Monday, November 30, 2015

Whether Vain

Egocentric cyclists seek an epic trek. They only earn bragging rights if they trained on countless routine runs. Scenery, while pleasant, doesn’t matter, though free traffic flow and fresh air do. Ocean views and ridge vistas, where hills and wind severely slow, tempt some of the hardest riding. Spins out to a park or reservoir grant a destination to breathe in for a few seconds before struggling back. Dull outings can be improved by choosing a different return route. Or you could opt for intermodal to make that a single leg, though you’re “all in”, as poker players say, and must complete, why it’s wiser to plan figure-8 loops which you can quit at intervals.

Looked at a map and noticed several city and state parks within a 12 mile radius, so set out to visit them all. Got to furthest one but was disappointed by bare oaks that signal autumn’s conclusion. Flags and weather vanes say southwest winds that bring warmth have been supplanted by northwest chill. Skipped the rest and took to an old commute route toward bikeway strewn with leaves and home. Was disgusted to compare smooth streets elsewhere with own they’ve dug up and patched repeatedly. This pavement disgrace proved dispiriting; ordinarily come home from riding emotionally boosted and pleasantly tired. The truth about bicycles is that they combine elation and pain, joys and sorrows. Brings to mind a couple of recent films with similar themes:

Irrational Man (Woody Allen, dir. 2015) - Philosophy professor Joaquin Phoenix, who was so effective in Inherent Vice, discovers the world outside his mind as he and his seductive student Emma Stone ride bikes. Not the first time Phoenix was filmed cycling, his character Lewis McBride, while on Malaysian vacation in Return to Paradise (Joseph Ruben, dir., 1998), riding with two friends foolhardily on one bike, and run off road by a truck, was so disgusted by damage he hurled bike off a cliff. During an interview he once compared his passage into intense acting to kids who get their first BMX bike, then go into extreme sports. Stone was famously featured on a yellow peeler banana bike for a GQ spread (August, 2010 issue).

Thanks for Sharing (Stuart Blumberg, dir., 2014) - Mark Ruffalo, who plays Bruce Banner in the latest Marvel Avengers action blockbusters and routinely bikes around Manhattan, stars in this less ambitious melodrama. He and other recovering addicts ride bikes. Josh Gad, trying to get into shape and shun temptations by biking, avoids getting doored only to crash into side of a van. Critics panned it for its depiction of “first world” problems. Ruffalo himself, however, is on the Board of Director for The Solutions Project, a global clean energy initiative, and Water Defense, a nonprofit aimed at preserving water supplies from contaminants. Ruffalo is currently costarring in sex abuse drama Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, dir., 2015) based on Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Award winning investigation and called by reviewer Ryan Painter, “One of the finest-acted films in recent memory.”

These days aliens, altruists and strangers are usually met with violence by the selfish and vain. Shakespeare never said, “Vanity, thy name is woman,” though vanity fits better than “frailty”, since anatomically women can endure more pain than men, something patriarchs have used to rationalize their mistreatment. Sharing is an alien concept, for sure: implies bringing and taking, giving and receiving, sometimes introducing people or playing host. Everyone in America is either an immigrant or scion of one, whether arrived last week or millennia ago. The Mother of Exiles promises, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Twelve step programs encourage sharing your feelings to solicit support as a way of breaking your sexual, substance, weapon or xenophobic addiction. Native peoples were historically generous. Qu’ran demands hospitality to guests. Yet, in a war weary world, refugee issues defy resolution and draw press.

There is little difference among conservative, jihadist, neo-Nazi and terrorist hatred. All are convinced that their extremism is the only way. What made America a global magnet for countless dispossessed was its reputation for tolerance. As long as you don't cause deaths or losses, you are welcomed with open arms to act however and believe whatever you want. Foreign terrorists may infiltrate, but domestic serial killers are worse. Millions of Moslem citizens unequivocally contribute to economic diversity and productivity. It wasn’t always that way, and will revert if everyone doesn’t do their part. Moslem countries Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey opened refugee camps. Maybe they’re better suited to handle needs of Syrians with aid from industrialized countries. It would shorten the long journey to freedom many endure, some aided by bicycles. Yet the sheer number of refugees is staggering, estimated in the millions. By forcing people out of their homes, you exert control, keep them weak, and seize their assets. The only true riches are what accomplishments these people are capable of, given better circumstances.

