I've been working on the early embers of my dissertation the past few months. Being the compulsive planner that I am, the lolcat of the week below embodies my basic approach to failure on this project.
It's surprisingly easy to erase a hard drive.
I've been working on the early embers of my dissertation the past few months. Being the compulsive planner that I am, the lolcat of the week below embodies my basic approach to failure on this project.
It's surprisingly easy to erase a hard drive.
I took my first trip to Costco earlier this afternoon to purchase a membership. On the advice of a couple of friends, my wife was persuaded that the amount of groceries we purchase would easily make up for the price of joining over time. I'm not sure that it ever will, but that probably won't keep us from trying to milk every bit of savings that we can out of our membership. In addition to an obscenely large bottle of Scotch, we also bought a doggy bed for Alexas that is certifiably many times larger than she is, selling for roughly half the cost on Amazon.
Walking around the massive warehouse, I had several mixed reactions.
My initial thought was "this is exactly why Al Qaeda hates us," and while the conclusion is dramatic, it's also quite true. If Costco isn't the poster child for American opulence, then I'm really not sure what is. By every objective measure, that store is huge. Huge. It's shelves, which span the entire height and length of the building, are stocked full of every conceivable product one could ever want or need. (Although, there was a notable absence of products from Apple). From discounted computer software to relatively inexpensive and presumably, relatively fresh salmon, the store was a treasure trove of American consumerism. Given economic disparities between countries like America and, say, countries like Afghanistan, it's easy to see how the seeds of envy, jealousy, and hate could grow. Any 'reasonable militant' could simply look at places like Costco (or Sam's Club, BJ's, Walmart, Target, etc.), realize that such stores will never exist in her home country, and blame every economic woe on the 'greedy Americans' hogging all the goods.
On the other hand, I realize that I've used a loaded term, consumerism. In fact, somewhat frightening, and almost certainly annoying protests were held this weekend warning of the coming 'class war,' demanding to know 'which side are you on.' I fancy myself as more of a Switzerland whenever the class wars are waged, but as an unabashed proponent of the free-market, the libertarian in me responds to the sentimentalist above by noting, "That's just how markets work. Someone had the idea to form a company based on the concept of selling bulk products to consumers rather than selling to retailers only, and I'll be damned if the idea wasn't a smashing success. I will drink my ridiculously inexpensive alcohol tonight, and, accordingly, sleep like a baby - albeit a very drunk one." The simple point being that if local supermarkets can't compete, then shouldn't they go out of business? Why should the market reward inefficiencies?
But again the sentimentalist in me considers that the ground isn't exactly level at the foot of the economic cross. Companies like Costco can leverage billions of dollars in annual revenue to sell products at deeply discounted prices thanks to their incredibly low product mark-ups. Mom and Pop supermarkets could never compete because they lack billions of dollars to leverage and offer competitive pricing.
And on, and on the conversation goes. I don't claim to have a solution. If I did have a solution, you could (and should) contact the folks at the Nobel Headquarters, and tell them this year's Nobel Prizes for peace and economics have all but been picked up. I'd certainly be a more worthy recipient than our hapless President who somehow won the Nobel Peace Prize while orchestrating three wars around the world. Of course, he was only a warmonger twice-over at the time.
Still, the interesting thing about shopping at Costco was the simple fact that no one seemed to be having the internal dialogue above in their heads - except for me. That's when I realized that I am weird. So, rather than revel in my eccentricity, I happily walked up to the checkout to pay for the doggy bed and scotch, knowing that I would drink the scotch, and knowing that Alexas would still sleep in our bed rather than the doggy bed I had just purchased. In fact, after posing for the photo above, Alexas promptly got up, and lay down on our king-sized bed. And maybe that's the lesson of consumerism.
The point of consumerism isn't really to be satisfied. That would make the world markets tank for sure. The point of consumerism is to feel you need something, pretend you enjoy it, and then lumber back to the bed you're used to sleeping on.
Earlier this week my wife was twenty minutes late getting out of work. I took my typical 11 mile bike ride to reach her office by 4:30PM, only to swelter for twenty minutes in 106 degree heat. By the time she emerged from the cavernous enclave better known as Tucson Medical Center, the water in my water bottle tasted like a hot cup of tea, minus the tea.
To understate matters, I was upset. But not with my wife. The lone thought that came to mind over and over while I baked on my favorite bench was how much I hate wasting time. The situation was a bit like Dostoyevsky's white bears, no matter how hard I tried not to think about wasting time, I ended up thinking about wasting time. This may seem a bit compulsive, and it really is, but I realized from a young age that time is the only thing in life that you can't get more of. You can get more money. You can acquire more possessions. If you are lonely, you can fill your life with with more relationships. The super lonely, like former NY Gov. Spitzer, can even pay to fill their lives with more relationships.
