Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Talk Thursday: Technology, Magic, and Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer

So I'm at a La Madeleine near SMU campus, and celebrating my having successfully navigated here through the usual nightmare of rush hour on the 75 by jumping on Barnes and Noble's free wi-fi.  Thanks, BN.  (I logged in so they'd know it was me.  My Nook and I spend LOTS of money over there.)  I'm snarfing down a quiche Lorraine--at least I think it is a quiche Lorraine; it's a quiche, anyway, with cheese and eggs and spinach and a nice crusty crust--and some bread before I change into my bathing suit and head over to the natatorium for the warm-up, the prep for the Big Swim.  I guess we can call it the Little Swim.

I realize this is unbecoming a Buddhist but I'm starting to get nervous.  Last year I went off the blocks too fast and almost crashed and burned at 900.  I seriously thought I was going to have to quit, right there in front of God and Joan and everybody else.  I managed to recover, slow down a little bit, get my breath back and soldier on, but it was a close thing.  A couple of days ago I did 2350, which isn't that far from my personal-distance best.  And I'm feeling pretty good, so really, I should be okay.  It's just that in addition to feeling pretty good, I also feel pretty tired, and in addition to 2350 I've also turned in some 1400s.  So, yeah, a little nervous.

Now, consider that my nervous self is typing this paragraph on a keyboard that's attached to a monitor that folds down over the top of said keyboard and disappears when I don't need it.  The paragraph then floats through the air, over to the Barnes&Noble, where it slides inside a wi-fi hub (I don't know what one really looks like, but I imagine a big black box with many relay switches) and down a phone line and into the ether.  I don't know what ether is.  It used to be the stuff between stars that nobody could prove exists, but since we proved it doesn't exist, I guess we could call it dark matter now.  Somehow, the paragraph navigates this dark matter and comes back out through another wi-fi hub and across empty space to your laptop (or cell phone or iPad or whatever) where you are now reading it.  And just like that, it's the paragraph heard 'round the world.  Well, I suppose there are plenty of more significant paragraphs out there, but still, that's pretty darn cool.  So.  Is it technology or magic?

Some of you are probably at least passing familiar with the Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer.  Back when Saturday Night Live was actually funny, the late Phil Hartman (he wasn't late then; he was right on time) would show up in a suit and play Keyrock, the cave man.  Keyrock fell into a Big Giant Hole In Ice one day about, oh, 100,000 years ago.  In 1988, some scientists found him and thawed him out.  He eventually went to law school and became a personal injury lawyer.  The modern world frightens and confuses him.  "When I see a solar eclipse, like the one I went to last year in Hawaii, I think, 'Oh no! Is the moon eating the sun?' I don't know.  I'm a cave man.  But," he would continue, "I do know that my client is entitled to millions of dollars for his injuries suffered in that horrible car crash."

Keyrock didn't survive to see wireless Internet access, but I expect he'd have opinions as to how it works.  "I may believe there are little men in my laptop sending smoke signals to other little men in the wi-fi hub," he'd probably say to the jury, "but I also believe my client is innocent!" Actually, that's as good a guess as any.  I have no clue how wi-fi hubs work.  I know it has something to do with radio signals and phone lines and cable TV and G4s, whatever those are, but beyond that I am stumped.  It might as well be magic.  Poof!  Oh, hey, an e-mail.  "You May Already Be A Winner."  Geez, I get a lot of those.

Okay, I admit I was roundly disappointed when I discovered that no matter how much you waved the magic wand you'd made out of one of Dad's barbecue skewers, a tie pin you found at a thrift store, and some duct tape, your favorite doll didn't really come to life and become your best pal. (I should have waited for the teddy bear movie and realized what a bad idea this was to start with).  But I managed to survive this poor deprived childhood and make it into a world where I can get on a big metal tube with lots of other people, fall asleep and wake up in London.  Where I can get stock quotes, movie listings, traffic reports and the calorie count of a Starbucks pumpkin scone on a device I carry around in my pocket.  Which also makes phone calls, however infrequently.  And just incidentally, it also takes pictures.  So you should be able to see me swimming like mad for the end of the 2k right about, oh, say, tomorrow at this time.

Unless I fall into a Big Giant Hole In Ice.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

So How Goes The Swimming, You Ask.

Well, you didn't ask, but I'm going to tell you anyway.  The swimming is, uh, going swimmingly.  I'm 17 point something miles into this thing, with only 6.5 miles to go.  That's 9500 meters, in case you were wondering.  I have tomorrow and Thursday, and the Big Swim on Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday to knock them out.  That's a little more than 1500 meters a day, and I'm pretty sure I can do it.  The swim club gathered for a RedEye Breakfast last Saturday, where the Swim for Distance t-shirts were passed out.  I got mine, but I'm not wearing it until Friday, and I'm only wearing it Friday because, well, Friday's the Big Swim.  You gotta have something to celebrate the Big Swim.  Especially if it means you can get away with wearing a T-shirt to work.

