For Hire

I’ve been lurking on Craigs for quite awhile now looking for a time trial bike, a 58 cm Cervelo P3 that goes real fast without hardly any pedaling. Everyone should always be shopping for (or selling) something on Craigs.

Many Craigers’ ad writing abilities leave A LOT to be desired. Can I have an ahmen?! There’s no picture guy, crummy picture guy, cut and paste product detail guy, depreciation calculation challenged guy, tweeter guy, and the worst of the lot, no frame size bike guy. There’s a special place in the back of the peloton of life for no frame size bike guy.

Since it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness, I am here to help. Send me a rough draft of your ad and I’ll improve it. You’ll sell your item much more quickly and for tons more money. All I ask in return is x% of the sale’s price. What, I wonder, is the fair value of X?

Other jobs I’d be great at include: Miami Heat reserve, professional golf caddy, chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company, travel writer, the guy who drives the team car during the Tour de France, and breakfast grill chef.

Competitive Fire

You’re granted an “adolescent magic wand” with which you can provide the young adults you know an intense competitiveness or an above average ability to cooperate with others. Which do you choose?

Trick question because they’ll benefit from an intense competitiveness in the world of work and from cooperation-based experiences, knowledge, and skills in their personal lives.

An intense competitiveness will undoubtedly come in handy with the college admissions process, tightening labor markets, and the fluid, knowledge economy that an increasing number of Chinese, east-Indian, and Brazilian young adults are confidently entering.

Rewind to last week’s Narrows League Swim Meet at Foss High School in Tacoma, WA. Two hundred adolescent female swimmers exhibiting differing degrees of competitiveness. The mother and father in front of me sit passively until their daughter enters the water and then they go beserk. Their daughter, one of the top swimmers at the meet, seemingly feeds off their energy.

I’ve got the dad all figured out. Former national water polo player, then extreme fighter, and now UFC executive. He’s stolen my hair cut, but I let it go because I’m a wee bit intimidated by the tats running down his rippled triceps.

Event two for his daughter and I’m in full on eavesdropping mode. Dad is flexing for daughter and she’s eating it up from the behind the block. He air-shouts and she lip-reads, “GO HARD!” She eats it up as if there’s an electric current connecting them. Swims a 25 second 50 free and all I can think is the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

My approach to spectating is more cerebral. I’m in Phil Jackson-mode, sitting quietly focusing more on writing down splits than firing up my daughter. Afterwards, when I get real excited, I flash her a thumbs up sign. Forget electricity, I barely muster a spark.

It must be my fault that my daughters lack competitive fire. But just about then the competitive fire water got muddier.

I’m in the top row of bleachers, leaning against the cinder block wall next to the father of our team’s swimmer of the meet. She won the 50 free, beating rippled triceps daughter in the process, despite having only the fifth fastest qualifying time and she won the 100 breast going away (1:08). Her dad, who I know, stood passively next to me while she swam. Like me, he doesn’t have a bicep to flex. Two egghead peas in a pod, we talk philosophically. Wait a minute, where does his daughter’s intensity come from?

I ask if she’s going to swim in college. “No, we’re discouraging her from doing that it’s such a time-suck.” Mental parenting report card. Two points for separating their egos, minus one for not letting her decide herself.

Maybe competitive fire is like most things in life, part nature, part nurture. Most adolescents are wired like their parent(s) and follow their lead, but not all. What works for each family is different.

Returning to the magic wand, being comfortable with competition is important, but of course there’s a point of diminishing returns. We all know people whose competitive nature gets the best of them.

Once a young person gets into college, and once they take a job, cooperation-based experiences, knowledge, and skills are more integral to their success. Not just their workplace success, but their happiness in life more generally. Which begs the question, why aren’t we more intentional about teaching young people how to cooperate with one another?

