Sunday, August 31, 2008

When It Comes to Doing Its Job, CNBC Won't Drill

From what little I've seen of what passes for news journalism on TV, I'd already been unimpressed. But I was still shocked by what I saw on Meet the Press today.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain's choice for his running mate, was the topic of the segment I saw. Maria Bartiromo came on to talk about her interview with Gov. Palin, which was to be aired on her show after Meet the Press. Ms Bartiromo didn't report the news. Instead, she gave us her opinions. Ms Bartiromo said,
I think the biggest value [Gov. Palin] brings to the ticket is her expertise in energy. This is her comfort zone. She made a very compelling case to me that the area that we're talking about that is being debated about whether or not to drill, ANWR, as you mentioned, is 2000 acres in a 20,000,000-acre plain. This is her comfort zone. This is really what she's overseeing. Alaska is one of the few oil-rich areas we have in this country alone....So this is a very, very important piece of the picture and I think she brings great value there, making the point that it is a small swath of land and it really will not impact the wildlife, as of course is the concern, because we've got caribou and bears and moose there, and the upset or the worry is that it's going to impact the breeding of the wildlife. She feels very strongly that that is not the case. And I think that that knowledge of energy is going to be very important for the McCain ticket.

When Tom Brokaw asked Ms Bartiromo about Gov. Palin's expertise in other economic issues “of the day” besides energy, such as the liquidity crisis, she replied, "I don't think that she's necessarily well versed in the liquidity crunch, but I think she came across so strong with regard to economic matters as they relate to energy and as they relate to overall economic growth." She sounded like a high school sophomore trying to make an argument, deflecting a question that she saw as a threat to her case that "it was a very savvy pick, actually."

There's a lot of talk of balance in the news, with people on the left decrying the "MSM" for being corporate shills too afraid of Bush to report the real news, and people on the right slamming the media for being "liberal." But it's worse than that.

I know I’m not saying anything original here, but it bears repeating: the problem is that so much of the "news" is not really news at all. When people talk about "balance" they're talking about providing balanced opinions. I don't want balanced opinions – I want the damn news!

Ms Bartiromo, in this case, did not describe for us Gov. Palin's energy expertise; had not done an ounce of research about ANWR in order to be able to provide more information and context on the controversy when it came up, or to do more than lob softballs at the Governor; and did not describe other people's assessments of Gov. Palin's expertise in economic and energy issues. Instead, Ms Bartiromo gave us her opinions based on what appeared to be a Barbara Walters-like interview. What I learned from Ms Bartiromo is that she thinks that Gov. Palin has energy and economic expertise – I did not learn anything about Gov. Palin's expertise.


It can be argued that I should accept Ms Bartiromo’s assessment of Gov. Palin’s expertise. She is, after all, host of CNBC’s The Wall Street Journal Report, and she did interview the Governor. Well, I watched the interview (see the clip below – unfortunately I couldn't find the entire interview online), and still learned nothing. Actually, that’s not true; I did learn that Gov. Palin seems to think that we’re in Iraq for oil – and here I’d thought that only some anti-war protestors said that!

Gov. Palin said that there’s really nothing remarkable about ANWR, repeating the pro-drilling argument that, since it’s not on postcards, ANWR can’t possibly be ecologically significant. She also said that the proposed drilling site, the "1002 area," is only 2000 acres, analogous to a postage stamp on a football field. Ms Bartiromo didn’t ask about any of the anti-drilling responses to the Governor’s arguments: nothing about the coastal plain being extremely narrow (15–40 miles), or about the porcupine caribou’s extreme sensitivity to disturbance and its avoidance of roads and other human activity by up to a mile. Ms Bartiromo did not point out that it wasn’t a bunch of Democrats who assessed the 1002 area’s ecological value as "high" and concluded that development impacts would be "significant," but rather the Biological Research Division of the USGS. Nor did Ms Bartiromo ask Gov. Palin about the argument that the fruits of any drilling work in ANWR would not come to be in other 20–30 years, or that the impact of the estimated amount of oil there would have no significant impact on the global supply – and therefore the price – of oil.

