We are a group of friends who ride bikes. Some of us are fast, some of us are slow, all of us are half-fast. In 2018, one of us rode coast to coast across the US. It was so much fun, he's doing it again in 2022! If we meet Sal Paradise, we'll let you know.
That’s right, nothing. Why buy shit for someone who already has everything?
Okay, you came here for more than that. Number one is time. Interpret that as you wish. Offer to do something for them to free up their time for a ride. Invite them on a ride that you plan as elaborately as you choose. You could draw up a route and make maps and cue sheets (or the electronic version thereof if you’re a modern person). You could make it a “choose your own adventure” day, in which you pick a direction, head out of town, and turn when a road looks inviting. You could pick a destination and treat your friend to a meal at the end, or stop for snacks along the way (if you have a safe place for the bikes).
So you want stuff? Save your old toothbrushes and give them to your friend. They come in handy for bike cleaning and can get pretty dirty. Rags are always handy. Old flannel sheets make soft rags. The gathered and stitched edge of a fitted sheet makes a handy tool for cleaning between freehub cogs. An old spoke works to lever out chunks of dirt (which tend to build up between cogs if you use wax lube). Q-tips work in some places.
We need to eat and drink on the road. What is your friend’s favorite? You won’t be buying them a case of bananas (and some of us don’t like bananas, despite the stereotype). In the old days I carried figs and dates. There are various bars out there. Some are almost good enough to eat the bar instead of the packaging. Find out what your friend likes and get those. Nothing worse than a whole case of tasteless cardboard. Electrolytes are necessary. I’ve said before that I consider Gatorade only for pouring over a winning coach’s head, but your friend might like Gatorade. I’m a Cytomax fan, but it keeps getting harder to find.
I do not receive payment for any of these recommendations. They are based on my personal experience and preferences.
Some people like gels. I think the single serving foil or plastic packs are a waste of resources, and it’s hard to use them without getting your hands and jersey pockets sticky. Buy gel in bulk, if at all. Hammer gel comes in quart size bottles that you can pour into a smaller bottle to slip into a pocket. Gummies can take the place of gels and powders. I’m a fan of Clif Shot Bloks in the margarita flavor – both for the taste and the extra sodium. They stave off incipient cramps and you can carry a two month supply on a long tour more easily than drink mixes and gels. They come in a sleeve of six (pictured) and in boxes of 18 sleeves.
Bike polish is handy. I used to use the same paste wax I used on cars. It is tricky to get out of nooks and crannies (e.g. the joints on lugged frames). A liquid polish works well and helps repel dirt.
Chain lube is always handy. Find out what your friend likes and get a bottle. Cleaner/degreaser is another handy thing to have around. Avoid aerosol spray products. NEVER clean bike parts with gasoline. Pump bottles, especially if the product is available in bulk to refill the bottle, are a good choice.
Does your friend do their own repairs or at least roadside emergency repairs? Tools are always a good gift. Good tools are expensive and should last for years. The Silca T-Rachet and Ti-Torque Kit is an excellent tool to carry along and newer bikes often have torque specifications. (We used to just tighten until it felt right.) It is expensive.
Is your friend someone who works on their bike, or do they take it to the shop for everything except pumping up the tires? The need for tools beyond tire levers and an on-the-road multi-tool is variable. Some specialized tools that are handy for the home shop include the third hand tool (due to the need for a third hand while making adjustments to rim brakes), cable and housing cutters (get good ones), spoke wrenches, chain master link pliers, and a shop stand (to hold the bike while making repairs). Beyond that depends on what the person has and does. Good tools are an investment. Cheap tools are a disposable waste.
Coffee and beer have become associated with bicycling. IF your friend drinks either, consider a pound (or 12 oz, since that’s how it’s often sold) of coffee or a six pack of beer – either a favorite or a selection. Find out what they like. If they grind their own coffee, buy whole beans. If they don’t grind their own, consider a burr grinder as a gift. As to beer, some people would love a hearty stout in the winter, while others won’t drink anything they can’t see through. Some drink nothing but IPAs, while others drink that only on a hot summer day, if at all.
