Cargo!

October 27, 2010

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There are many things I love about bicycles: They go just the right speed for seeing everything along the way while still getting places quickly; they let you combine the necessary (getting places) with the joyous (being outdoors, getting exercise, &c.); they are a much safer way to get home from a night of drinking than in a car. Another thing I like about bicycles is that they are good for carrying stuff: groceries and children are the things I most often carry, usually with a series of racks and trailers.

Racks and trailers are good, but since my goal is to eliminate automobile use as much as possible, I sometimes feel like I need something more heavy-duty, and so for a while I have coveted a cargo bicycle. The problem with cargo bicycles is that they are costly – frequently in excess of $1,000. Now, I’m not saying that’s too expensive – they are a specialty item that replaces a far more costly thing (a car), and people gotta eat, I know. (And if you want a long-tail cargo bike or other bike stuff in the greater Hartford area, check out my boy Chris at http://www.dailyriderbike.com.) But I don’t have the money to buy specialty items, especially ones that cost more than my truck (which I admittedly got for a steal, but still), so for a number of months I was pining for a cargo bike and trying to figure out some way to get one (I was contacting manufacturers and offering to translate their websites to Spanish in exchange for a bike, but all I managed to negotiate was a 20% discount). Then, like magic, some guy in the colorfully named Moosup, Connecticut, advertised an SUD Front Load Super Delivery Trike from Worksman (scroll down to the third model on this page) on craigslist for a mere $150 (it’s $1,099 new). Sensing that this was both fate and a good deal, and not wanting to give the seller a chance to realize that he would get better responses if advertised on Eastern Connecticut craigslist instead of Hartford craigslist (because Moosup is just shy of the RI border, see?), I rushed right out there and bought the thing.

Sadly, as enthused as I was, I had no choice but to let in languish for a while. The cargo box was all rusted and busted, and the whole bike needed some serious rust removal and lubrication. And then there are my pesky children, who insist on being fed nearly every day, and the household duties, and the job, and the appendectomy, and before you know it, months go by and I haven’t had the chance to get the trike rocking and rolling.

BUT FINALLY I have done it! I scrapped the rusty, heavy, metal cargo box (described by my friend Chris as featuring “P.O.R. Technology” – that’s Paint Over Rust) and replaced it with a shopping cart, which I had to set on sections of 4″x4″ decking post to get it to the right height. I cleaned and oiled everything. I took sandpaper and steel wool to the rims to liberate them from trenchant, years-old rust. I drilled out the seized seatpost bolt and replaced it with a quick-release. And now, BEHOLD:

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It is awesome! It goes pretty slowly and feels like it wants to tip over if you turn too sharply, but look at this: I can carry two children together easily, and they are in front of me so we can converse while traveling, and if I wanted I could take trash to the dump or get compost from the recycling center! Soon I will take my darling wife on a date in this thing, and then the whole world will be perfect. Hooray! Cargo bike!

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The Convincer

October 23, 2010

I always knew cops used various devices to convince people of things. I did not, however, know about this:

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Frankly, I’m not convinced.

Concerning Healthcare

October 22, 2010

Contains no active drug

A Modest Proposal For NPR

October 21, 2010

As you may have heard, Juan Williams, who was a “news analyst” for National Public Radio (where “news analyst” means “bloviator”) got canned for going on Fox news to talk to Bill O’Reilly and saying “I’m not bigoted, but when I see Muslims on an airplane I get nervous,” which reconfirms what I have known for a long time, which is that if you preface any statement with “I’m not X but . . .”, YOU ARE X.

I’m not especially broken up about Juan Williams’ departure because (a) he is a bigot and (b) I never much cared for him – not because of his politics (which my socialist father naturally says are far too right-wing, though I’m not sure of that), but because I just find him irritating. In fact, I have long found him so irritating that his fall from grace gave me a good idea for how NPR could raise money.

