Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Challenging 3-Mile Run

My agency fielded a team at the ACLI Capital Challenge 3-Mile Race this morning for the fourth straight year. It’s a racing challenge issued by the legislative branch to the judicial and executive branches and to the media, to field teams of five runners (one has to be a woman) who are employees of that particular agency, department or branch. Each team has to be captained by the head of the office (in our case, a Commissioner).

The service teams are in the Executive Division and they usually dominate because they can always find a fit admiral or general to run and then each service sends four ringers from their competitive athletic corps. So it’s usually the Navy, Coast Guard or Army jockeying for first place with the rest of us content to be also-rans. It’s a lot of fun.

We had a pretty good team this year. Our agency’s rock-star G led the team for the fourth straight year with an 18:15, a few seconds slower than his time from last year (hey, he just ran a 3:09 at Boston nine days earlier). G was shocked to see a new addition to our team this year, a paralegal about half his age, on his shoulder at MP 2. Perhaps a moment of doubt about his continued supremacy flitted through his mind, but when G made a strong move with a quarter mile to go, the paralegal couldn’t match it and finished two seconds back. Both men were a few seconds ahead of the very fit DC mayor, Adrian Fenty, the baddest running mayor in the US, a point of pride to them both afterwards.

Despite a sore foot, M was right at about 20 minutes and came in next for our team. I was next at 22:51. I have not trained for anything recently and I was worried that my time for this race might push past 23 minutes for the first time. However, I ran steadily (7:15, 7:41, 7:55) and, given my current lack of conditioning, well for me.

Our captain, the Commissioner, came in at a few seconds over 30 minutes, a tremendous achievement for a non-runner (she did train for this, however) running in her first ever race. I don’t know where our team finished but it was a successful morning, topped off by the very cool fact that I was able to chat for a few moments with American elite runner Meb Keflezighi, the silver medalist at Athens who was a mere two days removed from being the first American at London this year. I beat him, so I gave him some secret running tips. Actually, though, I think he let me and many others in the field finish ahead of him, as he ran the entire race alongside the representative who he was a guest of.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Billy Goat Trail

Recovering from my last marathon a week ago has been interesting--on Tuesday I tried to run a mile but found it hurt too much and I quit after a block. Wednesday I limped home for a solitary mile in 9:47, slower than my average pace during the marathon. Thursday it got better and I did the same mile in 8:40, Friday 8:07, Saturday 8:04 and then on Sunday I broke through and ran my neighborhood mile in 7:40. All better, or so I thought.

There's a nice 1.7 mile hike in the area off the C&O Canal called the Billy Goat Trail that I do every year. It's short but challenging, with large areas over boulder fields where you have to climb up and down three foot tall rocks continuously. It is along the Potomac, and has several panoramic views of the river at overlook points that are, in effect, sheer drop-offs along the sides of cliffs. (Right: The Potomac River as seen from the Billy Goat Trail in MD.)

Scrambling over all of those rock faces on Sunday afternoon reawakened the fire in my trashed quads that the marathon had left me with. On Monday morning my legs felt all beat up again. They feel better today but I hope they get refreshed in a hurry because I have a 3-mile race coming up with a team from work tomorrow morning in SE. I am feeling so not ready for the challenge of a short, sharp race. (Left: Another overlook of the river.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

The FBI?!

I never thought I would ever defend the FBI. As a cop in the field from 1980-1987, I hated it when FBI Agents showed up on my scene. Excuse me, Special Agents. They were so arrogant. Hey, copper, just wave me on through and let me take over, if I feel like it (it it could garner beneficial publicity for the Agency) and you can relax, son. Naturally, there was always some resistance to this approach by the coppers on the ground.

Besides, I was one of the few Troopers who had a college degree (CU, History, 1978). I had been through the crucible of student protests against the [Vietnam] war in Boulder, and we feared the FBI. I was on the highway bridge in Boulder the night Nixon mined Haiphong Harbor, blocking the bridge in protest and snarling rush hour traffic the next morning. We all knew the FBI were building dossiers on us. I fancied I might have one. The CIA, you see, were forbidden to conduct domestic surveillance.

