I am not a (your denial here)

When Richard Nixon declared, “I am not a crook”, we needed look no further than the vehemence of his denial to find the truth.

Likewise, when Amy Cooper said “I am not a racist”, we knew at once she is a racist. (Amy Cooper, for those who don’t recognize the name, is the woman who called police to tell them “An African American man is threatening my life”, knowing full well that a predictable outcome would be that man’s death at the hands of the police; and knowing full well that her claim was a lie and is documented on video.) We know that Lisa Alexander is a racist. She called the police because a Filipino man was stenciling “Black Lives Matter” in sidewalk chalk on the retaining wall of his house. Since this is a wealthy area, he clearly didn’t belong there. Only white people can be rich enough to live in Pacific Heights.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal (6/15/2020), a recent graduate of Monona Grove High School was in the school as a member of the football coaching staff. He was stopped in the hall by a police officer and a hall pass demanded. The coach responded that everyone in the school knew him. The officer is quoted as asking “what someone new would think about seeing ‘a big black guy’ walking around the building”. I suspect the officer doesn’t think he was being racist, merely acknowledging the possibility of racism in others. But if you care more about a white person possibly being made uncomfortable by the presence of a black person than you do about that black person, that’s racist. If it is the black person who needs to adjust/accommodate, that’s racism.

About 45-50 years ago I saw and heard U. Utah Phillips ,”the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest”, for the first time. He lived in Spokane, Washington, which has since become a stronghold of racists of the blatant variety. To paraphrase, Phillips admitted to racism and told us that anyone who denies being a racist is clearly a racist. To be a white person in the US (or anywhere on earth) and deny racism is like being a fish and denying water. It is the world in which we live. That both makes it hard to see and impossible to be separate from. But we are not fish. We can look for it within and without; and we can fight it within and without. We can live as anti-racists, not mere deniers of racism. When we say or do something racist, we can call it that; not a “mistake”, not “the wrong words”; and not claim that we can’t be racist because we have a black friend or co-worker.

While I can’t find video of Phillips talking about racism, here’s the next best thing:

Bicycling magazine ran an essay about racism in bicycling. That was the prompt for this entry. Responding to one of the racist comments wasn’t enough. The writer, the former Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, is identified as an attorney and a gender non-conforming queer Black woman. She says “Bicycling cannot solve systemic racism in the United States. But systemic racism can’t be fixed without tackling it within bicycling.” Almost as interesting as the essay is the comments section, including “‘Systemic racism’ in America is a complete myth – as false as the claim that ‘people of color’ are being oppressed.” (As of this writing, 29 people have “liked” that comment.) Other commenters think discussing racism has no place in the world of bicycling. We should just talk about spending money on new stuff. Luckily, those comments are not going unanswered.

Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, to whom I often turn as a voice of reason, put it this way when talking about what to say and not say when you commit a racist act:

“I won’t insult your intelligence by saying ‘I am not a racist’ because I know I am. As a white person in a society where every institution is geared to advantage people like me, it is literally impossible for me to be anything else. In that, I am like a man in a male-dominated society. He cannot help being sexist, his good intentions notwithstanding. Saying he’s not sexist is like a fish saying he’s not wet.

“Many of us as white people struggle with that. That’s because we process racism as a loathsome character defect, when really, it’s the water in which we swim.

“No, the question is not whether we are racist, but what kind of racist we will be. Will we be the overt kind, whose behavior marks her from a mile away? In many ways, her very obviousness makes her the least dangerous.

“Will we be the racist in denial, who thinks that because he doesn’t use racial slurs and eats lunch with a black guy at work, he’s all good? He’s ultimately the most dangerous, because his racism is reflected in implicit bias but otherwise hidden, even from himself.

“Or will we be the racist in remission who knows good intentions are not enough, that he must consciously commit not simply to being non-racist, but actively anti-racist?

Can someone help me out here? It seems that, by definition, to take up arms against one’s government is treason. I guess that the confederacy wasn’t trying to overthrow the US, just secede from it. But still, why would we name our military bases for the generals that took up arms against us? And why, years later, would our own president be opposed to changing those names? He has already said that he doesn’t like losers and he like veterans who weren’t captured. You’d think he wouldn’t want to name a bunch of military bases for a bunch of losers, but by my count, 10 US military installations are named for confederate generals. Of those, 6 surrendered, 2 were killed in battle, and 2 were captured – they all sound like losers to me by the president’s definition.

As for the title, I owe a debt to Lou and Peter Berryman for “(Your state’s name here)”.