But as ex- Apple CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated yesterday, you can't get more time, and that's why time is life's most important commodity.
It's a bit dramatic to say that a few minutes in the sun profoundly shifted how I think about blogging. But in some ways it did. Over the past week I started thinking seriously about this blog, the time I've devoted to it, and most importantly what I hope to see from it - not only in the coming days and weeks, but in the months, and hopefully years still to come. While I have changed templates, and layouts many, many, many times, I have never tried to make the blog anything more than it is: a place where I can opine, and hold court on whatever topic strikes my fancy. And I've done this for nearly seven years, come December 24th.
In that time span, I've made just under 2600 posts. My traffic has gone from an anonymous voice crying in the wilderness (NH) to a voice with a slightly bigger bullhorn, crying in a different wilderness (AZ). Our readership is still fairly modest, averaging only about 2500 hits per month. But that's still much better than when I averaged only about 40.
Given that our blog isn't very topical, it's probably a small miracle that anyone reads Pax Plena at all. The bulk of my posts concern politics, music, faith, book reviews, cycling, and the occasional Lolcat of the Week. But Pax Plena isn't devoted to any one of these topics in particular. Still, in the greater blogosphere, the actual range of blogs and their topics is as wide and as varied as the internet itself. Some blogs are very narrow in scope, covering niche areas like the intersection of life and career building, and the affairs of a specific technology company (guess which company). Stiil, other bloggers cover broad topics like Indian Law, politics, technology, cycling, faith, minimalism, sports, sport teams, etc.
I guess my conclusion is that that after seven years of blogging, it's time to start narrowing down the focus here at Pax Plena. To be clear, I'm not worried about missing out on traffic. That's not the point. But I am interested in developing the blog into something that is more engaging, more interesting, and more useful to readers. I want Pax Plena to maximize the effort and time I put into it. And I think I can do this with a couple of adjustments.
Let me add, I don't feel these seven years have been wasted. (Although, I have, at times, been wasted during these past seven years.) I sincerely appreciate each and every hit that comes my way. You readers make the whole exercise worthwhile. My itch for change stems primarily from the fact that I don't want to waste the next seven years of blogging because I didn't create a vision for Pax Plena when I had the chance.
My task over the next few weeks will be to figure out what exactly this means in terms of content, and quality. I suspect it will mean higher quality pieces (e.g., no more short posts containing only snarky links for your perusal). And, in terms of content, I suspect that the blog will cover a narrower range of topics, in effort to become more topic-specific. Or at least more topic-specific. But for you the reader, this simply means what it always means. Stay tuned.
And, regardless of which direction the blog takes, let not your hearts be troubled. Lolcats of the Week are here to stay. Your blogger loves you.
Years ago my wife Gwyn lived in an Amish commune where all forms of modern transportation were shunned. Alas, she never learned to ride a bicycle.
I kid, I kid. Gwyn isn't Amish.
But it is true that for various reasons (viz. reasons I do not know) my Dear Wife never learned how to ride a bike as a kid.
After making a post on Twitter about our bike lessons last week, I was surprised to hear from various friends and readers that first-time, adult cycling is not an isolated phenomenon. Turns out, there are quite a few folks who have never learned to ride two-wheelers as kids. Growing up in Oklahoma, I just took it for granted that every child knew how to ride a bike. It was the quickest way to get to the mailbox from Grandma's. It was the quickest way to get to school from Mom's. And bikes were much easier for a ten year-old to drive than the Gator, although the Gator was driven plenty when it came for fishing. Suffice it to say, life on the farm was markedly different than life in metro-area, Tucson, and times have changed mightily.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I tried to help Gwyn learn to ride a bike, using my trusty steed. But the tires on my road bike were way too narrow for a new rider to learn on. She did a fine job of balancing, but when it came time to peddle, she ended up losing control, getting frustrated with a bike she simply wasn't prepared to ride. To her credit, she never wrecked the bike, which is more than I can say for myself, and in fact, she didn't even take a tumble. But after a few hours in the drive way, it was clear that a road bike was not a good way to begin learning how to ride.
Over the weekend, we decided that the best way for her to learn to ride would be to buy her a bike that was better suited to her comfort level. We considered three criteria in shopping for a new bike: 1) A bike with wide tires to make for easier balancing, 2) One that allowed for the rider to ride upright rather than bent over, and 3) A bike that was not so expensive that she would be afraid to wreck it in the event of a fall. For the record, the last point was made more out of practicality than a sense of fatalism of Gwyn's biking ability. One's wallet cries a lot less when wrecking a cheap Schwinn, than when one wrecks a Novara Verita Bike - at least my wallet does.
