Friday, January 30, 2009

To my dear upstairs neighbors

The time has come to write a letter to the guys who live above me. Here's the draft I'd love to send:

We've been sharing a split-level house for half a year now. For 6 months, you have stomped and shouted your way through my life, and my nights have been rainless thunderstorms. I don't sleep until you sleep. This can't keep happening.

If you recall, we gave you a generous grace period when you first moved in. It was summer, and none of us needed to be up early, so what was the harm? In retrospect, it might've been wiser to set a stern precedent then, correlating your furious noise with our noisy fury - fighting fire with fire.

Instead, we took the passive-aggressive route, and at worst you endured a few saccharine requests for peace and quiet. Our smiles have grown more and more dour as you've taken advantage of our neighborliness. Now we're done asking.

You know, during the day, it's kind of entertaining to hear your antics. Your dialect is foreign to me, and it is a delightfully exotic sound that resonates through the walls when you shout a conversation between the front yard and the rear-facing kitchen. Your amelodic, arrhythmic, abysmal singing is almost charming; I myself have been known to Walk on Sunshine a little too loud. When your activities make the whole house rumble like we live by the El Train, it's a sport of sorts for us to try to figure out how you're producing such cacophony; Are you rearranging your furniture for time? Have you installed a bowling alley up there? Are you amateur jackhammer enthusiasts?

It's when you do these things at night that we have a problem. And you know it's a problem. You know when you hear a knock at your door that it's time to be quiet - I can hear hear your hushed whispers when I stand fuming on your porch. How interesting that you refuse to open the door. How peculiar.

That, my dear neighborinos, is not how this is going to work from now on. You do not have license to make a nightly ruckus until such time as we plead that you stop. Your cue for sotto voce is not "Don rolls out of bed, puts on shoes and sweatshirt and overcoat, walks around the house, climbs the stairs, and pounds angrily on your door". The question, then, is how do I make you realize that your behavior must change?

Consequences. Let's talk about consequences. Certainly I want to beat the bejeezus out of you, or at least I do at 2AM with temperatures in the teens. But I'm not going to. This is important, so I'll repeat: I will not cause you physical harm. It's just not in my nature, for one, and moreover, I have a considerable aversion to criminal charges. I am not going to hurt you (although I make no such promises for my roommates. You know the big one? He's cuh-razy). In fact, I won't even damage your property - won't penny-jam your door, won't fill the car you keep in the backyard full of shaving cream, won't put meat to rot in your vents (shall I go on?). I promise.

This self-restraint pretty much leaves me toothless. Toothless, I think to myself as I pound on your door in a snowstorm, like an old woman. And then I think about old woman cliches, like threatening you with a rolling pin (rejected, see above), screaming shrilly at you in a foreign language (rejected, your native tongue trumps my highschool Latin), or calling the police.


It's unmanly, it's embarrassing, and it's my civic duty. It's regrettable, but after months of waning politeness, it's all you've left me.

If you keep making noise past 11PM, I'm calling the police.


P.S. Please don't worry about any noise you make during sexual congress. I would never begrudge anyone the opportunity to get busy, so that isn't on my list of gripes. Besides - and I say this from months of experience as an unwilling observer - the duration of this particular category of noises is laughably short. So really, no complaints... at least not from me.

So that's the letter I wish I could write. Brevity, though, is the foundation of clarity... plus I'm not sure their English comprehension is up for the task. So here's the letter I'm going to write. It lacks the linguistic flair on which I pride myself, but I think it'll do the trick...

-your downstairs neighbors

Ice Queen

When the roads in the park are better suited to hockey than cycling, you know you're in for a fun morning. Terrifying, but fun.

Respect to Willford, who soldiered on after crashing 5 minutes into the 90 minute ride. Further respect for embracing his new nickname, "Ice Queen".

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


My entire athletic history has capitalized on my capacity to get angry. I played soccer most aggressively after a foul went un-called. I ran with fierce purpose when my teenage body produced its teenage hormones and made me feel like a teenager. I ride beyond my limitations when I am - or think I am - the victim of some great transgression.

Exercise is my go-to catharsis.

Now I'm faced with a wonderful problem. For months now, I've been happy. In fact, for the past few weeks, I've been downright joyful. Even when things don't go perfectly, my spirits are high, and I am a happy, happy man.

What the hell? How am I supposed to race now?

90% of the above sentences have been first-person. "I", or a contraction thereof, occurred 10 times, accounting for 8.5% of all words. Add in the 6 "my"s and a "me", and the egocentrism-ometer reaches 14.5%, which is pretty ridiculous.

Who cares?! Join me in celebration of my good mood... or go read some other blog.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The more things change...

