Friday, June 30, 2006

I was going to quit blogging for the day

But this post is simply too funny to ignore, and frankly, contains a bit too much truth for me to be completely comfortable with.

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/49846

Professor Pressured To Sleep With Student For Good Course Evaluation

June 27, 2006 | Issue 42•26


FAYETTEVILLE, AR—Alan Gilchrist, an associate professor of English literature at the University of Arkansas infamous for his tough grading standards and dry lecturing style, was coerced into sleeping with an undergraduate on Monday in order to earn a good course evaluation. "My tenure's on the line here, so I allowed a student to take advantage of me," said an emotional Gilchrist of the experience, which he hopes will earn him at least six "very much enjoyed" responses on the eight-item evaluation form. "I told myself it would be just this once, and that it would be over soon, and that it wouldn't be that bad, but I was used. And I can't stop showering." Sources said that the unidentified student is one of the most popular and charismatic on campus, raising questions about possible abuse of power.


Here is the blunt truth: yes, this is satire. But one of the drawbacks to the smaller, non-state schools is that they are very tuition dependent. Therefore, folks there are under pressure to make the students (and their parents) feel good about their experience.
certainlyly, teaching needs to be evaluated. And student evaluations which show that the professors are, say, habitually unprepared for class are valuable.

But, the downside is that professors sometimes feel pressured into pandering to the students so as to avoid complaints and trouble. Non-tenured professors are under pressure to get good student evaluations; tenured professors often want to avoid the hassle of confrontation over grades, accepting late work, disciplining cheating, etc.

Don't get me wrong; this isn't a whine. I think that being a professor is a good job; I wouldn't trade it for any other job. All jobs have their downsides; after all no one is just going to mail you checks to do nothing. And I'd rather put up with the hassle of confronting a student from time to time than, say, getting shot at, getting black lung, going into burning buildings, etc.

Athletics: why I gravitated toward my present activities

I have a post similar to this one on my yoga blog.

Currently, my physical activities consist of: walking, yoga and swimming. At the moment I am not walking many miles (about 30 a week) but I am really trying to focus on my walking technique; in particular I wish to improve my walking posture. Of course, I'd like to improve other things as well (arm action, use my feet better). But the point is that, when I walk these days, I don't "just go"; I really focus on what my body is doing.

I also swim; typically I swim 3-4 times a week, going 2000-4000 yards per workout. I am not a great swimmer (high 16-low 17 for the 1000 yards). I make form errors here too: I am not as horizontal in the water as I should be, I drop my elbow, etc. So, I do swim drills; some with fins. My point: I can't "just go"; I need to pay attention to what my body is doing else I just end up thrashing around and churning up water.

And of course, doing yoga poses requires concentration on what one's body is doing.

My point in all of this: I am a poor athlete; in my "natural state" I am unaware of what my body is doing. And the best way for me to correct this is to practice things that require me to pay attention to what my body is doing!

In my previous "athletic life", I ran and lifted weights. At my level, form and technique were relatively unimportant, or at least much easier to master.

So, who knows. Maybe when I return to running, I'll be lighter on my feet and possibly more efficient?

The Kind of People One Meets on a Campaign


Back in 2004, I did some work for political candidates. I did some "door to door" work for State Representative Ricca Slone and then drove to Iowa to help out the Kerry campaign in Davenport.

During these activities I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Edley. Bill was once a representative in the State House of Illinois.

Anyway, we had long discussions as we drove to and from the Quad Cities area.

He is in the news and one of his programs has made the front page of the Peoria Journal Star:

http://www.pjstar.com/stories/063006/TER_BA83RNDT.009.shtml

Just in time for the Fourth of July, a patriotic initiative from central Illinois takes the spotlight on the national stage.

It's called the Patriot Corporations of America Act. It is designed to provide tax incentives for companies that employ American workers instead of sending work overseas. And it is a direct outgrowth of the USA Patriot Corporation Project Inc. outlined by former Democratic state Rep. Bill Edley and political scientist Robin A. Johnson of Monmouth College with support from West Central Illinois Building Trades head Dan Silverthorn.

"This is federal legislation which fights against outsourcing," says Ben LaBolt, press aide for U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston. "For too long, the government has provided the means for corporations to do the wrong thing."

Schakowsky was one of 10 Democratic legislators who introduced the proposed law in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. Labor groups are also behind it, and they hope for bipartisan support. But she gave the credit to Johnson and Edley, who was present for the Washington D.C. news conference.

"The bottom line is, we're saying that we're going to target the tax incentives for corporations to companies that care as much about the American worker as they do about the American market," Edley said from the airport on his way back. "It's fine if they want to move to Mexico. But why are we providing the tax incentives for them to do it?"

If that sounds familiar, it is. Edley had Maytag in mind. The profitable company took 1,600 Galesburg jobs to Mexico in 2004 in a bid to become even more profitable. But it sells 90 percent of its products in the United States.

"Ask anybody on Main Street: Do you think Maytag should have been able to write off $124 million and stick the taxpayers for $30 million?" he says.

Well, no. So Edley and Johnson proposed incentives to go to the companies that keep jobs and money here. They wanted to be positive, not negative. So The Patriot Corporations Act is a streamlined, voluntary version of their idea, which is supposed to be revenue-neutral for Uncle Sam.

It offers preferential treatment in government contracting and a 5 percent tax rate reduction to companies that:

- Produce at least 90 percent of their goods and services in the United States and do at least 50 percent of their research and development here.

- Limit top management compensation to no more than 100 times the wages of their lowest-paid full-time workers.

- Contribute at least 5 percent of payroll to a portable pension fund and pay at least 70 percent of a health insurance plan.

- Comply with federal regulations on environment, workplace safety, consumer protection and labor relations.

"Instead of just passing tax cuts and hoping it trickles down, this makes corporations earn them," Johnson says.

"It's not just keeping jobs in this country," says Silverthorn, "But they're head-of-household jobs that have pension plans and benefits."

At one time, Edley says, American workers relied on two oceans to protect those jobs. Under a global economy, that isn't working. New tax incentives should be investigated to reflect the new reality. It won't prevent corporations from moving, but it will try to influence those decisions.

"When the deck is stacked against you, sometimes the only way you can win is a new deal . . . or at least to re-shuffle the deck," Edley says. "This is the New Deal for the new century."

Deal 'em up.

TERRY BIBO is a columnist for the Journal Star. She can be reached at tbibo@pjstar.com, 686-3189, or 1-800-225-5757, Ext. 3189.

This has been discussed in The Nation magazine:
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060206/schakowsky

Patriot Corporations

by JAN SCHAKOWSKY

[from the February 6, 2006 issue]

If you want to make Americans of all stripes mad, tell them about the billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks our government gives to companies that outsource jobs, exploit workers (both here and overseas) and dodge taxes. Tell them about Accenture, for example, which advises other companies how to outsource jobs overseas while avoiding its fair share of tax payments by incorporating offshore in Bermuda. Yet like many other US corporations, Accenture continues to qualify for tax breaks, and it currently has more than $500 million in government contracts--courtesy of taxpayers.

Meanwhile, urban communities and small towns are devastated by plant closings. Often these plants are owned by profitable corporations like Maytag, which moved its Galesburg, Illinois, plant to Reynosa, Mexico, in 2004, leaving 1,600 workers without their good-paying jobs. The number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has fallen all the way back to the level it was in 1945. And our government continues to provide carrots--and no sticks--to companies harming our economy.

To end this race to the bottom, we must stop rewarding outsourcers and tax dodgers, and start rewarding companies that care about America and American workers.