From what I’ve read about ANWR, I do fall on the anti-drilling side; I am therefore always eager to hear good, well-reasoned arguments supporting drilling. I did not hear them from Gov. Palin. Instead, her arguments were very simplistic, and have already been addressed again and again. For this reason, I need more than Ms Bartiromo's opinions about Gov. Palin's expertise.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Responding to Distortions About Obama

In his piece on Newsweek’s website, “The Other Side of the Story: Rebutting Sean Wilentz on Barack Obama,” Charles Kaiser (full disclosure: my wife's uncle) explodes the kind of lazy – and often dishonest – criticisms of Obama that have been so prevalent these past two years. He calls out Wilentz for having written "a thinly disguised hatchet-job," and says, in part, that
Wilentz reinforces the canard that Obama's campaign is short on specifics, charging that his rhetoric amounts "chiefly to promising a dramatic break with the status quo"—and arguing that "millions of other Democrats still find his appeals wispy and unconvincing." The truth is, Obama has detailed positions on everything from Iraq and Afghanistan to universal health care and tax reduction—as was made clear by the cover story in the The New York Times magazine last Sunday dissecting his economic program. The Times concluded that of the two major candidates, Obama would be the real "tax cutter" for most Americans—except for the ones making an average of $9.1 million. That group would get a tax cut of $190,000 a year, from John McCain, versus a tax increase of $800,000 a year from Obama. So much for a lack of specifics.
I highlight this paragraph in particular because one of the biggest pieces of "received wisdom" of all this campaign season is that Obama is vague and lacks substance.

Some of Kaiser's arguments include references to other pieces that are also worth reading – esp. Ryan Lizza’s piece in The New Yorker last month, “Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama.” Lizza shows Obama to have sharp elbows and to be incredibly politically tough and astute.


I have some beefs with Obama myself – his FISA vote among them – but to say that he’s radical, vague and touchy-feely, a tax-and-spender, &c., is to betray willful ignorance. There, I said it.

When friends of mine – people I deeply admire – mock Obama for being an empty suit, throw up their hands and complain that the man is not perfect, or earnestly say they're thinking of voting for McCain, I can only smile uncomfortably. Maybe it's more of a wince?

Even Obama's oratory, which is continually criticized for – get this – being too good, is sloughed off as vague. But anyone who actually listens to an entire speech – i.e., beyond the stuff played in clips the next day – will hear a display of a depth and breadth of knowledge and ideas that completely blow John "You Say 'Sunni,' I say 'Shiite' – Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" McCain out of the water. I'm as sick of hearing Obama's hackneyed "from the shores of [insert name of one state here] to the fields of [insert name of another state here]" lines as the next guy, but listen to a whole Obama speech or "town hall"-style forum, and then tell me that he lacks substance, specifics, or depth.

If you have any doubt about Obama, I encourage you to check these out and/or forward them:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summer Streets

Summer Streets, New York’s seven-mile road closure (or “opening”) on three consecutive Saturdays from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., is over. The City DOT will presumably now compile and analyze all sorts of the data to ascertain the program’s success. The biggest question to answer, and the one that has been most publicized, is this: were businesses hurt, as some had predicted, or did they experience no change or actually benefit? Other questions come to mind as well: did Summer Streets function as planned? What opportunities presented themselves that had not been considered beforehand? What problems? Did potential partnerships present themselves? What potential revenue generators are there? And what potential cost-cutting measures?

My wife and I missed the first two weekends of Summer Streets, but we made it out this past Saturday, the last day, starting at the Brooklyn Bridge and heading north. Unfortunately, our time was limited, so we only got as far as 32nd Street or so. But what we did see was very thought-provoking. It was a novel experience for New Yorkers (and tourists), many of whom looked almost like characters at the end of a weather disaster film, when people emerge from their homes, a little disoriented, to watch the storm retreat into the distance. Their faces convey deep relief and a renewed sense of hope, but also weariness, and a little confusion as to what to do next.

