High Variance

Sex, Drugs, and Tough Decisions

I spent this week as a juror in a rape trial. It was heavy. We had a really consequential decision to make and not a lot of evidence to go on:

  • The testimony of the defendant and the alleged victim. They both said they met each other at a bar and within a few minutes they went into the men’s bathroom to do some coke. They both said they had sex. The defendant said it was consensual. The alleged victim said she was raped. The one person they said disrupted the encounter never took the stand.

  • Some photos of bruises on the defendant’s right arm taken 48 hours after the incident. These were consistent with bruises one would get from someone restraining her from behind, but the defendant did not remember being held like this. They were also yellowing which implied the injury might have occurred earlier than the incident.

  • A medical report from an exam two days after the incident. There were no injuries beyond the arm bruises, but that wouldn’t be inconsistent with rape. The statement taken at the time was very similar to what the defendant said on the stand, but did differ in some important ways. In the statement she says she was “very drunk” and did not remember actual sex. On the stand, she said she was not very drunk, was well aware of what was happening, and did remember actual sex.

After two days of deliberation, at least 11 of us thought it was more likely that the defendant committed rape than not. But our job was to presume innocence and only convict if the evidence convinced us beyond a reasonable doubt.

Could we come up with a plausible scenario that was consistent with the evidence AND consensual sex? It didn’t have to be his story, but it couldn’t be her story. Was it plausible that she lied about what happened? Could it be that she went along with it willingly (but not enthusiastically) and then regretted it? Could it be that she thought her friends or her boyfriend would hear about what happened? Could it be that she felt that the high price of saying it was rape was lower than the high price of her boyfriend finding out that she had consensual sex in a bar bathroom while he was away with his friends for the weekend? Yes. I think it’s unlikely, but plausible. Every other person on the jury thought it was at least plausible too. So we rendered a Not Guilty Verdict.

We followed the rules given to us by the judge and did our job. And we let a man who probably raped a woman go free. It doesn’t feel good, even though I’m also sure we didn’t put an innocent man in jail. I don’t want my girls to grow up in a world where, if a man is alone with a woman (in a bathroom, in a car, in bedroom, …), it’s just not that hard for him to rape her and get away with it. Especially if she’s drunk and scared. Is the burden of proof too high? Do we need to change the legal definition of consent? What can we teach our daughters to protect them? These are the questions I’m struggling with in the aftermath of this trial.

When you spend three days trying to imagine exactly what happened between a man and a woman in a bar bathroom, it haunts you. This isn’t like watching a movie. You’re trying to imagine yourself there. You’re thinking hard about what’s possible, what’s plausible, what’s likely, and what you know for sure. And we literally spent several hours each day for three days doing this. I wasn’t in that bathroom, but these scenes are seared into my memory. We intently studied the faces of the defendant and victim on the stand in the court room looking for clues and insights into their credibility. There are so many details I’ll never forget.

Jim McKee (1942-2018)

My dad’s memorial service was last Saturday. Here’s what I had to say:

Thank you all for coming today to remember and honor James Russell McKee III.

I want to take a few minutes to talk about who Jim McKee was and what he meant to me as a father. Jim McKee was born in the Bronx on July 7, 1942. As a kid, he loved riding his bike, and swimming and playing in the woods. He was raised Catholic and read Ayn Rand. He joined the navy, drank too much, and met my mother at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I asked her the other day why she married him. She said he was smart, funny, and (of course) very good looking. In less than a year he had had his first kid (me) and that marriage had fallen apart. As far as I can tell, he spent far more time working than working on the relationship.

He met Chris, his second wife, at another AA meeting and for a while, this went better. He had two more kids, two cats, and an idyllic house in Teaneck. I had some of the best times of my life in that house. My dad wasn’t much for long conversations, but he helped me with my math homework, argued with me about baseball, and watched tv with me. He even tried to explain what he did for work, first as a market researcher for the New York Times and later as a computer programmer for Windsor Systems. And he worked a lot.

