Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Meters swum today: None. I can explain.
I think everybody has a period of time that they would cheerfully chop their own arm off rather than live through a second time. For me that was junior high school. How bad was it? Well, let's just say it's a really, really good thing that I didn't have access to firearms then. I can't often compare anything to what happened in junior high school but the "start and turn workshop" that I went to last night for my swim team might be close.
To start with, I was gonna enter a swim race this Saturday. My swim team has meets four times a year and I thought, seeing as I'm really good at butterfly and so forth and so on, that I might enter a 50-meter butterfly race. Not to win or anything, mind you. I expected to place dead last. But I thought, what the hell, the last time I was in a swim race I was like 14 and I'm not getting any younger. So I showed up to this start and turn workshop thingy on the argument that the last time I leaped off a starting block, I was a whole lot smaller than I am now. And, you know, it doesn't hurt to know how to do these things. What I discovered is that, basically, I can't do these things.
The pool where we met is a private boy's school in Preston Hollow. Where is Preston Hollow, you ask. Well, it's in Dallas, but it's the part of Dallas where George and Laura Bush bought a home recently, if that tells you anything. Anyway, the school was pretty fly. They even had their own observatory. And a pool of course. And here's where the problems began.
The end of the pool where the starting blocks live is 12 feet deep. There's no ladder or anything like that; one needs to brace one's hands on the edge of this pool, pull oneself up the side to about butt level, and climb out. I can do that in four feet of water. I can do it in five feet, six feet, and I think I once did seven feet. Twelve feet? Uh, no. Not gonna happen.
See, I push off the bottom with my feets. Given enough velocity and a firm enough push with the flat of my hands, I can raise myself up to the requisite butt level, and then gravity takes over. It's not graceful or pretty (I kind of feel like a sea lion scooting up a beach, and probably look like a whale in need of towing out to sea) but it can be done. Just not in twelve feet of water.
So what happened was, we did a dive off the blocks, surfaced, got critiqued. Then everybody else swam back to the blocks and pulled themselves up while I swam clear to the other end of the pool, the shallow end where it was only four feet deep, and rolled out of the water like the aforementioned leviathon in need of a trawler with a grappling hook. And then plodded back to the other end, where everybody else was comfortably standing. Over and over for an hour.
I mean, to everybody's credit, no one laughed or made fun. The coach was extra nice to me and several people came up to me afterwards and told me how brave they thought I was. And it's not like there were a whole lot of fat chicks at this workshop. Ie, there was only me and a bunch of Olympic contenders. But still.
Today I'm sore in lots of new and exciting places, I have bruises all over my knees and thighs, my ego may have suffered permanent damage, and I feel like a fool. So I'm skipping the swim race on Saturday. But hope springs eternal. Hm, the next meet is when? And I can lose how much weight by then?...
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Playing on the iPod: Rob Whitesides-Woo, from "Miracles"
It's that time in the Buddhist calendar year called the ango, when we all quit wandering aimlessly about the countryside, teaching and giving advice, and come back to the holy city of Sarnath, where we hang out for three months until it stops raining. Well, okay, this being the modern world and all that, and me typing these words on a computer and not writing with a dip pen, I guess it's that time in the Buddhist calendar year when Tricycle Magazine gets up to something spiritual and issues some grand challenge to all Buddhists everywhere. Last year there was a 28-day meditation challenge called "Commit to Sit," which spawned quite a lot of enthusiastic letters and, eventually, a book. This year they're going one better and launching The Big Sit, a 90-day variation on the theme.
I know I've said this before, but Tricycle Magazine intimidates hell out of me. I'm a pretty smart person. I'm a member of Mensa, I have a degree in English literature, and I work with a bunch of adult geeks in a law firm that specializes in construction defect litigation. That's the area of law where we argue about why buildings leak, collapse or otherwise inconvenience their owners (and more important, whose fault it is). One of the reasons they hired me was my science background and my ability to grasp certain principles of engineering and physics. Smarts. I has dem. Yet, Tricycle Magazine makes me feel like a rather stupid five year old child. It's one of the few things I've ever had to read with a dictionary in one hand and a Sanskrit/English phrase book in the other. And while Zen is simple ("things just are"), it's by no means easy ("and what are you going to do about it?") It's kind of an intellectual exercise where intellect does not help you, if that makes any sense.
