Saturday, October 29, 2011

On the Web

Jeanine, Cedar, and I have an ongoing discussion about the relative virtues of paper and the internet. Although I spend a lot of time online and relish its revolutionary aspects as much as the next guy—I now have a blog, and I couldn't live without gchat, to say nothing of or streaming cross country skiing races—I tend to argue the Luddites' position most of the time: the internet is full of cranks; it's ruined all of our attention spans and contributed to the crisis in reading and writing skills on campus (the Atlantic Monthly reported that even professors now admit to having trouble finishing whole books); it's exacerbated the trend of Americans seeking solace only in their particular political communities, which has further polarized our politics; and it's led people to expect good writing and content for free and thus put quality newspapers and magazines on life support. But actually, my main beef against the online, as Janine's mom (not Jeanine's mom) calls it, is strictly personal: I find reading paper much more relaxing than reading online, especially when the latter involves cluttered screens with lots of ads, etc., which my brain equates with watching an action movie. Yes, I know the Ipad and Kindle complicate this debate, but books still smell better and magazines are still easier to read in bed.

So all this said, last night, grumpy that I got some sort of ankle bone bruise racing hard last weekend, and therefore deprived of the exercise-induced chemicals to which my body is addicted, and not especially thrilled with the prospect of editing my Minnesota-in-the-1930s book, grading, or writing more letters of recommendation, I yielded to an old-fashioned start-clicking-and-see-where-it-takes-you session. After brushing up on Lithuania's and China's prospects for the upcoming world cup (at least the Americans can still beat the Chinese at XC), I began with Cedar's blog: check it out whenever you want interesting discussion about science, the history of science, and teaching science. And for that matter, turn to Rachel's blog for everything education and education policy. Cedar's always plugging givemesomethingtoread, which led me to a great article on the personalities of octopuses. But of course, inevitably, the economic historian in me came out, and before long I was reading about one of the mother of all questions facing our democracy: the incredible growth in inequality in the United States since the 1970s. We are all swimming in data on this question (liberals suffer sometimes from actually believing in and seeking out data), but I found an amazing primer by a sociologist on the economics of the "1 percent" we are hearing so much about. This article also reviews the amazing data on Americans asked to guess the wealth distribution in the United States—and to propose their ideal wealth distribution (the latter findings must give conservative activists the cold sweats). Somehow this article led to me a column by Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post that contains a wonderful few sentences. President Obama could do a lot worse than restating these words by Robinson over and over during 2012:

"We’re not characters in one of those lumbering, interminable, nonsensical Ayn Rand novels. We believe in individual initiative and the free market, but we also believe that nationhood necessarily involves a commitment to our fellow citizens, an acknowledgment that we’re engaged in a common enterprise. We believe that opportunity should be more than just an empty word."

Yet Robinson also makes a mistake with which I'm obsessed. He offers two main reasons for why we should reduce inequality: 1) the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy, who have too much power; and 2) "the real issue is what kind of nation we want to be." Yup. But exhortations about fairness and the American Dream only go so far when 90 percent plus consider themselves middle class and don't want taxes on the rich because of the "lottery effect"—they assume that one day they will reap a windfall. Missing from Robinson's analysis is a simple, Keynesian-inspired, and accurate point that Democrats have completely abandoned in the past generation: because the lower and middle classes spends a higher percentage of their income than the upper classes, reduced inequality is good for all of us, and the rich will almost make back in higher profits what they give up from higher taxes. It's about the macroeconomy, stupid, not fairness. People shop. For God's sake, would someone important on K street please get this simple idea through his or her thick skull?

By way of an Oktoberfest update, the powers that be replied to my complaints. They wrote (with my comments in brackets):

I regret that we cannot offer refunds for the event. I would like to comment that the service was quite good from the waitresses, and did not begin to expand their services until it became clear they were being badgered by our guests to serve them, with or without VIP wristbands. [Um, my friends and I don't badger. Not my fault.] We will correct this for next year, allowing waitress service only within a dedicated VIP section. As far as your other concerns, we decided against a strictly VIP section so that a community feeling would be had by all. Hence no designated area. [1) If we wanted community with the masses, we would not have signed up for VIP tickets. 2) The webpage clearly promised us a "VIP tent." This last bit is grounds for a lawsuit ...] I will admit, the bathroom situation was not being handled correctly by out volunteers. However, this was never pointed out to me at the event or i would have handled it directly then. As for a $17 refund, the mugs alone cost the event nearly $10 each. [Might want to seek out a new glass vendor, dude.] We have donated all of our remaining proceeds from the event to charity, and are currently not giving refunds. I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Losing $5 a Second

