Michael Jackson Questions

Essay exam. Choose any two to write on.

Why does one’s ethnicity so strongly shape one’s opinion about whether or not he was guilty of child abuse?

With so much countervailing evidence, why do people seemingly assume there’s a correlation between fame and character?

How is it that MJ was by most accounts a brilliant businessman, especially for an entertainer, but has also been described as terrible at managing his personal finances?

Why isn’t Joe Jackson’s influence on MJ more central to the discussion of MJ’s eccentricities and alleged criminal activities?

How does a 12 year old sing and dance like MJ did in 1970? 

What is it about Jackson that makes so many 40 and 50-somethings nostalgic for their childhoods?

If fame corrupts, does absolute fame corrupt absolutely? 

What makes us think we know celebrities like MJ?

Since all we really have an inkling of is their public persona, what makes us think there’s a personal connection? 

How come I can’t moonwalk?

Fitness Friday—6/26

6/15 M T W R F SA SU Total




  zzzz       3,800 √-


  50   50     75 1,700’         



175 √+


    6   6.6 10  1:20         


last 6:41

  22.6 √-

S. T was Evergreen masters. It’s hella early and I have to drive across town, but I like it. All I remember is one set of 10x100m on 1:40, odds free, evens w/ 50 stroke. Did the first in 1:28 and then drifted to about 1:37 which made the second half damn near continuous. Somehow, I need to get back to my old descending self. Good coach, fast team, challenging workouts. Slept through R’s workout. That happens maybe twice a year. I’m blaming Sheri because she slept through T’s workout which set a precedent. A solid workout, but only one, thus the dreaded √-. 

C. Got dropped on both race team rides. Set a negative p.r. R by getting dropped twice in the same ride. I had plenty of time on the slow slogs home to debate whether my lack of form was the result of my summer cold or from being undertrained as a result of the previous week. Weirdly, my form was better and I had more pop in April. What’s with that? Nutrition has been fine, but I haven’t been getting enough sleep. In actuality, I don’t think I’m riding worse, it’s just that the race team is riding better as a result of riding more miles than me. I’m not talented enough to hang with 50% of their mileage. At minimum, I need to ride a similar amount, but that’s not as high a priority for me. So maybe I just need to accept getting flicked off the back at some point during each training ride. But if I go in with that attitude, it’s guaranteed to happen. It’s part physical, part mental. In the spring I was riding with a little swagger, now I just don’ t have sufficient ass time to ride as confidently. One more variable is the uncertainty surrounding RAMROD. I’m 156th on the waitlist so it’s going to be close. If I knew I was in I’d be a little more motivated to go long. I did go medium-long on SU finally. 5 miles on, 5 off. Wasn’t lighting the course on fire, but also felt like there was still fuel in the tank at the end. There was wind and rollers. If T and D weren’t racing they might have pulled up to me mid-ride and asked, “Ron, on or off right now?”

R. Bagged M’s run to do final summer school prep before the first class. Rest of the week was standard, except for mile 21.6-22.6. Four of us on SA’s standard 10 miler. At one point the “youth” (late 30’s/early 40’s) dropped back about 20m. I told the Supplement (early 50’s) it was time to show the youth that we’re like fine wine, just getting better with age. “When we hit the church driveway, we begin our mile time trial.” The Supp had been waiting all morning for that invitation. 6:41 with an uphill finish. Score one for the geezers. The dreaded √- due to missing M’s run and not making up any of the miles.


The Great Financial Disconnect

The notion of financial success is slippery because it’s subjective. For the sake of discussion, let’s define it as  living debt free and having some sort of savings for future goals. The average American reportedly has $9,300 of credit card debt so we’re setting the bar relatively high.

How might one live debt free and accumulate savings? 

By living according to a relatively straightforward equation. Consistently earn more than you spend. The hard part for people is doing that three, four weeks a month; ten, eleven, twelve months a year; eight, nine, ten years a decade. 

Let’s think about the equation more deeply. Earning is almost always thought of as one’s salary, and of course, that’s an important part of it. However, earning can take other forms such as investing one’s savings wisely which generates investment income. Obviously, the more one saves, the more they generate in investment income. If I have $1,000 saved and earn 5% and you have $1m saved and earn 5%, you earn $49,950 more than me a year. For the vast majority of people, investment income is a small fraction of their annual salary-based earnings.

On the surface, spending is a straightforward concept, but there’s several  types including relatively fixed recurring expenses (insurance premiums, mortgage payments, property tax payments), relatively fluctuating recurring expenses (utility bills, groceries/restaurants, clothing), discretionary expenses (entertainment, travel), and unanticipated expenses (root canal, counseling).

