Criminalizing Politics

Virginia is sinking as scandals envelop it. We all know about former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, convicted of corruption.

Lesser known outside the state is the story about how one Democratic state senator resigned at a crucial time. It was during debate in the legislature about expanding Medicaid. Republicans, who hold a majority in the House of Delegates, were opposed, but a one-vote Democratic majority in the Senate (the crucial lieutenant governor’s tie breaker) provided a pathway to approve the expansion.

Then a Democratic senator, Phil Puckett, abruptly resigned, flipping control of the Senate to the GOP. It was soon revealed that the Republicans in the House had offered him a plush state government position and were prepared to release a hold they had maintained on approval of a judicial appointment for the senator’s daughter. Federal officials are investigating whether these offers constituted corruption.

Yesterday, it was revealed an aide to the Democratic governor had then counter-offered the senator a different job for the daughter. Even some Republicans thought things had gone too far.

“This is the danger of criminalizing ordinary politics,” said Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun).

Criminalizing ordinary politics. Many of us thought we already had, and if we hadn’t formally, ordinary politics today does seem criminal.


Taimi Leavelle,1918-2014

From my vantage point, she was the best—the best damn mother-in-law a guy could have. She didn’t try to tell me what to do, how to raise my kids or even how to cook.

But Taimi made a lasting imprint on my daughters, one, quite literally. Our older daughter, Kate, has tattooed on her rib cage Sisu, which she learned from her grandmother. Sisu, in Finnish, translates as determination, bravery and resilience.

Taimi was determined early on to lead a different life than her parents, dairy farmers who never left the town where virtually everyone spoke their language. Palisade, Minnesota, has fewer than 200 people today, probably as many as they did in 1918 when Taimi was born. The farm was on the Mississippi River, so far north that you could walk across it and keep your knees dry. Taimi thought there was more.

Taimi was brave enough to go to war. After finishing nursing school, she became a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and administered to the wounded in a California hospital. It was there, she dated an officer she met while he was recovering. Returning to the front, he asked a new friend who was also recovering from his war wounds, Jim Leavelle, to watch over his girl. “Take care of her,” he told Jim, which he did—for the next 75 years.

Because she was an officer and Jim an enlisted man, she had to give up her commission to marry the poor itinerant farmer, who lacked her education and edge but shared her determination and resilience.

They moved to Dallas. She continued her nursing career while he tried to find himself. Perhaps it was that experience that led to her to instill in her daughters the notion that they should always be able to provide for themselves. Never be at the mercy of a man. For 50 years she raised a family and worked. Jim soon found his niche as a police officer and then a homicide detective. They both worked shifts. When one worked, the other was home. He retired, became a polygraph examiner and then a security guard. She continued to minister the sick, addicted, and insane.

Not surprisingly, her daughters followed her lead, one as a teacher, the other in business. Tanya’s  children were the hundreds, maybe thousands, she influenced. Karla, my wife, instilled in our two daughters the same ethic. Take care of yourself. Value yourself. Be determined and brave and when you fail, and you will, get back up.

All the while, Taimi Trast from Palisade lived life to the fullest. Her humor was renowned. Her honesty, legendary. When Kate was visiting recently, she told her grandma that she needed to get dressed.

“I don’t want to get dressed,” Taimi said.

“You have to get dressed. Put on your underwear.”

“I don’t want to put on underwear.”

“If you don’t, I won’t make you coffee.”

Kate thought she now had leverage, and walked into another room. When she came back, Taimi had her underwear on—her head.

“Now give me my damn coffee.”

Kate also experienced her honestly. Once Kate came to visit, and as she walked into the door, Taimi was in another room. “Who’s here?” she asked.

“It’s your favorite grandchild,” Kate said.

Taimi entered the room and looked straight at Kate and said, “No, Hunter is my favorite grandchild.”

When Hunter was just a few months old and in daycare, Jim and Taimi lived nearby. Occasionally, we’d get a call from her to let us know that she picked up Hunter “because she needs her down time,” Taimi said. To this day, Hunter needs her downtime, but Taimi knew then.

