Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For...

This year, my sister-in-law expressed an interest in riding in the Seattle-to-Portland (STP), a one- or two-day, 206 mile bicycle ride between (obviously) Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. I've done the ride twice now, and last year my wife and my in-laws met me in Portland and we spent the next week vacationing on the Oregon coast.

I didn't want to push her into it, because I know how hard this ride can be, especially as one gets older. The first year I rode it, back in 2004, I hadn't trained at all and decided a couple of days before Why not? Let me tell you; 'why not' is one of those phrases that you pay for later, in spades. It was very tough, physically and especially mentally. There's nothing worse than being totally exhausted with 30 more miles to go, up hills and into headwinds. Last year I did train moderately and had several 50+ mile rides under my belt, and it was still hard. My Polar heart rate monitor showed that I burned over 14,000 calories in the two days; I believe it, because I was down over 2 lbs after a couple of days of recovery and full hydration. You simply can't eat enough to replace the calories you burn on such a ride.

Nevertheless, my sister-in-law was determined to do it, and so we went bike shopping for her in February, got her outfitted by early March (she picked up a Specialized Roubaix Elite), and we've been going on training rides since mid-March. All of this bicycling piqued my wife's interest in bikes again; we used to ride years ago before we got married but both quit for a while due to computer industry-related health issues (carpal tunnel syndrome) that made cycling too uncomfortable.

My solution to the discomfort problems was to go 'bent. I purchased my first recumbent, a Vision R32, back in 2003, and a year later bought my current bike, a Rans V-Rex. These short-wheelbase (SWB) bikes are very agile and fast, but also are different enough from a regular diamond-frame "wedgie" bike that there is a learning curve. Plus, unlike a regular bike, you cannot stand while climbing, meaning you have to spin, spin, spin! up hills.

To make a long story short(er), my wife saw how much fun we were having and wanted in on it. No problem I thought, and I went out and bought her some 1.5" slick tires for her mountain bike. They worked great, but the comfort issue was still there; she found cycling for more than 30 minutes uncomfortable and had the wrist and shoulder problems the next day that had caused her to quit years ago. What she needed was a new bike. So we went bike shopping.

She rode a SWB recumbent (a Bachetta Giro), and although she did well on it (she's very coordinated), it was different enough from a regular bike that she didn't want it. We looked at Rans' new line of crank-forward bikes next... and it was love at first ride. Although we both loved the Fusion, she realized that if she wanted to go for longer rides she needed the most efficient bike in the line, and chose the Zenetik. We've been going on rides for a couple of weeks now, whenever we can get someone to watch our son, and she's very happy with her choice.

Which leads me to the subject of this post: be careful what you ask for. My sister-in-law and I had made plans well in advance to get in a 50 mile ride early on Mother's Day so we could be back in time for the barbeque at their house. Then my wife threw a monkey wrench into our training schedule because she wanted to go on a ride, too, but not a long one. Okay I said, I'll ride on Sunday morning with your sister, and we'll get her to babysit while you and I ride Sunday afternoon.

Of course, things never go as scheduled. We got a late start on Sunday morning; I had to feed Las Tres Primas and fix my riding buddy's bike. A quick, and hard, 50 mile ride (with the last mile and a half being up a very steep hill) brought me home to one frowning spouse. Two granola bars and a bottle of Gatorade later, I threw our bikes in the back of the truck and off we headed for a local rail-trail (the Centennial Trail). A quick 10 miles up from Snohomish, yet another granola bar, and a quick 10 miles back.

By the time we got back I was pretty whupped, as they say where I was raised. Both sisters had no pity, and took great pleasure in teasing me about having to keep up with them. My reply: this isn't quite what I imagined when I fantasized about having two beautiful women arguing over who got to wear me out first.

I'm either going to be very fit, or very dead, in a very short while. As I said, be careful what you wish for....

Sunday, May 07, 2006

What If...

Whenever I have a problem that could be solved by more than one choice, I use the "What If..." method, as in, "What if I did this?" or "What if I did that?" I then look at the outcome, and use that outcome to rank my strategies, eliminate the losers, and then determine whether or not the solution fixes the problem at an acceptable price.

So, in an attempt to chase my blue funk away (a blue funk caused by the idiots running things), let's play "What If..." for a bit.

What if... Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives? Well, according to the Washington Post, Democrat leaders, joyfully anticipating just such a return to power through the combination of energized Democratic and disaffected Republican rank-and-file voters, are planning to use their regained authority to bring down the Bush Administration. How? By endless investigations and the filing of articles of impeachment. If the Democrats regain control of the Senate, then a conviction is a certainty.

What would this do to the country? I believe it would result in a civil war. The Democrats aren't looking for justice, just power, and as we learned during Monica Gate an impeachable offense is in the eye of the beholder. If the Majority Party has the political support from their base to impeach and convict, they will and whether or not justice is being done is irrelevant.