In Praise of Snot

The other day I heard Bill Bryson on NPR talking about his latest book. To paraphrase, he said that our bodies deal with cancer on a nearly daily basis. Usually we recognize mutated cells as invaders and destroy them before they cause damage. This is, of course, a completely unconscious process. Our bodies are way smarter than our conscious minds. (Imagine having to take responsibility for beating your heart every second, and still having enough consciousness left over to decide whether The Bachelorette was making a smart choice.) It is only on the rare occasions that those cells divide uncontrollably that we are faced with what we know as cancer.

That got me thinking about mucus. Over the years I have seen a lot of fad diets come and go. In the ’70s, the “mucusless diet” was a big thing. The theory, as I understood it, is that when we have a cold we have an excess of mucus and therefore mucus is bad. We have a stuffy and/or runny nose and we don’t want that. The next step was that certain foods cause us to produce mucus and we should avoid them. Among those “mucus-producing” foods were all dairy products. Being a Cheesehead, that was pretty hard to swallow. No 11 year old Cheddar? No Brie? And don’t get me started on the Velveeta on which I was raised.

What if that is bass-ackwards? What does mucus do? It forms a protective barrier. When we leave a dusty environment, we notice that we want to blow our nose. When we do so, we blow out some pretty disgusting-looking stuff – dusty mucus. The technical term for that is boogers. Our body makes mucus (snot) to line our mucous membranes. That snot ensnares toxins in the air we breathe – dust particles and god knows what else. It traps that gunk so we can get rid of it before it gets into our lungs and causes some real damage.

When we have a cold, that system gets overwhelmed. Something has gotten past the defense. Our body makes more mucus to try to repel the invaders. Too much, too late. That we have failed doesn’t mean the system is bad. Our body also has an inflammatory response. Sometimes it, too, is overwhelmed. At that point we suppress it with ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or steroids. Does that mean the system is bad? No, it just means that it sometimes overcompensates after its failures. (Sound familiar?)

Likewise, mucus is not bad. Mucus is a good thing. We need it every day. It is only when it is overwhelmed and tries to overcompensate for its failures that it becomes excessive.

Long live snot! (And eat cheese if you want to.)

Set the controls for the heart of the sun

sunI try to go on a January 1 ride every year. Sometimes it is just to a nearby coffee shop. This has been a warm December (after a cold November) so I thought about a longer ride. Just before Christmas it seemed like a great idea to tour the solar system for the New Year.

In 2009 the University of Wisconsin Space Place created a scale model of the solar system that one can tour by bicycle. They commissioned graphic artist Tsela Barr to design a sign for each planet and placed them to scale. Thus, Mercury is only a few feet from the sun and Pluto is 23 miles away via the Military Ridge State Trail. What better way to welcome the new year than to ride to Pluto and back?

The trail starts at the Monona Terrace Convention Center, which was conceived in 1938 Monona Terraceby Frank Lloyd Wright as a civic center on the lake. The idea was fought over for years, dying and being resurrected through the decades. In the 1970s, Madison was served by Mayor Paul Soglin, who decided to put an end to the fighting with a new proposal. He suggested taking the existing Capitol Theatre (a 1928 movie palace) and combining it with a former department store (Yost-Kessenich) and a few other storefronts to create a civic center away from the lake and closer to the state capitol. It worked and, in 1980 the Madison Civic Center was born.

Soglin took a hiatus in civilian life and returned to the mayor’s office in 1989. He decided the time was ripe and spearheaded the effort to build the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed civic center on the lake. It was repurposed as a convention center (since the city already had a civic center) and opened in 1997.

Meanwhile, the civic center was showing its age; the result of compromises and the fact that the Capitol Theatre was designed as a silent movie house. Along came a couple of wealthy philanthropists. Jerry Frautschi had made a fortune in the printing business (Democrat Printing Company, which became Webcrafters) and bankrolled his wife’s plan for a company that would make historically accurate dolls with a complex backstory supplied by a series of books. The Pleasant Company was born. When Pleasant Rowland sold the company to Mattel, the family had a few million dollars to spare and bequeathed the Overture Center to the city, a massive renovation of the civic center with a new, larger, and acoustically superior theatre where the department store had been. In 1997 the Frautschis pledged $50 million. Eventually that grew to over $200 million. Overture Hall opened in 2004 during Soglin’s second hiatus away from the mayor’s office.

In 2000, local singer/songwriters Lou and Peter Berryman wrote the song “Madison, Wisconsin”, with a chorus including:

“So how’s old Madison Wisconsin
Is that Paul Soglin still the mayor,
And is Rennebohm’s expanding,
The Club deWash still there?”

