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.

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 also like these:

your dreams limit my success



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