Then the whole thing fell apart about as badly as you could possibly imagine. I will skip the details here, but within a year, he was unemployed, living alone, and having seizures regularly. A big part of this was his own doing, but he also got really unlucky. For example, he lost his job because he had a seizure at work and his boss said he couldn’t risk that happening in front of a client.

He met Judy, his third wife, in a psychiatric hospital. I don’t know anyone that would have benefitted more from Internet dating than my dad. She was crazy, but had a big heart. Dad seemed to learn from his earlier mistakes and as far as I could tell, they had a great relationship. I watched my dad’s patience and compassion with her mental illness right to the bitter end.

For most of his last thirty years, my dad was a devout atheist and socialist. Most of the time he was rational and compassionate. He read widely until it was just too hard to read, but he kept up on the news with MSNBC right up to the end. In 2007 he wrote a letter to the editor of the Bergen Record. Here’s one paragraph:

I also consider myself to be an ethical person, that is I try my best to live the golden rule, not because I fear where I’m going when I die, but because I think it’s the right thing to do. It is not necessary to believe in a divine or supernatural being in order to be a kind and loving person. I think that churches rather than being so called houses of worship should be converted to places where people could gather together for social reasons, and if considered necessary, to preach only idealism.

On many days my dad was confused. He would try to convince me that Google had bought Apple, and he would regularly try to rewire his apartment to “fix” his computer. But even on these days he was patient and kind. I would try really hard to be patient and kind back, but it was hard. He was a great role model.

So here are the lessons I take away from my dad’s life:

  1. Follow your heart
  2. Work hard, but not too hard
  3. Some people get really lucky in life, some people get really unlucky, and most people get both. Make the best of the cards you are dealt.
  4. Treat everyone you meet with empathy and generosity.

I think he would have really appreciated us getting together and celebrating his life rather than mourning his loss. So let’s share stories and laugh and appreciate the time we had with him. Thank you.

The Happy Mosh Pit

I don’t go to a lot of concerts, so when I do, the stakes are high. That’s especially the case now that I live in Ithaca where you have to drive three hours to see anyone who’s not sitting on a stool playing an acoustic guitar. Thursday night my friend Kelly and I drove to the Clifton Park Concert Hall to see French heavy metal band Gojira. The whole experience was awesome.

I fully expected the music to be amazing, and it was. I love Gojira. Their early albums are super-heavy and they’ve become more interesting over time. If you’ve never heard them, I highly recommend their last two albums which are super-catchy and accessible. And then there’s their concept album (From Mars to Sirius) that mixes death metal and whale songs. Sounds ridiculous, but it totally works. The band is from the wild Brittany coast and all their albums are infused with environmental sensitivity.

They played a nice mix of old stuff and new. Joe’s stage banter was fun. Mario’s drum solo was awesome and I thought I was burnt out on drum solos. Really the only disappointment was that they didn’t play The Axe, my personal favorite Gojira song. I guess I’ll have to see them again for that.

Metal fans get a bad rap. People think we’re all a bunch of aggro meat heads. Well most metal fans are actually pretty nice guys, and the crowd at this show was the kindest and sweetest I’ve every seen. Some evidence:

  • Lots of smiling throughout.

  • When anyone would stumble in the mosh pit, everyone around him would stop to give him a hand up. It was like competitive helping.

  • One dude stopped to tie his shoes in the mosh pit and no one knocked him over.

  • Another guy was actually drinking a beer in a plastic cup in the pit. He’d get bumped occasionally and splash the people around him, but they’d just laugh.

  • I saw plenty of fans throwing the horns (pinkie and fore-finger), but multiple folks were putting their hands over their heads in heart shapes—Maybe throwing hearts is a thing now?

  • I noticed a fan wearing a shirt with a big swastika on the back of it and pointed it out to my friend. Then he said wait a second, it’s got a red circle around it with a backslash!

