Fast 8: The Stumble of the Furious

Fast 8: The Stumble of the Furious

Fast8Massive spoiler alert: If like me, you like to be radio silent before watching the latest installment of the greatest 10-episode cinematic masterpiece ever made or ever to be made, don’t read this.

However, if you have seen it, read on. Mostly this blog is catharsis.

While The Fate of the Furious (#8) is nowhere near as bad as Tokyo Drift (#3), it’s a big, big speed bump after the height reached by “Furious 7”. Buckle your seat belts, you’re strapped in for 136 minutes of poorly planned roads, turns that make no senses, and you’re definitely not going to end up where you hoped you would.

In every Fast installment, there are ridiculous (impossible) stunts, steely eyed one-liners that you can only hope to chuckle at, and the abuse of comic relief.  But things generally hold together. Fast 8 generally falls apart.

There are four serious, serious problems with Fast 8.

Letty and Dom

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From the first movie, their relationship created a tension – a strong woman loved by a strong man where both seemed unable to be captured by anyone, except each other. When Letty is thought to have died in episode 4, Dom is tortured. When she returns and does not remember their relationship, even their marriage, Dom is again tortured. The silver cross necklace is the emblem of their relationship, their marriage.

In Fast 8, they pull Dom’s fling from Letty’s “presumed dead” period out of the woodwork, give her a kid from Dom. Dom bails on all his friends and Letty to save this woman, even leaves his silver cross with them.

Then at the end, when everyone understands why Dom betrayed them, let a terrorist manipulate him, and prove that the ends do justify the means, Letty takes him back in less than a 10-second quarter-mile. Letty is tough – one of the drivers in the crew, not just Dom’s missus. In Fast 8 they turn her into someone without backbone or character.

Dom: “Oh, hey, so while I thought you were dead, I slept with this woman and turns out she had a kid and didn’t tell me until both of them were kidnapped in a space age AWAX-like airplane. To make things less complicated, she’s dead. But the kid is alive.”

Letty: “That’s cool. I’ll totally treat him like my own. Let’s have an outdoor meal to end the movie.”

There is no question to me that the worst part of The Fate of the Furious is how they spat upon everything interesting and meaty in the relationship between Letty and Dom.

Villian turned comedy sidekick

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Deckard Shaw was an awesome villain in Furious 7. Seemingly unbeatable at times, slippery and uncatchable, inhumane and willing to kill anyone in his way.

The idea that he joins forces with the Furious, and that Hobbs comes to respect him is a slap in the face.

Hobbs: “Oh hey you murdered a ton of people just trying to visit your brother in the hospital, you killed a ton of guys stealing God’s Eye to give it to a warlord, but you did some good things when you were in the military so it’s all good.”

Aaaaaarrrgggh. I can suspend disbelief on mountainside semi trailer oil tanker flips. I can suspend disbelief on jumping a car from skyscraper to skyscraper. I can suspend disbelief on cars holding down a military transport aircraft. I can’t suspend disbelief on a character you’ve built up that now you’re going to empty.

Cipher thin

The third  flaw is the paper-thin villain of Cipher. The wardrobe, look, acting, and cinematography around Cipher (Charlize Theron)  reminded me of the bad guys in “V”, the horrendous yet addictive Sci-Fi miniseries of the early 80s. The bad aliens devoured live animals, and they would always do these slow close-ups where someone is lowering a live mouse into their mouth as the dramatic music built up, far too slowly to actually be scary or terrifying, but mostly ridiculous.

That’s how every scene with “Cipher” feels.

The over indulgence of hacking tech also surrounds her and the crap plot elements that Cipher brings with her. Honestly it’s possible that #45 might have been a script consultant – “more Cyber!”

Opening scene

I won’t spent time on this, because it’s just not worth it. It’s rubbish. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish! Meaningless car race in Cuba? Some random new relative. Then the dude you beat appears later on the other side of the world to help out to some how tie this plot thread together? Yes, we did get the important car race, our required quota of Hello-Kitty-Ass, and Dom doing the impossible. But, it had no relationship to the plot whatsoever.

What was good

Fast8 Ice

  1. Stunts were great – Submarine ice chase was great. Zombie car chase in NYC was pretty awesome.
  2. The Deckard Shaw + baby carrier fight scene is action-film genious. The choreography plus cinematography – exceptional.
  3. Lucas Black (who plays the Gomer-Pyle-esque Sean Boswell) did not appear in this film. That was great.
  4. Roman was great. He’s always great.
  5. Lastly, I will tip my hat to having Brian’s name live on in the series, even though it’s as a result of a horrible plot device. Paul Walker, RIP. You deserved better than this film.

Overall did I enjoy Fast 8? Of course. I loved it. But I loved it a lot less than all the others (except for Tokyo Drift which I pretend never happened).