Sight, Hearing, and Smell
I hadn’t expected the sensory experience of Summer Streets – it was powerful. I noticed different sensory inputs in succession. First, I was giddy at the sight of a major road taken over by people walking, running, and riding. Then, after several blocks, I noticed how wonderfully, peacefully quiet it was – the loudest noises came from the air conditioning systems of the buildings aligning the route. But the most pervasive sounds were those of footfalls, the various workings of bicycles, and people talking.

Then, much later, it hit me that the air was…well, clean; as a regular New York City bicycle commuter, I’d become used to the near-constant exhaust of cars, buses, and trucks along my route between home and my office. So it was a pleasant surprise to be able to breathe deeply and easily.

The Value of Ambiguity and the Problems of Uninsurable Guarantees
I would personally have liked to see more ambiguity and more mixing of uses. The reason for this is that I think that trying to limit ambiguity actually creates more confusion: no one can follow the rules perfectly 100% of the time, and, of those who are following the rules at any given time, many cannot or will not account for the errors on their part or on the part of others. I think this can end up making for more unsafe conditions. In an obviously ambiguous environment people know instinctively what to do: slow down and pay attention.

(Again, I would push ambiguity only in a limited number of specific situations. Also, the degree of desired ambiguity depends on the overall goals.)

To explain my point I’ll take, for comparison, an environment in which the dominance of a user group is absolutely clear and perfectly manageable: a motor-vehicle tunnel. In this setting people – motorists, in this case – are guaranteed not to encounter other people, say, walking in a lane (I’m sure there are some exceptions to this, but they are aberrant and rare). But in an environment where there isn’t absolute control and clarity as to which user group or activity dominates, providing someone with a guarantee of her complete, unquestioned dominance of a space is tricky. If that guarantee cannot be backed up it provides only an illusion of safety, sometimes leading that person to be less observant and more prone to error.

I’m not sure how to add more ambiguity to the mix in the Summer Streets program, and I know that there must be hundreds of considerations of which I’m unaware. One such consideration maybe the setup and breakdown of stages and other event infrastructure: imagine if one were to propose setting up the mini-events – the classes, &c. – closer to or even partially jutting into the main Summer Streets drag. The small window of time the organizers are allowed to set up and break down would not allow this – hence the locations on side streets, which are easier to block for a longer period of time.

A Series of Events? Or a Thoroughfare?
Another possible result of the illusion of safety appears to be anger: when people’s dominance is suddenly put into doubt, they get pretty pissed off. Case in point: when we saw a tennis class for little kids on a side street, my wife and I slowed down gradually to watch. We were blocking about half a lane, and the road wasn’t crowded at that point. After about half a minute, someone tore by and yelled, “Not a good place to stop!” I replied, “Yeah, relax, buddy”; I wish I’d remembered my standby for people who seem to think they’re racing in the Tour de France – “We love you, Lance!” My wife and I had thought that a big part of Summer Streets was the ability to wander, stop once in a while, observe, participate, &c. Clearly, “Lance” didn’t agree with that notion.

The tennis workshop was an example of intermittent punctuations along the thoroughfare by small concerts, classes, and demonstrations of various activities and sports. I was struck by how stark – through the use of signage, cones, physical separation, and marshals – was the distinction between riding and running on one hand, and, on the other, the events.

I’d be very interested to see the data on any user conflicts, whether or not they resulted in accidents. I’d be even more interested in seeing how those data were gathered and interpreted. Sometimes the most valuable information can be anecdotal – for instance, if someone observed the “tennis for tots” area for an hour or so, taking notes and video, she could greatly inform how such areas are planned in the future.