And Kate must have learned something from her grandma early on. When she was about five years old, she had a t-shirt that read simply, “No Guts, No Glory.”

For more than 90 years, Taimi retained her phenomenal physical vitality. I would tell her she looked great. “I feel great,” she would say, “and I can still dance a gig.” And then she would.

But her mind began to escape. She would repeat herself.

“Where are my glasses, Jim?”

“Now where do you go to school, Zack?” even though our son had graduated two years earlier.

But she knew what dementia was; she’d seen plenty of it. And she didn’t let it bother her. It was a process she would endure, bravely, resiliently. She would laugh about it. It was life. And she would live it.

Rest in peace, dear mother-in-law. Thanks. Someday I hope to tell my grandkids about you and teach them about sisu. But if I’m gone by then, I’m sure my daughters will.

Shaved Legs

I shaved my legs for the first time the other day. Cyclists do that. I don’t know why. I don’t think they know why.

I couldn’t come up with a good reason to do it. But I couldn’t come up with a good reason not to. Hell, at 66, I’m too close to the end of the road only to reach it and say, “I cycled for 50 years and never shaved my legs.”

The reasons all have a patina of truth.

It makes massages easier. For who? My masseuse said it makes no difference to her.

It makes road rash easier to treat and promotes healing. I can see the point. No sticky hair to gum things up. But whereas pro racers crash, suffer massive strawberries and then get up and immediately ride another 80 miles, I crash and break several old, brittle bones. I’m laid up so long the strawberries are long gone before I get back on the bike.

The ladies like shaved legs. At my age, there are no ladies left, only broads, and they take anything that’s still walking at 66. They don’t care whether the guy’s walker is hairy or not.

Others say, it’s just tradition and you’re not taken seriously unless you shave. That’s attractive to me, since no one now takes me seriously.

But the best reason is that shaved legs make you faster by reducing aerodynamic drag. Are you kidding me? Losing the extra 20 pounds I’m dragging around would be far more effective for me.

But Specialized engineers beg to differ. Over 40 kilometers, one of their subjects saved 82 seconds. That’s huge for a racer. For me, not so much. My riding buddies’ coffee will still be cold by the time I make it back to our sidewalk cafe.

But hey, makes you faster is good enough for me. I’m sticking to that story–unless my wife vetoes it. But then, why does she shave her legs?

Cyclists Think They Know Pain. They don’t. I Know Pain.

As we men age, there is a gradual decline in size. We get shorter, muscles shrink, and our leering eyes are far bigger than our, well, let’s just say we may need pharmaceutical help to show off whatever size we have left.

But there is one sure thing that will get larger—our prostate. I’ve been particularly cursed: mine has been enlarged since my 20’s. It was so uncomfortable back then I had to sit on donut cushions. Before that I thought they only came with walkers and Depends as a package deal.

But for 30+ years, there have been no symptoms. The only thing I had to endure was the annual doc’s finger up my ass and his comment, “Yep, a little large but smooth,” meaning no cancer.

But prostates eventually present problems, so my urologist suggested some tests.

The first was simple enough: pee in a container that measures your “flow.” Peeing under pressure can sometimes be a problem, even in an empty room, when you know at some level you’re going to be judged. And it didn’t help that when I started to pee, a voice from the machine blurted, “Maximum flow.” That stopped me in mid-stream and confirmed that I was going to be judged. Could I top that “maximum flow”? Well, hell no. I’d start to pee again and wouldn’t hear “maximum flow” and immediately knew I was failing, which made me feel under greater scrutiny and made it harder to pee.

Ultimately, I couldn’t very well. And I paid the price. “Well,” the doc said. “You don’t empty your bladder very well. We’ll need you to come back for more tests.”

You know you’re in for a treat when the instructions for those tests are, “Drink plenty of water and take four ibuprofen before your appointment.” Really? Four? And then when you get to the office, they give you a prescription pain pill. This isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

So when the young office assistant said, “You ready?” with a grin on her face, I asked, “Can I have one of the mints on the counter here as a last meal?” She laughed. It was oh so easy for her to laugh.