See, where I live I can listen to Morning Edition on three different stations: WNPR, my local affiliate at 90.5 on the fm dial; WFCR up in Amherst (it’s Five College Radio), at 88.5; and WESU, the Wesleyan station, at 88.1. Because of this wealth of options, I usually switch to another affiliate whenever WNPR does fundraising. Sometimes, I switch twice – as I did this week, when FCR took up the pledge drive cup, leaving WESU as the only area provider of unadulterated Steve Innskeep. (For the record, I am a regular contributor to public radio, I just hate hearing the damn fundraising, even when the various people I know at WNPR, who are usually not on the air, come on to ask for money.)

For me, the wealth of public radio options is a boon, because I avoid fundraising, and I presume the prevailing wisdom is that fundraising must be unavoidable to be effective (supply and demand, you know?). So for my local radio stations, the existence of multiple stations is a problem. One obvious way to solve this would be for them simply to coordinate their fund drives closely. But that would irritate me, so I have devised a way for them to make more money while keeping open the option of allowing me (and others, I suppose) an uninterrupted listening experience: They should coordinate the fund drives such that you could always listen to Morning Edition on one or another of the stations, but they would switch at unpredictable times. There would be a secret schedule, and to get it you would have to donate money to all three stations.

The only problem I can see with my plan is that one person might contribute to get the secret listening schedule, then share this cherished information with others who had not contributed on their own. Economists call this the free rider problem. Luckily, I have devised a solution to that as well: Everyone who contributes for the secret schedule must take an oath of secrecy. The oath will be enforced by John Dankosky, who will make unannounced home visits to random houses of non-contributors with Subarus in the driveways and smash radios tuned to the correct station.

The Hartford Courant informs me this morning of the following: “2 Connecticut Men Charged With Illegal Bear Hunting Technique.” Now usually I don’t click on all of the stories on the Courant’s website because most of them are about car crashes or drug arrests or other occurrences that either bore me because I deal with them at work (in the case of drug arrests) or bore me because, honestly, who fucking cares? (That is the case with car crashes. I know that the people involved and their loved ones care, but beyond that, the topic is frighteningly mundane, especially here in the Land of Steady Habits, being, as it is, an archipelago of small cities and suburban commercial centers amid a sea of forests and highways.) But when I read about the illegal bear hunting, my interest was piqued. My hope – and I recognize, because I am a realist, that this is a hope against hope, in that it’s probably unrealistic – was that the illegal technique would be something awesome, like hitting the bears with kung fu punches, or capturing them with a backhoe, or anything involving robots. In fact, however, the illegal technique was to create a pile of apples and acorns that would draw the bears to an open place for easy shooting. Apparently, that is verboten in Vermont, since the story informs me that “[i]f convicted, [the men] could get 60 days in jail and lose their right to hunt in Vermont for three years.”

Now I should say that I do not have a strong feeling on hunting. A lot of people who, like me, are from cities and tend to abhor guns also feel that hunting is (a) somehow barbaric and (b) bad because it is tied up with the NRA and the existence of guns, and with poor, rural, white people whom we find entirely culturally inaccessible. I do not feel that way because I’m not overly concerned with animals except in their capacity as food and fodder for public television specials, so if people I don’t really understand get a lot of happiness from shooting animals and manage to do so without hurting other people), I’m cool with that. Also, my feelings about the Second Amendment have really evolved over the last ten years, and I part ways with a lot of my political kindred spirits when it comes to the ultimate importance of the “keeping of a well-regulated militia” language, but I digress.

Here’s the thing about this Vermont no-baiting-bears law, though: Honestly, what difference does it make if you draw bears out with apples and acorns or if you go find them in the places where they usually go to find apples and acorns? The end result is the same: you are shooting a (probably unsuspecting) woodland creature with a gun so that it will be dead. You use all manner of artifice to trick this creature – camouflage, perfumes that make you smell like the woods (or deer pee, or whatever), structures built in trees that seem to deceive your prey, &c. So why is the bait pile unsportsmanlike? What the hell does “unsportsmanlike” even mean in this context? (I understand that shooting bears and sportsmanlike behavior are two things with a long relationship in this country (see below), but still.)