Chute Alors!
A “chute” mentality seemed to take hold of most riders. Instead of watching out for people crossing and ceding way to them, the majority of riders rode through, encouraged by cones and the closures of (most) cross streets to cars to think that they had the supreme right of way, and that they didn’t have to look out for anyone else. It was very easy to behave in this way; it wasn’t until after we turned around that my wife and I realized that there were people at every intersection waiting to cross.

“Nature Abhors a Vacuum”: Summer Streets for Recreation, or More?
When we turned onto Centre Street upon arrival in Manhattan from Brooklyn, it was immediately apparent how similar Summer Streets was to a recreational trail for biking and running. Later, as my wife and I rode our bicycles back to Brooklyn, she said that she bet that there were no fewer runners and cyclists on the bikeway along West Street that day than any other. “Nature abhors a vacuum,” she said, as a metaphor – if a recreational resource opens up for use, people will fill it and use it.

I don’t know how far Summer Streets was supposed to go beyond “active” recreational use (I hate the term, but I see no alternative here, and I use it to mean running and bicycling). There’s certainly evidence that this was the primary focus, but, either way, the program will no doubt develop over time. I think that, in future editions, the program could use more events and activities along the way. For instance, a variation on some business improvement districts’ (BIDs) “taste of” events (such as Times Square Alliance's). Also, over the years, through careful tweaks in timing and through patient work with business owners and other stakeholders, the initiative may even lead to New Yorkers (and visitors) re-conceiving the city’s streets and thinking about transportation in a different way.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"I Had to Finish the Race"

The men's and women's 4 x 100m relay teams' baton hand-off whiffs today at the Olympic Stadium in Beijing will be hard for the athletes and USA Track & Field to live down.

Lauryn Williams (left) and Torri Edwards (right) dropping the baton in their 4 x 100m relay heat (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko).

Darvis "Doc" Patton and Lauryn Williams – the latter of whom suffered the same fate in Athens four years ago – both made extremely candid, mature, and gracious remarks in their interviews immediately after their respective heats. Their successful struggles to maintain their composure were heartbreaking to watch.

It's very, very, very difficult to carry a coherent conversation immediately after a disappointing performance at the Olympic Games, when what you're actually thinking is "AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!!" and you're nearly overcome with a desire to bash your own brains out against a concrete wall. To most viewers, it may be hard to understand just why an athlete looks to be on the verge of tears – after all, there are worse things in life than to be so privileged as even to be at the Games, right?

But imagine having spent, say, 12 years working your ass off on something – something that has required 100% of your focus to the detriment of all else in your life. And it's not just that you have to excel at the day-to-day training – you also have to avoid illness, boredom, mental burnout, injury, distractions, fatigue, self-doubt, poor nutrition, and 1000 other threats, big and small, to your place ahead of the hundreds of other people nipping at your heels to take your place. Now, add the 80,000 live spectators, the 1 billion television viewers, and the butterflies in your stomach that feel more like monkeys on speed. You literally lose a little control of your bladder at the starting line.

Just to get to this point, you've had to treat your effort with a sense of purpose extreme enough enough to require an elevated level of narcissism and self-seriousness. And this perhaps hasn't escaped your notice, causing moments of doubt along the way about what you're doing with your life.

Now, having done everything to a T, you get out there and things just don't go the way they were supposed to. What's your reaction? "AAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!!"

In the women's race, while the rest of the field went on to finish, Ms Williams turned back to pick up the baton, and she booked it to the finish line. Talk about an "Olympic moment," the kind of thing that will go down in history. Again: you've worked all those years for this, and, come hell or high water, you are going to get across that damn finish line.

When NBC later asked her about this after her heat, Ms Williams said, simply and emphatically, in a way that revealed her passion and determination, "I had to finish the race."

Guns, the Web, and Hopeless Naïveté

Today I intended to write about the excellent documentary about conscientious objectors, Soldiers of Conscience – which my brother co-edited – and some of the concepts therein. Okay, I admit it, I was going to engage shamelessly in promotion of a beloved family member, and glory in my association with him.

