03.31.09

Falling behind

Posted in Triple Bypass at 16:57 by RjZ

It’s not my fault. The weather won’t cooperate with cycling. I had already decided that I can’t avoid the wind since organized rides are hardly cancelled for such minor inconveniences, but blizzards are another annoyance entirely. So while I was ahead of my ‘training schedule,’ last week’s snow put me way behind. [It's no oversight that this so-called training schedule isn't published here. Then my fair readers would be able to compare and, well, point and laugh.]

But I’m not worried about being behind. Sure, last week was mostly snowbound. One 20 mile lunch ride at a nice clip considering the wind (see?!) and then a relaxing 17 mile ride trying to avoid the snow patches and gravel still on the road after the snow had finally stopped. Hey, I was riding after a blizzard…that counts for something.

The week before though, that’s the one that’s giving me hope. One goal for training was to get up to 19 mph average speeds on the flats. As of Thursday of the week before, I did my 14 mile lunch ride and broke the 19 mph average. Victory! But wait, there’s more! From my home to Carter Lake and back, for a 62 mile ride–in three and half hours! My average was 17.8 mph. I was giving it all I could to keep the pace above 18 on the return, which I couldn’t do, but I’m pretty happy with that time just the same.

There’s still more. One more ride on Sunday, completing the week with a total of 147 miles, and I actually passed someone, on a climb. Sure, the guy was just cruising along on an old steel road bike, but it still counts as a victory. Not just anybody climbs Olde Stage. I can only assume he’s professional ride. There’s some chance I won’t be dead last on the Triple Bypass. I should have asked that guy if he was doing the ByPass himself. I could have given him my ticket, which would have saved me a lot of trouble.

We’ll see if I can return to this screaming pace after the weather stabilizes. Today was windy (road anyway, damnit) and tomorrow might snow. They didn’t mention this stuff on the training programs I printed out from the interwebs.

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03.30.09

Mow my lawn

Posted in Society at 11:58 by RjZ

When I was a kid, my family was, I don’t know, not great at landscaping. This was supported by me because my older brother never seemed to mow the lawn (this could be selective memory but I don’t remember him doing it even once) and, naturally, I wasn’t too keen on it either. So one time when I heard the sound of the neighbor’s mower strangely too close and looked out the window to see him finishing off mowing our yard, I thought “awesome!”

Years later I think it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t just kindness that motivated our neighbor’s labor. It was embarrassment at how bad his house looked next to our unkept house. For my mother’s benefit here, I should point out that the inside of our house was always very clean. We just didn’t have a handle on the gardening.

Today, I own my home. Sure, if I had been just a little less responsible, I’d own a home twice as large as this one and the government would be offering to reduce my mortgage, but I’ve already ranted about that. When I moved in, extremely large juniper hedges that offered quite a bit of privacy and made my driveway look like the maze scene from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I liked these hedges, but over the years, already tall hedges have grown beyond trimmer reach and have more than threatened to take over the entire driveway.Monster Privacy Hedge

It occurred to me that I was becoming that house on the block that everybody looked at and said ‘harumph’ under their breath. Honestly, I am not sure I care that much about their inaudible harumphs, but waiting for someone else to come and trim my hedges seems neither likely, nor fair.
Thousands of dollars later, (!) the hedges are gone and in their place is a sprawling xeriscape garden, currently populated with rocks, twigs, and little empty rounds spots of dirt which, if they survive the snow, will become native (or nearly native) bushes and flowers and grasses served by a trickle from the drip irrigation. Until frost danger is left behind with the winter, I have to water everything by hand. The other day I was spraying my investment with a hose, when the neighbor across the street called out to me.

“Don’t think it’s really going to snow tonight?”

“It cost too much money to risk it. I’ve got to make sure I can’t be blamed if the twigs and dirt never grow.”

“Well, it looks great, by the way, really great.”

Rocks and dead bushesHmm. I don’t talk to the neighbors much. I don’t know this guy’s name and all we’ve really discussed so far is that the music coming from his garage makes it right into my house and could he please turn it down? And yet, as much as I said I don’t care what they think and that the guy mowing our lawn for me when I was a kid just seemed incredibly convenient, I’ve got to admit it. It felt pretty good that this ridiculous amount of money to remove hedges and plant some flowers and rocks is actually recognized as a good thing. I guess I can finally be sure I am not that guy. I just hope the neighbors will come by and pull weeds for me later….

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03.23.09

Simple math and world domination

Posted in Liberty, Society at 15:53 by RjZ

Alright, the modern world is based on a service economy and knowledge is a valuable export, but just the same, the 2008 import/export numbers published by the World Trade Organization seem pretty discouraging if you’re an U.S. citizen. While the U.S. is first in imports, it is third in exports.