Fast forward to 2002. After the attack upon western values that radical Islam launched against Americans on September 11, 2001, some of the usual suspects were rounded up. Abu Zubaydah, the logistics chief for anti-western terror training camps in Afghanistan, was captured after a gun battle. (I hope he rots in hell.)

Long story short, an expert FBI interrogator named Ali Soufan, who was extraordinarily effective at extracting information from international suspects using traditional interrogation methods (think--gain their trust through simple kindness), interrogated Abu and using time-honored American police methods, gained much valuable intel quickly, including who this guy named Mohammed was (see my last post).

Then the CIA showed up, armed with the torture memos the syncophant charlatan lawyers in the Justice Department had concotted to please their oily masters, the originally asleep-at-the-switch Decider and Great Bird Hunter, justifying torture of American detainees in the War on Terror.

Harsh techniques followed, including waterboarding Abu over eighty times and building a mock coffin in which his handlers were going to bury him alive, reportedly. The flow of information from Abu stopped.

Soufan threatened to "arrest" the rogue torturers and complained to his superiors at the FBI. The FBI was being bested at the time by the goons at the CIA, who had the complete attention of the American Executive branch. Soufan was ordered home. The FBI would have no part in this game.

I understand this. As a lawyer, as in many endeavors, when you are losing badly on a particular day, you don't flail around uselessly, you suspend your efforts in order to come back stronger on a better day. Often you win then. If the American people are as I think they are, the FBI will come out of this a lot better than the CIA.

Read the Newsweek issue dated May 4, 2009.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

W's Legacy

Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a high-ranking al-Qaeda official, is a bad guy. I hope he rots in hell. I grieve for the 3,000 Americans murdered on September 11, 2001 by him and his ilk.

But America has lost its moral compass over him and the rest of the al-Qaeda crew.

Imagine drowning. Sputtering, tired, terrified, helpless. I imagine when it happens, you just want it to be over with, to have your suffering end. Imagine being miraculously revived, then you drown all over again. Imagine that happening over and over and over and over again. You can't comprehend it.

Or imagine your brave, strong son, and he's a soldier now in America's wars. He's caught by the enemy and they tie him down onto a board, close his nose, cover his mouth with a wet cloth and slowly pour a heavy volume of water onto the cloth, right where his open, gasping mouth is. That's waterboarding.

When he passes out from near-asphyxia, imagine them reviving him, letting him catch his breath for a moment, so his larynx stops spasming, and then they do it again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

In 2003, after Mohammed was stripped, given an enema, shackled standing for hours on end, deprived of sleep, put in a horse collar and slammed repeatedly into a plywood wall, doused frequently with cold water and kept for days naked and restrained in a cold environment, he was waterboarded 183 times.

The CIA did that to him. On orders issued by the White House. Justified by self-serving, made -up ridiculous (and wrong) legal opinions issued by Justice Department lawyers like John Yoo, now a law professor at a prestigious school on the left coast.

While the Decider was off somewhere scrambling syntax to everyone's merriment, and the Great Bird Hunter was shooting his friend in the face, Mohammed was sputtering and dying 183 times.

Mohammed wasn't the only captive treated like that by Americans. Mohammed and his ilk succeeded in making Americans to be just like the al-Qaeda people they are battling, repugnant and utterly adrift morally.

Did you vote for that guy? Maybe twice? Shame!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

High Flying in Falls Church

In this economic downturn, municipalities are scrambling for money. Around Northern Virginia, tax revenues for towns are largely driven by real estate assessments. During the housing bubble, city governments had flush times. Now they're all faced with record shortfalls as home values plummet. They're all raising their mill-levies. The average real estate tax bill in Falls Church is expected to rise by $75 this year, despite the plunging housing values.