A sensible proposal to create "Patriot Corporations" was developed by Bill Edley, a former State Representative in Illinois, and political scientist Robin Johnson of Monmouth College. Funded by rolling back all of President Bush's tax cuts and recouping taxes lost through corporate offshore loopholes, the Patriot Corporations program would be entirely revenue-neutral and voluntary. It would give significant tax advantages and shareholder incentives to corporations that agree to create a real partnership with American workers. Patriot Corporations would also move to the front of the line for federal contracts--no small incentive.

To qualify, corporations would have to produce at least 90 percent of their US-sold goods and services in the United States. They would also have to:

§ limit top management salaries to 100 times the lowest-paid full-time worker;

§ spend at least 50 percent of their research and development budgets in the United States;

§ operate a profit-sharing plan for all employees, contribute at least 5 percent of payroll to a portable pension fund and pay at least 70 percent of the cost of a standardized and portable health insurance plan;

§ agree to neutrality in employee organizing drives;

§ be in good standing with EPA, OSHA and NLRB regulations;

§ and agree not to price-gouge consumers.

Companies that meet those standards are the ones that deserve carrots. With Patriot Corporations we can create a new class of companies as committed to American workers as they are to selling goods in the American market. And we can create a new patriotic ethic in America--one that unites workers and their employers in the mutual goal of building a stronger, more prosperous, more democratic business sector that can vigorously and proudly compete in the twenty-first-century global economy.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mathematics: Interesting Application of Baye's Theorem

This post isn't so much to talk about the politics of the NSA mass surveillance program as it is to demonstrate a well known statistical concept.

Basically, what his article argues is this: suppose you want to determine if someone is a terrorist threat. Suppose you have some algorithm that is reasonably accurate when you apply it (say, if a person meets criteria X, Y, Z, W,.... then it follows that there is a, say, 90% probability that this person is a terrorist threat). Now you randomly apply this process to the population at large and it turns up names, say, including Ollie. So, now that Ollie has been identified, what is the probability that Ollie is indeed a terrorist threat?

Answer: pretty low; probably less than 50%. 50% is what you would get if you were to merely flip a coin with heads: "he is a terrorist" and tails: "he isn't".

Of course, one could argue is that this first mass process is really some weeding out thing so as one has a collection of people, each with a slightly higher than normal chance of being a terrorist threat, and then one could apply more expensive tests to this group, knowing that the "false alarm" rate is going to be very high.

Anyway, here goes with the article:

http://www.counterpunch.org/rudmin05242006.html

Why Does the NSA Engage in Mass Surveillance of Americans When It's Statistically Impossible for Such Spying to Detect Terrorists?

By FLOYD RUDMIN

The Bush administration and the National Security Agency (NSA) have been secretly monitoring the email messages and phone calls of all Americans. They are doing this, they say, for our own good. To find terrorists. Many people have criticized NSA's domestic spying as unlawful invasion of privacy, as search without search warrant, as abuse of power, as misuse of the NSA's resources, as unConstitutional, as something the communists would do, something very unAmerican.

In addition, however, mass surveillance of an entire population cannot find terrorists. It is a probabilistic impossibility. It cannot work.

What is the probability that people are terrorists given that NSA's mass surveillance identifies them as terrorists? If the probability is zero (p=0.00), then they certainly are not terrorists, and NSA was wasting resources and damaging the lives of innocent citizens. If the probability is one (p=1.00), then they definitely are terrorists, and NSA has saved the day. If the probability is fifty-fifty (p=0.50), that is the same as guessing the flip of a coin. The conditional probability that people are terrorists given that the NSA surveillance system says they are, that had better be very near to one (p_1.00) and very far from zero (p=0.00).

The mathematics of conditional probability were figured out by the Scottish logician Thomas Bayes. If you Google "Bayes' Theorem", you will get more than a million hits. Bayes' Theorem is taught in all elementary statistics classes. Everyone at NSA certainly knows Bayes' Theorem.

To know if mass surveillance will work, Bayes' theorem requires three estimations:

1) The base-rate for terrorists, i.e. what proportion of the population are terrorists.

2) The accuracy rate, i.e., the probability that real terrorists will be identified by NSA;

3) The misidentification rate, i.e., the probability that innocent citizens will be misidentified by NSA as terrorists.

No matter how sophisticated and super-duper are NSA's methods for identifying terrorists, no matter how big and fast are NSA's computers, NSA's accuracy rate will never be 100% and their misidentification rate will never be 0%. That fact, plus the extremely low base-rate for terrorists, means it is logically impossible for mass surveillance to be an effective way to find terrorists.

I will not put Bayes' computational formula here. It is available in all elementary statistics books and is on the web should any readers be interested. But I will compute some conditional probabilities that people are terrorists given that NSA's system of mass surveillance identifies them to be terrorists.

The US Census shows that there are about 300 million people living in the USA.

Suppose that there are 1,000 terrorists there as well, which is probably a high estimate. The base-rate would be 1 terrorist per 300,000 people. In percentages, that is .00033% which is way less than 1%. Suppose that NSA surveillance has an accuracy rate of .40, which means that 40% of real terrorists in the USA will be identified by NSA's monitoring of everyone's email and phone calls. This is probably a high estimate, considering that terrorists are doing their best to avoid detection. There is no evidence thus far that NSA has been so successful at finding terrorists. And suppose NSA's misidentification rate is .0001, which means that .01% of innocent people will be misidentified as terrorists, at least until they are investigated, detained and interrogated. Note that .01% of the US population is 30,000 people. With these suppositions, then the probability that people are terrorists given that NSA's system of surveillance identifies them as terrorists is only p=0.0132, which is near zero, very far from one. Ergo, NSA's surveillance system is useless for finding terrorists.

Suppose that NSA's system is more accurate than .40, let's say, .70, which means that 70% of terrorists in the USA will be found by mass monitoring of phone calls and email messages. Then, by Bayes' Theorem, the probability that a person is a terrorist if targeted by NSA is still only p=0.0228, which is near zero, far from one, and useless.

Suppose that NSA's system is really, really, really good, really, really good, with an accuracy rate of .90, and a misidentification rate of .00001, which means that only 3,000 innocent people are misidentified as terrorists. With these suppositions, then the probability that people are terrorists given that NSA's system of surveillance identifies them as terrorists is only p=0.2308, which is far from one and well below flipping a coin. NSA's domestic monitoring of everyone's email and phone calls is useless for finding terrorists.

NSA knows this. Bayes' Theorem is elementary common knowledge. So, why does NSA spy on Americans knowing it's not possible to find terrorists that way? Mass surveillance of the entire population is logically sensible only if there is a higher base-rate. Higher base-rates arise from two lines of thought, neither of them very nice:

1) McCarthy-type national paranoia;

2) political espionage.

The whole NSA domestic spying program will seem to work well, will seem logical and possible, if you are paranoid. Instead of presuming there are 1,000 terrorists in the USA, presume there are 1 million terrorists. Americans have gone paranoid before, for example, during the McCarthyism era of the 1950s. Imagining a million terrorists in America puts the base-rate at .00333, and now the probability that a person is a terrorist given that NSA's system identifies them is p=.99, which is near certainty. But only if you are paranoid. If NSA's surveillance requires a presumption of a million terrorists, and if in fact there are only 100 or only 10, then a lot of innocent people are going to be misidentified and confidently mislabeled as terrorists.

The ratio of real terrorists to innocent people in the prison camps of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Kandahar shows that the US is paranoid and is not bothered by mistaken identifications of innocent people. The ratio of real terrorists to innocent people on Bush's no-fly lists shows that the Bush administration is not bothered by mistaken identifications of innocent Americans.

