Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The case I'm working on involves people who grew up in Steubenville, Ohio. Now, they hadn't really lived there in many years by the time we pick up with them, but recently we've been doing some work with mitigation specialists, and one of the things they need to do is assemble extensive family history information. My project over the last several days has been to take the documents they've assembled, and which we've scanned, and index and describe them for our document database. This could be really boring, except that the documents have been fascinating because, well, a big part of me is still a social historian at heart, and Steubenville is less than 50 miles from Beallsville as the crow flies. So what I'm doing boils down to local social history for me. I know reading 1976 Chamber of Commerce brochures from the Steubenville-Weirton metroplex and 1930s autobiography school composition essays is not for everyone; for me, it's one of the most fun things I'll do on this job. (Of course, it's also not something I have to ask Ed any questions about; draw your own conclusions.)

In other news, everyone who isn't already doing so should be voting in Thought For The Day's new SNL tournament.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

For the few people who might stumble upon this and care, and who for whatever reason are missing from my email contact lists, I just sent this out:

"For those I've been in touch with recently, you probably know that I've been applying to law school, as I planned since leaving USC. (For those I haven't been in touch with recently: sorry about that, and see above.) Anyway, I just wanted to drop a line to let people know that I've decided to go to the University of Michigan. It's a terrific program, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it. And of course this also means I'll be moving cross-country yet again, probably in mid-to-late August. (Yes, I know, there are long-distance truckers who have crossed the country less frequently than I have.)"

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Oh yeah, andaccording to the Steelers' draft press release, 2nd round pick Ricardo Colclough's last name is pronounced the same as Cowboy linebacker Dexter Coakley's. Between now and the end of training camp, he'd better get used to the idea of his name exclusively appearing in print as: "Ricardo Colclough [COKE-lee]". Gotta love the South.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

So I've been geeking out on the NFL draft today, because it's what I do. I'm pretty happy with the pick of Ben Roethliswekljdiohjohjoihjugberger, and the intrigue has been fun. The highlight of the draft coverage for me, though, was this exchange from's expert chat:

"Travis: Kyle, If I pick you for my fantasy team next year, you won't disappoint, will you?

Ravens QB Kyle Boller: (2:51 PM ET ) Is the Pope catholic?"

As a Steeler fan, I take that as great reassurance for the upcoming season...

Friday, April 23, 2004

If you want to go tooling around you can find an area to comment on the death of former NFLer Pat Tillman. I think you'd be better served reading this column, which sums things up pretty nicely. On the reader commentary site you will see a lot of unquestioning wartime rhetoric, a few backlashing anti-war types, and a couple of people reminding us that Pat Tillman is only one of many soldiers getting killed in foreign wars. Of course I usually agree mostly with groups 2 and 3, but on this one I think they all have it wrong.

Pat Tillman is one of the few stories in recent times in which I can remember finding no irony, no smarminess, and no cynicism. I'm not shy about my feelings about the U.S. military complex--spend all we need on defense, but stop spending so damn much on offense. I understand too that 9/11 was a direct attack on the U.S., and while I don't think our response has been what it should have been (both militarily and in lack of true introspection), I think I basically get it--certainly the Afghanistan part if not Iraq, and certainly the overall drift if not the specifics of strategy and tactics. I also understand that for people of certain inclinations, military service is the highest form of patriotism, which is among the highest of values. Again, I don't share that perspective, but I get it.

For me, Pat Tillman is a real hero because he made an existential choice based on a particular set of values and followed to their logical and ultimately unfortunate conclusion. I don't think that's true of most American soldiers who die in combat, and that's why I say that lumping Tillman into "one of many" is incorrect. Many people in our all-volunteer military--particularly in the low ranks--are there because they see few options. I'm not denying that they too have idealistic motivations, but the material, socioeconomic reality is that the military is one of few options for many 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds who are not academic stars. The commercials make it look like a lot of fun, play on those idealistic values, and promise money for college; they tend to leave out the parts about firefights, sneak attacks, and even just mundane boredom ("Port of call: Bayonne, New Jersey"). And the commercials are actually right--the military probably is the best option a lot of those people have in order to propel themselves into a decent life.

And that's exactly why I'm not willing to write Pat Tillman off as just one of the many dying abroad. Tillman didn't die because he went into the military because he didn't have any better choices. He left a multimillion dollar contract on the table to pursue something that he saw as too important to pass up. Since I'm basically pomo in attitude, I'm not willing to endorse or challenge his perspective in seeing the world that way--his subjective perception of the world was valid for him, just as mine is for me. What I ultimately admire, though, is not his patriotism or his anything like that, but rather the single-mindedness, decisiveness, and consistency that allowed him to make that decision in the face of what most of us would see as better life options. Those are rare qualities and ones that impress me deeply as someone who can't decide where to eat lunch without dithering for half an hour.

