The Woeful One-Point-Four-Five

DNF: In cycling and some other racing and endurance sports, it stands for “did not finish.” You can read a lot into that phrase: Injury, accident, exhaustion, a broken bike . It’s a verb, too, as in “I DNF’d,” or, “Yesterday on the Terrible Two, I DNF’d.”

I didn’t suffer any of the problems listed above, really. I was going slower than I expected, and the two big climbs on the first half of the course were as tough as advertised. I was tired, but not at the end of my rope. But I abandoned the ride anyway (“abandonée” is the French term for DNF; or maybe it just means “quit”).

The big factor: I realized at the top of the second climb, called The Geysers, that 86 miles into the ride I had fallen behind time-wise. The Terrible Two rules require you to finish in 16:30 to record an “official” finish (the prize you get for being an official finisher is a T-shirt that says “I did it;” really). If there’d been no clock involved, or the time limit had allowed a little more cushion, I might have continued. But there was a clock and what for me had become a pretty tight limit. So I decided I’d pack it in from that point and spare myself not only the honor of finishing but the suffering of the big climbs on the second half of the ride.

A word about The Geysers country: If you out-of-towners ever find yourself in Sonoma County, it’s worth a detour to explore this area. The route down out of the mountains back to the Russian River, about 15 miles of very bad pavement, with several gravel section, on a narrow road, runs above a creek (Big Sulphur Creek); the landscape is fractured and abrupt all the way down (turns out that there are people who do even crazier things than riding a bike here). There’s so much geothermal activity in the area that power companies started building generation plants in the hills back in the 1920s; power generation got into full swing in the 1970s and by the late ’80s, the Geysers facilities were putting out enough electricity for 1.8 million people (this is news to me; I’d always thought of the Geysers power plants as something of a curiosity. So much of the source groundwater was pumped out during generation that power production has dropped markedly and a huge pipeline and pump system, Geysers Recharge Project, has been built to pump reclaimed water from the communities that use the Geysers electricity back up into the mountains to replenish the groundwater). Conclusion of fascinating local history sidetrip.

As for me yesterday, I rode down off Geysers Road having decided to pack it in. The weather was beautiful — probably around 80 degrees after three consecutive degrees in the mid to upper 90s. I skipped the Terrible Two lunch stop in favor of just heading south through Cloverdale, Geyserville (where I met a guy barbecuing racks of ribs in a parking lot; $5.99 a pound), Healdsburg and back to the starting town, Sebastopol. Finishing mileage was 145 milesc, having spent some time zig-zagging unnecessarily on the way in.

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The Packing List

I have a big ride coming up Saturday: The Terrible Two, one of the toughest double centuries in California and probably the entire country. What makes it tough is the combination of hard climbs — 16,000 feet in all, including long stretches at 8 percent and steeper, much steeper — and hot summer solstice weather — the past couple of days it has topped 100 degrees on much of the course, though there’s supposed to be a cooldown Saturday morning.

Going on a ride like this isn’t a matter of jumping on the bike and heading out the door. You want to make sure you’ve got everything you need for a long, tough day on the road. It takes hours to get everything ready, and the process seems endless. Kate has urged me to put together a checklist of everything I need. For years, I’ve said, “Great idea, honey!” and done nothing about it.

Until now. I put together a gear checklist yesterday. Looking at it, I see why everything takes so long. In fact, it amazes me that anyone manages to carry all this stuff with them on their bikes. But we do. The list, for your edification and enjoyment, is after the jump.

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Continue reading “The Packing List”

Book Review by a Non-Reader

First off, I admit I haven’t read either of the books I’m about to criticize; in fact, I’m not criticizing the books themselves but rather a journalistic and media prejudice I believe they convey, a belief born of hearing the authors on several talk shows. It could be that the authors are not accurately characterizing their own work or that I’m making flawed assumptions about the work based on my failure to understand the authors’ statements and apparent attitudes. Et cetera, et cetera. Enough for the caveat.

