Nationalism. How weird am I?

The other day I was working at my desk when I heard another lawyer exclaim into the phone “Hey!  Youre a ginzo!  Like me!”  I had never heard the term before, but I understood it from context.  The other attorney in my office was saying “You’re one of us!”

This always seems weird to me.  Perhaps that’s because I’m a mixture of Romanian, Ukrainian, and possibly Polish blood by way of (English-speaking) Canada.  I don’t identify as part of any of those groups.  Nor do I feel particularly white (though that is a much harder criterion to break away from) or straight or Mormon or agnostic.  I barely feel lawyer.

And yet our world is made up of groups.  Be it Italians and Irish and Jews and Catholics or jocks and brains and bunouts, it seems to be all about groupness.

I guess I do identify with some groups–with cyclists and musicians.  I would venture to say there’s a difference there (and perhaps I would have to include jocks, brains, and burnouts) because as distinct from nationalism or racialism, being a cyclist (or a brain) has to do not with where you came from but with what you do.

Perhaps because growing up, I saw nationalism as a bad thing rather than a good one…I read the stories of WWI and WWII, and watched Viet Nam unfold, and of course I’ve been a witness to the continuous crises in the Middle East.  I just don’t get it.  I’ve never seen my fate as being tied with that of any “national” group.

Perhaps if my parents had raised me in an area that lacked national diversity, it might have made a difference, but I grew up with Scandinavians, Germans, Italians, Poles, Serbs, Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists…

I really don’t have much more to say about that, I guess.  I’s just an interesting thing that I was thinking about today.  Am I weird because I don’t get nationalism?

 

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Darkness, Rain, Spider

Saturday evening, I went to Lyric Hall Bike Night.  It was largely a show of funnybikes–bikes built out of bits and pieces of other bikes and other things.  All were functional, including a rather nice reel lawnmower bike built on a Schwinn “chopper” frame.

Not too many folks showed up, which was too bad.  Most of those who did were more “artsy” than “bikey.”  Which was also too bad, since there was some cool stuff.  I only grabbed one photo–this rather cool spider:

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But that’s not what I’m writing about.  While I was at the show, it started to rain.  Lightly at first, so I went out and put a bag on my saddle, then heavier.  A lot heavier.  So, around 8:30 or so, I left.  I had about five miles to get home, the first on roads, so I lit up my bike and rolled out.

This was another one of those times I appreciated my dynohub.  I know, from personal testing, that most generator systems won’t slip in the rain, but the dynohub is psychologically reassuring.  I had no trouble with cars, and once I hit the paved trail, all was well.  With my light bouncing off the raindrops, it felt like I was running Warp Factor 7.  It was actually odd to get under some heavy trees and notice that the path was actually dry!

Anyway, the combination of rain and darkness made for fun riding.  I think my dynohub, lights, and (perhaps especially) my fenders made the ride even more fun that a bright, sunny day would have.

 

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Cars.

I think I’ve made it pretty clear here that I prefer bicycles to cars.  Nevertheless, this post is on my new-to-me car, and why I like it.  Here it is:

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Sorry, it’s a little hard to see.  It’s behind the 10 red containers and two cardboard boxes of frozen meat that it transported to Loaves & Fishes, the weekly food pantry distribution that I often work at.  Two of the regular volunteers also appear in the photo–great guys!

The car itself is a 2010 Honda Fit, which replaces the Y2K Bug (2000 VW New Beetle).

I do not generally even like cars, but I love this one.  To understand why, you need a little history.  I should note that almost none of the photos below show the actual cars I owned, but they’re as close as I could get.

