"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer

30.11.08

Book Reports! An American Tragedy...and a Travesty

I have really been neglecting my reading lately until this past fall, when I applied some much needed eye drops to the ol' peepers and finally stretched out the cognitive functions in my brain once again.

First up was Philip Roth's newest book, Indignation. Roth is a highly-acclaimed American novelist famous for his exploration of the Jewish condition in 20th Century America and his recurring character Nathan Zuckerman.

I have read one other of his books, 2004's The Plot Against America, an historical "what-if" about the repercussions to Jewish Americans of real-life Nazi-sympathizer Charles Lindbergh winning the 1940 presidential election.

Indignation is a much shorter and considerably lighter entry of his favorite subject matter. Marcus Messner tells a first-person account of a Jewish boy from Roth's own home of Newark, New Jersey attending college in Christian, Midwestern Ohio, far from home and the annoying clutches of his overbearing, kosher-butcher father. A comedic-page turner to the tragic end, Roth captures the quintessential American experience from the 1950's while Messner fights for independence and self-confidence on an journey of sexual discovery. As with The Plot against America, Roth uncovers feelings that we've all hidden behind walls of silence or tough exteriors, while showing the younger of us that they are universal throughout past generations. Providing the older of us with a nostaligic and poignient look back on a country that was much larger and far more mysterious and open from the coasts to the heartland.

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Eric Van Lustbader picked up the Jason Bourne saga from Robert Ludlum and has over 21 other novels that are international bestsellers, but First Daughter is the first book of his that I've ever read, and I'm dismayed, yet not surprised he has gotten as far as he has. Capitalizing on the backlash to the current president's faith-based administation, Lustbader weaves a somewhat intriguing thriller starring a goverment agent on the trail of the President-elect's kidnapped daughter.

Yet, while the prologue is a shocker, grabbing you by the lapels with the post-kidnapped daughter about to commit a terrorist act at her own father's inauguration, the entire story becomes bogged down by seemingly endless cliches and abysmal dialogue. The main character is - of course - named "Jack [Irish surname]," a loner who hides dark secrets and sees the world in a very different way - his "synapses" are contantly "firing". Every chapter, a main character is brought to their knees by emotional kvetching or unconsolable sobbing, or delivering heavy-handed soliliquies. Lustbader is trying to accomplish too much with these amaturish devices, to fill in needed information all at once that could should be spread out more subltly. Mistaking melodrama for literary weight.

Bad writing has never stopped anyone from making a living at it, howver. The entire novel reads like a screen-play starring James Kaan and Jennifer Aniston and it's plausible that's exactly what Lustbader had in mind. His Bourne novels have paid the bills for years apparently, although I'm not entirely sure he doesn't have Matt Damon to thank for that.

26.11.08

Hump Day

Good news: Thomas Lynch pleads “Guilty.” Remember – the roads are for everybody. That type of behavior is only acceptable behind a shopping cart on Black Friday, not the steering wheel.

Bad news: George Ryan is appealing to President Bush for clemency, after being left off the pardon list. The man who used state finances as his and his friend’s own private campaign financing, and probably has more than a little blood on his hands in the Licenses-For-Bribes-Scandal could get out of prison after having served less than a year.

Even worse news: It’s with Dick Durbin’s help. I know you are sympathetic, but people are dead because of this man. It's more than just political scandal.

More bad news: Thanks, China!

Better news: Traffic is much lighter today. Ironically, today is my first long Thanksgiving Eve drive, ever.

Cuter news: Meet our new dog, Jack


The best news: my new bike arrives sometime next week. A Max Lelli Tiburzi Pro, with Dura Ace/FSA and Hed Stinger 60 wheels.

Gimme Hed til I’m Deda.