Politics Stream of Consciousness

• Just like her opponent, Senator Murkowski from Alaska says she wants to reduce spending and reduce the national debt. And then in the same breath she says she will work hard to maintain all of Alaska’s federal funding because one-third of Alaskans’ jobs depend upon it. And she might win as a write-in candidate. So what she meant is she wants to reduce federal spending in the other forty nine states.

• Newsflash, President Obama is ordinary. The problem of course is that he was an extraordinary campaigner. ARod isn’t supposed to hit .255, Tiger isn’t supposed to be a Ryder Cup captain’s pick, and Meryl Streep isn’t supposed to make bad movies. He’s a victim of unrealistic expectations. I’m cautiously optimistic that he makes the necessary adjustments and steadily improves throughout years three and four.

• In a recent Washington State Senate debate Dino Rossi and Patty Murray were both asked two times if they would raise the minimum age for full social security benefits. Neither answered. Four non-responses. Are any politicians willing to tell constituents what they need to hear and not just what they want to? Why couldn’t Rossi or Murray say what’s so painfully obvious, “Yes, for the well-to-do at least, we’re probably going to have to raise the minimum age for full social security benefits again. More generally, we have to make serious changes to our entitlement programs to have any hope of balancing the budget and reducing the national debt.” I’m sure their non-responses are based upon political science research. By desiring honest, straightforward, specific, succinct answers, guess I’m in the minority.

• Juan Williams has been fired by NPR for comments made on Bill O’Reilly’s show. I met him once in Kyoto, Japan. I agree 100% with this commentary on his firing. As the Quakers say, “That Friend speaks my mind.”

• Get a load of French high schoolers. When I taught high school I struggled to get my students to think beyond Friday night’s game and dance. In contrast, these adolescents are protesting something over forty years down the road, having to work to 62 instead of 60. Talk about long-term thinking. Guess they anticipate hating whatever they’ll end up doing for a living and maybe they already have detailed plans for when they’re 60 and 61.

• Favorite campaign development. . . multimillionaire candidates spending tens or hundreds (in the case of Meg Whitman) of their own millions and still looking like they’ll lose.

One Size Fits None

A warm welcome to DCRainmaker readers who are pouring in as a result of Ray linking to my recent “Where’s the Romance?” post. My most read post of all time, by a considerable margin, is one titled “School Mission Statements”. Do a Google search for “school mission statements” and it’s the fourth link, but whose counting? Ray gets 6,000 hits a day, a little more than me. If yesterday’s record uptick in readership continues for very long, “Where’s the Romance?” may give “School Mission Statements” a run for its money.

Now back to regular programming.

Read an interesting swimming article recently that detailed the different mindset of sprinters. Even elite Olympic caliber sprinters don’t like training and get bored extremely quickly. (Was that the rare double adverb? Is that legal? Shouldn’t I know that?) The ability to adapt to differences and individualize one’s coaching, teaching, campaigning, and sales pitches often distinguishes swim coaches, teachers, politicians, and salespeople as particularly excellent.

In teaching it’s referred to as curriculum differentiation. Curriculum differentiation occurs when a teacher adjusts his/her lesson plan so that it meets the needs of all students.

Amazingly, nearly all of the car salespeople I’ve interacted with seem to be reading from the same script. None of them have successfully read me. If they had, they’d bypass the small talk about what I do for a living and my family which I can’t stand and focus exclusively on the car’s features (which they often are unable to do very well).

The high school coach that I help and I sometimes get frustrated with some girls that don’t practice very hard. They sleep-swim, stop to adjust caps and goggles, stretch their shoulders, go to the bathroom during main sets, and in some cases miss practice altogether. But now that I think about it, they tend to be the sprinters. Their natural tendencies and our workouts are misaligned. They’ll probably never embrace the process, or the long, sometimes monotonous and always tiring rhythms of distance training.

If I’m ever a head coach, I think I’ll design three different workouts—a sprint one, a distance one, and a distance-lite one. The sprint workout, which will emphasize intensity and variety, will last about 60% as long as the others. Instead of coasting for ninety minutes, they’ll go real hard for 50 minutes.

