A Potpourri of Thoughts

  1. Political Dynasties. The Bushs and Clintons have nothing on the Gandhis. Rahul Gandhi was appointed a general secretary of the Congress party, in charge of youth affairs a couple of months ago. This puts him on a path to prime minister of India, a role previously held by his great grandfather, his grandmother, his uncle and his father.
  2. Watching the Watchdogs. The SEC is concerned that the major credit rating agencies, Moodys and S&P may be too close to those whose debt they are rating. The system is set up poorly and they have a near monopoly. Will we need agencies to watch the agencies set up to watch others. In theory this could be a never ending cluster f–k.
  3. New War Strategy. The northeast section of Kunar province in Afghanistan is violent and deadly with no end in sight. A nontraditional strategy being considered is to hire young men of fighting age to build a road. The hope is that providing employment will make the Taliban’s propaganda less appealing and that the connecting two modest population centers will further stimulate economic growth. New anti-war slogan—make roads not war.
  4. $4.58 Billion. This is the amount of the settlement Merck has agreed to to end all Vioxx claims. Sounds like a lot. I do wonder how much harmed individuals will receive after the lawyers get their share and the administrative costs eat up more. The amazing thing to me was one writer speculated that this “reasonable” settlement could help raise Merck’s share price since the uncertainty of the amount of the claims is gone. $4.58 billion as reasonable–what a concept. My bank account should be so reasonable.
  5. A No-Work Friday Afternoon. Come noon I went to downtown Chicago where Paul and I walked around, shot pool, saw a movie and had a nice dinner. Something about doing this on a work day made it even sweeter.
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48Facets on American Gangster

It is virtually impossible to build complex characters in a movie. Just not enough time. In American Gangster the two main characters have at least two facets each. Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, is a ruthless killer and drug lord. He also believes in discipline, honor, trust and family. He can be both at the same time. In one scene he is having breakfast with his brothers and talking about these traits when he calmly interrupts his talk to walk over to a rival who owes him money, pulls out his gun and shoots the man in the head in a crowded street.

Richie Roberts, played by Russel Crowe, is the most honest cop in the free world. In an early scene he uncovers $1 million in cash in a bad guy’s car and turns it in because it is the right thing to do. He is also a man who routinely cheats on his wife and makes no time for his son.

People we know in real life tend to get a halo effect. If we think of them as good people we assume that they are good at all aspects of their lives. Not necessary true. No more than the a-hole at work necessarily being one in another environment. Even if he/she is that way everywhere there may be other talents the person has that would make them envied in society. How else can one explain the Britiny Spear types of the world. Even a movie writer couldn’t make that up.

A Disturbing World

I saw the movie American Gangster yesterday. Good but not great though The reviewers and some friends of mine thought it was closer to great. This, however is not a movie review.

This movie disturbed me in the way all violence, real or cinematic, does whether it is war, suicide bombings, killings of protesters to some oppressive regime, a boy shot and killed last summer within two blocks of my son’s high school, or a movie crime lord putting a bullet in someone’s head. I become unnerved for awhile.

So far the violence, drug abuse, extreme poverty and hatred of this world has not touched me or my family directly. It has stayed outside of the circle of people I know. But for how long? Are we rushing to destruction in our my lifetime or my son’s lifetime? I know that these thoughts are extreme but I have a low violence threshold and when I am exposed to the images these thoughts take awhile to get over.

I contrast the these images with the rich life that most of the people I know live. These lives are rich not just in material things but in experiences. Then there is the absurd contrast to the lives of the extremely wealthy that I have come to know through my profession. Talk about insulated from the darkness. Money is spent in unconscionable sums on fluff. This disturbs me too but in ways different than the violence and not nearly as much.

By tomorrow these disturbing thoughts of a disturbing world will begin to recede. At least until I hear about the next senseless death. I guess I should stay away from the news media for a day or two.

One Man’s Amazing is Another Man’s Insane

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63 straight days of running marathons. 1650 miles. Amazing or crazy or both. At least he did it for a good cause.

As reported on NPR, Ultramarathoner Tim Borland set out last year with a goal for 2007: call attention to ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T), a rare degenerative children’s disease that combines the symptoms of cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and cancer.

No day off. Marathon after marathon. 7,000-8,000 calories burned a day. Oh btw he ran most of them pushing a jogging stroller with different children who have the disease.

Amazing what someone can do, will do, for a cause. Tim Borland, my latest hero.

Art and Science

Good news/Bad news from NPR’s Morning Addition Monday morning.  The good news.  Two thought provoking ideas ideas were offered, one about not blindly accepting accepted scientific concepts and the other on the artist’s role in science. The bad news. In order to hear these two ideas I had to withstand 7 minutes and 40 seconds of drivel disguised as a creative radio bit.  30 seconds would have been enough. First let’s discuss these ideas and then I will critique the bit.

Robert Krulwich‘s report was titled Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter… and Umami. The background. Several thousand years ago the Greek philosopher Democritus took up the question of how many tastes can a person taste. He postulated four; sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Once he marketed the idea to Aristotle and Plato and signed them as celebrity spokespersons all the Greeks were sold as were scientists for the next several thousand years. It became known became a scientific “fact” that everything we taste is some combination of those four ingredients.

No doubters until Auguste Escoffier said “Il n’est pas tellement”.  It is not so. Was Auguste a renown scientist? Doctor? Non! He was a chef. In fact in the late 1800’s he was thechef in France. He invented veal stock which according to the two knuckle heads on the radio (sorry, I could not completely wait until later to critique) was the most divine taste yet and was not a combination of the 4 accepted tastes. Sacre bleau!