While perusing the stacks of Barnes and Noble, I stumbled across this gem, from the New Brunswick issue of the Images of America series...

meticulously transcribed caption:
NEW BRUSNWICK BICYCLE CLUB, c. 1890. All those interested in riding the "big wheel" met on the second Tuesday of each month at the Masonic Hall. Organized on May 1, 1882, this group of city residents would spend the spring days tooling around the city, dazzling children and trying to win the hearts of young women along Albany Street. Comprised mostly of Rutgers students and young businessmen, this group remained active until about 1920.

We ride daily rather than monthly, meet at Brower rather than the Masonic hall, and we avoid Albany Street. Also, fewer mustaches (but more beards). Other than that... come on, "tooling around the city, dazzling children and trying to win the hearts of young women". Come on.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Now I have a blackberry


Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Extra-Bad Karaoke Songs

"Baby Got Back", Sir Mix-A-Lot

"I like big butts and I can not lie
You other brothers can't deny
That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist
And a round thing in your face
You get sprung"

First and foremost: what comes next? NOBODY KNOWS THE NEXT LINE. And most people who sing this song won't even be back in until "Unh, double up, unh unh". Your dead-air halfway through the first verse is generally a deal-breaker... and now I hate you.

Furthermore, this is a rap song. Consider this: can you rap? Do you have the rhythm necessary for hip hop? 99% of the people who select this song do not. I certainly don't, and that's why I don't choose rap songs at Karaoke. I'll rap in the car, on the sidewalk, while riding, and even while at Karaoke, but never when I have the microphone. Your arrhythmic babbling does you no service, believe me.

As for the meat and potatoes, I won't pull any punches... this song is about the sexual appeal of big butts. I have no problem with this, prima facia. What this means, though, is that selecting "Baby Got Back" makes a statement. When you sing it, you are saying "big butts are sexually appealing". Every time a group of girls (girls never do this one alone) sings this song, they are screaming "OUR BIG BUTTS ARE OKAY". They are okay, ladies, I promise. It's the fact that you need to justify it in shrill, drunken tones that concerns me.

When a guy sings this song, it's making the same statement, with a slight twist: "Your big butts are okay. I accept you as you are. I am a kind, sensitive, and enlightened man. Come home with me please?" If a girl falls for it, it's her own fault, and good luck to the both of them. I wash my hands of this case.

The last possibility is that the singer genuinely enjoys this song. Singing it at Karaoke is their celebration of Sir Mix-A-Lot's artistic genius, and they share it with us. Then again, have you heard the song? Let's not waste any more time on this one.

"Before He Cheats", Carrie Underwood

"Right now he's probably slow dancing
With a bleached-blond tramp
And she's probably getting frisky"

Probably? Probably?!? That crazy chick destroyed a truck on a hunch. Nowhere in the song does she mention "he has cheated on me before", nor "I know him to be the cheating type", let alone "he is cheating".

The best she's got is "probably".

Sure, you can argue that Ms. Underwood intended to cast doubt not on the "if" of cheating, but on the "how". We are to accept the infidelity as a given, questioning only the exact goings-on with the bleached-blond tramp.

I think a nice epilogue to the song would reveal to us that actually, the boyfriend was secretly taking Salsa lessons, or taking night classes. Intending some pleasant surprise for her. Something improbable.

Maybe the song's heroine is justified. My (admittedly unpopular) interpretation is that she is not. Do you know how many lunatic girls got empowered by this song to go take revenge on their absolutely innocent boyfriends? Me either, but I bet it's a lot!

"Paradise by the Dashboard Light", Meat Loaf

"I swore that I would love you to the end of time!
So now I'm praying for the end of time
To hurry up and arrive"

Don't get me wrong, it's a good song. I don't even mind that it's excessively long. Nine minutes long. Two songs long. Meatloaf really does know how to rock, we won't deny him that. And it's one of the few rock duets in the Karaoke book, which adds a little flair to the proceedings.

Taking a step back from the flair, we find that this song is about misery. Not love, not romance, but regret. Sex withheld for blackmail, and a failed marriage. Isn't it terrifying? "I'll never break my promise or forget my vow / But God only knows what I can do right now" Trapped, because ol' Meat couldn't control his Loaf.

The "Before we go any further / Do you love me?" section is what sets me on edge. The woman surely deserves to know whether or not she is loved, and by no means is she obligated to have sex; it's the ultimatum of "forever or nothing" that is just unsettling... remember, they're barely seventeen!

For what it's worth, I think the real problem, the root of all the discontent, can be traced back to the line, "Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?" Specifically, "will you take me away". She wants him to solve her problems, to lift her out of the mire, to rescue her from the badness of 'here'. She doesn't accept responsibility for her own happiness, and deludes herself into thinking that there's a quick fix.

