated out of a Rose Bowl appearance at the 11th hour by unscrupulous Big XII coaches who knew they would get a larger share of the bowl revenues if they voted Texas in and Cal out.

Now the Bears have again been snubbed--this time in baseball. How does a team that has a better overall record, better conference record and higher conference standing get left out of the postseason while a team that performed less well gets invited? The Bears were 34-23 overall and 13-11 in the Pac-10. Stanford, meanwhile, were just 32-23 and 12-12 in the Pac-10. The two teams split the season series, 3 wins each. The Bears had just completed a 2-1 series win over top-10 ranked Arizona on the road. No Pac-10 team with 13 conference wins has been left out of the postseason since the NCAA went to the super-regional format. No Pac-10 team with a .500 conference record has ever been invited.

Until now. The Bears at 13-11 were left out while Stanford at 12-12 were invited.

I just don't get it.

May 27, 2005

1,654 And Counting

1,654 and counting. Happy Memorial Day.
Updated on Memorial Day: 1,657 and counting. Happy Memorial Day.

that's not what I meant...

I know some people are used to having two, three, or more chat windows open with friends. I have only four chat buddies, two of whom literally never log in. Today's DoubleMint moment, though, was when my other two buddies buzzed me at exactly the same instant. Even better, they were both women. And single. (I think they're the only two single women I know, apart from the cantankerous single mom next door.)

Each had her own serious issue to discuss. One is considering a nomadic life, packing up the children into the wagon and heading off in search of... something different, I guess. The other is considering a job switch and wanted some honest feedback on whether her writing was really as good as some of her other friends claim.

While this was not the original implementation I had in mind when first I contemplated two women at the same time, still I was flattered that they both asked for my thoughts. I will say my fingers were flying--I probably maintained 120 words a minute for extended periods. I love this instant message thing; it's probably the only medium where I can get more words into a conversation than two women combined.

What's my point? I have none. This is just pre-holiday-weekend timekilling for me. And another ten minutes of your life squandered.

May 20, 2005

The "big picture"

Last week I got my very first published photo credit. In the local Sunday newspaper. It wasn't a particularly good photo; in fact, I took it with my cell phone. The image, however, was clear: a sign hanging on a school door that read, "Testing -- Do Not Distrub."

I would like to say this sign hung on a door in the Stanford school of education, but alas it was on the door of a room at my kid's elementary school. Keep in mind, the teacher whose door sported the sign is highly competent and well respected, and the school is in the top 5% of all schools in California. It enjoys tremendous parent support and has few of the serious budget woes of our neighbors just a mile or two away in Concord. That is, the students have plenty of books, pencils, paper, chalk, and art supplies. Thus, it's obviously a simple typo made by overworked and underpaid people who have far better things to worry about.

Now, would you believe it, I appear to have been labeled as some sort of mean-spirited, anti-teacher miscreant whose only hobby is to skulk around the school looking for proof of incompetence. Maybe it's not quite that bad, but it seems a lot of people are talking smack about me... but not to me. This despite my being receiving an honorary service award for the volunteer time I spend at the school.

I wasn't even the first to publish this photo. I sent it to a few friends, and the honor of first public display goes to a good friend's blog.

It appears I have had the misfortune to have accidentally taken sides in some strange faux feud between the teachers at the school and the newspaper. The teachers are torqued that the paper didn't send anyone to cover their recent protest of state budget cuts, so when my name appeared on a photo they decided it must be all my fault, I guess. No one bothered to ask whether I actually had any affiliation with the paper (I don't, except as a paid subscriber).

I think this all stems from the current atmosphere in America that if you're not "with us" then you're "with them." I suppose I have been deemed disloyal. I've been told I should have gone to the office staff to tell them of the minor typo and then hushed it up. Forget for the moment that the sign was displayed on at least four different occasions and that the door it hung on is directly opposite the door to the school office. Forget for the moment that apparently no one else noticed the misspelling. Forget for the moment that everyone in the world makes simple, benign, harmless mistakes, and that sometimes the results are funny. Hilarious, even. Forget for the moment that the name of the school was never associated with the photo. Forget for the moment that my wife, my father, my stepmother, and many of my friends have all been teachers and that I donate to schools every year. Forget all those things because to some people, they don't matter.

Apparently, some people at the district itself are bent out of shape because of this. Perhaps they think it hurts their image and will discredit them in their fight against state education budget cuts. Perhaps they are insulted by the paper's editorial decisions. Who knows? But one thing is clear: They are making a mountain from this molehill because they have no sense of humor and little sense of perspective.

For my part, that photo still cracks me up every time I see it.

May 19, 2005

Damn, he sure can lead!

Three stories in the news the past week illustrate clearly what a mess Bush and the Republican Congress have made and are making with Iraq and the American economy. The Democrats aren't helping much, of course, but it all begins with Bush.

