An Experiment In Scotch

I write to discover what I believe

What Will It Take

What does one do about gun violence in America? What does one do? As Dr. Brian Williams says in the production of Babel, if 20 dead white kids in Sandy Hook can’t rally America and her Congress to do even the simplest of things like a universal background check which 90% (read that again, NINETY PERCENT) of Americans supports, what can happen to foster change?

This speaks to a more fundamental problem with America today, this disconnect between her citizens and her elected leaders. This is an idea that 9 in 10 Americans supports including 70% of NRA members yet when legislation comes up after Sandy Hook to implement universal background checks before purchasing a gun, it gets voted down in the Senate. What can we possibly hope to achieve or change when 20 white kids get shot at their school and nothing changes?

Fundamentally, I think this underlying issue is why both Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 were elected, each by their own movements but for a core reason: the American people want something to change. They may not know what that is but they know what we have is no longer working. And so they elected a young, African American Senator in 2008 hoping for change. Contrary to the Democratic elite’s public line, they got very little. So another faction in America took control and elected a total outsider to the process, someone who ran as a populist but that has turned out to be an authoritarian crazy person. Change doesn’t particularly seem forthcoming in this administration either. The oligarchs remain fully entrenched. So at what point do the American people, badly underserved by the financialized political system that has evolved out of Wall Street and Citizens United, decide to do something even more radical than Trump?

In the comforts of our homes with our big screen TVs purchased on credit, we largely remain distracted, too distracted to actually do anything. It seems crazy to think of a revolution in this country, a real revolution, but revolutions have happened in countries like ours in the past and the comfortable in those countries never saw it coming.

I don’t have any real answers. I feel compelled in many ways to try to impart change but my day to day life is so overwhelming that I can’t even imagine when to contribute time to a cause. I can only assume it is worse for people in worse situations then I am so when change comes, it seems likely to originate from places and people so bad off that they don’t even operate in the normal channels of change in America. And maybe those channels only exist in the minds of idealists and academics anyway.

When we can’t get a protection or a law voted on in Congress that 90% of Americans support yet every day laws are written by our elected leaders that no one has read except the lobbyists that crafted them, it just seems like we’re ripe for a different kind of change to sweep the land, a stronger, more violent change riding on a wind of oppression and apathy, a change that stops being civilized and starts being a great deal more animalistic. Perhaps we are too distracted by our lives of convenience but societies rise and fall throughout history so there is nothing special saying it couldn’t happen here.

As of February of this year, there have been 63 school shootings as defined conservatively by Time using’s data on school shootings. 63 times some idiot or deranged person has walked onto a school campus and shot people. Yet nothing changes. Today, we send our kids to schools across the land and squash those insidious fears in the back of our head that today, it could be our school that it happens to. Maybe the thought of the event is just so alien and horrifying, that the part of our brain that might rationally act to foster change can’t function. Maybe our lives, like mine, are so worn down by the day to day demands that we can’t even be brought to write a letter to an elected representative. Maybe the problem is so broad and so complex that we don’t know where to even start. But it strikes me as problematic that our kids are being killed by weapons of war in places they should be most safe and we are doing nothing about it.

Why can’t we institute universal background checks? I guess it’s because the people who could demand it are so overwhelmed or apathetic or desensitized to events in the world and can’t be bothered to do the hard work of forcing our leaders to implement our collective will. But it’s even more fundamental to that. Our elected leaders know that when these horrific events happen, they are seemingly random anomalies that in our 24 hour news cycle will grab headlines one day and disappear from the collective conscious the next. There is no pressure, no constant throbbing pressure to change because all we do is move to the next link on a web page. Until it happens that enough people stay engaged for long enough to convince the idiots we elect to actually do something, the status quo remains. Only at Presidential election time does the populace seem sufficiently organized and focused to do something crazy. I can’t imagine what it will take in America to actually make a difference at a national level. Ironically, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stand it when it does happen.

On Reading Deprivation

For years now, approximately 4 at least, I have been trying half and quarter heartedly to work through The Artist’s Way. Just this year, I have tried three times to complete the course, never making it past the third week (which is about the time that all habits, good and bad, die on the vine). But finally after the beach trip and somewhat seriously into a Whole 30 experiment, I have managed, for the first time ever, to make it past week 3 and into week 4. Leaving aside the fact that I skipped week 1 entirely this time, it feels good to charter new territory.

However, that territory comes with the hardest task yet. It’s called Reading Deprivation and like its evil twin cousin Donut Deprivation, it leaves a mark on the soul and the tongue. Reading Deprivation is exactly that: other than the chapter in the book and the tasks for week 4, the initiate on the Artist’s Way is not allowed to read things. Like books or blog posts or Twitter or even watch TV. For a person that has of late been both very active in the book world and the Twitter world, the effect is quite jarring. One quote from the book goes like this:

The nasty bottom line is this: sooner or later, if you are not reading, you will run out of work and be forced to play. You’ll light some incense or put on an old jazz record or paint a shelf turquoise, and then you will feel not just better but actually a little excited. Don’t read. If you can’t think of anything else to do, cha-cha.

The idea obviously being that if you can’t distract yourself with reading (the book, written in 1992, predates the literary addictiveness of Twitter and Facebook but it alludes to our narcissistic self-absorbed world when it talks about the banality of TV), you’ll eventually produce something. I am on day three of this nefarious, likely Russian based, form of torture and it has been somewhat eye opening. Previously, if I gave up social media, I still read books or magazines or whatever. But with this, nothing is easy. Nothing comes to hand to distract. If I had a shelf to paint turquoise, I would have done so. If I was a bachelor, I would have built a table in the garage or would be playing my sax. Part of the problem of having a two year old is having to be somewhat quiet once they go to bed.

On the upside, unlike Donut Deprivation, it’s actually quite pleasurable to replace reading with something productive like coding or writing exercises or pushups. Today on the train, I listened to Dexter Gordon’s Take The A Train. And by listen, I mean really listen, to the tone of the sax, to the bass solos, to everything. I experienced the record as if I was sitting in the Jazzhus Montmarte on that night in 1967 when Gordon took the stage and welcomed the audience as an integral part of the proceedings.

At church on Sunday, Dr. Magruder talked about reading the Scripture from a sense of place, of context, an idea that stems from Wittgenstein and Derrida and the Structuralists in many ways. With Decartes, there was an idea of a single moment being useful and telling. Cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. As if this single moment could be of use to us in our understanding of ourselves, our reality, our world. But in truth, only in the context of all the other events that lead up to this moment can we really understand the now and its meaning. It’s important to think about these things and examine them, not just as we read Scripture, but in everything else because without that context, we tend to be lost in ego, in selfishness and in pettiness. The context of our history brings, or should bring, humility to our understanding of ourselves and of our present moment. The context of this contingency, the fact that an infinite number of events had to happen in a particular order to allow us to arrive at our present moves our attention from inner to outer. Matthew Crawford’s excellent book The World Beyond Your Head examines this idea in wonderful detail. The answer to happiness comes not in better understanding our jumbled up inner lives, it comes from moving our attention to the intersection with our noumenal inner world and the phenomenal empirical world.

Reading deprivation does something similar in that it causes me to be focused clearly and without distraction on a single thing and with that focus comes the context of the event in my imagination. Reading deprivation allows (forces?) me to explore other avenues of time consumption and does so in a way that the time is spent actively and not passively. In those moments when I would have reached, metaphorically, for Twitter, I now have to either spend it pointlessly thinking about things in my head or doing something productive.

Which is not to say reading doesn’t have its place. I’m already looking forward to next Tuesday when I can continue to read Metaphysics as a Guide To Morals. As much as I enjoyed Gordon’s saxophone today, there is something about reading a difficult book that is pleasurable and challenging. But for now, and the next four days, I’ll have to continue to find other ways to stay entertained. If nothings else, I always have the cha-cha. I should probably pull the drapes closed first though.

