Monday, April 23, 2007

The Aisle Less Traveled

Retail environments are laid out so that items commonly bought together are close to each other. Pasta is next to the sauce. Salsa by the chips.

I was amused, then, when I couldn't immediately recall which aisle to head down to get new scrubby sponges for the kitchen sink. Why didn't I have an image in my mind of where they were in the store?

It turns out the aisle marked "cleaning supplies" is also the home aisle for "diapers", "baby formula", and "feminine hygiene": an aisle single men need never visit.

I don't think this is sexism. I'm sure it's empirical truth: Shopping brains that think "Oh, yes, I need foaming tile cleaner" also think "And we're out of tampons".

Which reminds me: I am out of tampons.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

National Narcissim

So we've got a full blown media circus because 33 folks got shot.

190 people died in bombings in Iraq yesterday. And 12 more today.

Of course, 33 people don't die in a single event in America every day. In Iraq, it's pretty common. So I guess it's not news.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Big News

Last weekend K bought a condo in Marin.

Which is a bit nutty, since it was the first to-buy place she looked at. But, in her words, she had written a very tight "brief" for her agent on exactly what she was looking for. And this place was, in fact, exactly what she was looking for.

It's 2BR, 2Ba, with a loft, on top of a high hill with views of the creek in which I row, the bay, the mountain. And the complex has a pool and a hot tub, and it was in her price range. And the kitchen is nice and it's bright and has high ceilings.

I've been trying to be rather Zen about it, not getting too far down the road in terms of consequences. I admit I'm a bit freaked out by proxy: I'd certainly not be buying any condos right now, given where I'm at in my life, so it scares me for people I know to be buying real estate. Too many zeros there. Too much obligation. What if your life blows up? Scary. I realize that's all me being cozy in my non-blown up life with minimal obligation getting nervous about expanding out again. But it does make me nervous.

But when I do think a few moves out, I can see it putting a subtle pressure on our relationship. With her located about 5 minutes from my place and closer to the boat house than I am, it'll be easy to go from weekend sleep overs with a few weeknights to spending every night together. And if she replaces my key to her SF place with a key to the new place, I can see us rapidly moving towards a de facto cohabitation scenario. With two addresses. Which is financially a bit silly if the effective co-habitation exists. Creating pressure for official co-habitation.

I genuinely feel no pull to figure out the solution to all of that right now. So much looms between now and the move-in date, and her place is so cool that I genuinely look forward to having her in there and spending time there. I expect that by September it'll be a point of serious discussion.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Courageous journalism

I flipped past a talking heads show on MSNBC in which they were "debating" gun control in the context of the Virginia Tech shooting.

The gun control guy had just finished making an obscure point about magazine capacity in semi-automatic weapons and how Bush & Congress let a law limiting legal magazine capacity expire and how that might have saved lives.

I'm far from a gun expert, but it seems to me that one can't fire 33 shots from any hand gun magazine of any size. The dude had to reload, at least a few times by my math. I doubt outlawing large magazines would have saved anyone that he shot when he'd have otherwise had to have been reloading.

But then some Missouri-based law professor made the (in my mind) even more ridiculous counter argument that the university had rules banning all guns on campus, and those rules failed to prevent the shooting, and therefore the only protection against an armed attacker is to be armed.

Now I know the guy has some fancy law degree that we can assume he didn't mail in cereal box tops to receive. But institutional rules do not create magical fields of enforcement around the institution. (Would you believe that underage college students manage to procure beer on campuses? And that's a State law!) Someone carrying a gun onto campus isn't knocked backwards at the boundary by the enchantment against guns that the Headmaster placed on the gates. "I can't seem to carry my gun onto the school grounds... they must have... some kind of law or rule... which is projecting an energy field. Maybe I can adjust the Heisenberg compensators to emit a phased pulse and knock it out. Or you can use your wand. I really want to shoot my potions professor."

The university exists within a state and country with rather permissive gun rules. The shooting doesn't show that gun laws don't work, it shows that local differences in law mean that the most permissive law in a region becomes the effective law in a region. It's the same with liquor laws: Belmont, MA is a dry town. So I bought beer and wine in Lexington and Cambridge. No liquor sales in MA on Sunday, so we drove to NH for a beer run in the summer, as required. The most permissive law is the effective law for all those with means and inclination to enter the region governed by the permissive law. We all know what you can do if you can get to Amsterdam.

And did the "news" anchor host point out, Jon Stewart-like, the gaping flaw in this argument? Nope. She batted her eyes, and, with well-trained verbal authority tone of voice, handed the conch back to the first dipshit. And so I changed the channel.

But let's extrapolate further from the second guy's argument. Banning a thing isn't enough to protect us from a thing: Good point. Murder happens. Pot happens. Speeding happens. Mattress tags are removed. All are banned, all happen. May as well scrap all our laws and just go back to the wild west! I'm sure our society would be greatly improved. No need for courts, since there are no laws. You'd get the satisfaction of blowing away people who tailgate you, and only have to fear retribution from your victims' friends and family, if they can find you. Feel free to pour Drano in the mountain stream if you like, since you have plenty of water and plenty of ammo, in case those downstream don't like it. It's the vision of a prosperous and efficient social and economic environment. People would be free to spend most of their time being paranoid and suspicious, and less time doing annoying things like economically or socially productive behavior. Sign me up.