So, in the last couple of weeks, two critical journalistic biographies of Hillary Clinton have come out: “Her Way,” by Don Van Natta Jr. and Jeff Gerth, and “A Woman in Charge,” by Carl Bernstein. They may be the finest books ever written about any political figure; but not judging by the tone of the authors during interviews — Bernstein on KQED’s “Forum” program (broadcast from San Francisco) on Tuesday and Gerth and Van Natta on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” today. In both cases, there seemed to be an attitude that ran beyond reporting and criticism to reproach and condemnation. One of Bernstein’s theses is that Clinton is a phony; he deplores her for it. Van Natta and Gerth take her to task for failing to read the 92-page National Intelligence Estimate the Bush administration supplied to Congress before the vote to give Bush the authority to attack Iraq; only in passing do they mention that a) only six members of the Senate say they read that document, b) it was just one of myriad sources of information on the matter at hand, and c) Clinton, despite her vote, has struck an increasingly critical stance toward the war from the fall of 2003 (that last point is germane to Gerth/Van Natta’s claim that she reinvented her position last year).

The thing is: Yes, it’s good that journalists are looking hard at Clinton. One might be tempted to say they’ve learned from the free pass most of the media establishment gave our current president before he was elected. But looking again, it’s hard to believe that anything has been learned.

Sure, Hillary Clinton is an important candidate; aside from her gender, it’s fair to say we’ve never had one quite like her — someone with such close previous involvement with the presidency and such a long and complex track record in and near government. But the attention she’s getting now? It’s more than a little disproportionate. When”s someone going to track down 500 of John McCain’s closest friends and associates so we can get some insight into why he cozens up to the same people who smeared him in 2000? Or really get into John Edwards’s closets and turn them inside out? He’s a personal-injury lawyer, for Christ’s sake! How can there not be something there to get a reporter’s juices flowing?

But then, it’s a market driven type of inquiry. Writing something on her will generate an advance and a level of buzz that no other candidate can match.

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Walkers for Gravel


It figures that in Berkeley, where people are most comfortable communicating with their fellow citizens by bumper sticker and placard, that someone is going through the neighborhood with hand-scrawled flyers urging local pedestrians (these things would be invisible to drivers unless they decide to motor down the sidewalk, which come to think of it is not out of the question here) to check out the Democratic candidate who makes Dennis Kucinich look like an Eisenhower Republican.

I did as the signs commanded and visited a few Mike Gravel-related sites. Well, listen, first of all it’s been jarring to hear his name. I’ve been thinking that the Mike Gravel (the last name is gruh-VELL, emphasis on the second syllable) seeking the Democratic nomination must be the son of the old Mike Gravel, the senator from Alaska first elected in the misty 1960s. But no, the old and new Mike Gravel are the same guy. So going online has already been educational.

Beyond that I’ve got mixed feelings. The guy advocates so much I think makes sense or at least ought to be discussed seriously: a reform of the federal tax system to spread the pain (hey, in my heart I’ll really hurt for Halliburton); a move to guaranteed national health care; an aggressive policy on climate change; and in the shorter term, a switch from the practice of shooting first and asking questions later the Bush regime has employed to such wonderful effect in Iraq and elsewhere.

I don’t care for one of his big initiatives, though: a proposal to create a system of national voter referendums similar to those that California and many other states use more and more to decide big policy and budget questions. I don’t like the proposal because I think it’s proving to be a practical, political and constitutional disaster in California.

Among other things: Each ballot is longer than the last; huge amounts of money are spent to sway the voters to one side or other on questions that the Legislature and governor have punted on; the elections are decided by a non-representative slice of the state’s people (the older, more affluent white folks who go to the polls in the largest numbers); and the results suck: thanks to the initiative process we have seen passage of Proposition 13, which limits property taxes and has led to the slow strangulation of public services across the state; Proposition 187, a cynical and heartless attempt to cut off social services to illegal immigrants; Proposition 209, a measure designed to kill affirmative action in public institutions. (Oh, gosh: Is my distaste for lunkhead conservatism showing?)

