Saturday, October 18, 2014

Grigg on the Difference Between Us and Our Rulers

I'll just move over and let William Norman Grigg illustrate the important distinctions:

Biden Family Values: Leniency for us, stern prohibition for the mundanes

Asked by Time  magazine last February about the possibility of decriminalizing marijuana nation-wide, Vice President Joe Biden insisted that “smarter enforcement” of federal drug statutes was a better idea.
For “smarter” he apparently means “selective and self-serving.” If this weren’t the case, Biden’s pampered and dim-witted son Hunter would be facing the prospect of prison time.
In 2012, Hunter Biden decided he wanted to join the US Naval Reserve as a direct-commission public affairs officer. Because of a drug-related incident in his background, he was given a special waiver. Last year his dilettante military career was ended when he was discharged after a drug test turned up evidence of cocaine use. A few months later, perhaps as a consolation prize, Hunter was made a board member of Ukraine’s largest oil company, an appointment that doubtless had a great deal to do with the fact that the company is owned by the U.S.-installed regime in Kiev.
Biden, who does not face prosecution, told Fox News that he was “moving forward” with the support of his family. That includes his sister Ashley, who was arrested on drug charges in 1999 but never prosecuted – and is now employed as a “child welfare” bureaucrat in Delaware, where she is probably involved in stealing children from parents who occasionally use proscribed substances but aren’t part of a politically protected clan.
During his decades in the U.S. Senate, including a long stint as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Vice President Joe Biden distinguished himself as among the most militant drug warriors in Washington. He proudly recalled to Time  that he is “the guy who did the crime bill and the drug czar.” He also promoted the widespread practice of asset forfeiture, the use of the RICO law to turn petty drug offenses into federal conspiracy prosecutions, and supported military aid to wage the drug war overseas.
Biden obviously does support decriminalization of drugs, but only on a case-by-case basis. He has done more than his share to ruin countless lives in the name of drug prohibition. Thanks in no small measure to Joe Biden’s efforts, millions of people who have done no harm to anyone but themselves have been fed into the prison and parole system. Hunter and Ashley Biden would be among them, were they not the glorious outpouring of privileged loins. 

Be sure to vote, now.  Voting changes things.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

For No Particular Reason

From the end of Chapter 30 ("The Old Doctor") of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward :
He saw her out, came back into the dining room and sank into a rocking chair of black bentwood and yellow wickerwork, its back worn by the years he had spent in it.  He gave it a pushoff as he sat and let the movement die down.  He did not rock it any more.  He was sitting in the odd position peculiar to rocking chairs.  It was almost off balance but free.  He froze like that for a long time, completely motionless.

He had to take frequent rests nowadays.  His body demanded this chance to recoup its strength and with the same urgency his inner self demanded silent contemplation free of external sounds, conversations, thoughts of work, free of everything that made him a doctor.  Particularly after the death of his wife, his inner consciousness  had seemed to crave a pure transparency.  It was just this sort of silent immobility, without planned or even floating thoughts, which gave him a sense of purity and fulfillment.

At such moments an image of the whole meaning of existence -- his own during the long past and short future ahead, that of his late wife, of his young granddaughter and of everyone in the world -- came to his mind.  The image he saw did not seem to be embodied in the work or activity which occupied them, which they believed was central to their lives, and by which they were known to others.  The meaning of existence was to preserve unspoiled, undisturbed and undistorted the image of eternity with which each person is born.

Like a silver moon in a calm, still pond.

I'm not sure, but I think that might be the best passage I've ever read in a novel.

And now, back to this world's madness ... and my own foolishness and triviality.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Government Wouldn't Mislead Us ... Would They?

So, the Ebola guy in Dallas has died ... and one of his nurses has it.

So far, that is.  We don't know yet how many people from the hospital have it.  Soon, we may know more.

The above-linked CNN story has a cute little animated video with it.  The video tells us that of course you can't acquire Ebola through "casual contact" with someone who's sick with it.  Oh, no, of course not.  You need direct contact with "blood, saliva, mucus, sweat, tears, semen, vomit, urine, feces."  And those icky fluids have to directly contact your cut or abraded skin, eyes, nose, mouth, etc.