All the same, I'm gonna try this Big Sit thingy. I've pretty much established a solid habit of meditating 20 minutes a day. I'm going to try to kick it up to 30. I'm also going to try to do something radical like get in bed by 10:00 on school nights and show up on time to the pool in the morning. There are weekly Dharma talks on a piece of writing called the Genjokoan, which is one of the odder couplings of sentences into paragraphs that one will ever read. Here's a sample:
- Those who have great realization of delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about realization are sentient beings. Further, there are those who continue realizing beyond realization, who are in delusion throughout delusion. When buddhas are truly buddhas, they do not necessarily notice that they are buddhas. However, they are actualized buddhas, who go on actualizing Buddha.
To which I say, "Huh?" Good thing there are weekly Dharma talks. Best of all, there's an online monastic community. Kind of a Facebook for would-be Buddhist monks. If you were to go there, you would find one "Jen of Dallas" floating around. That would be me. Anyway, check it out. It's fascinating.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Meters swum today: 1400
In case anybody's wondering what happened to the big courtroom showdown between the Noble Building Owners, the Valiant Tenants, the Innocent Co- Defendants and the Evil Roof Builders (that would be us), we got postponed until April in a flurry of pretrial shenanigans that would not be out of place on an episode of The Practice. Obviously I can't get into the details but it involved a surprise witness, some differential calculus, many hours of interesting videotape and a rather annoyed judge who really wanted to see this thing the hell over and done with. One can only wait with bated breath for the next chapter to unfold.
What This Means For Me is, I have a little more time to get everything done. Yay! Of course, I also have to go back to all the other work I wasn't doing because of the Big Case. So it's been a little wild around the old office lately. One thing that's loomed like a shadow on the sun is the possibility that now, after the shenanigans and shouting died down, cooler heads might actually prevail. In short, there's a fond, faint hope of settlement. Not that I have any control whatsoever over this but I can't decide if I want it to settle or not. On the one hand, I have lots and lots of other work I could be doing, much of it more interesting. On the other hand, I did buy a new dress. (Yes, I did say dress. I show up in the silly things for exactly two reasons; trial and job interviews.)
So while that's churning along toward whatever conclusion fate will have, I've been able to get some writing done. No, really. And I'm about to boldly go where no Jenster has gone before; the strange and foreign land of self-publishing. I've been to many strange places in my sordid literary history (no, really, I do have one), but that's one place I have never ventured. So we'll see how it goes. Check back here in about a week and hopefully we'll have rolled the thing out.
Meantime, Joan has just made a Schadenfreude pie. Y'all will need to excuse me while I go check it out.
Playing in the background: Enya, "Shepherd Moons"
Last night I saw my second-favorite astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, speak at UT Arlington. Yes, I realize not everybody has a favorite astrophysicist, much less two. Yes, I admit that I like Michio Kaku one nano more than Tyson because he figure skates. Am I shallow? Maybe. But anyway: It was such a treat to see Dr. Tyson live - and in cowboy boots, no less! I've read a couple of his books, seen him on TV a number of times, and as Dr. Tyson himself points out, there's only one astrophysicist per million people on Earth, so go see one speak whenever you can. And ask lots of questions!
Dr. Tyson's presentation was a departure from astrophysics, kind of, into a rather more earthly dilemma. As Americans, we pride ourselves on being the world leaders in math and science. However, and this is a quote, "We Americans have a fundamental disconnect between the country we think we are and the country we actually are." During the 50s and 60s, with Russia as our enemy and innovation seen primarily as a way to win wars, America was indeed the world leader. Since then, however, we've been losing ground - or rather, standing still as other countries pass us by. Tyson presented an unsettling picture of the decisions we've made in this regard and their consequences. He hasn't written a book about this yet, but his good friend Carl Sagan has. It's called The Demon Haunted World. Go get it, read it, and then come back to this blog post. Done? Good. We move on.
