Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Not Good Enough
Monday, November 08, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
And we'll keep on fighting - till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
Cause we are the champions - of the world*
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Apples and Trees
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Monday, September 06, 2010
It's Not About the Boobies
According to a Sacramento Bee story that ran today, Cooper complied with his physical education teacher’s demand that he take the bracelet off, but when the teacher asked him to hand it over, Cooper started to ask questions regarding his teacher’s reasoning. He was told the slogan was demeaning to women and that there had been complaints. According to the Bee, Cooper responded, “If girls feel that way, then why are so many wearing the bracelets as well?” The response he received was a one-day suspension for being defiant. Other news sources tell essentially the same story, including quotes from Rocklin High School Principal Mike Garrison that establish the school’s rationale for the policy and the authority behind it. Schools do, in fact, have a great deal of authority regarding disruptive or offensive expression that would otherwise be protected under the First Amendment. This is not about that; this is about the so-called defiance.
Cooper raised a legitimate question – one that could have easily been answered in a dialogue that would have taught him far more than blind adherence to authority. Granted, this case could well have occurred in such a way that Cooper’s attitude was in fact defiant, that he was not legitimately seeking clarity and he was inviting a confrontation, but as reported none of that is apparent. Cooper is, by most standards, still a kid. But he is at an age when he is beginning to think critically and that should be encouraged. The answer to his question is simple and if it had been provided in a mature manner, he would have learned how thinking critically is applied in one of a lifetime's worth of real-time situations. They could have pointed out his glaring logical fallacy; that just because some women do not find it offensive, that does not make it inoffensive to all women. They might have followed up by citing case law that gives schools authority to limit certain First Amendment rights – or at least the rationale behind those limitations. If Cooper then refused to remove the bracelet (which, by all accounts he already had), they could have concluded the lesson for the day and issued the appropriate disciplinary action. To a young adult, the answer, “Because I said so,” should no longer be sufficient. They should be asking “why.”
Cooper engaged in a losing argument, but the way in which it transpired he could never know it. Indeed, he never got to lose his argument; it ended by force before it began. And force should only and always be a last resort. The school played its trump card way before it was necessary and lost out on an educational experience that could not easily be simulated in the classroom. In the classroom of life the consequences are real - the very foundation of our nation was represented by this single exchange. At some point kids need to be treated as real, thinking adults and when adults in authority squash their questions in an egotistical application of power, what does that teach them? Cooper may well have been motivated by an opportunity to be defiant – to exert his power justified by the righteousness of his cause. Or he may have legitimately wanted to know why he was told to remove what he believed to be nothing more than a sign of support. Either way, the school missed a golden opportunity to do what it is supposed to do – teach.
Friday, September 03, 2010
The Good Old Days
In some ways, however, it seems like a thousand years ago. So much has changed in the world in such a short time. My children never played a record or actually “dialed” a phone. They have never been subjected to black and white TV and the handful of stations that came into the home from an antenna. And this, we are told, is progress. They grew up with the Internet and are as used to it being an everyday part of their lives as my bicycle was in my youth. By the time they were in the latter stages of grade school the paper route had gone the way of the dinosaur and afterschool daycare was a necessary evil. Although technological evolution is inevitable, it feels as though it is moving at a logarithmic rate… or maybe it’s because I have a larger frame in which to view it from. Perhaps mine is no different from every other generation in the recent, post-industrial, past, each looking back from a half-century of experience to the “good old days.”
My life will come to an end well before this century comes to a close. If I live to be 100, I’ll see 2062 and no more, and that is a big “if.” But my kids should see the latter part of this century and their children have a good shot at celebrating the turn of the next; I can only imagine what kind of world they will be living in. The human race is unique among all the species in that we plan not only for our own future, but that of our posterity as well. We have been working to make the world a better place for millennia all the while knowing that the immediate and short-term benefits we realize pale in comparison to what we are building for generations to come. The ever increasing pool of knowledge we have been filling for the past several thousand years is not just ours to benefit from now, but to contribute to for those that come long after we are all gone. Why?
And to be clear, it is not just the technology that is advancing at an alarming rate. We are also growing culturally into a world-society, though with the wars and conflicts that we seem to pass through with great regularity, it could be argued that we are still somewhat primitive when it comes to getting along. Still, great strides have been made when it comes to tolerance and equality even if the current status is a long way from ideal. I am hopeful that with advances in human communication – and with the help of technology – there will come a time when my offspring will not be faced with conflict resolution through force. A lofty dream perhaps, but it is what we, as humans, have always worked towards – even if that security, at various points in our short history, was reserved for certain humans and not others. As the world grows smaller and as our population continues to grow, our children will have to find a means to work together – and I believe they will.