The thing is, though, that it's a duet. With the exception of my uniquely bold friends, most duets are sung by a boyfriend and girlfriend. Every time I hear this song at Karaoke, it's a perfectly happy couple happily chirping about dysfunction. He turns to her, serenades her, "I'm praying for the end of time / so I can end my time with you". She is wooed.

"Living on a Prayer", Bon Jovi

I just hate Bon Jovi.

Good Science

A good empiricist is cold, rational, and objective to the core. There is no desire in research, neither passion nor promise.

The science doesn't care what you want, it just is what it is. We should not care what it is, we should let it be.

Wouldn't it be nice if that's how it actually works?

loves calling me out at the first hint subjectivity. At one level, he's absolutely right to do so. On the other hand, I can't help it, and I'm not sure I want to. The thing is, when my results are good, it's not just good for my thesis; there is a direct result, right in front of me, in real human terms.

One of my subjects today had been in a car accident in the 90s. Since then, she's had impaired fine motor control, which is why she was participating.

Apparently, motor function isn't her only deficit. When I asked her how old she was, she gave me a look. "I do need to know your age," I prodded. "Umm." "Okay, what year were you born?"

She got flustered, she stammered and apologized and it broke my heart. She couldn't remember her age, or her birth year, and I was just pouring salt in the wound. What an asshole.

It took her more than two minutes to complete a simple task that would take you 20 seconds. She apologized more, the frustration wrinkling her brow. I tried to tell her not to worry about it.

After 10 minutes of using the device that is my thesis, she redid the task. Even though she was tired from training, she knocked 30 seconds off her time. THIRTY SECONDS. And that's just the simple result. Qualitatively, she was less tremorous, had smoother tone, and much better dexterity... and she knew it.

You tell me: How in the hell am I supposed to stay objective after seeing the smile on her face?

I am happy that my results fit my hypothesis. Report me to the Review Board, please.

DCCoD Prom

The DCCoD is... well, it's just great.

The venerable Fatmarc Vanderbacon, host of the Prom and curator of all things blogtasic, invited me to join his crew for their informal off-season soiree. While his prom-posal didn't quite measure up to the lofty standards set in my favorite implausible cartoon, I was more than honored - the most I've ever contributed to the DCCoD was when I helped take down the course-tape at Granogue (when I rode through it mid-race).

They welcomed me into their group on Saturday night, and it warmed my little heart. These are my people, like. The house was packed with the cast of characters, many of whom I vaguely recognized from parking lot preriding and post-race handshakes, but most of whom had been strangers before the Prom.

You had to be there. No more stories, it wouldn't do.

In the morning, more than 30 people (I tried in vain to count) met at the Vanderbacon-Monkey estate to ride the blog-famous Fair Hill singletrack. Of course, we posed for a photo beforehand, because it's what cyclists do.

Why do cyclists act like such, well, posers? Does having a half-dozen professional photographers at every race spoil us? Is the pre-ride photo a record by which Search-and-Rescue squads can identify the shattered remains of whoever hadn't ridden enough base miles to survive? I think it's the knowledge that by the time we return home, we'll all be too shelled for standing, let alone posing.

So we did what we do.
And it looks awesome.

With 30 people on the ride, it was a bit overwhelming. I've been in smaller races. The pack stayed surprisingly cohesive, which I think is something in and of itself. From the back of the group, I watched dozens of riders, mostly in blue, snake their way along switchbacks up a hill. It was aesthetically pleasing, and I wish I had a picture of it for you.

Even in mid-January, I'd expected to be armed with some fitness and some skills, but my ammunition was all nerf, and I got whupped. It's okay, they're really fast.
Also they toasted the New Year.
In the middle of the woods.

Rather than lament my early-season status, I opted to work on my secondary skills, the ones I've honed over years of chasing Charlie and Jay. When I bobbled on easy obstacles, I cursed myself as bitterly and poetically as possible. When I bobbled in tougher spots, just barely saving it, I made noises, trying to empty the lungs in order to force myself to start breathing again. Through every loose turn and over every surprising log, every time my wheel wasn't where I'd expected, I let out a celebratory "woo hoo!", recognizing the joys of off-roading as well as the miracle by which I wasn't laid out on the frozen ground. Every so often I made a wrong turn... for practice, I told myself, and it was too cold for my cheeks to blush beet-red.

I will return to Fair Hill, and I will figure out how to ride this.

When we returned to Casa del Faticus y la Monkey - which you should never try to find with Google Maps, or you will be banished to hours driving through purgatory in rural Delaware - there were waffles and eggs and bacon. I could've wept, it smelled so good.