What's the Big Swim?  Well, it's 2000 meters, or about a mile and a quarter.  We do this every year toward the end of July.  There are actually three Big Swims; you can also choose to go 5,000 meters (3 1/4 miles) or join in the 10k relay (2,500 meters each).  Technically it's a race, but I don't think of it as a race because I know I'm gonna be dead last and that's just fine.  It takes me just about an hour to swim 2,000 meters.  Last year it took me 57 minutes, and if it took me 56 minutes and 15 seconds this year, I'd be thrilled to bits.

It's just my (bad) luck that the Big Swim falls early on a Friday evening this year.  As in, when the sun's still up.  I have an ongoing battle with the big orange day ball.  It doesn't like me, I don't like it, and every time we argue I lose.  Ordinarily, when the sun is in the sky and I'm in a bathing suit, I'm also wearing a burqini.  That's a Muslim swim garment, incidentally, designed to cover everything for religious reasons, but it works just fine as sun protector, too.  Here's a photo:

Unfortunately, I don't look near as cute in mine as this lady in the photo.  One of these days, when I'm suitably drunk--oh, wait, I don't drink anymore; okay, suitably tired and silly--I'll post a photo of me in my burqini.  I look pretty ridiculous.  But dammit, I'm safe from the sun.  To say nothing of the fact that nobody's looking at my ass because they can't find it.  But, I will not be doing the Big Swim in the burqini.  It slows me down too much.  I'll be doing the Big Swim in (shudder) sunscreen.

What, pray tell, is wrong with sunscreen?  Well, nothing, except I seem to be allergic to three-quarters of every brand made. The higher I go in waterproof SPF guaranteed to work technology, the better the odds that I'll be breaking out in hives and scratching my skin off the next day. That, or the stuff just flat out don't work.  It may be that there isn't a sunscreen out there that can cope with the Texas sun--or, more realistically, the Texas sun and then the unbelievable glare of said Texas sun off the water.  Ask Joan about the many times she's slathered sunscreen all over my back, then slathered lotion all over my back when I come back from the pool a few hours later with a nice pink burn all over my shoulders.

Alas, this is what happens to Scandinavians when they leave Scandinavia.  I should have stayed in Iceland, where the volcanoes rumble and the ice is thick and the spaceships land in search of higher forms of human life.  Oh, wait, that was just in Prometheus.

Well, anyway, wish me luck.  It should be an interesting swim.  And Talk Thursday should resume later this week.  I hope.

(Okay, okay.  If I make better time this year by more than 30 seconds I'll post the pic of me in the burqini.  But you have been warned, it's not a sight for the faint of heart nor the hairless of tail.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Talk Thursday (on Friday): Family Feud

Just wanted y'all to know that the mighty Law Dogs continue unvictorious in their spectacular inaugural season.  Last night we were 5 to 14 against the Desperados.  But don't I look fierce in my warrior pose?  Yeah, I think so too.  So what if all I'm doing is limpin' up to home plate with my leg in a stupid brace, whackin' the ball and making this weird loping run/walk toward first.  I get tagged out pretty fast.  It's the brace, people.  I feel like a cyborg.  And it's impossible to run in a leg brace.  Well, if it's not impossible it's still pretty darned unlikely.  But, while I was heading to first, my boss was heading home, and so we scored.  That was good.  I'm just afraid that one of these days I'm gonna show up at the field and find Charlie Brown on the mound and Snoopy in the far outfield with Woodstock on his head.  And if you don't get that pop-culture reference, my friend, I cannot help you.

Meanwhile, back at the pool, things continue swimmingly (ha ha ha).  I'm a little bit ahead of my daily count (thanks in no small part to that marathon 2500 meter session) and should hit 10 miles this morning, if I didn't hit it yesterday.  And I just signed up for the 2000-meter swim at the end of the month, which will no doubt help if I get behind.  So if you were worried about placing a bet on my getting to 24 miles, be soothed.  I'll get there.  And all funds raised go to Survivors of Torture, International. They're good folks doing a tough job.  They could use your happy thoughts, prayers, etc., as well as your cash.

On, then, with today's topic, from Don this time.  I think of the Hatfields and the McCoys when this subject comes up, and no, I didn't watch the recent miniseries; I tend to avoid anything that stars Kevin Costner.  I have, however, seen a few documentaries on that famous fight, and I think it got way overblown in the media (What? Our media?! Surely you jest!!).  As in, without all the national attention, it might have calmed down all by itself and before anyone got killed.  A lot of things are like that.  