Given that our main concern was cost, our bike shopping took us to Wal-Mart where we happened upon the ladies' Schwinn Admiral above. The bike boasts seven speeds, front and rear breaks, SRAM grip shifters, Shimano rear derailleurs, a bike rack, and a solid, steel frame. The bike seemed like a smart purchase, but what really sold her on this bike was its aesthetics - as you can see in the photo, it has a certifiably cool, retro look, coupled with extreme comfort while riding. Add to this a $149 price tag, and it was an easy purchase decision to make.
Gwyn will still need a lot of practice before she takes to the bike lanes along Skyline and Sunrise. But the change between a bike that was appropriate for her experience level, as opposed to my road bike, was remarkable. The last time we practiced riding, we spent at least two hours just learning how to balance on my road bike. But within 15 minutes of getting the new bike adjusted, Gwyn had already mastered balancing on the bike, pushing off with her dominant foot, and pedaling unaided down the driveway. Before we called it an evening, she even felt comfortable making slow, 360 degrees turns!
Needless to say, I was quite proud of her.
I think there were probably two lessons that we took from the two bike-learning experiences.
First, a little patience goes a long way. This is an obvious lesson, but people have innately different senses of balance and caution. What works for one may not work for another, and this was difficult for me to remember. I just assumed that since it was easy for me to take up road biking, my wife would take to it as well. Really, what she needed was a bike that was better suited to her experience level.
Walk before you run, as they say.
Second, for adults learning to ride a bike, do yourself a favor and find a bike that you feel comfortable riding. Don't ride a bike simply because it's available. In terms of fit, Gwyn fell in love with her Schwinn hybrid because it allowed her to put both feet on the ground with ease. She also liked the comfy seat, and wide handle bars. At the end of the day, she loves her bike because it makes her feel comfortable to ride. And that's the point really: if it isn't fun, and it isn't comfortable, don't ride it. There are plenty of bikes available that can meet your needs.
Today we conquered the driveway. Tomorrow we might very well try the bike path. After that, who knows? Maybe one day we'll conquer the world.
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by HarperCollins to review an advanced copy of Canadian author Miriam Toews new work Irma Voth. I received my copy late last week.
Here's a brief description from the press release:
A distinctive coming-of-age novel, Miriam Toews's IRMA VOTH (Harper; September 6, 2011; $23.99) takes readers into an unfamiliar world as a young Mennonite woman struggles to break free from the constraints of her sequestered upbringing and find her place in the alien outside world. Toews, the author of such critically acclaimed novels as A Complicated Kindness and The Flying Troutmans, and winner of two of her native Canada's most prestigious literary awards--the Governor General's Award and the Rogers Writers' Trust Prize for her body of work--was herself raised in a small Mennonite town on the prairie. For IRMA VOTH, she taps not only her personal knowledge of this rigorous faith, but also a little-known piece of history--the real-life legacy of Mennonites who migrated to Mexico in the late 19th century and settled in the country's northern provinces.
I'm not very far along, so I'll save the balance of my comments for the final review. But one thing that struck me, not being familiar with Toews's other works, was her distinct, almost minimalist style of writing.
I should hedge what I'm about to say a bit. It's really not all that uncommon for authors omit quotation marks when their works. Hemingway did it masterfully at various points in A Farewell to Arms. But in Toews's work, dialogue subtly blends into description, which somehow morphs into the inner thoughts of the characters. The result is that readers are obliged to appreciate each word of the novel, rather than greedily reading through some portions, while skimming over others.
It's really quite a beautiful manipulation of language, and I'm only a quarter of the way through.
The novel is set for release on September 6, and available for pre-order on Amazon.com here.
More to come...
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
A couple of weeks ago, Wifey and I began wading into the advertising morass better known as the hit TV series Mad Men. The basic premise of the show is rooted in the perpetual malcontent besetting American consumers. The shows 'Ad Men' are successful if they can convince consumers to buy their clients' products, and to do so they must also persuade consumers that they they need the wares being sold.
Consumer malcontent is a funny thing. There's a logical argument that if Americans would actually spend more of their money, or act on their material discontent during tough economic times, then this would stimulate a consumer driven economy, allowing American companies across various sectors to produce more goods, and hire more workers.
Yet, the consumer trend of late seems to be that austere times call for austere measures. This results in consumers being more apt to stay home, saving their money, rather than going out to spend it. Of course, reduced demand leads to a glut in supply, which means less money coming into the sellers' coffers. Rational business persons respond by reducing their workforce to compensate for lost profits. This leads to spiraling unemployment, and cyclical markets. (FYI, the Dow gained 700 points in the past five days, only to see those gains largely erased this afternoon in a matter of hours, closing at a 419 point loss.)
