sufferquest

Endurance sports – what is “epic”? The SufferQuest Diaries, vol. 2

In search of epicness—whatever that is. (And if it’s organized, it’s probably isn’t epic.)

sufferquestPart 2 in a series.

SufferQuest is in some ways a misnomer. What endurance athletes are really chasing is epicness.

But what, pray tell, is epicness?

Hmmmm. That’s a tough one. It’s easy enough to list some of my epic experiences.

  • Hitchhiking across the States solo when I was seventeen.
  • Visiting a village in West Africa that was so remote the villagers had to ferry our motorcycles across a huge wetland in canoes was epic.
  • As were many of the times in Louisiana where I worked pipeline construction to earn money for college… Continue reading
sufferquest

Marathons, triathlons, centuries – Sufferquest Diaries Volume 1: Why get off the couch unless you need to pee?

Part 1 in a series.

Each year, over a half million people run marathons and another half million do triathlons of various lengths. Hundreds of thousands more run mini-marathons or bike centuries (100 miles in a day.) We’re not talking about the neighborhood July 4th 5K or cycling down the trail at the park, we’re talking about events that take from two to seventeen hours to complete, where the risk of injury is significant, and that require hundreds of hours of preparation.

And the question, of course, is “why?”

In the spirit of full disclosure, let me confess that I’m one of those people. Continue reading

Entertainment

Geeks, freaks and cable TV

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

We humans are what we are, even if some parts of our nature aren’t always what we wish they were—our attitudes toward race, sex, and sexual orientation, our propensity for violence, our gawping at car wrecks, and our desire to stare at, and in some cases mock, those who are different.

A hundred years ago human oddities were collected in traveling freak shows. Monkey-boys, half-man/half-woman, fat ladies, dwarves, the tattooed and pierced, fire-eaters, sword swallowers, and people who bit the heads off live animals. Some became famous, like the dwarf Tom Thumb, who was billed as an adult when still a child and started drinking and smoking cigars at seven to support the illusion, or John Merrick, the Elephant Man, a beautiful man trapped in a horribly deformed body, and Grady Stiles, a horribly nasty man trapped in a horribly nasty body. Continue reading

Boston Marathon

Personal record: a participant’s view of the Boston Marathon

Boston MarathonHow was Boston?

Not what I expected.

I  didn’t expect the intensity. The marathon is on the front of every newspaper, all over television, on banners on the street, and literally a hundred thousand people—runners, their entourages, and volunteers, all wear Boston gear. Everyone, from cabbies to hotel clerks to passersby’s, asks if you’re running. It’s as if the entire world has collapsed inward like a blue-white dwarf, and everything that matters is within a one mile space stretching from Boston Common down Boylston Street to the Finish Line. Continue reading

Religion

Obama is wrong: Islamic beliefs are incompatible with the modern world

Islamic terrorists aren’t attacking churches, they’re attacking schools and newspapers.

Ipoint-counterpointn 2001, Bush called for a “crusade” against Islamic terrorists. His choice of words caused many to cringe, although as it turned out he was on the money. The last thirteen years have been a never-ending battle between Judeo-Christians and Muslims that has destroyed much of the Mideast, just like Crusades 1.0. Also just like the original crusades, this latest effort has been a colossal rort, rife with waste, chicanery, profiteering and downright theft. Bush said “crusade,” and by golly, he meant it. (In fact, you could probably argue that most wars we fought in the 20th Century were crusades, from WWII to Vietnam, where the uber-Catholic Dulles brothers supported the Catholic Diem against Ho Chi Minh, to our cold war on “godless Communism.”) Continue reading

southern avenger

Hey Bubba! Three GOP candidates with serious YouTube potential

What are a redneck’s last words?

“Hey, Bubba, watch this!” Those are immediately followed by something involving guns, gasoline, fireworks, water, motorized vehicles or alligators, and a few weeks later by a check from the Southern version of the lottery, the life insurance company.

