All posts by Brian

Reflections in the midst of Election Week 2020

Four years ago, I wrote some loose and depressed thoughts on the election of Donald Trump.

It’s fair to say a lot has happened since then. Though not alone in this, some of what I said seems prescient upon re-reading:

The only thing more frightening than this paucity of checks and balances is the potential for retaliation if and when Trump antagonizes a person or group willing to commit violence.

At the same time, I’m faced with irrefutable evidence that I still fail to understand nearly half of the voters in this country:

My feeling is that these people will be sorely disappointed in four years, as their personal economic circumstances fail to significantly improve.

The cynicism of politicians, particularly Republican politicians, I can understand. They gerrymander, break norms, change rules, and continue to abet their leader, even while twisting themselves in pretzels to avoid publicly rebuking or condoning his worst behavior. They do this because they want to maintain power, get more power, and take care of their own. Though cowardly, unprincipled, and immoral, it’s rational.

But the people have listened these last four years as their president has lied to them about a pandemic, about immigrants, about the environment, about his taxes, about his abuses of power, about the size of his crowds. They have heard him disrespect women, incite violence, amplify racist views, and speculate about curing COVID-19 by ingesting bleach. They have watched him bungle a health and economic crisis that has left 200,000 dead. They have seen him clear peaceful protesters with tear gas for a photo op. They have read transcripts of him abusing the power of his office for personal gain. They have witnessed him undermine the electoral process.

And yet, something like 69 million Americans looked around at their sick and their dead, at the collapsed economy, at the ailing planet, at the growing economic inequality, at the violence and racism toward black and brown people, at protests across the country, at the toxic partisanship and say… yes, I want more of this.

As of writing, it looks like Joe Biden will be our next president, pending ballot counting and desperate legal maneuverings from the Trump campaign. For that, I’m thankful and relieved. But the fear, hawkishness, greed, and ignorance of so many fellow Americans means that joy is in short supply.

Thoughts on the 2020 Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby felt different this year, and it wasn’t just that COVID-19 meant it was four months late with empty grandstands. Watching with my kids, I was at pains to explain exactly why people race horses, and how thwacking them with a riding crop “helps” them go faster. Even more disturbing were the post-race interviews. I get that horses can’t talk, but largely ignoring the sentient being that actually ran the race, while acclaiming the trainer and jockey seems a bit like celebrating the plantation owner and overseer for growing the cotton.

All of this is a drag, because I’ve always really enjoyed the pageantry around the derby. I’ve bonded with strangers in the supermarket getting ingredients for mint juleps, and teared up listening to “My Old Kentucky Home” on the car radio as I rushed to my girlfriend’s house watch the race.

My unease with the whole event really started in 2008, after Eight Belles collapsed and died on the track after finishing second in the 134th Derby. It’s been a while coming, but next year might finally be the time to sing the song, make the drinks, wear the hats, eat the pie… but not watch the ponies.

Early thoughts on COVID-19

First slowly, and then very rapidly, the world has changed. A week ago, we were discussing whether to cancel a baby shower for my inlaws. Two days later, my kids’ school was closed, provisionally until April 1, but almost certainly much, much longer. People who can work from home, like me, are doing so. People who can’t are losing their jobs. Everyone is talking about flattening the curve. Models and projections about the eventual decline of the coronavirus outbreak range from May to September, while its re-emergence next year seems possible, and maybe even likely.

This virus presents a fascinating public health issue, in that most people who get it remain asymptomatic, and have very low risk of death. That low risk of succumbing to the virus belies the risk to those who are older and have underlying health issues. Social distancing is so vital not because of our personal risk, but because of the risk to others. There is, of course, the second order risk that our medical and other systems will be overwhelmed, leaving everyone in a very scary place.

We are waking up to the reality that this is an essentially wartime effort, requiring the same degree of sacrifice and privation that earlier generations have endured. Crucially, though, humans are united against an enemy, rather than fighting among themselves. Every day, the consideration and generosity I see from so many individuals is heartwarming.