Today's story in the NYT, entitled Generals Offer Sober Outlook on Iraqi War, shows just how poor the situation is in Iraq. American soldiers will be there for years, and the 23 car bomb attacks this month alone nearly equal last year's total of 25. It was over two years ago that Bush stood in front of his "mission accomplished" banner and declared the "end to major hostilities" in Iraq. Pure fantasy. Wishing does not make it so. Meanwhile, over 1,600 American troops have died, nearly five times the number killed in Desert Storm. By the way, anyone seen bin Laden recently?

The Washington Post on Friday ran a column entitled 'Emergency' End Run about the financing of the war in Iraq. With the recent "emergency" appropriation of $82 billion dollars, the cost for the Iraq war has edged up over $200 billion. This is the third year in a row that Bush has kept these numbers out of the annual budget, only to request an "emergency" allocation of scores of billions later. Which Senator is going to deny funding for troops? Which President is willfully irresponsible about paying for this war that he wanted so badly?

And yesterday, the Post had another column entitled Almost Unnoticed, Bipartisan Budget Anxiety that says that the United States economy, if we stay to our current path, will collapse in 2040, just like Argentina. This is not some left-wing nut job but top people from both the conservative Heritage Foundation and the liberal Brookings Institution, both giving the same analysis and predicting the collapse of the US economy in the mid 2040s if some pretty big things don't change soon.

Take these three things together and try to be happy. I simply do not understand how anyone can think that Bush has been a good thing for this country. He is leading us right into utter failure.

May 16, 2005

Happy Birthday to Sam!

Sam has been turning six for several days now, so tomorrow's forecast might include some birthday withdrawal. Today will be the culmination of what seems like months of planning and answering the question, "How many days til my birthday now?" His excitement has never reached a fever pitch, but it has been a constant background hum, like the sound of waves in a seashore cottage.

Kids' birthdays have apparently become a huge industry. If King George ever got a constitutional amendment outlawing birthday parties (don't be surprised--they are inherently pagan), I think the entire economy of American suburbia could collapse. Birthday parties are Big Business at pizza joints, tumbling studios, playground places, museums, and even arts & crafts stores. Parents shell out up to $50 a kid for these parties which employ not only the party coordinators but also thousands of cake bakers, pizza delivery guys, and handi-wipe sellers.

Sam, however, is having his party in a park, with a traditionally pagan pinata and lots of friends. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Perhaps we should make a sacrifice this morning to one of the many various pagan weather spirits. We are fortunate that Sam is happy with friends, a few toys, a big place to run and play, and piles of candy. Makes for a cheap and fun party. Of course, it also is a lot more work than those prefab, drop-off-and-forget-it parties that are becoming so popular in suburbia.

So, happy birthday to Sam! Today you turn six. Now we are Very Big.

May 7, 2005

startling beauty

Today the sun set behind clouds without spectacle or color. The white sky faded through a gray gradient over the lush green of the golf course while we sat inside enjoying freshly cut tenderloin and chocolate covered strawberries and sharp conversation with elegantly casual, newly met friends. I lamented the pending lack of a sunset, and the bartender agreed and pointed out that often it is very nice from their windows. She stood facing the bar and me, her back to the gray sky.

As these things often do, this dinner became a long exercise in listening to one particular person discuss how wonderful and clever she believed herself to be. I already was engaged in enduring a mild stomach ailment and didn't really want to talk anyway, so I persevered in silence, sneaking glances at the darkening grayness outside, the occasional putter finishing the 18th green, and the low necklines of the women at nearby tables. Smiles and knowing nods kept the words flowing from across the tablecloth.

Short, squat cups arrived just after the used plates departed, and shortly coffee was brought to give them something to hold. Mine stood like a coliseum, a faded ivory bowl on a white field with glass votives sparkling on either side. Steam waltzed with the candlelight upward until both dissipated into the faded, watery twilight. Motionless and deep brown, reflecting the overhead lights in its shallow stillness, the coffee waited and released its flow of gray-white steam, not unlike a panther with eyes half-closed, twitching its tail in a tree.

I was startled. I had arrived marveling at the enormous view and disappointed that I would not see sweeping crimsons and pinks and lavenders across the sky. I sat now with an intense, lustrous beauty of white and brown and glass and fire and stillness and motion, all within inches of me, covering no more than perhaps a square foot of cloth. In that moment of awe, in that instant when simple, mundane things reveal their utmost essence all at once, that is like touching God, swimming in Nature, seeing the Tao.

tracks in the tall grass
deer feet tramp them down at night
not unlike canyons

May 2, 2005


Perhaps fifteen others also received a voluptuous yellow rose, long stem wrapped in crinkly cellophane, before dinner on Saturday night. Surprise honorees, a footnote to a dinner and auction and dancing, we all do something for our kids' school that other people think is worth some recognition.

