Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jet to Jetty

Yesterday was my first 10K. I have run every race from 5K and under, and have done many marathons, but never have I felt the urge to do anything in between. So when a flyer came in the mail 2 weeks ago, I nearly tossed it into the trash.

There are a lot of races in the Los Angeles area, but this is not something I have taken advantage of. I am usually too busy training for another marathon. This time, however, I recruited Maureen, my running partner from work, and we decided to race.

It's called "Jet to Jetty" for obvious reasons: the race runs between LAX and Marina del Rey. It is a beautiful coure that I didn't really bother to look at during the race because I was too busy running. It is a small race, with approximately 300 participants in the 10K, but with about 500-1000 people completing the companion 5K.

Maureen and I decided on the 10K because of our distance running backgroung. The excitement of competition is always thrilling, and I was excited to see how well I could complete this race.
It started fast, with my first mile at 6:36. I slowed to a comfortable pace after that, but didn't have the energy (or motivation) to sprint out the end.

The race turned out well: I began and ended the race in 3rd place (overall women), as the first place woman in my age group (19-24), with a time of 44:05. My goal was under 42:00. Not bad considering I went into the race having biked 25 miles and run 40 miles already that week. I was intending to complete 20 miles that day , but after the race, I was too tired to bother (I did somewhere between 9-10). I did get a cool medal and all participants got a discount at Top to Top (a running store in Marina del Rey and Santa Monica). The great thing about this was that I had a good reason to go buy new running shoes (nevermind that I won't need them for a few more months.).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Book Review: The Golden Chord by Paul Genesse

I don’t read much fantasy. Aside from being a huge Tolkien fan I’ve only ever delved into a handful of other fantasy series.’ My mom’s friend’s husband just wrote this book and gave me a free copy so I put in the beach bag along with the others I’m reading (we do a lot of reading at the beach but alas, I will never be tan like April is). Overall I would say the Golden Chord is a good book and worth reading. Genesse is a new writer and this often shows in his writing especially when he occasionally relies upon the crutch of clichés. The protagonist was someone who felt very real and Genesse did a good job of getting the reader to sympathize with and care about him. Another thing that Genesse did very well was to create a unique and thought provoking world.

Geneses’ world consists of a series of plateaus that are elevated over a sea of clouds that cover what is known only as ‘the Void.’ This Void is apparently the source of all the dragons and other flying beasts that constantly plague the inhabitants of the plateaus who live in caves or under sheltering trees to protect themselves from these ‘aevians’ (I don’t know if Genesse was the first person to come up with that title or not, but it’s a good one).
Here are some photos I took from a plane above central Utah. I imagine that this is what the view of the Void from Cliffton looks like.

Even thought The plot was, at some points, kind of standard (too much of a coming of age story as well as the standard journey to the dragon’s lair) and I thought that the love story was a little boring (too young adult) The Golden Chord was very good read and I will definitely be looking for the sequel (all fantasy novels have sequels because fantasy writers can never condense their ideas into just one book). I would recommend the book to anyone looking for an entertaining fantasy read.

Here are my hopes and predictions for the next books: I hope the hero/s have to actually journey down into the Void. There could be a whole cool new world down there. I predict that Drake will have to use both his own and Ethan’s thorn bolts in a final battle of some kind (or Ethan’s spirit will somehow use it to protect Drake). I also bet that there will be some sort of unification between the two main religions as well as their respective male and female deities. I predict that the dark chord that binds Ethan and drake will later be discovered to be a golden chord (I thought for sure that was how this book was going to end). I hope that either the series is only a few books longer or that the books remain short. I get annoyed when I start a series only to have the author drag it out for ten books, especially if each volume is like 800 pages long. I only have so much time people!

Monday, August 18, 2008

YouTube of the Week: Supai Flood

A couple of years ago April and I, along with some of our friends, hiked down into the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the Grand Canyon. There is no road down there and the village is only accessible by foot, horse, or helicopter. The village itself looks and feels like a little piece of the third world right in the middle of the American West. It is also one of the most beautiful places on earth. The abundance of spectacular waterfalls creates an almost jungle like environment turning the canyon into a green oasis.
Minerals in the water color it a spectacular shade of blue reminiscent of the ocean at Maui.
This week my brother Kevin and some friends were going to camp down there but had to turn back because the canyon was flooded when a dam burst upstream. Here’s a video of this week's flood.

And one from a while back.

