Wealth Happiness Ratio

Interesting human interest article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week about people struggling with their return to work. Largely focused on one man who took advantage of being laid off to connect with his two youngish sons in ways he never had before. A week at a special father-son camp, informal basketball games before dinner, etc. Over the six-nine months he was unemployed, he also began exercising and lost 25 pounds. Now he’s taken a time consuming job and is ambivalent about the loss of family and personal time. He said he gets home at 6:15 and the kid’s evening routine consists of dinner, homework, and bed. And so far he’s gained back 15 of the 25 pounds.

I’m giving the author of the article a “B”  because it was incomplete. Ironic that a journalist writing for the nation’s biz paper wouldn’t explore how the family might reduce their overhead in order to enjoy better balance. My guess is that man’s family, like all families I suppose, could cut expenses in myriad ways. For example, I couldn’t help but wonder how long his commute is and whether he could reduce it by moving closer to work. If I had to cut expenses in order to strike a better work-life balance one of the first things I’d do is try to move within bicycling distance of my work. Then there’s the “new necessities”, cell phones, cable television, expensive lattes in the Pacific Northwest, that few people think about in the context of how many work hours each requires. A related example that I always find odd, the triathlete with an expensive coach who complains about too little time to train.

It’s as if all of us are on a materialistic treadmill that impairs our ability to logically think through the time/material possession trade-off. I can’t downsize my life when the people on the treadmill to the right and left of me are seemingly living larger and larger. Of course their debt, like their treadmill, isn’t visible either.

Why don’t more people question “the wealthier the happier” assumption that powers the materialistic treadmill? Few of us can practice conspicuous consumption and also carve out the necessary time to enjoy close interpersonal relations with family and friends. Not everyone chooses conspicuous consumption, but most do it seems.

Why is that?

Triathlon IS a Country Club Sport

What form does your procrastinating take? This morning I delayed grading papers by skimming the forum on Slowtwitch.com, where tens of thousands of triathletes gather from around the U.S. and world. Before you report me to my boss, whomever that is, I only read one thread about race fees getting totally out of control.

The discussion got me so fired up that I almost registered on Slowtwitch (I lurk) so I could post, but chose not to tip my toes in that water. So this will probably interest two or three of my regular readers.

The original poster said the NY Olympic Triathlon has increased it fees 40% the last two years and is now $245. He said he feared triathlon may become a country club sport. About two in ten posters sympathized, eight in ten attacked him for not blindly supporting free market capitalism. I didn’t know Milton Friedman has such a tight grip on the triathlon community, but it makes sense since triathletes tend to own the means of production. (My right wing friends have informed me that we have a Marxist president so I’m going to go along to get along and start dropping Marxist terminology throughout my written and oral communication.) The majority’s thesis is that race directors should charge whatever they can get and that a race is not over priced until it’s not sold out.

That’s all well and good, but they are slow on the up-take and have a major blind spot that no one on Slowtwitch has or will point out. Triathlon ALREADY is a country club sport. Take an enthusiast golfer, tennis player, and triathlete and compare annual expenses and I guarantee you the triathlete would be right in the mix. And look at the demographics of each group and again the triathletes will be every bit as homogenous.

Most importantly, they ignore the fact that outrageous entry fees weaken the competitive pool. If they were serious athletes who wanted to throw down with the best (read economically and culturally diverse) athletes, they’d temper their love of free markets and work to make their sport more accessible. As it is they feel much better about themselves placing second or third among other rich white guys with six figure salaries. Good thing I didn’t register because that line would unleash a tidal wave on Slowtwitch.

If you can’t tell, this topic gets me fired up, but I really should get back to the papers.

Carry on comrades.

Ideologues

I have some close friends whose politics are almost the complete opposite of mine. Our friendships endure because their personal attributes trump their whacked out politics :). Occasionally, one likes to send me ultra conservative mass emails “just to keep you up to date on what we crazy right-wingers are passing around these days to keep our morale up.”

Sunday’s was a video mocking how successful Barack Obama has been considering he graduated from a “community organizer community college”. Occasionally, I’ll crack a smile. They’re rarely good, but this one was particularly bad.

For satire or comedy to work, there has to be an element of truth in it. President Obama has an impressive education history that I suspect some of my friends on the right would wrongly attribute to affirmative action.

Much of the credit probably goes to his no-nonsense mother who demanded excellence. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the President and his wife, whose parents were equally demanding apparently, are holding their daughters to the same high standards. The right won’t acknowledge this, but the President hasn’t used race as an excuse for not achieving. What’s more traditional and conservative than two married parents holding their daughters to very high educational expectations? The power of their personal and parenting examples seem lost on the right.