If all else fails, a gift certificate to a favorite local bike shop works. Your friend is bound to need something some time, the local shop is a great place to start, and they can choose what they want when they want it.
Some people don’t need anything, and what they want is too extravagant to consider as a gift. Go back to the top of this post and think of how you can share your time with them.
It is late November. In these parts, the outdoor recreational riding season is usually over by now. This year is not usual.
With the temperature close to 50 (10 C), the sun shining, and Spain leading Costa Rica 3-0, getting out of town suddenly took precedence over watching the second half of a World Cup match (and the next match as well). It was time to get on the road again.
With an errand slightly to the northeast from home, that seemed to be the direction to head. It was a Choose Your Own Adventure day, with a route that made itself known at each major intersection.
When I saw the “Bridge Closed Ahead” sign, I figured I’d have the road to myself. They were serious about the bridge being closed. I had to lift the bike over a barricade, then climb over it myself, repeating that on the other side. It was an Interstate Highway overpass, closed after a truck ran into the abutment a month or so ago, and awaiting major repairs. If 150 pounds of me and bike in motion over it were enough to cause it to collapse, my death would be small potatoes compared to the other problems, so I figured it would hold me. Don’t tell anyone.
I met a lot of cars with trees on roofs and rode past a Christmas tree farm doing a land office business and it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet. I hope those trees don’t go up in flames after a month drying out in various living rooms.
A ride on a beautiful sunny day seems to be an invitation to a post-ride beer, so I had one with dinner. It was billed as a Breakfast Beer. Anyone who can drink an Imperial Stout for breakfast is a much more serious drinker than I.
Thanksgiving was a day for the age-old tradition of watching football (after the pie was done), but this year it was the real thing, played with feet, not the mis-named US game. Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal became the first man to score in five different World Cup tournaments – not the first person, who was Marta of Brasil. She was followed by Christine Sinclair of Canada in the same 2019 tournament, so Ronaldo’s record may need an asterisk. Then there’s his attempt to claim credit for a teammate’s goal a few days later, when he tried to head in what looked like a crossing pass, but turned into a goal when he missed it by a hair. That said, he’s still one of the greatest of all time.
Black Friday was a day for more football after baking two more pies for another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat. The colonies faced the motherland. As the UK is the world home of football, what is otherwise a single nation has four national football teams, two of which (England and Wales) are in the 32 team tournament. While the US may have gained its independence 238 years ago (it “declared” its independence 7 years earlier, but still had to win a war, and the Treaty Of Paris in 1784 made it a sovereign nation), and beat England in two wars, on the football pitch they played to a scoreless tie.
Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing again (or is it?), so on Saturday we assembled the Eastern Division of the half-fast cycling club for another ride. It was still warm. There were calories to burn after two days of eating. The Eastern Division is down to three riders from a dozen or so a few years ago. Bad heart, bad knees, bad back, bad head have limited several friends. The Bad Knees Bears mostly walk these days. We headed out into a brisk headwind with Alfred, Lord Tennyson leading the way. I stayed in the small chain ring all the way to Paoli. We stopped for coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches and returned with the wind, staying in the big ring all the way back. After a shower and laundry the weather app says it’s still 49º (9.5 C). Is it really late November? We saw the last of the area corn being harvested.
Riding home from the library, a red-tailed hawk flew by a few feet off the ground, landing a meter off the bike path to grab a snack. It turned around and took off back along the same path so that I had to brake hard to avoid it as it crossed my path about knee high (or, in my case, mid-wheel). It tried to land atop two different brushed aluminum lampposts, having trouble with its footing while holding a small rodent. It took off again looking for a place to land to eat in peace.
Since we’re talking about things that get people up in arms (see recent post re: taxes and public safety…arms are another topic altogether) and scare people, let’s talk about reparations. I was not sure how to address this issue but then saw the approach of Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman at the Kol Nidrei services of Congregation Shareii Shamayim. [Kol Nidrei is the service on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of atonement.]