Falls Church is supposed to use 100% real valuation upon which to base its real estate tax. The city real estate assessment office just makes numbers up and mails them out to homeowners once a year. If you disagree with your new fictional valuation, you get to follow an arduous protest procedure and totally waste lots of your time, probably for no result. It's city hall.

I'm making these numbers up, but they're representative. Four years ago, the city office increased the value of my house from, say, 400,000 to 480,000, just like that. When I formally protested, the office sent me three comps that the spike was supposedly based upon, two ranches and a tri-level. My house is a one-and-a-half story workman's cottage built in the 30s. So I went out and found my own three comps, all much more like my house.

One evening a rep from the city office and I appeared before the protest board, which consisted of four realtors and a lawyer, all city residents. The board was not happy with the apples and oranges approach the city office had used for its comps. Everyone on the board but the lawyer had actually driven by all seven houses involved to look at them from the curb.

The lawyer was my implacable enemy from the start because he maintained that my protest was procedurally invalid because I had brought pictures with me to the meeting showing the high voltage power lines 60 feet behind my house (think cancer through long-term exposure to high energy transmissions). He said I should have been included them "in the record" when I protested months earlier (before I knew there would be a hearing). Does anyone doubt that lawyers are universally reviled? (He, being a lawyer, was just being a bully.)

The four realtors pretty much ignored the lawyer and the city spokesperson and huddled together to fix the situation. They made up their own number, 422. I had asked for 410. They said I could take it, or appeal to court. I took it, and considered it a victory. This all took almost an hour while several more protesters waited for their turn.

Two more ridiculous assessment jack ups followed the next two years, but who has time for all this every year? Last year I protested again after another absurd valuation spike that sent my home value soaring to almost 600,000, and this time the city office lowered the valuation a bit without a hearing, and I acquiesced in the new figure.

This year real estate values dropped substantially in the city across the board. The city office actually lowered valuations some, but not much. Mine went from, say, 580 to 544. Trouble was, because I refinanced in December, I had an actual appraisal done by a professional. It said 500.

Naturally I protested. I went to the city office on the last day of the protest season and filled out the protest form, with a copy of the appraisal in hand. In the office, I got the good cop, bad cop routine.

The good cop, a nice lady in the office, first said that if the three addresses used for comps on the appraisal weren't within the city, they wouldn't be considered. The City of Falls Church is very tiny. Nope, they were all actual city addresses.

Then she commented how strange it was that I had my home valuation listed down to the penny. I said that if my house was valued by the city office at 580,000 on January 1, 2008, and it was appraised professionally at 500,000 on December 15, 2008, my home value was falling at a rate that could be calculated by the day. The figure that I submitted, below 500,000, which was down to the penny, accounted for the last 16 days in December.

She rolled her eyes at that one but invited me to sit at an empty desk to finish filling out the form. Then the bad cop, a male coworker, bustled over to converse with her. This idle office chit-chat right next to me was obviously for my benefit. (I'm making these names up, but not this account.)

"Laura, I swear, this year I'm going to turn some of these appraisal agents in to the state licensing board for action on their certification. I mean, every one of them gives a ridiculous low-ball appraisal and the board has been very active in cracking down on these sham appraisals lately and have suspended several licenses. Oh, and look at this file. Remember when the XYZ Project Manager protested the value of his building site which we assessed at 1.6 million? When we re-did it, it came out to 2.2 million! He'll just love getting this re-appraisal. It actually went up! I can't tell you how many times that's happened this year."

Do you suppose the bad cop came over to have that conversation with his co-worker while I was there for my benefit?

Friday, April 24, 2009


Last year I listed my thirteen favorite albums under “Favorite Music” on my Profile page. (You do read bloggers’ Profile pages, don’t you?) After having these choices anonymously occupy my Favorite Music page for a year, it is time to effect a change. I shall put up 13 singles in their place.

