Monday, June 26, 2017

Red Hot Chili Peppers at Van Andel Arena 2017

I'm not a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP), but I like their music well enough. I wasn't planning to see them in concert, but when a friend said she could get tickets if we split the cost, I figured why not?
The concert was in Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids. It holds about 12,000 people, and it looked full to me. Not a surprise - not a lot of big names come through western Michigan, so when it happens people come out. Our seats were in the last row in one of the upper sections, but that wasn't as bad as it sounds. The arena isn't really big enough for even the furthest seats to be too far away.
We caught the tail end of one of the opening acts, Deerhoof, which wasn't particularly impressive in my opinion. Not really a surprise since I'd never heard of them before. It's harder to get involved with unfamiliar opening acts in these bigger shows, as compared to smaller venues where you can get up close and (sometimes) get better sound quality.
No such problems with RHCP. They've been around more than 30 years now, but it doesn't look like they've lost a step. Plenty of energy on stage, and considering the iffy acoustics that you get in an arena, they sounded great. I recognized about half the songs they played, which means they played plenty of older stuff, since I haven't paid much attention to anything they've done recently. They worked in a couple of covers, too - I particularly liked their rendition of Jimmy Hendrix's Fire.
The stage setup was interesting. There was the usual screen behind the band, as has become standard in the last decade or two. Largely it showed various wild color patterns, but they did sometimes have live shots of the band members. Often put through some kind of filter, so you'd see black-and-white or jerky stop-motion versions of the musicians. But the most notable component was a big field of LED lights hung over the stage and the front portion of the crowd. Those lights moved up and down and flashed on and off in some neat patterns as the band played.
There were a couple of fairly emotional moments. Flea asked for a moment of silence for Hillel Slovak, a founding member who died nearly 30 years ago. Later on, Anthony Kiedis talked for a minute about his father, who is in the late stages of life. It wasn't a sad moment, but rather a celebration of a full life. That moment in particular really resonated with me - everyone eventually is in that situation where a loved one has passed on (or will shortly). Having that mindset of celebrating the time we had with them, rather than focusing on the loss, strikes me as a healthy attitude.
Overall it was an enjoyable show. Not my usual style, but I'm glad I was talked into going. RHCP is still worth seeing after all these years.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Reeds Lake Run 2017

This weekend was the 39th annual Reeds Lake Run in East Grand Rapids.

I like running in the Reeds Lake area. I've gone there several times to jog, when I get tired of the same old scenery around my neighborhood. Reeds Lake is fairly small and surrounded by quite a bit of private property, so there's only a fairly short stretch where you actually run by the lake. But the surrounding neighborhood streets are nice to run through also.
I've run in this race a few times in prior years, but always the 5k distance. This time I did the 10k distance. With warm and humid weather it was tiring, but I enjoyed it. The races are run at different times, so some people did both. One run for the morning was plenty for me, though. Took me just over 53 minutes, which is more or less what I expected and right about the middle of the pack for my age group.
Getting down to the event was less than ideal since I didn't think about the area being closed off for the 5k race. It was already underway by the time I arrived, so I ended up parking about a mile away and walking in. Might have to arrive a bit earlier next time, or at least pick up my registration packet the night before.

Parking troubles aside, this is a great event. Nice area to run through, well organized, and they include everyone with additional events like a kids run and handcycle races. I plan to be there next year for the 40th anniversary!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt from the library recently. It was recommended by the Make Me Smart podcast, which I listen to regularly.

Seeing the term "righteous" in the title immediately made me think of this as a religious book, but that's not really the case. The theme of the book is morals and ethics, and of course religion does play a role, but not a major one. The author explains the use of "righteous" in his introduction as an intentional way to point out that the human mind is not just moral, but also judgmental and critical and intolerant (as in "self-righteous").

That's something of a negative start, but it's an important point that drives much of what Haidt has to say. The book is divided into three sections, each of which presents a principle of moral psychology:

1. Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. Haidt describes the mind as being like a rider (reasoning) on an elephant (intuition - comprised of emotions, gut reactions, etc). When the elephant has a reaction to something, the rider's primary job is to support that reaction. While it's possible for the reasoning rider to change the elephant's direction, it's difficult and rare. Most of the time, our reason looks for a way to justify whatever our gut feels to be true, ignoring evidence or arguments to the contrary.

2. There's more to morality than harm and fairness. This section presents the Moral Foundation Theory, which describes how different morality systems around the world can all be traced back to a few "foundations". The website describes the theory and foundations as well as some of the research supporting the theory. I think this makes a lot of sense - just about everyone has a sense of "liberty" (to use one foundation as an example) but exactly what that means can be very different between people or cultures.