Rabbi Laurie addressed the issue clearly; in a way that I think people can understand and actually think about the issue rather than just run scared from it. The initial metaphor of a stolen beam used to build a house seems like an ideal lens through which to view the issue – and of course the story involves a disagreement on interpretation; and what better issue of atonement than reparations? The following is reprinted with permission.
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman Kol Nidrei 5783 October 4, 2022
Grounding Our Communities in Teshuvah and Tzedek: A Jewish Approach to Reparations for Black Americans
The book of Leviticus states, “If you steal something, give it back.” (Lev. 5:23)
A long, long time ago, Rabbi Hillel was arguing with Rabbi Shammai: If a robber steals a beam, and uses it to build a house, how can you give it back? What exactly do you do now that that beam is holding up the entire structure?
Rabbi Shammai insisted that the robber demolish his house to extract the beam and return it.
Rabbi Hillel disagreed. He knew that a robber would be unlikely to come forward and do teshuvah, or make amends, if he knew that he would have to demolish his house. That would be too onerous – he would lose the beam, but also his home. Instead, Rabbi Hillel argued that the original owner should be compensated for what was stolen.
Rabbi Shammai was known for his strict, literal – and some might say extreme – approach to Jewish law, while Rabbi Hillel was more flexible, lenient, and pragmatic. Jewish law almost always sides with Rabbi Hillel, and indeed, his opinion prevailed in the case of marish hagazul – a stolen beam.
The rabbis enacted takanat hashavim, an ordinance for the rehabilitation of the penitent, to encourage the robber to do teshuvah. They made this ruling because they believed it would encourage the robber to repent through financial compensation and to stop stealing altogether.
This Talmudic debate is a bit obscure, but in the last few years it has become a core Jewish text to argue for reparations for Black Americans descended from enslaved Africans. Slavery, among many other evils, is theft. America stole Black lives, Black labor, and Black dignity.
Rabbi Sharon Brous writes, “Our country was built on a stolen beam. Except it was several million stolen beams. And they weren’t beams; they were human beings.”1
Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai might have disagreed about what to do with a stolen beam, but it was clear to them that justice had to be served. What was stolen must be returned, and if that was too difficult, then restitution must be made. [Emphasis added]
Today, on Yom Kippur, we are here not only to make amends in our individual relationships, but also to focus on collective teshuva. We examine our society, along with our role in it, with a critical lens. Those of us who are white must acknowledge our wrongdoings and responsibility. None of us was alive during slavery. Those of us who are descended from Jews who came from Central and Western Europe, our relatives primarily came here after the Civil War ended, but benefited from white skin. As journalist Isabel Wilkerson writes,
[Each] new immigrant—the ancestors of most current-day Americans—walked into a preexisting hierarchy, bipolar in construction, arising from slavery and pitting the extremes in human pigmentation at opposite ends…Oppressed people from around the world, particularly from Europe, passed through Ellis Island, shed their old selves, and often their old names to gain admittance to the powerful dominant majority…It was in becoming American that they became white.2
Jews of Color among us struggle with the legacy of slavery and white supremacy while being part of a majority white Jewish community. This is challenging. I give this sermon today as another step in pushing our community to become more anti-racist.
As we consider our communal responsibilities, we turn our attention to reparations, because the injustices of the past perpetuate the injustices of the present and of the future.
The word “reparations” comes from the word “repair.” In Jewish thought, we talk about tikkun olam, or “repair of the world.” We address the brokenness in our world, not just through an act of kindness here or there, but through sustained, meaningful action to effect systemic change.
To repair what is broken takes courage. It takes a willingness to understand, listen, learn, grow, and change. We can’t make change if we feel defensive, entitled, or consumed by guilt. [Emphasis added.] We make change when we examine what we have done wrong, as individuals and as a society. And from that place we engage in the critical issues of our society.
As a Jewish community, we discuss reparations through a Jewish lens. Reconstructing Judaism, one of the two movements of which we are a part, has proposed a resolution in support of reparations, and we will study the issue together over the next several months. Our members, Shahanna McKinney Baldon and Rabbi Renee Bauer, were the national co-chairs of the committee that created the resolution.