I have great hope that a better world awaits my young sons. I don’t know of any parent who feels any differently. But it won’t just happen; we have to continue to show the way even when that journey is an uphill climb. I have a vision of a world in which conflict and differences of opinion can be worked out by human communication, leaving the need for force as a lesson in the history books. It can happen – it’s going to have to or there won’t be anyone left to read those history books just a few generations down the line. The dinosaurs ran the store here for millions of years, we have been at the wheel just a few thousand. If we want to last as long as they did, we’d better learn to live together. Nothing can wipe us out faster than we can.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Apathy - Revisited
At least it was for many in my generation. Although much was left to fight for or against, no one felt much like fighting anymore. It was a time of harvest and some, like myself, who were to entering adulthood and the workforce had no sense of priority. It’s not that the previous generation did not show us the way, but to a certain extent that age-old idea that parents want their kids to have a better life than they did was perceived by many as a sense of entitlement to the good life. Tom Wolfe described the 70s as the “me decade” and for this product of that period, it certainly proved to be so. Although this attitude inflicted many, many of them eventually grew out of it. I, however, profoundly confused the good life with the easy life and worked harder at avoiding the necessary work to attain it than the work to attain it would have been. So when the thought that I can just say, “screw it” to my work pops into my head, the insanity of where that will lead me is readily apparent. The good life is not easy – it isn’t supposed to be.
I wrote the following essay for Prosper Magazine back in 2006. It is almost four years old, but it still applies…
The Apathetic Revolution
“I'd love to change the world - but I don't know what to do,
So I'll leave it up to you.”
These lyrics from the 1971 hit by Alvin Lee and Ten Years After turned out to be prophetic indeed. It was the beginning of a time in this country’s history when so much would be redefined. The political and socio-economic fabric of a nation had been unraveled and rewoven, catching many by surprise and leaving others by the wayside. The decompression following the 60s became the time of the hunter, the hunted and the silent.
The uber-morality of the 60s, with the civil rights and equal rights movements… even the peace marches which finally brought an end to the Vietnam War was replaced with a paradigm shift toward the “self-center.” The “good fight” had been won and it was time to regroup, relax and reflect. We fell back into our collective cocoons - and stayed there. Tom Wolfe’s “me decade” of theb 70s became the “me generation;” a status quo that has endured for more than 30 years.
Perhaps it was the ultimate success of these popular uprisings that harkened the coming of the “apathetic revolution” - its battle cry, “It’s none of my business!” We stopped noticing things. Life was comfortable, at least for the silent majority. We wanted to trust our leaders in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Nixon got us out of Vietnam, made nice with China and nearly got away with Watergate. Had it not been for two nosey reporters… well, no one else paid much attention.
The problem is not that we didn’t learn; some did - too well. Business at every level began to play “follow the leadership.” They added qualifiers, justifiers and rationalizers to redefine that which is right and wrong. The age-old robber-baron practices of days gone by were dressed in new garb only to become the savings and loan debacle turned Enron scandal. Even the recent shenanigans of the likes of Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham went unchecked until he finally tripped over his own greed.
Standard operating procedure is now based on risk assessment. Dirty dealing is nothing of the sort if no one finds out – or if can be lobbied and legislated into law. Morality has become a game of chance; not black or white, but rather shades of risk. It’s ok if the consequences are personally inconsequential. In the quest to obtain wealth and power, anything goes and everyone is fair game. Lawyers continue to argue the letter of the law, never minding its spirit.
Today, news of corruption is virtually a daily occurrence. We’re barely moved when an elected official, civic leader, businessman or even a clergy member gets caught with his or her pants down. Only recently has the punishment begun to fit the white-collar crime. And only then when the sheer magnitude of the offense elicits an outcry. For the vast majority, the risk has proven worth taking.
It’s time to wake up. Our political and business leaders need to know that we, the people, expect them to take the moral high road - and that we are watching. The idealistic visions of utopia of the 60’s have yielded to the all too real apathetic myopia of Lee’s lyrics 35 years later– “So I’ll leave it up to you.”
Who? In his 1961 Inaugural Address, President John F. Kennedy answers: “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.”