And then Mayhew started making cup after cup of espresso, with his fancy hand-press. I lost count of my intake after 4 cups, and I wasn't the only customer. He didn't even have time to change out of his shorts. He's good people.

Why is it that every post about the DCCoD seems sycophantic? Why can't they just be jerks?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two Conversations in a Baltimore Starbucks

With a whole day to kill, and all of Baltimore gridlocked by Barack Obama's speech, I've camped out in a Starbucks. A pen, a notebook, and an exquisitely-caffeinated beverage have kept me happily occupied.

My contemplative reverie was interrupted when an elderly gentleman wearing a Marine Corps cap sat next to me. "Cold enough for you?" he asked, which has to be the most inane conversation starter in the history of spoken language. Still, respect your elders and all that, so I humored him.

"I went to school in Cleveland, this is nothing"

He saw my latitude and raised me. "For a while, the Corps had me stationed in the Arctic circle."

Thus began a 90 minute conversation that completely caught me by surprise. "Rip" had been a Marine fighter pilot during WWII, and he'd spent the 50s as a test pilot. A widower, Rip is opinionated, outspoken, and a veritable fountain of stories. Our conversation ranged from Aviation to Grandfatherhood, from Dynamical Systems to the Gaza strip, from Graduate Degrees to Alzheimers.

We spoke of America's bright future, and we spoke of death.

It was the most pleasant conversation I've ever had with a complete stranger. And after hearing his story, how he's outlived his friends and siblings and wife, I think he needed someone to talk to.

It was the sort of conversation that just leaves you feeling warm.

I was in a talkative mood when he left, and standing on line for another large Americano (I still can't bring myself to say "venti"), I told a woman that her baby is cute. The discourse progressed according to standard protocol:

"Thank you!"

"How old is he?"

[Age of child]

"Oh, that's a fun age"

"Yes it is. Do you have any children?"

I stammered, completely taken aback. Of course I am physiologically capable of reproduction, and have been for quite some time. Many of my contemporaries are parents, and there is no reason for a stranger to assume one way or the other (except, I suppose, my conspicuously bare ring finger).

Still, no one has ever asked me if I am a father. Ever. No one has even acknowledged the possibility. Until today.

It almost feels like a milestone. Like a saltatory transition from young-adulthood to adult-adulthood. Like my future as a father, the not-yet-twinkling twinkle in my eye, is suddenly real and palpable. Like the imaginable is now imminent. Like conception is conceivable.

I've been shaken to the core, all because some lady asked a trivial question while making small-talk.

Maybe it's the beard?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A bad day for bad weather

I was going to leave at noon for Virginia, to start my long-weekend roadtrip of goodness. Instead, I have to run all over Piscataway and New Brunswick to get forms and letters and other red-tapey documentation. Today is the deadline for a grant. We are almost certainly not going to get the grant... but we have to treat it like it's the real deal.

So, I may not get on the road until late. Especially late, because that whole snowstorm thing has f'ed all the roads up. Other people, y'see, don't know how to drive.

This is a high-stress sort of day for me. All the more reason to get this mini-vacation started.

New Look

Now that I've got this new-fangled Google Reader thing, I no longer need to use the links in my blogroll as a set of bookmarks. Not that I ever needed to in the first place - browsers have bookmarks too, y'know - but for two years I've been using my blog as a basecamp for expeditions into the blogosphere. No more!

On a whim, I changed the template, knowing that all of my laborious formatting would be lost. Without my clever "Team" and "Misc" and "Too Cool for Bikes", the list just seemed... boring. So I got rid of it.

What's left is a short-list of blogs I think you should read. They meet both of the following criteria:
  • Quantity
  • Quality
Angry that your blog isn't on the list? Take it up with the complaints department, or answer the according-to-me deficiency. Don't worry, I still read your blog. Religiously.

Also I put a picture at the top of the page, 'cause I think it's stylin'. And there's a slideshow in the top-right corner. And there were some behind-the-scenes changes you probably won't notice.

And now, for something you might actually find useful: The "Day-Bow-Bow" song can be found at 25:31 and 1:30:29 of The Secret of My Success.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

There was only one flaw in the plan...

I couldn't believe my ears when I heard the news - but then, I've long suspected my ears of treason. Some financier is on the run from the law, but it's how he's run that captures the imagination:

In a feat reminiscent of a James Bond movie, the 38-year-old businessman and amateur daredevil pilot apparently tried to fake his death in a plane crash, secretly parachuting to the ground and speeding away on a motorcycle he had stashed away in the pine barrens of central Alabama.