Willie Nelson may claim there’s plenty of room for immigrants in America, but East and West coasts are overcrowded and INS quotas are maxed. Canadian and Mexican border towns are likewise overrun with waiting hopefuls. Perhaps Willie was thinking of Alaska’s bush, Montana’s expanses, Nevada’s desert, urban blight, or Wyoming’s mountains, because all the places natural born citizens want to be are already taken. At the Hotel California, they are, “...programmed to receive. You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave.” The motherly embrace personified by Lady Liberty stands for America’s core decency, but immigration can only proceed orderly, under control, weeding out undesirables exiled by foreign governments who don’t follow international laws. When citizens are treated worse than undocumented invaders, tolerance wanes.

Why does anyone want to come to America anyway? Past reputation? Life expectancy is the lowest in industrialized world. Cities are going bankrupt. Crime is rampant. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes frequently threaten. Fisheries are fished out. Hunters can't trust game not to be toxic. Loess loss has nearly ruined remaining arable land. Logging and mining are severely limited. Per capita prison populations exceed worldwide counts. Politicians are corrupt, determined to drain every last penny from taxpayers. Public debt means each resident (man, women and child) owes over $150,000. The disparity in wealth between have and have nots is greater than ever in history. America has been called the worse place to live if you are poor, though that seems exaggerated compared to Sudan, Syria, and war zones. Green carders have more rights than citizens, while policies allow offshoring jobs and union busting. If conservatives who oppose immigration (affordable health plans, collective bargaining, drug interdiction, gun control, planned parenthood, separation of church and state, tax reform, and voter registration) get their way, as usual, both social security and welfare will end, so there will be no safety net. Social Security was intended to protect workers from failures caused by government policies; without it murders and thefts would make life unlivable. It's time to make some really tough choices. Forget handouts paid by taxing the dwindling middle class and growing poor.

But who are these refugees? Many are no-threat women with children. Recently viewed previously mentioned Saudi film Wadja (Haifa Al-Monsour dir., 2012), where Waad Mohammed in title role tries to earn enough money to buy her own bicycle against society's will. Film exposes the hypocrisy of Moslem practices subjugating female half of population, who insecure men treat as inferior. The vain do not share power or wealth. Wadja rides to the end of her street and surveys horizon, which seems more threatening than welcoming.

Zane Grey’s novels Riders of the Purple Sage and The Rainbow Trail were both against Mormon polygamy and for woman rights. Set in pre-suffragette 1870’s Utah, bicycles don’t appear, despite suggestive titles. Moab, where film was shot, however, is the mountain biking capitol of the universe. Grey's popular books still resonate a century and a half later because same issues continue unresolved. Why should the underserved majority demand so little from diplomats and leaders and tolerate that?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Golden Volplane

When was it that getting a bicycle no longer reigned as the greatest gift a kid could get? This year marks 50 years, a golden jubilee, since a wide-eyed Labann found a brand new bicycle beside the Christmas tree with a bow and sticker unbelievably attached with his name, a forest green Raleigh replete with fenders, guard over chain, and pump on frame. Nothing would ever be the same. Until then only rode borrowed bikes and hand-me-downs. Couldn't wait until Spring. Rode for awhile farther and wider than deemed feasible, then began taking it apart to improve speed and learn how to make it work better. Led to a lifelong career in engineering, so scolding by dad wasn't really warranted. Abused the heck out of it as anyone who’s gotten anything for free would. Treated it like another chemistry set or scientific toy, something upon which to experiment. Wasn't until the self earned Captain America Schwinn that carefully maintaining began to register. Common 3-speeds seldom got stolen, but you couldn’t leave 10-speeds unattended. Chain necklaces wore heavily on shoulders for what little they did to deter theft.

Streets back then were lined with trees that formed foliage tunnels. Leaf/leaves, loaf/loaves, sheaf/sheaves: funny how some words form irregular plurals, preserve mispronunciations, and retain vestiges from other languages. Come fall, maples down a line made for a golden tube, yellow above and below shaded in slanted rays, for arm-spread daredevils to dive into, rather an aeronautical volplane rapidly descending, exploring how papery leaves parted like frothy seas upon a macadam bed. On side streets back then few cars were around, off elsewhere or parked in garages, to impede curious kids on bikes. However, a block down was US1 with frequent spurts of cars and trucks, so you actually had to look both ways to cross. Flip calendars 50 years, cars race through 4-way stops at every back road intersection, while youth stay indoors playing video games.