What is important at a time like this? My thoughts:

  1. Taking care of each other. We can do this by preventing the spread of disease,. We can find and commit to remedies for those affected by the disease and subsequent impacts on families, schools, and businesses.
  2. Refocus our priorities on creating our own fun, tapping into our creativity, relationships, and the world of ideas rather than simply consuming.
  3. Understand that so many of our systems and so much of our lives rely on assumptions that tomorrow will be like today. Adaptability is the only option, we all must reconcile ourselves to letting go of an event we’ve been eagerly anticipating or a creature comfort that is no longer available.
  4. Joining the ranks of parents who will be working with children at home, I understood that my days and evenings would change dramatically as childcare and work are rearranged. With the increased stress of juggling more responsibilities during the day and giving up relaxation time in the evening to make up work, avoiding burnout will challenge everyone. But it’s crucial to find equilibrium, a way of being that we can maintain for as long as we need to live without the liberties to which we’ve grown accustomed.

Most of all, I am grateful for the many advantages I have, and will look for opportunities to assist others during this crisis.

My Favorite Podcast Episodes

Without a commute, I seem to consume less radio and podcasts than many of my peers. But recent dishwashing and pilates sessions have made a brief space for listening, and a few really enjoyable episodes from Revisionist History reminded me of some past favorites from over the years. Here are five episodes that have stuck with me:

This American Life: #293 – A Little Bit of Knowledge | Act One

This brief segment is laugh-out-loud funny, with stories about words that people mispronounced or misunderstood far too late into adulthood.

This American Life: #473 – Loopholes

An incredibly strong episode from start to finish, featuring complex ethical, legal, and semantic concepts.

Radiolab: Limits of the Body

Gets into some of the science behind human endurance, and demonstrates that most of us rarely or never push ourselves anywhere near the limit of our physical capabilities.

Revisionist History: A Polite Word for Liar

A true life WWII thriller, this puts a spotlight on some fascinating characters, while exploring the reliability of memory.

Planet Money: Where’s the Vaccine

A look at what and how to make vaccines.


Premier League Results 2018-2019

Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Aside from grossly underestimating Wolves and West Ham, and overestimating Burnley, I think I did pretty well.  While I nailed the top four, my only correct pick for relegation was Cardiff, perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with teams at the bottom half of the table.

Already looking forward to next season!

Premier League Predictions 2018-2019

Watford is sweeping all before them, and the only real question is which team will finish a distant second.

But seriously, I expect the usual suspects to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. To begin with, Manchester City’s record-breaking side have been enhanced by Riyad Mahrez. Even though they are missing their talisman in Kevin De Bruyne for a few months through injury, they should once again be champions by a comfortable margin.

Among their challengers, Liverpool, Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea are all in with a shout. As others have predicted, José Mourinho’s third-season antics threaten to derail their underrated consistency of last season, though individual performances and the overall quality of their play has been patchy for years. This is best represented by Paul Pogba, an outstanding player who looks diminished when playing for United, and Victor Lindelof, who everyone (including his manager) seems to agree is not very good, but is somehow starting at center back.

Arsenal and Chelsea have also been unable to recapture their swagger of previous years. Spurs have had another year to gel, but have not reinforced their squad. All of them should fall away well before May. Liverpool, on the other hand, are a team on the up, and have brought in a decent midfielder that suits their style in Naby Keïta. They’ve also replaced goalkeeper Loris Karius, the villain of last year’s Champions League final, with Allison, who has already been earning rave reviews through his first few games. They may make the run-in interesting, but ultimately don’t have the quality throughout the squad to take the title from Manchester City.

Beyond that group are teams hoping to push themselves into the European places (Burnley, Everton, and Leicester City). Others are dreaming about exceeding expectations, but nervously looking over their shoulders lest they become embroiled in a relegation scrap (Crystal Palace, Watford, Newcastle, Brighton, and Bournemouth). The rest will be hoping to steer clear of relegation. Fulham, Wolves, and Huddersfield should fancy their chances, while Cardiff City are likely resigned to going down. West Ham and Southampton will also be full of fear with big wage bills failing to return decent football.

Here’s to another season of the Premier League!

  1. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool
  3. Chelsea
  4. Spurs
  5. Manchester United
  6. Arsenal
  7. Everton
  8. Burnley
  9. Leicester City
  10. Watford
  11. Crystal Palace
  12. Brighton and Hove Albion
  13. Newcastle
  14. Bournemouth
  15. Fulham
  16. Southampton
  17. Huddersfield
  18. West Ham
  19. Wolves
  20. Cardiff City

La Liga: Barcelona
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich
Serie A: Juventus
Ligue 1: Paris Saint-Germain
Champions League: Manchester City

Hiking the Pemigewasset Wilderness

For our second annual “men trip,” my father, brother and I decided on a multi-day hike along the northern edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. We chose to balance the rigorous White Mountain trails with slightly cushy accommodations at three huts run by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).