The test would be conducted by a nurse who, I can assure you, has seen it all before. So that wasn’t a particular problem. After all, I knew I wasn’t going to be judged on that kind  of performance.

Instead, she showed me a long thin tube, to where I knew it was going before she said anything. “Could I have another pain pill?” I asked. No was the answer before she showed me the other tube that had to go up there first. It was thicker, I swear, the size of a garden hose. The pain pill hadn’t yet dulled my senses or my imagination.

But first she had to shoved another tube up my ass to measure some kind of muscle reaction. My glutes tensed, but I don’t think that’s the muscle contraction she was looking for.

Did she have a bullet I could bite? No, that pain pill and ibuprofen was all I had.

First, the garden hose. She says I’ll feel a little pressure.

A little pressure! Women often point to child birth as evidence of their superior pain endurance. But I’ll wager that the birth canal is wider than a urethra. And at least the kid is coming out, not going in. I wailed. I half expected the nurse to say, “Breathe, he-he-he-he.”

Fortunately, that tube went in and out quickly and made way for the thinner tube. My guess is the first was like a roto-rooter they put in sewer pipes to clean them out. I screamed again.

Now I had to wait, while she filled my bladder. Everything about this was going in the wrong direction.

Then she stood me up over the same chamber that talked back to me, “Maximum flow.” Only this time she tells me to wait until my bladder is full and I get the urge.

So I’m standing over this pot with something shoved up my ass and a tube threaded through to my bladder and she says, “When you’re ready, I want you to pee.”

“Really?” I said. “Just like I do when I’m alone in my bathroom and I don’t have a tube up my ass and another in my dick?”

“Do you want me to step out of the room?” she asks.

“Well, that a start.”

“I’ll be right outside. Just call me when you pee. And oh, by the way,” she says, “When you start to pee, it will sting a little.”

Like I would feel a “little” pressure, I thought.

So she leaves the room and I’m standing there trying to pee knowing that it will sting. That makes it kind of hard to relax. I call her.

“I think I peed.”

She looks in the pot. “No, you didn’t.” She continues to pump more water into my bladder. Finally, I’m ready.

And it feels like I’m peeing razor blades. I didn’t call her name, but something I said clued her that it was time for her to come back in.

“Keep going,” she says. It’s going all right—down my leg, in between my toes. “No, that’s normal. You’re OK,” she assured me.

After that, she yanks both tubes out of my orifices without so much, as “That was great. I’ll call you in the morning.” She just leaves me to my humiliation and a promise that when I return in a week, the doc will share the results of the tests.

“You’ll need to take antibiotics, and it’ll probably sting when you pee for the next few days,” she says. “Have a nice day.”

It couldn’t get any worse.

Best Rotation in Baseball

Congrats to my Nats on winning the NL East. I may now be a Floridian, and I will root for the Rays, but after 30 years in the DC area, much of time with no baseball team to root for, I am a Nats fan, yes, with “Natitude.”

It took me a long time to transition from being a Phillies fan, they being of my hometown, to let them go and root for the Nats against them. And it may take a long time for me to root for the Rays against the Nats, though they will play each other infrequently. But you gotta love this team.

Congrats to them all, especially the rotation of (l-r) Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. When any one of them pitches, you feel the Nats only need a couple of runs to win.

nats rotation

The Big ‘Mo. R.I.P.

satchAlso known as Satch, his full name was Satchmo. No particular connection to the first one, but I like to think of both our Satchmo and Louis Armstrong as gentle giants. Certainly, Big ‘Mo was. When he would encounter a small dog who would be afraid of ‘Mo’s 90 lbs. of muscle, Satch would lie down to get as low as he could so the small dog wouldn’t feel threaten. And often he would roll over on his back to submit himself to some 10 lb. toy dog.

Not that he couldn’t defend himself if needed or if his adopted brother Duke would get into a scrap, Satch was there with him, but somewhat reluctantly so. Mostly, he just wanted to love on you and be loved in return, which he was.