The very first car I ever owned was a 1977 Audi Fox given to Spouse and myself in 1989 by my sister-in-law.  It was a wonderful car, and the first FWD vehicle I’d ever driven, having spent the period since moving out of my parent’s house ten years earlier entirely carless.  But we were moving from Chicago to Schenectady, where bus service was poor, and we had a child.  So we got this car.  It was fun, easy to repair, and many things didn’t work (including the gas gauge and one of the passenger doors.  It had acquired a dingy gray cast to its white paint, so one night, after seeing the first Batman reboot, I named it the Ratmobile.  I considered (but never followed through on) getting a length of tan garden hose to coil up on the trunk lid:1977-audi-fox-right-front.jpg

The Ratmobile was our trusted transport for a few years, but when child #2 was en route, we figured we needed another door.  We had (ISTRC) $12,000 to spend.  We visited various dealers,  but nothing grabbed us.  We knew we didn’t want a station wagon or van.  And then we wandered into Mohawk Honda and saw this:
1991 Honda Wagon

This was a 1991 Honda Civic station wagon, the last year they made it.  It was called a wagon, but it looked…different.  You sat upright, and looking out, could not see the hood.  You could take off the rear headrests and fold the seat down and put amazing things in the back.  We kept this car for 15 years, crossing the country multiple times with children 1,2, and 3.  The last time we did it, I bought a trailer mirror (because we got the base model without a right-hand mirror or AC) so I could navigate with the back packed full.  This was, and is, my Platonic ideal of an automobile.  It seemed so techno, so advanced after the Ratmobile that we named it “HAL.”  Child #1 picked out the color–brown, instead of white or gray.

But then Child 4 came along, and even HAL was not going to cut it.  We kept HAL, but supplemented it around 1995-6 with a 1989 (or so) Plymouth Voyager.  I got the ad off a noteboard at work (real paper–remember those?).  The seller was named Nixon C___–he had been born in the Philippines, where it was apparently not uncommon to name children after visiting dignitaries.  Poor Nixon!  The Voyager never really had a name that I recall, but it was blue, and made multiple trips up and down Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah:

1989 Plymouth Voyager

When we moved to Wisconsin in 1999, the Voyager was on its last-ish legs.  We replaced it in 2001 (if memory serves) with a very fancy late-’90s Grand Voyager:

1998 Plymouth Grand Voyager

This was the largest car we had ever owned.  In addition to all the seating (Child 4 had arrived in 1999), it could carry scads of stuff in the ‘wayback.  The engine was large and had a surprising amount of oomph (in the mid-00’s, we would discover that Child 2 had managed to exceed 100 MPH in it (admittedly, downhill, and that’s another story).  I don’t recall that ours had a name, and it was a “sable” color between brown and gray.  HAL Continued to abide…for a time.

HAL finally died around 2005.  A hard life had rusted everything that it could, and the final straw was that after the clutch pivot broke away from the firewall, the radiator cracked.  I was massively into cycling then, year ’round in Wisconsin, and so we donated HAL’s corpse to NPR (again, IIRC) and made due with just the Grand Voyager.  Then.

In 1997, I decided to go to law school, and Spouse decided that she would need to be the provider.  So she got a job teaching at a small school in Minnesota, and bought a small car to make her commute possible.  The 2007 Hyundai Accent, (sport package):
2007 Hyundai.jpg

Neither of us had ever liked automatic transmissions, and this was Spouse’s chance to get back to shifting.  Unfortunately, it was equipped with low-profile tires (“sport package”) that tended to be easily damaged.  Eventually, the alloy wheels also suffered.  We ultimately replaced these with smaller steelies and tires with more sidewall, and all has been well since.  The photo above accurately captures the fiery red of her car.

Not long after Chld 2 proved that the Grand Voyager could break 100 MPH, a check during an oil change showed that the front towers were almost completely rusted through.  Since Child 2 would only drive an automatic, Spouse made an executive decision and purchased Darth.  Darth was a black Taurus Wagon with tan leather interior, only a couple of years old:
2004-ford-taurus wagon

Darth was luxurious.  It was heavy.  And it was s. l. o. w.  Connecticut Route 15 has virtually no on-ramps, so you have to be able to accelerate up to speed very quickly, or you’ll get honked at and possibly killed.  You know how they say some cars are no slouch?  Darth was a slouch.  Zero to sixty felt like about 20 minutes.  And the weight was murder.  One day, the law school was closed due to a storm, but my partner and I had to work on a case.  I made it over, but on the way home, hit some black ice layered with powder snow, spun, and hit a tree, smashing the nose.  After two months in the shop, Darth had acquired a used nose, painted blue, and was thence known as Blue Tooth.  Insurance paid.  A couple of years later, Spouse was driving Darth while her car was in the shop and another driver ran a red and smashed BT’s front end to the tune of $3,000.

