Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Last Message from a Geezer Pedestrian

In the last year or so, Minneapolis has gained a lot of press as a city at the very top in terms of being "friendly" to the bicycling community. This is testament to the effectiveness of the propaganda practiced by the political arm of the bicycling community. In reality, Minneapolis is a metropolis now besieged by BUFO (Bicyclists United for Fascist Objectives).

To be perfectly clear, I am not painting the entire bicycling community with this paintbrush—only the arm that wields political clout. Much the way Germans of nationalist sympathies between the years of 1935 and 1945 could not be said to all be Nazis, not every innocent man or woman riding a two wheeler in Minneapolis is a member of BUFO. The reality, though, is that BUFO is where the power lies within the subculture, and it now threatens to symbolize bicyclists everywhere in the Minneapolis metro area.

It started innocently enough, and with noble intent. Bicycling in the early days was seen as a healthy lifestyle, both for individuals and for the environment. It burned no fossil fuels, and in a city already known for healthy lifestyle, a burgeoning bicycle culture was as a source of pride. For a city with frigid winters to have practitioners cycling madly away in the dead of January, it was a source of substantial pride. Anybody can bike in Santa Monica, CA. It takes a special place for such a culture to arise in frigid Minneapolis,

For a long while we were lulled into complacency as a city as BUFO took hold. All of us, even devoted automobile drivers and pizza eaters, felt some pride whenever USA Today or Shape magazine proclaimed us  as a bike-friendly and oh-so-healthy.

Gradually, though, more and more green grassy parklands began to be paved over with 6-foot wide paved bike lanes; regional parks where hiking had been the norm were converted into either mountain-bike pathways or paved recreational bike trails; whole city streets lost entire paved lanes to exclusive use by the bikes; pedestrian sidewalks were consumed by bike lanes;  and yet nothing was enough. The BUFO bicyclist lobby demanded more and more.

Today, many of the major one-way thoroughfares in and out of downtown all have 30% of their space devoted to bicycle traffic that is laughably sparse. By one recent audit, a major street that gets 500 automobiles per hour in rush hour traffic sees only 6 bicycles in that time frame. Yet not only does that street devote 40% of its surface area to bicycle-only lanes, but the BUFO force is steadily demanding that more space be carved away to their diabolical juggernaut. At this very moment, an intense debate is underway for adding yet another major bike street—in a location exactly two blocks away from a current one.

Our bicyclist community (or at least the BUFO core), now legitimately believes that it owes no responsibility to follow traffic laws. They routinely ignore stop lights and stop signs, and weave in and out of traffic lanes in a manner that would get an automobile drive stopped and breath-alized. In those instances where near misses occur between bike and car because a biker has run through another red light, you can be guaranteed that he will shake his little fist and curse you loudly.

So effective is the propaganda machine that when a fatality occurs, BUFO once again trots out imaginary statistics that proclaim that 99.9% of the time bike-car accidents are the fault of the motorist. This is utter nonsense as any new car driver to the city will verify. A colleague new to our city told me recently that he had never seen a place where more aggressive, arrogant, and self-entitled bicyclists existed. Yet that statistic—that cars are at fault virtually all the time—is now taken as conventional wisdom that cannot be challenged.

When bicyclist is killed in a car accident in Minneapolis, a national day of mourning ensues. His BUFO brethren very often erect a memorial on the spot, in the form of a painted "ghost bike" that draws attention to the tragedy. This despite the fact that there's a very likely chance the bike rider died while adjusting his headphones with one hand, sending a text message with the other, while staring high into the trees to identify another bird species on his lifetime watch list. While running a red light.

BUFO party members now have official uniforms, in the way of spandex biking shorts and colorful shirts printed with the names of famous bike racing personalities. The echo of young neo-nazis wearing Hitler tee-shirts is striking. The absurdity of this seems lost on all, but it makes it clear that this is a political movement. What other reason could there be for a routine bicycle commuter to dress like Lance Armstrong?  What would the reaction be if I were to don a NASCAR racing suit every time I climbed into my Mazda to run to Home Depot for garden supplies?  I would of course be jeered, yet my 50-year-old colleague can arrive at the office dressed as Tour de France racer #2045, with black bike shorts squeezing his prostate into oblivion, yet no one dare make comic fun of him.