Hmmmmm.  Saliva?  Mucus?  Ever hear of ... a sneeze?

This guy's sitting next to you on a bus, or train, or airplane.  If he has something that's transmitted by his saliva or mucus getting into your nose, eyes, or mouth ... you're what is technically known as "screwed."

Now, I'm nothing but a retired physicist.  I don't know how difficult it is to contract Ebola from someone who has it.  It's well outside my tiny little field of so-called expertise.  But the thing is: whether it's easy or hard to transmit Ebola, I'm quite sure "my" government will tell me that it's hard.  They will tell me that because they don't really care the proverbial rat's ass whether I live or die.  What they do care about, a little, is that I, panicked, will be more difficult to manage than I, complacent, would be.

Meanwhile, the Great White Father is asserting, with perfect dogmatic certainty, that this poor sick nurse HAS to have violated protocol  to have gotten sick.  And this disease is so hard to catch ... I guess we're supposed to assume that she foolishly passed the time by making mud pies, barehanded, out of her patient's feces.  Well, like all the rest of you, I don't even know her name, but I'm already pretty angry on her behalf.  I really doubt that she's stupid.  I tend to suspect that Ebola's fairly easy to catch.  I tend to suspect that we're being lied to.  Again.  So what's new?

What course of action am I urging on "our" government?  Well, nothing in particular.  If Ebola transmits easily, it's probably already too late to head it off.  Myself, I wasn't planning on getting out of here alive anyway; I'm pretty sure I'm going to hand in my lunch pail at some point or other, from some cause.  Ebola's probably a bad way to go, especially since, if it becomes widespread, we aren't going to die in modern, antiseptic intensive-care circumstances, attended by a host of spacesuit-clad medics, because they'll all be dying too.  If I were among our rulers, it might occur to me that shutting down air travel, both into the US from foreign lands and within the US, until the situation becomes a little more clear would be a modest and prudent precaution.  That won't happen, because there's money to be made (and lost).  Still, it's instructive to consider a regime that cheerfully slaughters swarthy foreigners by the hundreds of thousands, on the laughable premise that otherwise, Radical Islamists  will take over Peoria, Illinois and start beheading Sunday School students.  This same regime would never jeopardize a few weeks' worth of corporate profits for a small reduction in the chances that 50 to 90 percent of the American people might die hideously from an African hemorrhagic fever.  It's not as contradictory as it might seem; after all, in both cases, there's money to be made (those "defense" industry CEO bonuses won't pay themselves, you know).  Sure is ugly, though.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Promotion in the Roman Army

So, readers, what say you: got one more century in you?  A vicarious one, at least?  I hope so, because I'm here to report on the final one of my season: the Hub City Tour.

The Tour was this past Saturday, September 13.  It begins and ends in Elizabethtown, which is down the road a little way from Louisville, and, more immediately, Fort Knox.  I had assumed that "Hub City" would turn out to be a nickname for Elizabethtown, but I should have asked; a little cursory after-the-fact internet research does not reveal any such connection, and I have no idea how this ride got its name.

I arrived the afternoon before.  The host club is Central Kentucky Wheelmen (an unfortunately non-inclusive name; I saw numerous Central Kentucky Wheelwomen  there also), and their headquarters is a local bike shop, Bullmoose Brothers, where the early packet pickup took place.

Wow, those guys are almost as bald as I am!  Well, not really.  I'm quite a bit balder, I think.
Next morning, the weather was chilly (59°F at the 8 am start time), windy, overcast, and threatening rain.  And, indeed, some rain came during the ride, but not to any troublesome degree.  Many of my fellow riders were better prepared, in terms of clothing layers, than I was.  In my experience, though, moderately chilly temperatures aren't a problem shortly after you get started, as you work yourself warm.