My spouse was philosophical.  She told me she knew that I’d always hated that car, and that we should try doing something else with the money.  We sold the remains at a bargain and I got a 10- or 11-year old 2000 VW New Beetle in Cyber Green (“George” or “The Y2k Bug”):
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George was my move back to a manual, and the color demanded lots of bumper stickers.  George had many problems (not the least of which was mold) but accelerated far better than Darth/BT had ever done.  Alas, even with the rear seats down, interior storage was poor.  But George endured for four years, bits and pieces falling off here and there.  I told Spouse that when my law degree started paying off, I was going to get something better…

And it didn’t.  For years.  And then it did.  And I got Tardis:

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That is the actual beast, a 2010 Honda Fit named for its color and the idea that it’s bigger on the inside.  The Y2K Bug went to student for a very good price, and I bought Tardis from a family that was moving to Germany.  It’s not perfect, but it’s very good, and (as you can see from the very first picture in this post) carries a lot of stuff.  It has the same wheelbase as HAL did, and the same length, and while the layout is slightly different, it’s as close to that Platonic ideal as I think you can buy today.  It has AC and CD-ROM and MP3 players, but it’s a manual transmission, and I like it a lot.  It drives like a go-cart, it can accelerate onto ROute 15, and with the seats down, not only can it hold 10+ containers of frozen meat.

It can hold a bicycle.  Fenders and all.

 

 

 

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I am old enough to remember that we were not always like this.

Recently, Salon interviewed Marilynne Robinson, author of, among other works, Housekeeping—a wonderful book that I first encountered as brilliant a film in the late 1980s.  In the interview, Robinson, who leans left politically while at the same time being unapologetically religious, is asked whether she is a radical.  Her response is telling:

I consider myself a radical more or less in the sense that Bernie Sanders considers himself one–i.e., I am old enough to remember that we were not always like this. If radicalism means going back to roots, we have very strong roots for things that are done to benefit society.

That line—“I am old enough to remember that we were not always like this”—resonates for me in a way that few words do.  I am old enough (barely) to remember the 1960s, when it felt like we were making progress.  We were sending people to the moon; we were carrying out a war on poverty.  We were seeking the Great Society.  Unfortunately, we were also tied up in a war that tore us apart.  And it was the war that we lost, that won.

Though I have nothing but anecdotal evidence, I think it’s reasonable to say that the war in Vietnam was also the genesis of the war on drugs.  Not the genesis of drugs—although we won’t admit it, those have been around forever in the form of alcohol and tobacco—though a contributing factor, perhaps, there as well.  Nixon and company saw rising drug consumption as one of the reasons for the “ineffectiveness” of the drafted American military (forgetting that the iniquitous draft made many of the people who had gained the least and suffered the most from this country already into its cannon fodder).  So we lost a war in Vietnam, and we lost a war at home.

And gradually, gradually, we started rolling up the tent.  Great Society went away; the notion of “a hand up” became the idea of a “handout” and we knew that people shouldn’t have that.  Prisons stopped being places where people could be reformed and became glorified spankings.  We put people in prison now for retributive reasons—for vengeance.  Here’s a question:  ever visited someone in prison?  It’s an eye-opening experience.  Things changed.

But let me tell you something about handouts.  They work.  I spend two or three Saturdays each month helping out in a food pantry that gives out a bag of groceries each to between 200 and 350 people.  And I have seen it change lives.  More than one of the people who started out coming for food now comes every week to help people out.