Every family probably has something it fights about.  You know, the kind of thing that gets dragged out at holidays after too much eggnog, gets thrown around the room, bruises everybody with a sort of casual efficiency and, having sufficiently rattled tempers, crawls back into the ornament box to await the next holiday.  Uncle so-and-so did this.  No he didn't, that was Aunt Whoever.  You're both wrong, it was the tax collector.  If your grandmother had done something, none of this would have happened.  This is your side of the family, you realize.  And on and on.

For some reason I can't think of anything like that in my family, although there might have been a few things in previous generations.  But for my parents' generation, and those of us in our so-called childbearing years (and presumably for the children; I don't have any children, but most of my cousins do), there really doesn't seem to be any one thing.  I attribute that to the Lutheran Church. Not for spreading peace in our time and encouraging the quick resolution of disputes, but for instilling an absolute tyranny of Everything's Fine Here, Thank You and How Nice.  Hint for non-Lutherans: Memorize those two phrases and you can pass as a native, as long as you remember there's always coffee and bars in the church basement after Sunday services.  Old joke: Why don't Lutherans have confession?  Because God knows what you did and doesn't want to talk about it.  Or much of anything that isn't Fine and Nice. 

Every now and then we get a New Employee at the office, and sooner or later that New Employee figures out that I'm gay.  I don't run public service announcements.  No pics of my wife in my cube, no rainbow stickers on the bookshelves or anything like that.  Still, there's always a Moment when the New Guy (or Girl) has to look at me as a gay person for the first time, and there's that "Oh? Oh!" followed by rapid blinking as their entire cerebral cortex shifts around to make room for me in the Gay Box.  It's sad, in a way, because if I had to list the top five things that made me what I am today, being gay would probably be number five, if it even made the list.  Up top we have being Scandinavian, Lutheran, fat and female.  Then, maybe gay.  Or maybe a Democrat (in Texas, no less) and then maybe gay.  I go back and forth on that last one.

Yes, I'm a Buddhist now, but I was a Lutheran for close on 27 years.  That's a long time and a lot of coffee and bars.  I don't expect a significant background color in my life to ever just disappear, though if I could get the taste of lutefisk permanently removed from my memory, I'd do it. Hey, isn't there a movie coming out about something like that?  

But for this, I am happy: There ain't no room in the Lutheran church for much feudin'.  Or if there is, nobody talks about it.  We're all fine, here, thank you.  Would you like a lemon bar?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Talk Thursday (on Saturday): Integrity

Well, it's that time of year again.  The month of July, also known as Hell Month, but more fondly known among my gang o'swimmers as Swim for Distance Month.  This is the month when those of us in the Dallas Aquatic Masters program try to swim as far as possible.  We set a goal--some of the really fast swimmers will go like 65 miles--and try to make it within the 31-day parameter.  If you make it, you get a T-shirt.  Actually, even if you don't make it, you get a T-shirt, but, you know, it's a much more meaningful T-shirt if you make it.

Now, I'm not that fast a swimmer.  I'm sort of the cargo plane among the F-14s here, so my goal is 24 miles.  I've figured out that I'm not going to get to the pool on Fridays owing to softball, and there's at least three other days in the month where something will go wrong, so that leaves 24 swim days in which I can log a mile each.  On Wednesday, when we had a patriotic Fourth of July practice at 5:15 in the blessed morning 'til 7, I logged an unbelievable 2500 meters, which is an all-time distance personal best and just about 1 2/3 miles.  (And, as usual when I'm trying to log some ridiculous distance, I was done in by chills.  I could have gone farther, but I was just so darn cold.) There's a 2000-meter swim in my future and probably at least one more marathon opportunity (I'd really, really like to hit two miles) so I'm reasonably sure I'll make it.  Even if I don't, it'll be pretty close.

I usually tie the whole Swim for Distance thing into a charitable race, and this year's no exception.  If you wanna pledge me by the mile (50 cents per mile = $12.50; a dollar a mile = $24.00, etc.) or place bets as to whether or not I make it ($10 says I do; if I don't, you don't have to pay me the $10 and you get to be smug and make the "L" sign on your forehead whenever I'm around) or--whatever, I will cheerfully accept and this year, all donations will go to Survivors of Torture, International. I realize this is not a warm and fuzzy charity, like Heifer or Children's Hospital, but they're good people who do extremely important work and their founder is an old friend of mine and ex-pastor of the gang of Lutherans I hung around with in San Diego.  I dunno if I qualify as a tax-exempt organization but I'm pretty sure they do.

(By the way, Buddha mightily discouraged gambling, but for a good cause, I think he'd understand.)