One more thing

The other CIA agent (Client Eastwood’s son) – it’s obvious he’ll be a character in future movies. Please don’t. I’m not going to mention his character’s name because I don’t ever want to hear it again. 

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Citizen BJR

Citizen BJR

On Monday, March 6th, I became an Australian citizen. I’m incredibly proud to say I’m an Aussie. Oi, oi, o!

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We’ve let another yank in?

But, since no matter what I write, most of you aren’t functionally literate beyond 140 characters, so I will do this in FAQ style:

1. Do you have to give up your U.S. Citizenship?

No, no I do not.

2. Do you want to give up your U.S. Citizenship?

No, no I do not. It is painful either to keep your U.S. Citizenship or to renounce it.

3. Why is it painful to keep your U.S. Citizenship?

As a yank working overseas, you still have to file U.S. taxes, and if any U.S. tax rate is higher than your country of residence, you pay the U.S. the difference. In one case I’ve had to pay a combined 80% tax rate, though that should only happen if your tax advisors are caught off guard or you live in a country with no tax treaty with the U.S., like most of Africa, or if you are really bad at maths. The U.S. is unique is being an extra special pain here.

4. Why is it painful to renounce your U.S. Citizenship?

Start with a minimum $2,350, highest in the world. Thanks so much to the greed of the U.S. Treasury and the actions of a facebook co-founder employee, the U.S. introduced an exit tax – the most basic explanation is that as you hand in your citizenship, we’d like tax on the “net unrealized gain in the individual’s property”, i.e. any unvested stock, stock options, unsold property – the IRS will estimate the future value of it and ask for all the tax now. Leeches.

5. Are you doing this because of Voldemort?

I wrote a blog about Voldemort before the U.S. Election. I don’t want to use his name in writing in a blog celebrating a big event in my life.

But my decision to become a citizen of Australia has nothing to do with the occasional resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

My quest for citizenship starting long before that no-talent ass-clown started winning Grammys.

6. Are you ever coming back to the states?

Yeah, sure. I’ll visit.

7. What made you decide to become a citizen?

Australia is my home. It’s where I want to spend the rest of my charmed life. It’s a strange thing because so many of the people who I care a ridiculous amount about: live in the states.

But, Australia is great for me. Even just two weeks in the states, and I’m itching to get off the spinning hamster wheel and get home. In Oz, there are many wonders: the pace of life, the land, and that nothing is a crisis. “She’ll be right, mate.” I’m lucky to get to live here. If I step back and think about the things that are the most important to me, outside of my friends and family, Australia has them all.

At a primal level, and potentially the most important, there is something about my connection with the ocean in Australia that I have never felt anywhere in the world. As well as the romantic relationships I have fostered with several wombats.

I announced my retirement a few years ago, and I knew Australia is where I wanted to retire. Eventually, somewhere North of Sydney, near the ocean, in a house with a garage full of bikes, I will start the next phase of my life.

8. So, you’re an immigrant?

Yes, and a proud one

There are a number of ex-pats I know who think of citizenship more like getting a local drivers license: just paperwork. To me, it was a conscious choice that this is my future home. That I am agreeing to the values of Australia. That I want to play my part in shaping the country through voting and action. That I will defend my country if we are invaded by Antarctica.

In becoming a citizen, I’m signing up to the Australian values. The citizenship process and the test reinforces a lot of the Australian values around equality*, and treatment of others.

From this time forward
I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.

Note: Australia still has work to do: same-sex marriage is still not legal in Australia though it is supported by a large majority of Australians.

9. What’s the difference between permanent residency and citizenship

Citizenship is the state of being a citizen, while having permanent residency means your status as a resident in Australia is now permanent. I hope that clears it up.

10. How does one get Australian citizenship?

There’s got to be a good joke in here somewhere, filled with Aussie stereotypes, similar to the Alaskan joke with the punchline, “Now where’s that Eskimo woman I’ve got to kill?”

11. Was it hard for you to get Aussie citizenship, because of, well, you know….?

Depends on what you are talking about. Potential answers include:
– No, they don’t check down there.
– That has been expunged from the public record but not from the drapes.
– I can hold my breath longer than you might imagine.
– I was young, impressionable, and didn’t know there was a cartoon artist in the room.
– Yes.

Getting permanent residency, my transplant history did cause some extra work. The only hurdle in citizenship that I faced was that I hadn’t spent enough time in the country. You must be in the country more than 75% of the last year and 75% of the last four years. In 2015, I was well over the limit of unexcused absences. The only loophole to skip this rule is if you’re a CEO of a publicly traded company. I checked with my boss if we could swap places. He said no. So I had to wait another year.