On Free Lemon Bundt Cake

First, a little history. The house across the street has sat empty for approximately twelve months, perhaps fifteen. An old man and his second wife built it in the 1960s. Last year in the winter, the old man died after a long illness. Oddly, the woman and her adult daughter who had been living there abruptly moved out. We discovered from the daughter, named Princess, that as it turns out, the old man was something of a scoundrel and had taken out a second mortgage without telling his wife. Further, they had little equity left in it and suddenly the clan of the old man, quite uninterested in his well-being in life, showed back up in death to contest the house.

And so it sat, a small house, around 1700 square feet all summer and fall and winter again until spring. Still it sits there actually, in the name of the estate of Mr so and so. However, I now have a mobile near two year old who I once took across the street to race cars in the drive way and who then assumed we would go over there every day to do the same as well as climb on the higher steps and bang on the door that no one ever answers.

Today, we wandered across the street, me holding Wobbles hand according to our rules and our custom. She immediately ran up the steps and I noticed there amongst the flyers that fall off the door and accumulate on the porch, a red package. Odd, I thought, a package on the door step of an empty house left weatherized and sullen through a Dallas summer and a Dallas winter. Wobbles ran up and down the steps a few times before noticing the package which she then picked up. Curiosity got the best of me and I mounted the steps to find out what misguided company had placed a package on a porch that had seen no steps in over twelve months. I thought perhaps that it was wrongly delivered and being somewhat human, I assumed I could find its rightful owner.

The package was from The Swiss Colony which is not some pacifist terrorist organization as one might expect but instead a company in Wisconsin that sells a variety of baked goods, meats and cheeses, nuts and snacks, all through the convenience of mail order catalogs. It’s like Schwann’s but without the trucks driving around the neighborhoods. Three of my four readers have no idea what I’m talking about when I say Schwann’s. That’s ok.

Anyway, so here is this red package from The Swiss Colony which I hold in my hands. The addressee is the very woman that was mistreated by the dead scoundrel which is somewhat surprising given her non-existence at this residence of over twelve months. The package has a big sticker on it saying PERISHABLE – REFRIGERATE AT ONCE 23 OZ LEMON BUNDT CAKE. Enquiring minds want to know who sends a perishable item to a house no one has lived in for over twelve months. Then I notice that on the label, the gifter is listed: We love you Mom, Anne and Kirk. We don’t apparently love you enough to remember twelve months later that you no longer live at this address but still. I made that last part up.

So immediately the imagination begins to run amok. I try to think of simple reasons why something so crazy might happen. Perhaps they have an account with The Swiss Colony, this loving daughter and son-in-law or son and daughter-in-law and they just forgot to update the fact that their mother no longer lives at this particular address before they sent the yearly birthday gift from The Swiss Colony. But seriously, who in this day has an account with The Swiss Colony besides landlocked and bored Midwesterners? Perhaps these people are exactly that.

Or maybe it’s a son and daughter-in-law and it’s always the son who doesn’t remember these things because he’s busy doing man things and can’t be bothered to remember even call much less remember where his mom lives. Just last week, she probably called him to nag that “you never call me” and he felt momentarily guilty and sent her a cake unironically to the wrong address.

Perhaps they are estranged and just got news through the telegram service that their father-in-law is dead and they are trying to snuggle up to the estate. Pardon the telegram service thing, been reading a lot of mid twentieth century Southern Lit lately. Probably not the answer.

Then things get darker. Maybe they’ve got some reason for sending a cake twelve months after their mom moved out of the house she never really owned. Maybe they have a beef with the sister who has constant access to Mom and they are trying to poison her. Or worse, give her diabetes. Maybe no one told them she had moved because the daughter, Princess, wants to cut them out of the will, leaving aside the fact there can’t be much will since the house was reverse mortgaged and they left when they didn’t have any equity in it. The nefarious possibilities seem endless.

In the end, I have no idea. But my thoughts then turn to the fact that I have a lemon bundt cake in my hands that, based on Wobbles and my trips across the street, has sat outside for up to two days. Still, I’m a human being and go inside to ask the wife if she has the contact information of Princess. She does and texts her asking if she wants this waylaid cake or even knows that it exists. A reply text says that they realized their mistake and sent another. Convenient cover story but my interests are now with the cake

So what exactly is the statute of limitations on a lemon bundt cake, one of my favorites, that has possibly sat on a forlorn porch for up to two days in the late spring heat of Dallas Texas? I put in the fridge and upon putting Wobbles to bed and eating left over Buca di Beppo, decide that the statue of limitations for something with as many preservatives as this cake must have in it is probably a week at least. I open the package and cut a generous slice. It is moist and tasty, exactly what I would expect from a mail order bundt cake. My aunt Jan Cook makes a far superior cake but then it would be surprising if she did not. Still, free cake makes the trip across the street with Wobbles completely justified.

The cake has gone back into the freezer, questions largely unanswered about Anne and Kirk. I wonder if they sit in their quiet Midwestern home tonight, believing they have delivered a fitting Mother’s Day gift to their wonderful mom. Or perhaps, they are in their car at the bottom of some lake and the murderer has sent the gift as an alibi, not realizing that by delivering it to an address no longer in use, he has doomed himself to discovery by the intrepid hero of this story, the detective who recovers from alcoholism to solve the case.

I probably shouldn’t be reading much more Eudora Welty.

All The Pretty Horsies

From time immemorial, I have struggled with procrastination. Here it is, the night before our first window is open and I am just sitting down to write All The Pretty Horsies. Not only that but for the last hour, I’ve been screwing around on Twitter and chatting with my boss’ boss about work and doing nothing related to actually writing this tome that takes hours of reading Past Performances and distilling them down to what I hope are semi-hilarious findings, none of which should be the basis for any bets you place on any horse.

And this year, nature conspired against me in sending a lung eating virus to infect everyone in the household and it is only through the wonder of my Wolverine-like immune system that I’m even able to function today. But enough about excuses, I suppose we should get down to the writing. This quote from last year’s entry should remain at the top of your mind as you read along:

One thing you should keep in mind at all times while reading the following is that I have almost no idea what I’m doing. You will forget this at your own peril. I know next to nothing about horse racing other than what I have gleaned from reading the Daily Racing Form over the past years and while that is likely infinitely more than you know, you should still not trust anything I say. As the evening wears on and the bourbon takes effect, I may become more witty or engaging or funny but at no time will I become a better judge of horse flesh. You have been warned. Horses are followed by odds as of this evening along with trainer and jockey.

If you are a patron of Darly Downs and not a random passerby caught in the glare of the following prose, you should also remember that it’s quite possible one or more of the horses below won’t make it into the Derby, either because of injury or the owner’s failure to pay the requisite fees. If you bet on a horse that doesn’t get in, it’s a donation. In 2015, Stanford was a pretty solid favorite and he got scratched on Wednesday after everyone put their money on him. A word of advice, don’t put all your money on one horse. But then, that goes exactly contrary to one School of Handicapping in another related document so what do I know.

We’ll start with the current favorites and move our way down the list. In the 7 or 8 years I’ve been running this pool, I have yet to write about all 20 likely entrants. In some years, this has caused me great despair like when Mine That Bird and Animal Kingdom won as 50-1 long shots. In other years, like 2016, it just meant I didn’t write about the horsie that came in second (Commanding Curve). I will try to write at least something about all horses but we’re already 500 words and 2 fingers of rum in without any words about horses.

Horses are listed by name then opening odds then trainer then jockey.