It was hard to winnow the list down to thirteen, but each LP holds a special place in my heart. Most are from the late 60s when the possibilities of life and society seemed so endless to me as I was growing up. Included are two later albums that made the list in honor of my two sons who were under 21 last year, Life is Peachy by Korn (1996) associated with Johnny, and Parachutes by Coldplay (2000) associated with Danny. Miss you guys! You too Jimmy! I will touch upon all but those two albums in the next few posts as I put the singles up in the place of albums on my Profile page.
One concert album made the list, The Concert for Bangladesh. This was a compilation of songs performed at two charity concerts held on August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden that George Harrison of the Beatles organized along with Bengali musician Ravi Shankar. The cause was to help alleviate the suffering of refugees from Bangladesh, a country formed in the early 1970s out of an area partitioned from Indian territory that emerged as a sovereign nation only after a war with Pakistan.

In addition to George Harrison, the album has a star-studded lineup of, among others, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston and Klaus Voorman. The songs are pure rock and roll, with loud raucous versions of It Don’t Come Easy, Wah-Wah, Beware of Darkness and Jumping Jack Flash, and haunting versions of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Here Comes the Sun, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall, Just Like a Woman and Something.

You're asking me will my love grow,
I don't know, I don't know.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blog Land Hookup

I've been sort of remiss in keeping this blog updated recently. Busy at work, you know. Also busy lamenting losing 40% of my net worth in the last six months of the Decider's and the Torturer's (aka the Great Bird Hunter) reign. Trying to map out retirement at age 82 rather than 67.

Last month I attended a blogland hookup in DC at the District Chophouse on Seventh Street (NW) that was pure blogger. The occasion was Danielle from Iowa came to town to run the National Half-Marathon, and eight of us had pre-race dinner together. The pictures just came back (I still use film which bugs people I know mightily).

(Danielle, Adam, Rebecca, Joe, Audrey, NBTR, DC Rainmaker and DC Spinster.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My first marathon

In 1970, I was a high school senior at an all-male boarding school, full of vim and vinegar, and I thought it would be cool to finish the Boston Marathon. I always looked for challenges that were different.

I was a wrestler in high school, but otherwise I had abandoned two years of running JV cross-country in order to play house (recreational), and then Fifth Form (club), football. You'd have to be a preppie to know what I'm talkin' about.

I think that high school cross country meets back in the 60s were 2.6 miles. The Boston Marathon had been in the news because that's where a male accosted a woman athlete and tried to drag her off the marathon course to ensure the "purity" of the sport of long-distance running, which hardly anyone even cared about back then. You see, women's constitutions were considered to be delicate, a myth I knew to be ridiculous, even in my youth. (Right: The way it was in 1967.)

I would be over 18 on the day of the race. I thought that I could do 26.2 miles, thanks to the energy of youth, even though my longest runs up until then (other than 5 mile training workouts which consisted of twenty quarter mile laps interspersed with 220 yards of walking) were those 2.6 mile cross country meets. I think a couple of meets might have been 5Ks. All I had to do was run the distance I was accustomed to, times ten. If I had to walk a bit in the latter stages, what was the big deal? Such is the brain of a teenager.

My guidance counselor at the school turned me down flat. Maybe he was wise and knew that I couldn't make 26 miles, no way no how, without a base.

I was irked because otherwise I was doing whatever I wanted on weekends. Meaning I'd sneak away from school for weekends in NYC while my stodgy stay-at-school roommate "checked" me in with the housemaster on Saturday nights. ("Oh Peter's here too. He's asleep.") Those were the late Vietnam years, when authority sort of adhered to "don't ask, don't tell" when it came to youth.

The problem was that the Boston Marathon was run on a Monday (Patriot's Day in MA) and I couldn't finagle being absent from school on a Monday in NJ without securing permission from a responsible school official. Permission was not forthcoming.

