Wednesday, February 7, 2018

school "choice" and Senate Bill 2

In the last board meeting of the Shippensburg Area School District, the board voted unanimously to approve a resolution in OPPOSITION to Senate Bill 2 (you can download and read the resolution here). We asked our representative in the Pennsylvania Senate, Richard Alloway, to reverse his support for the bill.

Yesterday, I, along with (it would appear) all the county commissioners, borough and township officials, superintendents and school board directors in his district, received an email from Senator Alloway suggesting that we must have passed this and similar such resolutions because we misunderstood the bill. I don't believe we did.

Below, I've posted Senator Alloway's email and, following that, my response (sent today). Enjoy.


February 6, 2018

           Dear County Commissioners , Borough Officials, Township Officials, Superintendents, and School Board members, 

     A number of local school districts, boroughs and townships recently passed resolutions in opposition to Senate Bill 2, legislation that would help students in underperforming schools pursue other educational opportunities. Based on the content of these resolutions, I believe a great deal of the local opposition stems from misinformation that has been intentionally spread by those who want to see the bill fail. I have enclosed a fact sheet that includes additional information on this proposal for your consideration . 

     Most importantly, I feel it is critical to reiterate that Senate Bill 2 would not have any effect on funding for our local schools in the 33rd Senatorial District. The legislation only applies to schools that rank among the lowest 15 percent in terms of academic achievement and performance across the state. No schools in our area meet that criteria, meaning the bill would not affect local students or schools in any way. 

     The legislation only seeks to help students who are trapped in consistently failing schools. In those cases, students and parents would be empowered to redirect a portion of the money the state contributes for their education toward programs that better meet the student's unique educational needs. 

     For example, the Harrisburg School District currently spends more than $18,000 per student. A student withdrawing from that district receives just $5,700 in their Education Savings Account (ESA), while the remaining $12,000 stays in the district. Essentially, the ESA model will allow the state money to follow the student instead of the school. States that have followed a similar approach have seen improved student performance both in public schools and among students who opt-out of public schools. 

     Ensuring accountability for the use of ESA funds should be a priority, and measures included in the bill are designed to protect against fraud and abuse. Participating education providers would also be required to meet strict standards to measure learning gains in key areas. 

     The goal of the legislation is not to take anything away from public schools or school districts. Instead, the bill seeks to meet the educational needs of all students in the most efficient and effective ways possible. That is a goal I believe we can all support, and I will continue working toward that objective as a member of the Senate Education Committee.

     I hope that you find this information to be useful. Please feel free to contact me if you need additional information or would like to discuss this issue further.


Senator Rich Alloway


Dear Senator Alloway,

I appreciate your email. I appreciate your effort to attempt to clarify your understanding of Senate Bill 2. However, I do not believe that I, nor any director of the Shippensburg Area School District, misunderstood the bill.

You claim that the bill would not affect any local schools. That may be true, now, but only because none of our schools fall in the bottom 15% of districts. Presently. They have in the past and, while hopefully not, they may very well fall into that category in the future. So, your contention is misleading, because, in fact, the bill _might_ affect local students or schools.

Furthermore, you also contend that the goal of Senate Bill 2 is not to take anything away from public schools. Well, that may not be the goal, but it will surely be the effect.

Consider: if one family in a qualifying school (Harrisburg School District, for example) elects to take the option to leave the public school, the money allocated to that student ($18,000) leaves the district, but the district still has the responsibility of educating all remaining children...with $18,000 less in their budget. Their burden has not been significantly decreased, but the resources allocated to fulfill its mission have. It seems obvious to me that such a system would only do further harm to already struggling districts and put the most disadvantaged students in these districts at a further disadvantage. Why would you support a bill that will only serve to HURT those who most need help?

Even if you believe that there is no hope for these failing districts and that the best hope for children is to have an affordable "choice" to leave the public school, that move will, at best, only be taken by those families whose parents take the most interest in their children's education, but will further handicap those children whose parents are not sophisticated enough to navigate such a system. Again, Senate Bill 2 would only HURT those who are already the most disadvantaged. This is not good social policy. 

Senator Alloway, please retract your support for Senate Bill 2. The "school choice" movement is not good for our schools, and it is not good for children. (But it is good for the corporate interests that profit from "choice." Don't let them buy your vote. Do what's right for PA.)


Nathan Goates
Director, Shippensburg Area School District

P.S. In regard to your "fact sheet," I suggest you revisit the evidence you think you have that supports school choice. By my review of the scholarly literature, the evidence to support the efficacy of school choice in lifting the quality of education is thin at best. By my reading, the scholarly consensus is that the market ideology of "choice" improving educational outcomes overall simply does not pan out.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

on creativity and power and resistance to change

From your friendly neighborhood applied social psychologist and b-school prof: Some free advice for managers, administrators, elected officials, parents, and anyone with supervisory (or really any kind of) influence over other human beings...

When folks come to you with ideas or suggestions for change, the stuff that drives those ideas is energy. Creative energy. And creative human energy is perhaps the most valuable thing on the planet. It's the stuff that moves mountains and gets spacecraft to Mars. Creative energy should not be squandered.

In the face of a new idea, the worst possible response is to shut it down completely. In other words, to say no. "No" kills creative energy. It kills it in kids and it kills it in employees and it kills it in constituents.

When folks come to you with ideas, with creative energy, I believe it's the responsibility of those in power to harness that energy. Direct it. Channel it for good. With creative energy comes opportunity. This is the hard work of management--reconciling the varied and diverse interests of varied and diverse stakeholders.

*** Maybe you can't say yes, but you can say yes to something else. ***

So, in the face of an idea, suggestion, critique, or complaint, take advantage of the situation, see it as an opportunity to harness creativity to do something cool. This will likely require some humility. Perhaps a lot of humility. You will likely have to give away power. You may lose some control. But you also may be able to do much more than you would ever be able to do alone.