But I won't write about conscientious objection today – I hope to another time. Here's why: A couple days after the June 26, 2008, Supreme Court ruling on District of Columbia v. Heller, I looked up the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution on Wikipedia:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
I was amazed to learn that, in the summer of 1789, the language that was to become the Second Amendment, when first brought to the floor of the House of Representatives, included verbiage protecting conscientious objection:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
When I watched Soldiers of Conscience, I mentioned this history to my brother. A few days ago, he told me that he hadn't found the reference to conscientious objectors in the Wikipedia entry on the Second Amendment. So this morning I logged onto Wikipedia to find the language – partly to point it out to him and partly to feed into my intended post today.

I found that the entry had been changed, in a small but extremely significant way. The first sentence now reads as follows: "The Second Amendment (Amendment II) to the United States Constitution is a part of the United States Bill of Rights that protects the pre-existing individual right to possess and carry weapons (i.e. 'keep and bear arms') in case of confrontation" (emphasis and links in the original). A footnote simply quoting the majority opinion in the Supreme Court's ruling on District of Columbia v. Heller is provided to back up this statement.

Um, exsqueeze me?

I couldn't resist writing about this, and dropping conscientious objection as today's topic (sorry O Beloved Brother Who Co-Edited Soldiers of Conscience, which, by the way, I highly recommend to all three of my readers). At first I thought, "well, maybe, when the Supreme Court rules on something, it just kind of becomes an incontrovertible fact...?" Then I snapped out of it. I mean, the Constitution is a living document, and this is the Second Amendment we're talking about. When you look up the Fourteenth Amendment on Wikipedia, the Due Process Clause is not described as protecting a woman's right to an abortion. Instead, the Clause "has been the basis of much important and controversial case law regarding privacy rights, abortion...and other issues."

And "pre-existing"? Click on that "pre-existing" link in the quotation above, and see where it takes you. Okay, fine, I'll do it for you – sigh... That link takes you to the Wikipedia entry for "natural right," which is defined as "the concept of a universal right inherent in the nature of living beings, one that is not contingent upon laws or beliefs" (link in the original).

I personally don’t have a problem with gun ownership – I am forever grateful to an uncle who taught me and the rest of us kids how to handle and shoot guns, and how to be safe about it. My problem is with criminals’ easy access to guns, and I don’t understand why, in many states, it’s easier to own a gun than to own a car. In other words, I think gun ownership should be better regulated. And while I'm no Constitutional scholar (I don't even play one on TV), I just can't understand how the Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment the way it did in June.

But here's the thing: let's put aside, for a moment, our disagreements about gun ownership and any Constitutional protection thereof. Can we agree that controversy surrounds the idea that the Constitution protects our right to own and carry guns? To say otherwise is to make a meta-argument in favor of a Constitutional right to own guns; put another way, it's equivalent to pretending to step outside of the debate while still engaging in it. This is a powerful (and sneaky) way of getting your point across.

Now here's where the "hopeless naïveté" comes in: I had known that Wikipedia is "written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world," and I had known about pranks and about some "volunteers" essentially arguing with each other – thereby distorting their debates, to our detriment – by replacing one another's entries. But I hadn't really paid close attention to Wikipedia, and I had assumed that the pranks and the distortions only happened with some relatively unimportant topics. I mean, wouldn't Wikipedia be reliable on the big issues through focused management of its entries on those issues? And wouldn't each of these issues to be assigned to, say, a select, well-informed, diverse, and small group of people with exclusive editing access who make changes to their entries only through consensus?

A lot has been written about the dangers of readily available, false information that people accept without question, and how Web technology is so powerful in this regard. But, to paraphrase the NRA party line, "the Web doesn't misinform people – people do." And I would add that people allow themselves to be misinformed. (Thankfully, the NRA doesn't say, "Guns don't kill people – people do. And, oh, by the way, the victims allow themselves to get killed.")