Satch was mostly boxer but we suspect with a touch of Bull Mastiff, which infused his gentle spirit. Like most boxers he couldn’t comprehend his size or strength. He would often come up to you sitting in a chair and put his front paws and then his chest in your lap—a 90 lb. lap dog—while his hind legs held up the rest of him. And yes he would occasionally see if he could get his entire body up there.

Boxers look fierce, but they are not aggressive. Our daughter Kate tells the story of when a drunk college kid broke into her apartment. Satch heard the broken glass and immediately started—whining. He wasn’t about to confront the spooks in the night, though in a real danger, I know he would have fought to the death for any of us.

Kate, her sister Hunter and Zack regularly broke my rule that dogs not be allowed in the bed. Whenever they could they gladly relinquished most of their bed to Satch and sometimes Duke, too.

When we rescued Satch, then ironically named Sugar Ray—again, he was not a fighter, he was a bit timid, thin and didn’t know how to climb stairs. He bulked up, learned about stairs and spent his life giving our family lots of love, though he wasn’t much for kisses. That was fortunate if you’ve ever seen a boxer with a long slobber drooling for his lips.

But like many boxers, he succumbed to cancer yesterday. We were able to relieve his misery with all three kids connected by Skype to say goodbye. He was one great dog. So long, Satch.

Ever Have a Bike Fall Off Your Car?

My wife and I went on one of our monthly treks to see our new home state, the lovely pancake flat and sandy Florida. This past weekend included Sanibel Island near Fort Myers and the summer homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. (Quick: What invention first made Edison a rich man? The phonograph? The light bulb? Nope, it was the Universal Stock Printer in 1871. Wall St. investors loved its synchronized printing of the same info. at the same time. He made the equivalent of $500,000 on it.)

Sanibel Island was a disappointment, only because we didn’t get to see its main attractions, a preserve that has a five mile bike path through it and the lighthouse, which was closed for repairs. We were hoping to see our first crocodile or alligator or whatever they have down here that we didn’t in Virginia. But the road was closed for construction and not expected to re-open until Oct. 1. It was apparently a federal project that the greeter at the Chamber of Commerce visitors center derided as evidence that the federal government is slow. Never mind that his little community was making big bucks off the preserve. He couldn’t resist the opportunity to bash the feds, something a lot of Floridians like to do.

We had taken our bikes with us, so we just rode along the bike path for a little while until we decided that all there was to see other than the beach were condos. So we left for the mansion tours. (Actually, they weren’t mansions at all. Certainly nice homes but they looked like outhouses compared to the John and Mable Ringling estate in Sarasota.) I should say that what we saw of the beach was nice as far as beaches go. But alas, it had a lot of sand and water, making it a dubious pleasure at best.

After dinner in another very forgettable tourist stop, Punta Gorda, we headed home over Interstate 75. All of sudden, Karla, who is driving, says “My God, the bikes!” I thought she had just seen a motorcyclist go down. “The bikes fell off the car,” she said. I looked back but couldn’t see them. I imagined them a steel pretzel and hoped that no one ran over them causing drivers to lose control. No, we were dragging them along the highway at 70 mph.

We have one of those bike racks that attached to the trunk of the car. I use it usually once a year for our annual trip to the North Carolina beach (also with way too much sand and water). For years I tied the bikes down with a half dozen bungee cords and then tied the rack’s straps around the bikes as an added precaution. This time I used only two bungee cords, and after our Sanibel Island ride I didn’t tie the straps around them. However, when we went to dinner, I tied a lock around the bikes and the rack, figuring that most bike thefts are ones of opportunity and the lock would complicate things a little.

That lock is what kept the bikes dangling off our trunk as if we were two just married cyclists headed for our honeymoon. Now, how much damage can one do to a bike using it as a road sweeper at the barely sub-sonic speed Karla drives? Well, damn little, as it turns out. These were our mountain bikes, both heavyweight Mongooses thasaddlet are at least 15 years old. Both have a few scratches on them but I could not find any new damage to the frames. When I got home, they both rode fine. In fact, the only visible damage was to my saddle, which apparently served as the sled that dragged along the ground.

Chalk one up for dumb (really dumb) luck.

