Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More Pics from Washington, DC: The Hirshorn & The Museum of the American Indian

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei did a collection of sculpture called Animal Heads/Chinese Zodiac that's on display under the Hishhorn right now.  Born in 1973, I'm an Ox.
This is the Dragon from the same collection.  You can see some of the other heads in the background.
This is called something like Classical Sculpture by Rodin.  It's also in the Hirshhorn.
This was one of my favorites from this trip.

The Museum of the American Indian is a very sad place.  It starts by making a point of the fact that "Indians" are from India, and that even calling American Indians "Native Americans" is an anomoly in that they existed on the continents that we call America long before the continent itself had been given that name.  The people living in the Americas before Columbus had a rich culture, history, and heritage long before Europeans knew them.

But then the museum dives straight into the conquest of America by the Spanish, and the plagues and wars that went along with it.  By the time English settlers landed at Plymouth Rock, the native population had already been nearly obliterated by disease, so that the pilgrims were able to settle in an abandoned Indian village.  Moreover, the Spanish looted and then destroyed the native culture where they found it, so that an astonishingly small collection of native artifacts remains from their pre-settlement culture.  The Museum of the American Indian is therefore mostly filled with replicas and with collections from Native American life in the modern day.  It's interesting, but it's also sad.  Having seen a wide cross-section of both this past weekend, I think there might be more African culture left over from the black slave trade in America than there is American Indian culture from the lives of the pre-conquest peoples.

My father was 1/8th Cherokee.  I got into this stuff quite a bit while thinking of him and am looking forward to doing some research on the Cherokee when I get back home.

This is the Buffalo Hunter, done in the style of the Pueblo Indians.  It's outside the
 Museum of the American Indian.
These skate decks are a good example of the kind of thing that's on display at the Museum
of the American Indian.  They are a modern interpretation of classic American Indian culture. 
I took this picture of the Capitol with my wife's iPhone from a window in the Museum of the American Indian.
This is The Nymph.  It's the center of three, but it's on display by itself in the
Hirshhorn's Sculpture Garden.  It was another of my favorite pieces from this trip.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Visit to See My Father

We visited my father on Memorial Day.

Centurion Six: Issue #1, Part 6

Our Story So Far:
Captains Blaine “Centurion Six” Winters and Jacob “Zulu” Mbeke of the New York State National Guard Enhanced Forces Division (EFD) are called out to consult on a multiple homicide in the south Bronx.  The case seems like routine “skrag” gang violence until our heroes are attacked by some kind of killer cyborg robot-monkey mounting a highly advanced stealth/security system and a small-caliber machine pistol.
Meanwhile, teenaged ultra-human club girl Rebecca Rodriguez uses her Telekinesis to sneak out for a night on the town in Upper West Side Manhattan.  She meets up with her friends, uses her Empathy to talk their way into Pacha, and then parties like there’s no tomorrow. Having lost control of her powers, she then wanders drunkenly out into the streets of Manhattan at three in the morning.
Author's Notes: Sorry for the short piece this week.  It's vacation, and I've taken a break from work of all kinds this week. 
As always, to read the story from the beginning click the Centurion Six keyword down below.
* * *
The streets of New York were empty at three in the morning, and Blaine made good time on his ride back to the Upper West Side.  He’d stopped at an Inwood convenience store to clean out the worst of his wounds, slap a compression bandage on the hole in his chest, and throw on a clean white tee shirt, but he knew he still looked like a mess.  The docs at the EFD had once measured his “invulnerability” and determined that his skin was about as tough as cured leather and that his underlying musculature had about the same consistency as oak.  As it happened, Blaine reflected, that was enough to save him from a few indirect explosions and some small caliber machine-pistol fire.  It was not, however, proof against a super-stealth robot-monkey-thing wielding very sharp tempered steel knives. 
Still, Blaine thought, his wounds could wait.  Ditto for why a super-stealth robot-monkey-thing was even involved in what had appeared to be a simple gangland homicide case.  The technology involved in that thing’s appearance was impressive—and more than a little scary—but perhaps not quite as scary as the fact that the evidence suggested that Blaine’s one-time friend Jason King might be involved in whatever-the-Hell was really going on back in the South Bronx.  If Jason was really involved, that was bad news.  Very bad news.  Especially if he’d started killing people.
But all of that could wait.  First Blaine had to find Rebecca—Jailbait—before she got into God knew what kind of trouble in some big city club at three in the morning.  And just as importantly, before Rebecca’s dad Colonel Joachim Rodriguez, callsign Ɓguila—yes the Eagle, that Eagle—found out that Blaine’s team had again let his precious daughter sneak out while the Colonel himself was away on some super hush-hush high priority mission with the EFD’s foreign services branch.  Because after that happened, Rebecca’s dad was likely to kick Blaine’s ass up between his ears.  Add in the disaster with the South Bronx homicide case—one dead cop, two massive explosions resulting in the utter destruction of all evidence at the crime scene, and the fact that Blaine and his team had let the super-stealth robot-monkey-thing get away on top of everything else—and frankly Blaine wasn’t sure that his career would survive if in addition to all of that Rebecca also managed to get herself into some kind of trouble downtown, too.
Blaine gunned the throttle on his bike, and the lights of the City sped by.  He was almost to the club where Mainframe had said Rebecca had gone, but somehow he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was already too late.
The problem was that Rebecca, like most of Blaine’s friends, was an ultra-human.  She was, in fact, an incredibly powerful ultra-human, one whose gifts were so extreme that she often had trouble controlling them.  And she liked to party.  Hence her callsign, Jailbait.  It was hard enough keeping a girl like that out of trouble in the Mundie world.  Give that same girl a set of super-powers-on-overdrive that she could barely control, and suddenly keeping her out of trouble became a virtual impossibility.
Bottom line, Blaine needed to find her ASAP.  Where Jailbait was concerned, a lot could happen in a very short amount of time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

