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Archive for August, 2012

Heat Wave

August 5, 2012 Leave a comment

That’s what we have here in Seattle. Or what passes for one in these parts. High 80s yesterday. Over 90 today. And as I type, at 7:40 PM, it’s still 89 degrees, with not the least trace of a breeze.

I wouldn’t think of complaining, what with the weather so much of the country has experienced this summer. There’s nowhere I’d rather be when it comes to summer climate, at least once we get past the first week of July. We can generally count on lots of days in the 70s, dry and clear, except on the occasional mornings when there’s a marine layer that needs to burn off. Come evening, it’s perfect out, so I never want to be anywhere other than our backyard — for dinner, reading, browsing the web, writing these posts.

But today has been a little too hot for us Seattleites. And tonight, given how warm our house is, we’ll be moving down to the summer bedroom (the basement), where we should have spent last night.

The only saving grace is that these days help us remember that we’re in the middle of summer. Sometimes in Seattle, one loses track of what season it is.

But not when it’s hot hot hot!

Categories: Weather

Hail Galen!

August 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Galen Rupp, Olympic 10,000 meters, London, August 4, 2012

[Found photo here. Not sure of proper credit.]

Michael and Gabby. Gabby and Michael. Geez. Enough already. Okay, so maybe Michael Phelps has won an astonishing number of Olympic medals, and this time he wasn’t even expected to be so dominant. And Gabby Douglas, well, I don’t know. What’s the big deal about her anyway?

What I’d like to know is why Galen Rupp isn’t the star of the day. I may not know a whole lot, but I’m kind of thinking he pulled off one of the greatest accomplishments in US track in decades.

It’s not easy to follow the 10,000 meters. Every four years, I look forward to watching it, and if I’m lucky, when I turn on the prime time replay, I see the first 3 or 4 (of 25) laps around the track, then an ad break, then maybe an update or two of some field events, another lap or two, another ad, and somewhere around the 25-minute mark, we come back to see the final three laps. By then, perhaps three great runners from Kenya or Ethiopia have broken from the pack and we have a couple of minutes to contemplate who can pull away on the final lap.

Enough of that. This year, I was determined to watch the live feed. I spent an hour at my desk watching the last swimming finals, took a break to run some errands, came home, and switched over to track.

There was something odd about the live feed. No announcers. I could hear the crowd noise, I could see the race develop, but I had to figure out for myself what was happening. Not entirely a bad thing. (Only five minutes after the race did I figure out that I had clicked on the secondary track feed. The primary one had commentary.)

The leading runners were tightly bunched. By maybe the halfway point, the bunch had strung out to single file, with occasional lead changes, but always among the same runners. The two Bekeles from Ethiopia (Kenenisa, defending his gold medals of 2004 and 2008, and Tariku). Mo Farah from the UK (born in Somalia, runner-up in the World Championships last year). A couple of Kenyans. Or was I mixing them up with the Eritreans? And, oddly enough, the US’s Galen Rupp, a strange sight amongst the contingent of East Africans.

If I could have heard the commentary, I might have been reminded that Rupp finished 7th in the 10,000 at last year’s World Championships. His presence wasn’t that big a surprise. But he would surely fade near the end. And I would have been reminded that he and Mo Farah train together under US running great Alberto Salazar in Portland, Farah having re-located there last year. (See Malcolm Gladwell’s article on Salazar in last week’s New Yorker.) I didn’t remember. All I knew was, the crowd was going crazy whenever Farah moved toward the front, and Rupp would fade.

Then came the 9600 meter mark. The bell lap. On the backstretch, Farah took control. Rupp began to fade. Entering the last turn, Rupp stopped fading. He made a move. He was ahead of the great Kenenisa Bekele. (I confess, I wasn’t clear on this. Without the commentary, I didn’t know who was who.) He was on the shoulder of Tariku Bekele. What’s this? He’s passing Tariku. He’s in second. He’s pulling away, as Farah is ahead of him.

Gold to Farah, silver Rupp, bronze to Tariku, no medal to Kenenisa in fourth. Farah finished in 27:30.42, not particularly fast, but that’s typical of tactical Olympic races. Rupp was just .48 seconds behind, both slowing as they crossed the line with their positions secure. Tariku was half a second behind Rupp, Kenenisa another second back.

