Saturday, August 25, 2012

Obama Comes to Southern New Hampshire

A week ago I got up early and drove to Windham High School, a couple of miles from my house. I had a ticket to see President Obama speak at the school that morning, and althought the weather threatened rain, I wasn't about to let this opportunity pass me by.

I did have misgivings though. I'm not the most patient of persons, and I'd heard that seeing a president or another candidate for the office speak could involve a lot of waiting and standing around. How badly did I want to do this?

Badly enough, apparently. I drove along Hwy 111 and that early on a Saturday morning there really wasn't much traffic. But when I got to one of the elementary schools where it was suggested that we park there was a large crowd waiting for a shuttle bus and I decided to turn in there.

I was glad that I did. When the bus turned on to London Bridge, the road in front of the High School, a line of cars stretched almost all the way back to 111. It didn't take very long for the people on the bus to decide it would be a good idea to get off and walk.

It didn't take very long to walk the rest of the way to the High School. In short order we were given our instructions, put into lines, and the crowd of people settled down to wait. We watched the Secret Service stop every single car that drove up to the High School and use dogs to conduct a search. So that was why the line of cars was so backed up! I was very glad I had taken the shuttle bus.

The atmosphere had a festive carnival air. People selling campaign buttons and tshirts presented their wares. All kinds of people stood in line, young, old, hippies, button-downed, blue collar, white collar, red neck, country, city. Many different New England states were represented, from Rhode Island to Maine.

I listened to the stories as the people around me chatted. Some people were experienced campaign followers that had seen many different presidents and candidates in person. Just as many were like me, first-timers at a presidential event. Several of us "older" folks could remember seeing John F Kennedy campaign when we were little, including me. I had a vague memory of a smiling, handsome man in a convertible, passing by as we stood on the sidewalk in St. Louis. I think I would have been in 1st or 2nd grade, 1960. My how times have changed.

At 10:30am they opened the doors and let us into the building. After a quick run tothe bathroom I entered the gym and found a place to sit on the second row of the bleachers, fairly close to the stage. Windham High School does not have a very large gymnasium. I wondered how many people they would try to cram into this space.

Pretty many, it turns out. We were packed in, the doors were shut, and it began to get very, very warm. All we could do was think cool thoughts and hope that it wouldn't be too long before the president appeared.

Well, 2 and a half hours later, he strode into the gym, waving and smiling. In spite of the heat, the crowds and my exhaustion, I found myself exhilarated and excited as soon as he walked onto the stage.

One of the first things that drew me to Obama was his speeches. Of course there was his electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, but, in addition to that there was his wonderful victory speech in Chicago, his speech on race in Philadelphia, his speech on the Middle East in Egypt. Obama's speeches were intellectually stimulating as well as thoughtful and inspiring.

The speech at Windham High School was a standard campaign speech. There was no nuance, no thought-provoking considerations. Republicans - bad for the middle class. Democrats will save Medicare and Social Security. The affordable care act will help the uninsured and save money for all.

It's not that I seriously disagree with anything that Obama said. It's just that he managed to set a very high bar four years ago and in the early years of his presidency. I miss the intellectually challenging and thought--provoking side of Obama. It's too bad that modern campaigning precludes that sort of rhetoric.

Four years ago I was so relieved and glad to see the Republicans out of power and the Democrats back in. I would like to see him re-elected; I'm also worried that the economy and all the negative advertising will make it very difficult for him to win again. I'm also suspicious of many of the traditional ways of garnering votes. Canvassing door-to-door and phone calls are big in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is a swing state so both parties are vying for every vote out there.

But it seems to me that such tactics have a minimal impact compared to Television ads and news reports. I have had plenty of people here in New Hampshire, however, explain to me how important personal contact can be in this very small state where every single vote counts. So what do I know.

I do think that the key to either party winning this year has everything to do with how many of the voters on their side of the ticket will actually bother to vote. This is another place where I'm worried about Obama's chances. So many people that were excited about his candidacy 4 years ago are now disillusioned and disappointed. Maybe he wasn't able to turn the economy around as quickly as they had hoped. Maybe he didn't close Guantanamo, end the wars, promote gay rights. Whatever their personal issues might have been, Obama probably turned out to be more moderate, less effective, and more hampered by Congress than they expected. Will those people still take the time to vote in November?

I'm also in the process of reading Richard Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson. I've just finished the part about how he stole the 1948 Senate election. The extreme corruptedness of Texas politics at that time, and Johnson's absolute obsession with acquiring and keeping power, are influencing how I look at this year's election.