That’s not just a handout.  It’s a hand up, and now this person is giving a hand up to other people who need assistance.  That’s the way things are supposed to be.  That’s the way we were.

But we’re scared now, because there are new people moving into our neighborhoods and they don’t all look like us and they don’t all speak the same language as we do and…they’re scary.  Donald Trump wants you to believe that all the people who look different from you are criminals and rapists.  By extension, he’s saying that people who do look like you aren’t criminals and racists.

Except some of the people who look like you and me are criminals and rapists.  You think the folks who ran Lehman Brothers into the ground were Latinos/Latinas?  Nope.  They had names like Joe Gregory,  Erin Callan, and George Herbert Walker Bush IV.  Enron?  Nope.

It’s always tempting to blame your ills on outsiders.  Lots of people do it; it’s far easier to draw a line around a group and point a finger than it is to examine the system for its inherent problems.

But it wasn’t always like this.  We weren’t always like this.

Religion didn’t always mean pie in the sky and salvation by faith only, that’s it.  Jesus taught that we were to love God and love our neighbors in the same way, and drew the sheep v. goats line based on what people did.  Feed the hungry and thirsty?  Clothe the naked?  Visit those in prison?  Probably sheep.  None of the above?  Likely goats.

Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker, which  “was aimed at those suffering the most in the depths of the Great Depression, “those who think there is no hope for the future”, and announced to them that “the Catholic Church has a social program…there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.” It accepted no advertising and did not pay its staff. Like many newspapers of the day, including those for which Day had been writing, it was an unapologetic example of advocacy journalism. It provided coverage of strikes, explored working conditions, especially of women and blacks, and explicated papal teaching on social issues.” (Wikipedia)

Mary Harris Jones (Mother Jones) may have said  it best:  “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

At some point we changed our minds and hearts, and decided that the trappings of religion were enough.  We grew fat and content.  The time for that is now past.

We must be again what once we were.

 

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Jeans & Sneakers

For my very first century, I rode in New Balance sneakers on MKS GR-9 pedals with clips and straps. These were the good stuff, according to the Rivendell Reader of those days. I remember having to stop several times and stomp the feeling back into my feet. It felt like I was experiencing a charlie horse cramp across my arch.

That fall, I bought a set of Specialized “Fat Boy” riding shoes that Nashbar had in my size for $10. They looked like a cross between Converse All-Stars and something a clown would wear (they were, of course, red, and I have size 13 feet). They had an incredibly stiff sole and, while they were difficult to fit into my toast wraps (a nod to the late, great, Sheldon Brown) they worked.

The following Spring, I bought a set of Bianchi-labeled single-sided SPD clone pedals for around $15 or so. I put them on my bike and I fell over. I fell over several times. But within a week or so, I realized what I had been missing and swore to ride in bike shoes from then on. A good thing for me, because around mid-summer, I was riding to work one morning and a driver made an illegal left right in front of me and ruined my day.

I smacked into that car at its right rear tire doing around 20 MPH and, fortunately for me, it wasn’t a station wagon. Had I been wearing clips and straps, I believe to this day that my legs would have been torn off. But because I was wearing my Fat Boys with SPD pedals, I separated from the bike and flew free. I hit the ground about thirty feet from the car, breaking some ribs in the process, but otherwise undamaged.

That was 1999. Since then, I have ridden almost exclusively in MTB shoes, and I’ve enjoyed them. A few years ago I bought some Shimano flip-over pedals (that have an SPD socket on one side and a flat pedal on the other) in hopes of bicycling to court. But I had limited their use for the most part to rides of five miles or less.

Then, yesterday, I went on a shop ride that was specifically described as “jeans and sneakers.” Twenty miles. So I rode down to the start, jeans and sneakers in place, and met up with four other hardy souls.

And you know what? We had a very, very, very pleasant ride. Had I been wearing some kind of retention, I could probably have gone faster. If I had wanted to go much farther, retention would have been good.