Completely lost in the current political/cultural environment are the rights and needs of a group that has now all the dignity of Kurdish shop-owners in Sadaam Hussein's Bagdad—the lowly pedestrian. Long the victim of motorists who view pedestrians as passenger pigeons to be harvested for sport, the Minneapolis pedestrian now is being routinely hunted by bicyclists, as well. A pedestrian waiting at a corner for a walk sign can routinely expect to have a bicyclist shout at him angrily to get out of the way so he can plow through on the sidewalk against the traffic light. Yesterday on the way back from lunch, I crossed an intersection lawfully in a crosswalk when a bicyclist, crossing at 90-degrees against the red light and against the pedestrian "walk" sign, pushed me in the back of the head because I had failed to yield the right-of-way to his lawlessness.

Hold a place in your hearts for the recreational bicyclist of yore. Maintain a soft spot for the traditional pedestrian. Soon they shall be forgotten.

Editor's note:  The BUFO does not exist, at least in not any official way. That detail is fictional.   But that single invented fact is the only thing hyperbolic in the entire essay printed here. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Naked Admission

I like showering with naked men.

This is as big a surprise to me as it is to anyone. Over the course of my life, all pleasurable shower and bath experiences I've had,  both in fact and in imagination, have been with members of the opposite sex, not my own. Over the years, I've showered and bathed occasionally with my wife, as well as people like Susan Sarandon, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Julie Christie and even, once, Scarlett Johanson (....fact AND imagination, remember) and found it to be great good fun in each case. At no point did I ever enjoy showering with, say, George Clooney.

So it's somewhat surprising to find at this late stage in life that I actually enjoy showering with my fellow men, at a time when nakedness around ANYONE should be a little intimidating.

Working out four time a week has paid HUGE
dividends for me. You should have seen me
four months ago. 
In January, with incentives both from my health insurance provider and from my employer who has begun to match the insurance company's credit, I joined the YMCA again. It was not without trepidation, I will say. Now approaching 60, I am nowhere near the physical specimen now that I was 30 years ago—or even 10 years ago, for that matter. I am most certainly on the plump side, enough so that it makes my doctor chide me;  and I really, really think twice about going shirtless at the beach or to mow the yard. I no longer impose that indignity on the public; they've done nothing to deserve that spectacle.

It's not that I was ever Adonis, but back in high school and college I was moderately athletic and maintained a fair amount of activity into my 40s. There is nothing about me that has ever been the legitimate source of excessive naked pride, if you get my drift, but there was a time when I was above average in fitness, and I certainly didn't feel at all ill at ease to be seen naked back then (except perhaps if a Catholic priest happened to be somewhere in the area).

But that's  most certainly not who I am now, and so it was with trepidation that I considered getting back into the gym, taking my clothes off in the locker room, showering openly with other human beings. (In recent years, I tend to hide my eyes if walking in front of the big bathroom mirror alone in my own home). I am just plain shy in the best of circumstances, and am now decidedly insecure about my middle age paunch, which is now pronounced enough that I have to crane my neck forward and down to inspect.....things.

But much to my amazement, I am finding the locker room rituals to be quite relaxing, and not nearly as awful as I expected. For one thing, there wasn't the expected hoard of healthy young guys to contrast with my decrepitude. This is the YMCA, after all, and the vast majority here are old geezers like myself with sags and wrinkles that are at least as pronounced as my own. (Actually, at most times of day, I'm younger than the median age, I think).

To my surprise, it's rather freeing to let it all hang out with a bunch of men of middle-age and beyond, because there is no way to hide and hence there is nothing but open acceptance here, really. Amusement and good-natured conversation abound, and the whole atmosphere makes me look forward to retirement, when I can spend a couple of hours a day at the gym rather than the frantic 60 minutes afforded now. (And um, no, it's not that I want to spend that full two hours each day being naked.)

At no time is the locker-room amusement more pronounced than when some 20 - 30-year old arrives with his carefully razored torso. This hairlessness of body is all the rage among young adults these days, I know, but men are supposed to be hairy beasts, and the rest of old guys can't really resist smiling at little when some some young metrosexual enters the shower room with his cold and exposed pet salamander. Open laughter has been known to occur, because we older guys would never think to trim the shrubbery. It's ironic that the men who experience embarrassment in the locker room aren't the old sagging codgers, but waxed young men painfully aware that they're the source of amusement to their elders.

One old fellow, a urologist, had fun one day by casually mentioning to another old guy in the shower room that he had ordered a patient's penis amputated last month due to gangrene. He explained, loudly enough for an unsuspecting hairless fellow to hear, that shaving the genitals can lead to ingrown hairs that can become infected and lead to devastation. (This is, I later learned, a true problem). The young man paled and scurried quickly from the shower room, nervously glancing down at his plumbing.