Also, mass surveillance of the entire population is logically plausible if NSA's domestic spying is not looking for terrorists, but looking for something else, something that is not so rare as terrorists. For example, the May 19 Fox News opinion poll of 900 registered voters found that 30% dislike the Bush administration so much they want him impeached. If NSA were monitoring email and phone calls to identify pro-impeachment people, and if the accuracy rate were .90 and the error rate were .01, then the probability that people are pro-impeachment given that NSA surveillance system identified them as such, would be p=.98, which is coming close to certainty (p_1.00). Mass surveillance by NSA of all Americans' phone calls and emails would be very effective for domestic political intelligence.

But finding a few terrorists by mass surveillance of the phone calls and email messages of 300 million Americans is mathematically impossible, and NSA certainly knows that.

Floyd Rudmin is Professor of Social & Community Psychology at the University of Tromsø in Norway. He can be reached at frudmin@psyk.uit.no

Note that I was tipped off to this article from this Paul Craig Roberts article from The Smirking Chimp. Speaking of which, here is another good one:

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/article.php?sid=26703&mode=&order=0

Andrew Bard Schmookler: 'How can the Democrats be so clueless (about how to fight the Bushites)?'
Posted on Thursday, June 29 @ 09:26:29 EDT
This article has been read 594 times. Andrew Bard Schmookler

How Not to Play Against Cheaters

If there was ever any doubt that the Democrats in Congress are clueless about how to fight against the disreputable tactics of the Bushite Republicans, that doubt should have been dispelled by the recent debacle in the House concerning a resolution to "stay the course" in Iraq.

The resolution in question had but one purpose, and that was to put the Democrats in a no-win situation politically. If they voted for the resolution, they would be tying themselves to President Bush's disastrous policy. If they voted against the resolution, the Democrats would expose themselves to the charge that theirs was a position of "cut and run"--precisely Karl Rove's strategy for turning the albatross of the Iraq disaster into another Republican election-winner, as it was in 2002 and 2004.

The process was carefully set up by the Republicans to assure there would be no real discussion of anything, no genuine progress toward clarifying the real situation in Iraq or the nature of our real policy choices there.

It was designed, that is, to serve no national purpose but only a partisan political purpose.

All of which is typical of what the Republicans have been doing with their power for some years now. It should be no surprise that the same folks who put poison pills into the Homeland Security legislation, so they could paint a war-hero like Max Cleland as "Osama bin Laden's man" back in 2002, would similarly poison American politics here in 2006 by trying to compel the opposition party two choose between two politically toxic options.

What's downright astonishing is that the Democrats seem to have learned nothing in the intervening four years about how to cope with these Bushite tactics. The Republicans having set their trap, the Democrats obligingly walked into it.

And now the chorus of "cut and run" -foolish and dishonest, but possibly politically effective--is heard in the land.

How brilliant do you have to be to understand that, given a choice between death by hanging and death by shooting, the proper response is "Neither"? Is there any law that required the Democrats to vote either for or against that purely manipulative resolution?

No, no law, only the Democrats' habit of playing "politics as usual" even when politics has become decidedly not as usual, even in this unprecedentedly dishonest political environment the Bushites have created.

In most of American history, the appropriate response to a measure before Congress has been to either support or oppose it. In today's morally corrupt political environment, the proper response is neither support nor opposition but rather denunciation of the whole scurrilous game.

But the Democrats keep letting the Republicans get away with their "Have you stopped beating your wife?" way of rigging the game.

Just as John Kerry gave away the game by campaigning against George W. Bush as "a good man," who just happened to have some different ideas about how to achieve our common goals, so also now, two years later, the Democrats of the House gave away the game by treating the measure before them as legitimate rather than as the scandal that it clearly was.

It's About that Rogue Elephant in the Room

This is but the latest example of an almost invariable pattern: the Bushite Republicans behave scandalously and the clueless or craven Democrats let them get away with it.

It is about the scandalous Republican way of governing, through lies and the abuse of power -not about the various bogus issues through which the Republicans seek to gain political advantage--that the Democrats should be talking to the American people.

"It is a scandal," the Democrats should have announced to the country just before walking out of the chamber, declaring that they would not dignify this fundamentally dishonest resolution by voting on it, "for the Republicans to be playing politics on this vital and painful national issue. Where lives are at stake, we need genuine discussion, not mere grandstanding for political advantage."

It is the job of the opposition party to help the American people recognize how profoundly these Bushite Republicans are debasing our political process. And part of this is to draw the contrast between how the Republicans are operating, and how a healthy democracy would operate. So the Democrats' statement might continue:

"How can we know whether or not we should 'stay the course' without conducting the substantive discussion this country so sorely needs in order to illuminate just what our real choices are with respect to this terrible mess that the Bush leadership has made in Iraq?

"The Republicans act as if we can somehow know what we should do just by virtue of some primitive logic that says because we went in we have to stay there until we achieve our goals. But such logic is foolish until we establish whether 'staying the course' will indeed get us any closer to reaching those goals.

"Neither is that logic sufficient that says that because it was a mistake to invade Iraq in the first place we ought simply to leave. We'd need first to assess what the consequences of a withdrawal would be."

The Democrats do not need to take some firm stand between the choices Karl Rove offers them. Indeed, among the Democrats there is no unity on this issue. But what they can be united on is their denunciation of the dishonest Republican effort to reduce American discourse to the primitive and simple-minded level at which the Rovian manipulations succeed in feeding Bushite power even at the cost of crippling the nation. Their denunciation might continue:

"The question of what course of action is likely now to serve best American interests and values -including the responsibility we have to those people whose country ours has invaded--can't be answered by primitive logic based only on slogans and ignorance. It can only be answered on the basis of genuine knowledge and expertise concerning the situation in Iraq and other relevant aspects of the world.

"America has many knowledgeable people -both in government service and in our private institutions--who could help us in the Congress come to judgments on such questions as: What is likely to happen if we continue what we are doing, and what is likely to happen if we choose some other course? What are the likely costs and benefits of the different courses of action, and how should those be weighed against each other?

"But that is precisely the kind of discussion that the Republicans have refused to have. As this scandal of a Republican-sponsored resolution in the House demonstrates, the same regime that deceived Congress to lead us into war, and that "fixed" the intelligence to support that decision to go to war -the genuine reasons for which we are left still to wonder about--has no interest in helping us to make reasoned decisions based on true understanding.

"The Republicans have seen to it that we hold no thoughtful hearings, have no substantive debate, contemplate no reasonable alternatives. All they seek is the political advantage they believe they can get by reducing our political discourse to simple-minded slogans like 'stay the course,' and by engaging in the kind patriotic flag-waving that has rightly been dubbed 'the last refuge of scoundrels.'

"America deserves better. America needs better.

"We have already seen how disastrous are the results of making policy on the basis of ignorance and arrogant assumptions. This Bush regime may have no great respect for genuine knowledge about reality, but reality does not go away just because we try to assume it away.

"That's why we have this mess in Iraq--from the series of colossal misjudgments and blunders this administration has made in both leading us into this invasion and in running the subsequent occupation. At every turn they have scorned what proved to be good counsel from people with real knowledge and experience. And now America and Iraq and indeed the whole world suffer the consequences."

The Bushite arrogance and dishonesty is hardly confined to the Iraq war. It is a pattern that pervades everything they do. And so whatever the immediate manifestation of this scandalous Bushite way of wielding power, the Democratic denunciation needs to tie the specific issue with the larger pattern, so that the pattern becomes more visible to the American people who can then join in the repudiation of this disastrous and destructive regime.

"So enough of this playing politics with a matter so grave," the Democratic statement might conclude. "Enough of putting political advantage over the interests of the nation.

"We need real deliberation, not posturing. We need genuine leadership, not mere manipulation and deception.

"The Republicans now have the power to disserve this country and disgrace this Congress with this dishonest charade. We Democrats cannot now stop it. But neither will we participate in it."
[...]

Athletics: An inspiring triathlon story plus a solo crossing of Death Valley

Ironman Triathon: one can finish even if things go wrong.