Relatedly, beware of those who always say no. It comes from a place of fear. A place of weakness. It comes of apprehension over losing what little power the nay-sayer believes they enjoy. And when you hear no, realize that, often, what you're actually hearing is a response driven by fear. Fear of losing control. But understanding the origin of that fear may lead to a way forward.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

a brief essay on markets, competition, and the role of government in protecting liberty

In conversation with a conservative-minded friend, I realized that he was operating under a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of my beliefs about markets and the role of government. It also occurred to me that probably a similar misunderstanding extends among many conservative minded-folks regarding many liberal-minded folks. So, in an effort to clarify, and maybe build a bridge, I offer the following:

I absolutely believe in free markets. I believe in competition. In principle, I support the risk/reward dynamic inherent in capitalist commercial entrepreneurism. I believe really awesome things happen when folks employ their creativity and ambition and start businesses and build things and innovate to satisfy needs and wants we have and sometimes didn't know we had. I am in love with creativity. I admire productive innovation and ambition tremendously.

However... I also believe in rational checks to the free-ness of markets. Because individual interests must be held in check less their execution infringe on the liberties of others.

I am a civil libertarian.

To illustrate my point, I think pollution offers a poignant example.

Imagine a firm. Maybe this firm makes paper products. Paper products are good. I believe in paper. I buy and use paper. I think there should be firms that make paper.

But a byproduct of paper manufacturing can be a lot of nasty gluppity-glup. For simplicity's sake, let's imagine two options for disposing of the gluppity-glup. The first option is just to pour it in the river. Easy. Convenient. Economical. And absolutely profit maximizing. Good for shareholders. Good for customers (who get cheaper paper products). The second option involves investing in costly controls which reduce the toxicity of the gluppity-glup, and flipping the bill for the transportation of it to some location where it can be disposed of in a way that minimizes its impact on the natural environment and other human beings, which probably also involves paying someone else to take it and further process it. That's costly. And will undoubtedly have the effect of decreasing shareholder value, increasing the price of paper products, or both.

Unchecked by regulation, the firm has little incentive not to dump their waste in the river. (I say "little." There likely will be some push back from folks downstream, and maybe they get some bad press and stuff, but these incentives, ultimately, have proven not to be sufficient to induce firms from dumping their gluppity-glub...or engaging in all kinds of other social ills in the name of profit maximization.) But what's wrong with polluting the river? Well, in doing so, the firm has pushed off the cost of producing paper onto others. Economists call this an externality--meaning that the firm has externalized, or pushed off some of the costs of production onto others, without the consent, will, or even necessarily the knowledge that they have been thus burdened. The farmer downstream who relies on pure water to feed her crops. The fishermen who rely on the river to extract a living by harvesting healthy fish. On the recreationalist, who swims in the river. And so on.

Of course, the consequences of polluting the stream go far beyond that. The interconnectedness of all things is a central tenet of biology (if not all the sciences). Screw up the river, and you screw up all sorts of stuff, including the animals you know best and maybe care about most--those that wear clothes and walk around on two legs.

It's not clear to me what people mean when they talk of big government versus small government. I think that means different things to different people. But if by "big government" people are referring to the world of regulations that they perceive as a hindrance to business or whatever else, I challenge those folks to think of regulation not as restricting liberty, but protecting it.

One man's liberty ends at the next man's nose, as the expression goes. Regulation exists to protect your nose from my elbow, so to speak.

One way to think of any regulation is as a response to someone, somewhere, having been an asshole. Someone (or a group of someones) was unable to check their self-interest through personal morality and, in its execution, imposed a significant cost to the liberty of another. Thus, government must step in. Acting to protect individual liberty. Creating stronger incentives for individuals and organizations to act in the public good than existed previously.

Now, of course, there will be inefficiencies and redundancies. Sometimes (often?) well-meaning regulation has unintended and even disproportionately harmful consequences. It is absolutely rational to review, critique, and challenge the logic of specific regulations. And when errors can be shown, we should correct them.

But... To argue against regulation on principle is to argue against the role of government in protecting individual liberty. And I believe protecting individual liberty is. the. primary. responsibility of government in the first place.

Monday, May 30, 2016

happy memorial day

For your Memorial Day wiener roast, here's a playlist. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

smss #6 (9/22), team time trial & final standings!

SMSS #6, Team Time Trial
September 22, 2015
Individual Results
1 succas (Darin & Nelson)                  34:57   0 pts
2 SMVC (Jim Hartnett & Joe Kaeler          36:26  20
3 succas2 (Rick Ackerman & Jeff Townsley)  40:00   -
  everyone else                                   40

2015 SMSS Series TOTAL (final standings)
1 succas                                         134 pts
2 South Mountain Velo Club (SMVC)                140
3 Antietam Velo Club (AVC)                       197
4 Carlisle Consortium/ARC                        211
5 Blue Mountain Velo                             221
6 RHR p/b Shirk's Bike Shop                      228
7 Integrated Sports Medicine                     238
8 Hub City                                       263

king's gap time trial (9/8), results!

King's Gap Time Trial
September 8, 2015
1 Nathan Goates      RHR p/b Shirk's Bike Shop   12:58*
2 Jere Ballard       SMVC                        13:21

3 Joe Kaehler        SMVC                        14:03
4 Darin Alleman      succas                      14:06
5 Tim Rohrbaugh      SMVC                        14:13
6 Jim Hartnett       SMVC                        15:45
7 Rick Ackerman                                  16:11
8 Marshall Sacks                                 17:41
*Timed from the first bridge, near the parking lot. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

my 9-11 memorial
Photo credit (I believe) to James Nachtwey.
I'm still so tragically sad about 9-11.