You should honor any commitment to a nation by how well its policies treat golden agers, impressionable youth, and vulnerable citizens. Surely something can be done to ensure fairness, harvest experience, and provide opportunities? Fitzgerald lamented, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Nobel Prize winner Peter Higgs, whose surname precedes the elemental boson, said he'd never be offered a position in these days of academic productivity. They only kept him on at the University of Edinburgh because his theories might be proven right, which CERN scientists recently confirmed, though he voluntarily retired before the 20th Century closed. Even laureates feel like vestiges that hung on so long nobody knows what they mean or why they exist. Meanwhile, paint fades and flakes on a girl's pink bike ridden into destiny on a jejune mural. With no jobs for a new generation, are there even first acts in America anymore?

There is no requirement to read books or newspapers to know the truth in current events. In fact, all media does is feed you countless lies. You need to conduct your own research, just do things, so you know how things are supposed to be done. Only then you can comment with authority. Too bad your hours on earth are so few you can't know much. Worse, you're forced to act and decide on false information and scant input. Not much point giving advice. It will be misapplied, probably fail, then reap retribution instead of thanks. Anyway, all can be distilled to, “Do it yourself or do without.” Anything else will anger some, disrespect those who are acutely dependent, and get ignored by majority.

If you hold others to high standards you must act exemplary yourself. Recriminations evoke anger, especially when you're the victim. Saying, "You didn't fight hard enough," lets abusers get off scot-free. Identifying where transactions went wrong should be a step in improving next, if ever there's another chance. What's ideal is to glide headlong into damaged societies and reap lessons of their being mistreated and mistreating others. Thereby, social photo-essayist Sebastiao Salgardo and you are simply exempt. But that's not what typically happens. You're greeted with suspicion, often attacked without provocation by the Salt of the Earth. Takes tremendous courage to care, which is one reason why what's really going on is so seldom reported.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Wearing Elastane

Suit up in what? Buying bike specific apparel has always been hit-or-miss. With a wide range in fit and performance from which to choose, brand names mean little. Can only point to what features should be avoided or sought. Obviously, nothing should bunch up or fit badly; crotch should be gusseted and seams well sewn. Ankles and wrists need not be squeezed. Light weight isn't the sole criterion.

Bibs & Shorts: Swear by Pearl Izumi’s blue pad Attack shorts but totally reject their yellow pad tights. Don’t prefer a certain number of panels, though fewer might mean less sewing later. Bibs and skin suits don’t breathe as well but stay in place better, just another compromise that forces your decision. Have nothing but praise for Castelli’s winter bibs used for a dozen seasons with its broad shoulder straps and cold stopping neoprene panels, but dislike their tech knicker for below knee strangulation, though both of their flat red seat pads are very comfortable. They don’t make either anymore; designs come and go without improvement, irritatingly so when you’re trying to replace. Have been known to resew seams just to improve fit; makers seem to target rail thin stereotypes rather than real shapes bodies exhibit. Often combine commonplace tights with company named bibs or skin suits when too cool for shorts alone. Wear padded shorts beneath body tights without pads for an extra level of warmth.

Gloves: Cannondale’s at least have generous velcro at wrists, whereas several others scrimp leaving bare skin or tourniquet tightness. Half gloves free your fingers for fine work, but freeze them even on sultry days under certain conditions. Whichever you pick, gel inserts under leather palms decrease constant pressure and preserve skin in a fall, though makers scrimp on this as well. You should try many brands before purchasing a few pairs, full and half, for every season of riding. All should breathe and include a fuzzy spot to swab drips and sweat. Launder them every other ride, or wash gently in sink. For frigid cold, generally wear a padded half below a civilian cloth pair with Thinsulate, rather than buy expensive fingerless cycling brands you must constantly remove to do the simplest things with any dexterity.

Jackets & Jerseys: Always a struggle since diverse styles serve different purposes. Many triple back pocket style pullovers don't have permeable material and a zippered front to control heat. Sleeves need to be loose enough on biceps, elbow or wrist. Long sleeves are better in intense summer sun, because your arm skin won’t so easily burn; seldom, though, do long sleeves breathe well or conveniently roll up. When hot, found more comfort in loose fitting, short sleeved tech material (Cool Max, Dri-T, Nano-T, silk) without pockets; rather carry items in a frame or handlebar bag than dragging back down to expose neck to sunburn. Wicking sweat off your back deters fatigue from overheating. In winter, wear a poly or wool base layer under a Sugoi pullover; similar to a wetsuit, has a flocked interior, stays toasty warm. Chilly or windy conditions demand a nylon jacket with high collar, which should cinch at neck and wrists, deflect wind, hang snugly, and stop at waist short of saddle. Nylon is porous, though, so for rainy days you may also want an impervious outer garment.