12. Anything else you’d like to add.

Oi, oi, oi!

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I’m not sure I’ve ever looked so proud of myself

Around the World in 60 hours

In late November and early December, I did my first around-the-world trip, Australia-Poland-US-Australia. Two weeks, 7 flights, 60 hours of travel time.

Simple outcome: I learned a decent amount about others and myself.

Gdansk, Poland

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Snow! Made the whole trip worthwhile. Walking on the frozen ground to work in the morning, even the graffiti seemed to fit into the snowscape. 

I’ve been to Gdansk, Poland four times now. Three flights to get there, about 34.5 hours from leaving Manly Beach to arriving at the corporate apartment. This was by far the best trip, although I didn’t see Malbork Castle, or even visit Old Town once. I simply focused on the purpose of my trip. I knew the grocery store well enough to buy the right foods, and every morning, a prison-cell workout (confined space), two breakfasts, and I was ready to start the day. As long as I wasn’t at work, if my body said “I want to sleep,” I slept. No attempt to adjust to time zone, just let it happen.

I constantly fill my time with too much. On this visit, I said “No” more than “Yes”, and ended up healthier and happier. Go figure.

Time with family

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I really love my family. Seriously – ignore the facial expression.  And Mom was actually awake at dinner. Promise.

Thanks to the Lufthansa strike, there was a small ripple of early morning chaos, but the airlines and one of my co-workers had smoothed everything out. I visited Copenhagen for the first time, but only to go from one gate to another in the airport.

Landing in DC, I spent the weekend in Stafford, Virginia, with the largest collection of my immediate family. My sister’s family and my mom both live there, and two of my nephews returned for the weekend. Every single minute there is great: helping Mom grocery shop, walk in a nearby park with my sister, a dinner out.

While home is Australia, where my sister lives will always be a place that’s special to me.

San Francisco

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Power to the people. Her sweatshirt reads “Health Care not Warfare.”

Desperately seeking difference

I’ve always worried that in a different time, I would have let tyranny happen, or even worse. I’ve never been drawn to protest or to activism. What would it take to get me out of work, off the bike, out of the pool, and into the streets. Well, it turns out, Trump.

There had been protests in SF, and I was hoping I could join in while I was in SF. Honestly, I am probably not politically aligned with most of the folks who would be in an SF protest, but part of what I wanted to do was expose myself (ahem) to people with different thoughts, different opinions, and actually listen. I’ve been barking for years about how neither side of the fence actively listens to the other (I know from experience, having been someone for years who could only absorb arguments that agreed with me). Selection bias is alive and possibly more powerful than ever.

Alas, no protests were scheduled (turns out there is an online schedule for political activism!) But there was a meeting of the Progressive Democrats of America on “the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) in a post-Trump era.” The TPP is a big deal to Australia, so I thought I could get educated and listen to people who I would never encounter on a daily basis.

After dinner, I slipped a gray wool jumper over my “I voted for Gary Johnson” t-shirt, and entered the Fireside Room at the Unitarian Church.

Progressive Democrats of America

My first thought was that I had stepped into a cabin in North Dakota. About 30 people in total, and I was the second youngest person in the room. Equally balanced between men and women, the audience was mostly white. Not a single button down shirt in view. Doing the math, I realized most of this group were teenagers in the 70s, so they were not the 60s hippies but certainly had a memory of the Vietnam War that I do not.
A few items of business passed slowly: Bernie’s influence and getting pervasive agenda items in the national forum, the 60th anniversary of the human rights declaration in 1948, passing around some stickers, and collecting about 10 signatures for a letter to Pelosi. I wondered what the punishment was if they found out a libertarian was in their midst? Stoning? Tattooing? Forcing him to surrender his property to the state? Mind, open back up.
 My first spark of interest came around a mention of driving corporate money out of elections (a big hot button for me – New Zealand’s limits on campaign contributions are much more sensical). I shared the same passion with everyone in the room for reducing corporate influence on elections.
Then the talk on the TPP began. ‘International Law’ has always seemed ridiculous to me, and international partnerships without an enforcement arm has always puzzled me. The three speakers had a very anti-trade partnership perspective – primarily that trade partnership agreements are a way to create, in a non-transparent fashion, agreements that can overrule existing environmental, labor, and other regulations, or force congress hand to adopt the agreements, then becoming enforceable laws (i.e “policy laundering”). I won’t get into the details, but it was fascinating. The time was already well spent to hear the other side of a story that the Australian press largely treated as “TPP good for Australia.”
My favorite aside of the three talks, was when one speaker described the coming Trump Administration as “The most corrupt oligarchical administration in history. A cabinet of billionaires. Prepare for the selling off of our country to the highest bidder.” I’d have to agree with what I’ve seen so far.
I certainly heard opinions that don’t even make it into the mainstream media:
  • “Don’t use Google” (because of their support of the mainstream Democratic party, I think). Sorry, still going to Google stuff.
  • “Trumps victory was a movement victory, not a campaign victory.” Groups of people do take independent action, that campaigns cannot withstand.
  • “Boycott Wells Fargo” – as it’s backing the Dakota pipeline project. I don’t know if I’ll cancel my account today, but I will register my opinion with my bank and make sure they understand it makes them a less desirable option.
  • The Digital millennium copyright act failed in Congress, but similar agreements were then snuck into trade agreements, meaning our democratic process is being circumvented.
My favorite speaker was Ernesto Balcon, a member of the EFF. Since Mitch Kapor was the chairman of the company I started, and John Perry Barlow spoke at one of my Stanford classes, I knew a bit about the EFF, and have always held it in the highest regard. Ernesto only reinforced my opinion of the EFF.