Granted, the Web is extremely powerful, thanks to how easy it is to use. Anyone who's used a card catalogue knows this. But it's just a medium, and there are, there always have been, and there always will be other media available to cynical and short-sighted people who wish to disseminate false information – and to those poor souls who readily accept false information as fact.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Scraper Bike!

I'm pretty late to post this video from April by East Oakland's Trunk Boiz, but I had to share it. A good friend on the Left Coast sent it to me, introducing it as "some bike culture that isn't totally stale."

Urban Dictionary – upon which, I am distressed to admit, I am increasingly dependent to understand much of anything as I suffer the indignities of Time (I know, woe is me) – defines scraper bikes as "A new trend that is a part of the San Francisco Bay Area Hyphy Movement [OkoMisc Note: Uh, "Movement"? Not to put it down, but I'm not sure this qualifies as a Movement] in which people ride their tricked out bikes and go stupid, dumb, retarded while on their bikes. Generally, the bikes have nice designs, such as duo-tone paint jobs, and rims or spinners. The term was coined by the rap group Trunk Boiz of Oakland, California."

I love this video. For one thing, it's so unusual to see an SUV sit in the background, completely irrelevant to the action – rather than play a glorified role and serve as a status symbol – while a bunch of guys wax poetic about their tricked-out bikes. For another, those things are functional! Check out the trike's rear box, and the baskets on some of the other bikes.

And then there's the whole "hyphy" thing. While I may not call it a "Movement" – and while I can't say I know much about it beyond what I've gleaned from Urban Dictionary – I'll sign on to not taking ourselves too seriously any day of the week.

Monday, August 18, 2008

One Less Car. Screw the Rest of You!

The weather forecast this morning called for a hot, humid day, so I decided to wear a T-shirt for my bike ride to work. I coast as much as possible to avoid over-heating when it's warm, and I actually end up sweating less on my bike than I do riding the subway; just standing on the platform makes me feel like the baby wearing the diaper that leaks in those old Huggies commercials.

I grabbed the most accessible T-shirt, which turned out to be my new Transportation Alternatives shirt. It's beautifully designed: it's white, with TransAlt's new logo (designed by Milton Glaser, the great graphic designer of "I [Heart] NY" fame) on the side. On the back, in huge, all-caps text, it reads, "ONE LESS CAR."

I put on the shirt, and was putzing around the apartment getting ready to go, when my brother, who's visiting from California with his wife, joked, "Why don't you just wear a shirt that says, 'FUCK ALL OF YOU DRIVERS'?" I laughed and joked back that I'd like one that said, "ONE FEWER CAR" – typical humor in our family.

When I rolled down my street I thought about my brother's joke, and figured that I might as well wear a target on my back. I'd had this shirt for just a few weeks, and loved it – the design is great, and I agree with the message. But I realized that I would prefer a shirt that used humor rather than what can be interpreted as sanctimony and even hostility. On one hand, motorists in New York should be happy that I'm not driving – I'm not adding to the congestion that they experience on a daily basis.

On the other hand, if I saw a shirt that said, "ONE LESS ATHEIST," I'd interpret it as judgmental and holier than thou, and wouldn't feel at all compelled to see the Light and become a believer. Sanctimony doesn't work. Plus, I hadn't owned a car anyway (well, I did for a year, when I was rowing in Pelham at 5:30 a.m. each day, until last summer), so it's not like I used to drive, but then the clouds parted and I heard a chorus of angels, and then changed my ways. The shirt would be more accurate if it read, "ONE LESS SUBWAY RIDER."

A few other reasons the shirt doesn't make sense for me. First – or rather, third – I ride my bike to work because I like to: I feel more awake when I get to work (I like to think this is due to the exercise, not from the adrenaline that comes with looking Death in the eye); I love being outside; and I'm much more physically comfortable biking than riding the subway (the same can be said of motorists in their cars, by the way).