My point is that our Nation's economic plight can largely be chalked up to the contentment of consumers. The rule, then, is that the more discontent people are, the better off the markets will be. A corollary to this rule would be that our Nation's economic prospects are eminently tied to the lot of us being miserable, and seeking cures in material goods. It wasn't by mistake that Apple became the world's most valuable company.
The incongruity of the market view of contentment is that it applies a quantitative analysis to what is inherently a qualitative conundrum. As a species, mankind is prone to seek contentment through a number of venues that are not necessarily related to spending at all. One blog that I read frequently, advises people to seek contentment through living a minimalist life. This invites a number of questions, but the basic point is to spend money on experiences, and invest in relationships, rather than spending money on things.
Another blogger and friend takes almost the opposite approach to minimalism. Whereas a minimalist would advise chunking the daily planner and living life in the moment without the strictures of a schedule, my friend finds contentment through following a disciplined routine. He takes great care, most mornings, to get up early and enjoy the wee, small hours of the day. He claims this is the best time for engaging the creative faculties of the mind. The notion of contentment through routine is strikingly similar to a career blogger I read, who advises women to follow her detailed "Blueprint for a Woman's Life" to the letter.
I'm not sure that either extreme 'corners the market' on finding contentment. Aside from being qualitative rather than quantitative, contentment is almost an entirely subjective state of being. My dog finds contentment in her red Kong Toy. Some people claim that they can escape their troubles simply by riding a bike. Others try to find contentment by preserving as much of the present as possible, even to the point of absurdity.
I like to think that contentment has a way of finding me, even when I don't realize it. A lot of times I get restless with where I am in life, second guessing decisions, wondering about what might have been under a different set of circumstances. But then I read stories that really make me appreciate being alive in general. Just today, I read about a couple from NYC, struggling to rebuild their lives after a tragic bike accident. The facts are too long to recount here, but what went from a simple ride to a concert quickly turned into a life-changing event.
I also think about people like food blogger Jennie Perillo. I assume Ms. Perillo is more than financially secure. She's been apprenticed in some of the finest restaurants in the world. And she has successfully promoted her website in the National media, making her a minor-culinary celebrity. Yet, her lone request on the blog last week was that readers make a pie in honor of her late husband Mikey, who she unexpectedly lost to a massive heart attack days before.
My intent is not to glory in other people's tragedies. And there's really no big picture lesson from all of this because I think we each have to arrive at a place of contentment on our own terms. My basic and subjective observation is that my lot really isn't so bad when I take a step back. Sure, I'd like to make more (viz., any) money, but Wifey and I get by. We both have our health and each other. Soon, my academic program will end, capping a lengthy quest to earn the title "Dr." before my name.
In the mean time, I plan to eat a little slower, sample some microbrews, and spend more time doing the things I love - like reading, writing, cycling, and working on Prestige 15 in Call of Duty, Black Ops. I don't know that this is exactly what St. Paul had in mind when he penned the verse above, but it works for me. Maybe my suggestion about contentment is to do what works for you.
Our beta fish, Maestro, died this afternoon.
He fell ill early last weekend. He started acting strangely, floating on his side during the day, lying down on his side during the night. Soon his behavior became much more erratic. Without warning, he would sprint to the top of his tank for air, and allow himself to sink slowly back down to the bottom. After these fits of swimming, Maestro invariably came to rest on the smooth river rocks that lined the base of his tank. I like to think the cold stones gave him comfort.
When his illness began, my first instinct was to change his water, and this seemed to help. He showed a little sign of improvement, swimming around the tank, rather than swimming on his side. All seemed well for a day or two.
But last night the same symptoms came back. This morning I found him resting on the cool rocks again, his gills weakly breathing. Food held no interest to him. I can't imagine fish having overly complex minds. But it seemed like our little friend had simply lost the will to live.
This afternoon, I checked on him knowing the end was near. I found him in his favorite corner of the tank. He was already gone. But he looked at peace.
Maestro's tank sits empty now, beneath the windows in our living room. It's strange that a fish so small, could bring our lives such joy.
We're more than a year away from the 2012 election, but the GOP primary race got a lot more interesting over the weekend with the addition of long suspected candidate, Texas Governor, Rick Perry.
On Monday, the Daily Caller summed up the state of the GOP race as follows:
Mitt Romney is the kid in the front row who constantly raises his hand. Michele Bachmann is the popular girl who knows she’s better than you. And Rick Perry is the laid-back football player (in actuality, Perry was an “Aggie Yell Leader” — but this is about perception) who sits in the back of the class. He’s popular with the cool kids, yet still treats the outcasts with a degree of respect.
Everybody likes that guy, and in politics, likeability matters.
The analogy is oversimplified, but it works on balance. I'm no expert on Texas politics, but based on video I've seen, Perry has a natural affability with voters. I suspect this can be chalked up to his roots in rural America, places where friendliness is still a serious matter of social obligation.