Rupp was the lone finisher in the top eight not from East Africa. And the first US medalist in the event since, well, you know when. Yes, since Billy Mills shocked the world with his 1964 gold medal run in Tokyo. I’ll never forget that. Not that I saw it. But the next morning, I was being driven to school with my brother (why we didn’t take the bus, I don’t remember), and we heard the news on the radio, Mills defeating Australian great Ron Clarke (one of my heroes) and the Tunisian Mohamed Gammoudi. I’ve long considered that the greatest moment in US long distance running, marathons aside.

And now we have Galen Rupp.

As for Mills, watch. Still incredible, 48 years later.

Categories: Track

Skyboxification

August 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Toronto skybox

On opening the current New York Review of Books a week ago, I found Jeremy Waldron’s review* of Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets of particular interest. The book appears to be a provocative treatment of the border between economics and morality, as is Waldron’s review.

(Unfortunately, the review is behind the NYR paywall, so you can’t see it in full. Consolation recommmendation: Joyce Carol Oates’ review of Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life. I wasn’t inspired to read the biography, but I’m eager to read a Dickens novel or two some time soon.)

Waldron poses the core issue at the outset:

Pecunia non olet, we are told. Money doesn’t stink. All it does is open up the way to making exchanges; it’s a liberating medium for connecting one set of preferences to another. But doesn’t money taint the goods it is exchanged for, when those goods have not normally been distributed in the marketplace?

Among the more obvious examples, Waldron suggests, are baby selling and prostitution. But Sandel describes many more.

Michael Sandel’s new book presents, by my count, more than a hundred examples like the ones I have given, of what appear to be intrusions of money and markets into parts of life where they do not belong. Many of these examples I had never heard of before, though they are culled mainly from newspapers. Some of them are quite disturbing and I think they are presented by Sandel for that reason.

There are, for instance, cities in California that offer prison cell upgrades for as much as $127 per night—clean, one-person cells away from the general prison population (most of whom cannot dream of affording that amount). “Our sales pitch at the time was, ‘Bad things happen to good people,’” Janet Givens, a spokeswoman for the Pasadena Police Department, told The New York Times, and other jail officials added that the typical pay-to-stay client is a man in his late thirties who has been convicted of driving while intoxicated.

Another example: an outfit called LineStanding.com offers clients in Washington, D.C., a “premier concierge service where standers wait at a designation of your choosing until they are able to rendezvous with you, the attendee.” Congressional hearings are open to the public, but space is limited on a first-come first-served basis. Many Capitol Hill lobbyists say that they are too busy to wait in line: queuing, it is said, “discriminates in favor of people who have the most free time.” The “standers,” apparently, are mostly retirees or, increasingly, homeless people. They accept $15–$20 an hour to wait in line and then, as the time arrives for the hearing to begin, their suited clients hook up with the them, and many ordinary citizens who have been patiently waiting for a seat are crowded out by the well-funded lobbyists.

Later, Waldron introduces an issue that particularly intrigued me. (Emphasis below is mine)

The other way in which Sandel helps get a debate underway is by identifying a number of distinct lines of thought that often get tangled up in our misgivings about money and markets.

One line of thought focuses on the voluntary nature of transactions. …

A second set of concerns is about unfairness. When scarce or quality goods are allocated, should they always go to the highest bidder? Should poor people be crowded out? …

Sandel makes an excellent point in this regard, when he says that in a society where everything is for sale, life is much harder for the poor:

The more money can buy, the more affluence (or the lack of it) matters. If the only advantage of affluence were the ability to buy yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations, inequalities of income and wealth would not matter very much. But as money comes to buy more and more … the distribution of income and wealth looms larger and larger.

The effects of economic inequality of wealth or income are mitigated by the fact that some goods are provided on a basis that has nothing to do with money. It need not be egalitarian or collective provision, but just a shared sense that an unequal distribution won’t always reflect inequality in income. That’s the point about the line for the congressional hearings. Some get in and some don’t, but it is not mainly determined by what money you can offer, at least until linestanding.com enters the picture.