  • You know that guy at the metal show who doesn’t seem to know the band’s songs very well and is kind of drunk? He just loves getting violent in a pit. He’s always there, and this concert was no exception. I saw him during the opening act wearing a New England Patriots shirt—a pretty aggressive move in upstate New York. But then I talked to him during the break when he was loading up at the bar and he was super nice!

These are the kinds of things that happen when the singer says things like: “I want everyone to be in the moment!” “Put your phones away–I want to feel like I’m playing in the 80’s!” “Let your everyday problems float away and just be present and feel the love all around us!” Gojira is the best.

Moving From iPhone 6 to 7

You might think the world has plenty of iPhone 7 reviews. Maybe even more iPhone 7 reviews than it needs. You’re probably right, but the vast majority are written by nerds who upgrade their phones every year. Upgrading is a totally different experience for regular people who have waited two (or more) years. As a recent upgrader from a venerable iPhone 6+, I am here to tell you that it’s worth moving up to the latest and greatest.

Battery: After two years of use (including 4 tough months of Pokemon Go), the battery on my 6+ was in bad shape. Now I’m back to making it through a whole day without an external battery pack. Phew!

CPU/GPU: The 7+ is noticeably faster. Apps start faster and game animations are smoother. Nice.

RAM: The 6+ had 1GB. This wasn’t enough. Switching apps almost always required the app to start from scratch. Switching web pages meant watching slow reloads. All that’s gone with the 7+’s tripled RAM. I think this is the most noticeable improvement and it’s glorious.

Camera: The camera is higher resolution, better in low light, and has 2x optical zoom. Live pictures (which store a little bit of video before and after your still) are new since the 6. All this is neat and lots of folks will appreciate it more than me.

Other Stuff:

  • Turning it on is faster since it recognizes when you pick it up. This is cool.
  • The home button is worse, but the phone is a lot more waterproof than before.
  • The vibrate alert is just as vibrate-y and it’s now quieter when the phone is sitting on a table.
  • The new colors are fine, but totally not noticeable when the phone is in a case.
  • No headphone jack = no big deal.

The 6 is a pretty good phone–Unless yours is broken, you don’t need to upgrade. That said, the 7 is a lot better and I notice the improvements every day.

Let’s Wait Awhile

My girls are precocious. The seven year-old reads beyond her age, climbs trees higher than she should, and seems pretty interested in boys. The five year-old wants to do anything her older sister does. Right now, I feel like I have a handle on the situation, but the future scares the heck out of me. As Kelly Oxford has made abundantly clear, girls are vulnerable and many boys out there take advantage of it. And as Donald Trump has personified, many of these boys never grow up and instead just move to more powerful positions.

My plan is to continue to keep a close eye on my girls and try to keep the lines of communication open. I’ll also do my best to encourage friendships with kids that aren’t quite so risk-loving. Another idea I’ve had is to start playing more music with positive messages–Maybe it can be a subliminal influence. Here’s the start of a play list and I’d appreciate suggestions for additions:

There's something I want to tell you
There's something I think that you should know
It's not that I shouldn't really love you
Let's take it slow
When we get to know each other
And we're both feeling much stronger
Then let's try to talk it over
Let's wait awhile longer
  • “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” (Jermaine Stewart) This song was huge when I was in high school, and I might have to wait until the girls are in high school to play it. If it hasn’t yet occurred to you to take your clothes off to have to have a good time, I’d rather not implant the idea. And drinking cherry wine? That’s just going to lead to taking clothes off!
So come on baby, won't you show some class
Why do you have to move so fast?
We don't have to take our clothes off
To have a good time
Oh no
We could dance and party all night
And drink some cherry wine, oh
Just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight
Just a touch of the fire burning so bright
And I don't want to mess this thing up
I don't want to push too far
Just a shot in the dark that you just might
Be the one I've been waiting for my whole life
So baby I'm alright, with just a kiss goodnight

I’ve put the list on Spotify too.

Thinking About Getting a Unicycle?