There's also no question that Perry has the most compelling narrative of the top three candidates. It was chronicled at length in London's Telegraph, but even in a foreign daily, Gov. Perry's story reads like the stuff of fiction. Small town kid from a family of poor tenant farmers, who now has a very real chance to become the President of the United States. It's the kind of thing that can only happen in America, but it's not a bad storyline, even by UK standards.
Of course, Perry is not without some liabilities. In particular, he would make a general election race against President Obama especially polarizing. The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky sums the matter up fairly well:
During an Obama-Perry contest, millions of Americans on both sides would be shuddering constantly for four months. We’ve never had quite this kind of showdown culturally. Our present Kulturkampf dates only to the 1980s. There’s never been a cultural showdown of the sort Obama v. Perry would represent. Yes, Republicans hated Clinton, but he was Southern and enough of a good old boy that he cut across those lines to some extent. Gore was painted as an egghead, and was, but again Southern-ness diluted the cocktail a bit. Bush versus John Kerry is probably as close as we’ve come, but Kerry was never really quite threatening enough to Bush America to merit serious hatred. And John McCain, mostly because he was not Southern and partly because he was so old, was not nearly as perfect a foil for Obama as Perry would be.
Tomasky's complaint is that Rick Perry would reignite the culture wars, pitting red states against blue states, on a scale that we've never seen before in the history of history. Tomasky can be forgiven for sounding a bit like Henny Penny. The sky isn't falling, simply because Perry is the frontrunner. But Tomasky's right in that Perry would basically be President Obama's anti-twin, and the left's skin would surely crawl if he were elected as President, regardless of how he actually governed the country. The National Review's Rich Lowry ably predicts even more Perry hatred (along the lines of Tomasky's piece) in his latest column in the National Review. I think he's probably right.
But elections are about contrasts. Contrasting visions. Contrasting personalities. Contrasting styles. Assuming Perry wins the GOP nomination, which is still a big assumptions given Mitt Romney's massive political machine, he will present a contrast with the President in basically every way as Tomasky notes.
The conventional wisdom says voters want choices. They'll have some fairly stark ones come November 2012
A couple of weeks ago the new MacBook Airs were released by Apple. After diving into a bit of technological lust, I had to remind myself that the grass is always greener…
Turns out, in some instances, it actually is.
The piece I wrote earlier in the week about Ben Stein and the economic meltdown has weighed on my mind lately. It isn't a newsflash, but today's headlines abundantly suggest that we live in an era of unprecedented economic uncertainty, and global unrest.
Rioters in London burned their own homes in protest of UK budget cuts.
Earlier in the week, naysayers warned of a Post-American planet, drearily musing whether we had already spent ourselves into oblivion.
Meanwhile, others have taken a fancy to questioning the value of higher education, as if society would be helped by the masses remaining uneducated, helpfully observing that most Americans are wasting money on anything more than a high school diploma (special reference made to law students).
In fact, people have become so fed up with bad news that nearly 200,000 people cancelled their cable TV subscriptions in the last quarter alone.
Not even President Obama gets a break. The latest poll numbers, bless his heart, show Generic Republican besting President Obama 47% to 42%. And just a couple of days ago his vacation home on Martha's Vineyard burned down (not really, but it did catch fire).
Make of the above what you will, but it seems fair to say that times are tough.
As the adage goes, desperate times call for desperate measures, so it seemed only appropriate to draw some words of wisdom from the Bible - just in case. Serendipitously, the writings of an old friend from high school (published on Facebook, no less), turned my weary eye to the fifth chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Romans.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I won't say the winds instantly calmed when I read the verse above. But something like that happened. I looked outside of the kitchen window, and saw our cactus sitting on the porch, warming in the sun, its tiny pricks of yellow gingerly reaching toward skies of blue. It occurred to me, that the world economy could crash this afternoon, and my cactus couldn't care any less. So long as my wife provides it the occasional drink of water, it will thrive regardless of the calamities besetting the kingdoms of men.
I can't help but think the cactus has it right. The little prick. At risk of being over broad, the verse above strikes me as the simplest statement of Christianity ever written. At its core, the message is a compact one of assurance, written to all those twisting in the winds of the stock market, written to all those questioning whether their education is worth the price, and written to all those forced to watch Netflix Streaming because they cancelled their Cable TV package.
The message is that faith in Christ yields peace with God. Nothing more. Nothing less.
The other stirring aspect of the short verse is that it is without qualification. It does not assure peace only to stockbrokers. It does not assure peace if only we make the appropriate spending cuts accompanied by corresponding 'revenue increases.' The point is plain. Those justified by faith have peace with God. Period.