Here we are in the same spot.
It’s kind of sad to see the place we just visited get trashed by a flash flood.
I hope that the people of Supai will be able to return to normal life as soon as possible.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Book Review: Legacy of Ashes; The History of The CIA by Tim Weiner

This is probably one of the most important history books to come out in recent memory though it has certainly been overshadowed by the immensely popular John Adams and Team of Rivals. Legacy of Ashes is a readable, engaging book that contains loads of information crucial to understanding twentieth century American and world history. That being said, Wiener’s biases are so patently obvious at times that he sometimes borders on silliness. However what his biases are is instantly obvious (the book is part op-ed piece) so that you can just read past them. His biases and dramatics can, in the end, be forgiven because they make the book that much more interesting and readable. Weiner combines countless firsthand interviews of the most significant figures in American intelligence with mounds of declassified documents into a compelling and disturbing narrative.

Wiener has the tendency to be a bit overdramatic. This makes for weaker history but more interesting reading. When this dramaticism combines with his biases he often makes points that are outright ridiculous. For example one of these occurs when he is discussing the CIA sabotage of the Line X espionage group. Line X was set up by the KGB as a way to steal American technological innovations; including even the Apollo Space Program. When the CIA discovered Line X they set up a complex network to systematically feed the Soviets faulty technology. The CIA even gave the KGB defective pressure monitoring software that caused a Soviet gas pipeline to explode. Weiner concludes his discussion of this program by noting on page 387: “had the tables been turned, it could have been seen as an act of terror.” Really? I guess he is trying to make the point that America considers any effort against it an act of terror. But really? The Soviets were stealing American technology so we simply sent the spies bad information. We didn’t blow that pipeline up. The Soviets did by not doing their own research and relying on what they had stolen from others.

Occasionally Weiner omits his sources where he shouldn’t, like this statement on page 412 about former director Bill Casey “After he died on May 6, at age seventy-four, his own bishop denounced him from the pulpit at his funeral, as Presidents Reagan and Nixon listened in silence.” Here is another classic example of Weiner’s dramatic (perhaps overly so) writhing style. This is absolutely fascinating. I wonder what the bishop actually said. Unfortunately, in my edition at least, there is no source or footnote as to what the bishop actually said in his funereal. The bit about Reagan and Nixon sitting in silence certainly makes for good drama but it is perhaps a bit unfair. The point that Wiener is trying to make is that much of the evil associated with Casey was really their fault and he was a sort of ‘fall guy’ for their decisions. The author condemms their silence simply from the fact that they attended his funeral (of course they sat in silence during the sermon, it would be unbelievably rude to speak up at any time). I can’t help but wonder if Carter or Ford were also there and, if so, why Weiner didn’t include them as well. I’m probably being overly critical here because he does include over 150 pages of sources and he can’t be expected to include it all. I just have the haunting suspicion that maybe the bishop’s words weren’t quite as damning as Weiner suggests.

One more criticism and then I’m done, I promise. Sometimes Weiner is a bit too harsh on the CIA’s analysis. Take for example the faulty intelligence concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass-destruction. Weiner recounts the defection of Saddam’s son-in-law who informed the agency that Saddam had destroyed his weapons of mass-destruction. Weiner states “The CIA disregarded what he said, judging it as deception. The fact that [the son-in-law] went back to Iraq and was assassinated by his father-in-law did not alter the agency’s belief.” Weiner is making the point that the CIA was blind to evidence that went against the conclusions that it had already arrived at. This point indeed has a lot of validity. But in this case it is not fair. The KGB used this tactic of assassinating and pretending to assassinate or imprison its own disinformation agents all the time in order to try and convince the CIA that these disinformation agents were genuine. It would certainly be consistent for Saddam to use this same tactic in order to convince the Agency that he had in fact destroyed his weapons of mass-destruction.

I was fascinated by Weiner’s suggestion that the CIA is becoming an “intelligence-industrial complex” alluding to the military-industrial complex warned against by Eisenhower. I hope that he will explore this idea more in a follow up book. Another interesting revelation form this book is how different the real CIA is from the one that everyone imagines. I had always assumed that the CIA was this quasi-omnipotent-omnipresent-all-knowing organization that had a good handle on world affairs. Nothing could be further from the truth. The agency was almost completely blind to anything happening inside the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In fact when the Ayatollah’s revolutionaries seized the CIA station in Tehran they were shocked by how impotent the agency had been. The radical Islamists had jus assumed that the CIA had almost complete control of Iran. But in fact the agency had only a handful of inexperienced agents with extremely limited information and almost no knowledge of the culture and language of Iran. In fact the Tehran station was so weak that the revolutionaries were offended.