It seemed like the perfect crime - and it sounds like he'll get away with it, so maybe it was - except for one small detail, one little flaw that might ruin the whole story... Simpsons did it

Update: He got caught

Sunday, January 11, 2009


A man pops a wheelie in a shark tank while dressed as Santa Claus. I challenge you to be half as extreme.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Attn: wcuk

Dear Jerk,

Your blog has been prohibitively updateless for quite some time now. More than a month, to be precise. We here at the Society for Prevention of Blog Neglect (SoPreBloNe) must urge you to give your blog the care and attention it so dearly needs.

Blogs, you see, are delicate creatures, more like flowers than, say, armadillos. For example, the mixing of flaura and fauna in that metaphor has certainly done some harm to TheNinjaDon. Who knows what irreparable damage has been done to wcuk in the month since you last saw fit to grace its script with your hypertext?

Surely we needn't remind you of the responsibilities of bloggerdom. Surely you remember the cautionary tale of Hardtail for Life, whose once-vibrant blog withered away to rotted 404 Not Found-ness? Surely, surely you've done something since December 9th!

So, treat your blog well, we beseech you. Lavish it with essays, and pamper it with lolcats. Scribble sweet nothings in its ear. For the love of god, fight with Aaron.

Sincerely yours,

Reductio ad Absurdum: Jersey Design

It must be tough to design the uniform for a cycling team, the jersey moreso than the shorts. You, the designer, are given a blank canvas in the rough shape of a T-shirt, the logos of the minor sponsors, and a demand from presenting sponsor "Brand X" that the jersey really shout "BRAND X".

So you go back to your designing studio, wearing your designing beret and listening to your designing techno mix. Or something like that. And you create a jersey that really shouts "BRAND X". Voila.

Some jerseys are trendsetting, and some are timeless. Some are distinct enough to be recognizable on TV through the smoke of Western European pubs, but they're easily forgotten.

And then there are the jerseys that look cool enough, but also force us to ask, "how is 'Brand X' represented by six-pack abs?"

A classic example is CSC's 2005 jersey. It's a chic little number, playful and daring... and it has a six pack.
"If I wasn't wearing this jersey, my midriff would look the same"

Sure, it's mildly ridiculous, but so is shaving your legs.

New for 2009 is the Team Columbia jersey. It's neither innovative nor distinctive - honestly, white jerseys are so last year - but damned if it doesn't have a blatant six-pack.
"We were going for a comic book feel"

I'll give Columbia's designers some credit. It takes massive, ungainly cojones to pull off a look that obvious. I guess that's the benefit of being one of the top three teams in the world - you can make these bold choices, and odds are good that a year later, half a dozen pro teams' kits will make them look like anime characters.

Down here among the mortals, we take our cues from the top-tier. Still, our fashion sense is a bit less over the top - I'd feel silly walking into a coffee shop with a six-pack sublimated on my stomach, although for some reason I don't feel silly walking into a coffee shop wearing nothing but spandex and clicky-shoes. Take the Rutgers Cycling jersey for example (or better yet, buy one)
Sexy, no?

And slimming! Those white pointy thingies give you fake oblique muscles, better than a photoshopped "after" picture. The 2004 version of the jersey has its white pointy thingies aimed outward, and it makes the wearer look potbellied. It's an optical illusion, but the effect is dramatic.

But, what is the effect, if not looking silly? Even in the subtle Rutgers jersey, but certainly in the Columbia kit, are we trying too hard? If the average Joe saw a picture of Mark Cavendish, would he see "Columbia Sportswear", or would he see this?

Hell, as long as we're going down this road, let's just slap some pockets on the back, iron on some logos, and now we're talking real design!
Rutgers Cycling 2009 - Intimidated?

Thursday, January 08, 2009


The digitization of music affords us an opportunity not available since the heyday of vinyl. Instead of buying an entire album, we can collect songs one at a time, choosing only the songs we like. Where artists used to have hold over us for as much as an hour, now their spells last for three minutes, maybe four.

Where musicians used to craft a novel, now they have only a chapter. Or, rather, where we used to listen to a musician's story, now we only allow them a few minutes.

Just before Finals during my second semester of undergrad, my friend Chad dragged me, Ryan, and Seds to the little independent movie theater (which had never held any more significance than being next-door to Chipotle). Chad insisted that we watch Graceful Swans of Never, a documentary about the Smashing Pumpkins.

I left that theater with a profound respect for the process of recording an album. Who would've thought that so much consideration goes into the narrative? That an album is more than just a collection of songs?