Now, Stein's article questions the premise of our calamitous world entirely. "Meltdown? What meltdown?" he would say. While it's fair to question the origins of the situation, it's also disingenuous to deny the phenomenon altogether. As my wife and I wait for student loans to come in, the reality of hard times is clear to us. We see similar concern among our circle of friends - mostly young professionals, and students, or some combination of the two.
By contrast, Paul more or less takes the same approach to reality as my cactus Paul says, embrace reality. Sometimes life sucks, but come what may, those justified by faith have peace with God. It will be ok.
And if that conclusion is good enough for my cactus, well, it's good enough for me.
PS: I realize the many jokes I could have made when I titled this post 'little pricks.' Most lawyers, Tiger Woods, and Ron Paul all come to mind. But gentle readers, I can only hope that my effort at more reflective commentary will compensate for lone cheap laugh I tried to get.
UPDATE: Ben Stein adds some more thoughts in today's (8/12/2011) essay on the 'meltdown,' and reaches somewhat similar conclusions to those I reached yesterday:
6. The speculators do not have all power. There is only One who has all power and I live by His rules, not by the rules of fear and panic peddled by some cable TV systems.
So, I can keep some perspective and go on with my life after all.
And I can look out on this magnificent mountain lake and think how it must laugh at stock markets and the affairs of men.
Stein's lake laughs at the affairs of men, much like my little cactus laughed when I picked it up.
This Lolcat of the Week basically sums up my attitude toward life the past week. My bike wreck has sidelined me from riding, so I've been stuck at home while the world goes on without me.
I'm being dramatic, of course, but if I had a dime for every time this sentiment crossed my mind, well, I might not hate everything quite so much.
I've been sidelined with my bike injury for about a week now. But I like to think that I've spent my hiatus constructively. One thing I've done, for example, is spend some time each day looking at bike-oriented websites. True, I'm not actually riding a bike, but at least I'm thinking about other people riding theirs. Call it, passive moral support.
Today, I ambled across this fairly amazing commercial from a bicycle manufacturer called The Flying Pigeon. The name is remarkable because, unlike the pigeons roosting atop our porch, most pigeons actually fly around on a regular basis. All of which is to say that the name is a redundancy, really, following in the tradition of my favorite The Fat Bastard. (Fat bastard? Is there any other kind of bastard?)
Nevertheless, the Flying Pigeon commercial is interesting because it uses a movie-like storyline to sell the product. The commercial communicates the functionality of the bike by sharing the daily routines of its owners, from shopping at the market, to visiting a local coffee shop. As every good movie director knows, sex sells, so the film/commercial (filmercial?) also incorporates a bit of romance into the piece. Enter a svelte blonde, and a brooding writer whose paths cross at various points in the day.
Anyway, I thought the clip was a fine example of marketing, and frankly, one of the better commercials I've seen in a while. I can't forecast much beyond that, but I would not be surprised if other companies picked upon the idea and began producing "filmercials" too. Granted, they might be a big long for the average 30-second spot. Still, it would certainly make the Super Bowl ads a lot more interesting...
Among the American intelligentsia, few possess the versatility, of actor/lawyer/economist/author, Ben Stein.
When I was but a young lad muckraking with the Dartmouth College Republicans, we ambled into the archives of our E-mail to discover that an enterprising member of our motley had 'procured' Mr. Stein's E-mail address, and invited him to campus. Needless to say, this was back in the days when it wasn't illegal to procure E-mail addresses, and when "spam" was still a type of meat product.
After a couple of messages back and forth, it was clear that Mr. Stein was actually very much keen to come to campus. Alas, his speaking fees were a well beyond the pale of our modest budget. Nevertheless, since reading that exchange, I've maintained a private admiration for a man publicly admired by many. His reflections last month on the death of his dog were especially profound. Give it's lack of publicity, I would also add that they went terribly under appreciated. I digress.
Today, Mr. Stein writes at length about America's fiscal plight. His basic point is summarized below:
Why are we having this meltdown? Why right now?
The real economy is not doing great, but corporate profits are extremely strong. The nation's large corporations are loaded with liquidity. The luxury retail sector is powerful. Autos are excellent. The agricultural sector is stupendously strong. High tech and biotech are doing well, sometimes amazingly well.
Stein's answer to the question is a bit simplistic, blaming matters on speculating buy-side investors. But it is curious that the day's financial news sees at least one tech company enjoying breathtaking profits, even while the stock market supposedly tanks. Stepping back from the fracas, one of Mr. Stein's implicit points is that the relationship between America's economic strength, and the S&P debt downgrade hasn't been well-explained since the downgrade occurred.