Legacy of Ashes got me thinking about the fundamental paradox at the heart of the CIA (something that Weiner discusses with great insight): How do you engage in intelligence and espionage, which are absolutely dependent on secrecy and limited oversight, in a free and open society? Most of the terrible things that happened as a result of the CIA were due to this paradox. Directors lied to the presidents that oversaw them. The CIA lied to the American public. The agency constantly broke the law almost with impunity. Weiner quotes General Magruder on page 12: “Clandestine operations involve a constant breaking of all the rules…To put it baldly, such operations are necessarily extra-legal and sometimes illegal.” The core of the American democracy is the rule of law. In a democratic society all people must be subject to the law. I find it telling that the highest authority in the land is not an individual or even a body of government officials but is a law. The Constitution is the supreme authority over the U.S. Government. It is incompatible with our democratic system that officials or anyone for that matter be permitted to break the laws of our land. It is absolutely essential that the people of the nation accurately know what the government that rules them is up to in order to make sure that they are following the law. And when it comes to the CIA you have a serious problem because if the public knows what the CIA is up to the agency’s purpose is completely undermined.

This was not a problem, at least not in the same way, for the KGB. The government that they operated under was already by its nature secret. In America the public has always had a good deal of information about what its government is up to. For example the federal government as well as all state governments have freedom of information acts or public records laws. These statutes compel government officials to surrender information to any citizen that requests it with few exceptions (there are exceptions for national security reasons that do protect most of the intelligence info). Even aside from FOIA laws and the effective domestic media our government has more leaks than a colander. One of the reasons that the KGB was often more successful in espionage and intelligence than the CIA stems from the fact that KGB secrets remained secrets.

In our democracy ultimately the CIA must be accountable to the American people. This is virtually impossible to do with out compromising all legitimate missions the CIA is caring out. I can quickly get the names and contact information on just about any government official. If it were this easy to do this with the members of the intelligence community they would all be killed. Furthermore, the American people may not fully understand the reasons for certain operations that may on the face seem expensive, pointless, futile, or even abhorrent. The apparent answer to this is that you have elected officials do the monitoring. But these same problems exist with elected officials. Furthermore, these elected officials can not be held accountable for their oversight of covert operations if these operations remain secret from the public. Where do you draw the line? Certainly you can’t have the CIA meddling around the world as if it were a toy with zero accountability. But in order to have accountability you must have accurate knowledge. But if knowledge of intelligence activities is widespread they losses all effectiveness. In essence; intelligence ceases to be intelligence.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


We had a wonderful time up at the cabin. This was the first time that everyone in the family has been able to be together up there for a long time. We spent most of our time at the beach; reading, wake-boarding, canoeing, sunbathing, playing volleyball, and hitting rocks out into the lake.
On Wednesday April and I climbed Lion’s Head.

On Friday the whole gang went trap-shooting up on the wood road.

We also did a lot of huckleberry picking.

The mosquitoes were pretty bad (the millions of dots in next picture are all nasty blood-suckers).
But aside from the mosquitoes it was pure heaven.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Good Timing

So my older brother Daniel has been dating Karalee for over 5 years. They were shopping for rings on a date with Steve and I when we were newly dating, nearly 4 years ago. May 2007, Dan finally proposed. And after months of planning and several date changes, he finally got married on August 8. It's about time. We have been wanting Karalee to join the family (officially) for years.

From the time he met Karalee, he was beat to the altar by 3 of his younger sisters. I know it's not a race, but we are glad it finally happened. It was a lot of fun to be back home and spend time with the family. In fact, we even got a picture of all the siblings: (I know I have a funny look on my face, but it's the only picture Steve took of my entire family).

Daniel changed the date of the wedding at least 5 times for various scheduling conflicts (Steve's finals, a family reunion and my 50 mile race, National Guard training, and my dad's surgeries). The final change, and actual date of the wedding was perfect. Steve's family gets 2 weeks up at the family cabin i West Yellowstone every summer. Most other times, the cabin is occupied. We weren't sure if we would go because of having to find a dog sitter for such a long time and because it was a lot of time off work. Because the cabin is Steve's favorite place, he really wanted to go up for at least a little bit (Steve will blog about this later). The date of the wedding was the day before his parents were planning to leave. Perfect timing!

If you look at the wedding pictures, you will see my very pregnant little sister. Karina's baby is due this weekend. Everyone told her that she had to wait until the wedding was over to have the baby, which she managed just find. But because we won't be up again until Christmas, I told her to have the baby while we were at the cabin, or before we left to go back to LA. She had Kyrie Elizabeth Stephenson on August 5th, and we were back in SLC on August 9th. Perfect timing!