I don’t know, but my guess is my conservative friends can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that Obama’s well-educated and a committed and caring parent because it doesn’t fit into their intensely negative narrative they’ve crafted. Acknowledging these points might lead to a slippery slope of having to concede other things that might compromise their conservative street cred. Short of eliminating taxes, privatizing everything, and doubling the size of the military, there’s nothing Obama can say or do over the next 2.5 or 6.5 years to change their negative opinions.

For someone who sees subtleties, nuance, and ambiguity around every corner, this is exasperating, but I have to concede that for every right-wing ideologue, there’s a left-wing one somewhere that, because of their passionate dislike of his policies, never could bring themself to acknowledge George Bush the man had redeemable qualities.

Somewhat related to this, can’t help but notice an increasing percentage of lefties are becoming disillusioned with the President. He’s brought some of it upon himself by raising expectations so fast on so many fronts. Take all the references to a “post-partisan era” as just one example. And there’s some truth in the overarching criticism that too often he acts as if he’s still in campaign-mode, trying hard not to offend instead of leading boldly. And I still wish he’d narrow his focus.

Our collective expectations for our presidents are probably too high. Maybe our problems have become too complex and our politics too corrupted by special interest money for any president to achieve Lincoln or FDR-like greatness anymore. Maybe we’d be better off pursing personal excellence closer to home, in the ways we listen, parent, educate, care for other others, work, and conduct our lives more generally.

Week that Was—10/19-10/25

M T W R F SA SU Total
S 2,500

1kpb 14:24

150k/150d

2x2im1540

2x1im3550

6×1002335

300cd

23’s-better

3,400

300 wu

200k

3×3004:45

6×2003:10

9×1001:35

23’s-24’s

200 cd

5,900
C 17 indoors

1:02

52steady

10modhard

20 indoors

1:15

60 steady

15modhard

19

17.7 950’

hoodcrit 8x

best 6:45

56
R 7

53:00

6.9

53:00

10.3

1:17:03

24

S: Last week’s interval workout where I went harder than normal helped this week. Times were a bit better.

C: Thursday night I enjoyed watching a documentary on August’s Leadville 100 mountain bike race titled “Race Across the Sky”. Sobering, a tough race.

R: Decided not to do the track workout M to not tax my calf. Good call it’s been fine. Then didn’t want to do in a teammate returning from an injury on W. So no speed work. Well, except for Saturday when Lance went hard early, harder in the middle, and hardest at the end. Perfect morning, great workout.

Afghanistan-Pakistan

Post title most likely to drive away traffic?

Despite following global politics closely, a bachelors degree in history, doctoral coursework in international studies, and extended experience in developing countries, I’m relatively uninformed about the “stans”. Lately though, I’ve begun to educate myself. I found the recent PBS Frontline documentary titled “Obama’s War” an interesting introduction that nicely outlined the complexities. Last night I finished David Rohde’s five-part series on being kidnapped by the Taliban and held hostage for seven months. I found his story utterly riveting and am completely baffled by the commenter on the Times website that wrote of his story, “I’ve learned nothing.”

Next, I’m turning to Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on drones titled “The Predator War”.

I still don’t know nearly enough for you to justify continuing to read, but then again, every U.S. citizen should be thinking it through since it’s our military (and tax dollars) at work. So here are my initial thoughts.

First, like in Iraq, the military campaign is too much of an American enterprise and not enough of an international coalition. If the premise is that the West’s security could be threatened by a victorious Taliban that empowers Al Qaeda, then Western countries should work in concert to defeat the Taliban. Going it mostly alone guarantees that with each civilian death antipathy towards the U.S., instead of the West more generally, intensifies.

Second, we should make a commitment to additional troops dependent upon other western countries contributing more. If other western countries refuse to commit more troops, we should adjust our plans downward.

Third, we could gain the upper hand against the Taliban in the next few years (win the military battle), but still compromise our medium-long term security if collateral death and destruction leads to even greater anti-Americanism (lose the  hearts and mind war). Sons will avenge their fathers’ deaths.

Fourth, if Pakistan’s top intelligence agency props up Taliban commanders and if Afghanistan’s national election was rigged, what are the odds that any of our efforts to stabilize the countries, let alone improve their “medieval” infrastructure will pay dividends?

Fifth, in our efforts to avert another 9/11 terrorist attack, we must not add to Afghan and Pakistani civilians’ suffering. On that note, here’s a particularly disturbing excerpt from Rohdes story:

A stalemate between the United States and the Taliban seemed to unfold before me. The drones killed many senior commanders and hindered their operations. Yet the Taliban were able to garner recruits in their aftermath by exaggerating the number of civilian casualties. The strikes also created a paranoia among the Taliban. They believed that a network of local informants guided the missiles. Innocent civilians were rounded up, accused of working as American spies and then executed. Several days after the drone strike near our house in Makeen, we heard that foreign militants had arrested a local man. He confessed to being a spy after they disemboweled him and chopped off his leg. Then they decapitated him and hung his body in the local bazaar as a warning.