I am watching The Swan right now. If you guessed that that makes me a horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible person, you'd probably be right.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Posting from Jeff's laptop, because mine is giving me some kind of message about being denied permission for an SAS Proxy every time I try to access any web page. I'm at a total loss, except that it happened right after Windows crashed and I rebooted, but Windows seemed otherwise fine. Any thoughts?

UPDATE: Using the ever-so-clever method of typing "SAS proxy" into Google, I solved it thanks to something called

The weekend in Atlanta/Chattanooga was really nice, I must say. Craig's account pretty much covers my weekend too; I managed to get out of Distant Replays with only the 1979 Pirates World Champions T-shirt, the Maulers cap, and and a Pittsburgh Condors T-shirt. Also, there was apparently some rapper in the store while we were there, but we couldn't identify him specifically, and because he got into a much crappier car than any of us were in.

The tournament itself went swimmingly, I thought. I must say that I can't imagine any other organization that has put together 7 annual nationals level events on the level we have with as much fun and as little rancor as we have in TRASH. And congrats to Charlie, Keith, et al for winning the whole she-bang.

Charlie mentioned to me that his loss/my team's win at Trashmasters 1994 looms larger and larger, because it's the only time a Charlie team ever lost a trash match before TRASH Regionals last year, and still just about the only time his team has failed to win a trash tournament. The Flighty Porcine Flower Arrangers--myself, Paul Harm, Gene McLaughlin, and Bob Guydosh--were undoubtedly one of the most unlikely quiz-bowl teams to win a tournament ever. Over 17 games we scored about 1000 fewer total points than the other 2 top teams, but we managed to go 15-2, winning a lot of close games, beating two top teams on the last question, and getting a timely last-round tie between two excellent teams to give us the title. I tend to think this had everything to do with our Friday pilgrimage to Graceland before the tournament.

This got me to wondering if I could find those guys again. I've never lost contact with Paul, whose new blog is listed on the left. Gene was relatively simple to find on Google, and his highly literary blog is now listed over there as well. Bob is a bit more of a mystery, which will surprise no one who knew him. Googling him came up with a few interesting matches--he apparently assisted with the statistics at the 2003 Cotton Bowl, and was the official timekeeper at the crucial 2001 WAC women's soccer tournament semifinal match between Fresno State and SMU. He also apparently prepared this unreadable for a non-specialist report for the Texas DOT. Beyond that, I'm stumped.

Monday, April 19, 2004

What is acceptable plane seat etiquette? I got to wondering about this today, for reasons that will become clear in half a paragraph or so. I am a large human being--always have been (at least relative to age and whatnot). It used to be that I had serious issues when I flew due to width. That's not true so much anymore--not only have I not needed a seat belt extender for a couple of years, I can usually even pull the strap on the buckle a little bit nowadays. (You have no idea how excited this made me the first time it happened, but I digress.)

Regardless of the resolution of the width issue, however, I'm still 6-foot-3. On a big 7(x)7 type aircraft that's usually not a problem, especially with a few larger airlines having increased legroom a bit in recent years. But this time I flew on America West (motto: We'll get you anywhere, if you're willing to stop in Phoenix.) which has smaller planes and has not made any effort to create more room. Or, god help tall people who flew them several years ago if in fact they have.

So I'm sitting on my flight back from Atlanta--the long leg to Vegas (I actually avoided Phoenix somehow on the way home)--and my knees are right up against the seat in front of me. Not pushing it, mind you, but certainly brushing it. Of course, the person in that seat decided they needed to have the seat reclined for the whole flight, so my knees were pressed into the seat for most of the trip.

Now, I don't know how much I was pushing on that seat, admittedly, between my knees and the fact that I had to pretty much hold the top end of my book against the seatback to read at all. But anyway, about halfway through the flight the person in front of my starts periodically pushing back against me. By this point my knee is already sore, and I'm getting cranky. Then, every couple of minutes she starts actually moving forward a little bit and throwing her body weight against the seat, slamming it into my knees in an effort to get a couple more inches of room, I guess. The third time this happens I respond by throwing a hard right-hand palm strike to her seatback--trying to send the not-so subtle message that this shit needs to cease. It does for a few minutes, and then she does the slam one more time.