Training the Mind

Regretfully, only now that I am an over the hill marathoner do I realize I have not been intentional enough about training my mind for race day. I suspect there are as many ways to train one’s mind as there are successful endurance athletes, but I’m most in tune with three strategies.

The first, and probably best known and most commonly practiced, is visualization. I dabble with this. Last Saturday, I told Dano at mile 14, “We’re exiting Seward Park (the 14 mile mark in the Seattle Marathon).”

The second entails repeating short positive phrases like “smooth and strong”, “steady strength”, or “fluid motion”. Often though, another tape bleeds into that one, one that sounds like this, “Where the hell’s the mile marker?! Who moved the mile marker?!” “Is this pace sustainable?” And “Is that the hammie about to go?”

The third involves finding inspiration from harder core athletes like Terry Fox, Lynne Cox (Swimming to Antartica), Dave Gordon (still awaiting his book), and Joanie.

If you’re Canadian you know all about Terry Fox. If you’re not, do yourself a huge favor and watch this film.

Lately, Joanie has been in the news. From a recent New York Times profile:

Perhaps running best suited her Yankee upbringing of thrift and individualism in Maine, nothing needed beyond a pair of shoes and an open road. That is how she won the Olympics, running fast and alone.

See for yourself in this four minute clip. Start about 50 seconds in. Her transcendental focus in the 1:20-1:37 segment is mesmerizing. Filing away that image for my run into Memorial Stadium.

As I was circling the Olympia High track in the pitch black one recent morn, I was thinking something similar. The beauty of running is how primitive it is. Especially when compared to cycling. The perfect sport for a minimalist.

Read about Joan’s Chicago Marathon triumph here. Excerpt. “Did I think I was going to be back here running competitively, trying to get an Olympic marathon trials qualifying time 25 years later?” Samuelson asked. “Heck no. But it’s the passion that still burns, the challenge to see how fast I can go.”

The passion still burns. . . and inspires.

Problem Solving

In response to last week’s social science/wealth inequality posts, a comment averse reader sent me the exact kind of response I had hoped to generate when I started blogging. Let’s call her Private.

Private wrote:

Duh? Were you surprised by ANY of those stats? I was not. For me, the far, far, far bigger question concerns my personal responsibility, your responsibility and our corporate responsibility to address those numbers.

She continued:

My Tuesday Lunch Club is superb at identifying social trends and issues therein. It’s solution we struggle with. My Friday dinner friends frequently discuss the week’s news. Again, no useful, doable answers. Based on your variety of sources quoted, you, too, spend a fair amount of time gleaning news stories. It’s my hope that thinking people, such as yourself, spend equal time pondering and yes, even working on and discussing with others, solutions to the problems you identify so clearly. Let’s see some posts about that!!!

Three exclamation points demand a response.

I’m an educator; consequently, I believe consciousness raising is important in and of itself. Ideas matter because they shape our behaviors. But Private would most likely reply what good is awareness of social problems absent concrete actions to solve them? Put differently, quit intellectualizing, roll up your sleeves, and do something to create more equal opportunity.

I don’t have any special insights on problem solving probably because I’m too content with the ambiguity engendered by good questions.

Nonetheless, here is an overarching belief: social problem solving takes many forms all of which should be encouraged equally. Among the forms, 1) practicing selfless, socially conscious, caring forms of parenting; 2) modeling socially redeeming principles such as humility, kindness, and empathy in one’s day-to-day interactions; 3) practicing socially redeeming principles in one’s purchases and lifestyle choices; 4) choosing work that explicitly improves others’ qualities of life; and 5) giving money and time to causes and groups that have proven track records of helping people locally, nationally, and/or internationally.

What would you add?

The GalPal is way more inspiring on this topic than I’ll ever be. While I’m reading, thinking, questioning, debating, and writing, she’s often organizing a team of friends to make dinner for a hundred homeless men and women at the Salvation Army.

Where’s the Romance?