Some people reach midlife and buy a fancy red sports car to recapture their youth. I bought a fancy red unicycle that was on sale for Valentine’s Day at unicycle.com. I’ve since worked my way up to comfortably riding the six blocks or so between my office and my the parking lot each day. At first, the tiniest obstacles would totally throw off my balance. My messenger bag! A crack in the sidewalk! A slight turn! A breeze! I’m better now and it’s still super fun.

Every day I get smiles, finger points, and questions. The most common are “Where did you get that thing?” and “Is it hard to learn?” This makes me think there’s a nontrivial population of folks out there that are intrigued by the idea of getting and riding a unicycle, but don’t quite know what’s involved or how to get started. Don’t worry–I’m here to help.

There are really cheap (sub $100) unicycles out there, but I had one in middle school and managed to break it in just a couple months. The cheap ones also have really uncomfortable saddles. The good news is that even really nice unicycles are relatively cheap compared to bikes. Mine is a Nimbus 26” Muni (“Mountain Unicycle”). They cost $360 and are completely bomb-proof. The knobby tires look cool and it’s fun to be able to ride on dirt roads and grass.

If you’re pretty tall, then get a 26” wheel; otherwise get one with a 24” wheel. Anything smaller and you’ll be riding slower than you walk. If money isn’t a serious issue and you want something to ride around town, get a Nimbus II ($290)–It’s pretty darned similar to my Muni but with a smooth tire. If you’re on a budget, get a Club 26” ($150). The learning curve with any unicycle is steep, but you make a little progress each day. It might take several weeks before you can ride, and that makes the per hour cost super low.

So what’s the upshot of all of this? Just go to unicycle.com, buy one, and invest some time in learning to ride. You won’t regret it.

AnyList vs Grocery IQ

Jason Snell recently wrote that once he invests the time to learn and get comfortable with a tool, it takes something not just a little better, but substantially better to get him to switch. His examples were software he uses to edit podcasts and his overall computer set up: He edits his podcasts with Apple’s Logic even though many folks think he should move to Adobe Audition. Similarly, he really likes a lot about working on an iPad, but it’s not enough to make him sell his Mac and go whole hog on iOS.

I tend to agree with Mr. Snell on most things and this is no exception. About a year ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find we both used the same grocery list app: Grocery IQ. Sure, it’s kind of ugly and barely maintained and littered with useless coupons, but it worked better than any other list app (general or grocery-specific) I had tried. And yet, when I saw the folks over at The Sweet Setup chose AnyList as their favorite grocery shopping app I was tempted–Could it be worth the switching cost? On the other hand, this is an app my wife and I both use several times per week so the bar was higher than usual. I bit the bullet and checked it out.

The short answer is that AnyList is way better than Grocery IQ and I couldn’t be happier that I switched. Here’s why:

  1. I can add items to the shopping list with Siri; e.g., “Add bananas to my grocery list.”
  2. I can reorder aisles (“categories”) to match my store’s layout.
  3. AnyList makes more efficient use of screen real estate.
  4. No coupons!
  5. AnyList has much faster syncing of shared lists.
  6. It’s under active development. This has tangible benefits relative to Grocery IQ like the fact that it uses the current iOS keyboard instead of a grody old one.

From here on out, I’m going to be more open to trying new tools. In this case, I screwed up the cost benefit calculation on both sides: I couldn’t imagine the app could be this much better than what I was already using, and I over-estimated the switching costs–It’s not like a had a whole bunch of muscle memory invested in checking off items as I bought them.

Adi Gildor (1969-2015)

Adi Gildor was my best friend. He died last week. I still can’t believe it, but this is what I said at his memorial service:

I know I’m not the only person here who thought of Adi as their best friend. He was that kind of guy. We grew up together. We were still growing up together and we were supposed to grow old together. I gave the best man toast at his wedding, but I never ever thought I would be up here speaking today.