Justify 3-1 (Baffert/Mike Smith) – Sigh, I suppose we had to have a Baffert trained horse rise to the top some year but it’s been nice of late hearing less of him. This horse is fast. Really fast. Fastest of the year if you are going on the Beyer numbers in which he ran three triple digits this year including fastest of the year at 107 in his last win at Santa Anita. It’s Baffert so he knows how to win the Derby. Mike Smith is a good jockey though he hasn’t had much luck at the Derby, winning once in 2005. All of that means he should win right? Not so fast. The most damning evidence against this horse is that he wasn’t raced as a 2 year old. Racing a two year old? That sounds like child abuse. But in horse racing, it’s a heuristic that tells you how experienced a horse is. This horse is as green as the Jolly Green Giant. The Derby hasn’t been won by horse that didn’t race as a two year old since 1882. It’s called Apollo’s Curse. The data minded amongst you are mumbling about small data sets and maybe you’re right. But the real problem with unexperienced horses is that the Derby is like nothing man or horse has ever experienced. According to the DRF Derby Fan guide, it says this horse got distracted by commotion on the infield. There were 40K spectators then. At the Derby, there will be 160K all screaming and spilling their juleps and generally being obnoxious. Not to mention, the Derby has 20 horses in it. He’s going to get bumped and crashed into and have dirt kicked in his face a little probably. Maybe this horse has value at 6-1 or something but I just don’t see him being the one that breaks Apollo’s curse.

Mendelssohn 5-1 (Aidan P. O’Brien/Ryan Moore) This horse is a half brother to Justify, both sired by Scat Daddy. If you’re a bloodline bettor, that is probably a good thing. This horse has the second fastest Beyer of the year at 106, run at the UAE Derby. The UAE Derby is run in the United Arab Emirates (hence the UAE) and no horse that’s won there has ever been particularly competitive at the actual Derby over here in the Land of the Free. I like to think that’s because God is a horse bettor but I may be biased. Really what it is is that the UAE Derby is a metric shit ton of miles away from Louisville and there might just be something to the idea that flying a huge horse over here to race isn’t that great for them. This horse, like Justify, has to overcome some serious history to win at the Derby. On the upside, he won the UAE Derby by 18.5 lengths against subpar competition so at least he didn’t let up. His trainer is one of the best if not the best in the business. On the downside, I don’t think you should name your horse after a romantic composer. This horse is talented but not sure there’s much value for him in our pool.

Magnum Moon 6-1 (Pletcher/Luis Saez) – This is another horse that is fighting the Curse of Apollo, not having raced as a juvenile. He’s been pretty good in his last 4 races though winning all four without much challenge. He’s run different styles (fast, pace, stalker) and won them all which bodes well for the Derby. But it’s that experience thing that always comes back to worry me. The Derby is a unique experience. We don’t typically wonder what it’s like to be a horse but imagine coming from your quiet little race track at the Arkansas Derby where you kicked dirt in the faces of the other 8 horses you face and then being led out into the craziness of the Derby where 160,000 people will be yelling at you and 19 other horses will be trying to kick your ass. I just don’t see it happening.

Audible 8-1 (Pletcher/Javier Castellano) Despite being named after an Amazon buyout victim or maybe something Peyton Manning used to do a lot, this horse has some potential, especially at 8-1 or higher. He’s won four straight and has gotten faster with each race. He ran a 99 Beyer in winning his last race, the Florida Derby. Always Dreaming, last year’s winner, also won the Florida Derby, was trained by Pletcher and ran a similar 97 Beyer. This horse hasn’t raced since March 31st so he’s well rested. The main drawback is that he hasn’t really beaten any other horsies of note. Lots of his competition was crummy and so it’s hard to think he’s going to change that here where all the talent is in the same race. Additionally, he’s in the 5 Post which makes it really hard without a good jump to have a decent trip. Both Justify and Mendelssohn have better post positions and so unless Audible can get to the front without being collapsed on, he might get stuck.

Bolt d’Oro 8-1 (Mick Ruis/Victor Espinoza) – Every year somebody’s got to go name their horse something cute like Bolt of Gold. In his defense, his sire was Medaglia d’Oro which roughly translates to Made His Owner A Shit Ton of Money At Stud. This horse has Rachel Alexandra in his bloodline which is a good thing. He also doesn’t violate the Stupid Horse Names Don’t Win the Derby though he slightly flirts with it. The Golden Bolt finished second at Santa Anita to Justify recording a 103 Beyer and was a very strong two year old. This horse was the early Derby favorite but has largely been forgotten by the betting crowd and that’s a good thing. I don’t know who Mick Ruis is (this is his first Derby) but Espinoza has won 3 Derbies, most recently aboard American Pharaoh in 2015. I like this horse at somewhere north of 10-1 and he might get there in our little field of 20 bettors. This horse has heart and heart wins the Derby a lot.

Good God, an hour of writing, two bowls of Rice Chex, a large glass of wine, 1500 words and we’re only 5 horses in. This is why we can’t have nice things. The Royal we of course since I’m the only one reading any of this at this point.

Good Magic 12-1 (Chad C. Brown/Jose Ortiz) – This horsie has heart in spades and will be flying way under the radar after being an early Derby favorite. I hope all of the other fine patrons of Darly Downs has fallen asleep and don’t get too interested in this horse. He had a Beyer of 100 in the Breeders Cup Juvenile way back in November and then had a disastrous trip in the Fountain of Youth where he basically looked like a mob victim in cement shoes. He rebounded in winning the Bluegrass Stakes with a reasonable 95 Beyer and looks to be improving. The notes from the Bluegrass say he came out strong and drove clear which is just what he’ll need to do in the 6 Post at the Derby. The Brown-Ortiz combo is a formidable one and he has Curlin as a sire who has been throwing off sperm that wins big races since 2013. Gregor Mendel might have been on to something with this genetics thing.

Vino Rosso 12-1 (Pletcher/John Velazquez) – This horse has great bloodlines just like Good Magic, his half brother on the sire’s side. His dam is a half sister to Commissioner who was a great long distance racer. So he has the heritage to win this race. He improved greatly in his last race, the Wood Memorial. Alas, he seems to have had trouble with crowds before that and they put new blinkers (the things on the horses head to keep them looking forward, not turn blinkers. They only turn left in the Derby anyway) on him in the Wood. Jittery horses that need blinkers to win the Wood do not engender confidence on my part in the Derby. Plus his name is pretty lame. On the good side, Pletcher and Velazquez won last year’s Derby so maybe they are on a hot streak.

Hofburg 20-1 (William I. Mott/Irad Ortiz Jr.) – This horse is inexperienced but improving. He has a world class trainer and might be a really good value at 20-1 especially in boxes or trifectas or other exotic bets. The problem is, none of those pay off at Darly Downs. We only like winners and for this horse to be a winner at the Derby, he’s going to have to dramatically improve on his second place finish at the Florida Derby where he was beaten by Audible. His sire is Tapit who is known for siring Belmont Stake winners, the much longer race in June. All that said, he seems to be making great leaps towards figuring out how to run races and might be worth a shekel or two at higher odds. But keep him in mind for the Belmont in a month where I really like his chances especially if he skips the Preakness.

Promises Fulfilled 30-1 (Romans/Lanerie) – On the upside, Corey Lanerie knows the Derby and this horse has an affinity for the track. He’s a fast horse who might be aided by a slower pace that he could rest on early and sprint to the finish. Unfortunately, in his tune up race at the Florida Derby, he ran a 47 Beyer (which is as slow as that character from Flowers for Algernon) and decided to start walking in the final turn. Hint: Horses that like to walk in final turns only win the Derby if there’s been a fortunate meteor strike. If you think the pace might be slow for this Derby (which is not the consensus opinion), he has value as a 50-1 longshot. Otherwise, save your money for more important things like dentures or something.