I subscribe to something called the Clydesdale Virtual Racing Team. We have a member named Karen Wells. She has done an Ironman Triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) in the 13 hour range and hoped to go under that in her latest one. She wasn't able to, but her story is interesting nevertheless, as her triathlon almost ended before it even started.



Her husband (Rick Schaefer, who has run several marathons, AFTER having had a heart attack and recovered from it; his story is told in an old issue of Marathon and Beyond) knows that Karen tends to understate what she does, so he told her story for her. In the photo, Rick is the one on the right. Karen is the attractive one. But I digress; here is the story:

Part I: the teaser

Just a short note about Karen's Ironman Couer d'Alene yesterday.

She would have won the Athena 40yrs+ by more than 40 minutes, but she
refused to register for it because ...in her words.. it's the "fat old
lady division" :-) She got tired of "explainng" her wins in that
division, so she competes only in her age group. (Being in love doesn't
mean we agree on everything!) She reminds me that despite being just
a few months shy from her 50th birthday, she still placed in the top
40% in the 45-49 age group, and would have been 9th in the women's 50-
54. She has the worst possible "Kona" birtday... 1-2 weeks prior to
the usual race day.

I'll let Karen tell whatever part of the rest of the story that she
wants. Hint. Ask her about the 'tender' husband/wife exchange at about
mile 6 of the run :-)

Part II: The Rest of the Story
Karen is never going to tell the "whole" truth on this, and besides, Karen
says I'm the better story teller in the family. I guess, with her
permission, I'll give everyone my version of Karen's race report.

Karen's summed up her experience at Ironman CDA this way: "I never trained
to walk all 26 miles."

First, let's remember her racing experience. She’s got 20+ marathons, a
couple of ultras, and a 13:21 Ironman under her belt. She has never once
dropped from any race. In fact, she had never even considered it... until
Sunday. After 8 months of fantastic training, Karen was in the best shape
of her life. She had been trained by the Olympic distance World Age Group
champion, Pete Kain in his special Ironman group. Besides four 100+ mile
rides (and lots of 80/90 milers) on the bike, she was also in perfect
condition to go out and run a great road marathon, having done 4 LSD runs
of 22+ miles plus another 1/2 dozen 15-18 milers. Some of her best
training days (2 mile swim followed by 100 hilly miles on the bike) had
been done in the heat, and she finished all those workouts with lots of
energy to spare. She went into taper mode 3 weeks pre race, giving her
plenty of time to recharge. We knew Karen could count 100% on having a
solid race, particularly the run. (She looked absolutely awesome when she
did her training runs. I was jealous.)

So what happened?

Just 5 minutes prior to the swim start....with goggles on..... Karen
kicked a rock very hard and severely bruised her little toe. OUCH !!!

The cold water in the swim kept the initial swelling down, but Karen said
she felt some pain coming out of the water. It didn’t seem to hurt much
during the bike, and she arrived at T2 right at her PR pace, a strong
showing considering that the record heat was decimating most of the
field. When she took off her bike shoe, Karen said the toe exploded with
pain. The toe was already swollen and purple, and she had major trouble
putting on her running shoe. Karen had no balance when she tried to walk,
and she hobbled across the run course to where I was standing just outside
of T2. She was shaking and trembling enough for me to be very worried
about her, and I thought she was having some sort of heatstroke issue. (I
later realized she had gone into mild shock when she tried to put on the
running shoe.) She told me briefly she hurt her toe just before the swim
started, and she said she was going to drop because pain was going to
prohibit her from running with a normal stride. We talked for a few
minutes, and I worriedly asked her about hydration/nutrition

. I got good
answers, and to tell the truth, I was a bit confused about what exactly was
wrong. Suddenly Karen decided to give the run a try for the first 1 mile
out & back section. As she headed out on the course, I gave her the only
advice I ever give her during the run of a triathlon, "RUN SMART!"

She saw Coach Pete at Mile 1, and said she was unable to run at all. When
she told Pete she was going to drop, Pete asked “Well, you can walk can’t
you?” There’s a lot of emotion behind Pete’s comment. He had cried
the night before when he spoke at the Team Kain dinner about when he
dropped in the middle of an Ironman. Pete calls that DNF the hardest thing
he’s ever done in his life. His heart was in getting everyone to the
finish line, and he was going to try to motivate Karen through a tough
patch. Who knew the tough patch was going to be for 26.2 miles?

As Karen joked today, all this emotion has poured out of Pete and me, and
she’s only up to Mile 1 on the run. :-) :-)

When I saw Karen back at Mile 2 almost 30 minutes later, she said she would
just try to keep walking a little more to see what was going to happen. Her
eyes were a bit more in focus, so I wasn't worried as much. She lamented
as she got going again, “I hope you don't mind being out here for 15
hours!" So off she went, but I had no idea how bad the toe thing really
was... My gal is pretty indestructible, she was in great shape; she doesn't
mind the heat, so I just figured she was going to get moving and finally
find her stride. Boy, was I wrong!

You see, Karen had to compensate for the swollen toe by walking on the
inside of her foot, and soon Karen had a huge blister on the entire ball of
her foot. Any attempt to run with the weird stride used different muscles,
and this had her on the edge of cramping (and the heat wasn't helping
any) At the 5 mile mark, Karen turned around to walk back into the aid
station to drop. When she got there, she decided she wasn't quire ready to
drop…at least not yet. As JimP used to say, just one more mile.

15 minutes later I drove up to her. She stopped and leaned into the car
window with the words

“Can I quit? I'm not having any fun out here" I can’t run at all, and I’ve
got big blisters “ I lifted her sunglasses, looked into her eyes, and
here eyes were clear.

Me- “How are you feeling?”

Her- “I’m ok, I guess.”

Me…harshly “ Then finish the f*&king race”

Her..”F*&k you. Why do I have to?”

Me, with tears running down my face, “You have to finish this race because
I can’t do it.”

Note-I gotta be careful about how often I play that particular card, but it
worked this time!! :-) However, deep inside I was really suffering for
her. I now knew that she was never going to find any kind of running
stride, and that she had a loooong, hard afternoon/evening ahead of her.
She was going to have to go another 20 miles on sheer guts. Man, that's a
strech.

But to her credit, she walked, and walked, and walked, and walked, and
walked. Karen wasn't kidding. She never ran more than about 3 minutes
during the entire 26.2 miles. She walked on that stupid swollen toe and
ugly blisters for more than 6 hours!! She walked her way right up to the
part when the race announcer shouted in the microphone "Karen Wells, 49
years old from San Jose, California. Karen Wells, you are an IRONMAN!"

My emotions run big at Ironman events, but I’m crying for strangers. This
is the first time I've cried for Karen. It's brutal for me to think of
what was going on in her mind having to walk mile after mile. But deep
inside I know I was right in making her stay on the course in the manner
that I did. She is still cussing me out about it, but now she has a laugh
and a smile about it.

Karen is not a quitter. It’s just not in her nature to give up. If she
would have dropped, Karen would have always had a nagging doubt about
whether things could have turned around later on the run, and she would
never have forgiven herself. And like Pete Kain, a DNF would have made
this the worst racing experience of her life. Instead Karen has the shirt,
the medal, the finisher’s hat, and of course, the pride! Most of all,
Karen knows that on a day of record heat (20 degrees hotter than last
year), on a day of a record # of DNF’s, on a day when her little toe
betrayed the 8 months of perfect training that the rest of her body had
done, she still hung tough all the way to the finish to again earn the
mantle of Ironman. And she still ended up in the top 40% of her age group!