Strangely, this imposition of particular, artificial rules reminds me of the death penalty, and specifically of the penalty phase of death penalty trials, in which the defendant’s lawyers, their client already having been found guilty of some heinous crime, try to persuade the jury that, while their guy is pretty fucking awful, he’s not quite awful enough to be put to death. The prosecutors, for their part, try to show (as though they hadn’t already done this in the guilt phase) that, YES, HE IS THAT FUCKING AWFUL, and also, “Have you seen the survivors and how sad they are? Have another look.” I see similarity between these things not because I think the death penalty is unsportsmanlike (although it is, except that really, using the term “unsportsmanlike” to talk about the death penalty makes a grotesque mockery of the seriousness of the issue), but because the rules we erect around the death penalty – the separate mini-trial preceding its imposition, the restrictions on executing juveniles or the mentally ill (unless we can medicate them until they are well enough to be executed), the concern that execution methods be “humane” – are like the rules Vermont has put in place to make bear hunting sportsmanlike: Complicated, non-intuitive armatures of morality that we create to support a practice that we want or need, but suspect is fundamentally wrong or unfair or, at the very least, unsavory.

I think of this because of another event involving Connecticut residents, which has of late been frequently covered in the Courant: The trial, conviction, and now-ongoing penalty phase of Steven Hayes, who was one of two participants in a home invasion, rape, and murder-by-arson several years back in Cheshire, Connecticut. Courant columnist Helen Ubiñas, who has been covering the trial, wrote a column about the penalty phase today that is fairly well summed up by its headline: “Hayes Tried Suicide, Had Bad Childhood. Who Cares?” While she doesn’t explicitly take a position on whether Hayes should be executed, Ubiñas makes a good point: how is what Hayes did made less horrific by his difficult childhood, or the fact that lots of people who knew him thought he was a nice guy? I mean, we’re talking about the death penalty here, which we presumably only impose for crimes that are so far outside the realm of permissible behavior that we don’t think the people who commit them deserve another chance to participate in society, even when they are really old. Why should we care that Hayes had a rough life?

The secret, of course, is that we don’t care. What we mitigate at the penalty phase in a death penalty trial is not the defendant’s culpability – it’s our own. When someone does something brutal to society, something that frightens and disgusts us, we want to do something brutal in response. We can’t help ourselves, really. Maybe on some rational level, we know that there are millions of complicated social and environmental factors that create someone capable of doing what Steven Hayes did, but those things take time and effort and understanding and patience to fix, and none of that satisfies the desire to meet brutality with brutality. So we dress the whole exercise up in rationality and rules and hours of excruciating testimony, and we distract ourselves from the fact that none of this will keep other people from doing other awful crimes or bring those two girls and their mom back to life. We read about the salacious details of the crime and feel glad that someone so clearly cruel and heartless – and so clearly guilty – will get a well-deserved punishment, and that helps us not think about the many many innocent people who have assuredly been put to death in this country. It’s all basically like giving people 60 days in jail for illegal hunting techniques: Bait piles or no bait piles, we’re not going up and killing the bears with kung fu. We’re hiding at a safe distance and killing them with bullets.

Being Thankful for Hartford

October 18, 2010

I have generally not been shy about my feelings concerning Central Connecticut and my grudging residence here. I came for my darling wife and her darling job – a very fine job, I should say, and worth the move. But to me, having lived most of my life in New York and Boston, taking up residence in a suburban town in the orbit of a small, economically morbid, inland city was like moving from Earth to one of the moons of Neptune – because like, it’s not even Neptune, where I live – you know? It’s in Neptune’s orbit. (This suburban ennui was made more acute by my previous job which, while engaging and righteous, required a lot of driving over long distances, which tended to cement my notion of Connecticut as a centerless, sprawling, car-dependent blah-land.)

But over time, and especially in the six months since I took a job in Hartford, I’ve started to come around. Maybe it’s just that I’ve now had enough time to get to know the place and to develop a good group of friends. Either way, yesterday was a perfect example of why I am, in spite of myself, happy here:

On Saturday, Max had been a raging grump, in that irrational but surprisingly articulate way that six-year-olds can be. At bedtime, after the umpteenth fight over some trifling silliness, I sat him down on my bed to ask what was the matter, and with some coaxing he told me that he felt like I was always paying attention to his brother and never to him. This is true, if inevitable, in that Reuben, who is three, just needs more help with stuff. Nevertheless, I figured with his mom away on a trip, Max could use a little coddlying, so I promised him that on Sunday he and I would go on an adventure, just the two of us. (It bears mentioning that the very fact that I have the resources and the time in my life to worry about the emotional ups and downs of low-grade sibling rivalry and to devote energy to assuaging them is something worth its own dose of thankfulness.)