First, for those who don't actually believe that Americans are falling behind in math and science, Tyson presented some compelling evidence. Best example: Buildings in America, millions of them, that don't have a 13th floor. We have somehow agreed with each other to mislabel elevator buttons and lie about the actual height of our buildings because some people, who have no credible reason for this, are afraid of the number 13. Second best example: Actual headlines from various newspapers with obvious math errors. "Half Of Schools In District Below Average, Study Says." "FAA: 80% Of Airplane Crash Survivors Read Safety Sheet." Well, the first one's obvious. The second one's just meaningless, unless you can also state with a certainty that a lesser percentage of crash non-survivors read the safety sheet. Which you can't because they're dead. Oh, and here's my favorite: Slightly less than half of Americans don't "believe" in evolution. Um, hello? If I don't believe in gravity, will I float away?
Second, Tyson presented some of the consequences of our decision to cede the math and science innovations to Europe and China. Hurricane Katrina destroying New Orleans, for example. News flash, the hurricane didn't destroy New Orleans. The hurricane was over and gone. The failure of the levees destroyed New Orleans. Bad engineering destroyed New Orleans. Another example: The bridge on I-35 falling into the river. Tyson had a slide of this disaster, and he said, "I look at this and ask myself what country I'm living in." Probably the most poignant example, though, is all the stuff we're losing as a result. The opportunity to name new things. The economic progress that comes from new technology (witness the explosion of jobs to manufacture, and work on, computers since the 1970s.) The ability to defend ourselves against technologically superior enemies. We could very well descience ourselves out of existence.
I think everybody was pretty impressed with his talk, though I was a bit disheartened at one of the questions during the Q&A session (he called it "voir dire"). She asked if we should be afraid of bad things happening in the year 2012 or was it all a hoax. He said, "It's all a hoax. Next question." In all seriousness, though, he pointed out that the dreaded alignment of the center of our galaxy, the moon and the earth that will happen on December 21, 2012, which is supposed to be very very bad, happens every frick'n year on December 21. Too bad nobody asked me the question; I'd have said, "Oh, yeah, it'll be just like the Y2K thing. You probably remember, civilization came to a screeching halt, all our technology failed us, there was rioting in the streets, people were starving and that's why we're all living in grass huts now." (But Dr. Tyson may be my sarcasm equal. He should surpass me now that I'm trying to dampen the snarkitude.)
As far as science for the public, though, I've never seen anybody get across complex principles as easily as Dr. Tyson. He explained Newton's First Law of Motion as it relates to seat belts. Most people who refuse to wear seat belts have never had a course in physics. If they had, they'd know that when the car hits a brick wall and stops dead, their bodies - which, without the seat belt, are not attached to the car - keep going forward until they smash through the windshield. Why? Because objects in motion tend to want to continue to be in motion. Until they're stopped by a brick wall. Or a windshield. Which hurts. Have you ever run your face into a brick wall? Probably not. The fastest a human being can run - an Olympic sprinter, say - is about 23 miles an hour. So what happens if you hit your face into a brick wall at, say, 35 miles an hour? It's not pretty. Physics may save lives, people. Glory be to particles!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Meters swum today: None. I did, however, punch a great many holes in a great many sheets of paper.
Having eight babies at once is...
C. An obvious play to one woman's selfish ego with absolutely no concern for the offspring that result from this medical "miracle."
D. A clear breach of medical ethics.
E. None of my business.
Hate to disappoint everybody, but I'm going with "E".
I am of course talking about "Octo-Mom," the California woman who despite being the mother of six children under six decided to be implanted with multiple embryos in hopes of having "just one more." Instead she had, uh, eight. Hence the term. Yeah, it reminds me of that air freshener commercial with the octopus that's floating around her house and doing eight things at once with her eight arms and - okay, I thought it was a little creepy, too, but I dig cephalopods. They're awesome. Did you know an octopus can crawl out of its tank, make its way down the aquarium stand and across the dry floor to another tank where something it wants to eat is hanging out, nab one of those suckers (a lobster in this case), and then carry the leftovers all the way back to the first tank and bury them (so as to avoid being caught)? I'm not making this up. I saw a special about octopi on "Nova" and--
Oh. Yeah, I guess I am off topic. Okay, back to the octuplets. As a mom of none myself, it's hard to imagine having even one baby, but eight - dear God, there's already almost seven billion people on this planet. Why in hell would this woman want eight at once? Where did she get a doctor to go along with this? (Probably the same place Michael Jackson got his plastic surgeon.) There oughta be a law. In fact, I'll write one right now. No multiple pregnancies over the number of six. No, five. No, better yet, four. Screw it; we'll just ban fertility drugs, in vitro treatments, and pretty much any other way of having babies besides the way Grandma did. Any doctor who does this stuff should lose his or her license. Or go to jail. No, both. Plus have to work in a Romanian orphanage for a year.