Ok I've had it with the new running boom. Sure, I'm part of it, but I wish everyone else would just go home and watch TV. Today at the annual Homecoming 5K race (one of the bigger races here in Manhattan), I shaved 40 seconds off my 5K PR, and broke 18 minutes for the first time — my watch measured the course a tad shorter than 3.1 miles, but pretty darn close at 3.07 — but finished a spot lower in the non-student category than last year. This year I came in 4th, a mere 5 seconds out of the money ($25 for third place). Argh. The Olympian I mentioned in my last entry ran and didn't even win! I mean c'mon, this is getting ridiculous. Sam says I'm not allowed to use "double ifs," but if the Olympian sticks to the Diamond League professional races in Europe, and I manage to catch the guy in front of me (not that I knew who in front of me was non-student; a hundred frat guys sprint as fast as they can at the beginning of this race, so it's never possible to know where you stand) then I win second place and $50. I disagree with Sam on this one. This is a legitimate use of the double if.

But even if losing money to Olympians makes me a little grumpy, it was a great day. (What say you legions of blog followers: should Olympians run in local races?) The temperature was 50 degrees (just about optimal according to the research), and the course was undoubtedly fast (mostly downhill after the first uphill mile to the rec center). Sam, Rob, and Brent all had good races, too — Sam in particular threw down the hammer out of nowhere — and Melinda's, in her words, was "respectable given the preceding 4-week sedentary stint in the grant-writing chair" 
 and then afterwards we snuck in a fantastic beer at Houlihan's before lunch at Radina's with all racers and their kids. New additions to my list of fun activities: a Guinness directly after a morning race, and hanging out at a bar with Nate (Aaron and Tara's central-casting-cute 2-year-old).

Remember everyone, running makes you fat and injured and decreases life expectancy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perspective ...

Manhattan's Oktoberfest 2.0 sucked. (More proof that Jeanine is almost always right). The idea of VIP status (which cost us all an extra $20 on top of an already outrageous $30 base charge, considering food was extra) was either truly spurious or merely poorly executed, but either way, we got robbed blind and received nothing for our $20 other than a real glass mug as opposed to a plastic one. I expected a separate VIP area (perhaps with pretzels on the tables), but in fact no such area existed, which was all the worse because we were subjected to an excessively annoying, loud, and hyperpatriotic MC who would not shut up. The location on the highway paled in comparison to City Park. The table service promised may have existed briefly at the beginning but quickly evaporated. Nobody checked VIP status at the nicer bathrooms, which meant that anyone could use them. Basically, I ended up paying $25 per liter, received little extra, and wish I had listened to Brent's initial concerns and followed through on an idea I had soon after we all paid for our tickets: if the ten of us or so had pooled our money, we could have thrown ourselves a lovely catered party complete with the exotic keg of our choice.

At the same time, I realize that Oktoberfest does not actually mattter (and that any night drinking beer with Jeanine and my friends is a good night). Last night's KSU Lou Douglas Lecture  a tiny and underfunded lecture series at KSU that addresses important topics like international development, poverty, and women's rights and tries to balance the heavy-hitting, right-leaning, and presidentially attended Landon Lecture Series  was on domestic minor sex trafficking in the U.S. The talk, while excellent, could not have been more depressing. Apparently over a million minors in the U.S. are involved in the illicit sex trade in some form (the vast majority against their will). I knew many homeless youth were victims of sex crimes, of course, but I had no idea of the extent of the problem in the U.S. I guess I associated sex trafficking with desperately poor countries like Moldova ever since I read a great New Yorker article on the topic. In theory, at least, combating this problem should unite feminists and social conservatives, so how about a $50 tax per millionaire to fund street outreach programs and shelters? What politician could oppose that? More on tax policy to come ...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jeanine's Annual Visit ... and Running With Olympians

Jeanine's been here for the past week on what my friends call "her annual visit." When in Manhattan, we prefer lunch here:

The place has only gotten better because the lines are down from about 2 hours when it opened to only about 15 minutes today (zero at the bar). We walked there, despite the fact that our Olive Garden is in Manhattan's horrendous new "downtown redevelopment" area — which, when I moved here, I stupidly thought meant a combination of shops, restaurants and condos that at least suggested a downtown (within certain corporate constraints) but in fact meant a bunch of suburban-style big boxes including Petco. I wonder what percantage of Olive Garden patrons walk to their meal?

Now a few words from Jeanine: Anyway, today's culinary exerience was quite different than the one our wonderful friends Aaron and Tara treated us to last night. They took us to the RowHouse in Topeka, KS. I'm quite sure the row of adorable houses that included the restaurant are the only ones of their kind left in Topeka. We estimated that ~5 people live in the houses, which is roughly 0.0004% of the 125,000 inhabitants of the capitol city. However, the restaurant was fantastic, serving local ingredients and allowing you to sample each of the 3 entrees on the menu as part of a prix fixe. To top it off, they pour a very generous port. When in Topeka, you know where to go. Hopefully the economy will have recovered and the lawyer who served us will be making enough lawyering not to moonlight.