Understand that there are probably people who have known me for years and never seen me lose my temper, but at this point I actually half stood up, leaned over and in a tone I can only describe as "loud, sarcastic, angry, and hopefully menacing," I say to this person, "Are you trying to destroy my knees?" She looked up at me and feebly but unapologetically said, "You were hitting my back." I started sitting back down and grumbled, "Maybe I wouldn't be if you weren't leaning back so far the whole time." I sat back down and didn't hear another peep from her or the man (husband, presumably) sitting next to her, and I also didn't get slammed into again. My knee stayed sore for the remainder of the flight, but I walked it off pretty quickly during my brief layover.

It does bug me, though, whenever I lose my temper since I pride myself on not doing so, and I took no pride in intimidating a small, meek middle-aged woman. But mostly I just wonder--was there a better way to handle things? who was really at fault: me? her? America West? if something like that happens again, should I involve the flight attendants somehow, or did I go about things the right way this time? I hate situations like this, both because they suck intrinsically and because I always second guess myself to death later on.

I'd write about my excellent trip to Atlanta and Chattanooga for the sake of balance, but I've got that thing where you switch time zones a bunch and sleep in strange places and fly a lot over the course of several days, and you end up getting so tired and physically irritated that your eyeballs actually hurt. So I'm going to go now, and sleep a lot very soon. More about the trip later, I hope.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

For chest and back I do 7 exercises, alternating between the two. I start with a machine type of bench press at 50 pounds. Then I go to a single-hand rowing machine where I do 60 pounds per arm. Next comes a seated, forward press where hands start at the sides and then push forward and inward until they almost touch directly in front of the breastbone. I do those at 90 pounds. Then I do a pulling exercise from a seated position, with arms in front and palms-facing grip, pulling handles down and somewhat backward--I do these at 100 pounds. The fifth exercise is another seated press, but with arms in a high chest position and pushing straight outward. The sixth exercise is a cable pull, pulling handles directly to the chest with back in a steady position and chest out, doing these at 110 pounds. The final exercise is a chest fly--starting with arms out to the sides and pushing the machines handles to the center and front of the chest, and I do 70 pounds. For all the chest presses, flys, and single-arm pulls, I do 4 sets to 15 reps or muscle exhaustion. For the other two back exercises I do 3 sets.

I'm headed out to Atlanta tomorrow morning and then up to Chattanooga for the weekend. Maybe this time I'll finally get to see the choo-choo. At the very least I expect to get to Distant Replays, and hopefully at some point a Shoney's breakfast buffet, and at some other point a big pile of barbecued meat. The event is the national championship of popular culture trivia, aka TRASHionals, and I am part of the group that runs the thing. The only things I can guarantee are fun questions, wackiness, and a lot of sub-referential humor. I can't wait to tell you all about it next week...

Saturday, April 10, 2004

A couple of things that have been bugging me recently, and a couple of disturbing signs in my neighborhood:

  • Bugging #1: Are there any polite ska bands? You only ever hear about the rude ones.
  • Bugging #2: This has been bugging me forever, but why exactly was trucking Coors east of Texarkana considered bootlegging in Smokey and the Bandit?
  • Sign #1: The bus bench where I get off the bus at night has an ad on it for Chris Nam, who is absolutely the picture of the overly smiley real estate agent in any cul-de-sac suburb in America (except, you know, more Korean than most). But the disturbing part is his slogan: "Everything I Touch Turns to Sold!" I have nothing to add here.
  • Sign #2: A couple blocks down from me is something called the "Oriental Mission Church"--where the mission might once have been toward the "Orientals", and now it's by them. So they have this banner up for their Easter children's program, and here's the text in its entirety:
    "Jesus, How much do you love me" "THIS MUCH" Jesus said and then he spread out his arms and DIED ON THE CROSS. That's HOW MUCH Jesus loves you!

Yes, the red is in red. No, I'm not making any of this up. Yes, I have to go lie down for a while.
P.S.: Final thought for today: If I ever write a review of the real Rollerball, you'd best believe it will be in Westminster font.

Here's what abs/arms days looks like:

I start with the floor exercises. Four sets of 30 crunches, and every other time I do that I do them flat footed and alternately do them with knees at a 90-degree angle on an exercise ball. (Think medicine ball size, but lightweight.) The next exercise I do is leg lifts--3 sets of 20, with legs bent so that they form roughly a 45-45-90 triangle with the floor as the hypotenuse, if that makes any sense. It turns out these are a lot harder than straight-leg lifts. Then I do 3 sets of 15 of what I call "ax-handle crunches. In standard sit-up position, feet on the floor, it's a crunch to the middle and then one toward each side. Three crunches, then, is 1 rep. The last abs, and also lower back, exercise is called a "Good Morning" (liars!). Standing with knees locked, hold a barbell behind your neck and bend forward as far as possible, then straighten up again. I do 3 sets of 20 of these, and recently I've started adding token weight to the bar--5 pounds per side.