Mount Evans & the Descent Through Hell

Climbing Mt. Evans is a rite of passage for Colorado cyclists. It is not a steep climb but the road to Mt. Evans is the highest paved road in the U.S., topping at 14,000+ feet. I took the route from Evergreen, where we have a home. The climb from there is about 7,000 feet.

on the way to Mt. Evans

On the way to Mt. Evans

Admittedly, I was apprehensive about the climb. I didn’t want to die of a heart attack above the tree line, and I certainly didn’t want to have to call for help because I couldn’t make it. Most intimidating about the climb is the altitude. For the last 25 years I have lived at or near sea level. The past four months I’ve been in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the biggest climbs are over the various causeways. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in a while, thanks in large part to the members of the St. Pete Bicycle Club. Daily rides with some of the members, where I inevitably get dropped on the aggressive “second loop” of our morning rides, have made me stronger. But we’re at sea level (and sometimes under it during violent storms) and the closest hills are an hour away.

So I talked to folks in Colorado about the climb. One guy was trying to be encouraging but then said I should eat Clif Bar gels with caffeine because, “If you don’t have your food intake just right, you can hallucinate in the upper altitudes.” I could see myself prostrate on the road communing with the spirits. Others said to start early, especially in early September when, as one guy put it, “They get a lot of weather atop Mt. Evans.” I once had a backpacking buddy who used to love it when we “got weather” on the trail. Once was at 11,500 ft. when we were hit by a blizzard and then tried to hike through it to the top of the 14,000-ft. mountain. We didn’t succeed, but more importantly, we didn’t die what I and many others would think a foolish death. Starting early for the Mt. Evans climb, I was told, meant 6 a.m. Hell, I have a hard time making the group rides in St. Pete that start at 8:00 and I live only 10 minutes away. So I compromised: I would shoot for 7:00. I actually started the ride at 6:45. Those 45 minutes proved costly.

Over planning as I often do, I made a list of what I needed to bring. Warm clothes for the descent were first on the list. It is 20-25 degrees cooler at the top than in Evergreen, which meant that it would likely be in the 40’s this past Monday. I didn’t put on the list things I bring on every ride, so I got to the parking lot where I would start and discovered I left my riding sunglasses at the house, so my prescription glasses would have to do.

The climb went as well as I could expect. I had arrived in Colorado five days before and rode three times, one less than I had hoped. But I was encouraged that the altitude didn’t seem to be a big problem. I wasn’t fast up the hills but my heart rate stayed low and steady. I had actually planned on riding Tuesday, but learned on Sunday that the road would be closed for paving, so I pushed it up a day.

There were a couple of miles of dirt sections where workers were preparing to pave the next day, but they were packed and easy to navigate. After that, new pavement went up to Echo Lake at Squaw Pass, at 10,600 ft. above sea level and 18 miles from the start. I stopped by the lodge, which was small and quaint.  I asked the woman there if she knew the conditions at the top. “You should be fine,” she said. “Just don’t dawdle up there and watch for weather.”

I then started up Mt. Evans Road. Within a few feet there is an entrance booth and learned that they no longer charge cyclists $3 to enter. I mentioned that at the very beginning of the climb a sign said Mt. Evans was open “to Summit Lake.” (The entire road closes for the winter around October 1.) “That’s right,” the woman in the booth said. “It’s five more miles to the top of the mountain. You can go up, but be aware, there’s nobody up there if you get in trouble or have weather.” (I had the sense that these people, like my hiking partner, loved “weather.”) She also asked if I had the proper clothing because “I see a lot of cyclists go up as people and come down as popsicles.”

The thought of being alone the last five miles gave me pause as I started the final 14 miles with about 3,500+ feet of climbing. The road is not in good shape. There are many cracks in the asphalt that jolt you as you cross them. But at 8 mph, they’re tolerable. In short order, I’m above the tree line, but the work keeps me comfortable as the temperature drops. The final switchbacks culminate at the parking lot. Turns out that I wasn’t alone. There were some park employees there as they were surveying the mountain goats that had developed some disease. One guy offered that he thought we cyclists were crazy. Another cyclist was also there and we take each other’s pictures. Only later do I find that my lens has fogged up and I look like I’m literally in the clouds. There were some moving in but at this point, no “weather.”