But for a social ride, which is the kind of thing a 58-year-old fatass is more likely to do than race? Yeah, just fine.

I will certainly keep on using bike shoes. Generally, I find them pretty comfortable. But if I want to go somewhere and I’m not wearing ‘em? No Big Deal.

Bikes are fun.

 

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Bike Poetry, March

It’s not the crack of dawn, but it’s early. That time of day when you see more buses than cars. My wheels hum along the smooth pavement on Whitney, still dirty from the winter but so much smoother than last spring;

I find things… boxes, cables, parts swallowed by the winter that was, and left like treasures for the casual hunter;

A quick left and a detour take me to the cracked and fissured pavement of Dixwell to the west, and then further south;

I stop at my usual place. It’s too early, and the tables aren’t on the sidewalk yet, so I cradle my mug and think about sitting on the curb, sit inside instead, and think about this early reprieve.

 

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Love Your Battery

Love your battery. Love it. I really mean that.

This is not a posting about how to better care for the battery in your notebook (or in your phone). It is, rather, an appreciation. I’ve been sitting here for about three hours, typing, browsing the web, watching Mr. Drumpf, and things like that. I still have three hours of juice left in my battery. I love that.

Back in 1984, I bought my very first computer, a Kaypro 2/84, a big sheet metal box with a 9” glass CRT in it. I also bought a surge protector for it, since I lived in an old building with a rickety elevator. Most of the time, everything worked fine, but once or twice I was heavily into a paper or a chapter of my dissertation when the lights blinked. When that happened (or when the power went out entirely) my computer didn’t just die. It convulsed—which might mean garbage written to the (floppy) disk, and then died.

Years passed and I went to work doing software development for a small company in upstate New York. About a week after I got hired, the town was hit with a combination of massive rain and high temperatures, flooding everything. The old town’s systems were not up to it, and one of our buildings (we were on both sides of a street, joined by a bridge)—the old one, where the server room was, lost power. A bunch of us grabbed all the extension cords we could and rigged a setup from the new building to the old to resurrect (briefly) the server, but then the power went out again. Joy. In the end, it didn’t matter, because all of the developers’ machines were plugged into the wall, and there was nothing there anymore.

A few more years and I was working in the Midwest. Power outages were rarer (this was in a town that had the good sense to bury a lot of its power cables), but our desktop machines were, for the most part, plugged into UPS (“uninterruptible” power supply) boxes, each holding a small circuit a huge lead-acid battery. When the power went out, each UPS would fire off an alarm, and the room sounded like an air raid was in progress. Of course, there were always a few with bad batteries, or that didn’t cut in fast enough, and the folks with those machines. Lost. Work.

On occasion, I would take a few vacation days and travel with my family. On those trips, I was usually given a laptop so I could do some work at a distance. Generally, this involved lugging a ThinkPad with a heavy battery and power supply (because most of the batteries were good for no more than half an hour after a little use) and looking for an internet café.

Late in my tenure in the Midwest, I decided to go to law school, and based on that decision, spent about $800 on an Acer laptop with a very nice keyboard and 14” screen (it came with Windows Vista). My spouse started teaching (anticipating money tightness) and was given a Dell laptop by her university.

One summer evening, we were both typing away at the kitchen table when there was a terrific flash and boom outside. It was only after about ten minutes or so that both of us realized that the house was dark and silent—all power was gone. But our computers hadn’t noticed a thing.

That’s why I love my battery. The machine I use now is incredibly powerful compared to those I’ve used before, has greater storage, a better screen, the works. It also weighs very little and will easily run six hours on a charge.

Similarly, phones. I won’t even go into my first couple of cell phones, but I recently replaced a two-year-old Lumia (820) with a much cheaper Lumia 635. The latter has more power and the battery, though smaller, lasts twice as long.

There are applications for which I do not love batteries (check out my bicycle lighting stuff, starting here). But when it comes to computers and phones? Love them. Love, love, love, love, love.

LOVE.

 

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