I believe he was talking to you.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
The Will of the People
But in some states a form of direct democracy exists. In California we have the initiative, the referendum and the recall. These are vehicles that allow the people to directly dictate law and public policy. But there is a catch: the laws must still adhere to both the state and federal constitutions. And constitutionality is determined not by the executive or legislative branches of government, but by an independent judiciary. It is part of the system of checks and balances that our founders so cleverly set in place to keep the majority from oppressing minority views, groups and positions. If the majority were to exercise its will by a simple vote, then all sorts of civil liberties that we take for granted might never have come to be. Indeed, if the will of the majority were always allowed to prevail, we would be living in a much different country than we do today.
Those two events? The overturning of California’s Proposition 8 and the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the massacre at the World Trade Center. The word “massacre” was chosen carefully, it represents the depravity of those who perpetrated it and the senseless loss of so many innocent lives. I want to be clear that my stance regarding those who planned and executed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 is nothing short of disgust. But what could a planned mosque near the site and Prop. 8 possibly have to do with one another? Both hinge on the constitution. The United States Constitution guarantees, above all else, freedom - freedom for all and freedom from oppression. It is not a perfect system, but over time it has proven to prevail even when majority opinion would have us do otherwise. In the case of the mosque, the gut reaction is to penalize an entire religion for the acts of a few extremists operating under its name. All groups have extremists and some perpetrate heinous crimes, but to oppress the entire lot is not only unconstitutional, it is anti-American. I know this is an unpopular position when it comes to Islam, but it is true nonetheless. The proposed mosque near Ground Zero is a bad idea, unwise and even insensitive, but it cannot and should not be determined by the masses simply because it is the majority view.
California’s Prop. 8 is another even more clear-cut case of the majority limiting the rights of a singled-out minority. This time it happens to be the gay community, but it could just as easily be women, an ethnic group or lefties. And whether the court is correct in ruling against the proposition is not the point; the court is performing its role as an independent check on the majority’s right to impose its will on a minority. The case will now proceed to the US Supreme Court where the ultimate adjudication will take place – hopefully. It is quite possible that the court will side step the controversy by making a very narrow ruling that will not settle the matter. Regardless, the will of the people in this “democracy” is not now nor has it ever been the final word. Our founders were wise beyond the world as they knew it; they were acutely aware that tyranny could come from the masses just as easily as it can from an autocracy. These two issues demonstrate that our system of checks and balances is not designed to quench the thirst of the majority, but to protect the rights of all – even if exercising those rights violates common sensitivity or the majority's idea of morality. It might not be a perfect system, but so far it has mitigated a host of injustices ranging from women’s suffrage to civil rights to the rights of the disabled. The lesson here is to be careful which causes are championed under the guise of “the will of the people.” Next time the minority might include you.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
I don’t reveal much here regarding the specifics that led me to this defining moment in time, but it doesn’t take much to read between the lines. My story is not unique and those familiar with this particular form of desperation know exactly what it is like. Nothing was working out, if it wasn’t for bad luck, as the song goes, I would have had no luck at all. Failure time and time again was a living place for me – and I couldn’t understand why it was always happening to me. Of course, I placed the root cause of it all outside myself. I had to, if it was my own doing then I could only conclude that I was wrong – and I was never wrong.
But I was seriously deluded. It’s not that I was evil (though I had myself believing that sometimes) or that I ever intended any harm to others or myself, but my entire outlook was so self-centered that I was incapable of seeing outside the box I had created. It took being broken down – beaten by the same system that I spent so long fighting so hard against. I had to surrender – which is not the same as giving up or admitting defeat necessarily – it meant that I had to just stop. Stop fighting. The battle I was waging, as it turned out, was against myself and I could not win. Ever.
Although the turn-around started almost ten years ago after a near-fatal auto wreck, that was only the beginning of the end. The final round took place on August 6th, 2004. I didn’t think there was anything significant about that day – in fact, it was worse than normal and normal at the time was pretty bad. The next many days were not much better, but I was in a situation in which my physical needs were met and I had little to do but rest and reflect. It was not a pretty picture, but very slowly the days started to get a little better and over a period of about six months, my anger subsided significantly. And more importantly, my whole outlook on the world and my place in it gradually shifted – it was a huge shift in perspective, but at the time it happened so slowly I didn’t even notice.
I was not in every respect an irresponsible man, but in many I was. I was not responsible for my own feelings and in large part that dictated my actions, which, by extension, were also not my responsibility. As my attitude became more rational and my outlook changed, so did my fortune. But it is not nor was it an action/reaction, punishment/reward paradigm… I was looking for some peace between my ears and the only way to achieve it was to take a good hard long look at how I viewed things. As much as my lot in life has measurably improved, many things are no different now than they ever were. Where my reaction to those things was often met with defiance, anger and rage, it no longer is. Things that used to turn my world upside-down no longer faze me – I just watch them pass on by.