Usually nations are too smart to play “Hey, Bubba.” Instead, nations fantasize about doing something crazy, like electing Sarah Palin or Jean-Marie Le Pen, but they seldom do unless they’re Russia or some whacked-out place in Africa. Countries usually end up choosing someone who is one inch to the left or right of the middle of the road, whatever that is for them. Continue reading

Is it time for drone coaching in the NBA and MLB?

The New York Knicks are one of the worst teams in the NBA. They’re in desperate need of many things, including a great coach who can successfully explain the complex offensive system they’ve tried (without success) to implement. The good news is they have the greatest coach in NBA history on the payroll. The bad news is he doesn’t coach, because he doesn’t want the wear and tear associated with an NBA travel schedule. In August 2010, baseball’s Chicago Cubs had a similar problem with Lou Piniella, who resigned to take care of his 90 year-old mother.

Pro sports are a grind. Continue reading

By Otherwise Posted in Sports
War

Book Review: Sean McFate’s The Modern Mercenary

The Modern Mercenary—Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order, Sean McFate, Oxford University Press, 2014.

George Orwell is often credited with the quote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” He didn’t say it of course. Famous people almost never said the things that are attributed to them, but the quote resonates because of its fundamental truth: Most of us cannot protect ourselves and depend on a network of rough men—police, military, etc.—to allow us to sleep soundly.

One particular group of rough men, mercenaries, occupy an outsized place in our mythology. Whether it’s Kurosawa’s ronin or Sturges’s Magnificent Seven or Forsyth’s Dogs of War, the less violent among us cling to the idea that when all else fails we can call on the services of a group of hard but principled men who will step in and save us from those who would do us harm. Interestingly, based on the number of Web sites and periodicals devoted to becoming a mercenary, it appears that almost as many dream of being those rough men. Continue reading

Giving-USA-2014-chart

Humbug: the US has too much philanthropy

We currently have an epidemic of philanthropy in the U.S., and that’s a very bad thing.

Giving-USA-2014-chartPhilanthropy is everywhere. Good luck finding a 5K race or golf tournament or box of cookies that doesn’t have an affiliation with a not for profit. Companies have replaced annual executive golf outings with days of painting walls and digging ditches at inner city neighborhood centers. And there has emerged an entirely new industry, what professional aid workers disdainfully call “poverty tourism,” where wealthy Americans spend a week or two each year somewhere in the Third World “giving back.” Philanthropy has exploded, and now exceeds $300 billion dollars each year.

Here’s why it’s a bad thing. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology

Rosetta: why aren’t we more amazed by the most amazing achievement in space travel history?

European Space Agency lands a washing machine on a rock 317 million miles away and moving at 83,000 mph. Oh the MATH!

I am in awe of today’s landing of a spacecraft on a comet and spent much of the day jumping up and down and emailing friends.

None of them understood my excitement, even when I explained it’s all about the math involved. So I tried this, “Hey, guys, it’s like you had to make a THOUSAND-foot putt going up and over a mountain, across a green full of bumps and undulations, on a windy day during an earthquake, and the ball fell into the cup with its final rotation.”

They sort of got that, but my example wasn’t very accurate, because what the European Space Agency did was in fact much harder. The comet is tiny, about 2.5 miles in diameter or about the size of midtown Manhattan. It’s 310 million miles away and is moving through space at 80,000 mph. The spacecraft is even tinier, about the size of a washing machine and had to travel 6.4 billion miles in ten years to reach the comet. Continue reading

In the NFL, cheating pays

We Americans are an inconsistent lot, and nowhere is that more exposed than in our views on cheating. Sometimes we hold our heroes to the letter of the law, and excoriate them when they break the rules. Other times we just shrug it away, e.g., Ronald Reagan in the debates and later with Contra-Iran or Bill Clinton with his philandering bordering on sexual predation.