More Pics from Washington, DC

The Washington Monument, as seen from the new World War II Memorial.
Sally and I both got really into the Renaissance
sculpture.  This one is called  Diana of the Tower.
This statue of Mercury is in the rotunda at the National Gallery of Art.
Perhaps my favorite sculpture was this one.  It's called Flight of Europa.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 4)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai.  Page 4.
Click here to see the page at full size.

And so, the fight is on!  Next week's page is my favorite from this particular story.

To read the story from the beginning, click the Sunday Comics tab below.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pics from the Smithsonian

As I said yesterday, we're down in DC with the kids.  Well, yesterday we took them to the American History Museum and the Natural History Museum, both of which I think they really enjoyed.  Certainly I enjoyed myself.  Here are some pictures to prove it.

A statue of George Washington, re-imagined as a Greek god.
Hannah and an early DC generator.  I loved all this stuff from
Thomas Edison's  workshop and the shops of his early competitors.

Hannah and Emma and a giant telescope.
I was looking for something for my wife at the gift
shop, and this caught my eye.
Hannah the predator.  Behind her is a sabertooth tiger skeleton.
Hannah and Sally and the barbarian exhibit.  You can't really
tell from this picture, but that barbarian girl is French;
one of her breasts is exposed.
Man-eating bird!
Where else but the Smithsonian will you see a whale
hanging from the ceiling?  Well, to be fair, they also have one
hanging from the ceiling of the Museum of Natural History
in New York City as well.
Dire wolf skeletons.  I looked but couldn't find the crest for House Stark.
These elephants were in the Presidents' section.
They belonged to Ronald Reagan.
Hannah and Emma pose with a triceretops.
The one thing I thought I kept coming back to today as we walked through the Natural History Museum was that the entire place is designed to show the effects of evolution and the origin and development of the various species of life on Earth.  I say that because Washington, DC, is such an inherently political place, and so I'm a little surprised that folks haven't gone crazy about the fact that our national natural history museum teaches evolution.  But they do, and they do a good job with it.  

Hooray for science!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Trip to Washington, Part 1

We drove down to Washington, DC, for a long weekend yesterday, and so far what I can say is that I've learned a few things:

1.  Going from I-87 South to the George Washington Bridge and I-95 South is never a good idea.  We left the house at about 10:30 am yesterday, and got to the interchange around noon.  I figured that to the extent that traffic over the bridge is ever good, that would be about the best we could do during non-overnight hours.  Wrong!

2.  It costs a lot to drive through New Jersey and Delaware.  I think the tolls in Jersey were somewhere north of $13.50, and the drive through Delaware was another $8 or $12.  Wow!

3.  Driving through DC and northern Virginia is at least as confusing as driving through New Jersey.

4.  Mixing Sierra Nevada's new Hopnotic IPA with other beers is a mistake.  At 10.7% ABC, Hopnotic is a big beer.  But it still goes down really smoothly.  Today I have quite a little headache going.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Triathlon Revisited

One of the ladies from my triathlon club sent me a letter this week that really meant a lot to me.  My friend was already a good runner when she joined the club, but she couldn't swim well at all, and she was hoping I could help her with it.  So we worked on it, and eventually, she got to where she swam very well.

And then she sent me this.  I edited it a bit to protect her privacy.

HI Dan,

I don't know that I can ever thank you enough for teaching me to swim.  In the weeks since we first met at the Tri-Club Information session (what 12 weeks to the day?) I knew that this time the stars had aligned and sent me the Coach that would get me to finally crack the code and truly swim.  I can not put my finger on it but there was something in your "resolve"—that Dan could teach it and I could learn it—that made me a believer from the start.  It's a gift Dan, in two ways.  You are a gifted and generous teacher and giver.  I am a grateful receiver of this gift that will forever enrich my life.  I will not soon forget what you have done for me.  Swimming has not only become a new tool in my fitness chest, (along with the bragging rights from my first Tri) but it will allow me to enjoy the beach with my family from the water now instead of feeling land locked in the sand (I cannot wait till the water is warm enough to swim in, I am itching to swim in the sound).  I feel safer, more responsible, and a better example to my children.  Still best of all is that now my time in the pool has become very cathartic.  I am finding that my first 30 minutes in the pool, when I am struggling most to get my breathing in sync, my body level and actually feel smooth, is not really due to any anxiety in the water.  Instead it just takes me that long to quite the other noise in my life and just glide.  THAT my friend is the sweet spot I am most thankful for.

SO DAN! I am at your service.  Please count on my support in any way.  Will you continue the Tri-Club at the Y to prepare for other events? Can I still be a member?  I would love to meet and encourage/support others. Perhaps I could help you facilitate other training groups in some way?  When is your next race? I'd love to volunteer at upcoming events.  I am truly happy to help. Count on me anytime.