There are so many people who were and still are instrumental in this process. There are those such as my parents, my kids and other family members who were witness to the worst of times and never gave up on me, loving me unconditionally through it all. There were the nameless and faceless who, through the course of their lives intersected mine and systematically prodded me along the way. Then there is my current core group of friends, colleagues and professors (not exclusively - some fill all three roles) who believed in me even when I did not. I could not have done it alone, but no one could do it for me.
In the past six years my life has evolved from one that was barely tolerable to one in which I look forward to every new day. At almost 48 years old, I am more content, more serene and more valuable – both to others and myself - than I have ever been. I embrace every new challenge life brings and meet them head-on despite the presence of the same fears that used to paralyze me motionless in place, often for years at a time. Things that I would not attempt for fear of failure are no longer roadblocks in my life – and that does not mean I always succeed – but I never shy away from trying. I get the satisfaction of not only trying my best, but more often than not that satisfaction is sweetened by having succeeded.
At six years into this journey, I have only just begun. The tunnel’s end is too far away to have any idea what waits there, but the light shines brighter than it ever has before and it grows steadily brighter with each passing day. It took an unimaginable amount of personal (and self-inflicted) suffering to arrive at this point, but I wouldn’t trade any of it knowing what I know now. Regrets? Sure, I have many. I wish that I had not hurt the people who loved me most along the way, but I am graced with six years so far, and hopefully many more, to make it up to them. Some day I’ll recount the story in all it’s unedited detail, but for today the message is that no matter how dark it gets, there’s always a new day just around the corner. Seize it.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
An Epic Journey
We had a destination, sort of. The first half of our journey was to culminate in Butte, Mont. Steve’s cousin, Doug, and his cousin’s wife, Diane, live in Butte; they extended an invitation to us to stay for the weekend - to see the sights, ride their horses and generally recoup after riding for four or five days. Neither of us has had any experience with riding that far, riding horses (a couple of times for each of us, but not really), with Butte, with Montana or with most of the roads that would take us there. As an added bonus, the 9th annual Evel Knievel Days festival was also taking place in Butte that weekend, an event that turned out to be far more fun than I imagined it would be. Butte is not exactly a tourist town, but like any old city it has a colorful and rich history. Our resident tour guides showed us Butte like only a local can. In many respects, Butte’s founding on copper mining is not unlike Sacramento’s history based in the California gold rush. And Montana’s geographic beauty is equaled only by its expansiveness – indeed, the view from Doug and Diane’s deck is enough to earn the state’s unofficial nickname – “Big Sky Country.”
But getting to and from Montana was where the true magic of this vacation took place. Because it was just the two of us, we were free to make route decisions on the fly – and we did so regularly. The plan was to stay off of the major interstates and freeways as much as possible, but as far as plans go, this one was seriously open-ended. We left Sacramento going east to Truckee, Calif. on SR 49, SR 20 and old US 40, hopping on Interstate 80 occasionally before heading North on SR 89 towards and through Lassen Volcanic National Park, finally arriving in Klamath Falls, Ore. via US 97. We were delayed by road construction at various points throughout our 11-day odyssey and this initial leg was no exception. After getting some much needed overnight rest in Klamath Falls (our initial day was a 400-plus mile ride), we headed north on US 97 to Bend, Ore. before turning east along US 26 though numerous small towns scattered in and around the Ochoco and Malheur National Forests. This route took us through largely empty roads, long sweeping turns and magnificent scenery. Our second day took us nearly 500 miles and into Boise, Idaho for the night.
We left Boise the next morning with the intent of riding through the Sawtooth National Forest along SR 21, but our original plan changed several times along the way, taking us to what turned out to be some of the most exciting riding, challenging roads and breathtaking natural landscapes so far. We missed the portion of SR 21 that would take us north and altered our northward byway to SR 55 and then east to Banks-Lowman Rd., which took us through the Boise National Forest. Our missed turn turned out to be one of the greatest surprises as this little road offered not only some of the most challenging twists, but also some contact with other motorcyclists and their emphatic suggestions to take a mountain pass that lay a little out of our way. The same suggestion came from one of my Facebook friends and the decision was made to alter our route to access Beartooth Pass – but that would not take place until two days later on our way (and a little out of our way) to Butte. As we approached Idaho Falls, the weather towards the east was threatening and we saw lightning strike in the mountains we had yet to cross to get to our next destination, Jackson Hole, Wyo. We managed to miss the bulk of the thunderstorm, but still hit a little rain and very wet roads as we descended SR 33/22 into Jackson Hole where, just prior to our arrival, the city received ¾ of and inch of rain. We had light rain as we crested the summit, but the view of the dusk sky and clearing storm clouds over Jackson Hole was worth every ultra-cautious mile on the rain slicked road.