Rabbi Micah Guerrin Weiss explains:
Reparations can mean many things. It is policy, theology, a moral obligation, history, and a demand for truth and reconciliation. The National African-American Commission on Reparations (NAACR) defines reparations as, “a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights.” Ta-Nehisi Coates understands reparations as an ethical orientation — “the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences.” There is no Hebrew term that fully encompasses the range of meanings that are associated with the English word, reparations. It is both teshuvah — the Jewish process of public accountability, apology, mending, and returning to right relationship, and tzedek — the ethical demands of material and legal justice.3
We can’t address the imperative of reparations if we don’t understand the brutality of American slavery. Wilkerson writes:
The vast majority of African-Americans who lived in this land in the first 246 years of what is now the United States lived under the terror of people who had absolute power over their bodies and their very breath, subject to people who faced no sanction for any atrocity they could conjure…
Slavery so perverted the balance of power that it made the degradation of the subordinate caste seem normal and righteous…The most respected and beneficent of society people oversaw forced labor camps that were politely called plantations, concentrated with hundreds of unprotected prisoners whose crime was that they were born with dark skin. Good and loving mothers and fathers, pillars of their communities, personally inflicted gruesome tortures upon their fellow human beings.4
This is the foundation upon which the United States was built – millions of “stolen beams,” who were, in fact, human beings.
In 1865, General William T. Sherman drafted an order which stipulated that Confederate land seized in Georgia and South Carolina would be split among formerly enslaved Black people in those states. Each former slave family would receive up to 40 acres and an army mule. President Abraham Lincoln and Congress gave their approval. But after Lincoln was assassinated, President Andrew Jackson vetoed the legislation.
This is the basis for current legislation, H.R. 40, which would study the ongoing effects of slavery in the U.S. and create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans. Late Michigan Rep. John Conyers introduced it in 1989 and every year after until 2017. It is still being introduced, but it has never made it out of committee. The history and legacy of slavery, apparently, is so controversial that it cannot even be studied.
As a Jewish community we don’t need to rely on an obscure Talmudic text to justify the need for a Jewish approach to reparations. We only need to turn to one of our most fundamental stories, which we tell every year at Passover. Usually we gloss right over it, but when the Israelites fled Egypt, the Torah explains that they “asked” or “borrowed from” their Egyptian neighbors objects of silver and gold, as well as clothing. They took reparations for their enslaved labor.
What’s more, they left with vast amounts. The Egyptians owed the Israelite slaves payment for their unpaid labor. As Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein writes, “According to the Talmud and even the Torah itself, not only were reparations just, but taking them by any means necessary, even deception, was just and commanded by God.”5
Reparations in the United States would look quite different from ancient Egypt. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, it would compensate families for “250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow segregation, 60 years of separate but equal, and 35 years of racist housing policy.” It would attempt to narrow disparities in wealth between white and Black Americans, for the average white family possesses ten times the average wealth of a Black family.6
Many different models for reparations exist. There could be direct payments to families, vouchers for medical insurance or college, or access to a trust fund to finance a business or home. Or there could be long-term investments in education, housing, and businesses that build up the wealth of Black Americans.7
We might wonder how reparations would be paid and whether our country can afford it. That’s a good question for an economist, but I don’t think that’s the issue for us. Coates writes,
Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate—the kind that HR 40 proposes—we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans. But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion…I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane.8
Coates writes that this is about “a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.”9This is collective teshuvah. He reminds us that we must consider our obligations to other people. So do our Jewish texts. To whom are we responsible, for what, and how will we set things right? How do we turn towards tzedek, towards justice, so that we can live up to our ethical principles?
Our ancient texts and the principles of teshuvah and tzedek form the basis of a Jewish understanding of reparations. We should also consider modern Jewish history – German reparations to the State of Israel and to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.