Namaste my friend, I am so glad to know you.

So, I answered my friend, but if you're wondering, yes the Tri Club is going to continue.  We're meeting again next week, just as soon as I get back from our mini-vacation this weekend.

BTW, my friend also sent me this picture of the awards ceremony on Sunday after the race:

That's me.  I'm in the 3rd!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bonus Hair Metal: Paradise City

Apologies for all the G'n'R I've been playing on here lately, but this one I have to share.  I mean, I hadn't really considered it until this morning, but I'm starting to think that Slash and Fergie should get their own show in Vegas.  Seriously, listen to this.  The only thing they're missing here are Elvis's old sequined jump suits.

Also, somebody needs to tell that she's getting a little old for those leather pants.

And finally, how could I leave off Green Day, cover band.  This one's a riot.

Today's my Friday, if you're wondering.  Sally and I are taking the kids to DC for the weekend, starting tomorrow.  Enjoy!

Woodruff Family YMCA 2012 Y-Tri Race Report

F.I.R.M. Racing held their annual Y-Tri at the Woodruff Family YMCA in Milford, CT, over the past weekend, and as I mentioned last week, I ran it.  The race started with a short pool swim, followed by an 11-mile two-loop bike ride, followed by a 2.5-mile out-and-back run.

I hesitate to call the Y-Tri one of my “A” races, especially since I wasn’t even planning to run it this year, but the fact is that it’s the first and perhaps only actual triathlon I’m doing this season, and more to the point, I’ve been coaching the Woodruff YMCA Triathlon Club for the past few months.  Truth is, I really wanted to perform well in front of my club.  So where in past years I might’ve worked through this race without resting more than a day or two beforehand, this year I wound up scheduling an entire Rest Week specifically in front of this race with the hopes that a bit of extra rest would help me do well.  Of course, we threw that planning out the window on the Saturday when Sally and I spent the day with the girls out in the sun at the 100th Annual Girl Scout Jubilee, but what are you gonna do?  I mean, I wanted to race well, but at the same time, I didn’t want to miss out on time with my family, especially on a day when I didn’t have a lot of heavy training planned before we went out. 

In the end, I don’t know how much it helped or hurt that we wound up traipsing all over a sunny field all day the day before the race, but I do know that the challenge of balancing these kinds of family activities with the desire to train and race well is one of the most difficult and interesting facets of living a multi-sport lifestyle.  It’s largely this tension that keeps me doing Sprints and Oly’s rather than trying to race longer distances, but at least I’m still out there racing and trying to do well.

My girls had their annual gymnastics show after the Girl Scout thing on Saturday, and what with one thing or another, we wound up staying out ‘til almost 10 pm the night before the race.  That might not seem late to you, but it is, in fact, very late for me, and I was happy when we got home, and I finally got into bed.  Even so, I didn’t sleep very well, and when I woke up in the middle of the night with a sinus headache, I panicked, thinking I was about to suffer a migraine.  Thankfully the migraine never materialized, but between the headache and the birds outside our bedroom window, I got up at 5 am on Sunday, having spent at least an hour prior tossing and turning before dawn.  More than anything, I think all of that speaks to my state of mind pre-race.  I was agitated before the race, and I’m not sure I ever really got it under control.

The upside of all of that is that I had plenty of time in the morning before the race.  I wound up getting to the YMCA at about 6:30 for an 8:00 am start, leaving me with plenty of time to set up my stuff in transition, change clothes, do a good half-hour’s worth of yoga, and basically get myself together.  Eventually, I got into the pool and swam an easy 400-yards or so, with one good hard fifty done just to get my heart going.  By the time we lined up to start the swim, I felt pretty good and figured I had a shot to perform reasonably well.

I should mention here as well that I’ve done several races this season that had relatively low attendance.  However, I was pleased to see that plenty of folks came out for the Y-Tri, and I found that to be kind of amazing considering the number of competing events that were held on that same day.  For example, both the Hartford Marathon Association’s Shamrock Duathlon and the Gran Fondo New York City were also held on Sunday, May 20th.  Personally, I’d have liked to have done both of those events were they not held coincidentally, but having agreed to coach the Milford YMCA Tri Club, I felt honor-bound to race in their Y-Tri as well.  In any event, a bit more than a hundred folks wound up racing with me in Milford on Sunday, and all things considered, I thought that was a pretty good turnout.


The Y-Tri starts with a 300-yard pool swim.  You enter your estimated swim time when you enter the race, and then you’re seeded in order from fastest to slowest.  The start is then staggered, with a swimmer entering the water every 10 to 20 seconds.  You zig-zag your way through the six lanes of the pool until you’ve done a lap in each of the lanes, giving you 300 yards.  The past two years, I’ve entered 3:30 as my estimated time and wound up catching up to the guy seeded immediately in front of me, and that kind of sucks.  So this year I entered an estimated time of 3:15, and lo and behold, I was seeded first.

I'm in the last lane, coming in to the wall.
Actually, that’s not really surprising.

So anyway, we lined up, and immediately this 13-year-old kid comes up behind me.  He’s wearing #2 to my #1.  He looks at me and squints.  “So, are you fast or what?”