Non partisan partisans

The best part about this group was that while their focus was politics, they were not political.”This is about the issues, not about what party you belong to.” That while they identified as a group with a specific set of beliefs, that they were open to others and wanted them to join their causes, not necessarily their party. “We share a lot of ideology with  Libertarians.” I wanted to rip off my jumper and out myself right there, but I held back. It could be a trap.
All in all, the PDA session (ahem) delivered – I heard new thoughts, I heard opinions I disagreed with but I listened and understood why we differed. Many times we wanted the same thing, but believed in a different way to get there.
I need to find other outlets to make sure I keep hearing opinions that are different from my own, and even from the mainstream lines we get fed from conservative and liberal news media alike.

Arriving Home

I arrived home better than I left – an unusual event, and even more surprising given that I didn’t stay in a single time zone longer than six full days, and that I had circumnavigated the earth.

Looking back on the trip – there’s a lot of goodness. I accepted my own limits. I listened to others to try to expand my world view. I focused on my responsibilities. I ate a lot of greek yogurt.

BJR and NVB in NZ

In August of 1997, I was done working for a morally bankrupt company (Trilogy) and planned to start Reactivity with John and Brian in January of the next year.

So I took two months off, and with my girlfriend at the time (who later graduated to ex-wife), we cycled for two months around New Zealand.

Wow, this is a really positive sounding start to a blog.

On October 28th, 2016, I returned to New Zealand for the first time – and had to relearn its magic all over again. With a great friend in tow (Nick, hereon referred to as NVB), the South Island of New Zealand once again submerged me in a dream I didn’t want to leave.

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Welcome back

I often have major packing failures. As the plane descended, the JetStar (can’t believe I agreed to fly JetStar) pilot announced that it was 7 degrees C outside. At this point, I’m wearing a t-shirt, and realizing the one thing I did not pack was a jacket (this after reminding NVB that “it’s going to be cold, Singapore boy. Dress appropriately.”) Dropping $$$ at Kathmandu with 5 minutes left to spare before the store closed changed that (and helped me realize that Kathmandu has an h – who knew?) and I was outfitted for the trek.

I’ve packed Patrick White’s Tree of Man for this trip. It’s a beast to carry, and the first few pages are dense. This book might be more painful than the hike.

Hitchhiker

I haven’t hitchhiked since I was in my 20s, and I haven’t picked up a hitchhiker in a long, LONG time (maybe also in my 20s). As Nick and I left Queenstown, we passed a hitchhiker, and I mentioned that if there’s a place to pick one up, between Q-town and Te Anau is probably the safest place on earth. Around the next corner, we picked up a 20-something French girl with a Russian name who managed to talk almost non-stop for the next 3 hours, which helped the drive go faster. I am always a bit mystified by people who just travel – she had been on the road for a couple of years, stopping, working, traveling, stopping, working, traveling. I think I need to at least pretend there’s a higher purpose in life, or be very explicit that I have no illusions and I’ve just given up.

The highlight of the conversation was NVB asking her to tell us which nationalities were the best and which were the worst. Apparently Turkish people are stellar!

Kepler Track

Day 1 – Ascent into Luxmore!

We hit the trail after Noon, expecting it would be a late arriving into the Luxmore hut. Each day was about a 15-16k hike, with a little more than half of this day being ascending into the mountains. It has been a while since I carried a pack, but my legs felt great, and I like to move at a quick pace, the cool air helping keep the pace high. We made it into camp earlier than I expected. The huts of NZ tracks are seriously posh – mattresses! And gas stoves! And running water you can drink! While you are staying inside a bunk room with up to 20 other people, the huts make it a lot easier than tent camping.

The views from the hut are breathtaking – partially because the air was cold, but mostly because you don’t have to see another human being for ever looking 360 degrees from the hut. Just mountains, lakes, green. My mind wanders forward to a time when I can travel for months, to not see another human for days, or maybe even weeks.