At present, I can’t support committing more troops or money to the war effort because the military campaign is too much of an American enterprise, we risk even greater anti-Americanism in the medium-long term, we don’t have dependable political partners, and the plight of Afghan and Pakistani civilians will most likely worsen.

Personal Responsibility

Why do we routinely blame others for problems we’re responsible for?

For example, I often think if everyone drove like me, not too fast, in control, no cell phone, maximizing distance, there would be no accidents and road rage would be something social scientists once studied. One problem, my self-congratulatory description of my driving isn’t objective. Truth be told, sometimes I am part of the “driving stupid” problem. My car has a large blind spot and I have to swing forwards and backwards in my seat to make sure the coast is clear whenever merging onto the freeway or changing lanes. I do that without problem about 499 times out of 500. All it takes is one time though to understandably anger another driver.

Worse than that, I know big semis inch forward from one freeway exchange I take home to another so it’s easy to swing left, pass 40-50 cars and merge back into the correct lane in the 50 yards of cushion that the semis usually create. Usually. One night a few weeks ago the cushion was half it’s normal size and I made an idiotic snap decision to shoot through it anyways. My car was probably 15 yards from the truck’s front bumper, but I was going too fast and I admit, if our positions had been reversed, I would have been livid. To get on the second highway I had to loop back under the slow moving truck. I looked up to see someone in the passenger’s seat waving at me with just one finger. Totally deserved.

I’m not special, I’m complicit.

Fast forward to Walmart’s recent decision to sell the top ten most highly anticipated hard backs (Steven King’s among them, retail $35) for $10. Last week Amazon decided to match it so Walmart lowered their price to $9 and said they’d go “as low as necessary”. Amazon went to $9 and now Walmart is sitting at $8.99. Some people complain about big box stores and everyone waxes nostalgic about small independent retailers, but they’re rapidly disappearing because people focus exclusively on finding the lowest prices for the goods they purchase without giving much if any thought to the ripple effect.

We’ve created the monster that is Walmart and we’re upset it’s destroying small independent businesses. Does that make any sense? What most amazed me about last week’s story is the unabashed bluntness of the company. “We’ll go as low as necessary to become the one stop place for book purchases.” May as well have added, “Your local independent book store be damned.”

But Walmart is not inherently evil. Walmart’s customers focus exclusively on the lowest prices, ignorning the negative impact on small businesses in the immediate area. Take me for instance. Recently I saved about $20-$25 on a Timex watch I bought at the behemoth. By doing so I added a tiny drop into the gigantic bucket that is Walmart sales, a bucket they will now use to extinguish the Fireside Bookstore in downtown Olympia where my friend works. If the Fireside Bookstore closes, Olympia will be worse off and I’ll only have myself to blame.

Or take outsourcing and all the empty rhetoric around keeping jobs in the U.S. A few years ago, before the housing correction, a study was done of people taking out home equity loans. They were given two choices: 1) have it processed abroad and receive the money in two to three days or 2) have it processed domestically and receive the money in five to six days. I don’t recall why the foreign companies were twice as fast, but something like 85% of the people chose the quicker/outsourced option. I’m guessing 100% of that 85% nod approvingly whenever they hear a politician bemoan outsourcing.

Finally, there’s the Fort Collins, Colarado “balloon boy” bullshit. We criticize the media, but don’t recognize we are the media in the sense that our collective viewing habits shape the “news”. How can we watch CNN’s balloon boy coverage, talk to friends about it, buy People magazine and read about it, and then criticize the media for covering it? I didn’t watch any of the television coverage, and only skimmed the headlines on-line, but now that I’m blogging about it, I suppose I’m complicit.

Week that Was—10/12-10/18

10/12 M T W R F SA SU Total
S 3,000

1200 (ba/br added in)

300k

2/200im

2/100im

5×1001:30

500pb 2cd

3,200

w/ Mel

300 w.u.

3×3004:45

6×2003:15

9×1001:35

200 c.d.

6,200
C 16

1:00 spin

16

1:00spin

50 steady

10modhard

30

1,076’

19.0

62
R 7.25  58:00

13:00/6:27

7.6 10.1

1:19

25

S: I was slow Tuesday, so I “forgot” my times and the intervals. After Friday morning’s workout Mel told me I didn’t have to lift weights since I pulled him through the workout. Then again, he is 67! He’s disappointed that his times have fallen off the last three years, but he still inspires me. He did 250s on the 300 set and tweaked the others somehow. I was holding 1:25s, should be holding 1:23s. Where did those two seconds go?