“I’m okay,” I replied.  “Why?  How fast are you?”

“I’m fast.”

I looked at him, then looked at his dad.  The dad looked back.  “He is.  He’s really fast.”

And I thought, Oh Hell, here we go.  This is what I get for putting down a time of 3:15.  I’m about to be embarrassed in front of my own team!

I sighed.  I’d been planning to try to cruise through the swim without really putting out any serious effort, but the idea of getting embarrassed by a kid who’s not even in high school yet did not appeal.  So I tightened my goggles, got in the water, and said a little prayer.  The official looked at me, counted down, and then said magic words.  And we were off!

As it happens, I don’t think the kid actually went second.  There was some shuffling of the order right before the race started, but frankly, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it because, bottom line, no one wanted my spot.  That said, the fear of getting passed by that kid weighed on me, and when I took off from the wall, I did it with a strong stroke and a solid six-beat kick.  Somewhere around the 150- or 200-yard mark, I realized I was significantly over-working the swim, but by then it was too late.  I’d put at least 15-seconds into the next fastest swimmer, and I’m happy to report that that kid didn’t get anywhere near passing me—or even holding even—but I really worked that swim, and it wasn’t by any means the smartest thing I’ve ever done. 

Still, I was swimming in front of my team, and there is the matter of honor to consider.  I was first out of the water by a lot more than I needed to be, but that’s a damn sight better than getting smoked by a 13-year-old kid.

300-yard pool swim: 3:30 (~1:08/100). 1/7 Age Group; 1/95 Overall.
3:30 was my official time, including the time it takes to get out of the pool, run out of the building, and cross the mat.  I was probably right at 3:15 or maybe 3:20 to the wall, which is how I come by an estimated 1:08/100 average.

The run from the pool to Transition is maybe 30-yards over grass and blacktop.  I jogged it and tried to let my heart slow down a bit.  I then fumbled around in Transition, so that the guy who came out of the water behind me actually left Transition before me.  Still, it wasn’t horrible.  Transition itself wasn’t timed, but I’m gonna guess that the run and the fumbling together took about 2-minutes.

T-1: Untimed.

Start of the bike leg.  Note that I'm out of the saddle, picking
up speed.
We got onto the bike, and I was pleased to see that the guy who passed me in Transition had trouble getting his cleat into his peddle right out of the gate.  I didn’t have that trouble and re-took the lead briefly at about the 50-meter mark.  Right out of the Y’s parking lot, you enter a short, slightly downhill straightaway, and I hit that at a dead run to my competitor’s fumbling, which gave me enough impetus to hold the lead again for maybe a half-mile or so.  However, both he and the guy behind him passed me shortly thereafter, and frankly, I’ve raced both guys before and wasn’t overly surprised to get passed.  Instead, I tried to settle in and work at my own pace without blowing up.

That’s not as easy as it sounds in these short races.  I mean, there’s just no time for anything.  You have to work the entire way just to keep pace with the field.  For example, I started the bike leg with a heart rate of about 165, and I doubt it dropped much in the first four miles.  The bike course starts with a short, straight false-flat down, but then it turns right, and you’re in a false-flat up for the next three miles or so.  It wasn’t brutal by any means, but it also wasn’t an easy place to hold a hard tempo over, especially when you want to go fast but also want to ride easily.  It wasn’t happening for me, and it didn’t until we made the second and third turns.  After that, you climb very briefly before coming to a 2-mile false-flat decent, and it was there that I finally started to get myself back under control.

But the bike course is a two-loop course, and soon enough, I was back into that upward false-flat that had just left me winded.  I felt better by this point but still not what I would call “good”, and although I think I made decent time, I’ll tell you right now that I paid for it.  By the time I reached the one small climb, I was tired, and I know my speed fell off badly going up there.  It would have cost me a lot to get out of the saddle and hold the pace, but I didn’t do that because doing it would have been completely insane.

At this point, I hadn’t seen anybody for a half an hour, and I was breathing pretty hard.  I hit the false-flat down to Transition and worked it as hard as I could.  There was one spot where I came up from behind on a truck who obviously didn’t see me, and I yelled at him, but he slammed on his brakes without killing me, so I guess that’s all that matters.  I finished the course, hopped off my bike, and ran into Transition with burning lungs and rubbery legs.  Argh.

11-Mile Bike: 35:06 (~20 mph).   2/7 Age Group; 10/95 Overall.
Again, transition was untimed.  So my 20 mph estimate here relies on a T-1 time of roughly 2-minutes and change.  That’s the best I can do, however, since my bike computer fell of my handle bars a few weeks ago and got run over by yet another truck—on the same course, if you can believe that.

I ran into T-2, changed shoes, dumped the rest of my stuff, and opted not to wear a hat or a running visor.  I was out pretty quick, but we had to exit Transition through the back, and I wasn’t moving super-fast or anything.  I’m gonna guess I was in there for about a minute, but that’s kind of a wild guess.

T-2: Untimed.