This most simple of conceptual frameworks gives rise to two fundamental questions. How does one increase their earnings and how does one reduce their expenses?

But here’s the amazing thing, the personal finance conversation in this country focuses almost exclusively on an altogether different question–what’s the best way to invest? 

This exasperating disconnect isn’t unique to the personal finance industry. Education reformers focus on a whole host of things–technological bells and whistles, standards, standardized tests–that have little positive effect on the teacher-student relationship.

So, let’s return to the example of being debt free with $1,000 of savings. Imagine we’ve assembled a focus group of fee-based certified financial planners to advise me. I suspect, even though they’re fee based, at least nine out of ten would spend all of their limited time debating the relative merit of different investment tools including indexed mutual funds, ETFs (exchange traded funds), TIPS (treasury inflation-protected securities), gold, bonds, whatever. 

How to invest savings is a legit question, but at best the third most important. 

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why even fee-based planners focus almost exclusively on investment strategies when what people really need help with is how to increase earnings and reduce expenses.

Fitness Friday, 6/19

6/8 M T W R F SA SU Total





TESC scm

      6,900 √






mtb w/ L

80 √-



  6.2 7:46avg   6.2 hilly 10.5 in 1:20   33 √+

Notice the upgrade, the self assessment checks, sophisticated stuff. Fitness-wise, the week started well, then spiraled down due to a Thursday night work commitment and weekend sinus infection. Fortunately, the sinuses are clearing and my normal superhuman strength is slowly returning.

Swimming. T’s early morning solo lake swim was nice. Just as I got into a respectable semi-meditative rhythm near the middle of the lake I felt stuff hitting my face which was freaky deaky. I stopped, looked around, and realized I was surrounded by a film of leaves from shedding cottonwoods. I adjusted and got into clear water shortly afterwards. I do “laps” between two docks that are about 600 yards apart. Thursdays swim was short course meters with the masters team at Evergreen College at 5:30a. There were a couple of high school speedsters too. Told my daughter I was the slowest guy in the pool to which she replied, “Well, you got beat by a 75 year old.” Point well taken smart ass. I like the coach and the vibe. The one other male and I had the lockerroom to ourselves, reminded me of my Norway pool. I asked the coach, a former All American, if there was any hope for me and he confirmed what another coach had told me, I’m crossing over and need to work on pulling straight down and back. 

Cycling. Worse week of the summer. I need to pick it up if I hope to hang with the Valley boys who probably average 250m/week. Tuesday’s ride was great. Hilly and hard. I was strong on the first climb and hung on for three-fourths of the ride. When I finally got flicked off the back, I didn’t mind the slow solo return to town via Harrison. Sunday’s ride with L to Woodard Bay via the Chehalis was a nice change of pace, figuratively and literally. I felt badly when L said, “The only time I get to workout with you is when you’re injured or sick.” Because she rides a heavy hybrid and we were flying along at 13mph, she got tired on the homeward stretch which finally inspired her to learn to draft. I pulled her home. Purist will criticize me for counting the “family” miles, but the week was so thin I don’t have a choice.

Running. Solid. M morn I added on in the woods after dropping the boys off. Don’t know how I got Saturday morning’s run in when I was getting sicker by the hour. Superhuman toughness probably. The right wing nut jobs had excused absences, so the run was unusually peaceful.

Oh, and how should I convert all the bark shoveling I did on Friday into swimming, cycling, or running units?

One footnote to the week. I was considering doing an Olympic triathlon in Portland on Sunday but bagged it due to the sinus infection. As it turns out, my niece, an OSUBeaver, had a breakout race and won her age group going away. I MAY have been able to match her time. Maybe we’ll tangle later in the summer. If all goes as planned, she’ll cry UNCLE when I pass her near the end of the run.

Swimming Against the Stream

The scene. R and J on a Saturday afternoon in the Byrnes kitchen a few weeks ago.

Me: Where’s M been the last few weekends?

J: She got grounded.

Me: What?! You’re kidding me!

J: No, fell behind in school.

Me: That’s amazing.

The mind whirls. I didn’t know any of my upper middle class liberal acquaintances had it in them. I keep repeating it to myself, “She got grounded, she got grounded, she got grounded,” to assure myself I heard correctly.

Old-school-discipline. Wonder if they consulted with any lawyers or therapists first? They don’t know it, but M’s mother and father are my new heroes. They’ve restored my faith that at least in some homes there’s still a meaningful demarcation between adult and child. 

