Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I would never call myself an "elitist" but part of being truly free and open-minded is accepting that sometimes, an approach you consider outmoded (or even objectionable) may still have application/merit and may indeed be the most effective way to deal with a given task or problem, etc.

I once knew someone whose class-rage was keen enough that she would dismiss out-of-hand any musical expression that smacked of actual training. If a kid's family could afford to give him music lessons, then anything he did in life was automatically crap. The only music worth listening to comes out of slums, ghettos and poor rural areas and is made by untrained individuals using whatever simple tools they can scrounge, giving voice to the concerns and experience of folks the establishment would like to pretend don't even exist.

I totally appreciate that. And I have obviously enjoyed the sheer genius of many many artists who emerge from such backgrounds. We all have. But I also enjoy it when large groups of virtuosic musicians perform blisteringly difficult showpieces that take enormous work and dedication to master. The sheer sound! (Of course, it is possible that some of those musicians could have come from poverty, but it's very difficult/rare to even discover that you have an aptitude for the cello if nobody in the entire county happens to have one.)

Also: If I found out that a loved one needed life-saving surgery, and (all else being equal) I had a choice between a mediocre surgeon who was a really nice person, or totally genius surgeon who was an arrogant sonofabitch prick, I would choose the arrogant genius any day of the week. I imagine that practically everybody else would do the same if Dad's life were at stake.

But somehow, when the life of an entire nation is on the line -- a nation facing huge numbers of widely varying, complex, difficult problems -- millions of people seem to think that being especially smart should disqualify you from being president of that nation. Instead, they prefer, say, a mediocre guy who'd make a good drinking buddy, or even a sorta trashy woman whose responses to the most important issues of the day consist of vaguely flirtatious winking.

Interestingly, in the case of a musician or a band etc., nobody would ever have a problem with talent or genius, but economic privilege (and a lack of street-cred) is seen as a liability. And in the case of the surgeon, coming from an impoverished background would mean such a person could only have succeeded through sheer ability, whereas a child of wealth might be able to fail over and over again without consequence before ever squeaking through med-school. But in the case of a politician, millions of people were willing to ignore absolutely obscene wealth as long as the guy spoke like the dude in the next trailer (you know, Randy, the guy who accidentally shot his refrigerator the other day).

How does that happen? Seriously, can anybody explain that to me?

Clearly, we need to start teaching Civics in school again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Once Again... Bike Thieves are the Lowest Form of Life


This past Monday morning, heading out of my building to come to work, I would normally have gotten onto my bike. But no... someone had stolen the rear wheel. For those who like to keep count, this is the second rear wheel I've lost to a thief.

The first time it was totally my fault. I hadn't locked the rear wheel which was a quick-release. This time, the rear wheel was NOT a quick release, which means someone with tools came along specifically looking to strip parts off of bikes. I now fantasize about catching such a person in the act and beating them silly. Of course, in the fantasy, I just happen to be holding a 2-foot pipe wrench at the time.

Now, given that I had timed my departure for work based on having a fully functional bike to ride, I was now going to be fairly late, suddenly having to walk like the rest of the chumps. So I didn't bother to take the time to move the half-a-bike to a safer place.

Safer place?

Yeah... there's a sort of "courtyard" behind my building, where the garbage and recycling cans are, and there's a corner where a couple people lock up bikes. You can only access this area if you have a key to the building. So... you're probably wondering why I would leave my bike on the street to be picked over by tool-wielding vultures when I have access to such a place. Because: in order to get a bike in and out of there, you have to hump the unwieldly motherfucker through a gate and 4 doorways. And while that's fine if you only ride occasionally, it is less than fine if you ride all the time. It is not at all fine if you want to quickly run out, hop on and take off. It may be safer (is obviously way way safer) but it turns using the bike from a casual, easy, joyous affair into a discouraging annoyance. I can't have that.

Still, even though I was now going to be late for work, I did seriously consider taking the time to carry the almost-bike through the gate and 4 doorways and lock it up in the courtyard because if people see an incomplete bike locked to a signpost, they tend to think of it as abandoned and therefore fair game. Or like, once the thievery ice is broken, it just becomes a feeding frenzy.

But no, I just left my almost-bike where it was and walked to work, stifling the urge to kill.

When I got home that evening, someone had removed my handlebars, including the brake levers, gear shift lever and all related cables. Probably the same douchebag who took the wheel.

Fortunately, he didn't remove my pedals. You see, the rest of the bike is (was) just cheapo stock components that came with it. But my pedals are special. Seriously. They have blinking LED's in them that are powered solely by the rotation of the spindle that connects the pedals to the crank arms as you ride. They are called "Pedalites" and they work brilliantly -- one of the only consumer products I've ever encountered that I would gladly shill for (I guess that's what I'm doing right now) because I can say without any reservation whatsoever: these things are designed perfectly.