The start of the run course.  Still out there by myself.
It’s a short run course, but it was getting hot by the time I got onto it.  Moreover, I felt like hammered crap when I started, but I’ve done enough triathlons to know that if you just run your race and hold your form, eventually it’ll start to come together again.  Well, mostly that’s how it happens, anyway.  This particular time, I noticed right off that my hands were too high and my form was all wonky, and try as I might, I couldn’t do much with my form.  I wanted to straighten it out and pick up the pace, but I just didn’t have the energy, and that’s about all there is to say about it.  I saw the two guys in front of me on their way back in as I was headed out, and I kind of saluted, but there was no way I was gonna start making up time on those guys, no matter how badly I wanted to. 

Still, by this point it’d been at least forty minutes since I’d seen anyone at all besides those two guys in front of me, and with the exception of the 13-year-old kid’s sister—she passed me right at the two-mile mark of the run, but she was obviously part of a family relay for the event—I hadn’t seen anyone, and that was fine.  I knew I’d swum well, I thought I’d probably ridden reasonably well, and truth to tell, I thought I was probably going to finish well.  I mean, I did see some folks running out as I was running back, but they looked like they were at least a couple of minutes behind me, so I just held my pace and tried to keep it together.  I crossed the line at 59:20 and thought I had a good shot at 3rd overall.

2.5-Mile Run: 20:43 (~8:00/mile).  5/7 Age Group.  25/95 Overall.
This is where it sucks that Transition was untimed.  I’d really like to know what I ran for those last two and a half miles.  I mean, I have trouble believing that I was much below 8:00/mile considering how badly I was feeling, but it’s only 2.5-miles, and I’ve been running a lot.  If I was in T-2 for :50, then I averaged about 7:53/mile.  But if I was only in T-2 for :30, then the average was closer to 8:05/mile.

In any event, I was somewhere around 8:00/mile, which is right at the pace I ran during the Westport 10K.  Considering that both races are not quite an hour, and that I ran them both in a similar fashion—hard up front, holding it together as best I could towards the end—I suppose that’s about what you’d expect.

F.I.R.M. Racing Y-Tri: 59:20.  3/7 Age Group; 11/95 Overall.
As it happens, there were several folks who didn’t pass me straight up given the head-start I had heading into the swim but who nevertheless actually finished faster than I did.  This includes both of the guys who beat me in my Age Group, neither of whom beat me by more than a minute.  It would have been nice to have been able to see those guys in the closing part of the race, but I tell you frankly that I’m not sure I could’ve gone a whole minute faster no matter what.  Maybe competition would’ve helped; maybe it would’ve just driven the point home about how much I need to keep working on my running.

Me, Marisol, and Laetitia after the race.
Going Forward
In the end, this race was sort of the same old thing for me—a decent swim, a decent ride, and then holding on for dear life against a field of better runners.  I keep working on my running—and I’ll admit that it is getting better—but it’s still frustrating.

Up next, Sally and I are running the Fairfield Half Marathon.  After that, depending on what happens at work, it’ll be either an early end to the season or a few more races.  I’m not sure which, and until this thing with work gets sorted out, I’m not making any plans.  Still, it’ll be nice to focus on running by itself for a while.  That’s both easier than multisport training and a little less intense competition-wise given that I’m, just not as good at it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Centurion Six: Issue #1, Part 5

Our Story So Far:
Captains Blaine “Centurion Six” Winters and Jacob “Zulu” Mbeke of the New York State National Guard Enhanced Forces Division (EFD) are called out to consult on a multiple homicide in the south Bronx.  The case seems like routine “skrag” gang violence until our heroes are attacked by some kind of killer cyborg robot-monkey mounting a highly advanced stealth/security system and a small-caliber machine pistol.  There are several large explosions, and what looked like a routine case suddenly becomes an unholy debacle.
Meanwhile, teenaged ultra-human club girl Rebecca Rodriguez uses her Telekinesis to sneak out for a night on the town in Upper West Side Manhattan.  She meets up with her friends, uses her Empathy to talk their way into Pacha, and gets ready to party like there’s no tomorrow.
Note: To read the story from the beginning, click the Centurion Six keyword down below.