I figure the hard part is done. I’ll need to be careful on the descent, especially on the narrow Mt. Evans Road, but otherwise, I like descending so I was looking forward to it. Well, the climb may have been uneventful. The descent was anything but.

First off, those cracks were annoying at 8 mph. At 30-40 mph they were life threatening. I had to ride the brakes all the way down to Echo Lake. My neck and shoulders were tense and tightening with every curve in the road. My hands were cramping from squeezing the brake calipers. By the time I arrived at the lodge I was grateful for the smooth road ahead. Alas, the surface may have been smooth, but it wasn’t a smooth road ahead.

I had a little glitch in my shifting that I tried to fix my adjusting the rear derailleur. Whatever I did didn’t work. When I got back on the bike and shifted into the top gear, it locked up. My chain was jammed between the frame and the cassette. The chain had come off the derailleur pulleys. I thought I would have to call my brother to rescue me. But I got the chain back on. However, I couldn’t use the smallest cogs on the rear cassette. But then, it was all downhill. I’d be coasting most of the way. Again, I didn’t “coast” home.

It started to drizzle. I was 17 miles from the car. Then I heard thunder in the distance. Then it came closer. Then a thunderclap had me doing an involuntary bunny hop with the bike. I wasn’t sure whether my heart skipped or I had been given a heart shock by Mother Nature. It started to crackled in stereo, beginning on my right shoulder and over to the left. Now I was praying I wouldn’t get fried on the way down. It rained harder.

I then arrived at the section of the road being prepared for paving. The guys were still at it and had to limit traffic to one direction. The guy with the Stop/Slow sign said I couldn’t go because cars were coming up. Then the rain turned to pea and marble size hail. Lots of it.

I leaned up against a red van on the side of the road, hovering over my bike to protect it from the hail. By this time I’m soaked to the bone. The guy with the sign owned that van and said I could get in it but my bike couldn’t . I took refuge and hoped that my recently refinished frame would survive.

As I sat in the van I started to shiver, uncontrollably. I had hypothermia once before, on a camping trip with “weather.” The hail came down for about 15 minutes. When it let up, I told the guy I was going down even though it was still raining. There was another stretch of dirt road ahead. “It would only get muddier,” I said. He nodded, as I didn’t have much choice. My phone had died and I didn’t want to use the guy’s phone and have him witness my humiliation of calling my brother to rescue me. I was determined to get back on my own.

As I continued the descent I saw hail on the side on the road. It stuck to the trees and shrubs. I hit pavement again and was flying as fast as I thought safe as I was still shivering. Then I stopped in my tracks. As I turned a corner the road ahead was covered in hail. I pulled over. Could I wait until it melted? After a few minutes I realized that was fantasy. So I learned how to ride a bike on hailstones. Fortunately, the hail on the road was for only a few hundred yards. The last three miles were just wet. But I was very wet and still shivering.

I got to the car and threw the bike in the back and stripped of all clothes that wouldn’t get me arrested for indecent exposure, not that anybody was around in the rain.

The 5-mile ride home was an exercise in concentration. When you are shaking as hard as I was you don’t have all your faculties.  I rode the first mile with the emergency brake still on. I passed an accident scene where two motorcycles were down among the hailstones.

When I got home I did what any ignorant ass would do: I jumped in a very hot shower. But afterwards, I was still shivering. I looked up online how to treat hypothermia. First rule, don’t try to heat up quickly—like taking a hot shower—as it can cause heart arrhythmia. I put on thermal underwear and a puff vest and shivered for another half hour before it subsided.

Of course, all this except for the derailleur problem I would have avoided if I left 45 minutes earlier.

I feel accomplished in achieving my Colorado rite of passage. And I feel damned lucky to live to tell about it.

Hassan Accused of Being Confused

This from an AP report this morning: “Hasan faces a possible death sentence if convicted of the 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated.” I guess he tried to think about his murders beforehand but was largely unsuccessful.

Where art the copy editor?