Not the actual terrorist attacks--that was tragic, no doubt. Unthinkably crazy and tragic. Well, at least relative to the wealth and security standards of the United States. Still, you know that there are bad people in the world and they want to do bad things. Sometimes they will try. And sometimes they will succeed.

But what really makes me sad, what really gives me cause to mourn, still, today, is the aftermath. The immediate aftermath. The hate and venom and blood in the eyes of everyday Americans who turned purple with Tybalt-like rage and calls for revenge. ("...peace? I hate the word...") My neighbors. My coreligionists. My family.

I was overwhelmed. I was fearful. I didn't know the capacity for such hate and violence rested in so many seemingly normal, kind, relatively compassionate humans. In the majority. A majority, it seemed, that couldn't be relied on to pursue a path to peace. There were calls for war. For massive and indiscriminate devastation. For nukes! No one was clamoring for justice under the law, rather it was a primal, primitive justice everyone lusted for. It was a head for an eye; an arm for a hand. Mob-boss justice: do me a small harm and I'll rip the limbs off the bodies of those you love.

And you still see this ugly, violent, hateful, revenge-hungry sentiment today in how we "memorialize" the events of 9-11. Love of country more than love of humanity. The words "Never Forget" emblazoned on images of violence and destruction. (What does it mean to "never forget" anyway? That we'll never get over it? That we'll never move on? That we'll store up that anger and hate and unleash it whenever the opportunity arises?)

We call ourselves a Christian nation, and we are, I suppose (polls confirm it, minorities feel it), but we, as a nation, are hardly followers of Jesus. We'd much rather worship the Gods of War than follow a Prince of Peace. We lust for unlimited power and eschew true humility. We're simply incapable, as a people, to acknowledge the tree trunk growing from our eye as we strain to find the imperfections in others; kicking unmercifully the world's unfortunates while patting ourselves on the back for our pittance in alms.

Well, anyway...

Those are the sorts of thoughts that jiggle around my skull on days like today. And now my head hurts.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

smss #5, results!

SMSS #5, Horse Killer Lite
August 25, 2015
Individual Results
 1 Jon Marshall                Integrated Sports Medicine
 2 Darin A.                    succas
 3 Judd                        Carlisle Consortium
 4 Eric Noreen                 AVC (guest rider)
 5 Kevin G.                    succas
 6 Christopher Woltemade       AVC  
 7 Nelson B.                   succas          
 8 Joe Kaehler                 SMVC    
 9 Tim Rohrbaugh               SMVC
10 Wade Turlington             Carlisle Consortium
11 Tyler Honey                 Blue Mountain Velo
12 Chris Townsley              succas          
13 Kyle Irwin                  AVC     
14 Jeremy W.                   succas
15 Sally McClain               Carlisle Consortium
16 Rick Ackerman               succas
17 Rich Shaffer                SMVC
18 Jim Hartnett                SMVC
19 Jeff Townsley               succas
20 Ben Coleman                 Blue Mountain Velo

Club Results
 1 succas                                       14 pts
 2 Antietam Velo Club (AVC)                     23 
 3 Carlisle Consortium                          28 
 4 South Mountain Velo Club (SMVC)              34
 5 Integrated Sports Medicine                   43
 6 Blue Mountain Velo                           52
   everyone else                                63                                

2015 SMSS Series TOTAL (after four rounds)
 1 South Mountain Velo Club (SMVC)             120 pts 
 2 succas                                      134
 3 Antietam Velo Club                          157
 4 Carlisle Consortium/ARC                     171
 5 Blue Mountain Velo                          181
 6 RHR p/b Shirk's Bike Shop                   188
 7 Integrated Sports Medicine                  198
 8 Hub City                                    223
   everyone else                               243

Friday, August 21, 2015

Is Trump 'The Greatest?' To even ask is to misunderstand.

Maybe all you need to know of Donald Trump is that in 1989 and 1990 he promoted a top level professional bike race in the mid-Atlantic that he named after himself: The Tour de Trump.

It's like he's almost cool. Almost hip. Almost progressive. Almost visionary. He does things. Big things. But he does them his way. To promote himself. On a whim. He's a kind of 20th century Greek god--powerful, arrogant, capable, entitled, and unpredictable.

The Greek's gods wasted nearly no opportunity to showcase their dispassionate disregard for the welfare of humanity, but still the Greeks worshiped them. As do Trump's supporters him, it would seem.

His motto, "Make America Great Again," at first confused me. When was America the great that he wants it again to be, I asked. But I think I get it now.

It's not about objective change. It's not about things actually being different in some meaningful way. It's about how we think about America. It's about how we cheer for America. It's about not entertaining doubts of America's exceptionalism because (of course, duh!) AMERICA IS THE GREATEST COUNTRY EVER WITHOUT QUESTION OR QUALIFICATION!!!

It's really not "Make America Great" at all. It is "Make America The Greatest."

The leadership Trump sells, and the leadership his supporters seem to long for, is the leadership of demagoguery. And I'm not using the word here as a pejorative, that's actually what they want. They want to be led by "greatness," and to therefore be great. No irony. No qualification. No having to think about it. Nuance? Reflection? Of course there's no place for that sort of thing. To reflect (on anything) is to entertain doubt. And to doubt is to suggest the possibility of uncertainty. And Trump is certain. Certain that everything he does or has ever done or will ever do is right and because he wanted it to be that way. That sort of confidence and swagger--who cares if it's misplaced or not, that's hardly the point--is what his supporters want. They long for it. Pine for it. It's their prescription opioid of choice.

It's watching the Olympic games and being absolutely certain that the American athletes are the superior athletes. It's counting medals at the end when the USA tally is twice that of all other countries, combined, and feeling confidently satisfied that all is right in the world, that it couldn't be any other way.