Sh*t, since I was already 1-A (that's draft lingo, I was draft-eligible because I refused to take a student-deferment as being an unfair entitlement), I thought, How could anyone refuse a request of mine?

I always regretted that missed opportunity to participate in the Boston Marathon before the advent of qualifying times.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My last marathon

I was in Boston yesterday, and I ran a marathon. Yeah, that Boston and yeah, that marathon. The bottom line: 4:15:35 (9:45).

Running it was a last minute opportunity for me and I certainly hadn't trained for a marathon. My last 20-miler was in September and when I tried to do a 16-miler in October, I crashed and burned at 12 miles. I ran a 10-mile race in January but then I hurt my toe and I had been taking it easy ever since. Lately I have been running low mileage on Saturdays at a 12-minute pace with the 10K Group Training Program that I coach for. Recently I did an hour of serious running before one such meeting with a friend, followed afterwards by four more 12-minute miles with the group, but that's been about it for my base.

Predictably, the wheels came off after 11 miles. My per-mile time slipped out of the eight-minute range into the nine-to-twelve minute range, and I started run/walking. However, approaching Heartbreak Hill, I told myself that I would never again be at the bottom of the most famous hill in all of runnerdom after having already traversed twenty miles on foot, and I was going to run all the way up it to the top, no matter what. Mentally fortified, I ran the next three miles and then I had a couple of more brief walking forays before running the last mile and a half to the finish.

I'm not embarassed about my time although my placement sucks, about 18,173/22,849, in the bottom twenty percent. My forever favorite marathon is still New York City, which I considered to be deceptively hard, but a Boston newspaper columnist called the NYCM a "JV race" compared to Boston, adding, "This is where hearts are broken, and sometimes bodies." Second-place finisher Daniel Rono said, "Boston is the toughest of all." I agree. Those hills (mostly downhills with a few wicked uphills) are crazy. My legs are totally on fire today.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No, no, no.

I recently ran the monthly running of the noontime Tidal Basin 3K. I've done over 90 of these races and this one was the most interesting by far.

You might know that I was recently elected president of my running club. Suddenly people come up to talk to me now, who never seemed to notice me before. Usually they want something. A president of another club I spoke with recently advised me to learn how to say "No." No, no, no.

This 3K race kicked off in the rain. I set off and as usual, another club member, a friend of mine who is faster than me, came up on me at about the quarter mile mark. But he didn't sweep by and steadily get ahead of me, as usual. No, no, no.

He fell in beside me and started talking to me. Now, I like to be social when I run. I talk to lots of people (except for those antisocial types wearing headphones).

But this friend wanted something from me, or rather, from the club. I won't get into what it was but there was nothing improper about his request (you can always ask). It's just that he wasn't going to get it. But he had plenty of time to make his case. Did I mention that he's faster than me?

As we ran side by side for long minutes while he went on about how the club could benefit from the synergies he could bring to it through this or that skill that he possessed, I ratcheted up my pace to my top speed, hoping that I could run away from him and save the conversation for later when I could concentrate. No dice, he just loped along, chatting me up easily.

I answered in one word gasps. I listened carefully, to make sure I didn't reflexively say, "Uh-huh" at an inauspicious moment. This was very taxing, both physically and mentally. I couldn't let this old familiar race just flow, as usual.

Whenever I took a straight line through the curves I had to dip behind him or else bang into him because he took the curves without cutting the corners. Once I left the sidewalk to cut across the roadway towards a far curve and we did collide and almost fell. It was nerve wracking.

With a quarter mile to go he lit out and finished many seconds ahead of me as usual. I breathed, or rather gasped, a sigh of relief as he left me behind.

Later when he said that he took my non-committal reticence to be a "No," I didn't dispute his perception. He imparted some wisdom then, saying, "I always say that you didn't ask a question if you won't accept no for the answer." No, no, no.