Flameaway 30-1 (Mark Casse/Jose Lezcano) – Flameaway is probably a throwaway but he has won 5 of his last 9 and was second once to the far more talented Good Magic. His Beyer times are increasing rapidly which is a good thing for horsies in the spring and the Derby but there doesn’t seem to be much in his bloodline (though he is another offspring of Scat Daddy making him a half brother to a couple of our favorites) that says he’ll be good at this distance and he struggled in his only start last year at Churchill. However, he is improving and worth a shekel or two at the odds you might see here at Darly Downs.

My Boy Jack 30-1 (Desormeaux/Desormeaux) – His mom’s name is Gold N Shaft which is what I call your mom when we fight. Or something. This horse has a bad case of the thirds. As in that’s pretty much where he finishes most of his races. He’s a closer which is good for the Derby but he hasn’t shown enough heart to make anyone think he can close at the length of the Derby. He is the most experienced in the field (which is also what I call your mom) at 10 races but 10 races of mediocrity does not a Derby contender make. He’s in the field because we need 20 horses, not because he might win.

Enticed 30-1 (Kiaran McLaughlin/Junior Alvarado) – This horse is enticing at 30-1 because he has the speed and chops to win this assuming he makes a big jump in speed. He wasn’t there yet in his last race but he won the Gotham with a 95 Beyer before that and then came in second (lost in Ricky Bobby voice) to Vino Rosso in the Wood Memorial. There is probably zero chance he makes the leap but with the right trip and a decent pace, he could show some heart and win it as a big underdog.

Solomini 30-1 (Baffert/Prat) – This horse hasn’t decided what he wants to be when he grows up. Right now, he’s been flunking out of school on trust fund money but has shown some flashes of deciding he wants to become a valedictorian with a late flourish. Personally, I don’t see him making the leap until he has a couple more races under his belt but it’s the Derby so you never know. At > 30-1, you’d hate to see him come through with you having nothing on him.

Noble Indy 30-1 (Pletcher/Geroux) – 30-1 coming from post 19? No thanks. Still, he won the Louisiana Derby and has been steadily and consistently improving his speed in his last four races (77, 86, 91, 95). He’s going to have to have a magnificent trip, either a quick first step (which he’s actually had trouble with in several races) or making a beeline for the rail and getting lucky enough to get through the crowd late.

That’s 14 of 20 horses and covers all but the longshots at 50-1. Calling it quits before I die of tuberculosis which is what it feels like I have.

On A Life Well Played

I recently finished Arnold Palmer’s autobiography A Life Well Played and it was a wonderful reminder of the man’s class, dignity and personality. In it, he remembers the great moments of his life as well as many of the worst. He talks about the influence of his father on his life and how that was the defining characteristic of every thing he did in life. His father was a typical man of the early 20th century. There was little softness in him but he clearly cared for and loved his family. He didn’t want to be his children’s best friend. He wanted to provide them the direction and the guidance necessary to have successful lives. Arnold followed his lead.

In today’s world of narcissism, it’s refreshing to hear stories of Palmer giving back to his fans, to his community, to society at large. He also tried to pass these values on to other people. One of the chapters talks about appearance and the way you are seen in public. Palmer was always conscious of his image, not because of how handsome he thought he was or to impress other people but as a way to express how things ought to be. He once ran into a young tour player who hadn’t gotten too close to the razor one morning before a practice round at Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill. Palmer told him that he hoped the next time he saw him on the course that he would be clean shaven. Today, we see that as an invasion of someone’s right of expression. But perhaps we’ve gone too far in our relaxation of what is correct when it comes to public appearance. Maybe this relaxation of norms actually has deeper philosophical implications when it comes to self-discipline and self regulation.

We worry about being too hard on our kids or possibly not being considered their friends. I think about this a lot now that I have a little genetic clone of myself running around the house. Somewhere along the past 100 years, social norms concerning child raising have changed, often drastically and in a way that leaves our kids unprepared for what they face outside the home. Palmer was prepared for life because his father had been laser focused on raising him to be a man regardless of the result of a pro golf career. He was taught sportsmanship and hard work and discipline. Then when the time came that he needed those lessons to lean on, he had them at hand.

Palmer once got mad during a junior golf tournament and threw a club. He ended up winning the tournament and was congratulated by his friends and the gallery. But on the ride home, his father told him that if he ever threw a golf club on the golf course again, he’d never play golf again. Self control and graciousness are more important than winning. I wonder how many fathers (or mothers) would do the same thing today in the same circumstance or with the same force.

Self discipline, more than any other characteristic, is how success is achieved. All other things equal, the ability to control one’s actions leads to success in health and life and business. These aren’t things we talk about anymore. We’ve elected a President with the self-discipline of a puppy. We’ve followed an economic path for years that is the opposite of any form of restraint. Our foreign policy in the last 20 years has been defined by rushing into situations without planning or consideration for possible long term implications and I fear, it’s about to get worse. It seems simplistic to think that our society’s relaxation of cultural norms like hard work, discipline and an empathetic understanding of the guy across from us on the 18th green or the business table or the world stage might be leading us into our current broken state. But I’m not sure how you can look at the events of today and not at least consider how things might be different with a nation of strong mothers and fathers teaching their kids not how to express themselves at every turn but instead how to restrain themselves. There is a time for expression. But there is more time for self regulation and we have lost that balance.

The irony of our cult of expression is that at the time we seem most free we are actually more restricted than ever. We carry more debt both as a people and as a nation than we ever have before. These debts restrict what we are capable of achieving. Our government continues to grow to sizes never envisioned by the Founders. A few corporations control huge portions of our economic and social life, directing our attention without us even realizing it. The “freedom” of social media actually makes us anxious and depressed.

Goethe said “It is in self-limitation that a master first shows himself.” I believe this is true in life as much as it is in art or music. A successful life comes from self-limitation by respecting your future self and delaying gratification of desires. Being able to control one’s own mind is critical to achieving goals. The question is, how do we teach our children this in a world where instant gratification is literally built into every thing we do? Not giving your child a cell phone is probably tantamount to abuse these days yet more and more data is emerging that says screen time for children is almost surely a net negative. We want our children to behave so we hand them a mobile device instead of the much more unpleasant option of forcing boredom on them.

When I think of a parent like Palmer’s father, a man who in today’s world would be considered cold and possibly even mean, I wonder if our norms haven’t changed too far. I want my daughter to love me but more than anything, I want to provide for her the tools necessary to succeed in the world. To me, these tools are self-discipline, empathy and the value of hard work though maybe not in that order. How that happens, I’m not sure yet. But it’s nice to read stories like Palmer’s where the clear influences of a strong parent had lasting impacts on the character of the child no matter how successful he got. That is the true measure of a Life Well Played.

The Right Tool For The Job Isn’t What You Think It Is

This tweet recently took me down a rabbit hole of ideas about software and the epiphenomenon that we produce when we write it.  As is often the case when I start thinking about something, other seemingly random events or articles bubble to the top of my consciousness or Twitter feed or whatever.    Choose Boring Technology had recently popped up, linked from another article on architectural working groups and the idea of talking about technology choices. Outside of all that, I’ve recently been waking up at 1 in the morning thinking about some looming changes at work in our technology stack. It’s weird how the universe knows when you are ready for an idea and suddenly, you can tie multiple streams of thought into a coherent whole. Well, you can at least try. This post is an attempt to do that.

Epiphenomenon is a secondary effect that an action has that occurs in parallel to the primary effect. The medical world is rife with examples of epiphenomenon. I assert the software world is too but that they are poorly documented or catalogued because they are primarily negative. I believe epiphenomenon are what Michael Feathers is talking about in the lede. If you only see the effects of your software choices, you don’t really understand what you have built. It is only when you see the effects of the effect, the epiphenomenon, do you really understand. I contend this is rarely technological in nature but is instead cultural and has wide ranging effects, many of them negative.