Awaiting the word to go.  Check out the jersey on the guy to my left.  "Are you now, or have you ever been, a Communist?"
The pre-ride bullhorn briefing was given by the president of the Central Kentucky Wheelmen, Jim Lever.  He said the usual things (explaining the Dan Henry system of pavement route markings, reminding us to be safe and observe traffic laws, and so forth).  And, since there was the customary assortment of optional tour distances, ranging from a 15-miler to the century, he referred to those of us riding the century as "centurions."  Cool, I thought.  All this time, I would have thought myself a mere foot soldier in the cycling world, the equivalent of a legionary in the Roman army.  Now I had been promoted to a commander of a hundred!  I tried not to let the glory of it all go to my head, as I wrapped my goose-pimply arms around myself to try to stay warm.  As it turned out, there were several hills in my future that would soon humble me appropriately.

Almost right away, I noticed the contrast between the Kentucky I saw on this ride and the horse country version I'd seen in the two previous centuries.  In and around Hardin County, I didn't see the sprawling, lush bluegrass pastures.  Instead, there was more mixed agriculture, particularly the corn and soybeans so familiar to my Hoosier eyes.  It seemed like a somewhat-hillier version of southern Indiana to me, except for the prevalence of red clay, which lent a Georgia-ish flavor to the scenery.

Central Kentucky presented more of a hardscrabble look than the territory to the east.
 The first SAG stop was about 17 miles in, at the First Baptist Church of Hodgenville.  Hodgenville did not seem like a city of sufficient size to require a church to designate itself as "first."  On the other hand, we're talking about a part of the country that is rather well-provided with Baptist churches, so Hodgenville may well have had several.  The provisions were ample, and I fortified myself accordingly.

My home church has a pavilion, too.  But ours is, well, smaller.

On we went.  The scenery, as mentioned, looked a little different.  But in case I started to forget I was in Kentucky, I was reminded almost constantly by the fact that relatively little of the way was level.

Ah, Kentucky!  Thy name is "hills."  Or should've been, anyway.

At the second stop, 35 miles in, the provisions were the same as at the first.  In fact, they never varied throughout the ride, which was a little disappointing; there were salty snacks, bananas, cookies, pickles, vile blue gatorade, tangerines, and water.  That's okay, though.  They had plenty.  And while I was kind of jonesing for a peanut-butter sandwich, let's face it: as long as there's bananas, I can keep cranking.  And the volunteers who manned the stops were outstandingly friendly.  At three stops, there was a technician from Bullmoose Brothers Bicycles with repair stand and tools, for those who had mechanical issues.  I was highly impressed with the support organized by the CKW club.

I chatted briefly at the second stop with this lady, who's a local radio amateur.  Seeing her reminded me of my Fort Wayne friend Joseph, who has spent many of his weekend days organizing similar safety support at events there.  "Just sharpening our skills," she said.

The route crossed a wooden-decked bridge about 40 miles in, where a painted pavement sign asked us to walk across.  It seemed ride-able to me, but it would have been churlish (and unworthy of centurions) to refuse, so we all walked it.

This bridge didn't have the tire-width gaps that the one on the Redbud Ride had.
The ride unfolded in routine fashion.  There were rest stops at 45 miles and 65 miles; that 20-mile stretch between stops was the longest, and seemed the most challenging in terms of hills.  The route was chosen using some very lightly-traveled back roads, which was nice for not worrying about getting hit.  But there's a downside to that: such roads also tend to have the poorest pavement, and some of it wasn't good at all.  I notice that you often encounter blacktop in which the petroleum-tar component seems to have worn away or sunk, leaving the small-stone aggregate part exposed.  This puts a high-frequency vibration into your bicycle, especially if you're like me and have an aluminum frame that doesn't damp vibration very much at all.  It's the kind of thing that loosens fasteners and causes adjustments to "creep" out of adjustment.  On one steep descent, the pavement was smooth and I could see all the way down, so I "let it rip" a bit and hit at least 39 MPH (at least, that's the number I saw on my bike GPS at one point when I sneaked a quick glance).  It felt good, but there was a minor bridge at the bottom that had an unexpected bit of pavement discontinuity as I crossed from road to bridge deck, and that little bump felt as if it should have relieved me of a few dental fillings.  I was surprised and gratified to see that it didn't cost me a spoke, or a pinch puncture -- not sure why it didn't.  All's well that ends well, I guess.

It wouldn't have been Kentucky without some Horsican-Americans.  The one in the center in the photo below was wearing a cover that, as far as I could tell, wholly obscured his eyes.  I suppose that might have been a veterinary measure of some kind.