Day 1

I woke at 4:15am to catch my taxi to the airport. By 7:30am, I was in Boston, and worked until meeting Aaron at noon. Dad picked us up soon after and we were on our way to the White Mountains.

It was early, but it was also Friday, and we battled heavy traffic out of Massachusetts and into New Hampshire. We began to despair of reaching our hut in time for dinner, and it was 4pm before we were at the Old Bridle Path trailhead. The book time for our uphill, 2.3 mile hike is listed as 2 hours and 40 minutes.


We attacked the trail, reaching Greenleaf Hut in less than two hours and giving us time for a celebratory beer before sitting down to dinner. After eating we sat outside sipping Japanese whiskey, taking in views of the hills to the south and watching Mt. Lafayette mottle red as the sun set.

Lichen on Greenleaf Hut.

Back inside before bed, our conversation turned to politics and Aaron was relieved to learn that toilet paper did not need to be packed out when used at the huts.

Day 2

At 6:30am, the Greenleaf Hut croo officially woke the hut with an acapella song. Breakfast was followed by the customary skit encouraging guests to fold their blankets, pack out their trash, and tip the croo.

Breakfast at Greenleaf Hut

We were heading up Mt. Lafayette by 8:15 and soon reached the top, where we spent some time enjoying the vista and snapping pictures.

Climb up to Mt Lafayette

Marker on top of Mt Lafayette
Peering out into the Pemigewasset Wilderness
Pretending to climb

From there, our route took us down and up along a ridge to the windy peak of Mt. Garfield.

Along the ridge from Mt Lafayette
Walking the ridge
Among the clouds
Lovely woods

On went the layers and we hunkered down out of the wind with our lunch of protein bars, trail mix, and fruit. Dad kindly shared his chocolate-covered espresso beans for dessert.

Sheltering for lunch on top of Mt Garfield

The trail from Mt. Garfield to Galehead Hut included lots of up and down, with large rocks and a good deal of water. At times, the trail seemed to merge with the stream alongside and we had to pick our way carefully down the slick rocks.

We reached Galehead Hut at 3pm and picked our bunks. The place was hopping on Saturday afternoon with guests, day hikers and thru-hikers inside, on the porch, and clustered among the rocks and grass outside.

Resting at Galehead Hut

We cleaned up, relaxed, sipped beer and played Trivial Pursuit while we waited for dinner, which was served at 6pm.

Trivial Pursuit at Galehead Hut

Dinner was turkey and mashed potatoes, with curried chick pea patties for the vegetarians.

Turkey dinner at Galehead Hut

We went to bed early to the sound of laughter and accordion music.

Day 3

The accordion announced the start of a wet and misty day at 6:30am.

Morning stretches, Galehead Hut

Breakfast at Galehead Hut featured oatmeal, eggs, pancakes and coffee. We took our time given the short distance we had to walk to Zealand Falls Hut.

Watching the mist roll in

Still, we were on our way up South Twin Mountain by 8:30 in a light drizzle that continued all day.

Setting out from Galehead Hut
Starting up South Twin
Wet walking

It was socked in by fog, and we didn’t linger.

On top of South Twin
Summit of South Twin

Instead, we headed down, then up and over Mt Guyot.

Approaching the top of Mt Guyot

From there the trail evened out for a very pleasant walk through boreal forest, rock, and water. The miles ticked by with gentle grade and engaging conversation about topics ranging from Onset to New Zealand to thru-hikers to the economics of the AMC huts.

Delicate mushroom
Traversing a bog

We opted to take the short spur to the top of Zealand Mountain, a peak so humble that it had to be marked with a cairn and a sign telling hikers they’d reached it. Without so much as a water break, we continued on to Zealand Falls Hut, which we reached around 1:45pm.

Lunch at Zealand Falls Hut

It was immediately our favorite–small yet spacious, and situated next to beautiful falls that could be heard all night. Each of us spent the afternoon reading or napping.

Bunk room at Zealand Falls Hut

We gathered for a tasty dinner of soup, bread, salad, roasted broccoli, stuffed shells, and carrot cake. After dinner, we took our bottle of Yamato out to the falls and sat watching the sky darken, while the yellow lights of the hut twinkled through the pines.

Day 4

I woke before 6am, poured myself a mixture of coffee and cocoa powder, and walked out to the falls, where I found Aaron watching the mist roll up the valley.

Mist in the valley

Dad joined us and we watched the sun rise before the morning song and call to breakfast.