Nowhere are our conflicted views more visible than in sports. (That’s not really surprising. We use sports as a laboratory to examine the most critical issues in society—gay equality, equal pay for equal work, violence against women, marijuana legalization, etc.) Sometimes we publicly humiliate sports heroes for cheating and come after them with flaming faggots and pitchforks like a mob storming the castle, e.g., A-Rod, Pete Rose, Sammy Sosa, etc. Other times, we just sort of shrug and wink, e.g., Maradona, Roger Clemens, Gaylord Perry, and Manny Ramirez.

More often than not, though, we come down on the side of cheaters. Continue reading

Sports_NCAA

Big 10 makes good on threat: moves football to DIII

In 2013, Jim Delaney, commissioner of the Big 10 (which of course has fourteen teams, which says plenty about the tenuous link between academic integrity and athletics) said that if the O’Bannon lawsuit prevailed, the Big 10 would consider moving to Division III.

Several alternatives to a ‘pay for play’ model exist, such as the Division III model, which does not offer any athletics-based grants-in-aid, and, among others, a need-based financial model. These alternatives would, in my view, be more consistent with The Big Ten’s philosophy that the educational and lifetime economic benefits associated with a university education are the appropriate quid pro quo for its student athletes.

On August 8, a judge ruled against the Big 10 in the O’Bannon case.

Now, one month later, it appears Delaney wasn’t kidding. Continue reading

By Otherwise Posted in Sports
Jesus Tebow

Johnny Manziel: he’s the new Tim Tebow

Johnny Football is probably a bigger douchebag than St. Timmy, but they’re more alike than they are different.

I’m going to miss Tim Tebow.

He was a blogger’s dream.

First, his situation represented an unambiguous wrong, the perfect high horse upon which to climb. He was given an opportunity he did not deserve because of racial and religious bias. Period. No ifs, ands or buts. If he’d been the same white quarterback, only not as overtly religious, he’d have been drafted in the umpteenth round like A.J. McCarron, who has similar stats to Tebow. If he’d been the same religious quarterback with mediocre skills, only not white, he would never have been drafted in the first place. There was no need for nuance when writing about the Tebow situation because there was no nuance involved. WYSIWYG. Some poor schmuck had his opportunity to play in the NFL taken away because of religious zealotry run amok.  Continue reading

Mark Jackson needs self-awareness counseling

Fired Golden State head coach preaches the virtues of paying your dues, even though he never paid any himself.

Mark Jackson, until recently coach of the Golden State Warriors, was fired for clashing with, well, just about everyone in Golden State who wasn’t as evangelically zealous as himself.

That included one of his bosses, board member Jerry West, a highly rated former assistant who’s now a head coach, Michael Malone, and two of his assistants this past season, Brian “White Mamba” Scalabrine and Darren Erman. Jackson tried to fire Scalabrine in front of the team and did fire Erman, who promptly was hired by the Celtics. In a recent radio interview, Jackson makes it clear why Scalabrine and Erman simply had to go: They weren’t willing to pay their dues. Continue reading

Is Charlie Strong a Satanist?

Seven reasons Charlie Strong should not be coach at Texas

Red McCombs, a noted football expert, is right. Strong doesn’t, you know, “belong.” Also, he’s a socialist fascist Satanist.

Charlie Strong

Charlie Strong and his white wife.

This week Texas AD Steve Patterson stunned college athletics by announcing the hire of Charlie Strong as coach at the University of Texas, replacing legend Mack Brown. Most pundits had argued the influential boosters of the Texas program would not allow a candidate of color to be named to the position. Now one of those, “megabooster” Red McCombs, has come forward criticizing the hire.

Despite Strong’s record as a coach, 37-15, three bowl wins in four years and two top 15 finishes in the polls, McCombs said that “Charlie” would be a fine position coach or coordinator, but was simply not up to the Texas job.

Here are the top seven reasons Charlie Strong should not be coach at Texas. Continue reading

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Global warming debate is a waste of time

Climate disruption is a result of human nature, and human nature isn’t going to change.

Here’s what I learned visiting St. Eustatius. The debate over global warming is a waste of time.