How is this related to choosing boring technology? Epiphenomenon are much more well known and much less widespread in boring, well understood technologies. When you choose exciting technologies, the related effects of the effects of your choices are deeper and broader because you understand fewer of the implications of the choice.  These are the unknown unknowns that Dan talks about.  We see this over and over in the tech space where people think that choices are made in a total vacuum with no organizational effects outside the primary technological ones.

At Amazon, they are famous for their service oriented architecture.   It sounds so dreamy.  We’ll have services that allow us to iterate independently and deploy pieces independently and we’ll all be so independent.  The problem is that independence requires incredible discipline, discipline that is paradoxically very dependent on everyone being on the same page about what a service looks like and what it has access to and how it goes about getting the data it needs to function.  Without any of that very hard discipline that rarely seems to exist outside the Amazons of the world, what you have is not your dreamy Service Oriented Architecture but instead a distributed monolith that is actually a hundred times worse than the actual monolith you replaced.

I saw several people disagreeing with that tweet and wondered why it was so controversial.  It dawned on me that the people disagreeing with it were developers, people deep down in the corporate food chain who have this idea of using the right tool for the job in all instances which is great if you are a carpenter but fucking insane if you are a software shop.  When a carpenter uses a miter saw instead of a hammer, it’s because you can’t cut a 2×4 with a hammer unless you are very very dedicated and also the shittiest carpenter in the world.  However, when an engineer says “This is the job for Super Document Database (which by the way we’ve never once run in production)!” in his best Superman voice, he’s saying that in a total vacuum, a vacuum that doesn’t exist for the carpenter (and actually doesn’t exist for the engineer, he just doesn’t know it).  Now you have your data in two places.  Now you need different engineering rules for how its accessed, what its SLAs are, how its monitored, how it gets to your analytics team who just got blindsided for the fourth time this year with some technology, the adoption of which they had no input into, etc, etc, etc, until everyone in the company wants to go on a homicidal rampage.

Logical conclusion time: Imagine a team of 5 developers with 100 microservices.  Imagine the cognitive overload required to know where something happens in the system.  Imagine the operational overload of trying to track down a distributed system bug in 100 microservices when you have 5 developers and 1 very sad operations person.  Ciaran isn’t saying it’s technologically a bad idea to have more services than developers.  He’s saying it’s a cultural/organizational bad idea.  He didn’t say it in the tweet or the thread because he didn’t have #280Characters or just doesn’t know how to express it.  But that’s what he’s saying.  It introduces a myriad of problems that a monolith or a very small set of team or developer owned services do not.

Our industry has spread this “right tool for the job” meme and to our benefit, it’s stuck.  It’s to our benefit because we developers get to play with shiny jangly things and then move on to some other job.  People who don’t have such fluid career options are then stuck supporting or trying to get information out of a piece of technology that isn’t the right tool for THEIR particular job.  “The Job” is so much broader than the technological merits and characteristics of a particular decision.  As Dan points out in his point, it’s amazing what you can do with boring technology like PHP, Postgres and Python.  You better have a really damn good reason that you can defend to a committee of highly skeptical people.  If you can’t do that, you use the same old boring technology.

Our industry and by extension our careers live in this paradoxical contradiction.  On the one hand, a developer can’t write VB.Net his entire career because he’ll watch his peers get promoted and his salary not keep up with inflation and his wife leave him for the sexy Kotlin developer who just came to town.  On the other hand, taking a multimillion dollar company that happens to use and using that as an excuse to scorch the earth technologically speaking is in my mind very nearly a crime.  There is a middle ground of course but it’s a difficult one, fraught with large falling rocks, slippery corners with no guard rails and a methed out semi driver careening down the mountain in the opposite direction you are going.

Changing technologies has impacts for different arms of the organization and I’ve found it useful to frame these in terms of compile versus runtime impacts.  Developers and development teams get to discover things at compile time.  When you choose a new language, you learn it slowly over the course of a project or 4.  But if you operate in a classic company where you throw software over the wall for operations, they get to find out about the new tech stack at runtime, i.e. at 3 AM when something is segfaulting in production.  The pain for choosing a new technology is felt differently by different groups of the organization.  Development teams have a tendency to locally optimize for pain, e.g. push it off into the distant future because they are under a deadline and trying to get something, anything to work and so decisions are made that put off a great deal of pain.

Technological change requires understanding the effects of the effects of your decisions.  Put more succinctly, it requires empathy.  It’s a good thing most developers I’ve known are such empathetic creatures.  SIgh.  Perhaps it’s time we start enforcing empathy more broadly.  The only way I know to do that is oddly a technological solution.  If you want to roll out some new piece of technology (language, platform, database, source control, build tool, deployment model or in the case of where I currently work all of the above), you have to support it from the moment it’s a cute little wonderful baby in your hands all the way up to when it’s a creaky old geezer shitting its pants and mumbling about war bonds.  Put more directly, any time someone has a question or a problem with your choice, you have to answer it.  You don’t get to put them off or say it’s someone else’s job or hire a consultancy to tell you what to do.  If it’s broken at 3 AM, you get the call.  If analytics doesn’t know how to get data out of the database, you get to teach them.  If you fucked up a kubernetes script and deployed 500 instances of your 200 line microservice, you get to explain to the CFO why the AWS bill is the same amount as he’s paying to send his daughter to Yale.  Suddenly, that boring technology that you totally understand sounds fantastic because you’d like to go back to sleeping or drinking Dewars straight from the bottle or whatever.

We cannot keep existing as an industry by pushing the pain we create off onto other people.  On the flip side, those people we have been pushing pain to need to make it easier for us to run small experiments and not say no to everything just because “it’s production”.  There has to be a discussion.  That’s where things seem to completely fall apart because frankly, almost no developer or operations person I’ve known has, when faced with a technological question, said “I know, I’ll go talk to this other team I don’t really ever interface with and see what they think of the idea.”

Software is just as much cultural as it is technological.  Nothing exists in a vacuum.  The earlier we understand that and the more dedicated to the impact and effects of that understanding, the happier we’ll be as teams of people trying to deliver value to the business.   Because in the end, as Dan puts it, the actual job we’re doing is keeping the business in business.  All decisions about tooling have to be made in that framework.  Any tool that doesn’t serve that job and end is most decidedly NOT the right tool for the job.

Screaming Bloody Murder

This morning when I dropped Wobbles off at daycare, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Wobbles has not been to daycare in over two weeks and in that time, she has received a great deal of very individual attention. So much so that she’s grown quite accustomed to this trove of attention that she alone commands. When it became apparent she was going to spend the day not at home with Grandma or mom or dad, all hell broke loose. When I left, I could hear the tears practically hitting the floor from the hallway.

Yet I know that within five minutes, she was happily playing with toys and her teacher, the momentary discomfort of being away from me completely forgotten. She is at a stage where she is uncomfortable with change or the unknown but within a short time, forgets this discomfort and goes on about doing fun things. As long as you don’t leave her sitting in a Pack-n-Play with nothing to do, she will even find away to entertain herself fairly quickly. The moment of fear is exactly that, momentary, and then life goes on.

Will Smith recently roared through social media with a description of what it is like to impulsively decide to go skydiving. and the resulting fear that consumes you. Constant worry and anxiety. Will I die? Should I back out? This was a ridiculous thing to have done. All words expressed by the internal critic. Then you step out of the plane and fear disappears. The actual event causes no fear, only the expectation of that event and the narrative story built in your head about all the terrible things that could happen along the way. That narrative and the internal critic that writes it, they are the genesis of fear.