For any law there will be those who ignore it or break it. The Gun Nuts argue that, if guns are outlawed, then the "criminal element" (that's the cue to picture a black urban youth, white America) will win the arms race, and we'll be plunged into a nightly ritual of being raped and robbed at gunpoint.

People fall for this. Fear trumps reason, I suppose.

I'd argue that consistent hand gun ban across the nation would make enforcement easier. Hard to concealed-carry a deer rifle or a shotgun. If you have a gun, you need a sportsman's license. Belong to a trap shooting club or have a deer or duck license. Yes, it burdens the most responsible and reasonable owners with more work. But the Virgina Tech shooter was no Ducks Unlimited member. He didn't shoot clay pigeons. He shot his classmates with handguns that he bought in the gun-permissive legal environment of the state of Virginia. They were small enough to keep hidden until it was too late. No one needs a handgun. But "journalists" do need brains.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Revenge of the fit

Today we got a rematch against the club that edged us out by 2 seconds in San Diego. Today they were without their ringers (though they kept their cox from the national team). We were without two of the guys from my San Diego crew, and the guys we had in their stead were arguably not as quick as those they replaced. But still some of our best.

They obliterated us off the start. Sitting in 2 seat, I could detect the stern of their boat moving deeper and deeper into my peripheral vision with each stroke. 300 meters into the piece they had taken nearly a length. By 600 down they were no longer in my vision. They had an open water lead very early in the 2000 meter race. Just like San Diego.

A funny thing about the high performing crews I've been with is that you develop the ability to feel what everyone is thinking. Yes, that's mystical. But the Force is real. (Our Bow man is like Yoda. Little. But the force is very, very strong with him.)

And at 700 down, I could feel my crew think. Thinking, "They're killing us. This is where most would resign to failure and just try to contain the damage." And then my crew thought "Fuck that."

Our cox did exactly what he should have. He focused us on short term goals. Not "Let's pull even", but "Let's take 5 strokes hard and move one seat back". We started taking fives. He told us we were moving. Which was good, because I still couldn't see them. So I didn't know whether he was telling us things to keep us from giving up, or whether we were really moving. It was unfair of me to think that, though. A cox doesn't lie to his crew. We need to know the truth, no matter how bleak. And Nick said we were moving.

At the halfway mark, he called the 15 for length and power that was in our race plan. We took it with the usual "row these 15 like they're the last strokes of the race" fearlessness that we do at the halfway mark.

After the move, I noticed that a boat had materialized next to us in my peripheral vision. We had gone from open water down to perhaps 5 seats down.

My first thought was that this was some kind of clever ruse by our opponents. They were letting us come back, and were then going to move out again, crushing our hope and breaking our spirit. But we had moved back a lot. Their cox would never let us get that much ground back. They must be fading.

One of the most satisfying calls one can hear from one's cox is the half sing-song, half battle cry "MOOOO-viiiing!" (Sung with the same pitch and tone as "Air-ball" in basketball.). It's half to encourage one's own crew that they're indeed moving on their opponent. It's also half to demoralize the opponent and to exacerbate the opponent's experience of the futility of their struggle. So when your cox makes that call, you've gotta back him up.

And Nick made that call. And we were moving. They had gone out too hard, didn't have the fitness to keep that pace for 2K, and were now paying the price. They were watching a fresh and vibrant opponent bring it while they had nothing left to fight with.

The only question: Were we to run out of race course? Would we catch them in time?

We hit 500 meters to go. No call for the sprint. We pulled even at 400 to go. Still no sprint call, still even.

Then an interruption in the cox's stream of speech that told me our stroke, a superhuman machine of Eastern Bloc heritage, was ordering us up.

And just like in San Diego, we pressed the legs harder, sped the hands away, sharpened the explosiveness in the instant our blades cut into the water, and we began to move.

The other crew began to move further and further into my field of view, at the same speed they had left it in the first 500.

I waited for them to surge back. I waited for them to find a way to stop our move. I expected them to stop the bleeding.

It never happened.

The margin widened, and our cox called last 15. He had to add another three, but it still didn't matter. I kept pulling till I heard the one sound I'd been looking for.


We crossed the line.

2 seconds.


They crossed the line.

We had just come back from open water down to beat, by 6 seats, the club that beat us with a healthy dose of ringers in San Diego two weeks prior.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Have I become polarized?

First, the disclaimer: I was very hungry while driving. And when I'm hungry, I have no patience for anything that isn't food going into my mouth.

While driving to the Oakland Airport yesterday to pick up K's mom (who's in town for K's 40th birthday celebration) (Yikes! I'm dating a 40 year old!) (who cares, she gets me), I noticed a few cars. And I found myself hating/ fearing their occupants.