It's doe-eyed pondering on America's military record and creating a narrative of absolute American dominance. We are the greatest. Physically, technologically, and in any other way that's relevant. (If we "lost" a war, it was because of "stupid" people, somewhere, gumming up the works, preventing America from being the greatness that it would obviously be otherwise.)

So why is the America Trump is selling The Greatest? It's economy? It's military? It's history? It's political system? It's people?

No, it's none of that.

To Trump, America is The Greatest because he is American. It's that simple. And to Trump's supporters, America should be the Greatest because they are American.

There are fancy words for this. Egocentricism. Jingoism. But fancy words aren't needed. It's maybe best understood as grade school swagger. It's being one of the kids the coolest kid in your grade doesn't make fun of. That's what Trump's selling. It's the euphoria of jumping up and down in the stands with a throng of others, each with their index finger up and passionately shouting, "We're number one! We're number one!" when you're halfway down the league standings. But league standings are an objective measure of excellence, and in Trump's world the objective has no place.

People love Trump because Trump is a believer. He believes he is great therefore he is. And when he says America is great, the people will also believe.

I mean, really, is it any wonder a guy like that is so popular? It shouldn't be. Americans are arrogant little weeniers. Looking good is better than being good. Feeling is better than thinking. After all, over 50 percent of the ones that vote think a meme like this pretty much sums up what qualifies one to the presidency.

So, again, is it any wonder a crazy rich guy with an impossibly beautiful wife and an I-can-do-anything, just-try-to-stop-me attitude toward life is a popular presidential candidate?


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

my favorite "business" books

Making a quantum-leap-like departure from the usual goatspeak fare, I'm going to post something vaguely related to what I do for a living...which is to say the thing that I do that allows me to pay the bills and allows me to live, or at least live the life I'm living.

Most folks I interact with outside of work know that I'm a professor, but, oddly (to me), folks don't ever seem to think I do what I actually do, even people who really should know. When I force people to guess, they most often reveal that they've always assumed I'm an English professor, "or something like that." Nope. I teach management.

Yes, indeed. Perhaps the least sexy discipline in the academy. Management. It even looks sort of lame just sitting there like that. And it's hard, sometimes, to even define what management is. But whatever it is, it should be clear that it's pretty darn important. To paraphrase someone way more famous than me, mangers (oh, say it isn't so!) determine whether society uses its resources effectively to solve human problems or does not. And when it does not, the results can be catostrpohic. So, yeah... Not sexy, but pretty darn important.

But I don't really think of myself as a management scholar. Rather, I'm a social psychologist. And I do applied social psychology. I was trained at Vanderbilt, enrolled in the Graduate School, but hosted by the Owen Graduate School of Business (they paid my bills, that's where my office was, and I was the responsibility of the faculty there), but the program was a sort of informal multi-disciplinary social psych program. I took my statistics and methods classes from sociologists, anthropologists, developmental psychologists, and operations management faculty. I took classes at the law school and taught by philosophers, political scientists, English scholars, and cultural studies folks. I worked on research projects with students and faculty across disciplines. I presented research at multi-discplinary brownbags. I blah blah blah...anyway, I was all over the place...

And now I work in a business school. I'm part of the Department of Management and Marketing, and I teach classes about working in organizations, negotiating, and, sometimes, leadership and decision-making.


Occasionally, I'm asked to recommend "a good business book." Sometimes it's hard to figure out what people are actually after when they ask that. "Business," is a lot of things. I do the people things. Not finance. Not accounting. Not supply chain. Not information systems. But the people stuff. (And not the HR or marketing people stuff.) So, with that in mind, here's a short list of some of my favorites. Saved, conveniently, so that I can simply cut-and-paste next time someone asks me for "a good business book."




(1) The Freakonomics franchise. I haven’t yet read the latest one (Think Like a Freak), but the first two (Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics) were excellent. What are they about? If there’s a central thesis (they’re sort of a collection of diverse array of sometimes only tangentially related research findings and illustrative stories), I would say that it’s about decision-making—the hardest and most important work humans do. Reading these books will raise your IQ.

(2) There are several Malcolm Gladwell titles worth reading. I’ve read The Tipping Point, Outliers, and Blink. I think Outliners is one I would most recommend. I didn’t get a lot out of The Tipping Point, but it remains hugely popular. Blink is about decision-making (obviously one of my favorite subjects), but I think it’s done better elsewhere, like…

(3) …in Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide. This is a great book. Unfortunately, Lehrer has sort of been disgraced as a journalist. I’m not sure all the details, but he was caught, I think, making up a story about Bob Dylan and, interestingly, plagiarizing himself. So he probably won’t be writing any more books like this, which is a real shame, because he’s an excellent communicator. (Another book he authored, with a very different theme, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, I also enjoyed, though it’s a bit more dense.)

(4) If your’e interested in negotiation, the seminal text is the slim, super readable, Getting to Yes. There is so much brilliance and insight captured in this one slim volume. Frankly, I believe this book has made the world a better place and, of course, would make it even better if more were to read it.

(5) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. A much more dense text, long and in-depth, but a great exploration of a fascinating psychological/social-psychological phenomenon. There are some really great lessons here for folks tasked with engineering a workplace that taps into employee’s intrinsic motivation.

(6) The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement. Written as a novel (and, as a novel, it is truly horrible) this is a wonderful book for anyone interested in work process. Simple, but very powerful ideas.

(7) Michael Lewis is a wonderful author. He doesn’t tackle social science directly in his writing, but his books are full of social science. Each book investigates a specific market. A market where something interesting has happened. Broker life in the 80s (Liar’s Poker), the credit default swap disaster (The Big Short), high-speed trading (Flash Boys). But my favorite is probably his most famous, Moneyball (hint: it’s about baseball).

