Welcome 2021!

Normally we see in the new year with a Lou and Peter Berryman concert. Last year they announced their retirement, so the pandemic did not require a cancellation.

Normally we have a potluck with friends, which includes a listing of everyone’s favorite books, movies, and TV shows for the year. This year was virtual, and we skipped it.

We did welcome the year with home made squash ravioli and closed out 2020 with a 2010 wine that we’d been saving. We’re not wine cellar types, but we do have a root cellar which works equally well for wine and we did lay this bottle down a few years ago with a plan to drink it this year.

Hoarfrost (fog when the temperature is below freezing) came for a visit. (Sorry, but all of the pictures appear darker in WordPress than they did before uploading. I have edited them a second time and re-uploaded them so I hope they look OK this time.)

We live in possibly the weirdest time ever. How many times have you asked yourself if this is really happening? How many times have you thought that this couldn’t be the plot of a novel because it’s too far-fetched to be believable? Here are some excerpts from the transcript of the call from our soon-to-be ex-president and the Georgia Secretary of State (Should we mention that it took 18 tries before they put him through? Maybe somebody knew this was going to go off the rails quickly):

Raffensperger: Mr. President, the problem you have with social media, they — people can say anything.

Trump: Oh this isn’t social media. This is Trump media. It’s not social media. It’s really not; it’s not social media. I don’t care about social media. I couldn’t care less. Social media is Big Tech. Big Tech is on your side, you know. I don’t even know why you have a side because you should want to have an accurate election. And you’re a Republican. 

At first I was just going to pull those first two sentences: “This isn’t social media. This is Trump media.” I thought that was crazy enough. But it just kept getting loonier.

Germany: We’ve been going through each of those as well, and those numbers that we got, that Ms. Mitchell was just saying, they’re not accurate. Every one we’ve been through are people that lived in Georgia, moved to a different state, but then moved back to Georgia legitimately. And in many cases —

Trump: How may people do that? They moved out, and then they said, “Ah, to hell with it, I’ll move back.” You know, it doesn’t sound like a very normal . . . you mean, they moved out, and what, they missed it so much that they wanted to move back in? It’s crazy. 

Germany: They moved back in years ago. This was not like something just before the election. So there’s something about that data that, it’s just not accurate.

I moved out of Wisconsin in the 1980s. I moved back in the 1990s. I voted in Wisconsin in the 2020 election. Does that mean the soon-to-be ex-president thinks I committed fraud, too? Or just that I’m crazy? We’d better hope he never moves back to New York. (Actually, I do kinda hope he moves back there – to serve a prison term.)

He even disagrees with the lawyer he brought in on the call with him. “Disagree” is the polite way of saying that he is just plain wrong (which is a nice way of saying he is either lying or misinformed):

Germany: We chose Cobb County because that was the only county where there’s been any evidence submitted that the signature verification was not properly done.

Trump: No, but I told you. We’re not, we’re not saying that.

Mitchell: We did say that.

Then there’s the flat-out request for fraud to be committed:

Trump: …So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. 

Bike Maintenance

I’m in my fourth winter with a belt-drive bike (bought in spring of 2016). So far it has been a godsend. I replaced the belt once and I have a spare on hand. I would have been through a few chains by now and would probably be looking at other parts. The drivetrain has been getting noisy so I just replaced the chainring (or “front pulley” in belt drive parlance). “They don’t make ’em like they used to” does not always mean things are worse. The original pulley was “carbon-reinforced composite”, AKA plastic. The new one is aluminum. The following pictures should show you why I hope aluminum is the better choice. The rear pulley (“cog” in chain drive parlance) was always aluminum.

In case it is not obvious (you can zoom in if needed), the rounded tooth profile (lower pulley in each photo) has been worn down to a sharp edge on the old pulley and the “wings” that extend out to the sides are pretty much gone. In the bottom photo the old pulley is sitting on top of the new pulley. They are staggered so you can see the round vs sharp tooth profiles. The overall diameter is also smaller, as the plastic has worn away. I had to adjust belt tension after the change. Water, salt, and sand did not make that job easier.

I’m hoping for more than four winters from the new pulley.

Coup d’etat

Since the last post there has been an attempted armed coup. As you are all well aware, our deposed leader attempted to stay in office by overthrowing the legislative branch to prevent them from certifying the election result. How is that called a “protest” or “demonstration”? As videos show, they had the assistance of some of the Capitol Police, as well as the tacit assistance of the administration as evidenced by the paltry police presence and complete absence of National Guard presence compared with the presence during Black Lives Matter protests. (By the way, while media reports have referred to deaths from “medical emergencies” during the coup attempt, at least one of said emergencies has been documented as a trampling by the mob. The police officer killed was reported as dying from injuries while “physically engaging with protestors”. The Chicago Tribune reports he was murdered by being struck in the head with a fire extinguisher.)

Our soon-to-be ex-president has been banned from Twitter after Twitter found credible evidence of a planned second coup attempt, spurred on by his posts. Attacks on Washington and state capitols are planned for next weekend and Inauguration Day. I am hoping for a much more robust response from police and troops. While Twitter is finally taking some responsibility, there are multiple other online fora actively promoting the coup.

COVID-19 and health

I just had the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. While several of my co-workers suffered miserably from side effects, I feel fine. Even my arm ache is less than the first go-round. My hope is that we will be back to public events in 2022 and I can go on a big ride with others again (Cycle America, here we come!). Death Ride 2021 is off the table for me, though it is still scheduled as of this writing.