C: Thank goodness for the nice window of warm/dry weather Sunday afternoon. Thank goodness too that the Mathesons were tossing the frisbee at BH elementary so I could catch up with them and rest mid-ride.

R: Monday morning was pretty funny. On the way to the track I told MA and Supp’ (short for supplement) it was their turn to determine the intervals. “3 miles, any combo totaling 3 miles.” MA, “We could do 2 miles and 1.” Supp, apparently thinking he was joking, remained silent. Fast forward 10 minutes. We’ve picked up Double S and the four of us are  rounding the final turn of lap four when Double S asks about the interval. “We’re almost to the halfway point,” I explain. I can’t repeat what Supp said. He thought MA was joking and couldn’t believe I took him seriously. It was a dark moment for him. He was breathing hard, thinking all he had to do was endure another 100m, and wham, he had 6 more minutes of pain to gut out. In hindsight, it’s funny. He’s instructed MA to remain silent the next time I get a democratic impulse. Probably should have ran Friday morning before swimming. Felt a twinge in my calf at the very end of Saturday’s run. I get micro-tears 1-2x a year probably from not stretching enough. Hope I’m okay Monday morning.

More Design Genius

Life-changing leak proofness

Leak-proof goodness

Genius genius

Genius genius

Eclectic, not girly

Eclectic, not girly

Behold more 21st century genius design work. There should be a Nobel Prize for Consumer Genius for the Camelback employees (no way an individual could have come up with something this brilliant by him/herself unless it was Obama) that came up with the new leak proof top. To borrow from Chinese history, this bottle top represents a great leap forward. Only bummer of course is you can’t use the fancy new tops on your old bottles. I purposely toss these new and improved bottles in my gym bag upside down just to revel in the fact that they’re leakproof. A few years ago I discovered shortly before arriving at the base of Mount Saint Helen’s that a water bottle had leaked all over my cycling clothing. I held my shorts and jersey out the window for the last few miles in a vain effort to blow dry them. Lovely starting out soggy. Now, I laugh at the memory thanks to the Camelback geniuses (0r Obama).

Of course you’re used to Apple’s genius by now, but how cool is it that they have algorithms that create excellent playlists all by themselves. My personal mobile Pandora. The second pic of my nano is probably too small to pick up on the featured artists–Sara McLachlan, Maroon 5, and Natalie Merchant. I don’t understand why my sister says I like girly music? :) My fourth genius playlist is much more macho sis, lots of Led Zep.

Good For You!

Last Saturday I’m  hangin’ at Bill’s memorial service groovin’ on the water view. J keeps telling me seals are popping up when I’m not looking and I’m teasing her about being delusional. It’s noon and the morning’s 10 miler is taking full effect. I say to my gal pal, “I wish someone would hurry up and start in on the buffet.” To which she replies, “Why?” “Because I’m going to be the second in line.” With the utmost earnestness she replies, “Good for you! Good for you!” What the “h” “e” double hockey stick? “You’ve been the first on more than one occasion.” So who knew the GP had been keeping score all these years.

In other family news, someone is spreading a vicious rumor that A. lowered my 500 free time of 6:17. Something about a 6:16.8 at last Thursday’s meet. Okay, I was the timer in the next lane over and this is all I remember. I remember my gal pal timing partner chatting up the timer next to us, the same one who “timed” A’s race. I recall the GP slipping next door neighbor timer a 5-spot right before the 500 free. Me thinketh he started the clock a tad bit late and stopped it a tad bit early. I’d like to review the film if there was some. A’s reaction was hilarious (new Mastercard commercial, shutting Dad up, priceless). She didn’t know or care what place she finished (2nd). She just looked at the electronic timing board like an Olympic athlete and then erupted with joy. Ever the gentleman, I was the first to give her a congratulatory hug even though I got soaked in the process. A great moment, partially because I know I could still kick her ass in open water.

J’s in that stage where in private dad is okay half the time, and in public, not so much. Driving to church Sunday with J and G who slept over. Much to J’s dismay probably, I’m drilling G about last weekend’s regatta in Seattle. “Well you didn’t drown, that’s good. What place did you get?” “About third, but there were tons of other teams.” “Tons, that’s two thousand, 3rd out of 2,000 awesome. J’s trying to conceal it, but she’s smiling so I press metal to pedal. “Wait a minute, tons is plural, so 3rd out of at least 4,000! Wowza!” Full-on smile. Of course is she discovers this story made it into the blog, I’m big in trouble.