City Biking

February 27th, 2009

A friend asked:

“I’ve been meaning to ask to you, what’s it like to bike in Manhattan? Round here in the sticks, we’ve got dedicated bike lanes, no pedestrians to speak of, and as much medium-long distance road biking as one could ask for… but biking in the world’s greatest city… how does one deal with the crowds, cars, and frequent stop lights? (Please forgive my ignorance if NYC has bike lanes.)”

I have horrendously mixed feelings about NYC biking. I commute nearly every day year round; if we didn’t have world-class public transportation and I didn’t have a job where I can work from home whenever I feel like it, I would be riding every day. Chicago biking was way better than NY biking in every detail (unless you get bored with flatness).

We do have bike lanes, although they are universally and enthusiastically adopted as double-parking lanes. Just a couple of hours ago I was riding down the 2nd Avenue bike lane in Manhattan, and in the middle of the block a slow-moving taxicab started to turn sharply into me and the bike lane. I used the alert system I’ve been trying out lately — screaming a terrible, bloody-murder scream at the top of my lungs. This stopped him, and he actually screamed a terrible bloody murder scream back at me, which made me laugh and buoyed my mood all the way to the Manhattan Bridge.

When I was living in Oxford, every now and then I would put my bike on the bus to London (and once I rode to London from Oxford) and ride around there. Riding in London — even outside the congestion-charge zones — was ridiculously, profoundly peaceful compared to NYC. I thought I might as well be in quiet parts of 1990s Denver or anywhere else.

You ask specifically: crowds? One avoids them, which means avoiding Times Square and Soho on weekends; if you have to go a route that might take you through Times Square (Broadway is generally convenient for this) you might try 9th Avenue instead, or you might just suck it up and take Broadway and stay with the cars to deal with the annoying clumps at 42nd and 34th. Ha, on Thursday (after I started writing this) it came out that Bloomberg is planning to try closing Broadway to cars around those places: sounds good to me.

Cars? You’re generally going faster than them anyway. I have no compunction about taking as much of a car-traffic lane as I need to feel safe: if they’re honking at you, you know for sure that they see you. You need to be assertive and go in a straight line, and stay far enough away from the parked cars to keep from being doored. This means that usually in a bike lane I’m nearly in the car lane anyway.

I have been doored, in 2006, creeping up between a parked car and a taxi that I didn’t notice was discharging its passengers. Got an edge-of-door shaped bruise down my thigh, and some scrapes.

I have been caught between a parked car and a big white box truck that was moving, I think in 2005. That was fucking scary. My handlebars — already a too-narrow-for-me 36cm — got hooked on some piece of the rear of the truck, which steered me to the left into the parked car, then pushed the handlebar into the car, then kept turning the handlebars, which pushed my wheel against the car, ultimately bending it like a taco, but freeing up enough room for the truck (oblivious) to unhook my handlebars and let me stop getting pulled along by it. The wheel wasn’t salvageable, but I was intact. Pedestrians stopped to help me make sure I was okay, and it was in Manhattan so it wasn’t far from a mediocre bike shop, where I got the crappy front wheel that I still ride today — pretty sadly out of true, though after an emergency swap in of a very fancy wheel of Sara’s, I might at least try to true it.

Those experiences have taught me some valuable caution around the range of possible encounters with cars. My comfort zone for speed of creeping along stopped traffic, for the door zone in general, and for passing between two vehicles, has gotten much larger. These are crucial city-biking senses, and I’m glad I learned them before I damaged my brain stem. I think they will serve me well, but that assumes that driver behavior is consistent in different places, and my experiences as a driver have shown me that it isn’t necessarily. I think for my purposes it should be.

Stop lights? Essentially one treats them as ‘Yield’ signs. I am more cautious than many cyclists I see, but more flagrant than some. The “no cop, no stop” rule is a decent rule of thumb, but Brooklyn especially is full of maniac drivers who can appear out of nowhere at very high speed, or who don’t turn on their headlights in full darkness, so a more nuanced, cautious mode of law-scoffing is in order.

There are some nice rides available not too far from the city, but you have to ride through awfulness to get to most of them. I haven’t had a particularly nice city ride since Chicago.