Peter the Ranger gave us a safety talk with a few hijinks like pulling a dead stoat out of his pocket and pretending it bit him. Peter’s humor delivery doesn’t change tone for punch lines, and his white out-of-control beard masks any facial expressions.

NVB did incredibly well today, and he’s possibly the best travel companion I’ve ever had. Talkative, quiet at the right times, easy-going, and clear about what he wants. This trip was a good choice.

Day 2 – The best of days, the worst of days

The first half of this day was the best section of the entire trip.

The second half was the worst.

We left Luxmore hut to check out the limestone caves just a few minutes from the hut. Inside the cave, my headlamp wasn’t helping at all. Too dark, too slippery, too dangerous. Then I realized we were still wearing sunglasses. Taking those off helped.

The path climbed further, close to the peak of Mt. Luxmore, where we dropped packs and scrambled up to the summit. I decided to run to the top, which was a bad idea. I’d need that energy for later.

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At our lunch stop we met a Dutch chick who was crushing a couple of Canucks – she was hardly breathing while they struggled to get up the last few feet to the “lunch table” outside an emergency shelter. The PB&honey sandwiches were golden.

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We walked along ridges that dropped off sharply on either side, feeling like we were skirting the spine of the world. I couldn’t imagine a better day.

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And then the trail began to descend.

Within two hours, we had run out of food and water. NVB had broken his right kneecap, and I was losing a lot of blood. I fought off the dizziness and the desire to just lie down and sleep. We could hear the stoats around us, smelling death. Our compass and the terrain contradicted the map at every step, and we knew we were lost. We had no shelter, and the rain was turning into sleet. We were frozen one moment, and burning the next. The trail was jagged, and another misstep could end us. I knew everything depended on the next 15 minutes, and I didn’t think both of us could make it. It was then that I knew, I would have to kill NVB and eat him to survive. I’d start with the shoulder.

No, no, no. It wasn’t that bad. But the trail dropped sharply, and descending has always hurt me – the impact of the pack proved I haven’t kept in the shape I need to be, and my feet and ITBs were taking a beating. It went on forever, and I could tell NVB was hurting. The next three hours seemed like six.

By the time we reached the Iris Burn hut, NVB was near delirious, and was sick with a virus.

That night the Ranger (Robbie) explained to the hut that we could either pack our trash our or he could kill us in our sleep. Or maybe not come pack to the park, I forget which. But this Ranger should be made Warden, it’s more fitting. Rose, the other ranger smiled mutely. I’m betting she’s the one that will choke us out if Robbie says the word.

That night, the kiwi birds mating calls echoed on the lake. Get a room.

Day 3 – Turning the corner

We started the day with a walk to a nearby waterfall – a spectacular waterfall in every other country in the world, but simply par for the course for the South Island. Amazing.

Most people headed all the way out on day 3 – covering over 30K. I know in my heart I could have done it, but it would have been brutal (and we would have had to start a lot earlier). So our pace was fine with me.

The train followed a beautiful forecast rolling path along river, crossing wooden and metal bridges.

A couple hundred Stoat and rat traps flourish through the entire route, though all are empty. I knocked on each one to see if anyone was home. Since the traps have not been as effective as hoped , a “1080 campaign” (dropping poison pellets from the sky) to rid the wilderness of non-native predators brought over by the POMs – species which have extinguished 50+ species of flightless birds and are threatening more.

Along the path, NVB and told stories of relationships, of hitting bottom, in redemption. NVB’s cold worsened. At this point I didn’t realize how bad it is. NVB is a tough SOB. He kept moving, step after step, without complaint.

Near the end, a derelict boat along the shore of Lake Manupouri welcomed us in advance of the hut.

I jumped in the lake for a swim to clean up, and made it five strokes before I realized the water was so cold I could barely inhale.

Day 4 – Exit

Our final day had minimal rolling and was mostly flat. My ITB was bad from the start, but it was only one day left!

As we entered a clear, a wooden platform extended to a broad, expansive field. I felt I was at the podium, addressing a vast crowd rallied in the meadow. I pictured my armies of stouts, 100s of 1000s strong, ready to dine on the fowl of the land. “Stoats! Today is our day! Today we take revenge on our oppressors! They have trapped our brothers by the hundreds! They have rained poison from the sky upon us! Join me, and today we have our revenge. Tonight, we dine in hell! Or maybe around a nice fire.”

NVB and I were wondering if the US Presidential election was today (it was a week later). Seems like we should have known that. “First Tuesday” sounds right, but we’re not sure. World Series? (Nick is a big fan of The Tribe).

The path was beautiful – and as a bonus, there were 2 rats in traps!!