While the Club deWash burned down (under suspicious circumstances, but that would be another post) and Rennebohm’s was swallowed by Walgreen’s, Paul Soglin returned to the mayor’s office in 2011 and is still there today. While their songbook says the song is from 2000, I could have sworn they sang it when I heard them in San Francisco back around 1990.

Enough back story! Let’s ride!

New Year Ride

We rang out the old year in the usual fashion, with a potluck at the home of old friends Vic and Shel, followed by the (last) annual New Year’s Eve concert by Lou and Peter pieBerryman. Potlucks call for pies, so we made Chocolate Ancho Pecan Pies, from an Eldorado Grill recipe.

We had a surprising white Christmas when it snowed overnight on Christmas Eve. (Living on a narrow strip of land between two lakes, we often sing that old Irving Berlin favorite “I’m dreaming of a wide isthmus”.)

 

 

Back to rain and sleet and the snow was gone. New Year’s Eve started with rain, changed to sleet, and then to snow. This made for great riding today. I put the studded tires on my winter bike and abandoned the thought of riding the Bruce Gordon. Side roads and bike paths were solid ice. Without the studded tires I’d have spent much of the day picking myself up off the ground. With studs, it was like riding on clear pavement, except much prettier.

To get to the sun I first had to ride over the river and through the woods.River

As Lou and Peter told us:

“Up in Wisconsin, up in Wisconsinice fishing 2
The weather isn’t very nice.
Up in Wisconsin, up in Wisconsin
They gotta fish right through the ice.”

 

 

 

 

I rode to the sun and then started on my way out through the solar system in a winter wonderland. The heavy, wet snow on top of ice stuck to the trees. I had to photograph the planet signs from the leeward sides, as the windward sides were invisible under the snow.

 

 

A sticky disc brake piston made it harder and harder to reach escape velocity as I passed the larger planets. Finally, at Saturn, I used the gravitational force for the slingshot effect to launch me back toward Earth, after a brief vist to Titan.

                          

baklava

 

 

Cafe Domestique called to me, and an espresso and baklava were in order before returning home. Happy birthday to my baby sister, who has entered the decade in which Officially Old begins – she’s not That yet. Since she was born on January 1, too late for a 1958 tax deduction, our father called her “Pokey” as a child.

Getting paid to ride

We tend to romanticize getting paid to do something, despite the fact that “amateur” comes from the Latin root “amare”, “to love”.

Bicycling is no different, with movies such as Quicksilver, with Kevin Bacon starring as a stockbroker-turned- bike messenger. (Or my personal favorite, Major Bedhead the unicycle courier from the Canadian children’s TV show “The Big Comfy Couch“.)

I guess I was a professional bicyclist a long time ago, without thinking about it. When I was 12 I began delivering newspapers by bike. Like mail carriers, “neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night stayed [me] from the swift completion of [my] appointed rounds”.

There was one day when it was too icy to ride my bike and I streetskateskated my “appointed rounds” and there were a few days when it was colder than -20 degrees, which entitled me to a ride in a car according to house rules. Otherwise, I rode 364 days per year (no newspaper on Christmas in those days).  When it was a little less cold, my eyelashes would freeze and clink when I blinked. The lenses of my glasses would fog, then freeze, and I’d have to take off a mitten to scrape the ice off with a fingernail. For those who doubt it was really that cold, I offer this:

On the other hand, there were beautifGlenn-Shil-webul summer days when it was not yet hot, though you knew it would get that way. The lake was like glass and I dreamed of what it would be like to be skiing as the sun rose. (I suspect those who lived on the lake would not have appreciated it in the same way.)

At 5 AM, the only people out on the streets were the newspaper carriers and the milkman. Milk was delivered to our house every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Bread was delivered Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The “Omar Man” had a handy carrying rack for bread. It was cleverly designed with an upper rack for breads and a lower rack that cantilevered out with pastries. It was right at eye level for little kids so we could beg mom for pastries, which we could never afford. He never gave up.

I did my best thinking when I was out early in the morning on my bike. I wished for a portable tape recorder and a microphone mounted on my handlebars so I could record my thoughts as I rode. Alas, my best thoughts are lost to the world. I would probably be a famous inventor now, retired and living on my royalties, had I been able to record those ideas – or at least that’s what my 12 year old self thought.

I spent some time as a bicycle traveling salesman. When I was in Cub Scouts we had an annual candy sale to raise money. My dad encouraged me to venture farther from home to hit territories other kids wouldn’t get to. When I was 9 he dropped me and my bike at an apartment complex 6 miles from home and told me to hit all 216 apartments, then ride home. I found my way home (without a trail of bread crumbs) and won a prize for the most sales.

Now I am an amateur – unless you readers want to pay me for this ride.