Epilogue - Karen hasn't been able to wear shoes since she took off her
running shoes about 20 feet from the finishing area immediately after the
race. The toe was, and still is, mega-UGLY. It looks like it has a big,
purplish, yucky cocoon encompassing most of it. The bruises/blisters drew
looks of admiration from her teammates, and it draws looks of pity from
strangers whom she catches staring at her open toed sandals.
As for me, I’m still swelling with pride for Karen. But I feel a
twinge of sadness for her, too. More than anything else I wonder how Karen
would have done if she could have done some real running during the race?
Her legs were ready. Of all things that can get you in an Ironman…a little
toe?

Rick Schaefer- sitting in San Jose, California with a real live Ironman
finisher within hugging distance.


How to finish Badwater if you can't (or don't want to) complete the formal Badwater Ultramarathon.


The Badwater Ultramarathon is one of the toughest ultras in the United States. It is brutal: 135 miles across Death Valley in July.

From it's website:

Covering 135 miles (217km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA in temperatures up to 130F (55C), it is the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet.

The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere at 280’ (85m) below sea level. The race finishes at the Mt. Whitney Portals at 8360' (2533m). The Badwater course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 13,000’ (3962m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 4,700’ (1433m) of cumulative descent. The Portals are the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States.

Of course, I am not going to get into "which ultra is harder than which"; many claim that the Barkley (which is in danger of not being held anymore), given that only a handful of people have ever finished it, is harder. But I digress.

But, as the site says, one has to qualify for the race (minimal standards, even I qualify). Then, a race committee reviews the applications and selects 80 for the race. If selected, you have 60 hours to finish, but you need to finish in under 48 hours to win a "buckle". And, the best I could tell, you need to pay $250.00 and to have with you a crew of 2 at all times, plus at least one car!

There is another way to do this: you can enter the InYoUltra: http://inyoultra.com/
and either do the Badwater course, or do the whole course plus the Mt. Whitney summit. Go to the roster part to see what to do. You can also link to stories there.

And on an aside, I published a story about Jeff Sauter's attempt to do the unsupported solo crossing. Jeff finished the 135 mile Badwater part, but couldn't quite make the Whitney summit. Here is a story about the one person who has pulled it off:
http://www.badwater.com/stories/1999/99ulrichsolo.html







Wednesday, June 28, 2006

It is wrong of me to do this

But I really laughed pretty hard:
http://mediamatters.org/items/200606280001?src=item200606280001

It is a page which links to some Coulter clips.

If you'd like more comedy, read this:

Tuesday June 27, 2006

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Let's Make Howard Dean Get Mad!!

Dear Conservative Friend,

I'm writing you today because of an alarming situation developing in Washington.

Every conservative ideal we've fought for over the last six years . . .

. . . might be erased this November.

Unless you act now. Click here to support the NRSC.

If we allow the liberals to take back the Senate in 2006, it will only be a matter of time before the Kennedy/Clinton/Reid-led Democrats erase all of our conservative accomplishments.

I guarantee you they will:

  • Increase your taxes.
  • Block all of President Bush's judicial nominees and allow our courts to be run by liberal activist judges.
  • Call for endless congressional investigations, congressional censure and even impeachment of President Bush.
  • Put the War on Terror on the back-burner.
  • Go on an unprecedented spending spree.
  • Lay the groundwork for taking back the White House in 2008.

Folks, we just can't let this happen.

Democrats have been preparing for this year's election since their crushing defeat in 2004. They've decided upon a strategy of obstruction, empty rhetoric, and criticism designed to mislead the American people into thinking they can provide effective leadership.

But you and I know the truth.

If the liberals take back Congress this November, they will use the House and Senate as microphones to amplify their distorted view -- not only of the President and his agenda -- but of our shared conservative ideals and principles.

Conservative principles, I might add, that have led to lower taxes, two conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, and a time of tremendous economic growth and low unemployment.

This November, in races across the country, voters have a choice . . .

. . . between going back in time to the failed liberal ideals of the Democrats . . .

. . . or proven conservative leadership of results.

That's why I need your help today -- to make sure we don't go back in time and that we continue to elect conservatives to the Senate.

Click here to help the NRSC fight for your conservative principles.

In Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum is fighting off a challenge from Bob Casey, Jr. whose only qualifications for office seem to be his last name (he's the son of a former governor) and the "D" attached to his name. Contrast that with Santorum's storied career, and you know who has provided Pennsylvania with a proven record of leadership.

In Washington State, Mike McGavick is taking on Democrat Senator Maria Cantwell, and represents one of our best opportunities in a blue state. His conservative message and no-nonsense approach to the most important issues of our time is in stark contrast to Cantwell's ineffective liberal record.

And in Maryland, Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele is our candidate in an open seat race that includes a crowded Democrat primary. You can be sure, though, that whoever the Democrats pick will be a parrot of the party's Washington liberal leadership. Steele is the commonsense alternative, and would add another strong Republican voice in the Senate.

To learn more about all the Senate races in play this year and how you can get involved, please visit our website www.gopsenators.com/races2006.

And to help stop the liberals from taking over Congress this November, I urge you to make the most generous contribution of $25, $50, $100 or even $250 the NRSC right now.

With your help the NRSC can continue to fight to protect our Republican Senate Majority by ensuring that our conservative principles continue to guide our government, and that Democrats' hands are kept off the Senate committee gavels that wield so much power.

Because if we fail, you can bet your bottom dollar that Democrats will work to impeach President Bush.

Thank you for your continued support of the principles we share and may God continue to bless America.

Sincerely,

Mark Stephens
Executive Director
,
NRSC

I have to admit that I am baffled by this. Economy is good? For whom? Raise taxes? Well, whatever happend to "shared sacrifice"? If the continued occupation of Iraq is so important, should we all be willing to pitch in and tighten our belts to help pay for the cost of it? The whole cost, which includes taking care of our veterans when they come home?

Few words today

First: Politics and Social Commentary
click on the cartoon to see a larger version



Next, some Pekin Tri Photos courtesy of Bob Padilla of Running Central
(Click logo for store location and hours)









And one last shot showing the not so attractive. No, there is nothing wrong with the triathlete on the bicycle; I am talking about the dork wearing the white shirt and ball-cap. What I was doing here was recording his number and directing him to the T2 area (T1: transition from swim to bike; T2 is the transition from the bike to the run).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Being Right does't always help

A couple of interesting articles from the Smirking Chimp.

First a warning to my fellow Democrats: being right "all along" can be spun into a negative.

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/article.php?sid=26649&mode=&order=0

Weldon Berger, BTC News

General George Casey has adopted the Democratic position on withdrawing troops from Iraq, and the LA Times says that's bad for Dems. Greg Sargent at the American Prospect is bewildered by that construct: "What is it going to take," he asks, "to get the media to stop spinning everything -- even a situation where Republicans are being forced to follow where the Dems led -- as good for the GOP?"

The answer to his question is "a generation of political dominance by Democrats," because that's how long it will be until the current generation of reporters, editors and analysts die off or retire permanently to the Home for Shell-Shocked Pundits, generously endowed by Tom Friedman of the "Hulk Smash" school of foreign policy.

What's at work here are two factors. First, Democrats are known to be national defense pussies, so any Democratic call for withdrawing from Iraq, however mild the call and however incremental the withdrawal, is a sign of defeatist weakness: Democrats want to get out because we're losing. Republicans, on the other hand, are strong on national defense; if they want to get out, it's an expression of victorious realism; if we leave, it'll be because our work there is done, not because we're losing. For a great many members of the press, it is quite literally impossible for the Democrats to be on the right side of this issue no matter what side they're on.

A second, more personal dynamic is at work here as well: the Weisberg's Syndrome pandemic. Weisberg's Syndrome is a mental defect named after the Typhoid Mary of the illness, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, and is common among early supporters of the Iraq invasion who have since turned against it.