23.11.08

Rain

A trail of dusty footprints
Without one drop of sweat
Illuminated at morning,
In shadow towards sunset.
Over sun-baked earth they lead
Through wrinkled cracks, a desert shore
Five sides, five times their number
From the years before.
Not unquenchable is my thirst
For I know I walk towards rain
That growing storm is at the edge
And will soon bring relief and pain.
A passing shower, far ahead
Dampened the air, erased the age
With muddy skin, faceless, shiny
Slick and wet, a brand new page.
A coming deluge, a wall of power
A million drops of tears and grief
To slake my longing, end my waiting
Killing the unending heat beneath.
For now the steps are dry again
But the storm on the edge tests my will
I smell the heavy damp in the air
And the shadow behind grows longer still.

21.11.08

Random Friday (and Haiku Friday Returns)

I got my 15 minutes today.

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People! Pumpkins. Trash. NOW.

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A name in the air
Frozen in the cold sunshine
Our last memories

18.11.08

Dreams

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a recurring dream.

I’m back in college, and through the ambiguity of time I wander about the semester, loving my music and writing classes – but waking up with a start on finals day realize I’ve been missing my history class the entire time and I’m going to fail. It’s obviously a work ethic issue. I seem to have it when I am being particularly lazy at work, or when layoffs are imminent. I dreamed this incessantly in the months before losing my last job.

I am always back in Denton, in the warm sunshine, living in the dorm room – during my underclassman days, when I was still taking those basic requirement classes. Being from Alaska, there was no way I could justify flying down to Texas for orientation and registration when just 3 weeks later I’d be moving into the dorm. So of course when I registered after the entire freshman class, I had 8am theory Monday through Thursday. My priority as a freshman was to drink as much beer as possible every night of the week, so generally those mornings started at 7:55 with me struggling through my remaining buzz to remember where I was before putting on last night’s clothes and running to class – barging into a tonalization exercise 10 minutes late and BOing profusely. The TA would give me a sad look of disgust and pity, then get back to the lesson dismissively.

It’s not a huge regret of mine – nothing ever is – but I probably would’ve been a much more successful musician had a put effort into those early college theory classes.

This dream captures perfectly the frantic helplessness of the 7:55 moment, the frustrations of never being able to change my bad habits, the self-loathing I felt upon interrupting class, over and over.

Last night, however the dream changed quite bit. I was still in school and living in the dorm, however, my brother was there with me. For his first day of school. He never went to college. I was so proud of him in the dream – yet with a feeling of complete normalcy. The idea of him at college didn’t seem weird at all – which in reality is a laugher. Not disparaging him at all – he's a thick-skinned, up-at-5am-to-work-in-the-dark-10-below-Alaskan-morning, blue-collar, donuts and black coffee, “get your fucking ass up there” electrician.

In the dream we rode the campus shuttle together, where at one point I got off to retrieve my bike – a brakeless fixie for some reason – and we went our separate ways. A little later we connected by cell phone. He was headed off to get loaded at some bar and I was headed to the library. I chided him, self-confidently.

I wonder if something is about to change in my life. I don’t believe in fate, or spirituality, but then again I don’t believe in coincidences. I do believe in some sort of extra-sensory perception. I spell it out so as not to let the acronym give a sense of cliché. But I believe there are some things that we just know.

My aunt, my mom’s older sister, has terminal cancer. She’s been waiting to die since May when she received the news that the tumor in her brain had not been eradicated as thought, and that the malignancy in her lung had spread to her liver. I’d never seen anyone dying of cancer before. Everyone knows it’s an awful way to go, but seeing it in-person is another thing entirely.

I haven’t seen much, only the suffering on her face – swollen from steroids – when the headaches wash over in waves of pain. Her dizziness and confusion. Her disinterest in a remaining life of shuffling between meals, the toilet, and the bed.

I’ve visited her twice since the diagnosis. Once over Labor Day and the second time about a month ago – just going through the motions while gradually getting weaker.

About 10 days ago, I went to bed rather early, and had a dream about her.

In the dream, the cancer was gone. She was her old self. Just the two of us, we stood in the kitchen of her old house, where so many family reunions have gathered over beers, cheese and crackers, jokes and ostensibly hurt feelings from political discussions. But there was no cigarette in her hand, no haze in the room, her face wasn’t wrinkled, her hair was shiny and lively, and she wore a wry smile.