Luckily, my dad is in town to help me with the boys while Anna is away, so Sunday I left Reuben with him and Max and I headed out around midday. First, we went to Sol de Borinquen bakery on Park Street in Frog Hollow. Like magic, a parking spot right in front opened up for us as we arrived, and we popped in and grabbed one dulce de guayaba for Max (sin polvo, of course) and one quesito for me. From there, we went down to where Maple Avenue runs south into the Berlin Turnpike and took a right onto Jordan Lane, the dirt road that snakes up onto Cedar Mountain between Cedar Hill and Emanuel cemeteries. (I have written about this place before.)

About a quarter mile up the road (which, according to Google Maps, is called Russell Road at this point, rather than Jordan Lane), further vehicular progress is blocked by a large chain-link gate. Fortuitously, though, beside the gate is a little pull-out area perfect for parking, and beside that area is a path around the gate. So Max and I began our hike.

Max explores Cedar Mountain in Newington, Conn.

And just like that, with the happy weekend bustle of Park Street only five minutes behind us, we were in nature. We walked between the two cemeteries, listening to birds all around us, hearing the bushes rustle with unseen animal life as we passed, and talking without hurry about the sorts of topics most concerning to six-year-olds (sharks, principally, and outer space, and the feasibility of digging straight down until one hits lava). We saw blue jays and hawks and many other birds we couldn’t identify (well, Max identified them as woodpeckers, but they weren’t), plenty of squirrels in full mid-Autumn food-gathering frenzy, and at least one rabbit. We tried (unsuccessfully) to catch a butterfly, and discussed at length the desirability of keeping a butterfly as a pet. Max scanned the ground for “animal signs,” and while we did not see any tracks except those made by cemetery backhoes, Max did find holes in leaves made by caterpillars, to his great satisfaction.

On Cedar Mountain, looking for "animal signs"

And then, just as the sun was starting to feel hot and Max was starting to get tired, we reached our destination, a mile from where we started: a clearing at the edge of a cliff beside a quarry, providing a mighty view to the west and north:

Max enjoys a guava pastry and the view, Newington, Conn.

And damn, Sol de Borinquen pastries are so good.

Last Thursday, I had my appendix out, which was actually not nearly as big of a deal as you might think. You see, they did laparoscopic surgery, which disappointingly does not signify that it was done on my lap (although it was), but rather that instead of making a big incision and just cutting the appendix out with pruning shears or whatever, they made three little holes, through which they inserted some long, snakey tools, along with a long, snakey camera (presumably with a light, since Groucho Marx’s observation about the inside of a dog surely applies equally to the inside of a person), and did all the snipping and what-not on the inside, then pulled the appendix out one of those the same holes. As a result, I was pretty much back on my feet by Monday and back to work on Tuesday. (I always schedule my severe health crises so as to miss as little work as possible. This time, I took advantage of Columbus Day. Two summers ago, I arranged to get pneumonia during a two-week vacation.)

Still, I’ve been trying to take it easy so that my three little incisions will heal well and quickly, so I skipped my usual Tuesday night drinks, and have been driving to work rather than riding my bicycle. This is annoying, especially the no-bike-riding, because (a) I like riding my bicycle because it allows me to proceed at just the right pace for taking in everything that is beautiful about life and Fall and Hartford; (b) Anna went to California on Wednesday for a week, and while my dad has come for a visit and is doing yeoman’s work helping me with the boys, I still have plenty to do around the house in terms of cooking, cleaning, making lunches, and all of that, and the combination of a steady stream of work + household chores + missing Anna + extra Spanish translations is making me a little stir crazy. It’s funny how something as small as an appendix can cause such a disruption.