(8) Moral Mazes. This text is getting pretty dated, but I don't think it's any less important because of it. Man, what a great book... Robert Jackall does an extensive ethnographic study of multiple very large corporations in the early 80s. He's specifically interested in management. The culture of decision-making in management. The ethics and values that guide decision making. But it's much more than just that. It's a fascinating peak into the phenomenon that is the modern corporate organizational hierarchy.

(9) Thinking, Fast and Slow. Again, decision-making. Good science on decision-making. Less anecdotes and storytelling (though there are anecdotes and stories) than with the Gladwell/Lehrer genera, but still quite readable. Although it is also quite long.

(10) Influence. Robert Cialdini. Good for anyone that has to work with and influence others (and for those that others try to influence, which is all of us). Including the marketeers and sales folks. In fact, if you're in sales and marketing and you want to read that kind of book, this one is probably the best on the list.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

wed & thurs, july 2 & 3, 2014: glacier national park

Wednesday & Thursday, July 2 & 3, 2014: Glacier National Park

Glacier Nat'l Park is essentially a north-south mountain range with highways up either side and several roads that run up the drainages.  Here you can see I was camped at one and rode to another...and back.

Most of the same terrain on this ride...but instead went up the Many Glacier drainage, which was very pretty, by the way, and highly recommended.
A mandatory shot.

Glacier National Park.  It's still a bit of a surprise to me that I haven't been here before.  I've been to a lot of places, a lot of parks, but never here.  And I'm scared of bears.  Really.  I mean, it's the only place you hear about bear attacks.  And they have grizzlies here.  And while I know the odds of actually experiencing any sort of incident with a bear--or a grizzly bear--are super low, it's the unpredictability of these big dudes.  If we were to fight, the bear would win.  This realization makes me uneasy.

Though I'm not scared of bears when riding my bike.  On the road.  So I put in some quality road miles.  (And they don't allow off-road riding in the park anyway, so that wasn't an option.)

But let me back up a bit.  Our original plan for the westward leg of our trip was to head northwest from Minneapolis and into Canada, run west along the Trans-Canadian Highway to southern Alberta, then south into Glacier.  Thus, weeks ago, we did our due diligence and got Audrey (16) a passport (kids under 16 only need a birth certificate).  What we did not do, however, was check the parents' passports.  No problem with Valerie's, but mine had expired.  Fourteen months ago.  And we discovered this about 14 minutes before leaving Shippensburg.

We changed our plans.  We'd head west (Go West!) from Minneapolis, through North Dakota (staying a night in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a gem we discovered two summers ago), then take the northern route through Montana to Glacier, make camp, sleep the night, and then Valerie and the kids would head north to Canada for the original rendezvous with Valerie's friend and old roommate, and I'd stay another night in the park, without car, but with bikes.

So I had Wednesday to myself.  And wanted a nice long, hard ride.  I got it.

I'm told the route across the park, the only route across the park, over the Road-to-the-Sun, is a cyclist's must-do.  I'm sure the road offers spectacular views.  But June snowstorms closed the road and, from the east side, the road was only open 13 miles.  Bummed, but still anxious to get a taste of the road, I left the Two Medicine campground in the south end of the park and headed for the Road-to-the-Sun.

Well, you can see the profile...  The east-west roads in the park, those that run along the glacial lakes, are remarkably flat, pleasant affairs.  But getting from one drainage to the next requires an effort.  And from Two Medicine to the Road-to-the-Sun requires the effort of climbing over five ridge lines for nearly 3,500' of climbing.

A shot of US 89...from the side of US 89.  Super fun, twisty road.  With lots of climbing.

But what a beautiful road!  And lovely climbs!  I'm generally not keen on highway riding, but this was really nice.  In part, I think, because the roads were pretty twisty, keeping traffic going slower--slow enough on the descents for me to comfortably exceed their speed.  And of course the view to the west was full of glacier-carved (bear-infested) alpine grandeur and the view to the east wasn't too bad either.

On the Road-to-the-Sun

Park road construction.  Only 13 miles of the Road-to-the-Sun was open, I rode nine, only the first five of which was paved.  After I waited about five minutes to make it through this roadblock I just turned around and went back.

One of the things I love about the old national parks is that they are just as much a monument to the turn of the (20th) century leisure ideal as they are places of preservation.  Visiting Old Faithful I'm more in awe of the Old Faithful Lodge than I am of the geyser.  Glacier is full of this stuff.  It's lodges and hotels and "motor inns" are just awesome.

Many Glacier lodge.  I'd love to come back here and stay a few nights in the hotel.  Sans kids.
The lodge in East Glacier.  The railroad passes just below here, and the railroad company built the hotel to promote the park and thus increase rail usage.  Glacier was being called "America's Alps" in the promotional material.

On Thursday, I rode north over the same route as the day before to St. Mary, then continued north to Babb, had breakfast in a roadside diner, then rode the 12 miles up the Many Glacier drainage to the Many Glacier Lodge when I met Valerie and kids.  Then we hiked.  And sang songs.  And hoped our tuneless glee would keep the bears at bay.

Reuben, doing some very fierce hiking.  (Probably to scare the bears.)

Ride Stats:

Miles: 89.5
Time: 5:09
Elevation: 7,270'

Miles: 56.0
Time: 3:19
Elevation: 3,993'

Saturday, July 5, 2014

sunday, june 29, 2014: the "judson," chicago, illinois

Sunday, June 29, 2014: The "Judson," Chicago, Illinois

Yes, it's flat.  No wise cracks necessary.
If your search for a group ride in Chicago happens to lead you to, you will see "Judson" listed as starting at 7:30 am, that the ride starts at Judson and Greenleaf, and this peculiar note:

“Team Judson is first and foremost an anarchy, and whoever is in front gets the ultimate choice about the route we take.”