The only places I’ve encountered real psychopaths were both north of Oxford. Once I walked my bike in front of a guy who was second in line at a roundabout, and for some reason he honked at me. With my NYC reflexes I gave him the finger. This inspired him — with his 6 year-old son in the backseat — to chase me (riding now) down Banbury Road, trying to hit me with his car. I got up on the sidewalk, and still through several intersections he would gun his engine and turn abruptly into the cross street to try to hit me. Still, on a bike you’re faster than a car, so I lost him in traffic even in his murderous rage. The other time was not car-related, but a good vignette: a maybe-20-year-old guy on a lovely rural path who was majorly freaking out and being restrained by two friends. As I approached I slowed and started to ask the friends “do you want me to call the police?” He broke free of his friends and started full-out sprinting toward me. In like PCP-grade monster mode. I was on the big chainring, and so my acceleration — panicked, now adrenaline-augmented — was nightmarishly slow at first. At one point he was maybe three feet from me, but after that I was going fast enough to outpace him and, once I was far enough away to feel relief, laugh diabolically at him. By the time I rounded a corner about 50 yards from him, he had slowed. I didn’t call the police, but I did twitter about it.

But that didn’t happen in a city, it happened in the sticks. The two points being 1) that British people have a pretty limitless capacity for random psychotic destructiveness, under the right circumstances, and 2) that nothing like this has ever happened to me in New York. Although NY has its share of horror stories: this just this month and this unforgettable one from 2004: “Woman Struck by 3 Hit and Runs, Police Say”.

Which is why you ride in a straight line, take the lane, keep freshly-charged batteries in your bright lights, and even wear a big yellow Browne Belt at night, because as dorky as it looks, you will always look more fashionable alive and in motion than dead and dragged 17 miles across two boroughs.

But you keep riding, because it’s fun and smart and fast and physiologically imperative. And because sometimes you get out of New York and find lovely back roads that you could ride for weeks, and you need your saddle-area to be in shape to ride for that long.


Anno Del Pannolone per Adulti Depend

September 14th, 2008

All I’m going to say about it is — well, we’ll see if this is all I’m going to say about it or not, but — in 2002 I bought the Italian translation of Infinite Jest, because I’d wanted to reread it since my first time in 1996. Despite the pleasure that IJ always gave me, even in small doses, the time investment of a full re-read always seemed like too much to commit to. So I bought it in Italian instead, thinking that I could kill several birds with one stone: read 1400 pages of Italian as practice and to familiarize myself with idiomatic constructions; reread the great book; and find out how anyone could translate this most English work into another language. No other writer mined the English lexicon like David Foster Wallace did; his use of the insane, particolored variety of English words was one of the crucial, right-place-right-time exposures that compelled me into lexicography. How could it possibly be Italianed, or Frenched or Russianed or anything else?

It’s hard for me to say. Whatever my precise level of Italian was or is, and whatever the quality of Edoardo Nesi’s translation — I’m inclined to say it is very good — the power of DFW’s voice was such that, after pages and pages of reading Italian, it was always the English version, remembered from 10 years previous (by the time I got around to starting it in 2006), that I was reading, even as the Italian words were what my eyes were scanning. All of the quirks, inventions and exploitations of DFW’s English had stamped themselves on my brain, permanently; the idioms were not Italian nor even English but just Wallacian. IJ may be translateable, I don’t know: but once it made its mark on me, it couldn’t be undone, and I’m glad I read it when I did. And I’m sad that I apparently won’t get to read his book about Parmenides, truly the awesomest and most mind-bending of the pre-Socratics.


Give

September 9th, 2008

https://donate.barackobama.com/

All this week, people — my mother, my friends — have been asking me “what are we going to do about Sarah Palin? Aren’t you worried about Sarah Palin?” I’m not sure why they ask me in particular, except that they’re looking for comfort, and they’ve probably learned that I’m an old hand at comforting the afflicted.

I found myself afflicted this morning by this NYT article about Obama campaign donations coming in below expectations.

My comforting things about Palin usually focus on how she’s a distraction of exactly the sort that the Obama campaign has been warning us against for months. Presidential campaigns are about the presidential candidates, and no one ever said “What are we going to do about Cheney [in his capacity as a VP candidate]” or “Woohoo he picked Bentsen, now we’re home free!” Palin is a military-grade distraction bomb, detonated at just the right time to demoralize and instill doubt. But she is not the end of the story. She is a polarizing flashpoint, a crusader who is only effective at converting the already-faithful; she will surely help the evangelical turnout, but no one who supported Hillary Clinton’s because of her lifetime of public service and real support of women’s rights — sorry, make that “human rights” — will consider Palin to be a reasonable surrogate.

Remember that the Obama campaign is doing a huge, historic voter-registration drive in all 50 states, something no one has ever tried in my short, GOP-dominated lifetime; Republican operatives, on the other hand, are well known for dirty-trick campaigns to suppress voter turnout.

Obama needs our support, needs everyone who donated in the primary to donate again, and then some. I think I gave something like $20 in the primary, and money is tight for me right now. But I decided to meet McCain’s recklessness in an unvetted VP pick by being reckless with my personal finances, and maxed out a credit card with a donation today. I’ll gladly pay 17-30% interest for years if it means that Obama will be president.