It is the same with writing or coding or any number of other creative activities. It is the same with any activity we do that is outside our comfort zone. The fear exists before the event, created by an overactive critic with an unjustifiably loud voice. But the moment the activity starts, or worst case a few moments later, the fear is gone. If focus remains, if concentration can stay stable, there are no thoughts of “what if this doesn’t work out?” or “What if this is terrible?” The only thing that remains is text and the characters and where they lead us.

Often I am overwhelmed by the thought of the scope of a project. But in the moment of writing or coding or digging a flower bed, there is no thought of the scope. The current moment is all that matters. Through a continual parade of those current moments, the scope is harnessed and contained. Even creating for five minutes is worth more than worrying for those five minutes about how much work is left.

There is a picture on the wall of my kitchen of what looks like a Dust Bowl farm. There are buildings, a road, a barn, little else. It is the picture of my grandparents farm shortly after they moved in, an empty, barren landscape, shot from a helicopter, of their chunk of the Oklahoma Panhandle. It is a symbol of a beginning, of what a blank page looks like. It shows hope and possibility. It also shows fear and emptiness. Once upon a time, there was a corresponding photo, taken 17 years later of a lush, green vista with large trees, an overflowing garden. The work and effort of two human beings, not young and full of energy but old and retired, shows the effects of daily work over a long period of time. Growth does not happen without the combination of time and effort contrary to the desires of our overstimulated attention monster. But something great can be created with small amounts of work, applied regularly to a single problem over the course of time. The important part is not to think of the end goal. You don’t even know the end goal. My grandparents had no idea what that farm would look like in 1998 after 17 years of living and working there. They only knew that each day gave them the opportunity to create something. What it was became emergent through their efforts and dedication. Creativity is no different.

A way that my generation’s lives have changed from our that of our grandparents is in the amount of choice we have on a daily basis of how we spend our time. We are overwhelmed by opportunity of activity, most of which is meaningless and even disquieting. Our attention is divided among too many things, even on the best days and with the best intentions. My grandparents never went and picked up their phone to see if someone was on it. They were too busy doing actual work. A 2014 study added fuel to the fire that the mere presence of our cell phones during a complicated task led to decreased performance. Even if the cell phone is turned over or out of reach, our monkey brains wonder if something important has happened on it. This distracts us from our task at hand. Distraction is easier to come by in our ever connected world and distraction will always necessarily be easier than concentration. Yet it is concentration and focus that results in the creation of things that are important to us whether it’s a work of art, a coding project or a relationship. Often that ease of distraction prevents us from even beginning something.

The hardest part of creating is the actual part about starting. Worry and fear can keep you from ever beginning, not only IN the beginning, but at every moment along the path. Fear keeps you from producing by telling stories about “30 minutes isn’t enough time to bother” or “There’s always tomorrow.” These stories become self-fulfilling as you allow them to become the narrative of your creative life. If every time that Wobbles screamed bloody murder when I walked away, I turned around and comforted her, neither one of us would ever grow. So it is with creating. The critic screams bloody murder every time you try to drop him off at daycare. He doesn’t want to be left alone. He doesn’t want to play by himself. Yet, when you refuse to listen to him and begin to create, he will slowly become more silent over time. He my never become completely silent. But he will be a more mature, supportive being that encourages your creativity. You just have to ignore the screaming part for a little while. It’s too important not to.

On Silence

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. — Dylan Thomas

I have been trying to write unsuccessfully this month, something, anything really. It seems that I have run out of ideas. Or perhaps out of steam. My attention is diverted in too many ways to allow for the required focus to actually produce anything. I have become a consumer. I have noticed in recent months that my ability to control my own mind is growing weaker and weaker to the point where at any given moment, I might drift off into a state of unpresentness. So I have fallen silent. This is almost entirely my own fault as the urge to pick up the phone and look at Twitter or Instagram or the markets is completely my own. These things of no real importance have become the moments of my spare time. So much so that when I want to actually do something productive, my physical energy level can only stand a few moments before needing a break. How can one hope to create something interesting when allowing only five minute increments in which to do it? Even while writing those 177 words, the urge to pick up my phone or gaze out the window thinking of anything else was immense. Concentration is both a skill and a habit and the harder you work on the latter, the stronger the former becomes. But like physical exercise or diet control or anything else, it is easier to allow it to lapse, knowing of course somewhere that the longer it lapses, the hard it is to regain.

Strength in all things comes through effort and trial. Weakness comes in comfort and sloth. I’m rereading Antifragile and one of the tell tale differences between fragility and antifragility is psychological comfort versus psychological discomfort but with a sense of adventure. I realize that much of my adult life has been focused on gaining as much psychological comfort as possible. Physically at times I have veered into discomfort through training and effort and those times have been some of my most proud. Rarely psychologically have I done the same. That sense of adventure is missing. Even during my sabbatical, I did comfortable things. This hit home recently when I saw Tim Ferris’s TED talk on fear setting. In it, he talks about his process for identifying and effectively destroying fear as opposed to finding goals to chase. Fear setting is the corollary to goal setting but few of us ever explicitly do it. We let our fears unconsciously sabotage our best efforts. We worry about all the terrible things that might happen from action but fail to examine the terrible things that might also happen from inaction. It is easier to imagine ourselves as humiliated because of some action we wrongly took than it is to imagine ourselves as bitterly regretful over things we were too afraid to do. Yet those results of inactivity are what lead to a disappointing life. No one who ever wrote a terrible book later wished they had sat on the couch watching TV instead. But plenty of us will look back and wonder what might have been different if only we had written a terrible book. Replace book with any goal. Inactivity, the silence of our actions, is what we will one day look back on with regret. And regret is the most awful emotion.

My silence comes from a division of attention and an internal critic with a deafening voice so overwhelming as to have become normal, as if the deafness of my creativity is how it has always been and not an artifact of being shouted at all the time. I am afraid to write a terrible book or play terrible music or draw terrible things. But literally doing those things can result in no real harm. The worst possible case is that I will have written a terrible books that my friends won’t even read while saying nice platitudes like “Wow 360 pages is a long book, I’m sure that means it’s good.” If your ego can’t stand doing something terrible at first, you don’t have to worry about doing anything great.

Much of this fear comes from being externally motivated. It’s why I once wanted to be an actor. I loved the feedback. But hidden within that is a desire to be a craftsman, motivated only by the excellence of the work. The internal critic has no power there because I alone am the judge of the craftsmanship. Unleashing that intrinsic motivation, the desire for excellence, could be a key to unlocking the silence. Overcoming the fear of being wrong or terrible can be done by just focusing on the work. The happiest artists are those who are consumed with the excellence of their work and not the reactions to it. Worry less about what horrible things might happen when you take action and focus on the work.

Humans are bad at examining the effects of inactivity. It will always be easier to see the results of some action than at some point in the future see the results of not having taken an action. The “what if” can never really be answered which makes it so intractable. But by focusing on the worst case, which is what Ferriss prescribes, we can see with better focus what might happen if we take no action at all towards our goals. What might life be like in 3 or 6 or 12 months if you take no action at all towards your goals? The easiest answer is that life will be exactly like it is today. Am I satisfied with that or does it terrify me to think of being in the exact same place a year from now? Where is the sense of adventure in that?

Silence can be deafening in that by remaining silent on our goals, we become deaf to what our true potential might be. There is a time for silence but it should not be the norm. Make loud, raucous noises towards your dreams as often as you can. That is one key to a fulfilling life.