Take money out of the process and make participation universal, and I’m all for it.

Back to Gravel (who would try to take money out of the political campaign process, by the way): Probably the saddest thing about our system is that it’s so hard for someone like him, someone who has staked out positions away from the safe center, to get anything like a serious hearing. It’s as if even the people who might agree with some of what he says agree that it’s just too goofy to believe that anyone running on these issues could ever have a chance to govern. That’s what I find myself thinking, anyway. Where’s the hope or the heart in the system when you feel that the same old crap is the only “realistic” option for the future?


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Friday evening, on the 7:55 ferry from Oakland to San Francisco. Looking back up the estuary past the Port of Oakland’s inner harbor. The ferry’s rear deck is set up with overhead radiant heaters, so even in the winter during a storm, it’s tolerable to ride back there; in fact, in all the dozens of times I’ve taken this trip, I don’t think I’ve ever sat inside the boat.

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1st Annual Berkeley International Car (and Truck) Show


Parked on California Street, about a block from Infospigot World Headquarters. This truck has been in the same spot for as long as I’ve been paying attention (we’ve lived in the neighborhood 19 years now, though I can’t remember the first time I saw this vehicle; I’ve never seen anyone working on it or driving it, though that that looks like fresh oil on the pavement under the front end). It’s an old International, though I can’t say how old. The 1956 model at the bottom left of the ad below (click for a bigger image) looks pretty close to this one. The license plate dates back to the late ’60s or a little after, when California switched from its old gold on black pattern to gold on blue (the switch to the current standard blue on white started in the early ’80s).

It’s a battered old classic in any case, with all the rust and dings and oxidized paint. I like the way the wheels are turned to the curb (it’s facing downhill) and the rear wheels are chocked. I wonder when the engine started last.


[Update: Checking further online, I found a great collection of International truck pictures — this year is the 100th anniversary of the International Harvester Company producing its first truck — at the Wisconsin Historical Society site. And going through the collection, one model — the 1950 L-160 — looks like a dead ringer for the truck on California Street. I’m also waiting for an expert opinion from a guy over in San Bruno who’s organizing a cross-country International truck convoy this summer to celebrate the centennial.

Update 2: My expert’s opinion: “That truck is a 50 – 52 “L” series and is probably the 160 but may be a 150. The130 – 180 designation was determined by chassis strength and axles weight rating.”]

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My Dinner with Barack: The Sweepstakes

A few months ago, I donated some money to Barack Obama’s campaign. It was an impulse, but a modest impulse. One result is that I get lots of Obama email updating me on the struggle and importuning me for more cash. Hey, that’s the way it works. When you give money to a political cause, you’ve identified yourself as a mark of sorts and you’re going to keep hearing from people who want to remind you of how valuable your past contributions have been — and by the way, where’s the next one?

So. Obama. Today I got an Obama email with a tantalizing offer. If I contribute something to the campaign in the next week — it doesn’t matter how much — I “could join Barack and three other supporters for an intimate dinner for five.” In short, it sounds like a sweepstakes or a raffle: You’re buying a chance to meet the celebrity up close and personal. You can’t win if you don’t play.

Thoughts and questions abound: Is this legal? (It’s got to be; I mean if the Lincoln Bedroom and intimate hunting trips with high officials have been on the auction block, how can this be wrong?) What sort of joint will host the dinner? (In-n-Out Burger gets kind of noisy.) Will Barack leave the table while I’m in the middle of relating my life story to go have a smoke? (Hey, man, I thought you were quitting.) Would it be gauche to ask Barack to autograph my menu? (Remember to bring a pen that will write on grease stains.) Will the Secret Service be involved in picking the sweepstakes winners, or at least in investigating their pasts? (What’s this about disorderly conduct?) Who’s going to pick up the tab? (Should I donate enough to cover the tip?)