I remember the endlessly unfolding horror of the 2000 election, when the inconceivable, idiot candidate got inaugurated for no compelling reason. I remember the glimmer of hope of the 2004 election, and the bitter sense of doom that we were in for another four years of the idiot, who was proving to be idiotic like a fox: a reckless, arrogant fox, one who has been unrelenting at reversing our country’s proud social progress in the 20th century. And I think the concern about Palin comes from that place, the specter of another night staying up late in November, another election-watching party that turns into a dejected walk home and another night of troubled sleep, worrying and dreaming about just how bad it could be under the new horrible candidate, or how much worse it could be if that maybe-still-a-little-bit-reasonable candidate were to die and leave his #2 in the office.

I cannot face that again. We cannot face that again. Money is tight for everyone right now, but I beg you to do whatever it takes to give whatever you can; my $20 would have been just as good in this round as in the last one, but I do feel a little more hopeful than I did yesterday, having given more this time. I could have spent the money (plus interest) on any number of other things that I really do need, like pants that don’t have holes in the crotch. I still don’t feel that I can say “I did my part” — I want to find other ways to fight to make sure I don’t have another sleepless November. I do rather wish, after reading that article, that Obama had gone with the public financing so that he could concentrate on campaigning and not spend so much human resource on fundraising right now. But as the template for this message said, “We’re transforming the political process by bringing together millions of ordinary Americans in a campaign that’s owned by no one but the people.” And that is, in the end, an exciting opportunity in its own right.

Please give what you can, then add a little bit more, until you feel at least as awful about giving up the money as you felt about losing the country in the last two elections. Think about how you felt in 2000 and 2004. Think about all the recklessness of the last 8 years of Bush, and the recklessness that McCain has shown in his only executive decision so far, the choice of Palin. Think about how great it would be to have a woman pumping her breast milk in the Oval Office — then think about all that this particular woman would do to take away rights and opportunities for women, men, gays, straights, polar bears, library books, climate science. Think about the Bush brand of “fiscal conservatism” that leads to skyrocketing deficits, and google up the Anne Kilkenny email about how Mayor Palin practiced exactly the same kind of insolvent, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends pseudoconservatism that Bush has given us, over and over again, and that McCain promises to continue.

Look at me, getting distracted by the Palin distraction-bomb. McCain is the candidate we need to beat; Palin is a flashpoint and is even more of a Bush clone than McCain is. We need to turn that to our advantage. Your vote will help Obama, but he’s had your vote since 2000, since 2004. There are people out there who are undecided, uncertain, or swayable, and may be even more distracted by Palin than you are. Your money will help Obama get to them. Your credit card interest will help Obama get to them, too.

Please do all you can to get Barack Hussein Obama into office, and consider taking on a little bit of debt to help him just that little bit more. And when you stay up all night this November, let it be in breathless, frenzied excitement that the movement that you funded will finally get the country back on track.

Yours,

Orion
https://donate.barackobama.com/


Palin/πάλῐν

August 29th, 2008

Sarah Palin’s (husband’s) surname doesn’t come from Greek. Repeat: Sarah Palin’s surname doesn’t come from Greek. But πάλῐν is such a common Greek adverb that I can’t help but think about it whenever I see it — originally on Michael Palin, but now on this poor doomed budding Quayle Schlafly.

Patrick Hanks’ Dictionary of American Family Names gives Palin origins from English (a person from Palling, Norfolk or Poling, Sussex), Welsh (from ap Heilyn ‘son of Heilyn’, which probably means something about serving at table), or French (unknown).

You know ‘palin’ as the first half of ‘palindrome’, a word that reads the same right-to-left as left-to-right: Madam I’m Adam, A Man A Plan A Canal Panama, A Gassy Obese Boy’s Saga. Together with the -δρομ- “-drom-” bit, you can gloss palin-drome as “running backwards”. It’s also present in “palimpsest”, giving the ‘again’ in “scraped again, back to its former condition” which is how you erase ink from parchment.

But the definitions of πάλῐν in Liddell & Scott are fun for the ways in which they support the Democratic talking points about McCain as a third Bush term: “backwards” (the direction in which McCain/Palin would take the country further), “once again, once more” (McC is Bush once again). Sense I.2 starts out vaguely in the vein of the now-defunct “straight talk” image: “to express contradiction, gainsay”; but then it also heads into McCain’s unfortunate attempts to “take back, unsay” some of the things he has said, whether previous positions or misstatements about the width of the border between Iraq and Pakistan.