Day three came in at more than 400 miles. We were ready to find lodging and rest our weary bodies and minds after a day that ended in extremely dangerous riding conditions. Descending into Jackson Hole was slow and painstaking and at this point our plan (that was not a plan) revealed a major drawback: There were no rooms to be found in Jackson Hole during the mid-summer tourist season. Fortunately we found a lone vacancy, it was pricey, but so is everything else in this tourist mecca. The next day we headed north through Grand Teton National Park before entering the south entrance of Yellowstone Nation Park. At less than 200 miles, this would be our shortest riding day. We did not plan to camp anywhere along the way, but brought sleeping bags and a tent with us just in case. Somewhere between Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, we decided that camping in the park was an opportunity that should not be missed. Our intentional lack of planning again presented an issue in that the campgrounds were all full, but a ranger suggested that we check with the people who run the reserved campgrounds for a cancellation and one came in moments before I arrived at the head of the line. We pitched our tent and rode around the park for the remainder of the day.
In both Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, congestion – the kind of congestion we were trying to escape – was present everywhere. It was not until we left early the next morning, before most of the sightseers hit the road, that we escaped it and headed for the northeast gate of Yellowstone towards Beartooth Pass on US 212. We gassed up in Cooke City, Mont. and started our climb up to the summit of almost 11,000 feet. Although the ride up Beartooth Highway was everything we heard it was, we did not fully understand why so many so strongly recommended it until the descent towards Red Lodge, Mont. The grade, the switchbacks and the desolation were beyond description; the terrain surrounding the road was surpassed in grandeur only by the road itself. At one point, the road (which is closed in the winter due to snow) passed the top of a ski chair lift. We were literally on top of the world. Once we arrived in Red Lodge, we mapped a route to Butte that would take us on more empty and easy riding roads, many that went for miles without a single turn... or another vehicle. Montana is somewhat liberal when it comes to speed limits – you can fill in the rest. Day five was another 400-plus mile day.
After two days of R&R in Butte, we decided to completely alter our plan (again, that wasn’t a plan) and go back north, west and south rather than south and west through Utah and the Nevada desert. Although we wanted to ride back through Utah, we were not at all looking forward to riding through an entire Nevada wasteland to round out our ride. We headed north to access US 83 through the Rocky Mountains to Kalispell, Mont. and then east along US 2 to the Idaho panhandle before turning south onto US 2/95, just 13 miles from the Canadian border. Our goal was to reach the Harley Davidson dealership in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and then spend the night in Spokane, Wash., but just prior to an eastern detour into the city, a phone call revealed that the dealership was closed on Monday, so we just went straight to Spokane for the night. Crossing the Washington state line, we reversed a small celebration we enjoyed so many days earlier when we crossed the Snake River from Oregon into Idaho – we put out helmets back on. Every state we rode in except Washington, Oregon and California does not require adults to wear a helmet – a form of respect for personal liberty that the nanny’s in these Pacific states don’t recognize. Our eighth day away and fifth day of riding yielded more than 500 miles.
From Spokane we went north on US 395 into the Cascades. We spent the bulk of our day on SR 20 riding again on some extremely challenging roads with nicely banked and well-marked turns. At many points on this journey I had felt as though I was one with the bike, a Zen-like state where everything falls perfectly into a naturally balanced rhythm in which the mind goes quiet and the senses are tuned to the road and nothing else; on this particular leg, that experience was at its most profound and seemed to never end. I rode my Harley Davidson Road King - sometimes in front of Steve and his Heritage Deluxe, sometimes behind - like it has never been ridden before. Some of these series of linked turns on this magical day reminded me of my younger days on my (much smaller) Kawasaki GPz 550. More than an individual oneness between us and our machines, the two of us were in tune with each other such that our coordinated attack of the road resembled a intricately choreographed dance… beauty in both form and function. We finished the day by crossing the Deception Bridge to Whidbey Island on Puget Sound and crossed the sound by ferry to stay in Port Townsend, Wash. for the night. At just more than 400 miles, it felt like much, much more.