Anyway, the logical remedy to this state of affairs, especially now that more than a week has passed since I went under the knife (or the laparoscope, or whatever) is to go out in the evening, perhaps on my bicycle. Luckily, since my dad is around, I can do that and he will stay home and mind the sleeping children. So today I went to see what movies are playing in my area, figuring I might grab the 10 beers in my fridge, call up a friend, buy a box of cookies, and have a really classy evening out. In perusing the local offerings, I came across a movie I’d not heard of, called “Easy A.” When I clicked on the Moviefone link for a description, I read the following:

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is re-imagined as a contemporary high school comedy in this tale of a scheming student who plots to give her popularity a boost by painting herself the easiest lay in school.

I can’t know, but I assume that what she actually does is paint herself as the easiest lay in the school, because if she just painted herself a lay, this movie wouldn’t be a high school comedy re-imagining of The Scarlet Letter, but of Pygmalion, which would actually be a lot of fun, EXCEPT THAT IT HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE AND IT WAS MEDIOCRE.

The point (if there is a point) is that just as the sudden absence of a pesky little vestigial organ like the appendix can throw a wrench in my whole week, so can the absence of a little word like “as” totally screw up a movie synopsis. It turns out, though, that “The Big Lebowski” is inexplicably playing at a theater at 11:30 tonight, which is about a bazillion times more appealing than “Easy A,” “The Big Easy,” or “Resident Evil 4: Shaw vs. Hawthorne.”

How to Save Print Media

October 9, 2010

You have to save on printing, reporter salaries, and overhead by growing new issues of the paper organically.

Actually, we’re trying out a new method that Anna read about where you lay down newspapers, then cover them with compost. I guess we’ll see in the Spring if our tomatoes come up with wedding announcements printed on them.

Aha!

October 8, 2010



So that’s who’s been eating all the leftovers!

I have always hated daytime television. When I would stay home sick as a child, the thing I most dreaded was to be so ill (or under such overweaning grandparent care) that I would not be able to get out of bed during the day and play with toys, for that would leave me in the cruel care of soap operas, talk shows, and game shows (The Price is Right being the much loved exception). These days, I barely watch television at night when I have the chance, and certainly don’t see it on weekdays, when my days are full from dawn to after dusk with the care of children – first my own, and then, at work, those unfortunates who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

But in the hospital, where I just spent a pair of days, there is often not much to do short of watch television. Sure there was wi-fi and I had my iPhone, so the internet was available, but there is only so much reading of letters one can do on a tiny screen when one is under the influence of strong intravenous painkillers. So I got reacquainted with my old nemesis, daytime TV, and these are the lessons I learned:

Americans apparently have an insatiable appetite for personality-heavy judge shows.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the United States is simply so large and full of happenings that there is no good way to compile a national news program, and as a result the producers of the numerous, competing, indistinguishable morning news magazines may be forgiven for offering cavalcades of bland, uninformative crap. But if you saw any of the morning news offerings on Spanish language stations, which cover all of Latin America and the United States, you would see that in fact, it can be done much better.

Aside from news, where Spanish-language stations have a clear advantage, other daytime offerings in Spanish are basically the same as their English counterparts except that:

  • All the people on Spanish-language television are more attractive;
  • The women, even serious newscasters, dress more provocatively;
  • Where English-speaking Americans love judge shows and games shows, their Spanish-speaking counterparts prefer equally inane variety shows.

Many medications and medical devices have been recalled in the last ten years. If you have used any of them, YOU MAY BE ENTITLED TO A CASH SETTLEMENT.

Once you have your cash settlement, you will probably want to get at it all right away rather than through periodic payments. There are many going concerns who would like to help you do this. They want you to know that it is your money and you should spend it the way you want.

A good way to spend money, whether from a cash settlement or some other source (a game show, perhaps), is to acquire a personal mobility scooter, WHICH WILL TOTALLY CHANGE YOUR LIFE. However, because of the magic of Medicare and the certified scooter salespeople who are standing by right now AND ARE ALSO CERTIFIED MEDICARE EXPERTS, you can get your personal mobility device for little or no cash out of pocket, OR IT’S FREE.