See the problem? See why I went with "E"? You start down this road, where you gonna stop? The government that tells you you can't have eight babies can also tell you you must have eight babies. (Nicolai Ceausescu did. When he was finally killed, Westerners were horrified to find a hundred thousand homeless orphans and just as many crammed into decrepit orphanages.) Besides, if we ban this stuff, people who really want their ridiculous multiple pregnancies will just go offshore.
Look, I don't think pregnancy is always a logical, well-thought-out decision. There's a lot wrong with "assisted reproduction," the biggest thing (to me) being that there's already so many kids in the world that need homes (see above re: Romanian orphans.) I also don't think it's the sort of thing we better start regulating. I dunno about you, but I'd not be very happy if the police started knocking on my door and asking me if I'd ovulated lately and was my last doctor's visit really about menstrual cramps. That's nobody else's business.
But what about the costs? What about taxpayers paying for all this medical care? What about this nutty lady setting up her own personal web site, for God's sake, soliciting donations through PayPal? What's going to happen to the eight kids, to say nothing of the six she already had?
All good points. And I wish I had an answer. But I still think we better leave it alone. My friend and bioethicist Viki Kind said it best: "In America you have the right to make a wrong decision about your health care." Yea verily, even your kids'.
My stomach dropped about a foot into the lower part of my abdomen. There's no sound on earth as scary as a tornado siren, except maybe "You'll be needin' ta replace that there engine, honey." I got up and went over to the door to make sure I wasn't imagining things and quickly switched the TV to "Fox 4 Warn Weather" (half an octopus, natch). Sure enough, there were big red swirly things headed right toward us on the weather map. I dunno what big red swirly things are, exactly, except that they're very bad, especially when they turn purple. Purple is really bad. It was raining like crazy outside but that's not so unusual for this time of year. Tornadoes kind of are. But hey, was I gonna argue with big swirly red things and half an octopus? No.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Meters swum today: None. 1650 yesterday though.
Letter from Noah Winer of MoveOn.Org follows:
Dear MoveOn member,
President Obama has a plan to create or save 3 million jobs. But did you hear what Rush Limbaugh said? "I hope he fails." Limbaugh might just get his way: he already helped convince every single House Republican to vote against the bill. Now his listeners are calling Congress to oppose the stimulus plan, and senators are mostly hearing from folks who oppose Obama's plan. The calls are scaring swing-vote senators—even Senate Democrats are saying they may oppose the stimulus.
The vote is expected any day. We've got to turn the tide quickly. Can you call and ask Senators Kay Hutchison and John Cornyn to support President Obama's economic stimulus plan?
Senator Kay Hutchison
Senator John Cornyn
Obama's stimulus plan will help real people, not the Wall Street banks. It's not perfect, but it's targeted on stimulating the economy immediately and investing wisely in long-term growth:
Millions of green jobs to double our clean energy production in three years.
Affordable health care for the unemployed...
Rush Limbaugh and other right-wingers don't think the government should help people survive tough economic times. And they don't want Obama to gain momentum for other progressive goals, like ending the war and making sure everyone gets health care. Please call and ask Senators Kay Hutchison and John Cornyn to support President Obama's economic stimulus plan.
–Noah, Ilyse, Matt, Tanya and the rest of the team
P.S. You can read the complete legislative text of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 at:
Want to support our work? We're entirely funded by our 5 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here.