“I’m glad that’s over with,” she said in her characteristic exasperated laugh.

The next morning, the dream out of memory, I checked my email over coffee and saw a note from my mom, sent the night before, after I’d gone to bed. Mary had taken a strong turn for the worse earlier that evening. Hearing that brought the dream back. Sometimes we just know.

Once the end stages hit – it’s over very soon. The labored and rattling breathing, the indignities, the morphine, and constant sleeping are now apparent as her body finally shuts down.

She’s made peace with her family, her friends, and I hope she’s going now with a little suffering as possible. I hope the worst is over for her.

16.11.08

Winter Commuting: There's No Bad Weather...

...only bad clothing. And bad planning.

Now that snow is soon on its way and temps are heading downward with the economy, it doesn't mean your bike commuting is over for the year. With relatively little money - smart spending - and some common sense, your practicality can continue through the dark, cold months while all the other suckers rot in their cages or inhale other people's germs on buses and trains.

Bad clothing does not mean cheap clothing. Quite the contrary. Following these recommendations for dressing and riding will keep your winter commuting enjoyable, warm, and safe.

Layers:
Keeping the core warm will save your extremities; the body doesn't have to divert blood from fingers and toes. The general rule is an extra layer for every ten degrees below 50 (anything below 60, just remember to keep your legs and arms covered). You will sweat some, so try to stick to technical fabrics - material that wicks moisture away from the skin - instead cotton. But unless your ride is over an hour, it's not a big deal. Just worry about the proper layers.

As the temperatures head below freezing, a thermal layer and a wind stopper become imperative - on top of the base layers. Any wind making it through the outer layer will immediately chill your core. Block it with some sort of fleece top underneath a wind breaker. However, if you do have some money to spend, I highly recommend the Cannondale Thermal Jacket, which combines the thermal layer and the wind stopper into one versatile piece of activewear. Its resembles a cold-water scuba-diving suit, and I've used mine religiously since 2005. It's never let me down. If you look hard enough it can be found for under $100 online.

If you feel like spending money on a good set of winter cycling bibs, the Pearl Izumi offering is the perfect choice. They are full-thermal, with added wind-stopping fabric on the leg-fronts. Winter bibs do not have a chamois so you can wear them day-to-day without having to wash them. Use your regular shorts underneath. However, a pair of long underwear or thermal layer underneath your jeans - some sort of wind pants would be better - will get you there. The wind stopper is again most needed over the core.

Keep the core warm, and you won't have so much trouble keeping everything else comfortable.

Hands and feet:
Any sort full-fingered gloves will work - use ski gloves below freezing, they are windproof. Cover your ears with a balaclava.

One of the best tricks for keeping toes warm is to put a plastic grocery bag over your feet before putting your shoes on. This will actually make your feet too warm, but aromatic toe jam is preferable to frost-bite upon getting to your destination. There used to be a mechanic at Rapid Transit Cycles in Wicker Park - Sarah - who made fleece-lined winter covers for toe clips. Anything to keep the wind out will keep your feet warmer.

Lights:
Winter commuting means riding in the dark. Display at least two rear (red) blinkie lights and make sure the batteries are strong. Many people don't realize just how dim their rear lights are and that they are dangerously under-visible. . Attach at least one to the frame and have another on your helmet or bag.

The Cateye Opticube is a great choice for a front light. It requires three AAA batteries and can be easily moved from bike to bike with its tool-less mounting system.

For longer rides, to the suburbs like I do, I recommend a rechargeable unit. They attract a lot more attention when streetlights are fewer and the road surface ahead is highly illuminated. Batteries can either be mounted to handlebars or helmet, and the corded battery is mounted to the frame or carried in a pocket. Nite Rider and Light & Motion are two great brands found at many cycling shops.

Your ride:
It's simple: fenders, fenders, fenders. Road salt will eat your bike alive.