What would this do to our efforts in Iraq and elsewhere? That's a no-brainer. We'd be out of Iraq, and out of the Middle East, quicker than Teddy Kennedy could pull a twist-off from a bottle of Budweiser. The Iranians would move in almost as quickly, brutally suppressing any opposition, and replacing one form of dictatorial hell (Saddam's) with another. Iran would shortly thereafter control a swath of the Middle East stretching from Lebanon to the Pakistani border. They'd establish hegemonic control of the Gulf states via the threat of invasion. Israel would soon thereafter find itself fighting for its life, with Hamas leading the charge from the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah leading the charge from Lebanon. With no support from the US to fall back on, Israel would go nuclear, most likely after a first strike by the mullahs. What's that, you say? Iran doesn't have nukes? You're right... but Pakistan does and how long will the present government under Musharef last once we pull out of the Middle East?

What would this do to the War on Terror? Hmmm... an emboldened Iran, controlling 25% or more of the world's oil reserves plus the strategic chokepoint of the Straits of Hormuz, no US to oppose them, no counterbalancing Gulf states, the EU (as usual) as useless as ever... anyone want to bet that we wouldn't get another attack from a resurgent al Qaeda within a few years? Not to mention the hit we'd get from an Iranian-imposed embargo, or over $100-per-barrel price hike on oil, with all the money going to fund more weapons that will be used against us.

Here's my final "What If"... What If the Democrats actually cared more about doing the right thing than trying to seize power by any means available?

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Solving The Immigration Crisis

Yesterday, Hispanic immigrants (both legal and illegal) engaged in a multi-city organized effort (organized by leftist groups including International ANSWER and the Socialist Workers' Party, eager to support and exploit any cause that weakens America) to demand a relaxation of US immigration laws and for unconditional amnesty for illegal aliens.

The worst thing we can do at this point is to accede to their demands. However, this view is not universally held; news sites have been reporting the Senate is evidently considering another attempt at "revamping" our immigration laws (ht: Drudge Report). What is wrong with our leaders... of both parties??!!

This country doesn't need uneducated workers who are a drain on the social welfare system. This type of immigrant only benefits the exploitative employer, while the rest of us subsidize that employer due to higher social services costs. We may save on produce and landscaping, but we pay higher taxes.

What we need are, often times, the very workers who are disadvantaged by our immigration laws and policies. Here's one example: an Indian software engineer with a post-graduate education is severely restricted by our immigration policies. If she obtains a job in America's high-tech industry, she is locked into that one job and, if she wants a green card (permanent resident status) or US citizenship, the waiting period will be reset if her job title changes. That means she cannot switch jobs, and she cannot accept a promotion. She must work at least seven years at the same position, at the same company, before she can apply for a green card. Meanwhile, she must pay thousands of dollars each year in expenses to maintain her H1B visa, in fees to Indian companies to fill out paperwork and file forms, and in lost work time and travel expenses to return to India to visit the US Embassy in order to extend her visa.

Nearly all of the legal immigrants I know, especially the more-educated ones who want to become US citizens and who are following the rules, are incensed at the protesters, and the protests. They wonder why they should follow the law, especially when they think of the possibility of illegals getting a jump on the all-important green card, and they feel like fools. It's not a laughing matter; many of these people who are trying to obtain the American Dream the right way through hard work and education become clinically depressed when they realize that at least a decade of their lives must be spent 'on hold' in a stagnant career position if they wish to follow the path to citizenship.

My solution:

  • Build the damn fence, already!
  • (here's the big one) Change the law so that only children born to parents who are legally in the US as permanent residents or US citizens are themselves granted US citizenship.
  • Force state and local authorities to enforce existing immigration laws, or lose all federal funds. That means police must ascertain whether people are legal immigrants, must detain those who aren't, and must turn these people over to US Immigration for deportation. That also means that employers must be held civilly and criminally responsible for hiring illegal workers.
  • Allow legally-employed H1B visa holders to switch positions or employers without having to restart the waiting period for a permanent visa. This encourages educated, professional immigrants to become stakeholders, and eventually citizens, in the US.
  • Restrict permanent visas to those who have held gainful, legal employment for a period of seven consecutive years, and who have made high enough wages to be required to pay income tax, with an exemption for those who have served in the US military. Each day of unemployment adds a day to the waiting period, and unemployment for sixty days, or one hundred twenty days in two years, results in cancellation of your H1B visa and deportation. If you can't find a job, we don't want you.
  • Only US citizens can draw Social Security, but all employees must pay Social Security taxes. Legal immigrants' contributions to Social Security are credited to them upon achieving citizenship.
  • Once all of this is done, then we need to create a guest worker program so that foreign nationals can come for a limited duration to work in our country and then return to theirs.

We need to remove the incentives for illegal immigration and increase the penalties, and we need to make it harder to get away with.

The only question is, do we as a country have the decisiveness to pull it off? Or, have we lost the national will to insist that foreigners obey our laws, or leave?