St. Eustatius is a tiny Caribbean Island. In its day, the place was a big deal, one of the world’s busiest trading ports with 3500 ships a year. It’s best known for being the first place to acknowledge U.S. sovereignty, but it also played a key role in the Revolution. Most of the guns used by the Continental Army came through Statia, as it’s now known. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Education

Should teachers be paid more? No.

Recently, I made same comment to my fellow Scrogues and got some, ummm, disagreement.

They then trotted out arguments about it being teachers that are entrusted with our most precious resource, our children, that the value they provide is incalculable, that it was kindly Miss McCutcheon in second grade that germinated my love of poetry with her passionate reading of Dr. Seuss. To quote Jimi Hendrix, “Blah blah, woof woof.”

The value argument is absurd on its face. First of all, relatively few professions are remunerated on value—perhaps professional athletes, some entertainers, commission-based salesmen, and arguably CEO’s whose pay package is tied to stock options. The reason is that to pay someone based on value creation, it’s first necessary that it be possible to calculate value. Sorry, but that’s how it works.

Calculating the value of instruction to hundreds of children that will pay off at some undetermined point in the future is simply impossible. It would require an ability to estimate what value each child will provide to society over his or her lifetime, what that value would have been without the contribution of each particular teacher absent the effects of parents, friends, and other teachers, and the ability to discount that back to the present. Even were it possible, I suspect most teachers would be wary about signing up for that pay program, because they wouldn’t want to see their annual bonus docked because Little Johnny will grow up to be meth dealer in twelve years.

Come on, folks, everybody thinks they’re paid under their true value, from CEO’s that make fifty mil a year (really, I know a couple) to garbage collectors.

Now that we’ve dismissed that silly value argument and made poor Miss McCutcheon cry, let’s talk about how most jobs are really remunerated, supply and demand. Teachers don’t like it that they are paid according to the laws of economics. Welcome to the club. People love economics when it comes out in their favor, and hate it when it doesn’t. The same folks who go to WalMart are the ones who see their jobs being outsourced. Wall Street tycoons who piously talk about the free market are the first to grovel and beg for government hand-outs when things go south.  People don’t like economics because the market is ruthlessly rational. It may not be fair, but it’s rational.

It’s a bit like global warming. It doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not, it’s still getting warmer. It doesn’t matter if you believe in supply and demand or not, that’s still the way most of the world, including labor markets, works.  Even centrally planned economies are subject to the laws of supply and demand—that’s why gray markets exist.

Now labor markets aren’t completely pure for a variety of reasons—unions, restrictions on immigration, Hay systems, licensing boards, racism, etc, etc.  but for all intents and purposes we can think of the job market facing an average person entering the job market as being subject to the laws of economics, specifically supply and demand.

The way that works is this.  The demand for how many of each profession is determined by the economy. For example, in the U.S., we have jobs for 8,374,910 educators, trainers and librarians. We have jobs for 641,020 lawyers, 3,456,000 computer scientists, and 61,140 tax preparers. These are the number of current people in those jobs at current wages. (The math gets very complicated very fast, and this simplified version is close enough.)

The wages for each profession is determined by how much the economy needs to pay to get  a supply of 641,020 qualified people to be lawyers. For example, 641,020 people are able and willing to be lawyers. For $130,880, they will undergo the years of training necessary, face the uncertainty of the profession, and do boring work.

People are willing to work as social workers for $44,200 per year and as teachers for $51,120. People will be sales reps for $68,580 and computer programmers for $80,200. If nobody is willing to be a social worker and the economy needs more, it will raise the wages until it gets the number it needs. If it needs fewer, it will lower the wages until some leave the profession and go do other jobs.

So why don’t teachers get paid more? Simply put, because 8,374,910 people, exactly what the economy needs, are willing to do it for $51,120 each. Could we as a society decide to pay them $60,000 each? Of  course we could, but why would we? It’s a bit like if a washing machine repairman fixed your dryer for $200, but because dry clothes are important to you, you insisted on giving him or her $500. And the same for the grocer, doctor, hair dresser, etc. Would any rational person do that? Of course not. Remember, at the end of the day, teacher salaries don’t come from some magical pot of money in the sky, but from people’s taxes, and most people don’t want to pay any more than they have to.