LOVE this guy’s blog; however, I shouldn’t profess my fondness for his blog that way because “You can’t love something,” moms says, “that can’t love you back.”

But as brilliant as Ray’s blog is, there’s something lacking. The same “something” lacking from online triathlon forums like this one—romance.

Not the candlelight hot under the collar type for which the word is normally associated, but the unbridled joy that sometimes accompanies moving outdoors in nature.

Ray, sports science companies, and other triathletes are turning triathlon into a science in which every workout is endlessly sliced, diced, and analyzed.

As a middle adaptor of the personal technology the tri-scientists obsess over, I’m not immune from their privileging fitness science over the aesthetics, art, and romance of swimming, running, and cycling. Consequently, when I run there’s a gadget in my running shorts pocket that bounces signals off satellites so I know precisely how far and fast I’ve run. When I cycle, I lean on my bicycle computer to determine what kind of ride it was based upon whether I achieved a higher than normal average speed.

But there’s no computer that can capture the beauty of a late summer lake swim when the water is glassy and the perfect temperature. No reason to try to measure the rhythm of a long, smooth stroke. No counting of strokes and no measuring of heart rate required.

Nor is there any gadget on the market that can capture what it’s like to run at dawn on golden leaf carpeted Northwest trails in October in a foggy/low light mix. Why even try to quantify how alive I felt last Thursday on my pre-dawn solo eight-miler around Capital Lake. The Capital Dome was lit up and the lake surface was bespeckled with reflections of the Deschutes streetlights. Spectacular.

How do you measure what it’s like to run under the lighting of a full moon or cycle with a friend along the Sound on an unusually warm October afternoon? It’s these experiences with nature and good friends that make me feel alive, not my average watts. And it’s these experiences that clear my mind and strengthen me for day-to-day life.

I’m fortunate to have a great running posse, but lately, since I’m in marathon-mode, I’ve been getting in a few solo runs each week too which has been nice. During one last week, I spent a few of the miles replaying an argument the Galpal and I had stumbled into the previous evening. Reluctantly, I had to admit that the video replay in my head provided inconvertible evidence that I was mostly responsible for the dustup. So when I walked in the house, I apologized. The GalPal was so taken by my (rare) selfless gesture, she violated her strict “no sweaty” hug policy. All of which set me up for a candlelight hot under the collar type of evening. And that my friends is what’s known as the “running romance multiplier effect”.

Credit me when you use it.


Bonus, Thursday-edition. Parent bragging alert.

6:53. Fifteen’s 500 free time Tuesday night. Awesome breakthrough swim, but she was disappointed because the league meet qualifying time is 6:51. Teammates keep qualifying and she wants to too. She’s dropped about 35 seconds in the last few weeks. Here’s what I said to her afterwards:

You can choose to focus on not making league or on a seventeen second personal record, but why let some league official determine whether it was a good swim or not?! It was an amazing swim, a breakthrough swim! I’m really proud of you. (Feint smile.) All you can do is give your best effort and let the qualifying take care of itself. You did give your best effort and I’m very proud of you. Even more importantly, you’re a great teammate, and a kind and caring person.

Then I committed the one unforgivable high school parenting faux pas. I hugged her and kissed her wet head. . . in public. You think I’d have learned by now.

I love swimming because it’s so damn meritocratic. Fifteen started getting after it in practice about three-four weeks ago. Leading out her lane, swimming with purpose, and lo and behold, the times started falling. Some more experienced talented teammates aren’t working that hard in practice and they’re fading over the second half of races and losing to harder workers.

Granted not all kids have equal opportunities to swim, but once in the water, there’s an awfully strong correlation between training consistency and intensity and performances in meets.

Fifteen has two more chances, today, and next week, to qualify. And before my brother chimes in with “How does it feel to be the third fastest in your family of four?” The cushion is shrinking, but I could still take her.

Evening, post-meet update—6:48.

Rolling the Dice

As noted Monday, in the U.S. today, the top 20% most wealthy citizens own 84% of the wealth and the top 1% own 50%.

