Wednesday, May 1, 2013

It's my anniversary, and you can win a camera!

May 1, 2011. Has it really been only 2 years?
Today is a great day. It's a sunny, beautiful day here in Portland. The weather is great, work isn't stressful, and I'm still glowing from last week's vacation in Baja. But most of all, today is my anniversary. Two years ago today, I married the most perfect person in the world--perfect for me, anyway. 

On our big day, my wife and I were lucky enough to have a photographer friend who we knew was fantastic and who gave us a small break on her regular wedding rates. The discount was nice, but the best part was not having  the stress of searching for a photographer.

These days, there's a service that makes that search a little bit easier. It's called SnapKnot, and right now they're doing an awesome contest where you can win a professional grade DSLR. Gotta love that!
Big thanks to the SnapKnot wedding photography directory for offering this great camera giveaway!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where'd my taxes go?

I have some friends on Facebook who are repeatedly posting concerns about "redistribution of wealth." I respect these people (most of them, anyway) and wanted to give their thoughts a fair look. So for my first step in understanding their concerns, I decided to take a look at where my income taxes go. For this situation, I'm defining "income tax" as anything that comes out of my paycheck, and that I don't get back in a tax refund. Thus, it includes traditional incomes tax, as well as Social Security and Medicare.

Here's a breakdown by percentage. For this overview, I've only included items that make up more than 2% of my tax receipt:

5% went to Job and Family Security (aka "welfare")
2.5% went to Medicaid & Chip
6.5% went to National Defense
28% went to Medicare
55% went to Social Security

Let me start out by saying that I recognize that what follows is a very simplified “big picture” view that doesn't get into a lot of important discussions that we could and should have about these issues. For instance, the first thing I noticed was that national defense number. I thought for sure we were spending more on military than that 6.5% could accommodate. I dug around a bit, and it turns out that it's all about the deficit, of course. We're spending money we don't actually have on wars and defense, as well as many of these other categories. Another topic for another day.

So, moving one from deficit spending to where my actual paycheck dollars go.  What do the above numbers mean?

To me it means that everyone who thinks that most of their paycheck is funding some "free-loading welfare recipient" is partly mistaken. Sure, a whole 5 cents of every dollar goes to "Job and family security." But: A quarter of that goes to military retirement and child tax credits. The people I see complaining about redistribution of wealth have children, and you can bet they take the child credit! They are also mostly folks who have "Support our Troops" magnets on their cars. So I'm guessing they don't mind paying toward military retirement. Another bit goes to "Child care, foster care, and adoption support." This is another area where the term "freeloader" does not apply; there's no argument that services are being provided for these funds.

That leaves us at around 3 cents of my every tax dollar going to the things that could fall into that "freeloader" category...except that not everyone on welfare or unemployment is actually a freeloader. Many of these folks are under-employed, working their asses off trying to move up the pay-scale, or simply can't get a job right now because of the state of the economy.  My father is on unemployment. He worked hard for Xerox for decades and was a few years from retirement when Xerox decided they could save a few bucks by hiring someone younger at a lower rate, and not paying his full retirement. My father has paid taxes for longer than I've been alive. He's not a freeloader. And what about the people who need welfare temporarily because they happen not to have the privileges that so many people don't even realize they have? Let's not pretend that welfare doesn't provide that little boost out of poverty for a huge chunk of the people who receive it.
So, what percentage of people who receive my tax money as welfare or unemployment are legitimately "freeloaders?" I couldn't find any stats, but I can't imagine it's actually that much. Even if we assume it's 50%, that's 1.5 cents per tax dollar. In my case, that's less than one tenth of one percent of every dollar I earn. Clearly those freeloaders are "stealing my wealth".... right?

But that leaves us with the undeniable percentages that come from Medicare and Social Security. Combined, they account for 83% of my income tax bill.  That's 6 cents out of every dollar I earn: 6000% what I pay toward "welfare." If this is what my friends are referring to when they talk about their paycheck going to other people, then they're at least vaguely onto something... eighty-three percent of every tax dollar. That's huge. For someone in a higher tax bracket than me, that could be massive. So, who gets that much of my money?

Retired folks, mostly. People who have paid as much or more into Social Security for their entire working lives.  So wait... who's free-loading now?