* * *
Shelby landed, looking like an angel—white diaphanous nightgown lit from beneath by the redirected photons she channeled to access her ultra-human gifts, long blond hair streaming in the breeze, regal presence hung about her like a cloak.  The cops starred, as well they might.  Somewhere a woman prayed.  Personally, Blaine thought that Shelby’s flight goggles ruined the image.  Or maybe it was her fuzzy slippers.
Blaine rolled over, checked the police sergeant’s heartbeat, let himself collapse a little when he realized that there was nothing there.  The man was dead.  He looked closer, saw at least a dozen shrapnel wounds amongst the blood and gore of the sergeant’s chest, neck, and face, and knew at once that the man had been killed in the initial ambush-explosion. 
Above Blaine, Zulu let go of his invisibility.  He showed up standing over Blaine with his pistol out, searching the wreckage of the ruined drug house.  “You okay, Chief?”
“I’m a little cut up.  Looks worse than it is—probably.”  Blaine pulled himself up to his hand and knees, looked around.  There was a piece of glass, shrapnel from the explosion, stuck in his upper arm and a good deal of blood on the ground—his, the cop’s, even the monkey-robot-thing’s.  He pulled the glass out and grimaced; more blood flowed down around his biceps and elbow.   “Any sign of that thing?”
“No.  Shelby whacked it pretty good.  There may be some pieces, but—“
“I got a piece right here,” Blaine said.  He held up the thing’s arm where he’d been holding it when his lieutenant—First Lieutenant Shelby “Sunburst” Sexton—hit it with a massive focused photon-laser pulse.  “But I don’t think that she killed it.  I felt it turn and jump after the explosion.  I doubt we’ll find anything now.”  Blaine threw the piece to Zulu.  “What d’you make of that?”
“No fucking clue.  Some kind of robot-thing with fur?  We’ll have to ask the Colonel, see what he says.”
“Yeah,” Blaine said.  He’d known that already, but wasn’t looking forward to the interview session and attendant After Action Review. 
On his feet now, Blaine saw cops approaching, guessed that they were ready to come out now that all the craziness was over.  One of the younger ones was the first on the scene—a blonde kid about Shelby’s age, early twenties, twenty-three at the most.  He was a well-muscled kid, but his eyes were wide, and he looked a little frantic.
“Sergeant Malloy!  Is he—?“
“I’m sorry, officer.  There was nothing else I could do.”
The kid looked confused, angry.  “But I thought…  I mean, you’re supposed to be—“ He cut himself off, made a visible effort to pull himself together.  “But aren’t you--?“
“Look, I’m sorry,” Blaine said, “If there’s anything else I can do…”
A second cop, an older man, came up and put his arm around the kid.  His voice was cold.  “You’ve done quite enough, Captain.  Us regular folk’ll take it from here.  Probably what we should’a done in the first place, you ask me.”  To the kid, he said, “Come on, Jimmy.”
A beat passed before Zulu grabbed Blaine’s arm.  “Come on, Blaine.  This ain’t part of the gig, man.”
Blaine let himself be led away from the scene, realized as he walked exactly how many times he’d been cut during the fight.  He had at least a dozen different wounds, most of which were still bleeding.  His uniform was in tatters.
“Any of that hurt?” Zulu asked.
Blaine shook his head.  “I can’t really feel it.  Except where that thing got me in the chest, that one hurts like Hell.  But I guess I’ll be alright with a couple of stitches.”
Zulu shook his head.  “Glad I’m not the team’s tank.”  He looked up, smiled at Shelby.  “Nice nightgown, LT.  But it’s the slippers with the goggles that make it pop.”
Shelby started to say something, but Blaine cut her off.  “Where the Hell is Danny, lieutenant?”
“Seriously?  You come over here all covered in blood, and the first thing you can say is, ‘Where’s Danny?’  What the Hell’s the matter with you, sir?  I flew here at Mach 2 in my freakin’ nightgown and, by the looks of it, that’s what saved your ass.”  Shelby took a breath.  “But don’t worry, I’m sure Danny will be along as soon as he can be.”
Blaine took a breath, blew it out.  He suddenly felt tired.  “You blew up our crime scene, Shelby.  Now we’ll be lucky if we ever figure out what happened here.  We—“  He shook his head, cut himself off.  “You know what?  Forget it.  I’ll do it.”  He walked over to his bike, grabbed a spare earbud out of his saddlebag, and clipped it to his ear. 
“Mainframe, you up?  Account for all team members, and dispatch Eagle One to do an orbital sweep of the area, wide area search.  Look for any anomalous energy readings and/or any readings that look like they might be associated with stealth technology.  Acknowledge.”
“Thank you.”  Blaine turned around.  “Shelby, you’re released.  Go home, start working on your report.  Zee, you go see if the cops need anything else, see if there’s anything they need us to do.”
“Will do, boss,” Zulu said.
“But nothing, Shelby.  You get out of here now before the cops realize what really happened out here and start talking about property damage.  Or, God forbid, Reckless Endangerment.”
“What are you gonna do?” Zulu asked.
Blaine smiled.  “I’m gonna go see if I can find somebody to gimme some stitches.  Then I’m gonna go grab a shower.”
Mainframe interrupted.  TEAM REPORT READY.
Blaine stopped in his tracks.  “What?”
“Damn it!” Blaine said.  He turned around and started walking back towards his bike.  “I thought you and Danny were watching her, Shelby.”
“Don’t hang this on me, Blaine.  She’s a big girl, and you know it.”
Blaine mounted his bike.  Zulu and Shelby both looked alarmed.  Zulu said, “Where the Hell you going, Blaine?  Don’t you need to get some stitches or something?”
“I’ll take care of it later.”  He kicked the bike to life, and the Ducati’s engine roared.  “You’re in charge, Zee.  Call me when you’ve got something to report.”
“Blaine wait!  This is crazy!  You’re still—”
Blaine shook his head and roared off into the night.
* * *
Rebecca managed to stumble out of the club before she was sick.  But that was it.  Her vomit came forth in a torrent just past the outside doors, splattering the gutters on the far side of the by now familiar velvet rope.  A small line of would-be club-goers stood just beyond the doors waiting to get in; old-looking frat-boys cheered when she hurled.  The cheers turned to catcalls when she stood up, but Rebecca’s head hurt too much for her to even consider turning.
Suddenly, the cute bouncer was standing next to her.  “Rough night, little girl?”  He shook his head.  “I tried to warn you.”
“Get fucked,” Rebecca replied. 
She stood straight, tried to muster as much dignity as she could.  Then she spread her arms, figuring that if she could use her powers to glide off into the night, at least these dumb fuckers would know she wasn’t some kind of loser Mundie like them.  But her head was killing her, and the world chose exactly that moment to take a drunken lurch.  Rebecca stumbled and almost fell, and this time even the bouncer joined in the derisive cheering. 
Mortified, Rebecca ran.
She made it maybe a block before her right heel caught in a cobblestone and snapped.  Rebecca stumbled again, and this time she went down.  It didn’t hurt, but the impact was jarring, and it set the world to spinning again.  Rebecca reached for her phone, figured fuck it, she’d just go ahead and call Blaine and take her lumps, but then she realized that she’d left her purse and practically everything she owned back withPacha’s coat-check girl.  She sighed and laid back, put her hands on her head and wished to Hell that her head would stop hurting.
“Can it be?  Is that the precious Jailbait I see before me—all grown up and lying in a gutter?”  A whistle sounded from the darkness, followed by a laugh.  “Does the Colonel know you’re out this late, little girl?”
“What?”  Rebecca said.  The voice sounded familiar, the sarcasm friendly.  “Blaine?” 
A figure emerged from the shadows.  He was tall, and he wore a pair of torn old blue jeans and a black hoodie with the hood pulled up.  Rebecca shuddered, but she felt amusement and a sense of relief radiating off of the man through her Empathy.  He pulled back the hood to reveal scaly grey skin, an unnaturally wide smile, and pointed shark-like teeth.  At his sides, his hands curled like claws.
“Nah, not Blaine, precious.  But I was hopin’ to find him, if you know where he is.”
Rebecca was thunderstruck.  “Jason?  Jason King?”