All The Pretty Horsies

Every year, I wrote a small novella on as many horses in the Derby as I can muster. With a tumbler of Fortuna in hand, I embark on what is a yearly exercise in futility trying to decide what horse might win the Kentucky Derby. I do this because A) the fine patrons of Darly Downs, a parimutuel pool I run, demand it (and by demand, I mean mostly don’t even read it but I need to fool myself into thinking I have an audience if I’m going to write 5000 words on the horses in the Derby) and B) because of all the characteristics of the Kentucky Derby, tradition is one of the top three along with decadence and depravity though only Hunter S. Thompson knows in which order they are arranged. One thing you should keep in mind at all times while reading the following is that I have almost no idea what I’m doing. You will forget this at your own peril. I know next to nothing about horse racing other than what I have gleaned from reading the Daily Racing Form over the past years and while that is likely infinitely more than you know, you should still not trust anything I say. As the evening wears on and the bourbon takes effect, I may become more witty or engaging or funny but at no time will I become a better judge of horse flesh. You have been warned. Horses are followed by odds as of this evening along with trainer and jockey.

All The Pretty Horsies returns this year after a hiatus last year when I mistakenly scheduled my yearly fishing trip for the first weekend in May. Perhaps a mistake I won’t make again. If you are a patron of Darly Downs and not a random passerby caught in the glare of the following prose, you should also remember that it’s quite possible one or more of the horses below won’t make it into the Derby, either because of injury or the owner’s failure to pay the requisite fees. If you bet on a horse that doesn’t get in, it’s a donation. In 2015, Stanford was a pretty solid favorite and he got scratched on Wednesday after everyone put their money on him. A word of advice, don’t put all your money on one horse. But then, that goes exactly contrary to one School of Handicapping in another related document so what do I know.

We’ll start with the current favorites and move our way down the list. In the 7 or 8 years I’ve been running this pool, I have yet to write about all 20 likely entrants. In some years, this has caused me great despair like when Mine That Bird and Animal Kingdom won as 50-1 long shots. In other years, like last year, it just meant I didn’t write about the horsie that came in second (Commanding Curve). I will try to write at least something about all horses but we’re already 500 words and 2 fingers of rum in without any words about horses.

The field this year is mostly wide open. There haven’t been any dominating performances and only Irish War Cry has two Beyers over 100 and those sandwich a 63 in the Wood where he basically wore out. So unlike recent years where the favorite (American Pharaoh comes to mind) was incredibly dominant, we have a field that could do practically anything. Should make for exciting times on Saturday.

Always Dreaming (5-1 Pletcher/Velazquez) – Always Dreaming has gone back and forth with Classic Empire this year as the Derby favorite. In his last three races, he’s won by 5, 4 and 11.5 lengths. In short, he’s kicked some ass. In the Florida Derby, he ran a 97 Beyer and stalked nicely in second all the way to the stretch when he ran away with it. This horse looks promising and seems to like to rub other horsies faces in his dust. Here’s the only thing that worries me with Always Dreaming: he’s a front runner. He wins big, never has to have mud kicked in his face and mostly seems to have not had much adversity yet. In the Florida, he was never really challenged. What happens on Saturday when 20 horses start making things much more difficult? If he can get a decent post, he may be hard to beat. But if he has to come from the inside or way outside, I have the feeling he might find it difficult to get to the front and have the inside track. His sire is Bodemeister, one of my all-time favorite Bro horse names.

Classic Empire (6-1 Casse/Leparoux) – If you watched the link I sent in the Further Explanation Of Darly Downs, you know this horse is a stalker with closing power who looked solid in the win in the Arkansas Derby. He’s won 3 of his last 4. That one loss is a little worrisome as it was against solid talent in Irish War Cry and Gunnevera and he was third by over 8 lengths. Still, he seems to have some closing speed, always important in the Derby, the longest race of any of these horsies career. He ran a top Beyer of 102 way back in November but then fell back in the Holy Bull where he got his tail kicked. He won his one race on a wet track but that was his first ever race and probably means nothing. In the end, this horse looks like he might have the required heart and kick to win the Derby. Leparoux has never won the Derby and that might be the one failing of this horse.

Gunnevera (6-1 Sano/Castellano) – This horse is confusing. He’s been all over the map in his Beyers and his finishes. He’s a little like Shrodinger’s cat in that you really can’t be sure if he’s alive or dead. One thing he has going for him in the Derby is the added distance. If you watch the Florida Derby, you see he basically mailed it in for the first part of the race and then decided he didn’t want to lose. The final kick reminds me of my study habits in college. He’s also had some mud kicked in his face and responded well. He won the Fountain of Youth by almost 6 lengths with a solid Beyer of 97 before taking a little break in the Florida. At 10-1, this horse provides some value. At 6-1, not so much.

Irish War Cry (7-1 Motion/Maragh) – This horse is also slightly confusing in that he won the Wood Memorial (my nickname in college) with a triple digit Beyer (barely, 100). But before that, he basically crapped his pants in the Fountain of Youth with a 63 and a nap in the backstretch. This is very similar to what Frosted did in 2015 which meant exactly nothing. But before that, he ran a 101 in the Holy Bull and won by almost 4 lengths. He’s got a good name for winning the Derby, a three word, single syllable moniker that rolls of the tongue. He’s the youngest colt in the bunch which doesn’t seem like much but then, they are all 3 year olds and any extra time you can have to mature is welcome. I like this horse to finish in the top three but frankly, he hasn’t faced much adversity and when he did in the Fountain of Youth, he essentially mailed it in. I’m probably staying away. You do whatever you need to to think you got value from you $30.

So we’re four horses in, I’ve had three drinks, it’s almost 11 PM and I got 5 hours of sleep last night when the midget woke up at 5 AM thinking it was time to perform her Cute Midget Antics. If I get to 10 horses this year, it will be a small miracle.

McCraken (10-1 Wilkes/Hernadez Jr) – I’m sorry but if you spend a ton of money on a horse that might one day win the Derby, you should spend a little more time naming him. Might as well have named him MacGuffin. That being said, this horse has some history at Churchill Downs and it’s mostly all positive. He’s won 3 races here and clearly likes the track. However, if we’re honest, he hasn’t faced any of the really fast horsies and as we all know, stealing money from the slow witted child on the playground isn’t particularly impressive. He got slower in his final race in losing by 4 lengths to Irap in the Bluegrass and I’m pretty sure that isn’t a good sign. Sorry, no amount of liking Churchill is going to make up for a case of the “slows” and this horse has a serious case of the “slows”.

Gormley (12-1 Shirreffs/Espinoza) – Here’s another instance where we have a big pretty horse named something that sounds like a venereal disease. He’s gotten progressively slower in his last three races, barely beat Battle of Midway (who we know is a pig) in the Santa Anita and never ran a Beyer faster than 94. His only saving grace is that he won his only race on a wet track with his fastest Beyer time. It’s entirely possible that he really likes mud and if so, he’s going to get his wish on Saturday. I’ve been running this pool for several years now and I have never heard of his trainer so unless he’s the next coming of American Pharaoh (another West Coast horse), I don’t see much value here.

Hence (12-1 Asmussen/Geroux)Hence is a pretty horse. And I’ll admit to have a bias towards horses with a single name. He won the Sunland and all the horses he beat in that race improved in their next race including Irap who won the Bluegrass. Asmussen is a Texas local and I have a sweet spot in my poor betting history for his horses. I like this horse to finish strong in the Derby with the extra length. I’m just not sure he has enough to get there for the finish.

Girvin (15-1 Sharp/Smith) – This horse has the most qualifying points of any yet he goes off at a very decidedly not favorite price. He’s a stalker as we see in the Louisiana Derby where Girvin (post 8) runs well back until the final turn and then comes home to win. The question is, against whom? No one really. So even though he has the most qualifying points after winning the Louisiana and Risen Star, I’m not convinced. He’s going off at larger odds not just because he’s faced subpar talent but also because he had a crack in a right rear hoof that required some special attention, not the least of which was having to swim instead of run. This seems problematic. If you can get him at 20-1 either here or at the track, more power to you. Otherwise, this horse reeks of tragedy.

