Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book Report: Beasts of No Nation

Remember that time I was going to read something that was both not depressing and not about Africa.  Oops.

Beasts of no Nation is a powerful and disgusting view into the lives child soldiers. The author, who was born in the U.S. but spent significant amounts of time with his family in Nigeria, opens the door to a world that anyone reading this book will have trouble imagining. This was Iweala's first novel and it reads painfully true.  War is awful and kids should not have to deal with it at this level.

This book is critically acclaimed and deservedly so. Ever so often there would be an allusion or point of clarity that was so beyond our narrator but always within his voice. Without giving too much away I was pleased that the fictitious ending was both true to history at the same time that it provided a glimmer of hope.

Read this book.

5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts:

1. I am running a marathon in 10 days and again in a month and nine days.
Back when I was trying to prove to myself that I was able to do anything I set my mind to, I signed up for the California International Marathon. Mind you I was already registered for the New York City Marathon.  All of my training has been focused on New York. My hill mantra is "5th Avenue" and I visualize my kick starting as we run through Engineer's Gate.

But I have another one to consider...and I think that just hit me, especially as I deal with my shin splint. But in reality, I am ready for both and I am just getting into my head.

2. Being the Bandwagon is fun.
Let's go Giants! My lovely wife is a life-long Cards fan and I am sorry she doesn't get to watch her team in the Fall Classic, but come on!  This is exciting. San Francisco is acting like a normal city with normal sports fans.  We were there for the Perfect Cain so it is clearly our arrival to a City by a Bay that took the team back to the World Series.  One down side: Listening to Joe Buck for another baseball series. I really dislike that man.
3. This is my soft launch of asking for money.
I have often coveted those with fantastic facial hair. Due to my impatience and my wife's insistence, I have never sported much more than a week and a half of beard, stash, or anything else. However, now I have committed to raising some money for testicular and prostate cancer as part of Movember, in order to be forced into facial hair.  I will be using this forum as a progress report but I will not go all Armstrong and use Rogaine or Just For Men, no matter what.  I want my contribution without controversy. (I intend to make a lot of jokes at Lance's expense.)

4. This election could be over now. 
I am done. And so are most Americans. Here in California we have all these wacky Props that will most likely not work and I am sick of the ads.  I bet FOX is pretty excited that the election is after the World least they get the reveune from these interminable ads. I will be voting for the goods guys and not the bad guys. That is all.
5.  I am now on the Board of Directors of my running club.
I was honored to be asked to join the SFRRC board and I think based both on my presentation of ideas and my outfit, I got the job. 
A Pro Running Outfit

I am excited to take part in organizational management and help our club be even better. Join us for a run sometime.

6. In one week I will fly to NYC. 
I am excited to see friends and family. Also I get to run the case I didn't mention that.

My Bib - 42053

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Report: Little Bee

I would love to read a book about Africa that wasn't so damn depressing.  But hey, that isn't going to happen.

This is my second book with significant African themes I have read as part of my new year's resolution.  Not surprisingly, this book also was kind of a downer. However, it was beautiful. It was powerful. And it was thoroughly fiction.

The last book, Running the Rift, while also fiction, seemed more believable, even the end which was lacking in the believable.  Little Bee was a great story and I blew through it, wanting to know what was going to happen next.  However, it just did not have any bit of believability.  I suppose that is why it was fiction.

It also ended abruptly, but it was a perfect ending.

I was very impressed with the female voice that came from this author.  Chris Cleave wrote a wonderful book with powerful characters with deep flaws. I would recommend everyone to read this book.

4.75 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

3:35:00 to 3:45:59

 Training is done.
Well, pretty close to done.
Now it is time to talk goals.

I will break this down into some sections. First, the most obvious:

I will be gunning for a 3:35 finish.  This will be a 25 minute PR and will take nearly an hour and a half  off my first New York Marathon finishing time.  This is my official declaration of my "A Goal." This is lofty.  However, I was able to nail 10 Yasso 800s  at 3:35 and I am completely comfortable at an 8:15 to 8:10 pace for longer, yet faster runs. My tempo pace is a minute faster and I can keep that up in hilly San Francisco.  So I should be able to hit my goal.

Hillary Clinton is Gangster

Interestingly two of my most read posts ever have been on sexism and gender issues.  I find them to be extremely interesting for a number of reasons, most obviously was because of how I grew up.  I am most proud of the post about my feelings on Anne-Marie Slaughter's treatise on the mythical work-life-balance.  Slaughter's epic was based on her time in the Clinton State Department.  And it appears that Hillary Clinton, life-long woman, has a few words for her former staffer.

If there was any question if Hillary Clinton is an abject badass, this interview clears up any confusion:

Last summer Anne-Marie Slaughter, Clinton's former director of policy planning, caused a stir among the State Department ranks when she wrote a controversial cover story in The Atlantic, entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," about why she felt an obligation to quit Clinton's staff because she found "juggling high-level governmental work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible."

Once the dean of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, she is now back at Princeton as a professor.