The primary symptom is resentment toward those who opposed the invasion and have remained consistent in their opposition, and it displays so: "I didn't realize it was all a lie. Therefore no one could have realized it was all a lie. Therefore anyone who did realize it was all a lie was only guessing based upon their blind hatred for Bush, whereas I arrived at my conclusions through a rigorous, objective analysis of the 'facts.' Therefore, I am a superior human to whom those who were right should apologize."

Weisberg bequeathed his name to the syndrome by virtue of a New York Times review of James Wolcott's "Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants"; the review is a veritable etiology of the disease itself and of a certain brand of "journalism," and it culminates in this:

The free pass given the author's allies of the moment -- Michael Moore, Joe Conason, Eric Alterman, Sidney Blumenthal -- calls into question his choice of targets like Thomas Friedman, Andrew Sullivan and my colleague Mickey Kaus, shrewder commentators with whom he simply disagrees.

Got that? Mickey Kaus and Tom "Hulk Smash" Friedman -- Friedman! -- and of course Weisberg, by virtue of his meta-view of the situation, are "shrewder commentators" than Wolcott and others who opposed the war because their opposition represents the apogee of "Bush hating" and not a shrewder assessment of reality.

And that's what Democrats are facing: those who opposed the war suffer the resentment of Weisberg's Syndrome victims; those who supported the war but no longer do are simply flip-flopping out of political desperation; those who, like Jack Murtha, can't be tagged as vaporous defense weaklings are simply defeatists. Republicans, on the other hand, either made the same mistakes as Weisberg's Syndrome victims and can be forgiven for doing so because they acted out of principle based upon the compelling evidence at hand, or they're the visionaries who realize that we're winning the war and can begin withdrawing troops as "conditions on the ground" warrant.

Which they won't. But let's not mention that.

Source: BTC News
http://www.btcnews.com/btcnews/1398
Next, an interesting take on George W. Bush: it is a well put together piece on how the current incompetence of the government is, in some sense, deliberate. The result is that we shouldn't let Repbulican incumbents (and certain faux-Democrats) distance themselves from George Bush.

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/article.php?sid=26659&mode=&order=0

George Lakoff, Marc Ettlinger and Sam Ferguson

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush's plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. For example, Nancy Pelosi said "The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader." Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush's disasters -- Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit -- are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault. Bush will not be running again, but other conservatives will. His governing philosophy is theirs as well. We should be putting the onus where it belongs, on all conservative office holders and candidates who would lead us off the same cliff.

To Bush's base, his bumbling folksiness is part of his charm -- it fosters conservative populism. Bush plays up this image by proudly stating his lack of interest in reading and current events, his fondness for naps and vacations and his self-deprecating jokes. This image causes the opposition to underestimate his capacities -- disregarding him as a complete idiot -- and deflects criticism of his conservative allies. If incompetence is the problem, it's all about Bush. But, if conservatism is the problem, it is about a set of ideas, a movement and its many adherents.

The idea that Bush is incompetent is a curious one. Consider the following (incomplete) list of major initiatives the Bush administration, with a loyal conservative Congress, has accomplished:



* Centralizing power within the executive branch to an unprecedented degree
* Starting two major wars, one started with questionable intelligence and in a manner with which the military disagreed
* Placing on the Supreme Court two far-right justices, and stacking the lower federal courts with many more
* Cutting taxes during wartime, an unprecedented event
* Passing a number of controversial bills such as the PATRIOT Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Medicare Drug bill, the Bankruptcy bill and a number of massive tax cuts
* Rolling back and refusing to enforce a host of basic regulatory protections
* Appointing industry officials to oversee regulatory agencies
* Establishing a greater role for religion through faith-based initiatives
* Passing Orwellian-titled legislation assaulting the environment -- "The Healthy Forests Act" and the "Clear Skies Initiative" -- to deforest public lands, and put more pollution in our skies
* Winning re-election and solidifying his party's grip on Congress

These aren't signs of incompetence. As should be painfully clear, the Bush administration has been overwhelmingly competent in advancing its conservative vision. It has been all too effective in achieving its goals by determinedly pursuing a conservative philosophy.

It's not Bush the man who has been so harmful, it's the conservative agenda.

The Conservative Agenda

Conservative philosophy has three fundamental tenets: individual initiative, that is, government's positive role in people's lives outside of the military and police should be minimized; the President is the moral authority; and free markets are enough to foster freedom and opportunity.

The conservative vision for government is to shrink it - to "starve the beast" in Conservative Grover Norquist's words. The conservative tagline for this rationale is that "you can spend your money better than the government can." Social programs are considered unnecessary or "discretionary" since the primary role of government is to defend the country's border and police its interior. Stewardship of the commons, such as allocation of healthcare or energy policy, is left to people's own initiative within the free market. Where profits cannot be made -- conservation, healthcare for the poor -- charity is meant to replace justice and the government should not be involved.

Given this philosophy, then, is it any wonder that the government wasn't there for the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Conservative philosophy places emphasis on the individual acting alone, independent of anything the government could provide. Some conservative Sunday morning talk show guests suggested that those who chose to live in New Orleans accepted the risk of a devastating hurricane, the implication being that they thus forfeited any entitlement to government assistance. If the people of New Orleans suffered, it was because of their own actions, their own choices and their own lack of preparedness. Bush couldn't have failed if he bore no responsibility.

The response to Hurricane Katrina -- rather, the lack of response -- was what one should expect from a philosophy that espouses that the government can have no positive role in its citizen's lives. This response was not about Bush's incompetence, it was a conservative, shrink-government response to a natural disaster.

Another failure of this administration during the Katrina fiasco was its wholesale disregard of the numerous and serious hurricane warnings. But this failure was a natural outgrowth of the conservative insistence on denying the validity of global warming, not ineptitude. Conservatives continue to deny the validity of global warming, because it runs contrary to their moral system. Recognizing global warming would call for environmental regulation and governmental efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Regulation is a perceived interference with the free-market, Conservatives' golden calf. So, the predictions of imminent hurricanes -- based on recognizing global warming -- were not heeded. Conservative free market convictions trumped the hurricane warnings.

Our budget deficit is not the result of incompetent fiscal management. It too is an outgrowth of conservative philosophy. What better way than massive deficits to rid social programs of their funding?

In Iraq, we also see the impact of philosophy as much as a failure of execution.

The idea for the war itself was born out of deep conservative convictions about the nature and capacity of US military force. Among the Project for a New American Century's statement of principles (signed in 1997 by a who's who of the architects of the Iraq war -- Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis Libby among others) are four critical points:

* we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future
* we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values
* we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad
* we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

Implicit in these ideas is that the United States military can spread democracy through the barrel of a gun. Our military might and power can be a force for good.

It also indicates that the real motive behind the Iraq war wasn't to stop Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, but was a test of neoconservative theory that the US military could reshape Middle East geo-politics. The manipulation and disregard of intelligence to sell the war was not incompetence, it was the product of a conservative agenda.

Unfortunately, this theory exalts a hubristic vision over the lessons of history. It neglects the realization that there is a limit to a foreign army's ability to shape foreign politics for the good. Our military involvement in Vietnam, Lebanon, the Philippines, Cuba (prior to Castro) and Panama, or European imperialist endeavors around the globe should have taught us this lesson. Democracy needs to be an organic, homegrown movement, as it was in this country. If we believe so deeply in our ideals, they will speak for themselves and inspire others.

During the debate over Iraq, the conservative belief in the unquestioned authority and moral leadership of the President helped shape public support. We see this deference to the President constantly: when Conservatives call those questioning the President's military decisions "unpatriotic"; when Conservatives defend the executive branch's use of domestic spying in the war on terror; when Bush simply refers to himself as the "decider." "I support our President" was a common justification of assent to the Iraq policy.