Sun rising on Zealand Falls
Coffee with a view
Morning joe outside Zealand Falls Hut
Hot “coffee” at Zealand Falls Hut

We packed up and left shortly after 8, the trail descending alongside the falls and then leveling off as it skirted around a lake and headed deeper into birches and evergreens, mosses and ferns.

Starting down from Zealand Falls Hut

It was another wonderful walk, with fragrances of pine, mushrooms and flowers. The trail rose to the saddle of Mt Tom, which we declined to climb.

Approaching Mt Tom Spur

From there, the trail followed a creek where we emerged at Crawford Notch.

Reaching Crawford Depot
Finishing up at Crawford Depot

The wildflowers were blooming around the train depot and the lodge.

Wildflowers in Crawford Notch

As a bonus, we were early enough to take showers at the depot and have a beer while we waited for the shuttle to bring us back to our car. We redistributed our gear and headed south, stopping at The Common Man for dinner before Dad dropped us back at the airport.

It was another great trip, full of conversation and camaraderie. We’re already looking forward to next year.

Cook Men at Zealand Falls

Biking the Great Allegheny Passage

Over the summer, my father, brother and I decided to go on a trip together. Months of ideas, emails and calls finally coalesced into a plan to bike the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD. We would do it over three days, renting bikes and staying in B&Bs and hostels along the way.

Day 0

I drove out of DC on Wednesday afternoon, intending to leave my car in Cumberland and catch a train to Pittsburgh. Traffic was bad enough that I missed the train and we had to adjust our plans. Instead, I drove straight to Pittsburgh, where Dad and A were waiting with pizza and beer.

We ribbed A about leaving his wedding ring at home, and spent the evening catching up and calling home from our Airbnb (a converted dorm room).

Day 1

Leisurely morning. Packing up and walking to coffee and breakfast, then bike shop. Quick fitting and packing then back to the Point for a quick photo op. Weather gorgeous as we pedal through and then out of Pittsburgh.

Over the hot metal bridge and past the Steelers’ practice facility, whistles and horns and cameras in the air. Narrowly avoided a large snake across the path. Past train tracks and scrap metal years, old brick buildings, graneries, warehouses.

Through small towns, lots of American flags and bunting, also many signs of urban decay. A train had derailed the day before in McKee sport, and many men in helmets & reflective vests were swarming the bridge with hand tools trying to get it back on the tracks.


Coffee at a tea shop in Boston, lunch in West Newton. Long stretches through woods under canopy, winding so that the sun came from every direction. Conversation dealt mostly with physics, specifically batteries and energy.

Past attractive campgrounds and lovely houses on the river. Photo op at the 100 mile marker.

Started getting saddle sore the last 15 miles. Pulled in to Connellsville, unpacked, grabbed beer from Sheetz, and enjoyed a sundowner on the back porch.

Pasta dinner at Ruvos. Bed at 9:30.


Day 2

Woke at 7. Talked to Kiran. Great breakfast of sausage, egg and cheese with pesto. Chilly start leaving Connellsville and rode through woods next to river until Ohiopyle.

Stopped for coffee then on to Confluence, a very quiet town that reminded us of Shelton, NE. Fly fishermen stood in the sparkling, wide river. Had lunch at Parkview Grill. Proceeded on. Caused a collision with Dad when stopping short for a (dead) chipmunk. He was OK and we kept riding.

Climbed a ridge to look at the train tracks at Pinkerton Tunnel. Got into Rockwood around 3:30pm and had a celebratory ice cream cone. We also stumped up $2 each for blankets and $1 for towels at the hostel. After unpacking and showering, we walked the main street and had a couple of beers plus dinner at Rock City Cafe, talking mostly of politics.

Back at the hostel, searched in vain for good books or games and all were in bed by 8:30.

Day 3

Woke at 7:15. Dad turned up The Writer’s Almanac and we all lay listening. Breakfast at the general store: a donut, coffee and breakfast sandwich special. We were cold to start. Saw a couple of deer and an eagle.

Gained elevation, more color, farms, corn, cows, a little cemetery. Into Meyersdale. Found three coffee shops closed before locating one open, but with awkward service and mediocre coffee. Talked to a local who biked a lot back and forth between the towns we’ve passed. Back up the steep hill to the trail, then on to the Continental Divide.