We got a slow start the next morning – by this time we had been gone for nine days and ridden hard for seven of them. We still had more than 1,000 miles to go and planned to reach Coos Bay, Ore., by nightfall. Part of what slowed us down was the number of other vehicles occupying the road with us down the Washington and Oregon coast. We also made a small detour to Tacoma, Wash., for a short visit to Steve’s mother and graciously accepted a homemade lunch from her and her husband. Although this detour did not cost us many miles, it did eat up about two hours of daylight. In addition to the congestion, the temperature along the coast was just south of tolerable – we had to stop in Tillamook, Ore., not for the cheese, but for some long johns to keep our legs operational. We fell about 100 miles short of Coos Bay, stopping for the night in Newport, Ore. Our room was cheap, but nice, and it was within walking distance of the waterfront and world-famous Mo’s seafood. It was one of many fabulous meals (along with too many consisting of fast food), but this one was at least as good as those that cost twice as much. Despite the slow start and the less than comfortable temperatures, we still managed to cover more than 400 miles on what turned out to be the second to last day.
But for the last day to be the last day, it would mean our longest riding day of the entire journey. From Newport, the only reasonable route was to continue south along the coast on US 101. Our plan for the day was to continue down the coast along US 101 to California SR 1 and turn east at Fort Bragg on SR 20, but by the time we arrived in Crescent City, Calif., we had had enough of the cold and, furthermore, we decided that we would finish the ride that day. We had to change our route to accomplish two goals: Get inland where it was warmer and cut miles (and time) off our last leg. That opportunity came in Eureka where SR 299 cut east to Redding; we would finish the final 150 or so miles on Interstate 5. Darkness would fall before we arrived home, but this route did not present any danger from deer or other wildlife intersecting our path after dark (bugs do not count as wildlife…).
One of the things that struck us during the many miles we rode the inland states was the fact that the roads were generally in excellent condition, extremely empty and went on for not just a few miles of uninterrupted serenity, but, in some cases, for hundreds of miles. We couldn’t help but notice that in California, where these quintessential motorcycle roads exist, they are either crowded, in sad shape or short. Though I realize this is a generalization and that there are exceptions, it is also true that those roads in the other states were not some kind of hidden gem - they were everywhere. Imagine our surprise when we found SR 299 to be long, in excellent condition, largely empty and as challenging as anything we had ridden up until that point. And what better way to finish off this journey than to ride like the wind on a road in our very own home state. That Zen-like state found me once again. By the time we reached Redding, the temperature was beginning to cool from a high of around 90 degrees making for perfect t-shirt riding weather all the way back to Sacramento. The final day of riding was by far the longest, coming in at a little more than 630 miles and a total of 13 hours on the road.
When Steve approached me with this ride, I was apprehensive, skeptical and not sure if it was something I really wanted to do. As time wore on and the others who said they were in dropped out, my mind was reeling through numerous excuses why I could not go. None were valid, but the uncertainty on many levels had me questioning the wisdom of taking on such a long ride. Steve shared that he was experiencing some similar sentiments, but he and I share something else besides a passion for riding: we both have sons fighting for our country in Afghanistan. Steve explained it this way: If our sons are brave enough to go to war and be shot at, we can walk through any apprehension we might have about this ride. Besides, I made a commitment and I surmised that if I didn’t do this now, I might never ever do it – and it has been a dream of mine for some time.
As little as 10 years ago, both Steve and I were not only not in a position to attempt anything like this, we probably were not even able to dream it. I know it was out of any realm of possibility for me. In the ensuing years, we have both found that elusive purpose and value in life that makes dreams like this a reality. This was a lifetime experience that, if not for some major life decisions I made about six years ago, could not have happened – and Steve’s story is similar. I think I can speak for Steve… we are definitely doing this again.
Maybe Alaska next year?
Don’t bet against us.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
The Saga of Steve Miller and the Photonazis
Anyone want to buy some Steve Miller pictures?
Sure? There are some great shots, and they’re only a few hours old.
I didn’t think so, but apparently Steve Miller or someone within his organization, his promoter or someone within the hierarchy at the concert venue, Raley Field in West Sacramento, thinks there is some kind of demand for pictures from his concert tonight.
How do I know? The following concert review-turned-rant should explain. But first, I promised a concert review, so here it is.
It was a good show. Miller played many of his hits, spewed some political opinion and made a lengthy solicitation for donations to his pet charity. All in all, his show lived up to my (lofty) musical expectations and went well beyond what I expected in those other two aspects. I didn’t pay $75 (including service fees and parking) to be solicited, no matter how worthy the cause. But at least Miller delivered when it came to the music. It was a good show.