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Update: Tour of California Stages 6 & 7

I hadn't been paying that much attention to the Tour of California this year--up until yesterday.  The first four stages were--amazingly--won by the same man, Peter Sagan.  And, yeah, that's amazing and all, but the ToC is the biggest cycling race of the year in America, and Sagan is not an American, so bottom line, I just wasn't as interested as I could have been.

But then Sagan booted the Stage 5 individual time trial, allowing Americans Dave Zabriskie of Garmin-Barracuda and Teejay van Gardaren of BMC to get into first and second place overall, and suddenly the race got a lot more interesting.  Zabriskie is a talented all-arounder who's twice finished second in the ToC while van Gardaren, a climber, is probably the best young American cyclist of his generation.  Moreover, with significant climbing in both stages 6 and 7, yesterday's stage 6 promised to fireworks.

Here, see for yourself:

So yesterday the break almost got away, and Frenchman Sylvain Georges did manage to stay away, winning the stage with a huge solo effort.  More importantly, Zabriskie and van Gardaren are still less than a minute apart with several others also in that range, and today's high-mountains stage at Mt Baldy setting up as the final Battle Royal of the tour.

Honestly, as a cycling fan what more can you ask?

Looks pretty exciting, no?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Mad Science: Pliny the Younger and More...

Happy Friday.  Boy, did this week ever suck.  I'm happy as all Hell that it's almost over.

So, I don’t know that any of this stuff is important, but here’s a snapshot of what I found interesting this week:

Medieval statue of Pliny the Younger, the
namesake of the alleged best beer in the world. 

I’ve never even had a Pliny.  Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one in stores.  Anybody out there on the Internets ever had one?  What makes it so awesome?

* * *
Also on Slate, Farhad Majoon says that Facebook’s IPO mainly means the site will soon be featuring more ads.  That makes an unfortunate kind of sense.  With that said, I’ve been enjoying Facebook more than usual lately, and I think their algorithm for figuring out what I’m interested in is pretty damned impressive.  Bottom line: they show me links to triathlon training websites and various comic-related things on a regular basis, and when that stuff interests me, I click on it.  Viva e-commerce! 

Now all they need to do is figure out how to get me a six-pack of Pliny the Younger, preferably without having to pay for shipping and handling.

* * *
Speaker Boehner's official photo.
You're surprised I didn't show him crying,
aren't you.
Speaker of the House John Boehner is already setting up another fight over the debt-ceiling—for right after the November election!  He says that any additions to current spending must be met with offsetting cuts, and if you ask me, that’s a fine idea.  He’s apparently also making some noises about tax reform, and if you’re a regular reader of this space, you know that I’m for that, too.  What I don’t particularly want to hear, however, is that we can only define tax “reforms” in terms of tax reductions and/or that no tax increases of any kind will be considered for any reason.  That shit flies in the face of simple reality, and frankly, I’ve had enough of it.

Boehner says he wants a comprehensive solution, and again, I’m for it.  But the idea that there can be no give-and-take, no revenue increases to counter-balance the spending cuts for a more realistic, more levelized approach to true budget reform is, to me, a total non-starter.  As a Republican, I am no longer interested in my party’s grandstanding over their typical dogmatic bullshit.  They need to balance the budget in a way that will actually work first, and then we can talk about the ideology of how we move forward.  Until that happens, I will continue to believe that they are self-interested ass-clowns whose first and only care is the divisive politics that keep their party in some semblance of power in at least one branch of government—whichever branch that happens to be.

On the other hand, President Obama’s recent announcement that he now supports gay marriage seemed like a more left-winged attempt at that same kind of divisive politics.  In this case, it’s on an issue that I don’t happen to care about, but still…  The timing was weird, and it seems to have cost the President something in terms of his national polling numbers.  I’m coming around to the idea that Obama made the announcement because he’s lagging in campaign contributions, and the gay community represents a potential contribution windfall, but it’s still such a tough issue nationally that the whole thing is hard to understand. 