It turns out that the only accurate piece of information from the three is the start time.  Well, that and the name.  If you ride bikes in or around Chicago, you will have heard of the "Judson."  Even if you haven't ridden it.  The ride has a reputation, though based on my experience, perhaps not deserved.

The Judson doesn't actually start at Judson and Greenleaf, a nondescript intersection in a wealthy Evanston residential neighborhood just south of the picturesque Northwestern University campus, but at Dempster and Chicago, in front of a Starbucks, which is exactly two blocks north and four blocks west of the advertised starting place.  The ride itself follows a very determined route (I did this once before, two summers ago, and from what I could tell we followed exactly the same route) which all the regulars will know.  Therefore, I would like to suggest a change to the ride description: "Team Judson is first and foremost an anarchy, and by anarchy we mean that we don't start where we say we're going to, but everything else is determined and predictable."


My morning on the bike started around 6:00 am and began with a leisurely spin north, northeast from Forest Park to Evanston (the starting place for the Judson, both advertised and actual, was about 18 miles from where I was staying).  And let me just stop right here and say that rolling out on your road bike, regardless of the location, at six o'clock on a Sunday morning in late June is simply one of the great joys of life.  There's a stillness in the city (or the countryside, or forest, or whoever you are).  For an hour or so, anyway.  Combined with solstice sunshine, summer greenery, warm morning temps.  It's a magical combination that I will describe simply as good, good stuff.

That good, good stuff, however, was interrupted a few miles from my destination with a morning biological imperative.  We've (likely) all been there.  That place where you'd pretty much trade your front wheel for a public toilet.  Fortunately, I rolled across a Starbucks and needed only trade the purchase of orange-mango smoothie.

Today, the Judson started out pretty chill, but picked up steam suddenly and intensely about three miles in.  There were, all told, maybe 30-40 riders in the group.  Folks were quite courteous.  We stopped at stop signs and red lights.  There was friendly conversation.  Riders would sometimes shoot off the front in a sort of breakaway attempt, then guys (like me) would move up to and pull them back.  (No attacks here, I didn't know the route!)  The pace stayed high and the mood animated for 30 miles or so, but somewhere on the route back I suppose folks just got tired of riding fast or something because the pace dropped considerably, the animation was gone, and I cut off from the route a bit short of Evanston and simply rolled back home.

The Team Judson website includes this quote from Friedrich von Schiller.

"Anyone taken as an individual, is tolerably sensible and reasonable -- as a member of a crowd, he at once becomes a blockhead."

Schiller, a thinker and playwright particularly concerned with aesthetics and the question of individual freedom, might have enjoyed the liberating aesthetic of the bicycle.  This sentiment on crowd mentality is perhaps the most truthful observation of bicycle riding I've ever read.  But having died in 1805, I think we can safely assume Schiller had some other context in mind.

But while the Schiller description seems a particularly insightful description of any weekend morning bicycle group ride, the Judson, despite its reputation, proved civil, friendly, and well-behaved.  Perhaps all it takes to calm a crowd is an understated, preemptive, cynical prediction of its behavior.

Someone else out for a bike ride Sunday morning.
Ride stats:

Miles: 89.6
Time: 4:38
Elevation: 1,460'

Saturday, June 28, 2014

saturday, june 28, 2014: western suburbs, chicago, illinois

Saturday, June 28, 2014: western suburbs, Chicago, Illinois 

One of my secret pleasures is jumping in on an out-of-town group ride.  Meaning that I'm from out-of-town, and I'm jumping in on someone else's group ride.  Yay for the internet.  (How did anyone find anything in the pre-internet age?)

Two years ago, on a similar trip through Chicago, I rolled down the street a few blocks from Valerie's brother's family's house and joined the 6:00 am Saturday Lake & Harlem ride.  That was a fun ride.  Nice group of guys (maybe 15).  Reasonably brisk pace.  Maybe a 50-mile loop.  A much more gentlemanly pace and feel than the more famous (and maybe more fun, but in a very different way) Judson ride in the north.

Today, I was't quite so lucky.  A much-later-than-ideal departure meant we pulled into town just after 4:00 am.  I was up at 5:15 and rolled out 25 minutes later.  But today there was only one other dude waiting at Lake and Harlem.  We rode for 45 minutes and came back to the meeting place for the 7:00 am ride.  Ten or twelve guys.  All a super good sort.  But the pace was a little too casual and, well, it's a _different_ sort of ride when I, at 40, am likely the youngest one there.

Lake Street / East St. Charles Road is not really an awe-inspiring bicycle route.  Sort of run-down commerical/industrial.  A sprawling freeway overpass dominates the landscape.  Though I'm in love these old suburbs.  Because they're old.  And because they have life.  And history.

The modern suburb is full of curvy subdivisions built around uninspiring cul-de-sacs and populated with ticky-tacky houses.  But these old Chicago suburbs, with their distinct street-parking-only town centers and block housing with row upon row of brick bungalows...these suburbs have character.  Neighborhoods that have a distinct flavor and feel.  And you feel like every block is a book with a thousand stories of love, tragedy, triumph, hope, fear...  In other words (or in another word), life.  These are Mystic River neighborhoods (even though I know that's Boston and this is...not Boston).  As I roll along, block after block, house after house, door after door, I'm a little overwhelmed with the infinite complexity of the human experience cast in the shadow of the soft Saturday morning sun.

The route back (we rode in a clockwise direction) offered fresher, greener, more monied scenery.  Again, how cool are these suburbs with their distinct town centers.  Local shops.  Not big-box stuff, but real stores, probably with real storekeepers.  The butcher the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker.  (Though, really, more like the deli, the coffee shop, and the hair salon...but, you know, still awesome.)

And how about Western Springs and Riverside with their super cool water towers:

Western Springs water tower, now a museum.
Riverside, Illinois.