Okay, now that the review is out of the way, here is the rant. Although Miller’s show probably deserves more words than the highly abbreviated review above, it is lucky that I was able to write anything at all. I almost had to leave before the show began - you see, I was carrying contraband. I didn’t sneak in any alcohol or outside food nor did I try to bring in any drugs, although judging from the odor wafting through the air I must have been in the minority. I was not armed and I was not fighting.
I had a camera. Not just any camera, but a so-called “professional” camera. Nowhere on any of the numerous signs listing the items not allowed was the fact that cameras, professional or otherwise, were not allowed. The security guard who checked my camera bag for all those other banned items didn’t say anything and, furthermore, if you include cell phone cameras, virtually everyone had a camera and was taking pictures. When Miller took the stage, I pulled my Canon 30D out of my bag and squeezed off four shots before an oversized security guard stopped me. He wanted to know where my photo pass was. I didn’t have one. I didn’t think I needed one. I wasn’t working for anyone; I was shooting because I take pictures.
My camera is a notch above a consumer model, but it’s not exactly a professional model either. Regardless, after explaining how no one said anything about this policy to me, how it is written nowhere and if I had known I certainly could have obtained a photo pass, the guard told me that if I took my camera out of my bag again he would take it. I put my camera away, but I was not about to leave it at that. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you what the next couple of songs were because I was pissed off and trying to figure out who was going to answer for this. My opportunity came when another patron found himself in the same predicament. He was shown to a supervisor and I made my way over there to plead my case as well.
This particular photographer had his press-pass with him (mine is no longer current and I didn’t have it with me anyway), but he, too, was informed that he needed the necessary photo pass to use his “professional” camera. I didn’t see what he was shooting with, but it was also a dSLR, not a point-and-shoot like most everyone else had. When I explained my situation to the supervisor, she informed me that, though not publicized, the lens I was using was not allowed and that I would have to leave. Leave? Things went from bad to worse; then I realized that their concern was the size of my lens. I told her I had a smaller lens and would be happy to switch it out. Bingo. But I did have to check in my “large, professional” lens with guest services. Reluctantly (not because I thought I would need it, but because I was not too keen on leaving my lens with anyone) I handed my lens over to guest services. But I safely retrieved it after the show and the people working in guest services understood my frustration, though they had no control over whatever policy was in effect. It would appear that the score is now photonazis-1, Mike-0, but appearances can be deceiving.
The lens I gave up was a 28-135mm zoom with an aperture range of 3.5 to 5.6. It’s a good lens, but not particularly effective in low light – and the sun was just setting. The “smaller” lens I put on was an 85mm with an aperture of 1.8. It is, in fact, a shorter lens, but in terms of the size of the glass – the determining factor in how much light is let into the camera - this lens is much, much bigger. And it was the lens I planned to switch to once the sun went down. Score change: Photonazis-1, Mike-2. Now I was free to take pictures at will; the jumbo-sized security guard was informed and left me alone. And I got some good shots – several hundred, in fact. Once edited and compiled, there will likely be a good deal more than a handful that are worth keeping – but not worth anything more.
There is no market for Steve Miller concert pictures. Furthermore, a Google search will turn up more than any die-hard Steve Miller fan’s heart could desire. Forgetting about egotistical paranoia for a moment, I’ll concede that Steve Miller has a right to limit or restrict photography, recording or any other use of his likeness, name or image and that the “professional lens” policy is a legitimate way to control such use, but not arbitrarily and not without notification. The policy, as my “small” lens use proves, involves a complex array of parameters not understood by those enforcing it and regarding the total lack of informing the audience of this policy, there is no defense.
I went ahead and edited a few shots for publication here. They are copyrighted – if anyone, especially Steve Miller, wants to use any of them, it will require my permission.
For Steve Miller, that permission is available – at a price.
Friday, July 16, 2010
But I love my Macs and iPhones, past and present. I don’t have to ever think about my Apple AirPort wireless router. AppleCare has always delivered on the rare instances when I did have a problem and even though my iPhone also serves as an iPod, I still use my original iPod Shuffle MP3 player when engaged in certain activities where I’d rather not expose my phone to any unnecessary risk. Every one of these products has worked for me over a considerable length of time with almost no problems, and when contrasted with the comparable non-Apple products that they replaced, the difference in reliability, durability and performance is noticed on a daily basis. Although the empirical evidence supports these claims, my own considerable experience is the clincher.