Aside from long-term effects on mortgage rates, and on students taking out educational loans from private lenders, it isn't clear that the debt downgrade matters much to the average American at all, except that it makes them increasingly fed up with Washington.
On the other hand, if you're not convinced the matter is functionally much ado about nothing, a studious Amazon.com shopper has complied this helpful list of "Pre-Post-Apocalyptic Survival" goods - just in case the sky does actually fall. Consider this your blogger, looking out for you.
I hesitated to make a post about Rick Perry's prayer event down in Houston, TX.
My hesitation wasn't the hate speech feared by some on the left - that, incidentally, never materialized. My hesitation wasn't a mixing of church and state - that, incidentally, has never been quite so separate.
My hesitation stemmed from the simple fact that Gov. Rick Perry is not a declared candidate for President of the United States. All of the Presidential rumblings so far have been little more than conjecture on the part of disaffected Republicans, hoping for a knight that can unite the various factions of the GOP. Having, more or less, picked a horse in this race, Gov. Perry has been little more than an interesting afterthought.
But when a major political figure makes an address to a Football stadium full of people, well, that's extremely hard to ignore.
The smart money on the right is that Perry runs. If he does run, then today's prayer gathering boosts his fortunes immeasurably with folks in Iowa, South Carolina, and perhaps pockets of Florida. It would all but shore up the South, which he would have had anyway being the Governor of Texas. So, really this is all just a long, obligatory statement of the obvious, deviating little from the collective wisdom of the blogosphere.
In hopes of adding something slightly original to the conversation, as a wayward evangelical (the wife and I are flirting with joining an Episcopal church), I was much more taken with Perry's remarks.
Naturally, there's more than a bit of stagecraft with every address to 30,000 of your closets friends. Perry's talk/sermonette was no different. But I was struck by Gov. Perry's natural ability to connect with a religious audience. To state matters plainly, Perry spoke their language. He understood what phrases from scripture to emphasize in the inflection of his voice. He understood the appropriate cadence with which to read his passages from Joel, Isaiah, and Ephesians. He knew the attitude of humbleness that he needed to convey in his address. And most of all, he seemed to understand the significance of his remarks to his audience.
This isn't a terribly unique skill. Many a politician professing faith has demonstrated similar faculties. But with Perry, we see a remarkably good skill, that has been appropriately developed, and honed almost to perfection.
Now, it's not my place to question a person's faith, and I don't mean to do so by implication through my break down of Perry's remarks. But as a purely rhetorical matter, I have to say that Gov. Perry's ability to relate his faith to other evangelicals is simply stronger than any other GOP candidate currently in the field.
By way of tempering the above, it may be a bit more precise to say that Perry speaks to Western and Southern evangelicals better than any of the other candidates. As every armchair scholar of American religions will note, the theological roots of Christianity in America are very different in the Midwest from those in the Deep South, and the American West, to say nothing of the puritanical provenance (how's that for alliteration?) of the Northeast.
To wit, Rep. Michelle Bachmann has made some waves, of late, over her ability to relate to Christian conservatives in Iowa. But I think a Perry run saps the energy out of her appeal to evangelical audiences, not only in Iowa, but across the country. The two are just on different planes in terms of their ability to connect with an evangelical audience.
I've embedded the Governor's address to The Response Prayer Rally in full below. As always, feel free to leave comments or critiques.
Ever wanted to pack it all up, and travel?
Given that I'm alone with the dog most of the day on most days, I can't tell you how many times I've entertained a serious case of wanderlust.
But then I think about things like air-conditioning, clean water, and the Samuel Adams in my fridge, and the feeling quickly goes away.
Still, the creative three-video series below by Rick Mereki, Tim White, and Andrew Lees is steadily wearing down my resolve.
According to their Vimeo site, the trio travelled to some 18 countries, logging in the neighborhood of 38,000 miles in 44 days. Comparing them to yours truly, it's not hard to see who had the more productive summer.
The fruits of their travels are three, one minute films, each devoted to one of three themes: Food, Learning, and Movement.
I've embedded all three below for your vagabond itch. Enjoy!
It was inevitable. My coordination and dexterity levels are somewhere around those of the African Bush Elephant.
Today, while riding down Tucson's Ft. Lowell Road, near the intersection of Ft. Lowell and Dodge, I hit a rough patch of pavement that sent me head over handlbars, off my bike. Fortunately for me, the asphalt broke my fall.
When I got up, the first thing I did was look around to see if anyone saw me. I'm not sure why I do this every time I fall. It's not as if I have any more dignity to preserve at that point. Alas, this spill must have been particularly nasty since a local businessman came out of his shop to check on me. Fortunately, only my pride was seriously hurt at the time. I'd give the man's business a plug, but I was too dazed to notice where he came from except that it was out of one of the shops.