Maybe much of that could be attributed to currency fluctuations. Too bad a some simple math (exports divided by imports) tell such disturbing story. China: 1.27; Germany: 1.22 and the United States: 0.60! Just looking at how much we buy and how little we sell, it’s pretty easy to see how we could be in such an economic crisis.

During my recent visit to China, it was pretty clear that United State’s economic system catching a cold ends up being highly contagious outside of the borders. And the Chinese aren’t too pleased about it either. Although, in our defense, I’d like to point out that these numbers were no secret around the world. The Chinese are as guilty of investing in Team America as anybody else who’s seen assets dwindle in the last few months of stock market crash correction. We all should have read the signs.

The Chinese trip raised another question. Namely, why would anyone, without an ego to protect, really care whether the United States remains the foremost economic, and therefore political, power? Actually, I’ve often wondered that. I am proud to be an American, but am not exactly sure that means everyone else enjoys our power, or that they should be expected to. Despite the propaganda to the contrary, China seems to be a pretty nice place, and at least as free as most Americans would ever actually notice anyway. (True, there is no free press in China, but would any Americans really miss it if our free press were gone? Have you heard about all the failing newspapers or Jon Stewart’s comedic railings against poor economic reporting of the past few years?)

A few surprising conversations with some, not necessarily representative, Chinese did give me some insight into just why we just might care where the U.S. is in the world pecking order. It seems many in China believe that the only thing stopping them from some serious border skirmishes, or worse, with traditional enemy Japan is the strong alliance between the Japanese and Americans. In spite of the Chinese party-line which preaches peace and non-intervention, as soon as China could neutralize retaliation from the United States, so goes the argument, they would be free to act without consequence on some deep seated (and justified, if outdated) anger still harbored for their neighbors.

Regardless of how credible we find this scenario, one fact remains true. The United States has transferred power 44 times without significant impact to the rest of the world. We’ve stuck our noses in countless country’s affairs but generally, the majority of countries have grown to trust that, even if we go astray (see for example, 2000 – 2008) we have a working system that kicks bad guys out and brings in new ones (hopefully better). It could be a new United States marketing slogan: Dictator -Free for over 225 years!

This track record may be the best argument for maintaining the United States preeminence. Unfortunately, it takes only some simple math to see how tenuous that position might be.

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Genetics or…

Posted in at 9:31 by RjZ

Coincidence? The New York Times reports that the son of Sylvia Plath commits suicide. Seems like there must be research out there indicating that severe depression is genetically inherited, but poor Nicholas Hughes suffered not only the death of his mother, but even his stepmother. That’s got to catch up with you at some point.

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03.11.09

Queue forms to receive part of $800 billion

Posted in Energy, Society at 12:33 by RjZ

In the last two weeks I’ve been to two different symposiums on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the Stimulus Bill. Both sold out their original venues and packed the newer larger ones to standing room only capacity. Both focused on the energy portions of the bill and featured Tom Plant, director of Governor’s Energy Office in Colorado. He’s an engaging speaker but I think over $800 million in government benefits had more to do with people lining up for a handout than his charisma.

Philosophically, you can guess, I am opposed to joining the queue, hat in hand, but the fact is, it’s my money (and yours) so we all have a vested interest in learning about how it’s being used. During the presentations and panels we heard well-meaning government officials ensure each of us that the intent of the bill is to create jobs, while also to building an infra-structure that will outlast the one-time funding it provides. However, the reason so many have come to this presentation, and others like it, isn’t the “why,” but the “how,” as in, “how do I get a piece of the pie for my business?”

Since symposiums focused on the energy funding part of the bill, we were able to hear not only from elected and appointed government officials, but from public and private utilities and the Colorado Public Utility Commission (PUC). We shouldn’t be surprised that their take on the intent of the bill, and how to implement it, differed from the Governor’s Energy Office. Always practical, the utilities want to make sure that projects are properly funded during the 18 month term of the bill, so their plan is to choose existing projects or ones that they’ve already budgeted.

We can appreciate their intention to ensure that accountable results are made sooner than later, one of the goals of the bill, but should we be surprised that government spending leads, once again, to further entrenching the status quo? Funding existing projects isn’t stimulus! It’s a handout to companies to continue with projects they were going to do anyway.