[Update 6/7/07: Yesterday’s invitation to break bread with Senator Obama, sent over a staffer’s name, was followed today by one signed by the candidate himself. Consider me cajoled!]

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1st Annual Berkeley International Auto Show


Parked outside Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School last night, while some (undoubtedly politically enlightened) community event was going on in the auditorium. I’ve seen this car around, but have never found myself driving behind it. I love the fact the owner/driver has left flyers on the windshield (the picture below is an excerpt). When you read the pitch, this really doesn’t seem like a bad option for an around-town runabout (“around town” in Berkeley means an area of about four miles (north to south) and a couple miles west (the bay shore) to east (the hills).

[And if you’re interested in this machine, it’s made by Global Electric Motorcars of Fargo, North Dakota. When I was at Wired, we ran a long feature on Dan Sturges, the guy who developed the vehicle that became the GEM.]


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Sunday Notes

What Iraq Needs: “In the history of Iraq, more than 7,000 years, there have always been strong leaders,” said [Sheik Muhammad Bakr Khamis al-Suhail, a respected Shiite neighborhood leader in Baghdad. “We need strong rulers or dictators like Franco, Hitler, even Mubarak. We need a strong dictator, and a fair one at the same time, to kill all extremists, Sunni and Shiite.”

–“A Thirst for Final, Crushing Victory,” Edward Wong, The New York Times

Hogwash (R.I.P. Fred): “Hogzilla,” the behemoth feral porker recently killed by an 11-year-old wielding a .50-caliber pistol — this is still a great country — turns out not to have been wild. And not to have been named Hogzilla. His former owner, who bought him as a present for his wife a few years back and sold him to the hunting plantation where he met his end, called him Fred.

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“The devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable.”

–Roslyn Mauskopf, U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, announcing alleged conspiracy to attack jet-fuel facilities at Kennedy airport.

First: Let it be noted in passing that Mauskopf translates from German as Mousehead. That’s just for the record.

Second: Last summer, when British authorities announced they had uncovered a plot to bomb as many as nine transatlantic airliners with some sort of liquid explosives brought aboard in carry-on luggage, a police official said the plot “was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”

“Unthinkable”? “Unimaginable”? What world are these people living in? Where I live, in the land of the National Threat Advisory, it’s much, much too easy to contemplate and imagine mass slaughter and devastation.

But back to the Kennedy airport plot: The cops and prosecutors paint a picture of a terrorist crew reducing JFK to a smoking hole in the ground. Sure, that’s the vision the alleged plotters had in mind. But how real was the threat? One anonymous law enforcement official quoted by The New York Times describes the plot’s leader as “a sad sack” and “not a Grade A terrorist.”

The sad sack knew all about facilities at JFK, but was apparently uninformed that blowing up a fuel tank or a section of fuel pipeline would not lead to a chain-reaction explosion. The sad sack was also under the impression that an attack on JFK would be especially devastating because we Americans are all so attached to the late president’s memory.The sad sack and his associates were looking for financial backing from a terrorist group in Trinidad whose greatest hit was 17 years ago.

None of which is to say that at some point, with just the right tumblers falling into place, the sad sack’s plan might have won support and led to something. Even if the guy and his pals are numbskulls, it’s good that someone has taken them by the necks and put them someplace where they can’t hurt anyone for the time being. And sure, maybe all these plots sound laughable at some point because they do contain elements of the unbelievable. If the FBI had picked up Mohammed Atta and company on September 10, 2001, I’m sure their plans for New York and Washington would have sounded a little outlandish.

But that gets to what’s unsettling about this. The prosecutors and cops put on a show in which they seem to make the most of what appears, from what they’ve made public, to be very little. Meantime, you wonder what’s stirring in the shadows — thinkable, imaginable — while the sad sack is at center stage.