Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tour de Westfield

After I got home from work I was debating what to do, lift weights? Try to play basketball on my still healing ankle? Go for a bike ride? Sit on my ass and watch tv?

Since it was around 7:30 and I was too lazy to lift and too uninspired to shoot some hoops, I hopped on my bike and went for a spin. I usually don't push myself too hard on my solitary rides. I'll bike around 10 miles or so at an easy pace. The goal is usually to bike for 5-7 miles or so in what ever direction the wind takes me and then somehow try to figure out how to get back to Cranford. I've become fairly familiar with the area and its been getting harder and harder to disorient and get myself legitimately lost.

Tonight, however, I had been casually riding around the seemingly endless grid between Cranford and Westfield when I come up to an intersection in time to see 6 dudes fly by in full road bike gear and on some nice rigs. I barely ever get the chance to ride with anyone so before I even really had a chance to make a decision, I pulled a sharp right and started trailing the pack as they started weaving in and out of traffic. These dudes were pretty serious riders and it was definitely going to take some concentration and will power to keep up with them in my amateur shape.

We eventually made our way to a less congested road where I was able to shout out to ask them if it was cool if I tagged along.

"Where are you guys headed?" I inquired.

"Up around the Watchung loop and back, only about 16 miles" (The Watchung Reservation is 5 minutes from where I grew up and consists of a bunch of winding roads snaking over hills and through the woods) Carlos replied.

Somehow I was able to keep up with these guys for most flat parts and the climbs, partly because I was about 10 years younger than about half of them. However, they toasted me on the descents. Like I said, the roads wind wickedly around the hills and you never know whats going to be around the next bend unless you are really familiar with the turf. So we would get to the top of a climb and then less than a minute later all the other guys would be completely out of sight. I was cruising along at a respectable 30-35mph and was being left in the dust. The fact that it was pushing 8-8:30 and was quickly getting darker didn't help matters as I sped down each descent while trying to keep up with these road warriors.

I'm sure I looked like a clown wearing sneakers, basketball shorts and jersey while all the other guys were decked out in the legit cycling apparel and accessories, but it was a great time nonetheless. I definitely got a new appreciation for what kind of athletes must be riding in the Tour de France and other professional races. I've been trying to follow and learn more about it, its really a fascinating spectacle with its unparalleled history and prestige. France never really struck my fancy as a travel destination until I started reading more about the Tour, but now it will most definitely be a must on my next (and first) European tour.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Leonhardt on market forces in the health care industry

David Leonhardt writes about how Congress is helping the continuing high costs of the health care industry. He argues that by not allowing the health care equipment prices to be set by market forces, the government is supporting artificially inflated prices. The effect of this subsidy is a bloated producer surplus which obviously ends up hurting the little people.

On the power of lobbying and money in Washington politics impacts this issue:
This little fight deserves more attention than it's been getting for two reasons. One, it's a great example of how a small group of constituents can potentially beat back a policy that's clearly in the public interest but has no similarly committed group of supporters. And, two, it shows just how difficult health care reform is going to be.

In the abstract, fixing the health care system sounds perfectly unobjectionable: it's about reducing costs (and then being able to cover the uninsured) by getting rid of inefficiency and waste. In reality, though, almost every bit of waste benefits someone.

Overall, I found this to be an intelligent article which looks to shed some light on how our elected officials are not always looking out for our best interests. Our entire health care system is undeniably flawed and in no way could be described as working to ensure the health and well-being of all American citizens. As he points out, there are more (and more powerful) people whose jobs are focused on maintaining the status quo in this industry than their are people who are working to fix this debacle. After watching a movie like SICKO (I know, I know its Michael Moore, but still) and thinking about all the failures in the system, it is so frustrating to think about how something that could do so much good is letting so many people down everyday.

Friday, July 4, 2008

An American Pastime

I just saw an ad for a gas company, followed by another commercial for a different gas company. The first one was for Mobil and the next one was for Valero. (Note: This commercial obviously was aired without the anti-Valero message scrolling across the screen)

Are commercials like these really going to change the driving habits of average Americans who have faced substantial increases in the price of gas over the past year? Even if driving is an American 'love affair' or Pastime (aren't evicting Native Americans from their homes and starting unpopular wars American Pastimes as well?), do these companies really think that by airing some corny ads during baseball games American consumers will go out and A) Drive more in general or B) Buy their gasoline over their competitors brands? I don't get it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Spanning the masses

"Let me be as clear as I can be," he said. "I intend to end this war. My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war — responsibly, deliberately, but decisively.

-Barack Obama

There has been a lot of talk recently about Obama's stance on the war in Iraq. From the beginning he has been opposed to it and wants to bring out troops home. However, he is not an irrational peacenik who views bringing every last soldier back home to start planting flowers and holding hands as the number one priority. As much as I am against the war in Iraq, and without being an expert on the issue, I do believe that strictly calling for a withdrawal of troops without taking into consideration the current state of affairs there and consequences of our actions on the region would be a mistake.

People can criticize Obama from both sides, either calling him a flip-flopper or another run-of-the-mill politician who is only trying to win votes by working his way into the middle of the political spectrum. But, the fact of the matter is that one can find both value and fault in either
A) staying the course, being stubborn, and not willing to change your position on an issue simply because you are afraid people will say that you are a hypocrite or say that you are flip-flopping or
B) Being adaptable and open minded to changing your mind, taking into consideration new information and risk THEM saying that you aren't strong or tough minded.

Its a tough row to hoe. As with many things, I feel the truth and best option lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, no matter how the liberal/conservative media might want to portray it. I want a leader who is willing to do what is right despite how he/she might be painted by critics afterwards.

Happy Birthday Babe-raham Lincoln!

I just caught part of "Independence Day", one of the greatest epic movies of our time. One of the parts that always intrigued me, was the idea of Area 51. In the movie, the President was completely unaware of its existence. If you think about it, this makes sense that every Tom, Dick and Sally that is elected president of the United States of America cannot be told the deepest, darkest secrets that our government holds.

In the movie, the former head of the CIA is the only dude who knows about the existence and ongoings of the facility and he only brings it up after the aliens have struck and are within 36 hours of completely exterminating mankind as we know it! You think Bill Clinton knows about what kind of crazy shit THEY might be testing in the North Pole or the vast deserts of Nevada?

As much as these type of "science fiction" movies are deemed to be unrealistic or fantastical, there is something so cool in thinking that there might be so much out there that we are kept in the dark about. This got me thinking about the idea of the Sacred and the Profane. The day to day operations of our life get to be so mundane and ordinary, that when we encounter something above and beyond, it blows our minds and makes us realize that there could be more...

Religion is incredible in that it allows people to believe that there is something so much more powerful and otherworldly out there than their 9-5 jobs, mortgages and ho-hum existence. Maybe, just maybe, there is the something out there that could equal or exceed the furthest limits of our imagination.