I can’t tell you how many times Adi called me over the last few years and said “We should go back to Moab to go mountain biking again” or “Let’s road trip to Mexico again,” and I would say “Definitely, but not yet.” Just like Adi, I’ve got two little kids, but my wife isn’t as cool with me going off on adventures without her as Rose was. We won’t get to do those things together now, but at least we did them the first time.

Adi and I met when we were in high school. We were just a couple of nerdy teenagers who thought we knew more than we actually did. Adi taught me how to curse in Spanish, how to appreciate Shakespeare, and how to recognize the hot peppers in Thai food. That last one, he taught me only after I ate one. He thought it was hilarious. We learned together how to avoid getting stuffed into lockers by the football players. And then we both grew four inches in college and didn’t have to worry about that sort of thing anymore.

There were things about Adi that never changed over the years.

He was the most generous guy I knew. He would literally give you the shirt off his back. One of my favorite shirts is one that Adi left at my house a few years ago. When I said I liked it he told me I should keep it. It was brown and a little shiny and had snaps. Rose remembers it. He would send me shoes and jackets too. We even had an ugly t-shirt club where we would send each other shirts and dare each other to wear them. I think I still have a My Little Pony shirt he sent me.

Adi knew how to have a good time. We went snorkeling in the South Pacific in a tiny country called Palau. We hiked and camped all over the 4 corners. We even bike-packed in Baja California where we drove on some of the worst roads you’ll ever see in my Honda CRX. It was never the same after that trip. I mostly stopped doing these adventures with him when kids were born, but he certainly didn’t stop!

You always knew where you stood with Adi. When he was mad, he would say I’m mad at you. And he would tell you why. Sometimes it was reasonable: I called you a week ago; Why haven’t you called me back? Sometimes it wasn’t: I told you to watch that movie a week ago; Why haven’t you watched it yet?

And he always had a keen sense of justice. I remember one time he was living in Colorado Springs walking his dog Eloise late at night. Some guys drove real fast right by them and Adi ran after them yelling. The car stopped and three of them got out of the car to ask if he had a problem. The guy talking was a lot bigger than Adi, so Adi hit him first. When he went down, the guy’s two “friends” took off. After giving the guy a pretty hard time, Adi felt sorry for him and I’m pretty sure Adi ended up giving him a ride home.

When Adi realized that the artsy Colorado Springs movie theater only gave student discounts to students at four year colleges, he wrote a letter about it to the local newspaper. And just a couple months ago he told me about confronting a couple guys at his gym who had the nerve to be drinking smoothies in the hot tub.

Adi would listen to advice, but at the end of the day, Adi followed his heart. Well after he finished college, he enlisted in the army and went through boot camp. Then he got tired of living in Massachusetts and moved to Colorado Springs. Why? He liked the high desert, the cheap living, and the great hiking, biking, and snowboarding. And it had a very good public library.

Adi figured out what he wanted and just did it. The best example of all is that he married the woman he loved. Sure, she was a lot younger than him. Sure, she wasn’t Jewish. He didn’t care. He loved her so he married her.

I never thought I’d see Adi “settle down”, but he did and he did it on his own terms. He grew up, he took responsibility, but he never stopped having fun. He had two kids, but they only made his life more fun. When I talked to him last week he told me about how had been running in the woods with Henry. They would play crazy make-believe games and when Henry got tired, Adi would put him on his back and run around some more.

Adi never cared about stuff. He cared about his friends, his family, and his lived experience. He loved doing stuff. Snowboarding, hanging out with people, arguing about ideas, making plans, reading. That’s why the way he died is so shocking. He loved living.

In my heart I believe that what happened that night was an aberration. It shouldn’t have happened and it was not who he was 99% of the time. I’m not going to deny what happened at the end, but I’m going to remember the Adi in my heart that loved his family, loved his friends, and loved life.

You can also watch the whole Memorial Service (including this eulogy) on YouTube. You can learn more about Adi and give money to his sons Henry and Arlo at YouCaring.

Growing Up With a Single Mom

A good friend who is a single mom recently published an article about the angst she feels on Father’s Day. She wonders aloud what her son might or might not be missing out on by growing up with only a mom in the house. I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there, and wanted to share my personal experience as an only (and male) child of a single mom.