This rarely gets discussed by our political candidates. Everyone on both sides of the aisle is so eager to praise the fruits of capitalism that issues of fairness and proper means of redress get shoved under the rug. Shouldn’t this be the central issue underlying the health care debate? Or regulation of Wall Street? Yet Obama, for one, so rarely comes at the issue directly. The crazed right wing is busy calling him a socialist, yet he is so right of what once was the center that he doesn’t speak out on issues that were historically in the Democratic mainstream.

Or, as Waldron concludes:

Sandel is a baseball fan and, in one last example, he cites the “skyboxification” of our society as an incident of money’s baneful influence. People pay money at ballparks to isolate themselves from others in the experience of watching a baseball game. It is a sort of a metaphor for something more pervasive: “At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives.” If Sandel is right, that phenomenon is bound to make it harder for us to have the public debate that is called for in this important book.

——-
One last note. In examining the Amazon listing of Sandel’s book, I happened to notice a review by the retired University of Massachusetts economist Herbert Gintis. He takes Sandel to task for Sandel’s critique of economics, and what he has to say is well worth reading.

Categories: Books, Economics, Philosophy

The Men’s Eight

August 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Olympic men’s eight rowing final, August 1, 2012

[Nic Bothma/EPA]

Two nights ago, I announced that it was put up or shut up time. After years of complaining about the difficulty of following Olympic rowing on TV, I now had the option of watching any event I wanted live through NBC’s internet feed. If the men’s eight race was so important to me, all I would have to do is get up at 2:30 the next morning (yesterday) and watch it. But would I? I promised an update, and here it is.

Some background first. The traditional setup in a major rowing event is to have heats in which the winners advance to the finals, but the others have to row again in a “repechage” round to fill out the field. I hadn’t followed closely enough in recent years to know who was in good form, but I’d read that Germany was favored. True to form, they won their heat, in a very fast time of 5:25.52. The other heat, was won by the US in a time of 5:30.72, slower than the times of Great Britain and the Netherlands in the Germany heat. The repechage was won by Great Britain, followed by Canada, the Netherlands, Australia (all qualifying for the final), Poland, and Ukraine.

I set an alarm on my iPad to go off yesterday morning at 2:22. I figured that would give me enough time to open the Olympic live feed app, find the rowing, and get the feed started by the listed 2:30 AM start time. I awoke at 1:45 AM and wondered if I should just stay up. But I didn’t. I awoke next at 2:32 AM. The alarm never went off. Or I never heard it. Then again, maybe it did go off, which might be the only reason I even awoke at 2:32, by which time the alarm had stopped. I don’t know.

What I do know is, I got up, took the iPad out of the room so as not to awake Gail, opened the Olympic app, started the rowing — everything working perfectly — and there were two boats racing away. I didn’t know how far down the 2000 meter course they were. I didn’t even know who they were. And had they really opened such a huge lead over the rest of the field that the camera would focus on them alone?

Here’s the thing. What I didn’t know was that Poland and Ukraine were to compete in a runoff for 7th place. And that’s what I was watching. Maybe 20 seconds after I joined the coverage, the screen had a graphic identifying who was who, and I was totally confused. After all, they weren’t even in the final. Were they?

The race ended, I learned that Poland had just won 7th place, it all made sense at last, and I realized I had lucked out. Despite oversleeping, I was in time to see the real final after all.

Except that the camera switched to the starting line and the boats maneuvering into place weren’t eights, they were quadruple sculls. We were moving on to the next event. I had missed the final altogether!

That’s the story.

I don’t know what I did wrong, or what was wrong with the schedule. But the men’s eight final didn’t start at 2:30 am after all. I went back to bed disappointed.

On awakening a few hours later, I checked the results to find out what I missed. Germany had won the gold with a time of 5:48.75. Second was Canada, in 5:49.98. Just .69 seconds separated the other four shells, with Great Britain getting bronze in 5:51.18, the US fourth in 5:51.48, Netherlands fifth in 5:51.72, and Australia sixth in 5:51.87. I know nothing more. Whether Germany was in control all the way or Canada challenged, whether the US was closing on GB for a medal or rather was in a medal position but lost out at the end — no idea. I’ll catch the race online at some point.