The one on the right ... no, I'm sure he or she wasn't mooning me.  Pretty sure, anyway.

Another wooden-decked bridge turned out to be a railroad overpass (or underpass, I guess, depending on whether you're the train).  In any case, it afforded a look down into a substantial sort of trench cut or blasted out of the rock, through which the tracks were laid.  A cool thing to see.

Another cyclist and I were enjoying this view.  "Somebody used a little dynamite here," I conjectured.  "Either that," he replied, "or John Henry was pretty busy."


The weather kept teasing us.  The sky would look broken, then close back in and spit a little bit more chilly rain.

What's that?  A bit of blue?  Yeah, but it's just funning with us again.
By the time I reached the final SAG stop, 94 miles in, the weather finally broke.  This stop was at the St. John Baptist Church.

The young lady volunteer in blue was quite a NASCAR fan.  To be more specific, she was quite a Jeff Gordon fan.  Her camp chair bears the livery of the 24 car.  She explained to me that this year's version of "the Chase" is very unfair, unless it leads to Mr. Gordon winning the Sprint Cup -- in which case, it will be fully tolerable.
Back into Elizabethtown we rode ... those last saddlesore miles.  Arriving once again at Bullmoose Brothers, I stopped by the Kentucky Century Challenge table to show my Garmin and sign in.  I also got fitted for my Century Challenge jersey.

I admit that it's a cliche.  But I can't seem to write one of these without the obligatory mileage shot.  Note: there are actual shadows on the ground!  The Yellow Face, it burns us, Precioussss!

After I got home, I dumped my bike computer into Garmin Connect.  Now I see where I was.

Looking at the plot on the bottom reminds me that there was quite the steep climb -- and descent -- in the mile 75 and 76 region.  Big fun!  Sort of.
 
The report isn't over yet, though.  Elizabethtown was holding its Via Colori Street Art Fair, and I took a little time to walk around it before leaving.  Here, a young artist applies some extra touches to her pavement chalk work.

I translate "Via Colori" as "Color Street."  Seems appropriate.
So ends my Century Challenge season.  Not all successful, but pretty satisfactory overall.  Will I go back next season and try to do it all clean?  I don't know.  My tailbone's still a little ouchy today, so it's not a time to decide such things.  I might decide to aim myself at RAIN next season (Ride Across Indiana, Terre Haute to Richmond, "160 Miles, One Way, One Day").  Or maybe I'll join Three Rivers Velosport, the local club here in Fort Wayne, and try to get into group riding in a disciplined way.  But that's next year, and I still have the Individual Time Trials at Tour de Gruene for this year.  One thing at a time.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Tour de Donut: Bad Comedy and Bad Pace

This past Saturday, September 6, was the 2014 Tour de Donut in Arcanum, Ohio.  And, by the way, I've heard local people there pronounce it as both "Ar-CAN-um" and "Ar-CANE-um."  So I still don't know which is correct.

Let's get the bad comedy and excuses out of the way first.  As I said, the TdD was on Saturday, in Arcanum.  When I got out of bed Friday morning, in Leo, Indiana, I didn't know if I was going or not.  The reasons are somewhat complicated.  Thursday afternoon, about two hours before I was due to depart for my part-time semi-unretirement job at the Home Depot up in Auburn, I was pushing the mower around the front yard, trying to simultaneously harvest the out-of-control grass and ease my conscience.  As I was doing so, I mowed over a ground-wasp colony's front door, not suspecting it was there.  The inhabitants came out and let me know of their displeasure by stinging me multiple times about the left eye, behind the right knee, and on the lower right ribs.  It's funny how, in the space of just a few seconds, life can go from "situation normal" to "what the hell just HAPPENED?".  The wasp stings were painful, but not life-threatening.  However, the main way they hurt me was by inspiring an automatic, panicked, adrenaline-fueled jump and sprint across the yard, all the while trying to brush wasps away from my eye, resulting in the temporary loss of my glasses.  You see, at my age, such a violent burst of speed, without any warmup, is more or less a guarantee of pulled muscles, and by the time I got to the house, my left hip and buttocks had me hobbling very slowly indeed.  I got the stings calmed down a little, took some naproxen sodium (generic "Aleve"), and heroically went and worked my 6 hours at the Depot, where I got some odd looks, probably from my left eye being swollen near-shut.  When I got up Friday morning, I thought I'd better climb aboard my bicycle and see if I could even ride it.  I did so, and was agreeably surprised that, while walking was still difficult, cycling felt close to normal.  It seemed reasonable to expect substantial further improvement by Saturday morning, so I decided to head over to Arcanum.