It’s not only utilities enjoying a windfall for activities they had planned anyway. Discussing Demand Side Management, Jeff Ackermann of the PUC said there are three types of people who will add solar to their houses, or purchase other efficiency improvements which reduce energy on the demand side. Some, he said, won’t add these improvements no matter what the government says or does. Some are thinking about it and need some encouragement, and some were going to do it anyway. It will be a victory if the stimulus bill converts a few who were on the fence, but those few will be paid right along with those who will enjoy government cash for going about their business as before.

For now, it remains to be seen whether or not these billions (and billions) of dollars will benefit new technologies and create green collared jobs, or if the stimulus bill will be the democrats’ version of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics, favoring big existing institutions first, and finally filtering through to individuals and tax payers later, someday, maybe.

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03.09.09

Good days, bad days

Posted in Triple Bypass at 13:37 by RjZ

Last Saturday I rode a 39 miles and felt great. This Sunday I added only 12 miles for a total of 52 and felt terrible. There were some some differences. Last week’s ride was mostly flat, and we practiced our pace-line riding, yielding an average speed of 16.9 mph (27 kmh) without breaking much of a sweat. Yesterday’s ride was from my house up to Jamestown in the mountains for vertical gain of about 1,750 feet (530 m). My average speed, all by myself, was all of about 15.75 mph (25.2 kmh), which doesn’t sound that different, but increasing speed takes much more out of you than mere numbers can show.

Still, in spite of going quite a bit slower and adding a relatively small amount, I was dog tired at the end of the ride. Maybe it was nutrition, (I did, uncharacteristically, have a Snickers bar on the earlier ride–maybe they do really satisfy) or maybe it was my slower schedule lately catching up with me–who wants to ride when it’s windy? More likely, it’s just that some days really are better than others and that there are too many variables for a beginning athlete to track down and understand.

What matters is that the Triple Bypass is like three of Sunday’s rides all at once, and I was spent at 40 miles on this one. Still, I am well ahead of schedule and I’ve decided I can’t let wind stop me from riding; they won’t stop the ride for wind, so I’ve got to be prepared for that too. So while the only constant for Colorado weather over the next couple of months is change, I have plenty of training time to go (and more daylight savings time to do it in….) Just don’t ask me whether they’ll stop the ride for rain or snow, because I’m not riding if it snows this week.

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03.03.09

Free market nationalization

Posted in Society at 22:48 by RjZ

I’m not sure about this. The very nature of the proposal is disturbing to me, but it has at least one very charming characteristic. We’ll get that in a moment. In the meantime it seems everyone has an idea how to deal with the economic crisis and everyone is pointing the blame one place or another. In a taxi in Charlotte, North Carolina, a Russian immigrant driver blamed the banks for their predatory lending. Just the other day NPR had a news story describing a gentlemen having trouble paying his mortgage. He’s underwater and owes more than his house is worth. Of course it was over $600,000 when he bought it and it still appraises at more than $450,00 so forgive me if I don’t feel too sorry for him. Was he really a victim of my taxi driver’s lenders? Is that the kind of person we’re bailing out?

And what about the banks? What kind of board of directors deludes itself, year after year, while darker and darker clouds gather over their balance sheets? Banks that have become so large that they “cannot be allowed to fail” are now holding the American people, née the world, at ransom, demanding governments pay up or crisis will ensue. And they’re paying!

Dr. Simon Johnson has an idea. In the United States we have a little government run organization that does something all the time that most of us wouldn’t like to to think about. When a bank looks like it might become insolvent the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC, takes them over. They take over the bank, control the assets and, as soon as they can, find a new owner. They are motivated to get the best money for the assets of the bank because they’ll have to pay on those assets if the holders withdraw funds, and their also motivated to get the banks out of their hands because otherwise they’ll have no assets left to fund their federally mandated responsibility of covering debts for insolvent banks. In short what the FDIC does is nationalize the banks.

OK, that was scary. Immediately after uttering “nationalize” many people think of latin American despots or socialist governments. Even those on the far left in the United States rarely have quite so much faith in the government that they want banks to run like the department of motor vehicles. (Which for the record, I think works pretty well here.)

Dr. Johnson’s idea is that briefly nationalizing the banks is not only what the FDIC does all the time, although granted not on this scale, but it’s also the very thing the International Monetary Fund does all the time with smaller economies, and with some success.The charming part, though, is that the first thing that happens to these banks is that the board of directors gets fired. Doesn’t that, at least, seem fair? Instead, first the Bush administration and so far the Obama administration have think we ought to hand money to the very same people who contributed to this mess. I should have studied finance (or bought a super expensive house). Where else would my horrible failure be rewarded by keeping my job?

When did defending capitalism turn into handing money to failed business people? Did it start with Bush? Clinton? the Iacoca bail-out? Perhaps “nationalizing” is actually the only free market thing to do?

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