In 1951, West German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, affirmed that Germany would pay reparations. “In the name of the German people,” he said, “unspeakable crimes were committed which create a duty of moral and material restitution.” 10
Many Jews harshly opposed the idea of reparations. They argued it was blood money. Future Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, urged Israeli Jews to stop paying taxes in opposition. Israeli militants tried to assassinate Adenauer. But Prime Minister David Ben Gurion believed that Israel would only survive if it accepted financial support from Germany. Indeed, by 1956, Germany was supplying 87.5 percent of Israel’s state revenue.11
At the time, only a minority of West Germans – 29 percent – believed that they owed Jews reparations for Nazi atrocities. But Germany moved forward, and it mattered – to Israel, Jewish survivors, and the German people. It led to a real moral reckoning in Germany, which led to an imperfect but tangible reconciliation. As political scientist Lily Gardener Feldman states, “reconciliation is a process” – and “reparations are the first step.”12
There are so many issues to address this Yom Kippur. But I wanted to talk about reparations because it is part of our Jewish story. Our country was built on “stolen beams,” and we must return what is stolen. When return is not possible, we must pay reparations. [Emphasis added]
As Rabbi Weiss writes, reparations is “teshuvah — the Jewish process of public accountability, apology, mending, and returning to right relationship, and tzedek — the ethical demands of material and legal justice.”
This Yom Kippur, let’s engage in teshuvah and tzedek. Let’s work towards “a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.” Let’s build now for the future, because political transformation is possible. Another world is possible. Gmar chatimah tovah.
Rabbi Sharon Brous, “Our Country Was Built on a Stolen Beam: The Call for a National Reckoning,” sermon on Rosh Hashanah II, September 22nd, 2017.
Isabel Wilkerson, “Isabel Wilkerson on the Legacies of American Chattel Slavery: The Making of Color Caste in the United States,” Literary Hub, November 30, 2020.
We’ve touched on death in these pages before. I don’t know that we’ve ever talked about taxes.
I heard a politician talking about tax cuts. That seems to be the central theme of nearly every Republican. We’ve been taught to think of taxes as a bad thing and as cutting them to be the best thing our politicians can do for us.
If cutting them is the best thing they can do, why do they have jobs? Taxes pay their salaries. If we don’t need taxes and don’t need the services provided by them, why do we need legislators? It would seem their first course of action should then be to eliminate their own jobs.
But what are taxes but our shared vision as to how to build a society? We may not all agree on every expenditure – I’d be frightened if we did – but most of us like to have roads to travel on. Those of us who live where it snows like to have the snow removed now and then. Having trash removed comes in handy. Water we can drink? Not a bad idea. Sewage that flows out of pipes away from our houses? Hey, I could use that. Treating that sewage instead of just having pipes that run into the nearest body of water? Another pretty good idea.
It seems those who clamor for tax cuts are not the same who call for defunding the police. Something ironic there. Cutting taxes means defunding something, and taken to the extreme I’ve seen proposed means defunding nearly everything (including schools, Social Security, Medicare, nearly all social services).
But what does “defunding”mean? And what do the police do? (And I don’t mean to say that former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Dailey was correct that “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”1) If our interest is public safety, are police departments the best place for all of those dollars? The police likely would be the first to tell you that their job is to respond to crime after it happens. They arrest the alleged perpetrators and work with the DA to develop a case. Their crime prevention role seems to be primarily to convince us that the likelihood of being caught and the repercussions of being convicted outweigh the benefits of committing a crime. (That, and going to elementary schools to scare kids out of smoking weed; though I don’t think that program is still in existence.)
My city alder just wrote a thoughtful post about public safety which included this:
“For once, I would love for our city to have intentional city-wide conversations on what public safety should mean. I had often wondered if we could ask the question, what would you need to feel safe in the City of Madison -without framing these conversations around police and fire-what people might answer? This question faces challenges because of competing forces preventing change. As an elected official, if you explore alternatives to policing, you can be labelled as soft on crime by the police union and others, making electability more difficult. For most of us, we have grown up with a media landscape or narrative about policing that informs us. Think of the hundreds of cops shows on TV and at the movies. For me, I cannot escape the fact that the horrific racial disparities within our local criminal justice system and policing could not exist without the other.