Hours later, I’d had enough walking. And we were done.

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Milford and beyond

On the drive up to Milford from Te Anau, I started to feel a scratch in my throat. I thought positive thoughts, hoping I wouldn’t get ill.

On the drive up to Milford, I passed the bus shelter where we had stored our bikes. It looked exactly as I remembered and pictured it. in 1998, we had to hide our bikes behind the shelter since it was snowing and our hands couldn’t hold on to the brakes anymore. Memories keep coming back.

I got rid of all the photos from my 1998 New Zealand trip long ago – in fact probably burned some at some point in a misguided attempt at catharsis. But despite two-decade-old memories that foretold betrayal and loss, New Zealand is a special place that can’t be tarnished.

New Zealand, I will be back!

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We are responsible for Trump

A friend who attended Landmark shared a view on life that I’ve tried to adopt – You are 100% responsible for every relationship you have been in. That doesn’t mean the other person has 0% responsibility, but your approach to relationships is much better if you don’t look to blame the other person, and always look for how you can improve and learn what you can do better.

I fail miserably at this. I try, but fail again. But I digress.

When we are flabbergasted that Trump made it through the Republican debates, then are shocked that he survived the nomination, then are panicked that he came through the convention, and are beyond our wits that he is still a legitimate contender for the US Presidency, they we’ve failed to understand our own part in the absolute tragedy that is the decline of our political system in the U.S.

I say “we”, that while despite being a Republican in high school, and from then on a registered libertarian, I include myself as equally guilty in this mess despite backing Gary Johnson for President in 2016.

A while back I wrote about my own journey from being homophobic to having my eyes and heart opened. And that I wanted to tell my story, because I feel like so many of my friends pretend as if they didn’t have the same views (or at least acted as if they did) when they were young. And in first understanding that there are plenty of good, well-meaning people who are simply ignorant –  and then in reaching out, and we change our approach to bridging the gap, we can help other people make the journey from ignorance to acceptance.

So what does this have to do with Trump, and the continued growth of what appears to be a more and more frightening part of American (and global) politics?

Enter the Daily Show. Now, I’ll admit I was a fan. In the year or so before Jon Stewart left the show, he appeared on CrossFire, accusing the hosts of being the problem with American politics, that they are polarizing the country. He was right – the polarization of our country that surfaced and was then accelerated with the Gore Vidal – William F. Buckley debates (though even the documentary around this over-polarizes the event) And yet Jon hid behind the shield of being a comedian, and held himself blameless – yet his reach and impact, among people I know, was far greater than CrossFire.

We have become numb to the polarization and expect it – and so know, when we hear, for the 10th presidential election in a row, that the candidate is dangerous, many people have stopped listening because the hand was over-played again and again by both sides.

From the Daily Show came its offspring, the Colbert Show. I did enjoy it, though maybe less than the early Daily Show.

And now 10-20 other “political comedy” shows exist, that pedal in ridicule. We even have a few here in Australia, where “news” comes across in light-hearted verbal slapstick – and dammit, these people are clever. Brilliant writers, comedians, talented folks.

Over the last 10 years, we began to laugh harder and louder at people who did not share our views.

This last weekend, I showed a “Triumph the Insult Comic” video to Aussie friends of mine. The video lets us inside a focus group of Trump supporters, who have been told they’ve been recruited to provide feedback to the Trump campaign on some potential Trump ads. These people were not selected from the most intelligent cross-section of our nation. Some of these people both lack basic intelligence and some have no moral compass whatsoever. The bits that follow are hysterical, and the first time I watched it, I found myself crying – I was laughing so hard.

But it’s actually not funny. It’s a tragedy, and by sitting back, and mocking the opposition, we give them no chance to learn, no change to hear rational, empathetic arguments. Would they all listen to our arguments? Certainly not. But would a few? Would it shift the conversation from mockery to potentially helping people see the truth? I’m willing to risk it.

The Daily Show interviewed Trump supporters at a rally. Queue the laugh track. The point of the segment was absolutely right – there is an absolute hypocrisy within the rhetoric and the beliefs of his supporters. But this section only served as an opiate for the converted – to laugh at the ignorance and enjoy dinner as we laugh as those we consider less intelligent, less rational or open-minded.

From someone who is open about being an elitist with little remorse, that last paragraph might come as a bit of a shock.

Our laughs may not last that long if we’re not careful.

While most people who know my political views (again, largely libertarian) know that I am not President Obama’s biggest fan, his response on gun control at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana is the example I want to follow. Despite an aggressive and inaccurate question, his answer showed absolute respect for the person asking the question – because this was his chance to make his point, to possibly change one opinion and the opinions of everyone else around. I wish him luck.

