A new kind of hero

The Bourne Identity wasn't a great film, but one of its appeals is the pragmatic, serious nature of Jason Bourne. He's a suitable new hero for the post Sept. 11 America, which is ironic considering he's based on a character from a novel published in 1980. Bourne's character in the film can be read as a metaphor for our nation under attack. He awakens near death, with little or no memory, as many of us did after Sept. 11. Who is Al Qaeda? Why do they want us dead? Slowly, the clues come back, and in both cases a ruthless CIA plagued by internal machinations and bickering is at the heart of things.
Bourne is the America we want to believe we are. He's not an obnoxious American stirring up trouble abroad. No, the international world is out to get him despite the fact that he just wants to get the girl and retire peacefully. Agents of all nationalities come after him in all parts of the world, including Clive Owen as The Professor, just as terrorists seem to be attacking us from cells distributed throughout the world. Wherever Bourne goes, he brings trouble to those he comes in contact with, just as many nations have mixed feelings about accepting American military, economic, and political assistance for fear of retribution from neighboring states. Bourne doesn't deserve this--his whole loss of memory came when he couldn't bring himself to complete an assassination orchestrated by the CIA. Perhaps that is where his story diverges from the truth, as the U.S. government has rarely hesitated to intervene overtly or covertly with force to achieve its ends. But that's not the hero we wish to embrace.
Like our government, Bourne is not afraid to react with deadly force when attacked, and he does so efficiently. We hope our military and intelligence agencies are equally competent.
Most of all, Bourne represents an America which just wishes to be left alone. Contrast him with our popular heroes from the 70's, 80's and 90's, like James Bond, the suave and sophisticated incarnation of the ugly American. Brash, arrogant, always dispatching his various foreign foes with a cruel, almost disdainful sense of humor. Or John Wayne, the rugged, macho American. We sense in these earlier heroes strains of the haughty, presumptious America which is what terrorists claim to be reacting to in launching its attacks.
Bourne is none of these things. He is confused--why are we under attack? He just wishes he could have a little peace and quiet. So do we all. But it's unlikely, considering a sequel is in the works. Sadly, the same fate likely awaits the rest of us.

Macintosh pop-up killer

Has anyone found a free, effective Macintosh-compatible pop-up window killer? I am so damn sick of Orbitz ads popping up everywhere I go.

Conventional wisdom

My mind gravitates towards ideas that revoke conventional wisdom. I enjoy articles like the one about the health of low-carb vs. low-fat diets which I cite below, ideas like the ones Stephen Wolfram postulates in A New Kind of Science, and some of the recent (last two years) writing by Voros McCracken on pitching and defense resonate with me.
Okay, I've already discussed the first two ideas before. What about Voros McCracken's ideas on pitching and defense? Voros' analysis showed that pitchers have little control over the rate of hits on balls put in play. Instead, that statistic of hits on balls put in play is much more strongly correlated with a team's defense as Rob Neyer notes when examining some of the recent research by Dick Cramer.
Voros' work does explain why so many of history's greatest pitchers have high strikeout rates. That's the best way for a pitcher to prevent a ball from being put in play and earning an out. Once a ball is hit and put in play, the chances that it falls for a hit are likely the same for Pedro Martinez as they are for Jose Lima, the team defenses behind them being equal. It gives you a greater appreciation for pitchers who have low strikeout rates who still manage to maintain low ERAs over long periods of time. There aren't many, and the ones who do almost always have to have pinpoint control.

Atkins Diet--what if it's right?

Fascinating article in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine about the Atkins diet, obesity in America, and the frightening thought that perhaps fat isn't all that bad for you but carbs are. One of the more enlightening discussions of the topic that I've read. Worth reading for folks who have been wondering how to eat healthy and lose weight, which is about 90% of people I know.
Of all I've read on the topic, this article was the most convincing in presenting evidence that casts doubt on the healthiness of a high carb, low-fat diet, commonly represented by the food pyramid taught in schools all over the country, with 6-11 servings of grains at the base and minimal fat at the apex.
The joy of the prime of cycling season is that none of this matters. I can pretty much eat whatever I want to because I'm burning off so many calories. But for the other month's out of the year, it's appealing to imagine that simple adjustments to one's diet might lead to noticeable changes in weight and long-term life expectancy.

I can't move my arms

Yesterday I went out on Lake Washington on Eric's speedboat with Todd, Juli, Aaron, and a whole crew of others. I learned some new things. First, riding in the front of a speedboat being driven at high speeds is a lot of fun. The boat angles up, and you see only the sky as you bounce around like so much loose cargo. Second, wakeboarding is exhausting on the arms (when you don't know what you're doing). After watching Travis and Jared skimming around the water with seemingly little effort, I thought "I have to have a go at that." About 15 fruitless attempts later my arms were lead and I'd imbibed a good pint of Lake Washington. Splendid good fun because everytime Eric slowly cranked up the speed on the boat, and I felt the tension of water below my board, I thought to myself, "I'm going to get it this time."
Also, it's a new challenge to look forward to this summer. A summer without a new hobby or something to learn is death. My mind is still trapped in the past, in school, at the beginning of the quarter, perusing the coursebook, looking for new classes in random subjects.
Last night I barely had the strength to shift gears in my car or turn a doorknob. This morning I couldn't push myself up out of bed. I awoke at 6:30 in the morning to try and watch Stage 2 of the Tour. For the 15 minutes before 6:30, my alarm clock was on, and some lady was chatting about some farmers who raised their chickens and cows using a particular diet that produced better tasting cheese, and I was so tired that her words actually permeated my thoughts. I dreamed I was wandering in this dark, dingy, abandoned prison, and this farmer was leading me from cell to cell, where he kept his animals. Peacocks, chickens, and goats wandered around while the farmer sprinkled feed on the ground. Felt like Hannibal Lecter's asylum, but all the time I was supremely excited to rush to the supermarket to purchase a brick of this special brand of cheese. I woke up, and for about 3 minutes I remembered the name of this brand of cheese. Meant to write it down, too. Now I've forgotten it, and frankly I can't tell what part of the dream was imagined, and what was real. Don't even know if this brand of cheese even exists.

Le Tour

The Tour de France started yesterday. The Prologue was exciting, a short 4 mile time trial. Laurent Jalabert came out with a miraculous effort to complete it in 9' 10", then Lance maxed out with an even more incredible effort to win the Prologue by two seconds in 9' 8".
People think soccer is ignored. So is cycling. With Lance in his prime and Ullrich out of this year's Tour, attacks will come from all sides. Anyone with OLNtv who isn't watching is missing out on two hours of high drama every day. What these 190 or so cyclists will do over the next three weeks is to complete the most incredible endurance event in the world. 2100 miles of cycling, sometimes up mountain grades rated at about 20%, with only two rest days.
Also, everyone seems excited that the U.S. may become competitive in international soccer. Well, the U.S. is further ahead in cycling. Many teams' have American race leaders. Of course there's Lance, but some of his former teammates have moved on to other teams to be the boss. Tyler Hamilton (2nd in the Giro D'Italia this year), Levi Leipheimer (who placed in last year's Vuelta) to name the two most well-known. Floyd Landis, one of Lance's domestiques, finished second to him in the Dauphine Libere and showed himself to be a promising climber and possible future GC contender.