Let’s get the biology nonsense out of the way first. I did not need a man around to teach me how to pee, how to shave, or about the birds and the bees. Holding your penis and aiming it at the toilet just isn’t that hard. Shaving a face is not that different from shaving legs. As for sex, my friends told me about the basics, and my mom taught me to treat women decently. There isn’t any secret knowledge about sex that fathers have to transmit to their sons. Or if there is, I seem to be getting by just fine without it.

I didn’t live with a “male role model,” and I’m not sure what I would have gained from it. People are different in many ways beyond gender. I didn’t have an athlete role model or a computer nerd role model in the house either but still managed to be a decent amateur swimmer and eventually a professional programmer. Then there’s the fact that role models don’t have to live with you. Teachers, neighbors, coaches, parents of friends can all be role models. My local Radio Shack Color Computer Club was loaded with role models. And finally, my mother was a terrific role model as a teacher, an artist, and a lifelong learner.

I did grow up with many “traditionally male” interests, and sure, it would have been nice to have a dad around who could show me how to hold a bat or identify sports cars we saw in the wild. But I had many other interests too. My mom took me to concerts, and plays and museums. She indulged my creative side and brought me to the beach all summer long. I got to have long uninterrupted conversations with her because it was just the two of us.

To be honest, the only thing I feel like I missed out on by having a single mom was getting to closely observe two adults in a healthy relationship. It took me some extra time to figure out how to create and maintain these kinds of relationships since they were new. On the other hand, many kids in two parent families don’t get to see that either and instead learn bad tastes and behaviors that are hard to break. I got to start with a clean slate.

The bottom line is that my mom did a wonderful job raising me, and I think most single moms have all the tools they need: Their kids are in great hands.

In Praise of Dentists

My whole life I’ve hated going to the dentist. The sound of the drill. The smell of decay being ground away. Spitting out shards of teeth and blood. And let’s not forget the often intense physical pain. I know dentists do important work, and I know the world would be a lot worse without them, but I’ll never enjoy the experience of someone digging around in my mouth, and I’ll always dread my next visit.

My goal in this article is not to praise dentists in general, but instead, to express my sincere appreciation for three specific dentists who went above and beyond the call of duty to make my dad’s life better. My father has had problems with his dentures since the day he got them. That’s the downside of picking a prosthodontist because her office is one block away from your apartment. My dad needed someone new to fix his teeth or make new ones, but neither of us knew anything about dentists in northern New Jersey.

Dr. Gerald Alexander is my dentist in New Haven, and he’s the best dentist I’ve ever had. He takes pride in every aspect of his work, his office is spotless, and his staff are top notch. I know he treats them well because he’s had no turnover in the six years I’ve been seeing him. And of course, his actual dentistry is excellent.

Dr. A is well-connected, and I thought he might know someone good in New Jersey that could help my dad. Even though he didn’t, he did make a whole bunch of phone calls on my dad’s behalf, not stopping until he found someone close by that he trusted: Dr. Chetan Patil in Englewood.

Dr Patil is a periodontist and he was happy to see my dad right away. During our appointment his staff were patient and understanding. When Dr Patil finished checking out my dad’s gums, he could have just done the work himself, but he knew someone else who was a lot better with dentures than he was. Dr. Patil’s staff made a quick phone call for us, and Dr Javier Urquiola said he could fit us in as his last appointment that day. We rushed right over.

Dr Urquiola didn’t just throw out the existing dentures and start over. He spent an hour working to repair and adjust the old dentures and got a perfect fit for the top denture. The bottom partial was much improved but it wasn’t possible to make it stable. Dr. Urquiola stayed late that day to make an impression for a new one. Since then he’s worked with my dad (not the easiest patient) to make sure the new denture fits as well as it possibly can.

Thank you Drs. Alexander, Patil, and Urquiola. You are truly making the world a better place.