When asked by Marie Claire about the piece, Clinton didn't hold back.

"I can't stand whining," she told the magazine. "I can't stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they're not happy with the choices they made. You live in a time when there are endless choices."
She pointed out that she spent her life advocating on behalf of women and tried to make work places, including the State Department, friendlier to women with children. Another dig at Slaughter suggested she just didn't have what it takes to play with the big girls.

"Some women are not comfortable working at the pace and intensity you have to work at in these jobs … Other women don't break a sweat."

Oh yeah. I don't believe that she is done either. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Spectating a Marathon

When the wife and I were walking back to the bus yesterday after watching the Giants loss to the Cards, we were talking about another sporting event that took place in San Francisco during the day.  Not the 49er's loss but rather the Nike Women's Marathon.

She said to me that is nice that I get so excited to watch other regular Joes (or in this case mostly Janes) run for 4+ hours for no good reason.  I said to her, I know the pain these people have chosen to inflict upon themselves and the joy they have created for themselves. I get it. I like ringing my cowbell and showing off my inappropriate signs.  It is fun. And I know it helps.

While I didn't race yesterday, I feel like I spent nearly as long as I will on the course next month, so here is my spectating recap.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nazis are still bad

Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros
(No Head Tattoo in Real Life)
Over the past few years there has been an alarming increase in the power far right wing political parties, especially in Eastern and Southern Europe.  Quietly, they have amassed power and influence.  Now we all know that Nazis were bad and we probably don't want them ruling parts of Europe again.  So I am puzzled why more people aren't pissed off about the rise of the Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungry, among others.

It is not really surprising that the inflation that is killing these poorer nations is being inflicted by the stronger Northern and Western European powers and that this economic shift came before the real power surge for these right wing groups. For those of you not getting my less-than-subtle histo-economic reference, I point you to the Great War Reparations that were levied upon Weimar Germany.  In short, Germany, loser of the First World War, got hosed in the post war deal making room.  It lead to technical hyper-inflation, where burning currency to stay warm was more efficient than paying for heat with the same paper notes.

Now, we have the European Central Bank and the IMF and others pushing Greece and others to make HUGE cuts to social services.  So why not blame the Jews and the Muslims and the Gypsies and the immigrants who are taking up the share of social services that belong to real Greeks/Hungarians/others?  It has worked before, so why change?  No good reason I can see...

The Business Insider has been reporting on this issue for a while and the New York Times has a few articles on the issue. With the U.S. Presidential election completely into allegations of Big-Bird-a-cide odds are we aren't going to hear much about this from Obama or Romney.  This is sort of surprising since the European economic recovery, which will be hampered by the return of Facism, is pretty central to the U.S. economic recovery.

Surprisingly it hasn't really made the rounds in the Jewish community.  You might think Jews would be a bit less pleased with Nazis in new clothing roaming around the birthplace of Democracy.

But not so much.

This has me worried.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Report: Zeitoun

There is some really nasty stuff that happens in this country, and Zeitoun is the perfect example of this nasty stuff.

Set in the days leading-up to, during, and the months after Hurricane Katrina, this book follows the lives of the Zeitoun family as they deal with the city they loved under water, the business they built, and the strange after shocks of the Patriot Act.

As with all Eggers' books, this is beautifully written and provides a glimpse of reality that is just so close to unbelievable that it hurts to read.  However, I got home after work yesterday and read 100 pages before I went to workout and finished the next 150 after going to bed.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun (pronounced Zay-toon), a Syrian Muslim living in New Orleans, owned a contracting company, lived a normal life, and seemed to love his wife and kids.  He stayed behind to protect his investment and personal properties in New Orleans after the storm. He saved a few lives along the way.  He also saw things no one in this country should see.

He was wrongfully imprisoned on suspicions of terrorism and it changed him.  He was not extreme but devout according to the book.  This was clear based on his drive to pray regardless of conditions and rejection of pork product when he was feed during his illegal incarceration. But he was also, according to the book, a tolerant man who called a gay married couple close family friends and was honored to restore churches as Houses of God after the storm.

The book chronicles the PTSD that his wife was dealing with but it didn't really jump deeply into Zeitoun's issues.  Which is sad.  Because, as I went looking for a book cover photo today to include in this post I learned that the Zeitouns have divorced due to his violence against his ex-wife.  It is sad.

We could say it is because of the storm, his illegal processing at the hands of Homeland Security, or even, as his wife says in the above linked article, his "adoption of a 'radical' religious philosophy that she emphasized does not reflect true Muslim beliefs."  Anyway you slice it, it is sad.  In some ways I am happy I didn't Google them until after I finished the book. But in truth, his depraved violence against his wife and her sickness post-storm don't take away from the story nor does it change the injustice done.  It just makes me sad.

This book shines light on one of the worst times in Modern American History, so I suppose it was naive to expect the somewhat happy ending that was presented.