I follow this up with 3 or 4 arm exercises. In each of these I do 3 sets of 15 reps, or to muscle failure. The first exercise is a straight shoulder press, done on a machine with a slightly reclined seat. I do this machine at 60 right now. The next exercise is a standing cable triceps exercise. Standing facing the machine, I keep my elbows at my side and reach up to grab the bar with palms facing outward, and push straight down. I recently moved up to 100 pounds on these, a good news/bad news scenario. Good news: my triceps are pretty strong and getting very solid. Bad news: I'm risking seriously overdeveloping the back of my arms relative to the front. But that's better, I guess, than the shapeless lumps I used to have. Anyway, for biceps I do curls in one of three ways--with a cable like the triceps (roughly 60 pounds), with a 50-pound barbell, or the dreaded preacher curls at about 40 pounds. The key to the first two options is keeping elbows tight to your sides, not cheating them forward through the motion, and not leaning your back away from the motion. I'm not doing a particularly impressive amount of weight on the curls, but I'm building my biceps pretty successfully because I've done a good job at sticking to the strict form my former trainer instilled into me on curls. The last exercise I do about every third time--these are apparently called Upright Rows, except I do them with cables instead of a barbell, and at about 50 pounds.

After that, of course, is 35 minutes on the bike as described the other day. Next time I'll talk about the third of my exercise "days"--chest and back.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I got back to the gym for the first time since my trip this morning--I'm finally getting back on regular time now that I'm back from changing time zones, having the time change while I was there, and then changing back. Confused? Yeah, so was my equilibrium.

So I've been thinking for a long time that I might actually lay out some of my gym routine here sometime when I was stuck for blogging material, and you can guess what that means now.

Basically, I have three "days" that I try to do twice a week. When I'm super on-the-ball I actually manage to do so, and when I'm extra supr on-the-ball I go in on the 7th day for exercise bike only. My days are chest/back, abs/arms, and legs, and today was legs.

Legs days start with my cardio, which is 35 minutes on the exercise bike. It's the bike's "Cardio" setting, which is a three-minute warmup, a gradual 5-minute increase in resistance until you reach your target heart rate (mine is 140 bpm), and then for the remainder of the time the bike adjusts to keep you at that heart rate. Since my legs are my strong suit, I can do this at a pretty high resistance level, burning 450-to-500 calories in 35 minutes according to the bike's own stat-keeping, at between 80 and 90 rpm.

The next part is the part that will shock people who've known me for a while. For years I had a running gag line--"Stairs, my mortal enemy," and it was basically true. Now I do 5 of what I call "vertical wind sprints." The gym has a staircase that is 18 steps, a landing, then 19 steps. I take them two at a time, walk back down, and repeat. Stairs and I have, clearly, made a bit of a rapproachment.

Next I do machines. I start with squat presses. From a sitting position, you extend your legs upward at a 45-degree angle, with feet on a platform attached to a weight bar. At the top of the lift, your legs are fully extended; at the bottom, knees are at about a 90-degree angle, without letting your butt roll up off the seat. This is the same motion as a squat except seated rather than standing, so it's not so much of a core exercise, so it isolates the quadriceps and protects my bad feet (plantar fasciitis). Right now I do 8 sets of 15 reps each--4 at 360 pounds with feet apart followed by 4 at 270 pounds with feet together.

The other two machines I do are leg extensions--seated, the weight is relaxed with feet hanging straight down, and you lift by extending the legs to almost straight in front of you. I do 4 sets of 15 reps or until muscle failure (i.e. can't do another one in that set), currently at 75 pounds. Finally I do a lying leg curl which works the hamstrings, doing 3 sets of 15 at 80 pounds.

I finish off with two stretches. One seated, stretching forward to an extended leg, and the other lying backward with one leg extended and the other bent back under. I do each stretch on each leg for 30 seconds.

Total workout time, approximately 80 minutes. Tomorrow, abs and arms.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

I got the strangest album out of the library today. It's filled with classic baseball tunes and oddities, and I finally heard the original of Talkin' Baseball. It's just not the same, though, without Mike Scioscia's tragic illness making us smile.

Oh yeah, and here's a really inaccurate book about the case I'm working on. I guess it must be a genre convention of true crime, but the totally made up conversations and internal monologues of people who didn't talk to the authors--and which most of the evidence contradict--started bugging me at about page 12, and they haven't let up. I'd tell you more if I could, but, you know, privilege and all.

I don't expect any more posts until at least Monday, because I'm going out of town this weekend for this.