Long story short a Japanese chemist had a similar thought. He discovered that this fifth taste was glutamate, particularly L-glutamate. It took another 100 years for scientists to take apart some taste buds and verify this fifth taste receptor. The taste was called umami in honor of the chemist.

So point number one. It is good to challenge common beliefs now and again. Even science can be wrong. However, in this day of religious nuttiness I prefer challenges with some appropriate support. Not just I said so. Point number two. Non-scientists, especially people with artistic capabilities often “see” reality before the scientists. Hopefully the scientists are listening. ‘Proust Was a Neuroscientist’ by Jonah Lehrer has more examples of artisans’ contributions to science. This idea of questioning the status quo when you have reason to believe differently is very intriguing to me. As is the concept that we should listen to and debate rather than simply dismiss alternate ideas.

OK I timed this. 1 minute 17 seconds to read this post so far.and I am a slow reader. I just saved you 6 minutes and 23 seconds of your life. Not to mention the quality of the time. It is hard to describe how pitifully Krulwich and Lehrer tried to create a theatre of the mind while dragging out this story. If you have the time to waste you can listen to it hear. When they start doing the cooking sounds as they tell Auguste’s part of the story just remember. I told you so.

Wind Is Not My Friend

When you think of wind what comes to mind? Except for the “green” images of wind for electricity or cute images of Holland’s windmills I come up with tornadoes and hurricanes, in other words–mass destruction. (Even the image of windmills has been scary for me since watching Haley Mills nearly fall out of one in the movie Moon-Spinners in 1964).

I have been fortunate to avoid serious wind-related catastrophies, with the exception of last year’s failed century ride…until today.

OK. Maybe freezing your hands until they tingled and were practically numb does not rank up there with Katrina or the last tornado to level a mid-size Midwestern town. But it  certainly took the fun out of this morning’s bike ride. The morning started out well enough. We turned our clocks back and got an extra hour. I LOVE the extra hour, always have. It was cool out (upper 40s or low 50s) when I left this morning but that is what cold weather riding gear is for. Warmer socks, tights, extra long sleeve shirt and windbreaker. I have full finger riding gloves. Did I take them? Did Mr. contingencies (that would be me) just put them in the pocket of the windbreaker? You read the last paragraph, what do you think?

I headed south because it appeared that the wind was coming from that direction and I prefer to have the wind at my back in the second half of the ride. The headwind was noticeable but manageable. My hands even with the fingerless gloves grew warm in about 10 minutes. I felt good enough to do my the full south ride which takes me through Chicago along the lake from the very north end, past downtown and on to 7100 south. Expected round trip of 44 miles.

The ride down was at a little less than 1 mph slower than my summer pace. Not bad for riding into the wind I thought. I leave the beautiful South Shore Golf Club marking the half way point. Yet much to my surprise I was immediately riding into the wind again. And not just a wind. but a strong, frosty one. 22 miles of cold to go.

It takes both of mental and physical energy to ride in difficult conditions. The mental fatigue comes from fighting off the discomfort and those thoughts of quiting. Quiting was not realistic. I had to get home. My wife is out of town so asking her to rescue me was not in the cards. (This did not stop my mind from recalling the names and phone numbers of everyone I knew on the way home who might be willing to give up their Sunday morning for me.)  And yet between my increasingly frozen hands and the weariness in my legs the thoughts of finding a place to hold out until spring were often overwhelming.  

The thing is I knew I would make it. The only question was the degree of pain I would endure on the ride.  The answer btw is 6.5, maybe 7, on a scale of 1-10. On the other hand I have been able to ride continuous through the first weekend of November. A longer season than normal. There is always a bright side. Too bad I am a glass half empty guy. All I remember is feeling very cold. Thanks to the wind. It is not my friend.

366th Day of 48Facets

It was a year ago today that 48Facets appeared on the blogoshere with the cleverly titled “My First Post”.  I have taken all of the wit and wisdom that I poured into that first title mixed it with life events, readings and observations, and a dash of feelings to brew the magic that has become a daily read for ten(s) of people. Well it is quality of readership not quantity that counts.

Actually, after the first few months of slowly getting the word out as I became more comfortable with the writing, “hits” have climbed every month. It is unclear exactly how many people a day spend a moment or two with me since WordPress only provides the number of people who click on an article. Anyone reading through an RSS feeder is outside this count.

It would be interesting to know how many regular readers there are with regular defined as averaging at least once a week. I get hits everyday for stuff written long before because people doing searches get linked. The posts that get random viewers most often are the ones with Dilbert in the title, Kunte Kinte turns 50, It Tastes Like Chicken (for both the pics of the T Rex and of Super Chicken) and Responsibility. Typically the search words for this last one are “an essay on responsibility”. I have the feeling that a bunch of high school students are searching the Internet to complete a homework assignment. I hope that I have been plagiarized frequently.

Being someone with an ever-present and not small sense of doubt about what I do I have not yet determined if I have found my voice. This is not to say that I am disappointed in what I write, as generally I am pleased. Regular visitors know that I run from quick hit items to moderate ruminations to the lengthy. The range of material is broad. For now that suits what I want to do. Hope it suits you as well.

My one great disappointment is how little I have done with the whole 48Facets thing. I do believe that people have multiple dimensions to their personalities and that discussing them would be great to write about and entertaining to read about.  Expect to find more posts about people and what makes them interesting.

In the meantime I will continue to share biking, fathering, and the occasional work stories as well as any random topic that tickles my fancy. (I have been waiting a year to find an opportunity to say that.) Please keep reading, tell your friends and let me know that you are out there by commenting from time to time.

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