Additionally, as the implementer of the neoconservative vision and an unquestioned moral authority, our President felt he had no burden to forge international consensus or listen to the critiques of our allies. "You're with us, or you're against us," he proclaimed after 9/11.

Much criticism continues to be launched against this administration for ineptitude in its reconstruction efforts. Tragically, it is here too that the administration's actions have been shaped less by ineptitude than by deeply held conservative convictions about the role of government.

As noted above, Conservatives believe that government's role is limited to security and maintaining a free market. Given this conviction, it's no accident that administration policies have focused almost exclusively on the training of Iraqi police, and US access to the newly free Iraqi market -- the invisible hand of the market will take care of the rest. Indeed, George Packer has recently reported that the reconstruction effort in Iraq is nearing its end ("The Lessons of Tal Affar," The New Yorker, April 10th, 2006). Iraqis must find ways to rebuild themselves, and the free market we have constructed for them is supposed to do this. This is not ineptitude. This is the result of deep convictions over the nature of freedom and the responsibilities of governments to their people.

Finally, many of the miscalculations are the result of a conservative analytic focus on narrow causes and effects, rather than mere incompetence. Evidence for this focus can be seen in conservative domestic policies: Crime policy is based on punishing the criminals, independent of any effort to remedy the larger social issues that cause crime; immigration policy focuses on border issues and the immigrants, and ignores the effects of international and domestic economic policy on population migration; environmental policy is based on what profits there are to be gained or lost today, without attention paid to what the immeasurable long-term costs will be to the shared resource of our environment; education policy, in the form of vouchers, ignores the devastating effects that dismantling the public school system will have on our whole society.

Is it any surprise that the systemic impacts of the Iraq invasion were not part of the conservative moral or strategic calculus used in pursuing the war?

The conservative war rhetoric focused narrowly on ousting Saddam -- he was an evil dictator, and evil cannot be tolerated, period. The moral implications of unleashing social chaos and collateral damage in addition to the lessons of history were not relevant concerns.

As a consequence, we expected to be greeted as liberators. The conservative plan failed to appreciate the complexities of the situation that would have called for broader contingency planning. It lacked an analysis of what else would happen in Iraq and the Middle East as a result of ousting the Hussein Government, such as an Iranian push to obtain nuclear weapons.

Joe Biden recently said, "if I had known the president was going to be this incompetent in his administration, I would not have given him the authority [to go to war]." Had Bush actually been incompetent, he would have never been able to lead us to war in Iraq. Had Bush been incompetent, he would not have been able to ram through hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Had Bush been incompetent, he would have been blocked from stacking the courts with right-wing judges. Incompetence, on reflection, might have actually been better for the country.

Hidden Successes

Perhaps the biggest irony of the Bush-is-incompetent frame is that these "failures" -- Iraq, Katrina and the budget deficit -- have been successes in terms of advancing the conservative agenda.

One of the goals of Conservatives is to keep people from relying on the federal government. Under Bush, FEMA was reorganized to no longer be a first responder in major natural disasters, but to provide support for local agencies. This led to the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. Now citizens, as well as local and state governments, have become distrustful of the federal government's capacity to help ordinary citizens. Though Bush's popularity may have suffered, enhancing the perception of federal government as inept turned out to be a conservative victory.

Conservatives also strive to get rid of protective agencies and social programs. The deficit Bush created through irresponsible tax cuts and a costly war in Iraq will require drastic budget cuts to remedy. Those cuts, conservatives know, won't come from military spending, particularly when they raise the constant specter of war. Instead, the cuts will be from what Conservatives have begun to call "non-military, discretionary spending;" that is, the programs that contribute to the common good like the FDA, EPA, FCC, FEMA, OSHA and the NLRB. Yet another success for the conservative agenda.

Both Iraq and Katrina have enriched the coffers of the conservative corporate elite, thus further advancing the conservative agenda. Halliburton, Lockhead Martin and US oil companies have enjoyed huge profit margins in the last six years. Taking Iraq's oil production off-line in the face of rising international demand meant prices would rise, making the oil inventories of Exxon and other firms that much more valuable, leading to record profits. The destruction wrought by Katrina and Iraq meant billions in reconstruction contracts. The war in Iraq (and the war in Afghanistan) meant billions in military equipment contracts. Was there any doubt where those contracts would go? Chalk up another success for Bush's conservative agenda.

Bush also used Katrina as an opportunity to suspend the environmental and labor protection laws that Conservatives despise so much. In the wake of Katrina, environmental standards for oil refineries were temporarily suspended to increase production. Labor laws are being thwarted to drive down the cost of reconstruction efforts. So, amidst these "disasters," Conservatives win again.

Where most Americans see failure in Iraq - George Miller recently called Iraq a "blunder of historic proportions" - conservative militarists are seeing many successes. Conservatives stress the importance of our military -- our national pride and worth is expressed through its power and influence. Permanent bases are being constructed as planned in Iraq, and America has shown the rest of the world that we can and will preemptively strike with little provocation. They succeeded in a mobilization of our military forces based on ideological pretenses to impact foreign policy. The war has struck fear in other nations with a hostile show of American power. The conservatives have succeeded in strengthening what they perceive to be the locus of the national interest --military power.

It's NOT Incompetence

When Progressives shout "Incompetence!" it obscures the many conservative successes. The incompetence frame drastically misses the point, that the conservative vision is doing great harm to this country and the world. An understanding of this and an articulate progressive response is needed. Progressives know that government can and should have a positive role in our lives beyond simple, physical security. It had a positive impact during the progressive era, busting trusts, and establishing basic labor standards. It had a positive impact during the new deal, softening the blow of the depression by creating jobs and stimulating the economy. It had a positive role in advancing the civil rights movement, extending rights to previously disenfranchised groups. And the United States can have a positive role in world affairs without the use of its military and expressions of raw power. Progressives acknowledge that we are all in this together, with "we" meaning all people, across all spectrums of race, class, religion, sex, sexual preference and age. "We" also means across party lines, state lines and international borders.

The mantra of incompetence has been an unfortunate one. The incompetence frame assumes that there was a sound plan, and that the trouble has been in the execution. It turns public debate into a referendum on Bush's management capabilities, and deflects a critique of the impact of his guiding philosophy. It also leaves open the possibility that voters will opt for another radically conservative president in 2008, so long as he or she can manage better. Bush will not be running again, so thinking, talking and joking about him being incompetent offers no lessons to draw from his presidency.

Incompetence obscures the real issue. Bush's conservative philosophy is what has damaged this country and it is his philosophy of conservatism that must be rejected, whoever endorses it.

Conservatism itself is the villain that is harming our people, destroying our environment, and weakening our nation. Conservatives are undermining American values through legislation almost every day. This message applies to every conservative bill proposed to Congress. The issue that arises every day is which philosophy of governing should shape our country. It is the issue of our times. Unless conservative philosophy itself is discredited, Conservatives will continue their domination of public discourse, and with it, will continue their domination of politics.

(c)The Rockridge Institute, 2006 (We invite the free distribution of this piece)

Walking a Marathon

In this post, I'll give a very brief discussion of walking a marathon.

If someone is thinking about walking a marathon, some typical questions are: is this something I should even try? Am I fit enought to think about trying, and if so, how long will it take me to be ready?

I am not going to answer these questions, but I'll direct you to the best, most concise advice I can find:

Patti Finkie from Team Oregon has a nice, consise piece here:
http://www.teamoregon.com/publications/wlkmar.html
(note: by volksmarch she means an orgainized walking event. I'd substitute "occasional local fun run that allows for walkers).

Of course, this doesn't tell you how to train or what sort of marathon to try (most marathons have time limits, some of which would be too tough for most walkers to meet).