Who wouldn't want to live in a neighborhood where you could walk a few blocks to a cool little restaurant and eat on the sidewalk in the shadow of one of these?

Of course Riverside isn't just a pretty water tower.  The Wikipedia entry for the town calls it a "architectural museum."  Check it out yourself.  I mean, come on.  I want to go back and do laps.

Riverside, with its curved streets in a sea of right angles, stands out starkly.  (Notice there are curves, but no cul-de-sacs.)  The neighborhood was apparently planned by Fredrick Law Olmsted, the architect of the slightly more famous Central Park.
Ride stats:

Miles: 56.5
Time: 3:08
Elevation: 1,014'

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2014 trans-sylvania epic, stage 7

In Down the River, Ed Abbey publishes perhaps the most entertaining book review I've ever read.  And he didn't write it.  His friend Dave did.

The book reviewed was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Dave, according to Ed, is an expert.  On motorcycles (if not exactly zen).  Abbey says Dave is easy to spot, "he's the large red-bearded gentleman at the pool table, a tattoo of a rattlesnake on his left arm, wearing purple shades, a sleeveless shirt, a Levis vest with a dragon embroidered on the back, original blue jeans dark with grease, and black engineer's boots."

Let me interrupt here for a minute to comment on that description.  There's a picture of my dad (I wish I had a copy with me, because I'd obviously share it) after he got out of the Army.  Drafted during the Korean War, my dad did his time in Germany, and brought home with him the sweetest 50s-era BMW motorcycle you ever did see.  Well, in this picture my dad is standing next to his bike, army pants tucked into army boots, old-school leather motorcycle jacket, clean-cut flat top, horn-rimmed glasses, and an ironed button-up.  He stands a perfect caricature of what, in the 50s, wasn't a caricature at all.  In that picture he's as legit, as genuine, as non-poser as a dude can be...but that no one else in the decades that follow could imitate without posing through and through.  (It's also the only picture I've seen of my straight-laced, politically conservative, engineer father where he could be described, without irony or sarcasm, as a badass.)

So when I think of Abbey's description of Dave, I remember this was written in the late 1970s, and that this costume of Dave's, in that era, was legit, genuine, and utterly non-poser.  It's only with passing decades that a rattlesnake tattoo and a Levis vest becomes cliche and a little ridiculous.

Anyway, here's Dave.  And he's reviewing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  The entire book review (it's only two pages) is worth posting, but I'm not going to make it that easy.  If you want to read it, you'll have to find it yourself.  But here's a few snippets:

"This here book Zen and the Art of *bleep*ing Motorcycle Maintenance or I call it ZAMM for short has some interesting things to read about motorcycle maintenance but the trouble is the author don't give us much technical information about his own machine, just some little hints here and there, so I guess he was riding a Honda "Dream" of before 1970, probably the 250 cc. model, but no motorcycle I ever heard of and I been fooling around with bikes since 1950 needs all that *bleep*ing obsessive, man, obsessive *bleep*ing around with the rear chain and adjusting and oiling that this hear Pirsig gives his rear chain.  That was a sick bike."

He clearly isn't using the word "sick" like the enduro riders were during TSE.  Or Anthony Clark.

"...he gives us tips on setting up your own home mechanic's workshop but forgets to tell you the most important of all which naturally is a ing big shade tree in your backyard and a good trained hungry *bleep*ing Doberman attack dog to rip the head off any *bleep**bleep*ing mother *bleep*er lays a hand on your tools."

"All in all I'd say though this ZAMM has some useful stuff for you if you are a biker, man, that it is scattered out through too many pages and there's a lot of fuzzy philosophizing and too much half-assed mystical *bleep*ing ancient history, man, keeps getting in the way of the book as a *bleep*ing whole."

Good stuff.  One of the best book reviews I've ever read.

But, what does all this have to do with stage seven of the Trans-sylvania Mountain Bike Epic?  It's this:  Sometimes you've gotta just forget about all the *bleep* and just go out and *bleep*ing race your *bleep*ing mountain bike.  And good things can happen.

Incomplete podium pictures really drive me crazy.  Third place, where are you?!

After Friday's race, maybe because I finally had a good day, maybe because it was the end of the week, maybe because I was feeling a little passive aggressive against the hired hand that was keeping Jermiah Bishop and Tim Waite's bikes showroom clean between outings, maybe because who knows why, I wasn't all that motivated to do a comprehensive wash of my bike.  I barely remembered to put a little lube on the chain just before race time on Saturday.  I may have forgot to check the air pressure in my rear tire.  I didn't think too much about hydration and fuel, just stuck a couple of Cliffies in my pocket and loaded my Camelbak with CarboRocket.  I don't remember which kind.  I don't remember the ratio.  I didn't pour over the map of the stage.  I didn't think about what I would take on at the check point.

I don't know, maybe I'm trying to oversell the point.  Maybe it's a point I wouldn't have made had I not read the book review and been thinking about it.  But on Saturday I just tried to keep things simple.  Made sure the wheels spun freely.  Made sure the chain was moist.  Made sure I had something to drink.  And just went for a bike ride.  Well, not quite a ride, but you get the idea.

And of course it felt good to close out the week with a win.  How could it not?  It was a shorter stage.  Twenty-six miles.  But still plenty of singletrack.  On my way back in I caught and passed a Redline rider.  Clearly a pro (but I don't know his name), he had had it with the bumpy stuff and told me all about it.  He was from the midwest, and all too happy to return after this week on East Coast Rocks.  And when the trail smoothed out he ripped passed me and I didn't see him again, but it felt pretty good there for a while to be chomping through the crud, the stuff I've always said I don't do well, better than dudes that, really, in every other way, can out ride me.