Where most pedals are rotationally symmetrical (the same when you flip them 180 degrees), Pedalites have a specific top and bottom, front and back. This is because each pedal has a white led in front, a yellow one on the side and a red one in back. Just like the convention for all vehicles. They make you super visible at night from up to a mile away, which is both safer for you and more entertaining for those who see you. :) The led's will last 20 years, there are no batteries to change (or go dead on you while riding in the dark) and -- assuming no tool-wielding vultures remove them -- you just leave 'em attached to your bike at all times, so you don't have to remember to take them with you like other bike lights that snap on and off. You also don't have to remember to turn them on at night. They just always work when you're riding. After a few minutes of sustained pedaling, the Pedalites will have stored up enough charge to keep the led's blinking even if you stop pedaling for a while, like if you coast down a hill, or stop at an intersection. And once you get to your destination, they just stop blinking after a couple minutes. Perfect. Truly. Just the right tool for the job.

But when I bought them they weren't sold in America (of course). I had to special order them from the manufacturer in the UK. So getting ahold of 'em took a little while and wasn't cheap. Including shipping, I think the total came to about $70. Still, that's not so bad when you consider how fucking awesome they are. (And at this point I believe there are some US distributors.)

Anyway, you can understand why I was so relieved to see that the asshole had neglected to remove them. Or maybe he simply didn't have the relatively specialized wrench that you need.

So at this point, my almost-bike is locked up in the garbage court, safe and sound, and I'm trying to decide what to do for bike-osity next. Should I systematically replace all the stolen parts? Or should I just get another used craigslist bike and transfer the Pedalites onto it? Or should I actually bite the bullet and get myself a brand new really nice bike fitted to my specific anatomy and riding needs? Obviously, if I go for a new bike, I'm gonna have to just suck it up and deal with humping it through all the doorways to always always always leave it locked up in the garbage court. So maybe that's not the way to go. Systematically replacing the stolen bits will actually cost more (a lot more even) than I paid for the entire bike, and will certainly cost more than getting a whole 'nother used craigslist beater special. But it will provide me the excuse to learn a bit more repair and maintenance skills, as I'd essentially have to rebuild almost the entire bike at this point. And I'd have the option to use replacement parts of higher quality than what was stolen. Though that hardly seems worth the trouble since the frame is still the old crappy frame, etc. And if I use nice expensive parts, I imagine I'll feel compelled to drag the bike back into the garbage court every night and if I'm gonna put up with that it might as well be for the sake of a truly nice bike, which would only cost slightly more than the total of all the upgrades to the old crappy one (parts of which would still be fairly crappy).

Still, I like working with my hands, and I like the thought of being completely self-sufficient when it comes to all future bike maintenance as I have this dream of riding my bike across the entire continental US and back at some point relatively soon (before I die). Actually, the full dream is to ride from NYC down to Key West Florida, then across to San Diego, then up to Seattle, then back across to Maine, then back down to NYC. Four corners. One year. Ten thousand miles. Perhaps I'll spring for a really good bike in order to make that trip. And of course, I'll need to get a few more locks. And maybe a gun. But in the mean time it looks like I'm gonna rebuild the old bike with regular ol' cheapo parts and just keep locking it -- more thoroughly -- on the street.

Arm Injury Update

Arm don't hurt no more.

Still a bit indented, but not as gnarly-looking as it was.

Should recover completely, though might just have to live with the slight indentation. Time will tell.

Still have some of the happy pills left though. Woo hoo!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Republicanism Explained

In psychology, the term projection refers to a defense mechanism whereby one assigns one’s own unacceptable thoughts, motivations, desires, or even behaviors, to others. Projection reduces feelings of guilt and anxiety by allowing the expression of the unacceptable subconscious impulses while shielding the ego from their existence, keeping them hidden from conscious awareness. Projection is related to and dependent upon denial, arguably the only defense mechanism more primitive than projection.

An extremely simplistic example: Two young children are playing in the house. While mom's back is turned, her younger child knocks a flowerpot onto the floor, making a mess. When mom turns around and sees it, the younger child points to the older child and says "He did it!" Denial, and projection.

An example that is almost as simple, but much more annoying and dangerous: A Republican presidential campaign runs TV ads containing shockingly tasteless, misleading distortions and outright lies about the Democratic opponent. They then accuse the Democrats of running the most shockingly tasteless and misleading campaign in history.

Of course, the Republicans do this every election, so there's a chance that they are, in fact, fully aware of what they're doing and so are purposefully shitty human beings.

But seeing as how they've taken almost all their plays from famously sinister historical precedents, I could see how they might need to employ any defense mechanism available, no matter how primitive, to squash a shitload of collective guilt, just so that they can face another day on this earth, or another long night of what should, by right, be a sleepless, demon-haunted torment.