To those already on the Apple bandwagon, I’m preaching to the choir. For those who are Windows devotees, nothing I say will make any difference and I know too well the arguments they would cite. For some, there are technical reasons that keep them bound to the Windows platform. And when it comes to the service structure of the various hardware brands that use Windows, the service aspect ranges from one similar to Apple’s excellence to nonexistence. But as a package and as a company, Apple is a one-stop shop for this exceedingly average user. None of this is new and none of this will likely influence one towards Apple or away from Windows or, in the case of smart phones, from Android. Furthermore, Apple does not need my help. This is not about that, but it does lead into a particularly interesting public relations phenomenon that Apple is currently facing.
Maybe because Apple has never faced a PR challenge of this nature, the company was ill prepared to deal with it. For three weeks, the response to what has been termed “antennagate” has varied from inadequate to dismal. In today's press conference with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, those issues should have been put to rest. But it is naive to think this will end the controversy. However, Jobs did succeed at putting the issue into context and focused attention to solving customer complaints – not media reports or quips like, “It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm OK with that” from Microsoft COO Kevin Turner. How many complaints? Of more than three million iPhone 4 customers, only a little more than one half of one percent (16,500) have complained about anything regarding reception, signal strength, dropped calls and all other antenna related issues since the phone’s release. The return rate to AT&T is less than one third that of the iPhone 3GS and a presentation of internal and external data showed that the iPhone 4 is no worse than any other smart phone on the market. Forgetting all of that, just try to get one - the demand still exceeds supply.
But the really noteworthy thing about this press conference is that Steve Jobs and company, only 22 days into what has become Apple’s biggest PR challenged, has learned a few things very quickly. They did not role over, but at the same time they took responsibility not so much for a hardware issue, but for the happiness of their customers. Apple is far more than a hardware manufacturer and much more than a software developer – it is a customer service organization. Apple is in the business of making and keeping its customers happy. Where do you think this almost cult-like loyalty comes from? Rather than gleefully bash Apple for some perceived hardware glitch, those in the business of serving customers might follow their lead and treat their customers appropriately. They just might try a little harder to make their customers happy.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I used to thrive on how many hits this site received, how many comments my writing generated and how my thoughts inspired reaction from others. It would be a lie if I said that was not still important, but at the same time this type of external validation comes and goes – an evolutionary process is present in the Internet community itself and the rise and fall of various platforms has a key effect on how our thoughts are distributed. I have become far less attached to how and whether my thoughts are received than I used to be. I used to sit down and force myself to write even when there was nothing really inspiring going on in my life and in many of those instances what came out surprised me, both in terms of content and insight. Writing, like other artistic expressions, can produce introspection and revelation not ordinarily accessible in my day-to-day life. But I rarely ever force myself to write just for the sake of writing anymore. These words, however, are an example of such a rarity.
In some respects, I feel as though I have said it all, though I know that can never be. When I title these pieces, I usually have to do a search of my archives to be sure I don’t replicate a past title. It seems that I have used up all the common “catch” phrases, but there is always something unique about every new set of words that can be captured in an equally unique title. And I almost always write the title last. I have written about writing, about publication, about politics, about life, about nature, about spirituality, about education and about everything else that strikes me as needing further exploration and that happens most effectively right here. These literary assemblies help me understand the world I live in and, more importantly, my place in it. The extent to which others relate to my musings has clearly become a bonus, not a goal.
It is odd how certain past events dovetail with current events. Not so much on a geo-political scale (although that certainly happens as well), but on a personal level. New bits of information come to me that help explain or expand on prior experiences. In some cases it sheds new light such that some old, almost forgotten life event becomes brand new again. It happens all the time and the best way for me to process these epiphanies is to write about them. One such experience is founded in the act of writing itself. Although the vast majority of my work has been produced in the past ten or so years, writing has been with me for my entire life. Through a series of life-altering events, I rediscovered this latent ability to string words and punctuation together in a mosaic that conveys more than just a collection of dictionary definitions. And, perhaps more importantly, I found much greater value in all manner of artistic expression... and artistic expression in places I never expected it to be.
As much as I have recently found myself at a loss to compose, it is still very clear that the well has not yet run dry. Indeed, I am far from tapped out – what is left to say far exceeds what has already been said, by others or myself. The pool of human knowledge, of human experience and of human understanding is infinite. The process of discovery will never end. It comes not just in words, but also in a vast and ever expanding array of media that is conveyed with the diversity reflected in each and every individual expression of what it is to be. Though far more is unknown than known, today I feel just a bit more enlightened.