It has been a year since my surgery (chronicled here) and 20 months since the original injury. Post-op pain has made me question the value of the surgery (pre-op it only hurt to walk; post-op it hurt to ride a bike and sometimes just to sit) and whether, if I had to do it over again, I would have lived with a hernia instead of having it “fixed”. After several rounds of acupuncture which helped for a while, I opted for a nerve block and corticosteroid injection (a mixture of an anesthetic for short-term relief and an anti-inflammatory for longer-term relief). The anesthetic worked great for a day. For the next two days it was like I’d never had the injection, then the following day the pain was reduced (not gone). So far, the injection seems like a winner. We’ll see how long it lasts. The way it works is a 3.5″ long needle is guided via ultrasound through the abdominal wall and to the nerves that are the source of the pain (two nerves, in this case). The injection surrounds the nerve with one medication (bupivacaine – trade name Marcaine) to block transmission of pain signals and a second medication (Kenalog, generic name triamcinolone acetonide) to reduce inflammation around the nerve. The plan is to calm the area down to reduce irritation to the nerve. With luck, this is curative. With less luck, it lasts a few months and then I face the question of more steroids or putting up with pain for the rest of my life. Not to mention the question of whether it is worth it to continue working, since that seems to exacerbate the pain. Since this is (allegedly) an on-the-job injury for which the job accepts no responsibility, retirement may be the best option if the injection doesn’t work long-term. I’d rather not retire until the pandemic is over, so I can have a party.

I’ve got nothing to say, but it’s OK

My friends at The Dihedral put up another thought-provoking post this week. The jumping-off point was the TV show “House”. They used it to talk about making excuses and not having enough time to do what you want. “If you want to do something, you do it”, they quote House as saying.

I put in my two cents as a comment, then realized I had more like two bits to say, so took it over here. Since we’re using pop culture as a jumping off point, I’m going with Frank Capra’s 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

In that film (I hope I’m not giving away any 73 year old spoilers), the protagonist, George Bailey, has big dreams. He repeatedly puts those dreams aside to fulfill his obligations. When he calls the antagonist, Mr Potter, “a warped, frustrated old man”, Potter asks what he is other than a “warped, frustrated young one.” On the verge of suicide, George gets to see what the world would have been if he’d never been born and has an epiphany.

I am going to assert that we are already getting what we want. Exactly what we want. But we lie to ourselves about it.

Let’s take a small example. I want to watch TV. I have to take out the garbage. I skip my TV show, take out the garbage, and feel resentful. Let’s reframe that. I want to take out the garbage. Why? Maybe I have a partner/roommate/parent who told/asked me to, or it’s my agreed-upon job. Maybe I have thought ahead and realize I don’t want to live in a pig sty. Maybe I realize that garbage attracts vermin, I don’t want vermin, and vermin are harder to get ride of than garbage. Maybe I like feeling resentful.

Whoa! What was that? Maybe assigning blame is more satisfying than taking responsibility. Maybe, if I can blame someone else for missing my TV show, and blame someone else for a lot of other small things, I can escape responsibility for my generalized unhappiness. Maybe it’s all someone else’s fault!

What if all the things I’m doing because I have to are actually things I’m doing because I want to? What if I’ve done a bunch of mental calculations (mostly unconscious) and they have led me to the choices I’ve made? Maybe none of this is true about you but it is about someone you know…;) What if I want to take out the garbage and want to feel resentful about it and want to blame someone else for my feelings?

Does that look like George Bailey? Did he skip his trip to Europe and put his father’s estate in order because he really wanted to? Did he skip college and run the Building and Loan because he wanted to? Did he skip his honeymoon and bail out that family business because he wanted to? Did he consider the alternatives and decide that was the best one under the circumstances?

What would it look like to want what I have instead of what I don’t have? Have you ever noticed that, when there is something you really want, you feel some sort of real aliveness during the pursuit? Maybe you just absently want it, maybe you actively seek it, or save up for it. Maybe you get it and it makes you happy for a while and then you go back to your humdrum existence. What was that about? How long do you hang out with that feeling before you find something else to pursue?

I touched on this once before. I’m even going to bring back the same cartoon for another round. In the first panel, Mr Natural starts to do the dishes. He’s resentful. He doesn’t “want” to do them, he “has to“. By the third panel he is just doing the dishes. In the fifth panel he is invested in doing the dishes. In the sixth panel he wants to do the dishes.  In the final panel, he is pleased with having done the dishes. Question: Does he go on to want whatever he’s doing next, or does he continue to want the feeling he had while doing the dishes, try to recapture that feeling, and fail to do so? Just because you’ve learned something once doesn’t mean you have learned it for all time. My teacher Peter Ralston calls that “the lava syndrome”. The very breakthrough you have made hardens over and becomes something you have to break through in order to learn anything new again.

I haven’t talked about bikes for this whole post – not even about the weather. How many times can I talk about riding in freezing rain, sleet, snow, subzero (F) temperatures…? But I’ll leave you with one last image. I’ve talked before of hoarfrost – the stuff that forms when it is foggy and cold. Instead of mere water droplets, ice crystals form in the air; or fog forms and the water droplets freeze as soon as they land. From a distance, hoarfrost is white. The ice crystals reflect all light. Just like snowflakes, up close the crystals are clear. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” We had another morning of hoarfrost this week. Visibility suddenly dropped and I wondered if my glasses had fogged up. I looked to my right and saw fog in the lights of a parking lot. I realized the world was foggy, not just me. I rode out of the fog bank and my glasses continued to ice over. Imagine sticking a glass in the freezer and getting it nice and cold. Take it out and spritz it with water and stick it back in the freezer. When you take it out, there are tiny droplets of ice, giving the glass a pebbled texture. That’s what my glasses were like. I stopped, removed a mitten, and scraped the ice off the lenses, then continued on my way. The picture is hoarfrost, up close and personal.