Leggings & Whatnot: Never found a pair that didn’t inch down, so stopped wearing leggings. Can peel off cheap tights just as easily. Do, however, use booties (neoprene shoe covers for extreme cold) and calientoes (cloth toe covers). Also use an acrylic or lycra neck tube as a face mask above a balaclava (head and neck covering) when temps dip below 40°F. Never experienced a condition when arm warmers were helpful, just loose bits to lose. Have resorted to unpleasant plastic pants for very rainy rides, but they keep sweat in, so you’ll be just as soaked anyway afterwards. Always wear a small mirror on my safety glasses; this will save your life if you notice that motorist speeding and texting in the gutter behind you. Besides, how else do you know to shift over to let cars pass, not that you must? Yellow lenses cut glare, filter UV, and still work at dawn and dusk, unlike regular sunglasses. M-frames wrap entire eye, so grit and pebbles flung from cars or other cyclists have little chance of blinding you, as long as they have a bridge that doesn’t slip. Find some with an upper frame that doesn’t block your vision while leaning forward; surprisingly, most do, a persistent design flaw. Might look into munition or safety catalogs, which offer frameless models for less.

Spandex: Pilling is a problem with polyester-polyurethane copolymer, aka elastane or Lycra. Around since 1962 when developed by Joe Shivers at Dupont, named as an anagram of “expands”, spandex stretches with your active lifestyle rather than restricts, which doesn’t matter as much when sedentary. Application really depends upon what sort of riding you do. If you pedal a few blocks to a pub or shop, you don’t need spandex. If you’re out to put on serious miles, it definitely will increase your comfort and distance. The butt of endless fetish jokes, it beats being naked, keeps bugs off, protects from sun, and wicks sweat away. Body swaddling feels reassuring and lets air slip past. Comes in many colors, but legend has it that black was chosen to hide road dirt and saddle dye. Shorts need to be inspected before every use; holes in your second skin could be embarrassing. Wonder whether any plastic is safe to wear given the number of carcinogens in coal and tar they use to produce it. Yet wearing spandex is a no-brainer for any resolute cyclist, practically a uniform for club members.

Wool: Once was a bicyclists’ best (only) choice, but it can be itchy, dries slowly, smells bad, and wears poorly. Wool does, however, insulate better, so still figures in cold and transitional months as underlayment. A natural fiber, it looks fashionable when not shot through with moth holes, and rubs gently against skin. Wonder why they never made short pads out of wool; would try merino boxers to separate costly wear from shorts if they made them gusseted. Do wear wool blend socks year round, but worry over proper fit. Bicyclists ankles and feet swell, but mills almost never weave a loose enough pair for them. Anklet length is best in summer, but crew covers skin up into winter bibs, and heavy wool insulates feet if you can fit them in your cleats; have modified big socks to fit over cleats by sewing holes at balls of feet for pedal clips. Most cyclists keep a dozen pairs for frequent changes, quite an investment. Retailers usually charge 3 times what you’d regularly pay for generic, some of which perform better. Acrylic beats cotton, neither of which are foot friendly over the long haul.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bottom Slain

In every sense, it’s all downhill once you begin a career. Remaking yourself or transporting skills to another role in nearly impossible. Choose carefully. Heavy labor destroys your body, grinds you down. NFL pros, who pump iron daily and work out constantly, have an average life expectancy of only 55 years, almost 21 years less than a model American schlemiel, who lives 5 years less than typical Swiss citizens and women in general. Information toilers wind up insane and lame. Since some claim, “Sitting is the new smoking,” you could be slain by jockeying a desk with bottom plopped in a chair, or motoring instead of pedaling there. So an extreme of either labor or rest is really the parlous pest. Heed no extremist’s advice; learn balance or pay price.

Peak productivity requires aerobic habits, decent diet, and regular shuteye, though businesses prefer the presenteeism of employees slaving through overtime into replaceable burnout. The more you improve yourself, the more you’re resented by anarchists, coworkers, grade school dropouts, ne’er-do-wells, and nervous managers. Too much work or worry builds debilitating stress. Labor laws ought to guarantee an annual unpaid leave below 6 weeks without penalty beyond the paltry 2 of paid vacation companies bestow begrudgingly. Many expect you to work through 10 holidays, too. Have they never seen, “Moderation in all things,” avowed by Saint Augustine? Explorers navigating unknown seas granted sailors more ease. Work frustration breeds domestic violence and social disease.