Is that sustainable?

I wouldn’t think so, but the “have-nots” haven’t taken to the streets yet and serious crime is down in most major metropolitan areas. And curiously, quite a few of the eighty percenters are opposed to increasing the taxes of the top twenty percenters. In fact, I’m guessing a lot of the TEA Party is made up of bottom eighty percenters.

Maybe they see themselves joining the top twenty percenters sometime soon. Recent research would suggest they’re delusional because social mobility is extremely low in the U.S. right now, even lower than in most other developed countries in Western Europe. Our perception of our country as a bastion of social mobility is not even close to reality.

Maybe the top twenty percenters have cast some sort of Nancy Grace, sports, reality-television based spell on the bottom eighty percenters that keep them from asking questions about equality of opportunity let alone agitating for a saner redistribution of wealth. Just keep watching Survivor Nicaragua, Monday Night football, and wondering whether Lindsey Lohan is in or out of jail and don’t worry about our proportion of wealth.

How else can you explain a situation where four people say to sixteen, we’ll take 8.4 of every 10 units of housing, health care, vacations, dining out, cars, insurance, savings, etc. and the sixteen of you figure out how to divide up the remaining 1.6 units.

How long can this go on? What eventual ripple effects can we anticipate from this growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”?

What’s Your SSQ?

Social science quotient.

Probably not as high as it could or should be because we’re shaped by Ron and Don.

The “Ron and Don Show”  is a popular Seattle-area radio program on 97.3 FM that I occasionally tune into during NPR fundraising campaigns and sports talk commercial breaks.

Their success isn’t accidental, it rests on great names, radio voices, personalities, energy, chemistry, and pacing, all topped off with a laser-like programming focus on whichever individual is deemed most interesting each particular day: the barefoot bandit from Whidbey Island, the Bellevue City Council person who got mauled by a black bear, the police officer charged with deadly force, the college student that committed suicide.

Ron and Don hammer away at each individual’s story for hours on end and we eat it up because we always have been and always will be suckers for detailed stories well told. Even better when the stories are somewhat sordid and make us feel better about our lives.

But we’re out of touch with the effect of the Ron and Don-like media shining its spotlight so continuously and narrowly on individuals.

The cumulative effect is we’re utterly unable to think sociologically about pervasive patterns and themes among groups. Put differently, we can’t take stories of individuals and extrapolate about what they do and don’t represent in terms of larger social scientific trends.

We’re intellectual weaklings.

Here’s two non-Ron and Don stories from last week that I offer as a social science quotient quiz. Determine your “SSQ” by using a scale of 1 to 10. Assign yourself a “1” if these findings completely surprise you, a “10” if you were already familiar with the studies and the findings, and “2’s” through “9’s” for points in between.

Story one is available here. An excerpt:

Harvard and Duke Biz school professors Michael Norton and Dan Ariely asked over 5,000 Americans about US wealth distribution and how it should look if things could be changed.

“Respondents vastly underestimated the actual level of wealth inequality in the United States, believing that the wealthiest quintile (20 percent) held about 59 percent of the wealth when the actual number is closer to 84 percent.” Studies show current US wealth inequality is near record highs, with the top one percent of Americans estimated to hold around 50 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Story two—available at

The U.S. imprisons more people in absolute numbers and per capita than any other country on earth. With 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. hosts upward of 20 percent of its prisoners. The country’s incarceration rate has roughly quintupled since the early 1970s. In 1980, one in 10 black high-school dropouts were incarcerated. By 2008, that number was 37 percent.

For extra credit, submit your score via the comment section.

If our scores are low, as I presume they will be, it’s not Ron’s and Don’s fault. They don’t have a dog in the “individual versus collective thinking” fight I’m outlining. All they care about is that more listeners tune into them than NPR and sports talk. And their winning formula elevates the individual at the expense of social scientific understanding because we tune in and don’t demand any more from them.