I mean, personally, I don’t care.  My state of Connecticut recently legalized gay marriage, and that was fine with me.  Which is to say that it’s a free country, and allowing gays to marry costs nothing, so why would we disallow it?  Against that simple idea is the fact that the current standard, i.e. state by state legislation, seems to be working, so why suddenly make a push for a national policy when there’s no national-level consensus?  Gay rights are evolving, but like it or not, it takes time to change minds.  And bottom line, this is still a majority-rules society. 

I suppose that if you’re gay, and you live in Tennessee, and you want to get married, then that’s a pain in the ass, and that’s unfortunate.  On the other hand, it completely escapes me why anyone who’s gay would want to live in Tennessee, and more to the point, it’s not like the people of Tennessee are rounding up gays and putting them in camps.  You can leave if you want to.  So this issue, like so much in life, is about trade-offs.  You can be gay and live in Tennessee, and you accept whatever level of marital freedom that state provides, or you can move to Connecticut like I did, and yeah, maybe the cost of living is higher, but the upside is that you can work in New York City and be surrounded by people who accept you as you are.  That has certainly worked for me, and I’m not even gay.  If other folks have to also make that choice, I fail to see why it’s my problem.  It is what it is.  We don’t always have to change the world just to suit our personal needs.  Sometimes it’s enough just to go someplace where folks can accept us for who we are.  That’s true even if you’re straight.

* * *

On a perhaps related note, sociologists have known for awhile that teenaged girls from poor families are far and away more likely to get pregnant than are girls from affluent families, and that once those girls from poor families give birth, their chances of breaking the cycle of poverty are almost non-existent.  What they’re discovering through research, however, is that it’s not that teenaged motherhood causes poverty, but rather that poverty causes teenaged motherhood.  They discovered this by comparing the outcomes of sisters from poor families who had and had not given birth during their teenaged years, and what they discovered is that the average differences in eventual socio-economic outcomes are negligible between the teen moms and their non-teen mom sisters, but that the poorer a girl is, the more likely she is to have a baby while she’s still a teenager. 

This is not to say that we should start condoning teenaged pregnancy, or that being a young single mother is somehow not as difficult as we thought it was.  Being a teenaged mom is definitely hard, and indeed, women who were mothers as teenagers are far more likely to be poor for their entire lives than are women as a whole.  However, the research seems to indicate that where these girls started has more to do with where they wind up than the simple fact that they gave birth early on in life.  Which is to say that we ought to consider how we can give these girls a fighting chance early on, and then maybe we’d be in a better place to address chronic, cyclical family poverty beyond simply saying, “Don’t have sex because you might get pregnant.”  I mean, yeah, that’s true and all, but it’s also demonstrably only one part of the story.

* * *
The Giants got their Super Bowl rings this week, and if you’re interested, there are some terrific pictures of the new rings up on Big Blue View.  My favorite thing about the rings is that they not only have all four years that the Giants have won Super Bowls on them but also the years that Big Blue won the NFL championship before the Super Bowl era.  The Giants are actually eight-time World Champions—a thing that I think gets lost in the shuffle when comparing the legacies of the most successful franchises in the League’s history.

If the Jets or Tim Tebow are more your thing, then what you want to hear is this: right now, Jets coaches are complimentary of Tebow and critical of incumbent QB Mark Sanchez.  They’re saying that Sanchez needs to improve his decision making—fair point—but that Tebow’s throwing motion looks “good”—a thing that I think I will believe when I see it.

The Titans, meanwhile, don’t seem to be doing too much.  They acquired a lot of skill players in the draft but no solutions for the interior of the Offensive Line, and that’s despite the fact that their Head Coach is a Hall-of-Fame Guard.  If that’s not ominous enough, the team has also signed only two or three of its draft picks—in contrast to the Giants, who have all of their draft picks signed—and on top of that, the team just got word that star WR Kenny Britt needed another surgery on his knee (surgery was performed yesterday).  Ugh.
In any event, it’s starting to look like it’s gonna be a tough year to be a Titans’s fan.

Finally, there’s some news about the Chargers, and if you’re interested, by all means go check it out.  Personally, I feel so far removed from my halcyon days as a kid watching Dan Fouts and company that it’s hard to feel the same way about the team that I did way back in the day, especially since I find current QB Phillip Rivers to be personally unlikeable.  I want to care, but I just don’t.  Not in that same way, anyway.
* * *

One last note: I’ve got my first—and perhaps only—triathlon of the year this weekend.  It’s the Milford Y-Tri, a short Sprint consisting of a 300-yard pool swim, an 11-mile bike ride, and a 2.5-mile run.  It’s been a fun race in the past, and I’m looking forward to it this year as well, but in a way I’m more looking forward to simply finishing it so that I can go ahead and shift my focus fully to training for the Fairfield Half-Marathon

With that said, I feel like I’ve been swimming pretty well the past week or so, and yesterday morning I made my 4.7-mile Manhattan bike commute in well under 20-minutes—and that’s with one two-minute traffic light stop—so who knows?  Maybe I’ll actually do well.  That would be nice.

And that’s all I’ve got this week.  Have a good weekend.