The real question is why so many people are willing to be teachers for $51,120. I admit, I don’t get it. I tried a little college teaching and hated it. Yes, it has low barriers to entry, the hours are good,  it has a certain shabby chic status and job security, but it’s tedious, you spend your time around unhappy peers who bitch all the time, and you don’t make any money.  I went into business, which had no job security, but paid well and was interesting. Still some people find teaching a desirable job, 8,374,910 to be exact, and as long as they do and are willing to do it for $51,120, then that’s what they’ll get paid.

They’re not alone. As a rule, jobs that people want to do (teacher, writer, pastry chef, antiques store owner, diving instructor) always pay less than jobs people don’t want to do (tax preparer, salesperson, etc.) It’s not necessary that teachers like their work (although I think they do. Two of the people who weighed in have told me they love teaching.) It means that as long as they like it better than their alternatives, they will be willing to work for less to do it.

When I made this point, my fellow Scrogues stopped hurling insults and picked up stones.  One comment was especially interesting. A teacher explained why she taught instead of other professions. She said

I REALLY hated the 2 months I worked in higher ed tech sales after the company I worked for shut the training department I led.  Cold-calling made me feel unclean.  I was lucky they didn’t cut my salary for those 2 months from what I had been making as head of training to commission only.

Exactly. That’s exactly my point. And as long as people like to teach, or at least like it more than they like selling, sales reps will always make $68,580 and teachers will always make $51,120.

Don’t get pissed at me. Go throw eggs at the home of an economics professor.

P.S. What could dedicated, competent, passionate teachers do to raise their wages? It’s simple really. De-unionize and embrace standardized testing. That would create a market between various school systems for the best teachers, and while average wages might stay the same, you’d see wages shoot up for the best. Indeed, top suburban school systems already pay more than their rural and inner city counterparts, but it’s still within a relatively narrow band. If teachers could prove their abilities, e.g., with their students test scores before and after they got them, then they’d get paid. But I haven’t heard any teachers arguing for this.

Next post: Message to Adjuncts: Administrators aren’t the enemy, tenured professors are.

Replace Brady with Tebow before it’s too late

Last night, for the first time this year, the Patriots played without Tim Tebow. For the first time this year, they lost. No, they didn’t lose. They got pounded, 40-9. Humilated. Embarrassed. Noogied. Brady and Mallet were awful, exactly as the S&R sports desk predicted would happen.

Remember, you read it here first, Brady is at the peak of his value, but his best days are past. The Patriots should sell him now, since GM’s in the NFL are always willing to overpay for over-the-hill quarterbacks (Favre, Palmer, Manning) and the Pats could probably get an entire team for Brady, who has the third highest QBR of all time.  Think about it–New England could get a top receiver or two, shore up their porous secondary, AND have three draft picks left over.

Let Timmy play! He’s a winner. There’s no doubt at all, none, that the Patriots would have won last night had he played.

S&R Honors Elmore Leonard

SRHonors_LeonardElmore Leonard is dead at the age of eighty seven.

Ten years ago, I sold my first crime novel to Otto Penzler, founder of Mysterious Press and a doyen of New York publishers. Otto discovered James Elroy, among others. Otto, my then-agent and I met for a quick celebratory toast, which turned into a drunk of epic proportions that ended with me feeling my way down Sixth Avenue at 4 a.m., hand over hand against the plate glass windows. I was so thoroughly and uncompromisingly soused that I missed a breakfast meeting with a CEO (actually, I made the meeting but he told me I was drunk, which was true, and walked out. At least it was at the legendary Algonquin, although these days writers stay at the Carlisle).