After we left the theater, we went back to the dorm and played Flickerstick's Welcoming Home the Astronauts. Flickerstick was one of our favorite bands - we'd even driven to Columbus for their show a few months earlier - and we all had the album memorized. Even having listened to it start-to-finish a few dozen times, it sounded different in this new context. It really did tell a story... an astronaut's story, from liftoff to orbit to "my god it's full of stars". Now it was even more beautiful.

Now, 7 years later, I never listen to albums. CDs cost money, and downloaded songs cost money (at their most legal) and effort (at their least). Who among us would go out of their way to listen to "Underture" , the instrumental in the middle of The Who's Tommy that represents an acid trip, when all they really want to hear is an out-of-context "Pinball Wizard"? Would you spend $28 on all of the Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and sit through 9+ minutes of "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans", just to get to "1979"?

Musicians are still pouring their souls into their albums. It seems an injustice that we don't give their creations the same respect that we had to in the era of vinyl.

Not that I'll let that change my listening habits any time soon. Their art means less to me than my time and money, and I'm as cold as ice.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Big Jake and little Phil are in the sandbox. Phil gets upset and throws sand in Jake's face. Jake proceeds to wail on Phil with a 2x4.

Jake is in the wrong, that much is clear. Even if Phil did start it, it was Jake who went too far, clocking poor little Phil like that.

This is a pretty straightforward case of right and wrong. Wouldn't it be nice if major international conflicts could be reduced to this clear-cut case, extrapolated into clarity by a few simplifying assumptions?

That's not how real life works. Surely you already knew that - most of my audience is older than me, and nearly all are wiser. I tell you, then, that real life doesn't have these Lowest Common Denominator analogues because over the past 10 days, my world has been aflood with just such analysis.

I am speaking, of course, about the Gaza conflict. Jake is Israel (a biblical reference... get it?) and Phil is the Palestinians (seriously, work with me here). The near-universal consensus among my contemporaries is that Israel's actions are disproportionate, inhumane, genocidal, and even Nazi-esque. The near-universal consensus among my contemporaries is wrong.

The problem that we Westerners have in trying to conduct some sort of level-headed discourse is that we have basic underlying assumptions about the situation, and that these assumptions are informed by facts of varying veracity. That was my diplomatic way of saying learn the facts. Learn the facts before you condemn self-defense as villainy. Learn the facts before you compare Israel to the Third Reich. Learn the facts before you say things that are patently false.

Let's tackle some of the assumptions. One of my favorites is the idea that Israel is "occupying" Gaza and the West Bank in an effort to expand its borders. This supposed land-grab serves as proof that Israel's intention is to drive the Arabs out and usurp the territory.

I could refute this by referring to the 2000 Camp David summit, in which Israel put 94% of the West Bank and 100% of Gaza on the table. I could refute it by reminding you of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2004. Instead, I'll just put the so-called occupation in familiar terms:

When American GIs are stationed in Europe, where do most go? Germany
When American GIs are stationed in the Pacific, where do most go? Japan
Is America occupying the countries it defeated in WWII?

Another fun assumption to rebut is the claim that Israel is targeting civilians, or even that Israel isn't minimizing civilian casualties.

Civilian casualties are terrible. I won't even try to diminish their import by comparing them to the 6 million civilian deaths in WWI, the 48 million civilian deaths in WWII, or even the 39-55,000 civilian deaths in the Bosnian War. Because every civilian casualty is terrible, and the bell tolls for thee, and so on. So Israel should be doing everything it can to limit civilian casualties.

It should, for example, use the highest-tech weaponry, to maximize the penetration of explosions while minimizing breadth. It should spend a year gathering intelligence on the location of Hamas infrastructure, to target only the combatants. It should call the at-risk civilians before attacking, to get them out of harm's way.

If Israel had just followed all of these completely reasonable precautions, then the civilian casualties would have been kept low... like, say, 6% of the casualties on the first day.

The way I see it, Hamas had two options after that first salvo from Israel. They could:
(a) stop firing rockets into Israeli towns
(b) continue firing rockets into Israeli towns.
Hamas chose (b), and honestly, it was a pretty savvy move. In doing so, they framed their own actions as resistance to Israeli aggression, as spitting in the face of Israeli tyranny in the spirit of "Don't Tread On Me" and "Live Free or Die". They relocated, deeper into the heart of non-combatant populations, and continued firing rockets at Israeli civilians. The only downside was that their human shields had a nasty habit of dying, but hey, it was the Israelis doing the killing.

There have been very few Israeli casualties. There have been many Palestinian casualties. The rockets are therefore just the Palestinians' desperate attempts to fight back - which is our next faulty assumption.