I know that it is a mistake to idealize politicians. Politicians would not do what they do if they did not have an innate hunger for power. Neither Barak Obama nor Mitt Romney are exceptions to this rule. The superficial motives of an individual politician may differ (why do so many of them seem to have daddy issues?) but if they did not have a huge need for the power that electoral office brings, they would not run.

Elections invite fraud. I hope we are beyond the days of the kind of fraud that occurred during the 1948 election, that involved the blatant "counting" of voters that never even went to the polls, by political bosses and machines that had their own personal reasons for wanting to see Lyndon Johnson elected. But I suspect that fraud still sometimes occurs, because another basic truth about elections is that the hunger for power influences the morality of politicians. That need to win allows people to justify actions that they could not otherwise condone. I don't think that sort of behavior can ever be entirely eliminated.

So I find myself looking at this year's election with a cold and clear-eyed scrutiny. Does this mean I will vote for any Republicans on the ticket? Nah. I may be feeling a little cynical, but I still tend to come down on the left side of most issues. And yes I will vote, in spite of my misgivings about possible fraud. Voting is something I still idealize. It bothers me that so many people in the US don't bother to vote, and when I fantasize about doing something that would make a difference in this country I would work on voter registration and education, and getting people to the polls on election day. With an educated responsible electorate what kind of country would we be? We can only dream.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Nerdy little treatise on the 10k I ran last night

I ran a 10k in Rye, NH yesterday evening. Rye is a pretty little town on the New Hampshire sea coast, about an hour from Salem. For about 4 weeks before the race I added 400 meter repeats to my training. But when I would do my practice race runs I just didn't feel very confident. I was worried about the weather, afraid that it would be very warm, and concerned that I would run the risk of injuring myself if I went all out.

So I decided to change my strategy. Instead of setting an ambitious time goal for myself I decided to not worry about my time that much, and instead concentrate on running negative splits. Negative splits mean that you run the second half of a race faster than the first half. It's what every runner wants to do, but in the excitement of a race it's really, really hard. Everyone gets caught up in the excitement at the beginning and before you know it you're running faster than you should. It feels fine at first, but you pay for it later.

As I pulled into the parking lot for the race lightening flashed across the sky and a sudden downpour started. It only lasted a couple of minutes but it was enough to drop the temperature several degrees, from over 80 to around 75. This was great, but I wasn't going to let that change my plan. I was going to run the first part of this race slow no matter what!

I found the race start, picked up my registration materials and did my usual warmup routine. Each age division was color coded by a dot on your race bib. This was my first race in the 60-69 group. I had a green dot on my bib. I walked around looking at all the other bibs, trying to find other women with green dots. I only saw a few.

This race had an interesting method for giving out tshirts. Not everyone in the race automatically got a tshirt. They had enough tshirts for about half of the runners, distributed evenly through the different divisions according to the number of runners in that division. There were 17 women in the 60-69 age group and 11 of them would get tshirts. There were over 600 runners in this race. Most of them of course were in their 20's, 30's and 40's, but that was still a pretty good number of women in their 60's.

The first 3 miles of the race were a gradual uphill. I planned to run this part between 11:05 and 11:15 miles per minute. That's probably 15 seconds slower than I would normally run the start of a 10k, but I really wanted to see if I could gradually get faster and control my pace.

The fun part of running a race like this is gradually passing so many people, and feeling very fit and confident for most of the race. It was nice to not get tired early for once. I actually got to practice the "rubber band" technique that good runners talk about, where you pretend to throw a rubber band around the runner ahead of you and then use the band to pull yourself closer to them and then past them. This is all just in your imagination of course!

After mile three I increased my pace to between 10:55 and 11:05 miles per minute, still pretty slow. This part of the race was level and slightly downhill. At mile 4 I increased my pace again, to between 10:45 and 10:55 miles per minute. I still felt great.

I was doing my usual run-walk-run routine, which for a 10k means I run 1 minute and walk 20 seconds. One woman called me "sprint girl" so I explained to her what I was doing. She ran with me for a bit, but my pace was too fast for her after awhile. I told her to google Jeff Galloway and told her to have fun for the rest of the race.

After mile five there was only a little over a mile to go. Now was the time to see what I could do! I gradually increased my pace, until at the end I was running around 10:15 miles per minute. This was a pretty fast pace for me in a 10k. I definitely achieved my goal and ran a decisive negative split. I got to see how good that felt - it felt great!

But then I had to deal with my ego. My final time was 1:08, 4 minutes slower than the 10k I ran in Newton last year. It was all too easy to feel disappointed in myself, but I tried not to mind. Plus, the way you found out if you got a tshirt was if you were handed a Popsicle stick at the end of the race. Nobody handed me a stick, so no tshirt for Lynn.