Dear Mr. Winer (that's an unfortunate name, by the way, have you ever thought of changing it?):
I wouldn't worry about Rush Limbaugh. There are always idiots like him ready to slam things he knows nothing about. But I personally have a real problem with the stimulus package, in general as well as How It Stands. I'm not so sure bailing out the banks is such a good idea, for one thing. We've already dumped $125 billion in aid into four of the largest banks and today they're worth $437 billion less than they were before they got the money. Second, I'm all for anything that'll help working families, especially the COBRA assistance which is something we should have done years ago, but where is this money coming from? We're borrowing against assets that may or may not materialize. If they don't, we'll be in much worse shape than we would be if we just let things lie.
Recent stats show that the savings rate in the U.S. is finally increasing (it was -2% last year) and that a lot of people are taking a hard look at how they're spending their money. I sure am, and I can live without quite a bit. Naturally, if people are spending less, the economy will not improve - but THAT JUST MAY BE THE WAY IT HAS TO BE FOR A WHILE. If we're going to stop pillaging the planet's resources, slow down global warming and avert the next big oil crisis, we will need to get away from this idea that a continuously growing economy is a necessary thing. Does this suck in a number of ways? Yes, but these are the decisions we should have been making in 1946, when WWII ended, instead of leaping headfirst into the arms race and suburbia and the culture of the car and the era of conspicuous consumption that got us into the mess we're in now.
Statistic: The United States consumes 25% of the resources produced by the entire planet, every year. Statistic: The United States has less than 5% of the world's total population. THIS IS NOT A SUSTAINABLE SYSTEM. There's a whole rest of the world out there (thank God President Obama has figured this out) and everything we do is going to affect all 6.3 billion of our fellow citizens. We can make responsible spending decisions now, or we can get a shovel and dig ourselves in even deeper.
Hey, countries go bankrupt. It's happened to several Latin American states. California, which would have the world's eighth largest economy if it were its own country, is teetering on the brink right now. Which is worse, bankruptcy or mass starvation? Bankruptcy or a vast increase in the flood of illegal aliens crossing our borders because things are better here at the expense of almost everywhere else? Bankruptcy or a surge in terrorism directed against the West, caused by lots of 18 to 25 year old men who can't get married and start families because they can't get decent jobs or purchase workable land? (Here's a cure for terrorism: Wives. Trust me, you don't blow yourself up near as fast if you have six kids at home to feed. El Al figured this out years ago.)
But look: We don't have to go bankrupt. We can, instead, choose to stop spend money we don't have on stuff we don't need. Therefore I suggest, and will suggest to my congresspersons, that we do the following immediately:
- Close all our foreign military bases. I guess we can leave the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan for a while longer, but Germany, Japan and everybody else will probably be happy to see us go. It'll get a little crazy out there for a while but it'll settle down.
- Quit making weapons of mass destruction. We can already kill every living thing on the planet some ridiculous number of times - we don't need any more nukes.
- Quit funding any and all R&D for weapons of any kind. We're okay for things that kill people. We can always go back to making smarter bombs in a few years, if we still need to.
- Make friends with Iran. They could be a powerful ally in the Middle East, and they're a natural trading partner with Iraq. (I'fact, Iran and Iraq used to be one country.) If Iran quits being the enemy, we won't need most of our foreign troops (see above). I bet if we apologized for the 1953 coup and the 1970s thing with the Shah, they'd come around.
- Raise the tax on gasoline until it costs at least $4 a gallon, then adjust it accordingly to keep it at that rate. Last summer proved that when gas gets expensive, people drive less. Less driving, less pollution; less oil is required; less wear and tear on damaged roads and bridges. Besides, its' a good source of revenue.
- As long as we're taxing stuff, tax the hell out of cigarettes and alcohol. They do it in Canada and it pays for most of their health system. A beer will run you about eight bucks at a bar in British Columbia. What's wrong with that? Besides, these are optional products. You don't wanna pay the tax, you can choose not to drink or smoke.
- Legalize marijuana, too. We could also tax hell out of that, put a lot of criminals out of work and save big bucks in law enforcement.
- That's about all I've got right now. And I will contact my congressional reps, but I'm not gonna tell em what you told me to tell em. But thanks for writing anyway. Cheers!