This is not an etymological issue; I guess it’s just a subliminal suggestion of devolution, the sort of thing that naming consultancies are supposed to help you avoid: on another axis, it’s probably part of why Barack didn’t choose Chris Dodd (Obama-Dodd).


Breakfast Lately

May 11th, 2008

Eggs Diablo

I’ve been rediscovering corn tortillas.  When I was growing up, we never heated or fried them, so I thought of corn tortillas as these horrible crumbly things that tasted like styrofoam.  Last month I made a fun Diana Kennedy recipe (she credits Sra. Josefina Velásquez de León), Indios Vestidos (if that link works, it’s the second search result, pp 93-94), a sort of chile-relleno-without-the-chile, and had leftover tortillas and salsa, which led to the above-pictured breakfast item.
The one time I did enjoy corn tortillas as a kid was when my dad made what my mom called “Eggs Montoya” — essentially eggs scrambled with torn-up tortillas; ideally with some green Hatch chile mixed in (I recently fell back on a Poblano, and it was totally adequate).
The morning after the Indios Vestidos, then, I remembered one of my favorite breakfasts in the world, from a beloved restaurant in Chicago; I re-created it with what I had at hand, and now I’ve been making it more than once a week.
Huevos Diablos/Montoya Juniores, after the Handlebar and my dad.

The Salsa:

In the picture I’m actually using a rouille that I had leftover from something else; it’s a great great substitute.  But the chipotle salsa is perfecter.

• 1/2 or maybe 1 whole white/yellow onion
La Morena Chilpotles (sic)• 2 canned Chipotle peppers in adobo; add a little more adobo sauce from the can.

• 1 1/4 lb roasted tomatoes; either broil them yourself or use e.g. the canned Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes — but don’t use the whole can, or if you do, add another chipotle.
Fry the onions in the oil until they are soft & translucent.

Puree the tomatoes with the chipotles until they are smooth/uniform.

Dump the puree into the pan with the onions; reduce for 5 min or so, and season.  Keep warm while you make the rest:

The Rest

If you’re making a bunch of these, warm the oven so the plated tortillas will stay warm as you cook the eggs.
• Eggs: 1-2 per person (or tofu, see below)
• Corn Tortillas — 3 per egg.

• Melty grating cheese: jack, muenster, havarti; chile pepper adulteration would not be inappropriate here.

• Some oil.

• Cotija cheese for crumbling on top

• 1/2 avocado per person (optional)
Heat less than a teaspoon of oil in a cast-iron pan until it is hot but not smoking.

Drop a tortilla on the pan, and move the tortilla around for five seconds or so, then flip it and fry for five seconds more.  Put it on a plate and grate a skimpy layer of cheese on top.  Repeat this process until you have a stack of three tortillas with cheese between each layer.  You will need to add more oil as the pan dries out. Make as many of these stacks as you want to serve: 1 is enough for me to eat, but S prefers two.

Fry the eggs to your liking; I like the way a runny yolk mixes with the salsa.

Spoon a generous helping (1/2 cup?) of the salsa onto each tortilla pile, then put the egg on top; crumble some cotija cheese onto the whole.  Avocado slices, lightly sprinkled with salt, make a perfect companion.

Tofu

Notwithstanding my runny-yolk predilection, this is at least as good, if not better, with tofu instead of eggs.  I like large, thin slices — slice off <1/4 inch pieces from the end of the block of tofu as if it were a loaf of bread, and then fry in a couple tablespoons of peanut oil until brown; flip and fry on the other side.


Opera Opus

March 11th, 2008

S and I have been really happy with our first-ever Metropolitan Opera subscription this year. Last week we got a renewal packet in the mail, and the same problem presented itself this time as last time: subscriptions are grouped by the day of the week of the performances you’re going to see, but we’re more interested in choosing individual operas, since, given a year’s advance notice, we can go on any day at all. But there are so many packages that it’s too much to juggle to see which package you want to buy.
So I snarfed the Met’s subscription listings and made a page with JQuery and tablesorter that reveals the packages that have the most shows that you want to see, and count how many shows you need to exchange or buy individually to see everything you’ve selected.
For us, it looks like it might be Wednesday 3, since Saturday Matinees don’t appeal very much. Find out for yourself with the Metropolitan Opera Subscription Helper. It is not in any way affiliated with the Met or anything else.


Sometimes

August 30th, 2007

Sometimes when you read a dictionary definition aloud, sense 2 becomes a punchline.