Once I had gathered my bearings, and feebly called my wife for a lift and first aid, I took a quick look at the scourge that caused my spill. Turns out, there's a 15 yard stretch of bike lane, eastbound along Ft. Lowell Road that makes the infrastructure of entire third-world countries seem desirable. Unfortunately, while I was humming along about 20mph, I didn't see the massive hole until it was too late.
In truth, the fall could have been much worse than it was. The bike lane at that point isn't very wide, so a speeding car in the outside lane would have been a real problem for me. But the reality is that I escaped with only a swollen wrist, and a couple of gashes from the fall.
My bike came out of the incident relatively unscathed as well. The only battle wounds that resulted were scrapes on my left Shimano Shifter.
I suppose if there's a moral to this story, it's that the City of Tucson still has work to do to make its cycling infrastructure both convenient and safe. I suppose if I had broken my wrist I would be less forgiving, but as they say in basketball, "no harm, no foul." The problem with this view, of course, is that the next bike rider who comes along and wrecks in the same spot may not be so lucky.
I went through a friend's trash yesterday.
Sunday, was a hot and humid one here in Tucson. Given that it was only slightly less miserable than segments of Hell itself, and given my knack for being perpetually unlucky, it was also completely natural that the last day of July just so happened to coincide with the expiration of many a lease here in the Old Pueblo. Moving from place to place is its own hell. The weather was more than accommodating.
True to form, one particularly good friend needed help schlepping her stuff from point A to B, so my wife and I readily helped her with the move. On the off chance my friend sees this post: my quibble is not with the request for help, but with Mother Nature for being a royal bitch on the lone instance I needed to exert physical effort on a Sunday.
Turns out, we got most of the heavy lifting done in the early morning. While three flights of stairs were less than an optimal condition for moving things like a couch, bed, and bookshelves, we managed to finagle the reluctant items down the stairwell, and into/onto my truck for the quick jaunt across town.
With the heavy items out of the way, we helped our friend haul various boxcars of trash to the dumpsters behind her apartment complex. The stretch of blacktop between the apartment and the dumpster was only twenty yards long. But ray after humid ray of sunshine gradually began to wear down our resolve. Soon, we were indiscriminately hauling items that were certifiably NOT trash to the bins, simply because we were too tired to actually go through the items to see whether they were salvageable or not.
In some ways, I relished the roll of trash man. I took a visceral satisfaction at being able to chunk the items into the bin after carrying them in the heat of the day across the parking lot. I felt a bit like Bing Crosby in "Road to Morocco," clawing along the sands of the Sahara Desert, yearning for a drip of moisture from the heavens. But of the actual, disposal process itself, there was nothing particularly insightful about it. The thud of the items against the hollow trash bin was an eminently satisfying conclusion to a walk in Tucson's humid, monsoon climes.
But, on one occasion, as I hurled a J Crew bag at the very back of the massive dumpster, I heard a distinct, metallic clang when the bag hit the wall of the bin. As a rainfall of beans fell out of the bag, along with various other kitchen items, I saw a lone silver bowl glinting in the sun.
My mind immediately wandered to the many hours I've spent making salsa in our own kitchen. I thought about the smell of cilantro, and jalapeños that fill the apartment while we prepare our secret recipe. And I thought about the times I wished I had had a massive, metal mixing bowl in which to pour out the salsa purée as I prepared the other ingredients.
There, winking in the sun, was exactly the bowl I needed - if only I would dumpster dive to retrieve it.
Having spent some time in Boston, I can say with a bit of authority that dumpster diving is less a science and more an art. There are, quite literally, tons of dumpster lining Summer Street in Boston's Financial District. And on several occsions I had the opportunity to witness the homeless and mentally distressed prospecting in the dumpster bins of local businesses. Call it America's very own iteration of the video game "Fallout New Vegas."
In my arrogance, I had always assumed "these people" had somehow hit rock bottom. Whether by circumstance, or by life choices, these individuals had simply put themselves in the position of having to dive into dumpsters in hopes of finding a treasure. I assumed that the dumpsters of Summer Street, Boston, Mass., were the cemeteries where hopes and dreams came to rest, after having died long ago.
So, naturally, it was with a bit of hesitation that I scaled the wall of the trash bin to retrive my friend's junk, and my own treasure. A bit of Palmolive would have the bowl right back into culinary order. And I could always deny its pedigree. After all, the bowl could very well be an $80 mixing bowl from Williams-Sonoma, which isn't beyond the pale of plausibility given that my friend is a good Yalie.
Still, as I climbed out of the bin, I couldn't help but wonder, based upon my own biases, whether this was what rock bottom was like. Had my life been reduced to dumpster diving? With a full two weeks before students loan disbursement, perhaps.
Surprisingly, rock bottom really wasn't all that bad.