That missed breakfast probably cost me a great deal of money, but I didn’t care at the time because I was certain I was on my way to massive riches as an author and getting stupid drunk seemed like a very authorly thing to do. I didn’t get rich writing, but I still don’t regret the evening, because I got to spend eight hours listening to Otto spin stories about famous authors—Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwall, Larry Block, and of course, his friend Dutch, whom the world knows as Elmore Leonard. By then there were four of us, since the bartender had locked the bar, pulled an ashtray out from under the bar, and was pouring for free.

One of the Dutch Leonard stories I remember was this:

Otto once said to Leonard, “You know, what’s so great about your stuff is that you get the dialogue just right. Your Hispanic gangbangers sound just like Hispanic gangbangers.”

Leonard replied, “How do you know? Do you know a lot of Hispanic gangbangers?”

Otto thought for a moment and shook his head.

Leonard smiled and said, “Me neither.”

Elmore Leonard’s characters sounded like they should sound, and acted like they should act. They didn’t charge recklessly into blazing guns or make noble dying speeches or concoct brilliant schemes that required impeccable timing. They said “Oh shit” when it was time to say “Oh shit.”

They were true–average people at best, since he believed criminals were in the main not rocket scientists. They found themselves between a rock and hard place because their bad decisions had put them there. Still we cared for them, for Chili and Jackie and John. Jackie Brown (Rum Punch) is a stewardess reduced to smuggling to make ends meet, a once beautiful woman who’s slowly sliding down the ladder. We may never have been beautiful or climbed the ladder in the first place, but Leonard shows us just enough to make us understand that had we done so, this could be happening to us. It’s magic stuff, that, to make readers identify with imperfect characters with whom they have little in common.

That’s not the only magic Leonard pulls off. Humor is the high wire act of writing. Few try it because it’s almost impossible to do. Leonard was a master. In Get Shorty, Chili Palmer goes to Hollywood to recover a script. There ends up being a tug of war over the script between various parties. At one level it’s a crime story—somebody took it, who’s got it? At another level it’s a gentle and poignant reminder that even second rate hoods like Chili have dreams, too. But at its core, the book is really a sly sendup of the movie business, even though the movie business was “berry, berry good” to Dutch. Nineteen of his stories and books were made into movies. Even as we try to follow the twisting plot and hope Chili pulls it out, it’s impossible not to also laugh out loud as the faux tough guys of Hollywood try to out-tough the real tough guys from Miami. (Also, as I remember, the script in question keeps getting passed around, people fight over it, but no one actually ever reads it.)

But Leonard will mostly be remembered as a stylist, which is especially ironic since he worked very hard to avoid what is usually considered style. He often spoke about writing out the parts people skip and once said something to the effect, “Whenever I find myself admiring one of my sentences, I immediately go back and rewrite it.” Not many writers have the discipline to do that. Most of us, whether we admit it or not, write prose to be admired. We want people (really others writers or very pretty young women) to point out our great lines and ooh and aah over them. And as a result, we fail at what we set out to do—tell the story.

Leonard believed that writing should be invisible, that if the writing made the reader think about the writer rather than the story, he’d failed. He wasn’t the only great writer of the ’50s and early ’60s to write invisibly. There were Charles Williford and John D. MacDonald and others I probably don’t know. Perhaps it came from writing for magazines, which Kurt Vonnegut has pointed out were the TV channels of the day. But Leonard did it so well for so long that we will probably always associate spare prose, stories carried mostly by dialogue, and clumsy characters who bumble into situations so absurd that they weave a drunken line between comedy and tragedy as “Elmore Leonard” territory.

That’s it, really. I could write about his private life, and for some reason us readers are fascinated with the lives of writers, but I probably know a hundred authors and not a single one leads a fascinating life. Leonard didn’t. He had a day job for awhile, was married several times, had some substance issues, and lived in a posh suburb north of Detroit. The truth is, except for Beryl Markham, authors are pretty boring people. They sit in a room all day and make stuff up. Nothing exciting about that.

Until someone gets it right, like Dutch did, and you open the book. Then the excitement starts.