Other highlights during the week included Canadian Thanksgiving at Bonnie and Jim's (do they even celebrate this holiday on Corner Gas?), fantastic home-smoked ribs and bone marrow brushetta at Sam's, visting Bonnie and Jim's horses (well ok Bonnie's; Jim was out of town and she couldn't convince his horse to come back to the stables with her), and a great trail run at the Konza Prairie.

Last weekend I set a 5K PR. By more than 3 minutes. Of course, that second part might tell you that something was amiss (as would my time of 15:32). My watch measured the course at 2.58 miles, or more than a full half mile short. If I wrote awhile ago that I like small-town racing because I can actually win sometimes, I don't like the fact that some races can't even manage to measure a proper course with a Garmin. I mean c'mon, even Google Maps would come a lot closer than that. But the good news is that I was on track for a real PR, and indeed I had more in the tank — I didn't even get to sprint to the finish because it sort of sprang up on me. I managed a 3rd-place plaque ... which, I think it's safe to say, would have been higher if a bona fide Olympian had not decided to run the race (really, this guy, a KSU grad, ran the 800 meters for the USA at the 2008 games; we're not talking Olympic trials here).

Off to the Little Apple's Oktoberfest.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Jeanine's First Half Marathon

Today Jeanine ran her first half marathon ever ... in Park City ... in these conditions: 

In a nutshell, she crushed it, snow be-damned. Congrats J! When asked to guest blog about it, she said: "All I would write is — 'it was cold.'" Congrats as well to Kristin, Sarah, Sheila, Monica, and Monisha. Next year — Vegas half. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

4 Eventful Weekends In A Row

Travel is a big part of my commuter-marriage life. At the beginning of September, I flew to DC to see Mom (and enjoyed her world's best crabcakes®). Then I drove down to Charlottesville (we have a rental empire there, which is for another post ...), stayed with my old friend Chris Loomis, and caught up my PhD advisor Professor Zunz and Christine. Jeanine's mom and step-dad kindly came over from Williamsburg, my best man Cedar came over from Richmond, and we all went to the Chinese restaurant in C'ville with the amazing but nomadic chef featured in the New Yorker:
Then Cedar, Chris and I clubbed it at Court Square, my favorite bar circa 2001 to 2005. It was fantastic. For most of this (Saturday) night we had the place to ourselves, and the bartender admitted that the place is a tax write-off. And best of all, the place is exactly the same hovel it always was, despite being closed for close to two years because of a fire (thankfully it may be just a smidge darker now).

The next weekend I spent in Utah, and I paced my friend Jason in the Wasatch 100 race from about mile 52 to mile 75 (Lamb's Canyon to Brighton for those in the Utah know). Pacing Jason was incredible. Maybe not for him — I don't think I was tough enough on him (it's hard to be a drill sergeant when someone looks like they're about to collapse), and we fell behind his goal time (eventually he finished in 27 hours versus the goal of 24, which is still amazing) — but I had a fantastic experience. Something about the nighttime hiking and the whole vibe of the race was magical, especially as it was in fact pretty physically easy to pace for the third quarter of the race (there wasn't a ton of running, except for the downhills; the key to feeling in shape is to pace someone beginning 52 miles into a 100-mile run). Plus, it's pretty much an all-you-can-eat buffet along the way. Well ok, the one downside came after I was done. We pulled into my last aid station, Brighton, at 11 pm, and then I had to bum a ride to the Homestead Resort (Kristin and Jason have a cabin in Midway). The first person I asked said "sure, my husband is about to take off again on the course and I'll be leaving soon." Well, turns out that this guy, despite having run the race 10 times, was hurting and stayed in the Brighton lodge until 12:30, so I'm sitting there the whole time excruciatingly annoyed and exhausted and unable to be placated even by the unlimited McDonald's-style square hashbrowns, thinking how I'm losing sleep every minute and mad I let Jeanine off the hook for picking me up (just kidding J), but obviously unable to complain. And no other ride materialized. I got to sleep around 2, and then we had a 6 am wake-up to go see Jason finish at the Homestead (not complaining; it was worth it to see him come through the line). Here we are at Lamb's with our crew chief, Will Berry:

Weekend #3 was a road trip from Manhattan to Mankato, MN, to see the Jawhawks play at the world famous Mankato Riverfront Park. Those who know me pretty well know that the Jayhawks occupy a pretty big part of my tendency toward anticipatory nostalgia (as Cedar brilliantly coined it), so I won't bore you with too much detail. Sure this was a long way to drive to see a show, especially as I also learned this weekend that smart phones are smart enough to know when a road is closed — but not smart enough to suggest alternate routes or not to detour you onto the country road just to try to send you back to said closed road. But I promised I would do something stupid like this after the summer from work hell, and plus I got to see my friends Pete and Jess in Lincoln on the way, I picked up some Minnesota Honeycrisp apples I'd been craving, and, finally, the Gear Daddies opened, which pretty much made the trip mandatory (call them Martin Zellar and the Hardaways all you want, but if Billy's on base, it's the Gear Daddies). The show was great — I'll post the play list when I think of it — even though I wish they hadn't played so much from Tomorrow the Green Grass at the cost of nothing from Sound of Lies and Smile (and very little from Rainy Day Music). I see, by the way, that their new album, Mockingbird Time, debuted at #38 on the Billboard album chart. Hmm, I think this may indicate which demographic actually still buys CDs ...