I like getting thank-you's, and the yellow rose given to me by a tall, sexy, yellow-haired woman was a pleasant and night-warming surprise. Thank-you's, however, are not why people go out and give freely of their time, their talents, their money. My thing at the school is to try to keep the kids from getting run over as they cross the street. I guess since I do it more than other people, that qualifies me for a yellow rose. Many others give far more of their time and talent to the school, the children, every day. I do not know what they do or when they do it, but I know why.

Some might say it's an altruistic need to "give back." I think it's a need to be connected, to be a part of a community, to feel that you are a contributing member of something larger, to help create the American story in some small way.

In my job, I am very fortunate to meet people from America's greatest and most powerful companies, from banks to health care providers to consumer goods makers to pharmaceutical companies. The people I meet have a common role: They help their companies give away money and time and talent to make communities safer, healthier, better around the world.

When we get together, though, we talk numbers--$X million given, X million hours volunteered, X houses built, $X worth of medicine distributed--and it is easy to forget the small, simple stories of the countless thousands of Americans who deserve to feel the warm glow from a yellow rose on Saturday night for simply showing up where they are needed, and for simply participating in their community.

I didn't need the yellow rose or the extra thank-yous people said that night, but the fact that they were given is the true testament to American community, and that, to me, is an optimism that will never die.

Science On Trial Again

Maybe it's semantics. Maybe it's hysteria. Maybe it's a typical fundamentalist attempt to eliminate anything that seems remotely to disagree with what is written in the holy scripture. Whatever it is, it's wrong.

You can believe the Bush administration when they say that global warming doesn't exist. You can even argue the ethical merits of outlawing stem cell research. You can believe that drilling for oil is actually a good thing for the environment or that private accounts will be a better safety net for the working poor than Social Security is today. But to deny that evolution happens is similar to denying that the Earth is round and that it revolves around the Sun.

Before you get out your Blasphemer Spray to disinfect your computer so you don't get Athiest Cooties from reading this, get out your and understand the meaning of the word.

Biological evolution, indeed, is a fact, not a theory. Read it. If you don't read it and you send me a comment, I will laugh at you. I can't find any evidence (maybe someone will enlighten me) that evolution teaches the non-existence of God. In fact, couldn't it be possible that God is the one orchestrating evolution in the same way that Bill Gates orchestrated the changes in Windows from 3.0 to 3.1 to 95 to 98 to XP?

Throughout history, the Church has wielded its power and True Believers have ostracized, exiled, or even executed people who uttered unapproved words. This is certainly not limited to Christianity; all Religion (big "R") exists in essence to consolidate and exploit a social and political power base in order to oppress and weaken opposing social and political groups. At times, this has enlightened and lifted society up; at other times, it has stomped on education and has caused widespread war and destruction.

Evolution is a fact of nature. Religion is a creation of man. Whether God is behind either or both is a philosophical and spiritual debate that may indeed have a place in our public classrooms... but not in the science wing.

We are on the verge of dark times again, when the Church and its True Believers try to squelch free speech, try to eliminate dissenting thought, try to subjugate science, try to force all people to follow a morality dictated by a small group of hypocritical, flawed, old, white men. It is the responsibility of all educated and sane people, Christian or otherwise, to oppose censorship of ideas, whether by religious zealots, political agents, police groups, or science advocates. It is the responsibility of all people to ensure that our schools are open to all ideas and that our centers of learning help our children navigate a complex web of information by presenting real facts as real facts and separating religious dogma and political rhetoric from scientifically proven fact.

Evolution is a fact. It should be tought as such. The origin of the very first life? An open question. It should be tought as such. The nature of sentience? A tough one which science has no say on. It should be tought as such. Religion should never dictate the curriculum of our schools, and religion should never be the authority to dictate fact and fiction.

Look what results when religious fundamentalism creates and influences school curriculum.

May 1, 2005

"Energy Policy"

Thank god I was too busy with my conference this week to have to listen to more Bush stupidity.

I have a hard time believing that everyone is buying into Bush's "energy policy." It's not an energy policy, it's an economic policy for reducing gas prices, and it amounts to "Hey, let's drill more oil in American territory because that means we'll have to buy less from the Arabs and gas prices could be cheaper in a few years." I don't think he mentioned that this would have the additional benefit of reducing the amount of untouched natural habitat the country owns, thereby reducing the budget of whatever federal agency is in charge of that.

A decent energy policy would answer one question: What is the best way for the country to meet its energy needs over the next 100 years?

The answer to that question is much more complex than, "Drill more and get the Saudis to increase production." It involves significant investment into renewable energy, conservation, and technology; it requires a long-term campaign to change the screw-the-future consumption habits of Americans; it needs to address environmental and geopolitical concerns beyond oil. In essence, the energy policy of the United States should be to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by the year 2200. Can it be done? Certainly, without a doubt. Should it be done? Absolutely.

The "energy policy" put forth by this president is just like everything else he's done; it's a lame joke coated with a fine layer of sugar. It will be well received because this country will gobble up anything as long as it has a dusting of sugar.