Clearly we have a problem with Social Security. It can't last and something needs to be done.  Could either presidential candidate solve this problem?  Probably not. This is going to take some massive out-of-the-box thinking, and the support of a huge percent of the population who will have to concede a portion of what they otherwise feel entitled to. These folks are going to be lower-middle class through upper-class, and they’re not moving on this issue any time soon.

And Medicare? Who's got a solution to that that doesn't involve massive numbers of older folks who worked and paid taxes their whole lives going without medical coverage at the time when they need it most?
These are tough questions that will likely involve tough, hard-to-swallow solutions. They are legitimate concerns. But, if you think a society of "free-loaders" is "stealing all your money," it's time to take a look at the facts, and compare them to your own perhaps unrealistic expectations for what it takes to live the good life. But that's a whole other topic for a whole other post.

Monday, October 1, 2012

You know, I'd like to turn...

He started out by yelling "You know, I'd like to turn..."

He wanted to turn right. I was in front of him, waiting to go straight. It was a narrow lane, only one lane each direction; not enough room for him to pass me without one of us moving into the opposing lane.

I guess he thought I should pull up on the sidewalk to get out of traffic's way while I wait for the light? And so I guess he would expect the driver of a car to do the same? Does he yell at the cars in front of him when he wants to turn at a red light?  Because if I weren't commuting by bike, there'd be one more car on the road, possibly directly in front of him.
The generally accepted method for
indicating an intention to turn

The funny part is, I absolutely think that bikers should give room when it's available, and I do it all the time. When I'm the first person coming up to a red light, I look at the car behind me in my mirror and check for turn signals. If they're turning right and I'm not, I move left to leave room for them. So when this guy pulled up behind me, I checked--out of habit--for turn signals. Were either of them blinking? Of course not.

"You know, I'd like to turn..."

I looked back to double check his signal lights.  Still nothing blinking.  I kept my mouth shut. The light was already yellow and we'd be going any second.

And of course, when the light changed, he peeled out *way* too close to my back wheel, yelling all the way.

And now I'm home and trying hard not to hold onto the anger that this incident inspired. So as a part of my self-therapy I'd like to say this:

I believe that all users of the road should be considerate, regardless of their mode of transportation. 

However: it is not your inalienable right to make a right turn on red. The light is red. You may have to wait. Get over it. If I'm not making room for you, you can bet there's a good reason for it. Bike's don't move sideways very well, you know. And if there's no room for safe passing, you can bet I'll be wary. You see, I don't have a metal roll-cage around me, and I don't think that 15 seconds of your time is worth the risk of bodily harm.

Oh, and if you'd like to turn, use your damn blinker.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A threat to religious freedom? For sure...

Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals is claiming that the hullabuloo surrounding the recent Chick-fil-A controversy illustrates a threat to religious freedom in America.

This is from a Chick-fil-A leadership presentation. 
I wonder if Dan Cathy  approved that last one?
I couldn't agree more.

Of course, we have slightly different takes on the situation. Here's what Anderson said:
“Individuals have the right to decide whether or not to ‘eat mor chikin.’ But no government leader should restrict a business or organization from expanding to their district based on the personal or political views of the owners.”

He's talking about the mayors who said that Chick-fil-A is not welcome in their cities. And, to be fair, he's right about at least that much. To restrict a business from opening due only to the religious beliefs of the owners... well, that would be like blocking the construction of a Mosque in Lower Manhattan.

So yes, although these mayors can (and I think should) stand in solidarity with those in their communities that are marginalized, they can't legally do anything about it. That's a good thing. It leaves it up to we, the people to do what's right.

But this isn't about Chick-fil-A, really. We need to take a giant step back here and take a look at the real issue, the real reason why religious freedom is at risk. So I ask anyone out there who stands with Mr. Cathy at Chick-fil-A or Mr. Anderson at NAE to please answer me this:

If it is a threat to religious freedom for a business to be made publicly unwelcome in a community solely based on one's religious views, then how is it not also a threat to religious freedom to be spending millions in an effort to make the government deny legal marriage to those who don't hold your religious views?

I'm not talking about the marriage rules within a church. That's a whole other can of worms, and a discussion for another time. I'm talking about the legal recognition of couplehood,  regardless of religious affiliation--or lack thereof. You know, what Mr. Cathy is spending money trying to get the whole country to prevent?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why It's Hard to Share the Road

Where'd everyone go?
I just stumbled across this article on Grist, and it reminded me of my commute, yesterday.