Bike&Chain always examines phenomena scrupulously and reports experiences exactly. Labann lives to debunk old sayings and describe consequences in terms of mortality. What matters more than a choice between death and life? Statistics, when not simply made up, get misinterpreted; observed effects are not root causes, which require actual investigations and scientific analysis to determine. Americans don’t only die from heart attacks and obesity; pundits say,“...the leading causes of death in the US before age 50 include car accidents, gun violence, and drug overdoses. Citing a 2011 study of 23 countries, the panel found the rate of firearm homicides to be 20 times higher in the US.” With world’s greatest percentage of prisoners and highest health costs, lives are shorter in USA than most other industrialized countries. Doctors still say smoking is the #1 health threat, but that's not entirely true, either. Fossil fuel has got to be #1. Nations fight wars over it. Constituents include known carcinogens. Driving around is sedentary, ruins body. Exhaust from burning coal and petrol causes asthma. Refineries pollute so badly, you’re 5 times more likely to die living near one. Where they limit cars, gun mayhem drops to next to nothing.

Considering the sole purpose for assault weapons and handguns is to kill humans illegally, acquiring them ought to be difficult, not easy. Anyone can order by mail and pick up at a local dealer. People with diagnosed mental disorders aren’t barred from owning. Like drivers, purchasers ought to be licensed through analogous classroom studies and "road tests" at ranges, both with passing grades. No point at all having any weapon (bow, crossbow, handgun, grenade, rifle, sword) if you don’t know how to use it safely, likely to hurt self instead of protect. Once believed bicycling was basic recreation for bottom feeders; target shooting dives below with cost of ammo and guns less than a cheap bike. All arsenals should be inspected and monitored, weapons registered. Firearms have never been investments that appreciate in value. Assemble as many as you like, just ban private sales and don’t distribute to anyone except federal fireman licensed (FFL) dealers. Interstate commerce in them otherwise ought to be a Class 1 felony tantamount to second degree murder, since it abets homicide and manslaughter.

Arguments against arms control demonstrate bizarre all-or-nothing logic and reduce every restriction to absurdity. One says, “Ban guns and only criminals will have them.” But wouldn’t it then be a lot easier to identify perpetrators? So much for, "Defend self against gunmen,” who then wouldn’t be armed. “Guns do not kill, people do,” but they do enable psychopaths. Everyone dies in firefights, including innocent bystanders who also have rights. Another says,” If someone runs down a kid with an SUV, you don't stop selling motor vehicles," though dealing death isn’t a vehicle’s sole purpose and licensing marginally protects passengers. Carmakers did stop selling station wagons because they couldn't reduce emissions, so instead developed minivans and SUVs with more destructive footprints and no legislative standards. Regulations don’t prohibit end runs. Congress is too busy arguing splinter issues to follow up. Voters surveyed support neither carrying loaded weapons nor restricting freedoms to own them. After massacres they blame families and mental disorders. However, policies focus on controlling guns instead of counseling through state sponsored health insurance. So conservative opposition to affordable care inflames problem and invites further gun control. Why so shocked? Everything is interrelated. Laws and policies must take all effects into account.

The trouble with democracy is dunces dominate, while geniuses get ignored. Is the only answer armed revolution? Who, exactly, is the enemy? Turns out, gun manufacturers and their lobbyists are. You'll never see sensible measures enacted because NRA only cares about money, not humanity, and runs Republican party, who rule Congress. There are already many forms of gun control, such as carrying locked in vehicle’s trunk separate from ammo and restricting zones where they can be fired, though enforcement has been lax, since off-duty police are the worse offenders. Where homicides have no limits, extra measures are taken, and why not? They could curb gun sales with no ill effects to commerce or rights, limit arsenals to militias, not permit sociopaths to buy. That’s not banning all sales, just a small number, unless you realize that only lunatics want guns. Why not have city planners include gun free zones, entrants screened at gateways, and villains apprehended and disarmed? Concealed, loaded and unlocked weapons complicate enforcement, so much so that armed police prefer to harass law abiders rather than nab felons and gangsters. Lack of gun control sacrifices innocents. Self improvement includes rising above grisly intolerance.

Gun enthusiasts can’t wait for an absurd zombie apocalypse, because it would exonerate their desire to exterminate anyone who frustrates or opposes their plans for conformity to some nazi ideology of psycho uniformity. Lost souls? You just don’t know how victims might someday contribute to society, particularly school children. Altruists become nurses and social workers. Football linemen use only their armor clad selves to wage battles, and, given the stakes, can be very punishing, yet infractions are swiftly penalized and injuries are never fatal. People can be a pain. But think about it. Where do your comforts, energy, entertainments, food, fresh water, roads, shelter, shoes, soap, wearing apparel come from? If you still hate, you better discover ways to cope, resign yourself to being a hermit, or seek professional help. Guns are called great equalizers, but only angels and saints stand in harm's way. Racing to the bottom threatens all humans.