Route and elevation profile of Saturday's stage seven.  Most of that section ridden twice was bumpy, twisty East Coast Rocks.  And I rode it pretty well.

And the win was not without its drama.  The second place finisher, Javier Lopez, well...  I didn't overtake him until eight miles or so from the finish.  Passed him on the last dirt road climb, rode as hard as I could to put maximum distance on him before entering the singletrack, and had him breathing down my neck all the way to the finish.  So I'm proud of that, holding someone off through six or seven miles of a wide variety of technical singletrack.  And, of course, I like winning.

So in some sense I learned how to ride my mountain bike this week, during Singletrack Summer Camp.  And I'm a little proud of that too.  Maybe there will be a little more mountain bike racing in my future.



--You can read a little write-up about the day's race on DirtRag.  My bit is buried way down at the bottom (where it should be) under "Other Categories."

--The time gaps on stage seven were not big, but I made up enough ground to move into eighth overall on GC for the week, not that it matters much.  I did the math...and had I finished with the winner's time on Wednesday (the dirt road stage where I believed I had the best chance of winning) and the third place finisher's time on Thursday (a stage that I'm confident I would have done well on had I not suffered the broken derailleur) I still would have only finished third on GC.  I say "only," but, really, I would have been super stoked and super humbled by that result.  My point is just that some really much better riders put a whole lot of time on me on Monday and that it would have been very difficult to overcome those differences no matter how I rode the rest of the week.

--I remain super impressed with the strength of the 50+ field.  Even if everything had gone right for me all week, I think the top two in the 50+ would have still beat me on GC.  Those guys are some super tough riders.

--The week in numbers, based on my Garmin:  223.2 miles; 22 hours, 12 minutes (that includes time fixing mechanicals and a little bit of garbage time); 28,954 feet of elevation gain.

--Will I do it again?  I'll say this, I had a great week.  Better than I thought it would be.  And by the end I was riding better than I thought I'd be (but still so much room for improvement).  But camping and cooking on my own got a little old.  Having Alan up there for two days was great.  If I do it again, I need a couple of buddies to hang out with.  They don't even need to be racing, necessarily, just need some dudes to chill with.  My brother talked about it...  If I could get him to come race the week with me that'd be a lot of fun.

Very cool finishing awards.
--Drove home Saturday night, unpacked myself, but not my stuff, then was off to Waynesboro to pick up a gaggle of teenagers from a birthday party.  I was happy to do it.  Really.  But the contrast between bike-racer life and normal-daddy life sort of smacks hard.

--Sunday evening I started feeling a little woozy, and then spent Sunday night / Monday morning violently emptying the contents of my stomach into a large plastic receptacle.  Rather awe-struck at how much came up, actually.  (I should have taken a picture of that!)  Fought a bit of a fever all Monday, but Tuesday felt good enough to mow the lawn, if a little doggedly.  Comparing notes with others at TSE it seems that nearly everyone got sick Saturday night into Sunday.  At first we blamed the shrimp at Saturday's post-race meal.  But it seems some that ate nothing still got sick, and a few were sick on Thursday or Friday.  So an impressively contagious stomach virus, I suppose.  Impressive in how very nearly comprehensive it's impact was.  Fortunately, no one at the Goat Farm has been infected.  So far.

--Because my last post was about cancer, and because other events keep it on the mind, I have to end on a bit of a somber note.  (It'd be ok to stop reading here.  Really.  Race report over.)  On Monday, Reuben Anders Wilde Goates (age 5 and a half), had his regular check-up MRI.  And it looks clean.  Approaching five years since miracle surgery and being cancer-free.  Which is especially good news today, it seems to me, because 10 years ago, on June 4, Valerie's dad died.  Cancer.  That personal, corporal betrayal.  Cancer sucks.

We served up root beer floats to the team after Reuben's t-ball game.

--We discovered Reuben's cancer the evening we celebrated the one year anniversary of Marian Grace Goates' (age 12) successful bone marrow transplant.  (We told Val's dad she was pregnant with Marian on the day he told us he had cancer.)  Marian didn't have cancer, rather some rare disease that no one has heard of and doesn't conjure the same immediate emotional response (though in every way it should, and then some) of those that do.  Plus, it's the same sort of docs and nurses that play with cancer everyday that saved her life, so it seems linked.  Anyway, our lives felt brutally cursed in those days.  (A fault in our stars indeed.)  It was a dark time.  But Marian is healthy.  Reuben is healthy.  And Audrey has always been healthy.  So the curse has lifted, it would seem.  And this is how normal people live...  All healthy families are alike; each unhealthy family is unhappy in its own way.  (Tolstoy won't mind; he's dead.)

--I can't remember exactly how old I was...ten, maybe?...when my dad told me he had cancer.  It could have killed him.  It might have a few years earlier.  But after one operation, and another a handful of years later, he made it, and lived to 80.  But I still remember that conversation.  When he told me he was going to the hospital and he might not come back.  It was weird to me, but it takes a parent to realize how devastating that conversation must have been for him.  And he had to have it five times.  (I've four older siblings.)

--There's a movie out now, The Fault in Our Stars, and of course (spoiler alert) it's about cancer.  Kids (teenagers) with *bleep*ing cancer.  The book was great (I hated how the parents were written, but it was still great), but I don't ever want to touch it again. I hated reading it.  I swore a lot.  I'd get that dry, tight feeling at the back of my throat that I get when I'm very, very angry (which I'm not very often).  And I swore a lot more.  I don't think there's any chance I could ever see the movie.  *bleep*ing cancer.  The normal of the lives of the families in that story...  I don't ever want to know that normal again.  And for those of you that do know that normal, who live it, well...I don't know what to say.  I'm all anger.  I'm all rage.  And I'm completely devastated for you.  Because I'm all empathy.  Cancer sucks.