Hamas is not your run-of-the-mill political party. Their charter, their self-authored, easily-amendable charter, their racist and genocidal charter, has been translated to English for our convenience. I've taken the liberty of collecting some highlights.
  • "The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."
  • "With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein ... there is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it."
  • "Leaving the circle of struggle with Zionism is high treason"
  • "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."
  • "The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up."
  • "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."
Hamas does not want peace, unless that peace comes by means of Israel's destruction (and as a bonus, the death of all Jews... which I'm pretty sure is genocide). But don't take their word for it...

As just a small example of Hamas' conduct, let's look at the 6-month cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that expired in December. In honor of this cease-fire, Hamas markedly decreased the number of rockets they fired at Israeli towns... so now they were only launching a few rockets every week. They also took advantage of the cease-fire to smuggle longer-range rockets into Gaza, perhaps because deep down, they really wanted to extend the cease-fire. For reals.

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians showed their hand when the cease-fire reached its expiration date: Israel declared its desire to extend the truce, and Hamas said "no thank you, here are some rockets instead".

The civilian casualties are mounting not because Israel is firing indiscriminately into the Gazan populace, but because Hamas is hiding their equipment and combatants deeper and deeper among the civilians. This is in direct opposition to Article 28 of the Geneva Convention, which states that the presence of civilians "may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations"... fyi.

You may be wondering why so many of my sources are Jerusalem Post and YNet, which you may not think are as neutral as the New York Times or the Guardian. Well, my answer is best expressed as follows:

I am skeptical of Western news coverage

In closing, I want to remind you of one very important thing. This isn't a movie, and it's not a sport. The Palestinians aren't a ragtag team of hockey-playing misfits coached by a reluctant Emilio Estevez, and the Israelis aren't Ivan Drago.

The underdogs aren't automatically the good guys. You need to look deeper, to get the facts, to decide for yourself what is really going on.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Softening

So here's the scenario:

It's 4pm. Shadows are getting longer by the minute, and the sun is starting to flirt with the horizon. You're still 10 miles from home. Your fingers are numbed by the cold, and they feel blocky against the handlebars. You haven't felt your toes for hours, which is probably a blessing in disguise. Intermittent patches of black ice demand constant focus, and surprises - slick paint, strewn gravel, new potholes, sand and salt - lurk in every corner.

Fun? Absolutely. But only to a point.

Hardmen don't need cycling to be fun. Cycling is suffering, and suffering is beauty, and bloodflow in the extremities is a luxury. It's no big secret... I'm just not a Hardman.

Even as I work on toughening up - buying shoe covers, building up an adverse-weather bike, riding with a group of like-minded lunatics - I am also embracing the beauty of being soft.

There is no doubt that riding outdoors is better, but if we're going to wimp out because of cold and rain and overall softness, we might as well ride indoors, no? And if we're going to ride indoors, we might as well ride in comfort and style. Or so the logic goes.

A Hardman, by the way, upon being forced indoors by ice or sunset or zombie invasion, would not ride in comfort and style. To paraphrase Will (who can at least talk like a Hardman): "We'll set up our trainers in front of a brick wall, wearing blinders and ear plugs. We will put pictures of our enemies on the wall and look them in the eyes and spit in their faces. Vomiting will be the de rigeur end to our workouts."

That's a bit much for me.

Thus and therefore, I have totally pimped out my indoor training setup. Witness the beauty that is the basement:

There is enough room for three or four cyclists, there are weights and crazy inflatable contraptions, and because it's a basement, there is absolutely no risk of overheating.

Funny story... if you're wondering why I don't have the rollers next to the supporting column (it seems like the perfect just-in-case handhold), it's because the column is metal, and rollers generate static, and I really don't like getting a shock every time my elbow gets close to the column.

A man can only watch so many Scrubs reruns before losing his mind, and it would seem that I've reached that limit. TV is... well, it's crap. Utter crap. Fortunately, Netflix makes it really easy to give them your money, so now I have about 50 DVDs just waiting for my laptop.

Go ahead, judge my taste!

Despite weighing 10 lbs and being too big for most backpacks, the laptop is quieter than most Tamagachis (remember those? me either!). For when I have company, I bought external speakers (not pictured here), the better to overpower the roar of the trainers.

For when I don't have company, which almost always, I have headphones. Have you ever tried riding with headphones attached to a laptop? If, by some miracle, the cord is long enough to accomodate riding out of the saddle, it's also long enough to dangle around the spokes of your front wheel. No big deal when you're on the trainer (on which only the rear wheel rotates), but a competely different story on the rollers (on which both wheels spin).

Cords are bad. So I got cordless headphones! It's my first bluetooth device, and so far it seems like bluetooth is a giant pain in the ass... but it lets me ride the rollers, listen to crystal-clear sound quality, and avoid waking up the roommates.