3. Morality binds and blinds. Moral systems are about more than just personal beliefs, they apply to the groups that we identify with. We gravitate toward groups that line up with our intuitions, and those groups also influence our ways of thinking and behavior. People are willing to do things for their groups that aren't necessarily in their individual interests. That can lead to positive or negative results - the same group instincts can lead to supporting charitable organizations or becoming suicide bombers. We're rarely willing to listen to points of view that run counter to the interests of our groups, even if we would benefit at an individual level. Religious and political associations are used as two examples of groups that can have significant impact on how their individual members behave.

I'm far from an expert on ethics or the philosophy of the mind, but the ideas that Haidt presents in this book certainly seem to make sense to me. I've long thought that most people behave in a largely rational manner if you consider that they have an internal set of assumptions (which they are rarely willing to reconsider, despite whatever evidence may exist to the contrary). Haidt's rider-elephant metaphor fits nicely into that concept, so it wasn't much of a stretch to wrap my mind around his model.

Understanding this is one thing, but it can still be difficult to accept for those of us that consider ourselves rational people. I like to think that presenting evidence and well-ordered arguments is a good way to convince people (including myself). When I really stop and think about it, though, there are examples everywhere that reasoning really is secondary to intuition, including many that Haidt describes in the first third of this book. It's especially true in cases where time is short, either because a snap decision is required or because I simply don't bother to spend a lot of time on something.

This model of "intuition first, reasoning second" has obvious applications for advertising, political campaigns, and other kinds of marketing. If you want people to buy your product or vote for your candidate, you need to present something they identify immediately as good, at an instinctual level. Then you can add logical arguments to that gut reaction to seal the deal. Sounds obvious, but it's not always easy, particularly if you're trying to convince a diverse group.

The Righteous Mind was a very interesting read, though not a quick or easy one. The morality model presented by Haidt is a good fit for explaining how diverse groups of people can have such different ideas about what is moral or ethical. I consider my time with this book to be well spent.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

New Holland Pub on 8th 8k

I took a trip a bit east to Holland this weekend for the New Holland Pub on 8th 8k run.

Holland is about a 40 minute drive to the east for me, so I don't get out there regularly, but it's an easy trip. The New Holland Pub is right downtown on 8th Street (thus the 8k distance). Parking was amazingly easy, lots of places within a few blocks. Probably helped that it was a Sunday afternoon, not as busy as a Friday or Saturday would have been.
This was a fairly small event, probably a couple of hundred runners all told. As far as I know, this is the first year they've done it, so it'll probably grow in the future. There was both a 5k and 8k course, and from what I could tell there were about the same number of folks doing each distance. We all got a nice commemorative beer glass, the usual T-shirt, and a complimentary glass of New Holland Brewing beer after the run. (I had a Mad Hatter.)
I enjoyed the course, which ran out from downtown by the river, then back through a park and back to the brewery. A couple of spots did have distinctive odors, though - by the Heinz plant where you could smell the vinegar, and a swampy smell by the park entrance. But the wind was blowing in off the water and those smells didn't linger once I ran along a bit. There was a decent amount of up and down, but no really big hills to slow us down.
The weather was hot and fairly humid, and I felt it, especially in the early going. It's nicer to do these runs in the morning during the summer, but I suppose that would have been a difficult sell with the beer at the end. I felt better a mile or so in when we ran along the river for a while - it wasn't much cooler, but being along the water made it feel less oppressive. I ended up running just over 43 minutes - far from my quickest 8k time, but considering the heat I'm happy with it.
It was nice to make the trip out to Holland and take a run out by the river, and of course sample some New Holland Brewing beer. A race well worth keeping in mind for next year.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

Bringing a female superhero to the big screen in a leading role hasn't been done often, but DC did a solid job of it with Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman (2017 film).jpg
Unsurprisingly, Wonder Woman is an origin story. The character appeared briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the entire movie is basically a flashback sequence from that modern-day version of Diana. The entire movie takes place in the past, specifically the World War I era. If that sounds familiar, it's because Marvel did more or less the same thing with Captain America. It's hard to really fault the writers for copying, though, since all these superhero movies have their roots in decades of comic book stories, many of which are very similar. Hard to really say who is copying what, with all that history.

I felt like the movie did a good job of setting up Diana's past, explaining the role of the Olympian gods and her home of Themyscira. Seemed to me that there was enough explanation to make sense to a non-comic-nerd, though I admit that it's hard to tell since I am one. There have been lots of versions of Wonder Woman over the years, and this one seems as good to me as any.

Gal Gadot did a fantastic job as Diana, and I thought the writers and director captured the character very well. Diana's naivete is very clear as she makes her first foray into man's world, but she never seems weak or lost because of it. There's very little sexual content, which isn't easy when your main character is a gorgeous woman running around in skimpy battle costume. There's a fine line to walk with this character, and I think they did an outstanding job.