Last night as I rode home, I passed by the Rose Garden Arena.  There was an event going on --probably a Blazers game -- and the sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians on their way to the Arena.

The bike route that I was on shares a road with bus lane, on which no regular vehicular traffic is allowed. The problem with this stretch of road, is that pedestrians look for buses, not bikes, and then go ahead and cross the crosswalk against their signal if there aren't any buses coming.  Compounded with the shear numbers of people and the heard mentality that develops, and you get this:

The bike/bus light turns green.  A crowd of people is still crossing the crosswalk, and doesn't stop. More and more pedestrians are piling off the sidewalk on one side, strolling across while chatting with each other about the upcoming game/concert/event to which they are headed.

The guy on the bike ahead of me decides that the best way to handle this is to ride up at full speed, and then ring his bell and start yelling loudly when he is about 4 feet from the crosswalk.

Understandably, the walkers are startled. Does it get them out of the crosswalk any quicker?  No. Does it elicit  a few choice expletives from the crowd, directed at all of us on bikes behind that guy?  Absolutely.

I actually stopped and had a chat with the pedestrian who yelled at us the loudest, to apologize on behalf of the rest of us who try to be reasonable.  He and his wife were very nice.

I was going to write more, but the article over at Grist is exactly what I've been trying to say.  Thanks, Grist!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"You don't know me!"

What is it about this intersection?
It happened again, at the exact same intersection, though it was different cyclist this time. This guy had already cut me off as he wobbled off the sidewalk at the transit stop a few blocks back, but I've been practicing my acceptance of other people on the road and I let it go.  He may have honestly not seen me coming, and we were both safely riding on our way. No harm, no foul, right?

So we roll along, and eventually come to a stop sign. Neither of us put our foot down as we got to the sign, but only one of us was any good at track-standing and therefore actually stopped for the car oncoming from the left.  I'll let you guess who that was.

Well, as Wobbly McWobblerson slowly rolled and swayed through the stop sign, he noticed that the oncoming driver had a turn signal on and was going to to turn left, into the same street we were headed for. So Wobbly just kept on rolling, expecting, I guess, to cross as soon as the car turned and to fit right in within an inch of that car's bumper.

It didn't work that way, of course. It never does.  We bikers tend to forget what it's like to drive around bikes, but the reality is that, as a driver, when you see a bike rolling out almost directly in your path you slow way the hell down and make sure you're not going to hit them.  It makes sense. People in cars are used to people on bikes cutting them off around here.

I'm trying really hard to be peaceful about my travels, so at this point I'm focusing on remembering that we're all people just trying to get where we're going, and that no amount of stressing over what other people do is going to get me anywhere faster.

And then Mr. McWobblerson starts yelling.

"Come on!  Move! Move!

Ok, so she's going slow. Of course she is. The look on this driver's face says this guy is scaring the sh*t out of her.  Not her fault, really.

And then:
"F@*K YOU!  F@*K YOU!  F@*K YOU!"

Oh boy.  Here we go again.

No matter what kind of peacefulness and acceptance of others' behavior I'm trying to cultivate in myself, I cannot accept this kind of hatefulness from this guy--especially when it's his own assumptions and expectations that are at fault!

When the car has pulled into the parking spot and out of the travel lane, Wobbly and I ride on. As I pass him, I decide that a polite observation might be called for. So, as tactfully and casually as I can, I say,

"Maybe she was going slow because you were about to cut her off."

"No man, I don't think so."

Oh well, it was worth a shot. And then, at the next stop light, he turns to me.

"You don't know me."

"You're right," I say, " I don't, but I do know that--"

"YOU DON'T KNOW ME! You've got no right to tell me how to ride!"

"--When  you're at a stop sign, it's--"

"Don't talk to me. Don't talk to me!"

"--legally your responsibility to wait until the way is clear."

"Don't talk to me!"

OK, right. Now, I'm not one to push when someone yells "Don't talk to me,"-- at least after the third repetition. He's obviously not ready to hear anything.  So I move on, and we both ride our separate ways.

I've been trying hard to see the situation from his point of view. Obviously he was in some sort of rush. Aren't we all, these days, whenever we're riding or driving somewhere? And I get that he felt judged by my statement, that he feels that unless you know someone and understand their circumstances, it's not your place to yell at them and tell them how to ride... or drive...