It’s time to take the high road and invite others to walk on it with us – which means being humble, listening patiently to attitudes that you do not agree with, and the firmly expressing your own opinion and why you believe it is so important. And often times, we will have to get much louder and even fight for what is right.

It is easier for me and all of us to hide inside of universities and the professional class. It is easy to only have people of like mind over for dinner. It is easy to treat the waitress as a human shopping card where your transaction is only about your credit card and splitting it several ways. It’s much harder to take a risk and try to connect to someone who might express an opinion that you loathe, and try to find a way to listen, understand, and then assert yourself.

Am I a good example? Absolutely not. I live in a WASPy beach neighborhood with ridiculous rents and surround myself with friends who support me. While I grew up in what might be described as “the top of the lower class,” and exited high school more in the middle class, I am now an adult of privilege.

Have I been a political activist who has done my part to change the world? Absolutely not. I am a libertarian philosophically who deep down inside simply never wants to be responsible for the disasters of American politics over the span of my life on both sides of the political fence.

But it’s time for me to be more vocal – even though I know a lot of my friends and family won’t like my ideas. But I promise to listen as much as I talk.

I understand the motivations of many people who support Trump and why those feelings exist: It’s hard to make a case that politicians have improved the lives of the majority of the people in the US (and around the world). People are willing to try anything. Sadly they are willing to throw a hand grenade into a classroom and hope that somehow in the aftermath, a better educational system will emerge. We need to help them understand that it’s a hand grenade and not a paper airplane that might miss it’s target. It’s a dangerous game where everyone is going to get hurt.

Time and time again, when we don’t find a way to build a bridge to the other side, the other side builds a guillotine, or a rocket, or something worse.

Note: I really wanted to end the last paragraph with “like Jeans Shorts”, but that would undermine the entire point of this article in not ridiculing others.

A decade of triathlon

A decade of triathlon

Heading to airport 2

A farewell to triathlon

1o years ago, my first triathlon was the Armadillo Triathon in Austin, TX. I was wide eyed and unaware of what the sport was all about, but it was yet another step in gaining confidence after my kidney transplant that I was no longer “sick,” and no longer needed to think of myself as a patient. I expected it would be both my first and my last triathlon (“triathletes are nut cases”), but during the run along a trail snaking through the woods, I ran side by side with another athlete, as we watched the sun track along the cliffs of Lake Travis. We didn’t talk much, but at one point, he stated the simple truth, “Not a bad way to spend a morning.”

On Sunday I finished my last triathlon, Ironman Cairns. While I will do the Sprint in the Australian transplant games in September in Sydney, I consider Cairns my final race as a triathlete. It’s been a great decade, and I’m fortunate every day for the gift that my cousin gave me that let me experience all the things I never would have experienced.

Ironman Cairns

Cairns has a reputation for being a randomly challenging course – the weather can make the course a straightforward affair, or it can great you with demonic waves, baking heat, pouring rain, and oppressive humidity. On Sunday, we leaned towards the demonic – high waves bad enough for them to cancel the swim leg shortly after I finished, high winds on the bike course (with 2/3rds of the course against the wind), and a humid run. But the rain in the morning and the cloud cover kept the race course mostly cool until mid-afternoon, so we avoided baking in the sweatbox of tropical Queensland.

The Swim

I had been swimming only twice in the previous two months. That’s 10 times less than what my usual training plan would required. I would be swimming entirely on technique, with very little muscle to back it up. The winds were high and the swell was big. With 450 Japanese competitors, who often have very little ocean swimming background, it was going to be a tough day for many.

At the half way point in the first lap, I cornered around the buoy and had to laugh. I felt like I was done physically, but still had 75% of the swim, or about 2.7 km, to go. I was cooking in my wetsuit (just too thick for 25 degree C water). But, you put your head down, and celebrate every buoy you pass. That’s one less buoy. Bye bye buoy.

Apparently, shortly after I exited the water, they told all swimmers to head straight for shore. They had already pulled 40 swimmers out of the water in distress, including one man who was unconscious, who sadly passed away several days later.

It makes you pause to appreciate your health, and know that nothing should be taken for granted.

The Bike of Discomfort

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The Cairns bike course on a sunny day. Our day was not sunny…

My bike performed beautifully. Aaron Dunsford from Fusion Peak studios had done a great job with a fit and some repairs, and I didn’t have a single issue with the bike.

My tri kit (the cycling knicks and tank top you wear in a triathlon) failed miserably. I like to wear the club kit, but in this race it simply couldn’t hold up. I was uncomfortable the last five hours of the race. I had tried to get a new kit, but that’s a frustrating story that isn’t worth retelling. The kit was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stay in aero during the return to Cairns in the high winds.