Which brings us to the topic du jour, and thanks, Eddie, this 'un's a good 'un.  How, exactly, does anybody know if I've gone the requisite 24 miles or not?  Well, they know because I fill in a little log sheet whenever I'm at the pool.  Yeah, you may say, but who polices the log sheet?  Well, nobody, really.  Just me.  So, you could be lying, you may say.  Yes, that's true, I say, but I suck so bad at lying that it would be really obvious.  The very ink on the page would jump up and down and say, "She's lying!"  Plus, I'd turn a fascinating shade of red when you asked me about it.  That, and I'm bad at math.  (Well, simple adding of numbers.  We get into trig, higher algebra, differential equations, no problem.)  I wouldn't know how to "cheat" to add the right number of meters at the right time to make it come out with the right number of miles.  Besides all that, though, it would never occur to me.  I'm just not hardwired that way.

Give you an example.  For fourteen or so months when I was in college (or freshly out of college; it's all a blur) I worked at Bank of America in their credit card division.  I have always had a penchant for memorizing numbers, and it really came out in this job.  My colleagues got repeated laughs out of the fact that I could rattle off the last five or six account numbers I'd dealt with.  I couldn't always connect them with a name, but expiration date? Not a problem.  If ever I had a criminal bent, it woulda come out right there.  And it didn't.  Indeed, we had a fraud ring running through my facility, and when the FBI showed up to haul everybody away, they didn't so much as glance at me.  (Tempted to chuckle evilly and rub my hands together, here, but let's get real; if I'd been able to pull off some criminal-mastermind type stunt, I'd not be worrying about how to pay the tree guy, would I?  Nope.)

During an awkward moment at work, my manager raised her eyebrows at me and said, "You never lie, so you must be telling the truth, but that's really strange."  It was.  I'd just confessed to having been to a methadone clinic on my lunch break.  Is it my fault that my doc has his office in a methadone clinic?  No, it is not.  So, I guess you could say that some have integrity, and some have integrity thrust upon them.  I have integrity thrust upon me.  I'm honest because I can't be otherwise.  Other people can choose to be honest or not, and the choices are what defines them.

When we lived in San Diego, Joan spent most of our last year looking for work elsewhere.  Looking for work while still working your current job calls for a delicate game of fancy footwork that often means you have to be less than completely honest.  Yet, I was amazed at how well she pulled this off.  When she had to fly to Texas for the interview, she told her boss that she'd found out recently that her father had died, and that she had some personal business in Texas.  Both statements were completely true.  Neither had anything to do with the other.  Some time later, her boss said something like, "I didn't know your father was in Texas."  To which Joan said, "I'm pretty sure my father is somewhere considerably hotter than Texas."  Again, true statement (well, speculative, but true in a sense) that had nothing to do with the preceding statement. Joan is a master of the art.  I watch her rapt with amazement, like I'd watch an artist paint a new canvas in bold streaks of blue and red and black and grey.

Anyway, there's this thing coming up called a "presidential election."  Every four years or so, whether we need to or not, the government in the capital city throws a bunch of tribute white guys (well, the occasional token black guy, and maybe a woman, if she's got enough testosterone to play alpha male) into a ring and lets them fight to the death, kind of like "Hunger Games" but they slay each other by wit alone.  Now, I don't think there's really any doubt which candidate I want to win (in case there is, let's just say that obama in Tibetan means, "limitless light").  But more to the point, there's a particular candidate I really, really want to lose.  You could say I'm not voting for the one guy so much as I'm voting against the other guy.  Why?  Complete lack of integrity.  Let's look at some examples:

1998:  “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I believe that since Roe V. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it.”

2002:  “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose.”

2007:  "I will be a pro-life president."

2011:  "I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine."

2012:   "I would allow private laboratories and private institutions–as we currently do, and as the president does as well–to use these so-called surplus embryos to be discarded."

Surplus embryos? As in, unborn children?  Interesting.  Are you confused?  I certainly am.  And while my own position on the abortion thing is kind of convoluted, most people don't have that problem.  They fall into one of two camps, with some grey shading in between.  Especially if they're running for President.  Here's another one:

2004:  Signed an assault-weapons ban while governor.

2005:  Deemed May 7 "Right To Bear Arms Day."

2007:  "I do not own a gun."

Five minutes later: "I have a gun of my own.  I go hunting myself."

I dunno, but I'm starting to think this guy doesn't answer a single question without first checking the latest poll results and then answering accordingly.  Which must mean he doesn't have any opinions of his own.  He's just a mouthpiece for whatever's popular, or whatever his gang of friends think is popular, anyway.  Here's one more:

November 18, 2008: "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

May 7, 2012: "I'll take a lot of credit for the fact that this [auto] industry's come back."

Wow.  I mean, that really takes--a certain body part known to be used in the production of male reproductive cells.  But it doesn't take integrity.  I'm amazed--well, kind of appalled, actually--that after all those primary slugfests, this was the best the party could do.  I mean, some of the other candidates were blithering morons, but at least when they articulated a position, you knew they meant it--no matter how idiotic it was.

Then it occurs to me.  Maybe he's Schroedinger's Candidate.

My suggestion?  Let's not open that damn box.  As a matter of integrity.