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.



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The Power to Divide: Laptop Power Supplies and Electoral Politics

The other day, I was at a presentation of the library of the law school I attended. I wandered over by the reference desk, and noticed something interesting. There, more or less permanently mounted, was a power cable for a laptop computer. “Brilliant!” I thought, “now everyone who sits down over here can just plug their machine in and they’re good to research without having to run out of power.

Then I looked a little more closely at the plug.

It was a power plug, alright, but one that would fit only Dell computers. A wide barrel with a central pin, I don’t know of any other machine that uses that connector. Of course, it makes perfect sense, since Dell is the company that supplies computers to the law school for faculty. But if you had a Toshiba? An Acer? A Lenovo? An Apple? Forget it.

Now, one of the more interesting things about that is that while the connectors are different, almost every computer power supply delivers around 19-20 volts DC at 3 or 4 amps. In theory, you should be able to connect nearly any power supply to your laptop and charge it. But.

Different companies use different “barrel sizes” for their connectors. Some, like Dell and Lenovo, add an extra pin, which performs an unnecessary function. Some companies reverse the polarity of the connector, so that instead of the (more common) outside being – and inside being +, the outside is +. Some companies use magnetic connectors, which are kind of cool, but which are not interoperable (Microsoft and Apple, for example) while still others use different connectors across different product lines (I’m looking at you, Mr. Lenovo “ThinkPad”, “IdeaPad”, and extra-thin.

This was, until recently, the problem with phones. Each had its own power supply and connector (my RAZR (V8, I think) even used the same connector for power and headphones). If you found your phone low on power, you had to find the right charger or you were SOL. The advent of smartphones that could talk to computers and so used USB connections changed that to the point that there were essentially only two standards (MicroUSB and whatever Apple was selling that year).

There is simply no excuse for this, since the smarts for charging the battery are all inside the computer (or phone). It’s as if Ford, Toyota, Honda, and GM all owned gas stations, and as if each company had its own distinctly-shaped nozzle that would only connect to its own tank inlet. Ridiculous!

The only reason for doing things differently like this is branding. That is, making the power supply and computer a system that you can’t easily escape. And branding means, generally, paying more (when I was in law school, I had a side business repairing damaged power supply cords).

Someday, perhaps with the advent of USB-C, we will see interoperable power supplies (as we have seen with most phones). But in the meantime, branding will keep us divided.

It should be clear that I don’t think much of branding (please don’t get me started on the lack of interoperability among bicycle components).

But I think even less of branding in politics. I have watched, recently, and with no little amusement, the war in the Republican party. Trump, as should not surprise anyone, is the ultimate brand. The ultimate divider. Any question about any of his policy positions (to the extent that he has policy positions) and you’re out. No surprise there.

What concerns me is seeing a similar sort of thing in the party to which I generally give my allegiance. If you say you’re for Hillary, you are assailed for being part of the establishment. If you say you’re for Bernie, you may be a sexist (in all fairness, and in my limited experience, Hillary fans tend to be very slightly more tolerant than Bernie fans). And the partisans on both sides are sounding a dangerous drum: “If Hillary (Bernie) is the party’s nominee, I probably won’t be able to vote for her (him).” That’s a great way to lose an election. Am I saying that Democrats shouldn’t challenge each other’s’ positions?


Am I saying that the candidates should treat each other as basically good people?


What I’m trying to say here is this: It is a mistake to be doctrinaire. If I were a Republican, I might (like an attorney I regularly work with) be pulling out my remaining hair. But I feel like, as a Democrat, I am faced with a set of wonderful choices. Each is good, each in his or her own way.

So this is likely to be the one time I urge you, the one or two people who will read this blog, to consider carefully who it is you support. Sometimes, you don’t get exactly what you want. But remember who it benefits for you to be divided.


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Business and Pleasure


I had a couple of errands to do today, neither of which required that I dress like an attorney. So I didn’t. The weather forecast was also was for just above freezing and not raining, so I decided that that constituted bike weather.

So I rode into [town redacted] and met with a client at his business, a food trailer, and he treated me to a brace of beef tacos (which were excellent) and cup of champurrado caliente (also excellent, and something I hadn’t had before)—essentially, champurrado caliente is a thick, hot, Mexican chocolate drink made with masa harina (corn flour). It was really, really good. But be warned—when they say cliente, they mean it! This stuff is thick and hot and I almost burned my throat at first. So I spent some time on the relatively chilly corner, counseling my client and (carefully) trying something new.

Then I rode to the courthouse, locked up my bike and exchanged pleasantries with the hotdog-cart guy on the corner (he agreed to keep an eye on my bike while I went in), and looked over the file for another case I’m working on. The marshal at the entrance was pleasant, believing me when I told him I was an attorney even though I was in decidedly not attorney uniform (for the record: jeans, fluorescent jacket, bike shoes, helmet…you know).  The clerk needed a little more assurance, but no problem.

I got the file I needed, scanned the pages I needed, and then rode home. Around an 8-mile trip, all in all. Not far, but fun. I rode some new roads, saw some new places, ate some new food, helped (hopefully!) my client, and I had a pleasant exchange with the hotdog vendor.

Work, new food, new people, everyone being nice.

A good day.


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I Want to Ride My Bicycle!

I have spent much of the past few months kind of busy.  I am working with an attorney with an office only 15 miles away, but I have to visit courts all over the State.  Kind of fun, but cycling-impractical, especially when I need to transport clients.

This had meant–until last week–that I was largely off the bike.  Not only did I have little opportunity to ride, but the last time I rode, I had flatted, and it had been raining, so the bike sat in the basement for a while, unloved.

I gained weight.  I had trouble sleeping.  I was not happy.

So I fixed the tire, got the bike (and me) back on the road and began to enjoy life again.  Last Thursday, I attended a kickoff for one of the “big” charity rides around here.  I rode to the kickoff, natch.

Then it snowed.  And it snowed some more.  And more.

And now, bereft of my old snow-capable cycling machine…

SnowBike 620-2


(see?  this is what happens when you get down to one bike!), I am once again preparing to do the Tour Debasement.

Some of you may feel the same way.  This is for your enlightenment:

I have both a trainer and rollers.  Soon, I won’t have that trainer anymore.  Riding on rollers may be like riding downhill on a 16″-wide greased sheet of glass along the face of a 2,000-foot drop, but it’s not boring.

That is all…

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