Oh, right. Exactly.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Rules of the Road

Not the road I was on today.
A fine example of golden hour, though! 
It happened today.  I finally succeeded at completely quelling my cyclist's road rage--at least for the ride home.

I started out feeling fine, as usual, and as usual, as I traveled I began to see all of the, er, "idiosyncrasies" of the other people on the road. The familiar sarcastic inner dialogue started:

"Oh sure, you can turn right in front of me without signaling. Go right ahead."

I started to do that thing where I imagine how the argument would go if they tried to yell at me for some perceived slight. Nevermind that they probably bore me no ill will at all. I was ready in case they did.

And then something not so usual happened: Maybe it was the beautiful day, or the golden-hour light illuminating my travel. Perhaps it was just that everyone on the road today was exceptionally nice, or maybe it was this episode of Talk of the Nation that I recently heard on NPR.

As I rolled along, internal diatribes ramping up toward full, I remembered a caller on that show. If you haven't listened to it, or read the synopsis in the link, this particular episode of talk of Nation had a long segment about the interactions between bicyclists and other users of the roads. One of the first callers, who claimed to be an avid cyclist, also turned out to be first rate loser. Amidst his bragging about his comebacks to drivers who yell at him (Driver: "Where's your helmet?!" Caller: "Where's your helmet!") and his other cycling "accomplishments," the caller told a lovely story of the time he chased down and yell at driver who cut him off. When the elderly woman had the nerve to say that she didn't see him, he grabbed her keys and threw them down the sewer grate.

I'll repeat that in case it was too ridiculous to sink in the first time: He grabbed an elderly woman's keys, right out of her ignition, and threw them down the sewer grate. Or at least he imagined it so vividly that he felt the need to tell that story on the radio.

Either way, I realized today that--sometimes--I am that guy. I've never grabbed anyone's keys or otherwise physically accosted any drivers, but I have absolutely chased them down in order to speak my piece about their apparent nonchalance with my life.

And then I thought about Denmark. Not about their amazing cycling culture and the way that they successfully integrate biking and driving. No, I thought about Ejby, and about Makkinga.  These are a few of the places in Denmark where a truly outside-the-lines experiment in traffic control is taking place:  They are removing it. Whole cities are going "safely chaotic"

The idea is that, when you remove the "certainty" of who belongs where, who goes when, and who has the "right of way," people actually pay more attention to the road and the other travelers. The more I thought about it, the more I came the to the conclusion that they might be on to something.  It's not just about road signs and traffic lights, either. Even the painted lines on the street come into question.  But what about my beloved bike lanes? Their magical while lines and painted stick figure cyclists grant me immunity from other vehicles on the road, don't they?

In fact, they don't. Not always, anyway. Studies are showing that on roads with painted bike lines, drivers tend to drive far closer to the cyclists, often dangerously close. We're talking inches, here.

It seems clear.  The safety net provided by the lines and rules of the road is an illusion. No one is exempt. Drivers don't slow down for pedestrians who aren't at marked crosswalks.  Pedestrians expect traffic to stop instantly if they are at marked sidewalks.  If the system relies on everyone being exactly where they're supposed to be, and doing exactly what they're supposed to do...  Well, we're all human. How likely is is that we will all do everything so well, so consistently. I'll be the first to admit that I've made my fair share of honest mistakes on the road, as a driver, a cyclist, and a pedestrian. So what are we to do?

That brings me back to Denmark and to the above episode of Talk of the Nation. In perhaps the most important bit of the segment, one of the guests remarks about how, in Denmark, people on bikes are just that:  people on bikes.  Not cyclists, bikers, or any other category label. They are people, who at the moment happen to be on bikes. 
So it is with everyone else on the road, really. There are people in cars, and people who walk, and people in wheelchairs, and people jogging, and people on razor skooters... and we're all people, traveling in different directions, together.

Maybe, if we can all remember that, we can move forward without crashing into each other.

I'm picturing travel whereby all involved focus not of the "right of way" but rather, the "right way." I'm imagining a city where drivers actually pay enough attention to each other that they don't need lines and signs to tell them when to slow down or when to give someone else a little more space. And I'm practicing it, starting today, by actively remembering that all of us on the road are people, and we have to look out for each other.