13:56 (7:29), 21/32, bottom third, a terrible race. It felt like I was a prisoner being escorted.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The first thing to go

I recently turned 57. I took the day off and at some point I went to the supermarket, a form of recreation for me. I was loading up my cart with the usual stuff, dented cans from the bargain bin, a banana, a 24-pack of half-liter water bottles, salmon, a Foster's, when I looked down and saw the cart I was pushing wasn't mine. Everything in it looked too healthy. Apparently, upon returning from some side trip down an aisle, I had just started pushing any old cart that was handy, and it didn't happen to be mine.

I went back several aisles and sure enough, there was a housewife wondering around with her arms loaded with food stuff, looking very annoyed, searching for her cart.

I sheepishly returned her cart to her and took mine, which was standing abandoned nearby. Then upon checking out a short while later, I realized that I no longer had my carton of water placed on the bottom shelf of my cart, just over the wheels. Ah, I thought, so that's where I took over the other cart temporarily, in the water aisle.

So I went looking for the housewife a second time, to ensure that she didn't inadvertently leave the store without noticing the water crate on the underside of her shopping cart. I found her in a checkout lane in an agitated discussion with the cashier about that very crate of water in her cart.

I wondered, as I sheepishly unloaded the miscreant water crate from underneath her cart, if short-term memory is the first thing to go.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Run on a Key

Lignum vitae wood is a dense wood heavier than water, which is used in boatmaking. Why I don't know, although Captain Jimmy told me. I forget now though. I guess it sinks, which doesn't seem like a desirable property for wood on a boat to me. (Right: I'm guessing that the reddish wood is lignum vitae.)

It's rare, but it's present on Lignumvitae Key. This 13 acre island is a state park, accessible only by boat. We put in there at the dock. Our visit was memorable for two reasons. The island had a bathroom. And I went for a run. (Left: The water from Lignumvitae Key.)

The island has a house built by the island's former owner, which now serves as a visitors center. The heavy vegetation of the island surrounds the open square that the house sits on. There is a road that runs around the island, through the brush. (Right: The wooded trail that runs around Lignumvitae Key.)

It felt good to be running down a road again after two days on a boat, even if it was a sandy trail closed in by a canopy of treetops. Also there were huge tough spiderwebs stretched across the road that I kept running into. (Left: It was awfully quiet running on Lignumvitae Key.)

Down the primary lane, I hit a T intersection against a stone wall. Turning right, I soon came to the end of the road upon a beach. The shallow blue waters of the keys beckoned me. A boat rode at anchor a quarter mile offshore. Those waters would be where we would spend that night. (Right: The visitors center.)

Backtracking, I ran past my ingress point and ran on through the forest, skirting the small island I suppose. The only sounds were my soft footfalls on the sandy trail and my breathing. This was a run I really enjoyed.

Emerging back onto the open square fourteen minutes later, after a run of about 3K I guess, I loped off to the dock, sweating. My boat was casting off! Thanks for waiting, guys! (Left: Barry and Captain Todd came by to inspect our boat.)

The guys were covering for me! Evidently the park ranger was shooing us off the island. The daily tours had been cancelled, due to the Decider's economic debacle I suppose, and the park rangers hadn't changed the website to reflect that fact yet. The park was closed. My crew members kept telling the ranger they had to wait for a guy who was "in the bathroom" (me). (Right: Snorkeling by Lignumvitae Key.)

I jumped aboard and we shoved off and sailed around to the back of the key and tied up to a mooring 400 yards off shore. Putting on our snorkel gear, we swam in to the shoreline. It was my first time in the water down there and with the flippers, mask and snorkel, the half mile swim to the shore and back came easily. (Left: Our 25 foot boat Spring Tide.)

Afterwards we rafted up with the other two boats and enjoyed an evening of socializing. Going back to our mooring before dark, we engaged in our ultimately unsuccessful quest to see the "green flash" as the sun sank into the sea. (Right: Jeffrey aboard his kayak.)

The snorkeling was nice but the run was wonderful. (Left: Sunset in the Keys.)