I believe most of my liberal acquaintances coddle their kids way too much, but as per American tradition, I can’t say that. And since I can’t say it, I shouldn’t write it. Too late I guess. 

Interestingly though, they seem to be getting away with what in my view is far too little discipline. Why? Because they’ve invested the time and have decent enough relationships that their kids have steered clear of the most serious pitfalls. If asked about their parents’ parenting, the kids would probably say, “Yeah, they are invertebrates, but I know they care about me and because of that I’m not going to do drugs, give up in school, or drink myself silly.” 

My dad’s parenting and management philosophies began with instilling fear in children and employees. Fear would evolve into respect, and fortunately for him, it worked. I’ve taken a different approach with my own kids, but I think there’s a huge middle ground. If California is coddling and Vermont is fear, I’m Kansas. 

Fast forward to last week when L told me she was beyond frustrated with one of our daughters who was blowing off her daily chores.

Me: Ground her posterior (I used a shorter term, but don’t want to offend).

L: What?!

Me: Ground her gludius maximus. Withholding allowance has no effect. Friends are the only thing that motivates her. Ground her.

L (through devious smile): That’s not a bad idea.

The fire spreads.

Fitness Friday—6/12


6/1 M T W R F SA SU Total


    1,800         1,800


  55 20.7       


  60solo a.m.       


17.7 2,188’


  20   135


walked—sore calf from swim   8.5   6.35   5 20


Swim—Lazy, lowest weekly total of the year.  My excuse is I’m a bit burnt from 6k of open water racing. Not terribly convincing, but I’m sticking with it.  W’s swim was in Ward Lake with the wife. Nice, inaugural, short, wetsuit free swim of the year. 

Cycling—Solid T/R rides, but Saturday’s was disappointing. I had planned to do 35 for a weekly total of 150, but it was raining, and after fixing a flat, decided to return to base. Got buzzed in Cap Forest R morning. Remote setting, totally alone, passed by a van that decided to cross over the bike lane line right in front of me. I thought he could have very easily driven me into the side of the road and left me for dead. A little later got chased by a dog in Delphi Heights. I wasn’t feeling much snap in my legs on the ride until that point. Turns out, all I need to accelerate quickly is a snarling speeding dog.

Run—Sunday’s 5 miler was fast and fun in Eugene before the Pre-Classic track meet. Three youngsters and seven-eight grizzled veterans. For some mysterious reason, the grizzled veterans tried to keep up with the youngsters. That didn’t last long. Destination was Pre’s Rock, a commemorative rock on the top of a roadside hill where Steve Prefontaine died in a car accident in the mid-70’s. Steep climb! Then we hit some great single track that apparently stretches for 20 miles. I could have lived in Eugene for a year and probably never have found the trails we were on.

Lake swimming is to lap swimming as trail running is to street running as outdoor cycling is to indoor spinning.

On the left, the world recorder holder. On the right, the author trying to hang.

On the left, the world record holder. On the right, yours truly trying to hang. (photo credit: T)


Two events recently made me think about excellence, what it entails and how to cultivate it. Event one was Olympia High’s final orchestra concert of the school year. I’m always blown away by their individual and collective musicianship. Event two was Sunday’s Pre(fontaine) Classic track meet in Track Town, USA, Eugene, OR. In the mile, 12 people went sub 4, an American woman ran 3:59.9 in the 1500; a shot putter went over 71 feet; a long jumper 28’8″; the 100m winner, 9.94; and on and on. 

One thing musical and athletic excellence entail is beauty. There’s something mesmerizing about watching a gifted musician embrace and bring a piece alive just as there’s something almost mystical about watching an elite middle distance East African runner pull away in the last 400 meters.

Often there’s a knowledgeable, committed, demanding coach eliciting excellent performance. Chip Schooler, the Olympia High orchestra conductor is a case in point. I don’t want to put him on a pedestal even though he does stand on one, but those students are privileged to get to work with him day in and day out.

There also has to be an intrinsic love of the activity that translates into dedication to repetitive practice. Then there’s very careful preparation for the excellent performance. One of my favorite parts of the meet was watching the pole vaulters warm up an hour before their event started. Running drills, spraying the handle of their poles, taking practice runs and flopping into the mat, stretching, hydrating, narrowing their focus.

In excellence versus equity debates, I typically advocate for equity, but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive all the time. Maybe I’ve slighted excellence out of fear that it too often produces elitism.