A more comprehensive guide to marathon walking can be found at The Walking Site's Marathon Walking Section. Now if you really want even more information, along with training schedules, etc., you can try Dave McGovern's Book The Complete Guide to Marathon Walking.

I should point out that there is sometimes a stigma associated with walking. For example, some runners asked me why I was walking as "I used to run". Or other newbies wondered why someone "as fit as I was" would want to walk.

Here is one reason why: when most people think of "walkers", they think this:



instead of this:
Note the runners in the background attempting to keep up with Angela; she walked this marathon in the 4:50's.
And they certainly don't think of this:
These are Olympic racewalkers; they guy in the red is Polish racewalker Robert Korzenowski who won the Olympic Gold Medal in the 50 km (31 mile) racewalk in 1996, 2000 and 2004. He also won the 20K in 2000 as well; his personal best for the 50K is 3:36, which is amounts to a 6:58 minutes per mile pace! (right at a 3 hour marathon split).

So, one can walk the marathon in a very athletic way. For the record, my best marathon walk was 4:44 at Quad Cities (2002; my name is listed as "Manyes") though my technique would have drawn a ticker tape parade of "red cards" had there been racewalking judges there. My best walk with reasonable technique was 5:12 at Quad Cities in 2004.


Above: Quad Cities, 2004. Yep, I am leaning forward from the waist but there is nothing wrong with the knees. I do have some hip action.

My fastest; I am around mile 20. Note: no hip action at all and I am leaning forward. But the lead leg is straight at this phase; it is when the leg moves back that I had trouble.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ultramarathons: And I thought that McNaughton was hard

The Western States 100 must have been downright miserable this year. Many tough, experienced ultrarunners didn't meet early cut-offs and were pulled from the course.

And, the person who lead for the first 99.75 miles got disqualified on the track!

http://www.auburnjournal.com/articles/2006/06/26/sports/local_sports/01western.txt

A different kind of history

In between hugs from his 5-year-old daughter, Graham Cooper thought about the deeper meaning of his 2006 Western States Endurance Run championship.

"The people in a race like this are going to have their share of good luck and bad luck," Cooper said Sunday at the 33rd annual race's awards ceremony. "It just so happened I had good luck, and his bad luck came so close to the finish line."

Brian Morrison suffered that "bad luck." As he lay in an Auburn hospital bed the morning after supposedly winning the Western States, race officials disqualified the 27-year-old because several pacers helped him across the finish line Saturday night at Placer High's Le Feb vre Stadium track.

Never in race history had a winner been disqualified.

A hundred miles after beginning the grueling race in Squaw Valley, competitors must complete roughly three-quarters of a lap around the track to reach the finish line.

Fighting hyponatremia (a lack of sodium in the bloodstream) in addition to the day's triple-digit temperatures, a dazed Morrison finished with an unofficial time of 18 hours 5 minutes and 44 seconds.

However he had some help, which directly violates WS 100 rules. Pace runners Jason Davis and and Scott Jurek helped Morrison up after he fell to the track.

Several other well wishers came to his aid before he was assisted across the finish line, while Morrison was unconscious when race doctor Bob Lind examined him after the race.

A 36-year-old banking executive from Oakland, Cooper jogged in alongside daughter Minnie and 4-year-old son Henry with an official mark of 18:17:27.

An ambulance soon took the Seattle resident to Auburn Sutter Faith Hospital. Morrison is currently recovering at the hospital and said he will likely be there for several more days.

"I feel a lot stronger," Morrison said by phone from his hospital bed. "My legs were like jelly last night, but it didn't take me that long to start feeling back to normal. I'd say it's really disappointing. I went to bed last night thinking I had won. It came as a bit of a shocker today."

Western States Endurance Run Foundation officials voted Sunday morning to give Cooper the crown. It was a unanimous decision, according to Western States board of trustees member John Trent.

Soon after leaving his job at an investment banker at Deutsche Bank in February, Cooper plunged headlong into training for Western States. Two months after winning a 50-mile race in San Jose, he affirmed that his latest ultraunning feat was his most satisfying.

"By a mile, or in this case, 100," he said. "Right now, it's still euphoria. I was just hoping for a top 10 (finish). Even last night when I thought I was second, it was still an amazing feeling."

Jurek and Nikki Kimball won the respective 2004 men's and women's races. Kimball made it two titles in three years, coming in just after midnight Sunday morning with winning time of 19:26.50. Hers was was the third-best overall time, coming right behind men's official runner-up Erik Skaden (19:09:05).

"It means more because of the heat," the 35-year-old from Montana said. "I had to adjust. I had to run the start of the race quicker than I would have wanted to."

After winning the previous seven Western States races, Jurek skipped this year's to focus on the Badwater Ultramarathon - which begins in Death Valley and ends 135 miles later at Mt. Whitney - later this month.

Jurek told Morrison of the official ruling this morning.

"We helped Brian up foremost because of his health," he said. "It was too dangerous to have him crawling around on the track."

No one on Morrison's team disputed the race.

"Calling this a controversy, that could be a little extreme," Trent said. "What do you call this? I don't think we'll ever see this again. At least I hope we don't."



On a couple of related notes: Dean Karnazes finished 15'th. Of course, when it comes to ultras, even excellent athletes can be humbled on any given day, and on this day, just finishing was excellent. I feel for the the person who "finished" the race but wasn't listed as an official finisher as he was a few minutes over 30 hours.

Another note is about deyhdration. In the July/August 2006 issue of Marathon and Beyond, Matt Fitzgerald has an interesting article about dehydration. He points out that mild dehydration is not necessairly a health risk; in fact, he says: "you stand to perform best by drinking to slow dehydration than to prevent it. (page 137).

Slow runners and walkers should drink when thirsty; if one doesn't lose a little bit of weight then they are drinking too much. Faster more intense runners might need a different strategy.

I have to admit that I sometimes get amused; I'll go to a yoga class (which is in an air conditioned room and lasts about an hour) and see people taking sips from a water bottle. Come on; we are talking about 1 hour of easy exercise! When I go for longer training walks, I often won't drink until 2-3 hours into my walk; of course I need to drink when I am really pushing the pace (like in a marathon that I am trying for time). Then, a cup of water every 2-3 miles or so does the trick.

Of course, one must be careful to hydrate AFTER the race is over; one can indeed suffer from long term dehydration.

http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/0824.htm

In practice, competing endurance runners and canoeists generally drink about 500 ml/hour, and dehydrate at a rate of 500-1000 ml/hour. Even triathletes, who as a group are relatively knowledgeable about nutrition and hydration, have been shown to lose an average of 1.7% and 3.7% of bodyweight for a 3-hour and a 12-hour event respectively. Whereas cyclists are known to tolerate 1.2 litres/hour of a 6% CHO-electrolyte drink, runners are more likely to experience discomfort, and may believe that time lost through slowing down to drink may not be recovered. The volume that most athletes choose to drink during exercise replaces less than 50% of their losses. With this in mind, effective post-event hydration is vital in between consecutive heats or events spanning several days.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Photos June 2006: Pekin Triathlon


For some reason, Cheryl Jefferies doesn't look that excited about the swim.

Larry appears to be a bit more confident; then again he did well at last year's Big Shoulders 5K swim.




Shevaun Finnel, getting ready for the swim; she was to finish second in the women's division and to clock the fastest bike leg. In the next photo of her, you can see the tri number on her right calf; she is giving that swim cap one final adjustment. She opted to not use a wetsuit.



In this photo, you see triathletes helping each other with the wetsuit; this can be a chore. Though the water temperature was 82, some used the wetsuit for the flotation advantage. The downside, aside from the time lost in transition, is that some of the athletes got overheated.


Next, we see a strong finish to the run (and to the event).



This is what the finishers saw as they came in.



The weather was very warm by awards time.