On the bike course I was impressed by the lack of drafting – usually on a windy day, many triathletes begin to shrink the draft zone: from 7 bike lengths to 3 and then even zero.

The Walkathon

I didn’t walk in my first Ironman, and I only walked in Busselton when I starting weaving from dehydration. In Cairns, I probably walked a total of 3-4K of the 42.2K when you add up the aid stations (walked every one) and a handful of moments where I mentally gave into fatigue. The last lap, which I thought would be the hardest, I just told myself that walking wasn’t on the program.

The Finish

The finishing chute appeared, and soon I was done. Pete Jacobs (winner of Ironman World Championships in Kona in 2012) who is from the Northern Beaches in Sydney and loosely associated with the Warringah triathlon club, was there at the finish line and gave me my finisher’s medal, which was a cool way to finish. Pete had just placed third among the pros that day. Here’s to Pete having another win this year in Kona!

90 minutes slower

There are no excuses for my performance in Ironman Cairns. I’m proud of the fundraising I’ve done for Room to Read Cambodia. But there are simple facts: I am not in “Ironman shape”, and I knew it coming into the race. Work, travel, illness, work, life, and work have all wiped out the free hours that I used to squeeze training into a two dimensional life. I saw the rewards of training in my 2nd Ironman (in Busselton in 2014), and I saw the rewards of minimal training in Cairns!

Yes, the course that Sunday was tough. The conditions might have added 15 minutes to my time, but the 90 minute difference between Sunday and my last Ironman was simply a lack of training.

I have trained – I’ve done weekend rides and runs. Swimming, not so much. A consistent training schedule? Nope. Even Strava’s fitness calculator (based on your heart rate and power output) concluded that I’m not fit. Thanks, Strava.

This could sound like an excuse or even complaining or disappointment – it’s none of those things. I had an amazing day in Cairns, and will remember that day as one of the best of my life. This is is simply what I learned in my first Ironman: if you put in the work, you get the results. If you don’t put in the work, and aren’t genetically gifted, then don’t expect miracles.

10 great years

And of course, without my cousin Diane, who gave me the gift of life through a kidney transplant on December 21, 2004, not a single step of this would have been possible. Thanks, cousin.

 

$109,000 raised for Room to Read Cambodia

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Thank you!!

I couldn’t start any other way than to say thanks to everyone who donated. Your generosity and support of Room to Read Cambodia means an incredible amount to me, and I appreciate not only the donations but those of you who checked in and asked how fundraising was going, how training was going, and who showed real interest in this cause.

Thanks to Room to Read Australia, especially Chantal Lewis, who once again helped get the donation site set up, and encouraging me along the way!

Thanks to Kall Kann, the Director of Room to Read Cambodia, for continually helping me connect to the reasons behind the fundraising – the chance to make a life changing difference not just for a set of kids, but for communities, and the change to affect an entire country.

The Impact

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  • 781 million people in the world today are still illiterate.
  • With $109,000 dollars, Room to Read Cambodia could do any of the following:
    • create 22 libraries from existing structures
    • send almost 400 girls to school for an entire year
    • buy tens of thousands of books written in Khmer specifically for Cambodian kids and published by Room to Read

The Donations

If you look on the donation website, you’ll see a total of around $53,000 raised, which is missing a lot of the matching donations.  The real breakdown is:

  • Individual donations of $34,732
  • I matched the first $25,000 of that
  • With Room to Read matching all donations in December and June, it added another $49,885
  • For a total of $109,617

The Donors

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Chek-Chek is really impressed with every one of the donors

  • There were 66 donations from 62 unique donors, with 4 donors who donated more than once!
  • The median donation was $126 – an amazingly generous bunch!
  • 23 donations came from people who I met through Atlassian, 10 donations came from my triathlon club, 9 came from my family, 6 from friends from university, and 5 from my co-workers who I worked with at MessageOne back in 2005-8.
  • The top 10 donors contributed over $26,000 of the total donated. I am lucky to have friends whose generosity seems to know few limits.

And, of course, this…

Each month or so of the campaign, I gave away a prize – one month I created a video singing the praises of the lucky winner. Another month I let the winner pick my hair color, and well, the family who won, picked blue. So I’ll be hearing Smurf cat-calls for the next two months…

BJR with blue hair

Soon I’ll give away the round trip from the US to Australia for one lucky donor, and a silver bangle from Nic Marshall Jewelers in Sydney.

And a prize is still to be fulfilled – I still have to busk (think “street performance” or selling something) in Martin Place, the plaza just outside of my work, for 15 minutes.

Ironman Cairns

I’ll cover the race in another blog post – I was incredibly undertrained for the event, but with what everyone had donated, there was no way I would even consider skipping out on the race!

Thanks again to every single one of you who donated.