Took a few pictures, then started moving very quickly downhill. In Frostburg, climbed a long, steep hill into town and ate a good meal at Mountain City. Back down and then on to Cumberland, with just a couple stops to read placards and have a look at the Bone Cave. Lots of weekenders on the trail. Finished in Cumberland, dropped off bikes, washed up, changed into clean clothes. Dropped into a sports bar and had beer and watched football. Ate a quick dinner and then walked to the train station on the other side of the tracks, leaving plenty of time for any mishaps.

Waited a while for the train then found our seats. Enjoyed one last brew in the observation car. It was dark, but we picked out some of the places we had been as we rumbled by in the black night, Meyersdale, Rockwood, Confluence. Dozed for the last couple of hours to Pittsburgh. Picked up the car, drove to the airport hotel and got in around midnight.


By the Numbers

3 men

3 days

Day 1

62 miles

Day 2

48 miles

Day 3

47 miles

7,939 calories burned

8 coffee stops


  1. Mountain City Coffee House & Creamery, Frostburg*
  2. Gasoline Street Coffee Co, Pittsburgh
  3. Springhill Suites, Pittsburgh
  4. Connellsville B&B, Connellsville
  5. Sweet Treats, Rockwood
  6. Market Square Bakery & Cafe, Meyersdale
  7. Falls Market Restaurant, Ohiopyle
  8. The Betsy Shoppe, McKeesport

1 crash

EPL 2017-2018

Premier League Predictions 2017/2018

The 2017-2018 EPL kicked off in anger on Friday, August 11 with an enthralling match between Leicester City and Arsenal. Ninety minutes and seven goals later, Arsenal came from behind three times to win, despite some truly comedic passing out of the back by Rob Holding. I enjoyed the match with my brother, Aaron, a Chelsea fan, and was reminded that I have yet to enshrine my predictions for this season. They are:

  1. Man City – Guardiola to come good in his second season in England. And really, how could he not with the likes of De Bruyne, Silva, Agüero, Jesus, Yaya, Gündoğan, Sané, etc? Their Achilles heel appears to be Ederson in the seemingly cursed goalkeeper position.
    Key Player: De Bruyne
  2. Chelsea – Too much quality in the Chelsea ranks to drop their standards, but I doubt the angel Morata will be as effective as the demon Costa.
    Key Player: Hazard
  3. Tottenham Hotspurs – A solid core with Kane, Alli, Eriksen, and Lloris, but failure to keep up with the spending of their rivals will see them stand still.
    Key Player: Eriksen
  4. Manchester United – Mourinho to drive a small improvement, with the help of wads of cash, but can’t fix the underlying issues this fallen giant.
    Key Player: Mkhitaryan
  5. Liverpool – An exciting side, but inconsistent and suicidal at the back.
    Key Player: Mané
  6. Arsenal – I admire Wenger for sticking to his principles in both sporting and financial terms, but that thrift simply can’t keep pace with the free spending of the rest.
    Key Player: Ramsey
  7. Everton – Despite some solid acquisitions, the Toffees aren’t able to keep pace with the first tier.
    Key Player: Siggurdson
  8. Southampton – Another season in the middle for Southampton.
    Key Player: Redmond
  9. Stoke City – The Potters will bounce back slightly after a difficult 2016/2017.
    Key Player: Shaqiri
  10. West Brom – Assembled of cast-offs from other teams, WBA will continue to punch their weight in the middle of the pack.
    Key Player: Rodriguez
  11. West Ham – Though somewhat haphazardly assembled, there is enough quality to keep the Hammers mid-table.
    Key Player: Noble
  12. Crystal Palace – A slight improvement over last season, but not much progress.
    Key Player: Zaha
  13. Bournemouth – Eddie Howe’s overachievers to sink more to their level.
    Key Player: Defoe
  14. Newcastle – With Benitez at the Helm, the Magpies can be confident in staying up.
    Key Player: Diamé
  15. Swansea – Another difficult season for the Swans.
    Key Player: Ki
  16. Leicester City – Champions of two seasons ago will flirt with relegation before just staying up.
    Key Player: Iheanacho
  17. Watford – The Hornets survive by the skin of their teeth.
    Key Player: Deeney
  18. Burnley – Brave Burnley to sink to the Championship.
    Key Player: Arfield
  19. Brighton – Fans to enjoy their season in the top tier, but it will be short-lived.
    Key Player: Bruno
  20. Huddersfield – A difficult season, but the parachute payments should help them bounce back up.
    Key Player: Ince

La Liga: Real Madrid
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich
Serie A: Juventus
Ligue 1: PSG
Champions League: Real Madrid