I grabbed some water, a banana and a slice of watermelon and headed back to my car for the long drive home. I was a little surprised that I didn't get a tshirt but I tried not to mind. I ran my negative split and it was fine, right?

After I got home, took a shower and ate some dinner I sat down with my iPad before it was time for bed. There was already an email with the race results. I came in 11th in my division. I looked to see how the other women in the 60-69 age division did and I was in for a surprise. The first 9 finishers in my group all ran the race at an 8 minute mile pace. That's really good, better than my pace for a 5k! The woman that came in 10th ran it in 1:04, which is my best 10k time.

But I came in 11th, and I think I should have gotten a tshirt. I sent the race director a note but I haven't heard anything yet. I don't really care about the shirt, but it's the principle of the thing.

But who were all these speedy 60 year olds? I wonder if this race attracted a lot of good runners because it's part of a race series. I really have no idea, but I have to say I was very impressed by their times, whoever they are, and humbled too.

At the end of every race I always feels like I could have done better. This time I found myself thinking that I could have run faster and still had negative splits, and I'm sure that's correct. But this was the right thing to do for this race. Now it's time to concentrate on the rest of my marathon training. In a little over two months I'll be running through the streets of St. Louis. There are a few little local 5ks coming up in the next month that are enticing, however. I might decide to run in one of them, just for fun, of course.....

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cambridge Walking Tour

I went on a walking tour of Cambridge last week. The tour focused on the Revolutionary War and the small part that Cambridge played in it. Cambridge was kind of an also-ran in the war. A couple of coincidences involving bridges and warning systems are all that kept it from ending up the place where the shot was heard round the world instead of Concord. I took a bunch of pictures on the tour, so here's a link to those pictures...enjoy!

Cambridge Revolutionary War Historical Walking Tour

Saturday, August 4, 2012

New Camera

I am now the proud owner of a Canon EOS Digital SRL T3 camera. My little Olympus point-and-shoot takes very good pictures for what it is, and fits handily in a pocket or purse. It has its limits however. It is useless in low-light situations, and sometimes I'm frustrated by trying to photograph moving objects or landscapes.

Well now I have a camera that can do it all, but when I took it out of its box (it was a birthday present) I realized very quickly that I had a lot of learning to do. I could read the manual and the instruction book that Lee bought me, but the whys and wherefores of the many, many possible settings were beyond me. How did anyone ever learn to use one of these cameras? Was I too old to learn something this new and complicated? I felt a little discouraged, and a LOT intimidated!

This wildflower was waving in the wind. I was surprised and pleased at how  well the camera froze the flower's motion!

But I wasn't ready to give up yet. I decided to sign up for an Introduction to DSLR Cameras class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Ed. I've just finished the third class and I'm feeling a little better about this new piece of equipment I own. I understand a little about ISO, aperture and shutter speed, and I think with some practice my pictures will really improve. I have a new appreciation for things like depth of field and freezing and blurring of motion. But I think I'm at the point where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

A few leaves up here are starting to change, probably because its been a bit dry for New England. Notice the nice blurry background.

This is what I've learned:
ISO is sensitivity to light. If you are in a low-light situation, you can make the ISO higher to get better pictures without using the flash. If the ISO is higher, you can use a faster shutter speed, because if you use a slower shutter speed you might need to use a tripod, otherwise you might get camera shake and blur things you didn't want to blur.

You can also use a wider aperture, which is the opening through which your camera takes a picture. A wider aperture will also let in more light.

Then there is the matter of where you focus and the size of your lens. If you focus up close things in the background may be blurry. This may or may not be what you want. If you stand back farther even if you focus on something up close, the background will be less blurry. Or something like that...all these things interact and can change your pictures a lot. These new DSLR cameras are very smart and even in the various manual modes will show you what the best combination of ISO, shutter speed and aperture should be. Then you can stick with what the camera suggests, or modify it to change your photo.

The camera focused beautifully on the berries, but the leaf in the foreground caused a distracting green blur.

Now that the class is over, the challenge for me is going to be to continue to practice what I have learned. The camera takes great pictures in full automatic mode, and I know I'm going to be tempted sometimes to put it in auto and leave it there. But if I do that I might as well have bought a high-end point-and-shoot!

Notice how the Nill Westie sign is a bit blurry. I think I had the focus on the post instead of the sign!

The other day I took the camera with me when I took Harper for our daily walk along the lake. At this point I had taken two classes, and wanted to see what the camera would do. I am pleased with some of the pictures, but my mind's eye and the camera eye are still pretty far apart sometimes!


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