Wider tires with traction and lower pressure.

This is all you need to know.


Final Tips:

  • It’s easy to pack light. A rear rack and pannier are a bonus, but not needed. Leave a pair of shoes at the office, and if you roll up your clothes tightly, even your suit won’t need ironing and there’s plenty of room for lunch.
  • A shower is not necessary, even after an hour ride. Most people don’t ride hard enough to really sweat to begin with so a damp rag and a comb is all you need.
  • Being able to take your bike on the Metra trains is one of the huge advantages of the reverse commute to the suburbs. Make sure you bring a bungee chord to secure your bike with, and be prepared for overcrowding by leaving a second beater bike at your destination station.
  • Avoid peak travel times to minimize potential conflict. Leave early. Most employers will be happy to accommodate your schedule as long as you are getting a full day of work in.
  • Most importantly, be predictable and ride confidently. A wobbly cyclist who can’t hold a straight line and dips in and out of parked cars will unnerve drivers. It sounds right from Mr. Rogers’ mouth, but don’t blow stop lights and at least yield to the right of way before proceeding through stop-signs. Look over your shoulder, signal, and when safe, take the lane or turn with authority. It’s your right of way. Use it or lose it.
Ethan Spotts of CBF adds:
"If it's wet out, wipe your bike down when you get home. Salt and wet will ruin your bike and components (brakes, chain, shifters, etc.). While it's not highly recommended for bike use, I use WD-40 in the winter to get that crude out....a quick spray on your components and then a wipe down will keep your bike going throughout the week until you can do a more complete cleaning and use real bike lube on chain/components."

14.11.08

Thursday Hate (Late)

Fuck these people.





Fructose is sweeter, more refined than cane or beet sugar. It's broken down by the body faster and therefore is stored as fat faster, if not used as glycogen for muscular activity almost immediately. And as we also know that much of the packaged-goods products containing high fructose corn syrup are not being consumed by people fond of exercise.

I'm not blaming all of our problems with obesity and diabetes on HFC...it's yet another symptom of a culture of sloth, shortcuts, and self-indulgence. The same type of laziness that just runs patronizing ads to counter facts in protection of a bottom line instead doing actual work to address the problem.

Our Place


"Two hundred years ago, a typical distance across which finbacks could communicate was perhaps 10,000 kilometers. Today, the corresponding number is perhaps a few hundred kilometers...We have cut whales off from themselves. Creatures that communicated for tens of millions of years have now effectively been silenced."
--- Carl Sagan, in his immortal Cosmos




Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Navy could continue SONAR exercises around whales. Their reasoning was that the training of the fleet outweighed the researchers study and the good of the whales, because "[e]ven if plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of irreparable injury, such injury is outweighed by the public interest and the Navy's interest in effective, realistic training of its sailors."

This is completely within the expected worldview of such an entity. A centrist microcosm of human debate, it's a tool by which we settle disputes. Most people will not put whales above human needs, so nor should we be surprised when the Supreme Court does not as well.

However, those needs - our "needs" - are always at the expense of other animals. It seems to be hardwired into our genes to exist at the expense of our environment. We do not adapt. We adapt our environment to us. Once our brain realized our opposable thumbs, it was over. Because most other creatures do become a part of their environment, they suffer as we proper. And prosper we do.

To a point.

Our environment can only be adapted so much before it loses its foundation and ability to support us. We still need to breath, eat, and drink.

The virus analogy of humanity is now ubiquitous in our culture. The Matrix, the Star Trek character Borg, and the artificial intelligence in the Terminator saga are all expressions of human success run amok, degrading the host body, using up all resources for its own purposes, then moving on in search of new blood.

If our intellect is indeed capable of eventually taking us to the stars in search of new room to grow and multiply, while leaving behind a smoggy and sodden greenhouse overrun with whatever organisms are still able to breath its miasma, the virus analogy is pretty apt. As we left for other worlds, there are long-dead worlds, older than Earth, in our wake.