In past years, I've overnighted at the Methodist church downtown, where they offered a deal: sleeping bag space on the floor, plus a very good spaghetti supper, $25.  This year, they apparently discontinued the deal, and no one had replied to my emails of inquiry during the past few months.  Oh, well.  My fallback plan was to sleep in the space available in the Arcanum Fieldhouse: no charge, no food, no air conditioning.  I arrived there in late afternoon.

Sign-in was in the gym; sleeping space in the hallway alongside.

Having picked an unused bit of the hallway, I inflated my air mattress, deployed my sleeping bag, and had that warm, fuzzy feeling that I knew where I'd be putting my head down overnight.  The remaining problem that we all had was that the building isn't air-conditioned, and the weather was hot and humid.  I simply lay on top of the bag, and sweated.  In the morning, I didn't roll it up and return it to its stuff bag, since I'd left it rather damp.

One thing I didn't notice: I was across the hall from the entrance to the ladies' room.  Bad planning.  There was much traffic in and out through the night, and every time the door opened, the light spilled forth.  I'll try to remember next time.
There was rain overnight, and Saturday morning was cooler, but still very humid.  The overcast was solid, and we did have light drizzle through most of the race, but not enough to be troublesome.  In due course, I put on my bike shorts, my Redbud Ride jersey, and a liberal coating of "Chamois Butt'r" where it would do me the most good, and rode the few blocks from the Fieldhouse to the starting area, which is George Street, just west of Main.  I waited a bit, and soon the kids' races were underway.  Very cute, the kids were.

A young rider warms up for a two-block kids' race.  Good fun seemed to be had by all.
As the 8:30 start time got closer, the street began to crowd up a bit.  As usual, when the start came, the street was so crowded that you basically couldn't clip in and start riding until you were going across the timing mats.  But: no crashes, no problems.

As start time neared, I joined the flow of people into the street itself.  We still had a while to wait there.
In past years, there were two available distances: the 16-mile "Mini-Donut," and the 32-mile "Full Donut."  (The full, by the way, isn't actually the advertised 32 miles long; it's really 30.77.  More on that later.)  This year, an additional option was offered: the 64-mile "Double D."  That's the one I registered for.  It consists simply of two laps of the Full Donut course, which means that it isn't really 64 miles; it's 61.54 miles.  Not that the distinction is particularly important.  Race organizer Roger Bowersock, in his pre-start megaphone briefing, offered people a way to back off from the Double D; he said that, after completing one lap and arriving at the timing mats, you could either continue with your second lap or stop, have your donut count recorded, and thus compete in the Full Donut instead.  Considering how few people I saw on the course during my second lap, I think lots of people took the bailout option.

I had vaguely planned to moderate my pace for the extended distance, but when the start came, that plan was out the window.  I unthinkingly and automatically assumed "race pace" and tried to pass as many folks as possible, and be passed by as few as possible.   Screw the strategy; let's GO!  Of course, the Tour de Donut is a very odd sort of race.  (For those who aren't familiar, the web site is here, and the basic idea is that for each documented donut that you consume at the two designated donut stops, five minutes are deducted from your time.)  While you're actually riding, people treat it like a race and go as hard as they can.  But, at the donut stops, everyone's pretty sociable and friendly and not in a big hurry, even though the clock's still running; the race aspect seems mostly forgotten.  It is a lot of fun, though.

The first stop is at a place called Bear's Mill, about 12.5 miles in.  Bear's Mill is an old water-powered grain mill, and they still grind some flour there, although it's mostly an artsy-craftsy-antique-y gift store.  The donut stop is in a grassy area across the road from the mill itself.  I revisited the place as I was leaving for home, after the race, and obtained my usual five-pound bag of hard red whole-wheat bread flour, and also a couple of smelly candles for my wife, who unaccountably likes that sort of thing.