Car number one had both the Jesus fish and a NASCAR sticker on the back. I thought, "the people at the intersection of NASCAR fan and proud Christian are not folks with whom I'd expect to share much in world view". On one hand, I felt bad for being hasty in my judgement. On the other hand, I've spent most of my professional life figuring out how much one can legitimately infer about someone from just a few known facts. Most of us stereotype based on truth. And evangelical Christian Nascar fans haven't made a name for themselves as a hotbed of socially progressive and environmentally friendly thinking.

Then, crossing the Bay bridge, I saw the rarest of sightings: An actual "W '04" sticker used in a non-ironic fashion on a car in the Bay area. Closer inspection revealed that the large SUV was from Virginia. Mystery solved.

I just couldn't imagine what kind of moron would remorselessly advertise that he likes the monkey in the oval office, and, in fact, helped put him there. It seemed almost an affront. It was at least a denial of reality.

I wondered, then, if I was in TX, would I sport "What would Jesus bomb?" and some flavor of "Bush is an evil monkey" stickers, knowing it would piss off the majority of those around me?

I've always thought of myself as moderate. Aside from the Second Amendment nut jobs who think we should all be allowed our own monogrammed nuclear weapons, if we want them, I'm rather libertarian. Free markets, free people. I do think a few laws are in order. Heroine shouldn't be legal. You can't own and carry a concealed bazooka. Thou shall not pave wetlands.

I've been against the Iraq crap from the start. Yet I was open to the possibility of being wrong, and there being WMD facilities there. I was open, also, to being wrong about the war being a big mess when the troops hit Bagdad fast. But at this point, it's clear that it was a bunch of lies backing up a plan hatched by unsubtle minds that had inhaled too much of their own exhaust.

So how anyone can actually display a W sticker baffles me. It requires a smug arrogance, a refusal to admit mistake, error, wrongdoing. "Iraq is just weeks from total victory!" "We'll find those WMDs!" "Saddam was in al-Qaeda!". Blind allegiance frightens me. I'm just wondering if I'm on my way to blind allegiance to the opposition.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

2 seconds

We came in second by 2 seconds.

On one hand, given who they were (cox from the US 2004 Athens gold medal 8 was their cox, among other superstars) and who we were, we should be proud of it. Our stroke encouraged us to congratulate them at the awards stand partially because it's the classy thing to do, and partially so they could see how small we were, in comparison.

It certainly makes me appreciate winning last year more than I did before.

And we put on probably the best finishing sprint of my rowing career. At 450 meters to go, we took the rate up 2, and did it again with maybe 250 to go, and we moved on everyone. I remember thinking on the first shift "they'll notice that from shore". It was a decisive and cohesive change in pace. The whole boat just put their legs down harder and moved their hands away faster and we took off. My only thought was to unleash full power each stroke, but not to sacrifice any technique. Full pressure flawlessness. I wasn't going to break form, no matter what.

We went from 2 seconds behind to 1 second in front of a crew that had been ahead of us from the start in those 450m.

But I can't help but wonder if I could have done more. I stuck with the race plan, and the way I had thought through last year's race: Just relax and be sharp and quick for the first 1000m, then go to work. But by the 1000m we were 5 seconds out of first, and in third place. Last year we were up a few seats. We gave up a length in the second 500m. I wonder if I could have gone harder then. I might not have had as much for the sprint, but maybe we wouldn't have needed it.

It just sucks to work hard every day with the same group of guys only to lose to folks who are rowing together for the first time that day, who may or may not have been training the way you have.

That said, I think I can be faster. Now that the knee is better, I can add some weights to my routine. Most folks think I lift a lot. I actually don't lift at all. So when I do hit the weights, I get results. I'm going to use those two seconds to fuel my training for the next year. I can make the boat 2 seconds faster all on my own.

Why the kid downstairs is a brat

Overheard last evening:

Mom: Drake, what are you doing?

Brat: (ting ting ting)

Mom: Is that your tooth brush?

Brat: (ting ting ting)

Mom: We don't take our toothbrush outside!

Brat: (ting ting)

Mom: And we don't bang it against the railing! That's dirty!

Brat: (ting ting ting)

Mom: I'm going to count to threeeee.

Brat: (ting ting)

Mom: One....

Brat: (ting)

Mom: Two....

Brat: (ting ting)

Mom: C'mon, Drake, please come inside....Please?

I have an idea. How about mom just, you know, takes the toothbrush away from the kid. He's big for his age of 2 and a half, but I bet she can take him. Oh, and numbers, by themselves, aren't scary. Unless something bad happens on "3", it's just an ill-timed math lesson.

The kid has no consequences for misbehaving, and he actually gets more attention from his mom the longer he stays on the edge of being bad. He's going to be hell in about 10 years.

I bet she feels terrible, as a single mom and can't bring herself to be mean to the kid. But she's being worse by not providing rules and discipline. He's going to walk all over her.