A morbid turn to Arthur C. Clarke's vision in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Yet, what if we don't make it off? If our genetics really were born and are confined here? Or maybe our intellectual potential is not enough to master interstellar travel, at least in time to save us from ourselves. Then what? Do we reach a new understanding after some sort of environmental or nuclear apocalypse? Do we take ourselves literally back to the stone age, and begin anew on a course of symbiosis?

Or do we ultimately kill ourselves?

We are the mirror image, the bizarro-version, a traitor to the life force that gave birth to us. Incommunicable - with no chance of escape. Alien. Horrifying in our maniacal, senseless, unending drive to reproduce at all costs.

Cancer.

Perhaps the Earth succeeds in ridding itself of us before it succumbs as well? Perhaps the earthquakes, the meltdown, the intensifying storms...are all part of its defense mechanism. Things might finally get back to normal. But if not, and we go, it all goes...

The Earth never smoked. Drank too much. Ate fatty foods.

Lord knows she gets enough exercise.

What a shame.

6.11.08

Now that the election is over...

(BTW, the boy in this poem doesn't represent Barack Obama.)

The boy sat in a playroom alone
On a scratchy carpet,
Waiting for his parents
To come and pick him up.

All the toys were all broken
And the other kids
Long since gone
From the scary painted walls.

The lights flickered.
The boy sighed.
He wanted a cookie,
Or someone to talk with.

Outside a noise grew
A siren went by,
Blue and red lights
Painted the room.

He heard a crowd growing
The boy looked down
And cringed from the window
At the pulsing anger below

But when he looked again
He saw no hate
And that they were dancing
And calling his name.

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I had to defriend somebody on Facebook yesterday. An old high school friend. We were in band together, and back then she was really cool. First girl to ever talk dirty to me. When she found me online, I looked at her profile, and was at first taken aback by her "Republican" and "Christian" status. Not a good combination in my book, when describing yourself. Those two together usual signify "religious right." But I was willing to look past labels and such, and for awhile, even though we would have contrasting status updates, we were quite friendly.

But gradually, her pro-Palin postings chipped away bit by bit at my open-mindedness. By Wednesday, the day after the election, her status update said, "Welcome to the United Socialists of America!"

The socialism charge during this campaign and in general has irked me as being particularly knee-jerk fascist and betraying a lack of intellect. Barack Obama has gone out of his way to appeal to the centrist middle-class - his judicial criteria commentary notwithstanding - especially on taxes. This red-baiting by the McCain campaign was a scare-tactic the whole way, and it really depressed me that normal-thinking people could be drawn in by its base populism. Socialism. You know, the people that brought you the 40 hour work week and child labor laws? As I've said before, socialism unchecked is of course bad, but so is capitalism. Communism to one extreme, Fascism at the other end. When opposing forces balance against each other, the whole is as strong as it ever can be. Great leaders recognize this very basic tenet.

Well, later that day she posted a note. I should've copied and pasted it here in an attempt to make her an internet celebrity, but instead I just went straight to my friends list deleted her. That was because her screed included the words, "Fag," "Nigger," and "Jew," just one sentence after something about promoting "God's glory," ending up with, "now we'll NEVER get oil out of ANWR!!!" (as if in a McCain administration drilling would commence on Inauguration Day and by Friday gas prices would be back to pre-Carter levels. McCain didn't support drilling in ANWR to begin with.) and a whole lot of bad spelling, incoherent sentence structure and misplaced punctuation in between.

Oh, and there was something about a Liberal Education Agenda in there too.

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Tonight I got on my new Cycleops rollers for the first time. I did try my friend Mark's set last spring, very unsuccessfully. No, Greta, I didn't make a video of it this time, but I should've. Not only did I ride for 20 minutes without falling once, I eventually let go of wall and put both hands on the bars, shifted, played with my computer, went no handed, and then finally drank from my bottle out of the cage, twice.

I should've tried juggling chainsaws, too.

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Something tells me the Daily Show and Steven Colbert will need Sarah Palin to stay relevant in order to stay relevant.