With calls to defund or abolish the police, I am left curious that if I woke up tomorrow, and there were no police at all, who would investigate murders, who would respond to sex trafficking, who is going to be the first responder if there is a shooting? I could foresee a future where we might take long held police duties like traffic enforcement and civilianize these roles. Imagine if you were speeding and you were pulled over by someone without a gun ( let’s call them a Civilian Traffic Buddy), knowing that the worse outcome would be a citation (unless you were in the act of a felony) rather than jail or death.”
My own two cents on that last part. 1) In Great Britain, between 4 and 5% of police officers are armed. Police firearms were “intentionally discharged at persons” four times in the year ended 3/31/2022. 2 This number is reported as stable over the past several years.
In contrast, in the US, police have shot and killed an average of 982 people per year over the past six years.3 As a percentage of total population, police kill Black people at a rate 2.5 times greater than that at which they kill White people, and kill Latin@ people at a rate nearly double that of White people.
My other penny’s worth…2) Alder B above talks about “the worse outcome” of a traffic stop being a citation “(unless you were in the act of a felony)”. That one deserves a closer look. When I worked in a trauma unit, the majority of the people I saw were there for injuries related to alcohol. A 90 day retrospective study of patients at another trauma center found that ⅔ of drivers tested positive for alcohol or other drugs.4 When the trauma unit was slow I used to joke about rounding up more business by heading out to the bars, buying a round for the house, and making sure everyone had their keys. The flip side of that (being serious) is that this represents an opportunity for a cultural change that can actually help prevent crime and injury, in other words be a public health measure. In the state of Wisconsin, first offense drunk driving results only in a citation – a traffic ticket. Driving drunk only rises to the level of a felony on one’s fourth conviction.5 Of course, it also becomes a felony if you kill someone. What if our culture didn’t glorify drunkenness? (Those of us who are old enough recall when we glorified cigarette smoking and televised athletic events were sponsored by tobacco companies, not just breweries. Culture change is possible.) What if bartenders and friends were encouraged and trained to take away someone’s keys when they were drunk? What if all cars had ignition interlocks to prevent starting by someone who is drunk? The average cost is $50-$150.6 Might that cost come down if the devices were produced in greater numbers?
Alder Benford went on to talk about a new city program. If you watch TV drama, this has already been implemented on “Station 19”.
“By now, most of you have heard of our awesome CARES team- Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (https://www.cityofmadison.com/fire/emergency-medical-services/community-alternative-response-emergency-services-cares). As a social worker, I was so excited to learn before I joined the council, that we were on the path to developing a model, like other cities. A public safety service that could send a skilled paramedic and mental health professional on a 911 call that does not require the police. As I dream about reimaging public safety, so that all, regardless of our backgrounds, feel safe, I reason that CARES is our first major step as a city to accomplish this goal. Alders agreed to fund a tactical expansion of CARES to ensure additional coverage and long-term success. I am excited about the future of CARES.“
This is another way that tax dollars can go toward public safety and violence prevention. Not all calls to 9-1-1 require a police response. Police response to mental health crisis often results in unnecessary death. To put it more bluntly, it results in the police killing the person they were called to help.7
So when people talk of “defunding the police”, the true meaning is often redirecting limited funds to programs more likely to contribute to public health and violence reduction than the current system. It is not an attack on police. It is not anti-authoritarian. It is pro-public safety.
How we make funding decisions comes down to how we set our priorities. If our priority is to catch people after they have done wrong, increasing police funding may well be the answer. If our priority is to change the conditions which lead to crime, transferring some of those funds to other programs which address social inequities may be a more prudent use of dollars.
So while it is possible that “’tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes7, how we levy and how we use those taxes is one of the most important discussions we can have.
4 •Walsh, J. M., Flegel, R., Atkins, R., Cangianelli, L. A., Cooper, C., Welsh, C., & Kerns, T. J. (2005). Drug and alcohol use among drivers admitted to a Level-1 trauma center. Accident Analysis & Prevention,37(5), 894-901. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2005.04.013
Note: I attempted to reach my alder for permission to quote from his weekly newsletter. I have not received a response but, as this was a newsletter sent to all constituents, privacy did not seem to be an issue.Since I didn’t get his consent, I ask for forgiveness.