Sighted

May 29th, 2007

I was at Heathrow last Saturday evening, picking up my betrothed, and as I watched the people exiting the Secure Area I saw a serene white spiky head strolling out. David Byrne! No. Maybe? Peer intently. I’d have to look closely at a recent picture to be certain. Or maybe he’ll mention London in his blog; no, surely he won’t:

David Byrne Journal: 5.20.07: London
I love the juxtaposition here between the two opposing poles of dress and manner: the reserved, polite, perfect and solicitous staff contrasted with the world of theatrical shock and gross-out represented by Chapman bros., Damien Hirst, chavs and football hooligans. It all has to come out, I guess — the bigger the front the bigger the back. I’m reminded of the ads that plaster the phone booths offering spankings and humiliation.

He even strolled back toward the terminal-exit doors a few minutes later, against the stream of humans. I’ve been meaning to ask him to write usage notes for our thesaurus. He’s one of my top N role models/heroes/admirees.  And you can see his reflection in the “THIS IS NONE OTHER THAN THE HOUSE OF GOD” photo in the post.


Misdefining misogyny

May 25th, 2007

I looked up misogyny on onelook after seeing what I considered an inadequate definition somewhere. I found a glut of inadequate definitions. I think misogyny, and in fact all miso- and -phobia words, need more attentive corpus analysis in order to reflect the full spectrum of their use.

Consider:

OED: Hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women.

Encarta: hatred of women: a hatred of women, as a sexually defined group

COED: hatred of women.

M-W: a hatred of women

CALD:the hatred of women [misogynist: a man who hates women or believes that men are much better than women]

Wiktionary 1. The hatred of, or pathological aversion to women 2. Discrimination against women

Wordsmyth: intense dislike of women

AHD: Hatred of women: “Every organized patriarchal religion works overtime to contribute its own brand of misogyny” (Robin Morgan).

RH: hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women. Cf. misandry.

CDAE: [-ist] someone, usually a man, who hates women or believes that men are much better than women. [-y example: There’s a disturbing misogyny in his films.]

1913 Webster: Hatred of women Johnson

I think the A++++ WOULD CONSULT AGAIN here has to go to AHD just for the illustrative quotation. Just to make sure I wasn’t confused about “hatred” I looked that up, too, but it hasn’t really evolved to mean anything about systematic societal oppression or ideologically enforced inequality. So take misogyny in the OEC: (the first column of numbers is a count of co-occurrences; the second is a measure of salience that I believe Sketch Engine bases on several measures.)
misogyny - oec - sketchengine

Some of the corpus collocations are clearly hate-based: vicious, extreme, violent, bigotry, antisemitism, rape. But many of them are clearly things on a larger scale: institutionalize, rampant, casual, usual; materialism. And some of them are more individual in nature, but not essentially hateful: objectification, machismo. It is these latter two categories that are largely unaddressed by the dictionaries that are easy to cut and paste.

misogyny - oec - collocations

I don’t mean to argue that misogyny is not hatred, nor that most people who speak of misogyny don’t believe that it’s hatred. But “misogyny” spends time in the company of words that are not really covered by weirdness like “pathological aversion” and “intense dislike”. The connection with “objectification” shows it fairly well, as does “inequity”. Xenophobia, homophobia, — these words are not really suggestive of “intense dislike” or “irrational fear”, but with learned behaviors, nation-scale phenomena, What’s Wrong With This Country. “Materialism” is not intense or irrational; “misanthropic” is closely associated with “genius”, “intelligent”, “comic”, “muse” — not really qualities of a “person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society”. It looks like a good many of these miso-/-phobia words are often defined very skimpily, every dictionary’s essential ‘evidence’ being nothing more than the etymology.

I’m not saying it’s necessarily appropriate for every dictionary to define misogyny as an epidemic, sometimes unconscious ideology that oppresses or subordinates women to men; but compare with the nuanced definition of “slavery” in NOAD:

the state of being a slave [sc. a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them].
• the practice or system of owning slaves. • a condition compared to that of a slave in respect of labor or restricted freedom. • excessive dependence on or devotion to something.

This is a reasonable starting point for better definitions of “misogyny”, “homophobia”, etc.: in the language there are all sorts of ways to be a slave or a misogynist beyond being the legal property of someone, or having any explicit/conscious hatred, aversion or dislike. Simplistic definitions lead only to oversimplistic misunderstanding.


Lazyweb Greenlight

May 14th, 2007

I’ve been wanting to make two short films of my favorite parts of the Lord of the Rings, both sadly omitted from the Peter Jackson adaptation:

Tom Bombadil in a black-and-white, silent-Buñuel style;

The Scouring of the Shire in a contemporary setting. It opens just before dawn as the four hobbits come home at last from a long, horrible trip; they are too shellshocked to speak to each other, dozing on a decrepit city bus.