Wireless Headphones and Extremely Lose-able Bluetooth Adapter

Everything is in place now for me to have a good winter. If I don't feel like braving the elements, I don't have to, and that will definitely help me put in the saddle-time that I'll need to have a successful spring campaign.

However, it is imperative that I not fall into the trap of riding exclusively indoors. It'll make me strong, but that fitness will come at the expense of bike-handling skills. Might as well transfer to Army.

And on that cheap shot, I end the post.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Hardening

The conversation went something like this:

Don: Coffee ride?
Jay: Time?
Don: 10
Jay: 11?
Don: Cool

Just like that, we'd committed ourselves to riding to Princeton, 30 miles each way. A decent early-season ride, perfect for the long, slow, steady base miles demanded by this time of year.

It was cold, but not too cold, and the forecast didn't call for precipitation until after our return. Throw on some leg warmers, some wool socks and booties to keep my little piggies warm, add gloves and a head band, and voila! Time for some base.

About 45 minutes into the ride, the sky darkened noticeably. For a moment, I worried that we would be stuck on the roads after sunset, having forgotten that it was only noon. This was on Canal Rd, not yet at First Bridge.

The dark, looming clouds weren't just for show. We'd hoped they would signify nothing, but they were full of sound and fury. A few snowflakes floated down en route to Second Bridge. By Third Bridge, it was coming down relentlessly. We'd been forced to take our glasses off, with fog and ice opaque-ifying the lenses, but that only allowed the snow to sting the eyeballs most unmerciful.

The descents, blessedly short, were not fun. Simultaneously, though, they were actually a lot of fun. Odd how that works.

Jay's "clear" lenses, and the ice in his helmet's vents.

The snowflakes were large and sticky - if enough had landed, it would've been perfect for snowman-building - but the asphalt was just warm enough to prevent accumulation. Apparently, the same could not be said of my groin. The nook, or cranny if you prefer, formed by my thighs and torso was covered in a disturbing amount of snow. There was a thick layer of snow encasing my bad-touch bits.

I've spent an inordinate amount of time coming up with phrases that might describe this phenomenon. Here's what I've got:
  • Frosted Naughty Parts
  • Crotch-cicles
  • Snow Balls
Please feel free to contribute to this list in the comments section.

Upon our arrival at the Small World coffee shop (the farther Small World franchise, which has more indoor seating), we were pleased to find Brian, a Rutgers Cycling alum. Neither of us knew he'd moved to Princeton, and it was an unlikely, pleasant coincidence to see him at the coffee shop. The irony of the circumstances, given the name of the coffee shop, was not lost to us.

They were serving coffees in pint glasses for some reason. My Americano looked like a stout, but it warmed my hands nicely.

In another coincidence, we sat down next to someone who turned out to be a friend of Jay's. He would later note that it's one thing to tell someone "I ride a bike"; it's an entirely different thing to appear at a coffee shop 30 miles from home in the middle of a blizzard. It makes you look like a total badass, or like a lunatic, depending on who that someone is.

With just a few sips of warm, caffeinated goodness remaining in our glasses, Brian asked if we'd mind if he joined us for the rest of the ride. Of course we wouldn't! Not only would the additional company be nice (not to mention the additional time I could spend in the draft), but waiting for him to prepare for the ride would delay our inevitable return to the snowstorm.

I never leave myself less than 45 minutes to get ready for a ride. Brian returned to Small World within 10 minutes. That bastard.

So we creaked out of our chairs and got back on our bikes, soggy chamois squelching against saddles. The snow stopped just as we left Princeton, and in its place we were treated to gusty winds. At times, we leaned precariously into the side-wind, just to stay balanced and ride straight. Sometimes the wind caught me by surprise, and I would just barely keep my wheels off the curb.

In what has become a wintertime tradition, I got a nosebleed. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Most team sports have positions - forward, midfielder, pitcher, for example - and cycling does as well - climber, sprinter, roleur. It's less formal in cycling, but each rider has his speciality, and a good coach will strategize accordingly. Many sports also have designations for certain team members that is unofficial but real - "goons" or "enforcers"; cycling has "hardmen".

Hardmen thrive in the cold and wet, they prefer cobbles to pavement. Hardmen excel in the conditions that make other riders question their choice of profession.

Me, I'm not a hardman. I do not do well in the cold. However, just like hockey's technicians learn to take hits, cyclists like me need to learn to ride in adverse conditions. No, Jay and I didn't choose to ride in this ridiculous weather, nor were we particularly pleased to be surprised by it. At the end of the day, though, I think we were a little harder for having survived it.