The Bear's Mill stop, during my second lap, with only a few riders present.  The mill building can be seen beyond the ambulance.  I chatted briefly with the ambulance guys, while working away at a couple of donuts, and asked them how many "customers" they typically get.  They said usually none, but they had treated someone this time.  I didn't ask what for.  I'm sure HIPAA wouldn't have allowed them to answer.

This year, the other stop was at the Pitsburg Church of the Brethren.  Being a member of the Agape Church of the Brethren, I thought that was kind of cool.  In fact, on that not-quite-31-mile course, we ride by two Brethren churches, the other being the Painter Creek church.  I mentioned this to our interim pastor, Phil Reynolds, at church the next day; he's from that area.  "Yes," he said, "the Brethren are just thick as thieves around there."  I got a chuckle out of that figure of speech.

My bicycle leans against the sign at the second donut stop.  I take a "professional" interest in such signs.  One of my jobs at my church is keeping our road sign up to date.
So, back to the race.  As I mentioned earlier, my pace was unwise in the first lap.  I completed it in one hour, 53 minutes and 36 seconds, which was just a few minutes longer than I took last year when the first lap was also the only lap.  Predictably, then, my tail was dragging some on the second lap.  Besides, on the second lap, both the rain and the wind picked up substantially.  The rain wasn't a problem, but the wind -- of course -- was.  So, my second-lap time ballooned to two hours, 14 minutes, 17 seconds.  I ate seven donuts, and so got a -35 minute adjustment to my time.  Only 40 men in my age category (51 to 99) completed the Double D; of those, I came in 20th, which was a little disappointing.  On looking more closely at the results, though, I noticed that all nineteen men who beat me had ages beginning with the numeral 5.  Of those 60 and up, I came in first!  Cool.  I guess that's how I'll think about it, anyway.  King of the Geezers, that's me.  Click here to see the official results.  It's a 38-page PDF, broken out into all the event, age, and sex categories; I'm under "Double D, male, 51 and up," the 34th page of the PDF.

My wife graciously gave me a GPS bike computer for my birthday last month, which was how I knew that the race was shorter than the advertised 64 miles.

I'm liking my new bike GPS quite well.  Thanks, Deb!

I think next year I'll drop back to the Full Donut.  The 61.5 miles seems excessive to me, as a race distance.  That's edging into endurance ride (or at least pleasure tour) sort of distance.  That will be my plan for now, anyway.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thinking Outside the Hole

The moribund dead-tree Washington Post delivers the conventional un-wisdom for today:
Will journalist James Foley’s beheading be enough to bring President Obama and Congress together on a bipartisan program to deal with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria?

Although the Constitution allows the commander in chief to order the use of force to meet immediate national security threats, both history and political common sense argue that the president needs public backing and thus congressional support to deal with dangers posed by the rapid growth of the Islamic State.
There's more, of course; lots more, ad nauseam.  There's even a sly suggestion at the end that the Congress had better back off its feckless token efforts to reign in the NSA's countless imperial surveillance programs, since the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Iowa (ISILI, or maybe it's ISISI or some other foolish initialism with a lot of I's in it) will certainly stop the sale of beer in Dubuque unless we all sign up for NSA videocams in our bedrooms.  Which is probably what our smartphones already are, unless we hide 'em in the sock drawer overnight.

But you will scan Mr. Pincus's nonsense in vain for any acknowledgement that ISISI / ISILI / whatever-it's-called-this-week is, like al-Qaeda before it, entirely a creation of good bipartisan US foreign policy.  I wonder what name will be given to the new unintended (?) consequence that will spring forth when we all unite behind our Imperator again?

Folks, we're at the bottom of a fairly deep hole already.  We should be thinking in terms of ladders, ropes, chimneying our way up, etc.  Another spasm of energetic, united digging won't solve the problem.  Toss the shovel up out of the hole, and let's do something we haven't been doing almost continuously for the last three or four decades, shall we?