5 out 5 stars.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

This Canned Zinger is Brought to you by the Letter C

"Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down." (source)
Let's review: Mitt Romney wiped the floor with Barack Obama during the debate.  No, he did not use a rope-a-dope or any other boxing/sport/debate metaphor. The President was beaten by the Governor, and the Governor has seen a slight bump in the polls because of it. 

However, Mitt had a few canned zingers ready for the president.  The most notable was his professed love for Big Bird, but his desire to cut funding to PBS. Now anyone who watched The West Wing knows this is a long-time talking point of the right: cut funding for public education because blah blah blah states rights.  There was the great episode when some congressional aid from some right-wing office comes in to say something to Toby about funding and he completely loses his mind...come to think of it that was a vast majority of the show.

But in this particular episode, Toby lists all of the PBS shows he watched as a child that drove him to want to read more and go to school longer and serve the public professionally. So this brew-ha-ha is nothing new.

Now, after a week of Big Bird references on Twitter and even in passing from the campaigns-endorsed talking heads, we have an official, I-approve-this-message campaign ad from the Obama camp using Big Bird against Romney.


Obama 2012 - More Grudgingly Each Day - Not the best slogan, but you NOT HELPING YOUR CAUSE.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Report: Born to Run

If you run and have yet to read this book, you should.  The stories are fantastic, the "characters" are nearly unbelievable, and the writing is journalistic and induces rapid page turning.

I still wear shoes to run.

I do not believe we should toss all our technology in order to get back to the basics.  In Scott Jurek's book he discusses the need to find balance in our embrace of old traditions and the information based technology we can use to learn more about our running.  While it is great that people who have never worn shoes are able to run great distances without modern running shoes, I am not one of those people. 

I do have a few pairs of minimalist shoes and they hurt my feet. However, the form that I have learned by using them makes my stride more efficient and comfortable while I wear my supportive running shoes.  There is much to learn from other people and their heritage, however the fetish of barefoot running is just that.

The Tarahumara wore shoes that they had.  Their existence is hard and most people don't want it.  I have no interest in living in a cave in the Mexican desert. Anyone reading this blog and saying otherwise is either lying or crazy. This not a judgement on their choice to live this way, but it isn't for me.  I can take pieces of their story and change parts of my running...but beyond that I am lost at the drive to ditch our shoes.

Look at all the elite runners. All wear shoes when racing.  Many didn't wear shoes when they are kids...but all wear shoes when adults.  I just can't get my head around it.

All that said, I liked the story and the book was great.

4.75 out of 5 stars. 

(For those keeping count, I made my goal of 10 books in a year. This was one of the best New Year's resolutions I have ever made.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Things I learned in the debate

Restarting and Finishing at the Same Time

In case you forgot, I am training for the New York City Marathon.  We are currently one month and one day away from the race and I think fall is the perfect time to train for a marathon, and this is why.

This past week included Yom Kippur and a 22 mile run.  Both were important for very similar reasons.  The High Holidays are a way to restart and recharge, and I used them for that.  And that was good.  Sitting in services last week, I had the time to really think about more important "stuff" like family and long-term planning and what my role should be in making the world better.  I did this on a very empty stomach and I believe it was exactly what I needed.

From time to time, it is important for us over thinkers to take that moment to be grateful, and say we are sorry, and start again. Yom Kippur is exactly that. The most holy day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur is a fast day, the final chance to apologize to God and to the people in our lives.  It is also the last day to accept an apology. It is the last chance to restart for a new year. 

Last weekend marked the first of three 20+ mile weekend runs in a row which make up my longest mileage weeks of my training. While I had already had a 20 miler on the books this year, I was still very unsure about this run.  Twenty-two miles is a long way to go.  As I said, I am an over thinker, hence this blog.  But I also know that I was physically ready.  But again, 22 miles is a long way to go.  Running, like most things is just as mental as it is physical.

After fretting about it and making jokes in the pre-dawn hours along Ocean Beach, the run flew by and I felt great.  Each interval (the club runs 8 minutes and walks for 1 minute at my pace) went by extremely quickly, but they were right on pace.  My last three miles were well under marathon goal pace and I was even able to walk up and down stairs without pain. (Grace is another thing.)

This is good.

This too was a restart.

Unlike some of my online running chums, I have been really lucky with my training.  Work and health have cooperated.  I have been able to nurse pesky niggles and stay away from crushing pain.  Work is work and I have been able to get in all of my runs (baring a few days of just not doing it).  However, after logging over a thousand miles this year, it get tiresome.

The High Holidays and the rest of the Fall Jewish holidays call upon people to stop, reload for the winter, and give thanks.  Long runs help me with this process.

Last night as I ran 9 Yasso 800s at the track under a HUGE harvest moon, I smiled and thought how great it was to be alive, to be able to run whenever I want, and how great it is to be a Jew.  Sure, this isn't what most people think about when they are running in circles on the track but I did.

I have been trying to find a reason that running isn't selfish...I still think it is.  However, it helps me be better at everything else in my life. Running also gives you time to focus on nothing but what you are doing.  I believe that to be a Jewish value.

So Chag Semach and Run Strong.