I wish I could say the same about the action scenes. There's constant use of slow-motion sequences in the middle of the action, and just about every one of them annoyed me. The scenes themselves were fine, well designed and executed. I particularly liked the no-man's-land advance, with Diana playing the "tank" for the soldiers. I just wish the director hadn't been so in love with slowing the action down over and over again. It's fine to do that once or twice, to call attention to some particularly impressive feat or important small detail, but it was badly over-used here.

The plot and minor characters are serviceable, if not particularly impressive. The "twist" with Ares' identity and the god-slayer weapon was so heavily telegraphed that I hesitate to even use the term. Outside of Steve Trevor, other characters are present only as opportunity to show off some aspect of Diana. But none of that is surprising, as it's hard to do much in an origin story film outside of the main character without making things too complex to easily follow.

Wonder Woman is a big step forward for the DC cinematic universe. I know we'll be seeing more of Diana, and I look forward to it. I hope to see more of this quality of writing, directing, and production in the future DCU movies as well.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Diemer Run 5k 2017

The Brian Diemer run was held this weekend over in Cutlerville.
Just about every year the race sets a record for the number of runners, and this year was no exception. An email sent out earlier in the week said that they had passed 1280 registrations for the 5k. And there's a handcyclist race and some kids events as well.

The weather was warm and humid, though a bit less so than last year. Still, plenty of heat, and there were warnings to beware of dehydration. The race officials had plenty of water available, and I didn't see anyone having problems.
I felt fairly good throughout the run, although the heat did take a toll. I was pretty beat by the end - certainly glad this was a 5k and not 10! It helps that the course is nice and flat, along suburban streets with no narrow chokepoints. Finished right around the top third of both my age group and overall, which is about what I expected.

As is the custom, there were several bands set up along the race course. One of them was a bit late and was still tuning up when I passed, but the rest were ready to go. I bring my own music to listen to, but it's nice to have a serenade along the course as well!
Always good to get out in the early summer for a run, especially at an event like this that supports good causes. I certainly plan to be back next year!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Fortitude Season 2

I recently watched the second season of Fortitude via Amazon Prime streaming. It originally aired earlier this year.
Season two of Fortitude is going to look very familiar to those who watched season one (as I did a few months back). Obviously you expect that from the second season of any show, but I thought it was particularly striking here. Almost all the central characters are back (even a couple that didn't look very healthy at the end of season one). The big mystery from season one continues to have effects into season two. Political intrigue, personal relationship drama, and unexplained mysterious deaths are everywhere. And the landscape is still snow, snow, snow with the occasional ice and freezing-cold water mixed in for variety.

None of that is bad, since I liked season one and more of the same is pretty much what I signed up for when I hit play on season two. I will say, though, that this season felt weaker, as if it was a less intense version of the first. Some of that is familiarity with the setting and actors, taking the shine of discovery off, but I also think the writing may have been struggling a bit. It's not easy to follow up success, and I think that shows here.

Having said that, it's still a fun ride through the second season. Some of the new characters are fairly weak - the shaman in particular - but they still have depth. No one is all good or all bad, and there's plenty of misdirection about motivations to keep things interesting. Disturbing and mysterious deaths show up regularly, keeping the suspense going. I also thought the family drama of the Lennox family on the personal relationship side of things was a good addition.

It's certainly very possible that we'll see more Fortitude at some point. There's plenty of plot threads left dangling in terms of the big mystery. While a few characters seem pretty well gone, there are plenty left to keep going. If the powers-that-be decide that they want more tension in the ice and snow, there's room for it.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

2017 Hard Cider Run at Sietsema Orchards

This weekend I went up to Sietsema Orchards for the Hard Cider Run. It's a 5k race through the orchard and surrounding area, with cider waiting at the end.
I did this same race last year, when the weather was terrible. This year, it was a whole lot nicer. There were some clouds in the sky, but no rain, and it hadn't been raining in the past few days either. That kept the trails (mostly) dry. So unlike last year, I wasn't spending a lot of energy simply trying to stay upright on slippery, muddy trails.

That doesn't mean it's an easy course, though. The trails are pretty narrow and the hills are steep. I saw one person trip over a tree root and nearly fall, but fortunately she was able to catch herself on her hands and keep going. According to the GPS on my phone, the course goes up and down more than 100 meters overall. It certainly seemed like we were pretty much constantly going up or down!

The race was much better attended this year. Last year's total was only around 600, while this year we had over 1000. That's good for the race, but it did make things a little more difficult out on the trails. There were several bottlenecks where there wasn't room to pass anyone, even if you set aside the initial starting spot that's always crowded. Plus there were some people who didn't get the memo about there being a race...I ran past a few hikers and an entire scout troop, who had clearly come into the forest elsewhere and wandered into the race course.

Crowding aside, I thought the event went very well. Plenty of volunteers taking care of handing out race materials, enough parking (though it got a bit tight as the morning went on), and even the line for the portable bathrooms wasn't too bad. And of course, there's the cider and doughnuts when you're done, always a good way to end a morning.