Fourth, what about all the transit riders? As I waited at an intersection this morning for pedestrians to cross in front of me, other cyclists whizzed through them like they were so many gnats. I shrunk at the sight, hoping no one would associate me with those cyclists ( – but, oh yeah, I was wearing a target on my back!), and I reflected on the sanctimony in the bicycling community that I think justifies the "I wait for no one and no thing" attitude. What a way to make friends! Anyway, most of those pedestrians were walking to or from bus stops or subway stations – each of those transit riders is "ONE LESS CAR" too. Do any of those people commute to and from work in righteous indignation?

Believe me, I know that riding a bike in New York City will make the most patient, kind person into a raving, indignant jerk. Bicycling really should be a viable option in New York – it's relatively flat, the weather is pretty good most of the year, and the distances between most destinations in our daily lives here are fairly short. New York as it could/should be, juxtaposed with New York as it is (despite the vast improvements thanks to TransAlt and the current Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan), makes cyclists pretty angry.

Bicycling is a fantastic mode of transportation: it's clean, good for our health, quiet, and space-efficient. And yet a short ride in New York will very quickly tell you what New York thinks of you and your stupid bike. You feel like a cornered rat, giving proof to the obverse of Jan Gehl's somewhat-broken-English remark that "if you love people, they love you back": if a city, through the manner in which it builds and manages its streets, shows people no respect, they will, in turn, show that city and its laws – as well as other people – no respect.

I've ridden in righteous indignation myself, and I'm sure I will again, in weaker moments. But if we cyclists want to improve our reputation in this community, and therefore contribute to lasting change, we must rise above the dangers and slights we experience almost every day and not treat others as we do not want to be treated. So no rudeness, no riding through people as if they're a cloud of gnats, and no sanctimony and righteous indignation.

About 20 minutes into my commute this morning, on Third Avenue in Manhattan, I ran into a friend from college. He was walking his wife to work with their kids – they run a business together. We were chatting when my friend noticed the logo on the side of my shirt. I turned around to show the back, and mentioned my brother's joke. They both laughed, and my friend's wife said, "Yeah, why stop there? Why not just, 'FUCK ALL OF YOU'?"


This all reminded me of my old Mao fetish, which started with some old posters my grandmother had bought in China in the 70s that I hung for a few years in the 90s. The posters show Mao, looking to be about seven feet tall, striding through factories and fields, with eager, fawning peasants and workers walking alongside and behind him – some of them literally walking bent over and grinning, like in some old Western, racist depiction of "Chinamen"! – so proud of their work and so grateful to him for his magnanimity and wisdom. When I was in China in 2001, I bought a T-shirt that likened Mao to the sun – red and yellow rays emanated from his floating head as he wore that Mona Lisa smile. (I also bought a Mao watch that worked for about two days.)

After a year or two of owning this shirt, I realized that I might as well wear a Hitler or Stalin shirt ( – yeah, it took me that long). Wouldn't that be kitschy and cute? So witty, hip, and tongue in cheek! Mao, a deranged megalomaniac, who was carried on a litter during the Long March, and, later, as dictator, killed millions of people? Ha! What a doozy!

I promptly threw out the Mao shirt. (The posters had already been stashed – my wife never liked them – and an uncle has since taken them.)


This afternoon, on my ride home, I'll just wear my undershirt. I love my "ONE LESS CAR" shirt, but I think I'll give it away to someone who doesn't over-think everything or take his older brother's jokes so much to heart. As much as I admire TransAlt, my desire not to risk being viewed as hostile trumps my desire to broadcast my love for bikes. Besides, I'm not so much anti-car as I am pro-bike.

If I ever get the inclination to make my own pro-bike shirt, I'd like to use something gentler and more humorous, like "THIS, TOO, COULD BE YOU!" with a retro drawing of a guy on a bike flashing a toothy grin and winking. Kind of like, "if you lived here, you'd be home now." What do you think? Let me know. Also, please write in with other ideas. If I like your idea the best, I'll print up two T-shirts – one for me and one for you. And we'll both know that there's at least one other person out there who waits at intersections while people walk across the street – and that that person is just happy to be outside on a bicycle.