Reality set in when my tenure materials were due the day after I got back, but whatever. Then last weekend Chris Nichols, a friend since grad school, came from Philadelphia/Ithaca. In addition to a culinary tour of all the finest establishments in Manhattan, Chris gave a talk at K-State on his new book:

Support an author today and buy his book in paper.

After a quiet weekend, highlighted by tailgating with Sam before KSU beat Baylor, I can't wait for Jeanine to come for her annual visit to KS. Maybe she can guest blog next week. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Staycation to KS to First 5K of the Fall

After Jackson I took a few days' staycation in Salt Lake (a big deal for me). The highlights were golf at Mt. Dell with my friend Ryan and climbing Mt. Timpanogos (the second highest peak in the Wasatch) with my friend John Regehr. We didn't have a camera, which was too bad, as it's hard to describe how beautiful the place is and how distinct it is from other peaks in the Wasatch. All the photos of Timp on the web suck, so this fine art of the Mt. Timpanogos Temple seems appropriate:

Then it was time to head back to Kansas  K-State's semesters are brutally long. In case you were wondering, "No Place Like Homes" refers to the fact that I divide my time between Manhattan, KS and Salt Lake. I like and have good friends in both places, but of course, to put it mildly, a commuter marriage is not our first choice. At the moment, however, Jeanine and I are happy to each have jobs in our fields (but God are we ready for the next boom; would corporate America please cease its anti-Obama hiring boycott already?).

After the first week of classes, I ran my first race of the fall. I hadn't raced since April because I was so busy with finishing two books, and also because I think of summer as my season off (fall is prime running season, winter is XC skiing season, and spring is you-might-as-well-race-because-you're-still-in-skiing-shape season. Just for the record, I'm not a serious or good runner. But one of the things I like about living in a small city is that consistent training goes a long way  I can actually be competitive in races here (or I can loose a 5K by 4 minutes if real, ran-in-college runners show up). I'm used to running races alone, but for this race  a 5K Parkinson's fundraiser held at our local lake/state park, one of the best roller skiing spots in the world  several members of Thursday night Beer Club showed up, which made it tons of fun (as did the free beer and barbecue). Speaking of beer, if I hadn't have consumed so much the past couple weeks of summer, and if it had not been so hot in Salt Lake all summer, I think I may have had a shot. As it is, I lost (to a 55-year-old I might add) by 12 seconds. I wish it had been closer  I have this dream of just once closing in on and passing someone in the last 200 meters to win a race movie style. And considering I ran at a pace about 15 seconds behind my PRs, it almost happened. Next time. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

After the Book

Ok true to form I'm already behind on the first day of my blog. That's because of my staycation in Salt Lake the week before the semester started (un-tenured professors operate on a thin time margin), and also because I spent most of yesterday pacing my friend Jason for part of the Wasatch 100 and most of today sleeping. More on these things in a few days. For this first entry I want to go back to when I meant to start the blog (which I wanted to call After the Book, but it's taken). Sometime in mid-August I e-mailed the final version of my book to the press (ok the exact time was 5:21 a.m.) and then a couple hours later Jeanine and I (Jeanine = wife of just a bit over a year) drove to Jackson, Wyoming for one our best  and most needed weekends  ever. The State and the Stork (that's the book) has been looming over my life for more than a decade, and I don't think I've ever had a better beer than the first one that night when we rolled into the Snake River Brewery and met our great friends Sean and Gillian, who drove over from Montana.

We also knew it was going to be an epic weekend when the Snow King (I love any resort with a 1970s logo) upgraded us from 1 bedroom for the 4 of us (in keeping with the tradition that we were in the next bed when Sean and Gillian spent their first-ever night together in a hotel room) to a 3-bedroom condo (complete with original 1970s bathrooms). The next day we went on a fantastic hike to Solitude Lake in Grand Teton National Park

and then a trail running weekend broke out. Jeanine's training for her first half marathon this October (I also love running, which I'll be boring you about on this blog), and so we did a run in the park the next day and an unbelievable one at Cache Creek in town the day we left. We also celebrated our first anniversary (yes, Sean and Gillian had left by then) at the Snake River Grill (no relation to the brewery  something of a common name around these parts). When at the SRG, we prefer these: