Saturday, December 31, 2011

paternal obsequies and poetic truth

My father's memorial service was today, the last day of the year 2011. He died on his eighty-first birthday, December 16, 2011. By my count, about 200 people attended the memorial service: mostly friends, some family and acquaintances. My mother is getting a lot of support from her Asheville friends; still, I understand she is planning to move to the Buffalo, NY area to be closer to her daughter, my sister Susan, her only other child. Still, it is good to see all the friends and support she has.

My sister and her husband, my uncle, one of his children (my cousin), and her daughter are visiting, and two couples particularly close to my mother also came to the house this afternoon. After all but family had left, we were talking about how things had gone (for both the death and the ceremony), and there was general agreement that it could have been worse. Someone said, "It could have been worse, but it still can suck," and my mother, who is not given to profanity, said, "Yeah. It sucks underwater."

She was tired, I'm sure, and the phrase "It sucks underwater" might not make literal sense. But there is a poetic sense to it that feels right, and it was my mother's response to the moment. I think it's perfect.

It sucks underwater.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

mug explodes; excellent keyboard believed dead

It's become a tradition in our house that the excellent wife makes chocolate milk or hot cocoa, depending on the season, for the two of us. Last night, I brought my cocoa up to my upstairs computer, and while holding it over the keyboard, the mug of the handle broke. The cup was in mid-air and had not struck anything; I am baffled by why it chose that moment to break, but break it did, spilling cocoa all over my desk and my computer keyboard. I cleaned up the desk, the floor, and myself, and tried to resuscitate the keyboard... but in this last endeavor, I appear to have been unsuccessful. This morning, the CTRL, ALT, and ESC keys are not working, and I cannot open the keyboard to attempt to do a better job of reviving it.

"But Jim, keyboards are, like, $12. Why do you care?"

Because this was not a cheap, disposable keyboard. This was the Unicomp Customizer 101, a descendant of the excellent IBM Model M keyboard, made (in the USA) by the company that bought the rights and machinery to build the old Model M when IBM sold it off.

It's heavy, solidly built, and the keys click with the old buckling spring technology that made the original IBM model M's sought after (and expensive). And it's $79 plus shipping.

And it was a birthday gift from the excellent wife years ago.

I did not need this to happen at this time of my life.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

bike video

One of the riders on the Christmas Eve ride made a video:

(Original here.)

Cool, of course... but I think he's taking us WAY too seriously. (There are good shots of the antlers and that idiot with the long cap, though...)

And, of course, excellent send-up of that piece by Clement C. Moore.

memorial service & family stress

My father's memorial service will be this Saturday, New Year's Eve, at 11:00 am, and that, and the other issues around my father's death, are bringing out the worst in our family relations. Mother and I had an argument over when the excellent wife and I would go down, and she called at 5:30 in the morning yesterday worried that we had decided to come a day later. The excellent wife and I are arguing engaged in continuing discussion about how and when to set some limits with my mother (the limits are going to be set; the question is largely when - how long to wait - and how I'll manage to do it without bursting into a raqe).

I've been telling the excellent wife that I think my family was like a Strindberg play. As far as I can see, he didn't write drama, he wrote documentaries.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

xmas weekend

So far, so good (it's about 2:45 pm Christmas Day as I write this). Yesterday out for a pickup ride with OLPH, about 42 flat miles on the easy side of Route 1. Windier than I would have thought (some of the eleven who started appeared to have trouble in some of the headwinds; with the ones who split off, we ended with seven), and cold: I don't supposed it got above 42F, but it was a good ride nonetheless - and every mile I ride is another four minutes or so that I don't feel too crazy.

Perhaps giving the lie to that "not feeling too crazy", below is a picture of four of us before we left for the ride. The two ladies are wearing antlers in their helmets, the guy on the right has tights loud enough to recharge his cell phone, and the idiot in the red in the middle has wrapped his long, knitted cap over his bike helmet. Who would do that?

Later, off to the Polish parents-in-law for Wigilia (the Christmas Eve celebration that my eighty-or-so-year-old mother-in-law has made her own), with the opłatek ceremony, and the singing of koledy (I can read music, and hammer through the phonics of the Polish without any idea of the meaning; nonetheless, it tickles the parents-in-law to have their Anglo son-in-law singing their old carols), and opening of presents after. Ate too much (well, DUH) and left some of the food behind that we were supposed to bring home - but there's always so much that we're supposed to bring home, I actually got forgiven for the omission. (If we ever have a fight with a Polish family, we're doomed; they'll just "hospitality" us to death. Next time I see you, I'll tell you the only honest Polish joke I know, and it has to do with hospitality and food.)

This morning, up for opening presents prior to going out to breakfast at a local diner (a tradition in our house when we have a holiday we're celebrating alone with each other). I want to brag about one of the excellent presents from my excellent wife. Constant readers of this blog may remember that she went off to Poland this summer while I was cranking through the Anchor House Ride. She couldn't find anything excellent to bring back for me, based on her criteria that it must be Polish, good quality, and not made in China (apparently, the Polacks are farming out all of their grunt manufacturing just as we here in the US are doing). However, while there, she found this logo:

Bank BGZ is supporting a bike team, and the Polish at top translates to, "I love the bicycle". Could she find it on a t-shirt? No; apparently they're not marketing every single minor thing over there yet. So instead, after she came home, she found a t-shirt printer, and had the dratted thing made; the printer found the logo, shaved off the Bank BGZ stuff at bottom, and printed on a t-shirt of the right color gold. I'm just thrilled.

She also get the latest Polish Bike Team jersey:

... as well as assorted other nifty stuff. In return, I got her stuff like a potholder that's also a cow puppet. I definitely got the best of this deal.

Then out to the Washington Crossing Park Re-enactment of Washington crossing the Delaware to take Trenton. We had gone years ago, and it was quite entertaining, despite the fact that river conditions that day made the actual crossing impossible. We went back today with high hopes, which were dashed: the speaker about historical matters was boring and ill-prepared (although his facts were probably good), the actor who played Washington was not engaging (as Washington himself almost certainly was; the excellent wife is an amateur Revolutionary War historian, and quoted evidence that The General was a charming, entertaining man), and they could not get their acts together about the boats - late start, only four oars plied in a boat meant for eight (so the slow progress was probably unusual). I doubt we'll be back.

Soon to dinner for a Christmas meatloaf (which is not a tradition yet, but I wouldn't object if it became one). I've left a message for mother, who is having her first Christmas (and first holiday) alone since the death of my father. Tomorrow not working, but back to the grind; I'll pick up a new pair of glasses (not as scratched as these I'm porting now) and a garage door opener, if the sale is as good as it looks (not to install till the weather warms, but a sale is a sale). Then perhaps to the new Sherlock Holmes movie. It's not really Sherlock Holmes, if you're a fan of Conan Doyle, but it's an afternoon's entertainment.

Here's wishing the best of the holiday to you.

Friday, December 23, 2011

churches closing for christmas?

At the very least, it's counterintuitive, at least to me.

Newsmap is running an article from USA Today saying:

Because Christmas falls on Sunday this year, some churches are opting to close that day so that families can spend the morning together at home.

Among the nation's top 20 largest Protestant churches — as ranked by Outreach Magazine — three will be closed on Christmas, and 10 will be having only one service, The Tennessean reports.

Sure enough, this page from LifeChurch.TV shows services at their locations on Christmas Eve, but not Christmas, and, as I write this, the home page of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta has this text:

Christmas Eve Services
Gather your loved ones and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with us at one of our Christmas Eve morning services, at 10 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. No services on Christmas Day.

So who, exactly, is taking the Christ out of Christmas? Don't blame it on us atheists!

Or maybe it's a sign that the world really is going to end in 2012.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

the other side

I have this posted on my office door:

"If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes around with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"

... in an effort to make sure all points of view are represented. Solely in the interests of equal time for minority sentiments, I assure you.

a city on a hill

That's what's great about America. It makes me proud.

(I wish I didn't like that picture as much as I do.)

I got it from OurSignal, but there really does appear to be a site at UgliestTattoos.Com, although I went through fourteen pages (before I just couldn't take any more) and didn't find this one. (Now that's tireless research, if I do say so myself. Fourteen pages of ugly tattoos, solely in the interests of proper attribution.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the true meaning of ...

That's too small, of course; original here.

I've posted twice before from the Calamities of Nature comic, and there's a link in the list on the right. Tony Piro, the originator, has complained that people have stolen and altered his image with neither permission or attribution, and asked that we re-blog. His work is cool enough that I'm happy to oblige.

memorial service stuff

The memorial service for my father is scheduled for Saturday, December 31, 2011, at 11:00 am at St Eugene's Church in Asheville, NC. In lieu of flowers, people are asked to make charitable donations. My father was partial to the Salvation Army, but you may give to your favorite in his name instead.

I have been asked to give an elegy eulogy (an elegy is a poem). Below is my first draft:

Every person has many aspects, and I would like to talk about three aspects of my father, Bill Brittain:

First, he was a teacher. He taught school on Long Island prior to retiring and moving to this area years ago, and then, of course, he taught at the College for Seniors for years; he had students who took courses for no other reason than that he was the one teaching. And, as you think of him, ask yourself: was he ever not a teacher? Even in small groups or in single conversation, he'd start talking about something or other, and a few minutes in, you'd realize that he'd just given you another idea about how things were related, or how one came from another, entertaining you all the while.

Second, he was a writer. Even if you haven't read any of his writing, those of you who knew him as a teacher won't find that hard to believe! The story he told me was that he had read stories in pulp mystery magazines, and decided he could do as good a job, or better. So he tried, and he did, although he gathered a ream of rejection letters in the process. He got good enough, though, that dozens of his mystery stories were published, and later fourteen thirteen of his children's books, one being awarded a Newbery Honor.

Finally, he was my father. He and my mother sent my sister and me to college, and raised us to be the people we have become. That father-child relationship is always complicated; it is never the simple, ideal relationship that Disney would have us believe. But he was there for us. I know that he had a troubled relationship with his own, distant father, and resolved to be engaged more in our lives than the father he had. And I tell you as I stand here, he made good on that resolution. I told him before he died that I hoped that he was proud of what he did for, and gave to, his two children.

My family and I thank you for your presence and your support. We hope we may continue to count on you all.

Feelings are close to the surface in my family; I have argued with my mother, and I expect that my sister will take sides. I expect we will reconcile before the service. And it has taken this long, all of these three-plus days, for me to think anything about my father except how angry I was with him; it is only now, and with effort, that I have been able to remember fun times, or even relaxed times. I did not expect that.

Edit 12/21/11: Mother likes the eulogy; it's a wrap.

Monday, December 19, 2011

christmas blessing

I was going through my old backups from years ago, and found this. I got it in English, and it was clear that the original was Latin, so I translated it back:

There is nothing which I can give you which you have not already, but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future, which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

Here's the Latin:

Ave. numquam est quod vobis dare possum quod non habetis, sed multi sunt quod, quamquam non possum dare, potestis capere.

Caelum non nobis venire potest nisi cordia nostri quietum hodie in illo inveniant. caelum capite.

Pax non est situs in futuro quod non in praesenti occultus. pacem capite.

Tristitia mundi praeter umbram. pone hanc, sed intra captu nostri, gaudium est. gaudium capite.

Itaque, in festo nativitatis Christi, vos saluto cum prece quod vobis, nunc et semper, die illusceant et umbrae fugeant.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

thanks for the ride, & stuff.

After hearing the news last night, I really needed a ride today. Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds had one scheduled, and was planning to do a wicked hilly ride, but showed some mercy with this route (if a ride with 2800 feet of climb can be described as "merciful").

My thanks to her, and to Jen, Joe, John, Matt, Mike, and Ron. I needed a ride today.

On the break, we were met by Dave, who I first met at the Covered Bridges ride, and with whom I've been corresponding. He hasn't been able to ride recently, but he came out to see us anyway. Wow.

Later, I called my sister, who let me in on the plans that my mother has been making to move up near her (these plans have been developing over some time, apparently, but they've been kept secret from me [I don't know why]), and my mother, who appears to be doing everything that needs to be done, surprising herself (but not me).

(And as I was typing this, I've had two emails, two or three calls, and a neighbor visiting with condolences and support. I'm gratified)

Friday, December 16, 2011

he has died

My father died today, his 81st birthday, in the hospice to which he went yesterday.

I updated his Wikipedia page to show his date of death, and to change some tenses to simple past.

I expect there will be a memorial service in the Asheville, North Carolina area after Christmas, to which we will go. My mother is in a bit of shock, as I may be.

I ask my friends and acquaintances to look out for me, and I thank you for your company and support.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

weeks... and not many

Dad's in the hospice now; mother's been told he probably has "weeks... and not many" to live. He sleeps most of the time; he doesn't eat much.

However, mother's relieved and relaxing. She's now worrying about whether (and how) to fix the phone answering machine. She slept through the night last night, she says, for the first time in weeks.

She went to the facility, and likes it. It's got a chapel, gardens, a stained-glass window in the room where my father is. Mother is honest enough to say he's past caring about such things (or possibly even noticing them).

The excellent wife is off to her folks tonight, so I'm having a bachelor night; out to get some junk food when I finish this post. Work tomorrow (Payday! Yay!), then a ride with OLPH Saturday, and maybe another (maybe alone) on Sunday if it warms up enough.

I'll be glad to have something else to write about.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

... back to the place from whence you came, and from there ...

My father will be transferred tomorrow from the rehab center to a hospice. He has declined transfusions and chemotherapy. I have not spoken to him.

My mother seems resigned and relieved. I have been able to make her laugh. She seems grateful for my calls.

The excellent wife thinks my father was keeping it together so that the family could have one more Thanksgiving together. I think she is right.

third time

Still trying to avoid talking about my father, who may go into the hospice today.

Today is one of my Wednesdays off, and got a bunch of chores done: a visit to the Harbor Freight store in Ewing (spent less than $40, which is a success - I go up and down the aisles as if it were a grocery store), then to sign forms to transfer the condo bank accounts (TD Bank is not just nickel-and-diming their individual customers with annoying little fees; corporate accounts are getting pinched, as well), then to Sears to try to order glasses (and how can they have an optical department and not have an optician there? And no evening optician hours? I'll have to scoot in after work tomorrow); then to library.

Home before 1:00 pm, so got a bike ride in today, and Mr. Garmin tells me I just did the Coppermine loop at 19 mph for the third time since summer.

Brag, brag.

post-first-bike-ride speech

THAT was inspiring. Rock And Roll!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

freakangels webcomic

Mostly because I just can't put in another post about my father without gibbering, I want to plug another excellent webcomic. Freakangels was set up as a weekly comic, but I can't keep my interest on something that moves that slowly, so I'd save it up for a few months and read a bunch of episodes at once. It's written by Warren Ellis, a name to conjure with among comics fans, and the visuals, by Paul Duffield, are yummy.

There's a novel called The Midwich Cuckoos, which dealt with a number of telekinetic children all born at the same time; it was made into a movie called Village of the Damned. The argument of the webcomic is this: what happens when all these kids become young adults?

It's been completed for a few months, and it rocks. Check it out.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

won't be coming home

My father's illness is apparently bad; we put him in the hospital the day after Thanksgiving, and despite my mother's telling me he seems to be better, it's pretty clear from talking to her today that he's not. He went from the hospital to a rehab, but he's not eating, and, while he perks up when he has visitors, he sleeps most of the time. Now she's talking about putting him into a hospice. There is no phone he can use, and it's not clear he could use one anyway.

Mother told me he said that he's accomplished what he wanted to, which sounds to me like he's trying to decide his attitude about dying. Mother is scared, and responds well to the small talk that my wife and I provide when we call. She has the support of many neighbors.

My father had a poor relationship with his father, and got little support from him. I had my differences with my father; ours was not an easy relationship, and will never make a 30-minute feelgood TV special. Nonetheless, he did far better for me than his father did for him. I don't know what he would say his accomplishments are. I hope he is proud of what he gave to, and did for, his two children.

weekend update Dec 10-11

Friday 12/9 was an early-out day (one of the perks of my nine-days-in-two-weeks work schedule is that I leave at 2:15 ever other Friday), so I went for my eye exam prior to getting new glasses (I have a benefit that gives me a generous reimbursement every other year). At the eye exam, I was told that although my prescription hasn't changed much, I'm starting to get cataracts. Oh, sheesh. First I'm put on meds for blood pressure (despite losing over 40 lbs and getting all athletic and stuff), then a colonoscopy earlier this year turned up some abnormalities, and now this.

Oh, well. I had heard from Out Lady of Perpetual Headwinds that a friend of hers, transplanted from the Left Coast (worse yet, from Berkeley) was finding all the wrong roads to ride his bike on, and was coming home with fear in his heart and shreds on his left elbow from where the cars were skinning him; OLPH wanted to show him some of our good rides around Sourland Mountain. She asked for some company, and I went along to sweep. We went through a few of our best roads, and stopped at a deli at which there were a few hunters; it turns out they're also interested in land management, not just in nailing Bambi (and several of them eat their kill, which I support).

In the evening, a date with the excellent wife at Five Guys, which she's been craving - she even suggested it for New Years', since we don't go out late, but that's not enough of a date for me). After that, we watched the video of Pittsburgh from the Air, sent to us by high-school friends of mine whom we plan to visit in the spring. If you don't live there, it sounds like a bore, but it had an oddly meditative quality, and I loved it.

Today was cold - colder than yesterday - and Winter Larry, who seemed to make noises like he was coming to lead the ride today, didn't appear. So OLPH led a pick-up route. Some of Larry's regular crew were there, but also three younger guys including two who raced for Rutgers. One fellow left early; he'd underestimated the cold and his gloves weren't up to the weather. The rest of us kept it together until after the break, when we split into two rides: the (mostly younger) fast guys, and those of us who kept it to about 16 mph average (rated speed for the ride).

One more perk: with today's ride, counting my road bike and commuter bike miles, I'm up over 4,500 miles for 2011. That's a lot. I don't know if I'll be able to do that again (there may be life changes; watch this space for details). And the Anchor House ride accounted for only an additional 300 miles: I'm sure I would have done the rest on my regular weekend rides.

Home now; laundry's in, and a chicken is likely to roast later. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

do not try this at home

You may want to crank the volume down a bit.

Skilled, virtuoso BMX riding. I do not ride like that.

(I love the urban skate/bike park in the first part of the video, complete with the excellent graffiti. I wish they were everywhere.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

i love this shirt

From the xkcd store.

(How can it be that I've never plugged xkcd on this blog? It is THE comic for snobs, science nerds, & language geeks. Don't worry whether or not you'll always understand it; you won't. It's OK. Go look up the references; it won't break your brains to go learn something so you can laugh a bit. And if you still don't get it, don't worry; I won't tell. But you WILL get it often enough to make it worth the three-times-a-week visit... or you wouldn't be looking at THIS blog!)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

climate change gloominess

I’ve been in a bleak mood recently, which is probably why the tone of this post will be so dour. I’ve been thinking about climate change, and how America seems to be the only industrialized nation in which a large number of people dispute either the fact of global warming, or that humans cause it, or both. (America is also the only industrialized nation with such a high number of evolution deniers, but I digress.) (I digress! Imagine that!)

This leads me to two lines of thinking. The first is about the hypocrisy of the left on this issue. We regularly spoof the righties on the inadequacy of will-power solutions to the problems of unwanted pregnancies (such as virginity pledges) or drug use (such as the “Just Say No” campaign). Yet we expect people to embrace a will-power solution to the climate change problem – smaller cars, lower temperatures on the thermostats, whatever. And in developing countries, these solutions would mean that these populations might not ever get to what we in the developed world consider a normal standard of living.

I heard an article on yesterday’s Here and Now about Wal*Mart and the Chinese coming to some agreements about greener manufacturing procedures. Now, I doubt that either Wal*Mart or the Chinese government or manufacturers are all that concerned with climate change… except that both are probably concerned about their images in the world, and, right now, an ecological response is probably good business PR. (The linked article does not include a discussion, which I seem to remember, about Wal*Mart’s motives and history.)

I suspect that when there is a solution to climate change, it will not be based on will power or behavior change. I suspect that there will be a technology change. Technology changes have reduced or eliminated certain diseases, widespread hunger, and the likelihood that the human race would die out due to lack of numbers. Technological solutions bring their own problems, but those problems bring their own solutions.

Or they don’t. The other line of thinking is about whether it’s important to avoid changing the climate at all. It’s not that I think that the climate is not changing; it is. It’s not that I think that the change may make the earth uninhabitable for humans; I think it will.

The issue is about whether it is worthwhile for humans to exist at all.

If the climate on earth changes, and humanity dies out, it is not at all clear that all life will end. In fact, discoveries of life in odd, dangerous places suggest that life not only will go on, but we might not be able to stop its going on. (I note that the odd, dangerous places are only odd or dangerous to us – certainly not to the creatures that live there quite comfortably, thank you.) So here are the options, as I see them:
  1. It is possible that we will arrest and manage climate change, and humans will survive.
  2. It is possible that we will not manage climate change, and humans will still survive.
  3. It is possible that we will not manage climate change, and humans will die out. In this case,
    1. Either there is life elsewhere in the universe, and they will find our remains. If they are smart, our experience will serve as a lesson to them – perhaps we will be a byword, the way the “Tower of Babel” is for us.
    2. Or there is no life elsewhere, or the life that there is will never find us. In that case, self-aware life on earth was simply a dead end.

I can’t say that any of the outcomes in 3 makes me sorry. For now, I'm just gonna ride my bike.

anchor house video party (& video)

The video distribution party for the Anchor House Ride for this past summer was held at the KatManDu the other night. My tummy was a bit off after too much yumminess at a work holiday party that day, and I was in a misanthropic mood, so I just stopped in to get the video and left. (I suspect the reason I didn't stay was much more the latter than the former.)

The actual video was distributed on a disk with much less plastic material in it than the usual DVD (for ecological reasons, the disk says). It feels just that bit flimsy to me, so before I played it, I copied it to a writable DVD (and played that, instead).

I remember enjoying the ride. I remember not meeting many people (and worry about not having to be social with folks I didn't know well that was preying on my mind for several days before the event; I hate that kind of gathering), although I also remember making friends among the SAG volunteers. I remember our reaction to the death of one of our riders.

I watched the video last night. They did a good job of dealing with the death. They also cut out all the boring stuff, and included lots of fun stuff (some of which I didn't remember at all; I must have missed it). And I have a speech in the video, which feeds my ego. It ignited my desire to do the ride again (and maybe do it better this time - not faster, but engage more in the non-riding activities).

The video will be something to watch over the winter when I'm not riding. I wonder if Anchor House would consider selling the videos for the rides I don't do?

I want to do the ride again. You should consider it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

people we don't know

The two or three of you who are regular readers of this blog will know that insomnia is a recurring affliction, and when I don't sleep I tend to ruminate, and some of those meditations become posts on this blog. Recently, I've come out as an atheist, written about my confusion about some southerners, and reported an article (from Canada! Home of tolerance and politeness!) on people's mistrust of atheists.

I think there's a relationship between the southern gal's friendliness to people she knows, and the mistrust of atheists. I've just finished Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. One of the things he argues is that people seem to work better in groups of up to about 150; after that, groups become unwieldy. He makes reference to Hutterite communities, where groups will separate off when they get larger than about that size, and the Gore Corporation (makers of Gore-Tex), which tries to limit its corporate groups to about that number of employees. I suspect that this is a limit size for people's ideas of who's in their community.

Edit 12/8/11: That 150-person limit is also known as Dunbar's Number, which apparently ranges between 100-230.

Here's the relationship that I suspect: People know that the people within their groups are reasonably honest (see the brief discussion of people belonging to groups in my "coming out as an atheist" post, linked above). But they also know we live in a world that is sometimes dangerous. There's no way to determine if the people outside our group have the same values as the people inside. So for the people we don't know, it's better not to trust them with our tax dollars, or anything else. And since we can't count on them having values of compassion or reason, to inform their interactions with strangers (including their interactions with us), it would be better if they were at least afraid of divine punishment.

Atheists, however, don't have that. Further, if one lives in a culture where everyone is a churchgoer, atheists have the further disadvantage of being just weird. How can anyone trust them?

The solution, probably, is for atheists to become more common (as I think it was for LGBT folks; it turns out EVERYBODY knows LGBT folks; they're not as rare or strange as we thought).

Well, I'm one of those atheists. You can decide if I'm trustworthy or not.

Monday, December 5, 2011

there is a brotherhood... of man...

Atheists, rapists top list of people religious believers distrust the most, UBC study finds

So I'm a member of the group least trusted by religious believers.

From the article:

The researchers found that religious believers thought that descriptions of untrustworthy people - people who steal or cheat - were more likely to be atheists than Christians, Muslims, Jews, gays or feminists.

Gervais was surprised that people harbour such strong feelings about a group that is hard to see or identify. He opines that religious believers are just more comfortable with other people who believe a deity with the power to reward and punish is watching them.

"If you believe your behaviour is being watched [by God] you are going to be on your best behaviour," said Gervais. "But that wouldn't apply for an atheist. That would allow people to use religious belief as a signal for how trustworthy a person is."

Oh, well, I guess you're just not gonna be able to trust me, then.

far away & beyond control

In speaking to my mother over the past few days, I've learned that my father's now in a rehab facility, learning to walk again with some assistance, getting visitors from their friends and church community, and seemingly in good spirits. Mom says he's doing well.

Mom said she thinks of herself as a realist, who likes her truth unvarnished, but both my excellent wife and I were struck speechless when we heard her describe herself this way. I think of her as a person who thinks that if you ignore an unpleasantness long enough, it might go away; who thinks that if people were more polite and stopped using so many swear words, the crime rate would plummet overnight. So I have no idea what "he's doing well" means.

She's bought my father more flannel pajama pants, which suggests he's not going to need the khakis he's been wearing for decades. She's also discontinued the internet access that only he used. How well is he doing?

However, she has good support from friends. A neighbor who managed an appliance store is going along with her to buy a replacement for her dryer that has chosen this week to die. She's told us about some other friends who have come to her aid. But she also spoke today about eating lunch alone in a coffee shop, and how tired she is.

They're almost 700 miles away. It's a burden, but (lord, in whom I don't believe, forgive me) it's also a relief.

almost made it...

I just remembered: I had a goal of riding at least once in every calendar month in 2011. I made 'em all except January. (I'll keep the same goal for 2012. The Brit fella who missed the ride on Saturday is making noises like he wants to do a ride on his birthday at the end of January, so that might be my excuse to ride in January next year. I've popped for the expedition-weight layering shirts I'll want if we do go out riding in the frigidity.)

AND I've made 4300 miles so far. I might make 4500 before the champagne flows and the ball drops - but don't put the mortgage on it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

mostly bike weekend

Although we did get the Christmas tree up on Friday night - we still use the 3-foot tree I bought when I was divorced; it's just enough celebration for the two of us (and when the presents are beneath, they seem SO MANY because of the limited circumference of the lower branches), most of this weekend was about riding & the Freewheelers.

Saturday, we did a short (for the Hill Slugs), 37-mile around the hills ride. Early on, we went up Poor Farm Road, which has two memorable uphills (about 17% grade) separated by a whippy downhill. I'm not courageous on downhills that are not straight, so I was the last one down the hill. Later on, after stopping at Baker's Treat in Lambertville, we left town via Swan Road Rocktown Road, a long uphill that just doesn't break for miles.

While I always have fun on the Hill Slug rides; there were two disappointments: first, a Brit I met on the Covered Bridges ride had hoped to come, but after a relapse of a lung ailment, he couldn't. Second, a rider who initially came along decided not to when he saw who was going; I had hoped the Hill Slugs did not have a reputation for being so competitive.

Saturday night was the Freewheelers Holiday Party. I suck at parties, but I had decided to go to this one weeks ago, and Regina definitely wanted to meet some of the people I've been talking about. Many were there, they were all easy to talk to, and we met some others (also easy to talk to) when there wasn't room at the tables of the people I usually ride with. And Regina got a $50 gift certificate to Economy Bike Shop. One single cloud around all this silver lining: I saw the fellow who had left the ride that morning, and spoke to him... and got the impression that I was among the people he had hoped to avoid. I'm sorry if he feels that way. However, that's not been my intention, and I had a good time, both on the ride and at the party, otherwise.

Today was one of Winter Larry's Sunday rides, memorable because a friend (who I think rides with the NJ Major Taylor club) broke 5,000 miles for the year today, despite a cold (and the cold), and leaving my 4,300 miles in the dust. Second, because as we were returning though the Assunpink, we came across some of the worst stretches of paved roads I've ever seen outside of Queens, NY (I've not been there recently, but people who went down Douglaston Parkway in the mid-70's will know what I mean). Still, another rider who's not been riding much, and who had a tough day yesterday on the Hill Slugs ride, had a very good day riding today.

Another friend who lives in Pittsburgh sent a video of Pittsburgh by air, and if we can get our act together, the excellent wife and I will watch it tonight. It's been too long since I've contacted him, and this will give me an excuse to do so.

Friday, December 2, 2011

contrarian cyclismus

I overheard a couple of members of the Freewheelers complaining about various ride leaders (didja ever notice that 80% of the complaints come from 20% of the people?), and a complaint came up about Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds, that her rides were too long.

Sheesh. That's one of the main things I like about her rides; they're long enough that they're worth the time & effort of packing up the bike and driving to the start. If she could only find a starting point with a public toilet, they'd be perfect. (No accessible public toilets? Now that's a credible complaint, especially for this pushin'-60 rider who drinks way too much coffee of a morning.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I met this southern gal...

When I was down visiting my parents in North Carolina, a girl who has worked as my mother's house cleaner came to visit. She'd heard about my father's illness, and wanted to offer her sympathies, as well as whatever tangible help she could. My mother pointed out that northerners don't do this the same way southerners do.

I don't get how southerners will bend over backwards like that, but vote against any kind of organized help, over and over again, even when it will be to the benefit of themselves and the same people they would be willing to help in person. Of course, I also don't get how some lefties I know can be so thoughtful in their political sympathies, and so rude to their friends and acquaintances.

While doing my morning workout today, I played a podcast from This American Life about fracking for natural gas. While there is a huge amount of natural gas in the northeast (enough to satisfy US energy needs for years), there are real concerns about whether the gas can be gotten safely. I was reminded of our arguments about global warming: America seems to be the only industrialized nation in which a group of citizens of any size disputes the dangers of global warming, or the fact that it is human-caused. Perhaps we will cause our own destruction by this short-sighted greed. I'm beginning to think it will be a small loss to the universe when we do.