Last night I had to decide what to do about the women’s eight. It took place this morning, 4:30 AM local time. Should I set the alarm again? I didn’t. I was too discouraged. And I missed what no doubt was a good race, won by the favored US crew with Canada second, Netherlands third, Romania fourth, GB fifth, and Australia sixth.

Maybe four years from now I’ll have this figured out. It helps that Rio is only four hours ahead.

——–

Meanwhile, having finished writing this post, I decided to look up the coverage of the men’s race in The Guardian. Tim Adams fills us in, from a British perspective:

In an emotional final, Britain’s men’s eight held on to win a thrilling bronze medal behind the world champions Germany and the defending Olympic champions Canada. With the Eton Dorney crowd still ecstatic from witnessing the first British triumph of the 2012 Games in the women’s pair event half an hour earlier, the men’s boat was roared along the 2km course from the start.

With five hundred metres to go it still looked possible that the men’s crew would add to the triumph of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning; at that stage they were matching the German crew stroke for stroke and were half a length up on Canada. In the final quarter of the race, however, the Germans pulled away, and by the end the British men, having given everything in an explosive start, only edged out the fast-finishing American crew by 0.3sec to hold on to a medal.

Up against a German crew undefeated for four years, and a Canadian boat boasting the fastest time in history, the odds had been stacked against Britain’s men, and to come so close was a triumph of will in itself.

Categories: Life, Sports

Bill Burger, 2

August 2, 2012 1 comment

Just before the start of the US Open golf championship in June, I wrote about the Bill Burger. This year’s Open was held at San Francisco’s famed Olympic Club, which in addition to its rich sporting history is also home to Bill Parish’s great burger invention.

I quoted in that earlier post from Al Saracevic’s story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

For decades, famished golfers have stopped at a small, nondescript shack between the 9th and 10th holes at Olympic to devour what quite possibly could be the greatest burger known to mankind. It not only tastes great, but it looks funny, too.

You see, back in 1950, a guy named Bill Parrish opened a small burger stand outside the boundaries of Olympic, but close enough for golfers to run over and buy a burger or dog between holes. To save money, Bill decided to cut his burgers in half and serve them on hot dog rolls. That way he didn’t have to waste money on buying two kinds of buns.

The result is legendary. You can hold it one hand and wolf it down in no time. And did I mention it tastes fabulous? If you’ve ever played the famous Lake Course, you know what I’m talking about.

I also quoted a description by Katie Sweeney that accompanied her slide show, in which she brought us up to date by mentioning that “nowadays, Bill’s daughter is in charge of making the burgers. They have a special mold that shapes the ground beef into skinny rectangular patties. Each patty is a quarter pound of beef.”

And I concluded:

We will be watching the golf on Sunday, and having our Father’s Day barbecue. What better way to take in the action than to accompany it with Bill Burgers (or our best approximation of them)? We could use one of those molds.

Alas, minus molds, Gail refused to participate in Bill Burger building. We had to settle for Copper River salmon, accompanied by rice, grilled vegetables, corn on the cob, homemade strawberry lemonade, and Cold Stone Creamery ice cream cake.

I know. Not so bad. In fact, it was terrific. But I have continued to dream of Bill Burgers.

I can stop dreaming soon. This morning, my pal Russ was kind enough to send me a link to the Kitchen Art Ham Dogger, available from Amazon for just $6.29. (Thank you, Russ!) The product description:

Now you can please both the hot dog and hamburger lover. You will never have to buy two kinds of buns when you have Kitchen Art Ham Dogger. The Ham Dogger is easy to use and makes 1/4 lb. hot dog shaped hamburger patties. Make specialty dogs using ground sausage or turkey.

To give proper credit, Russ learned about the ham dogger from Amy Rolph’s piece on the Top 20 weirdest things you can buy on Amazon, posted yesterday at the Seattle PI website.

I ordered one. It arrives tomorrow. Ham dogs this weekend. Hot dog!

Categories: Food, Shopping