Tapwrit (20-1 Pletcher/Ortiz) – Two months ago, when Tapwrit blew the field away at the Tampa Bay Derby, he was a serious contender for winning the Roses. Then he went to the Bluegrass and caught a case of the Hoffas (nowhere to be found). He may have been running with concrete shoes. He ran a 76 Beyer in that race as his final prep. In other races, that might be ok to ignore but in the Derby, you really want your horsie to be peaking. It’s going to be the longest race of his career and the field will be insane. Still, this horse is sired by Tapit, one of the great sires in North America for this type of race. Can he forget about that horrible trip at the Bluegrass? Beats me. But I wouldn’t want money on this horse unless I was getting 25-1 or better. He is gray and I love gray horses though.

Lookin At Lee (20-1 Asmussen/Lanerie) – Lookin at Lee is what you call a closer. He tends to hang back saving his energy and then makes a mad dash for the finish line when his jockey (Corey Lanerie, a Churchill regular and one of the best to currently race there which is a plus) asks him to. Unfortunately, that hasn’t resulted in any wins in real races. He finished third to Classic Empire only 1.5 lengths back and he may have improved on that if he wouldn’t have run out of room. His Beyers are regularly climbing which is nice but he just doesn’t seem to have the pedigree or the heart to get to the finish line first. In order to bet on this horse, you have to convince yourself the extra distance will allow him to get there. I have my doubts. They weren’t assuaged when he drew the dreaded #1 position this morning either.

Practical Joke (20-1 Brown/Rosario) – This horse is a practical joke on anyone that puts money on him. He just doesn’t have what it takes to win the Derby. He finished second to Irap by less than a length at the Bluegrass but you really have to wonder if he knows how to win. Gunnevera beat him by almost 6 lengths in the Fountain of Youth and he was eight lengths back in the race before that. Derby winners don’t have names like this. Stay away. Though many of you will ignore me when his odds jump to 45-1 or so. Fine.

Thunder Snow (20-1 Suroor/Soumillon) – Every year, some horse gets shipped over here from the Middle East by some idiot prince who thinks he has the next coming of Secretariat. And every year, they get shipped back to the damn desert having finished 142nd out of 20 in the Derby. There are reasons for this. First, it’s a long way from Dubai to Kentucky. Second, they are typically turf horses (most of their races are on turf) and they are being converted to dirt. This doesn’t seem like a big thing but it’s a very different experience when suddenly you’re having dirt thrown in your face. Third, they’ve never seen 20 horses much less had to fight their way through them. They just don’t have the character necessary. I’m not being a horse racist here. Trust me. That being said, this horse ran the fastest ever on dirt for a Dubai horse. So there’s that. But he’s a pig. Avoid him. Still not being a horse racist.

J Boys Echo (20-1 Romans/Albardo) – This horse blew the field away in the Gotham while running a 102 Beyer. The problem with that is that the Gotham is a Grade 3 stakes meaning he ran against a bunch of horses headed for the glue factory of Derby contenders. When he jumped up to Grade 2 last month at the Bluegrass, he finished six lengths back in 4th with a Beyer of 84. The one thing going for him is his lineage. With Mineshaft as the sire who came out of AP Indy who came out of Seattle Slew, J. Boys Echo is bred for the limelight and the distance. I just think he’s missing a critical gene, namely heart. Or maybe speed. Or maybe both.

Irap (20-1 O’Neill/Gutierrez) – This horse was doing nothing for a long time and then suddenly won the Bluegrass as a 31-1 underdog. That threw him into the Derby as the horse with the fourth most qualifying points. The problem here is all his other races. On the upside, this owner/trainer/jockey combo have won two of the last five Kentucky Derbies which is saying something. Is that enough? His Beyer have jumped 10 points in each of the last two races. If he gets another 10 point jump to 103, he might get there. But he’s going to need a slow steady pace at first and with what is likely to be a very muddy track, maybe it’s his exact trip.

The rest of the story
The rest of these horses aren’t going to win the Derby. State of Honor has run completely on synthetic tracks and is a good bet to finish dead last. Patch is a one eyed horse with a lot of guts and heart but without the requisite talent. You should put a $1 on him just in case he wins though so that you can have the feel good karma of betting on a one eyed horse to win the Derby. Battle of Midway didn’t race as a 2 year old and guess what? Horses that don’t do that don’t ever win the Derby. Chester Arthur was President last time that happened. He’s also slow. Really slow. Untrapped is a big time closer who seems to always run out of room. Can the Derby be his breakthrough? Probably not. Sonneteer is like a Keats sonnet, pretty but not something to make money on. He’s never won a race and he’s raced a lot. He is drastically improving speed wise over the last several races but I doubt he can make the jump from loser to winner. Finally, Fast and Accurate is a beautiful horse but there’s no way he wins the Derby. He’s run almost all of his races on synthetic tracks and his one lone dirt race resulted in a Beyer of 27. That’s horse talk for fucking slow. He doesn’t like dirt and the Derby is the biggest dirt of them all.

Well, there you have it. I’m probably the only one who made it this far anyway. Good luck this week and I hope you enjoy the Derby at Darly Downs.

Thought For The Day On Healthcare

Thinking about healthcare and its providence this morning. Historically, this country has been driven by entrepreneurship and small business growth. Since 1998, we have been in a period where job creation through small business is much worse though slightly improved since 2010. One part of that is likely the connection between a steady job and healthcare. The Affordable Care Act while flawed in some ways at least incentivized job creation implicitly by allowing freelancers and entrepreneurs access to healthcare on the exchanges. Of course, one of the drawbacks to the ACA was that not everyone went through the exchanges because if you have a job, you get your healthcare there.

What kind of system could a thoughtful conservative humanist (a oxymoron in the leadership of the GOP of today but that’s a thought for another day) come up with as an improvement on the ACA that would foster job growth through small business creation? One of the benefits of other types of insurance is that they are semi-free markets. If you want to change your home insurance, you can research a variety of options and pick one of your liking. You cannot do this with healthcare because you likely can’t find a suitable replacement for your workplace plan on an exchange. One key to the ACA was the elimination of preconditions:

ObamaCare eliminated pre-existing conditions starting in 2014. No more pre-existing conditions means you can’t be denied coverage, charged more, or denied treatment based on health status.

Preexisting conditions are an interesting concept. If I have four car accidents that I’m at fault for, I have to pay more for auto insurance and might even get denied. But that’s not a precondition. That’s me being an idiot or just a bad driver for which no sane person would expect me not to pay more for. But if I eat nothing but Cheetohs and jelly beans for a few years and develop Type II diabetes, we don’t say “that’s not a precondition because it’s your fault.” We naturally have a sense of fairness in auto insurance that’s lacking in health insurance discussions because it’s hard to look at someone suffering from Type II diabetes and say “that’s largely your fault.”

Plus if you notice the clause in the preconditions statement: “you can’t be charged more.” This is clearly a disincentive for the companies providing insurance because you definitely cost more with preconditions. That means people without preconditions are the ones who pay the difference. This also violates our natural sense of fairness. If I drive a Ferrari, I shouldn’t be able to get insurance for the same cost a Camry owner does.

Any conservative policy is going to want to deal with preconditions in a way that’s fair to people getting insurance but also that doesn’t disincentivize companies from providing insurance. How is that possible? We have to be hard on people who through mostly or entirely their own actions, cause themselves to be more expensive to insure. How can we craft a policy that does that? Out of time for today…

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