The greatest of all sources of amusement is when somebody who is older, who ought to know better, shows up with his chest and naughty bits all plucked, shaved, waxed and otherwise denuded. No clearer sign is there of mid-life crisis than when a mature fellow tries to act young in this most private of all ways. When somebody like this enters the shower room,  dead silence reigns as all the oldsters bite their cheeks to avoid laughter.

I'm sure all this would be different if this were an LA fitness, where I most certainly would be out of place. If fact, I understand that at the more chic gyms, or even at YMCA's with a younger clientele, the young men are rather appalled by the ease with which older guys will walk around and talk while buck naked (see this quite funny article written from that perspective).  But this is old-guy YMCA, after all, and here I find it just fine to shower with naked men, where everybody laughs about the foibles of the young and takes delight in making them uncomfortable.

Who knows, I may even start mowing the yard topless again. Let the neighbors beware.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The War For/Against Science

A recent edition of National Geographic magazine had as its cover story a lengthy essay entitled "The War on Science," in which it analyzed and derided the various anti-scientific and pseudoscientific theories that today are found in such plentiful numbers—such as 'the moon landing was faked,' and the view that global warming is some kind of liberal plot. And the granddaddy of wackiness: that evolution is a "theory" and that creationism is a viable alternative theory.

It is said that only about 50% of Americans believe that evolution and natural selection is the real deal. The Nat Geo essay is presented, predictably, with a slight air of condescension, as is fitting for a magazine that is dedicated to the popular science demographic. "Look at those poor dummies who don't believe in the holiness of science."

What is missing to the article, and to the modern discourse, is any acknowledgement that there may be some reason to doubt science.  I wonder, sometimes, if the wacko extremist anti-science folks exist simply as a balance the extremism of the opposite side. I would argue that those who worship science may be just as misguided as group who believes that the moon landing was held on a sound stage in Arizona.

Says Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health:  "Science will find the truth....ultimately it will find the truth."

Except that it really hasn't at all, and the history of science is really the history of "truths" that are gradually proven to be, at worst, utter horrifying falsehoods, and at best, incomplete but useful premises. Scientific "truths" have been steadily overturned throughout history. At one time alchemy and astrology were declared to be scientific truth. Steadily, such ridiculous ideas get overturned, and even now on a daily basis, beliefs formerly held as truths are abandoned or revised.  If there is an 'ultimate truth' out there, science by no means has found it. Consider some examples:

Einstein's General Theory of Relativity began its development in 1907, and 108 years later science really doesn't fully understand the nature or behavior of light and matter. Intense debate rages among different factions in the world of quantum physics, even among such basic questions as whether light is a matter or energy.

The doctors who advised the mothers of these
children were quite certain that science was truth. 
In the early 50s, highly trained doctors, priests of science, believed that Tholidomide, a drug being used to combat certain respiratory infections, should be used off-label to combat morning sickness in pregnant mothers. They were scientists after all, so of course they had the truth.  The result were tens of thousands of babies born with horrifying birth defects of their limbs. Many of the photos are almost too awful to look at.

Just today, in the science section of my morning Sunday newspaper, I learn that the most up-to-date studies show there is no statistical validity to the belief that fish oil supplements laden with omega-3 oils have any benefit toward reducing the chances of stroke or heart disease. In the same newspaper: no evidence that eating apples really does anything for "keeping the doctor away." Just last week, mind you, my general practice doctor reminded me to take my fish oil supplement. But he no longer insists on PSA testing—such is the speed with which scientific truth changes.

Other modern medical wisdom currently under review as possible bunk:  that cholesterol is a form of poison in the system (some people who reduce cholesterol seem to be at more risk for debilitating arthritis); that a baby aspirin consumed once a day offers protection against anything at all. The small scientific truths that are debunked daily are too legion to count.

Evolution, while of course explaining how species develop and change and "self-select" due to their suitability to the conditions in which they must live in,  is now recognized to be slightly incomplete as a paradigm.

Only a couple of hundred generations ago, Raphael's
ancestors were bashing in skulls with mastodon femurs. 
The pure theory of evolution is that it's a matter of pure accident—species who happen to be born with a mutation that proves beneficial have a better chance of survival and passing along those beneficial genes.  Yet it appears that the development of species often happens much faster than would be the case by mere genetic accident. Can you really explain the rabid change of the human species from cave-dweller to  audience members at Copeland symphony in a mere 20,000 years?

So it's now proposed that there is a mechanism by which current conditions, and even free will, can actually change your genes in mid-stride. The genes you had as child may not be the same genes you have 25 years later, when you conceive your own children. A person abused as a child may actually have their very genes altered, as do those of a child leading an enriched early life. The implications of this are enormous. Evolution may not be entire matter of pure genetic accident, but may actually have some overtones of karma and even willful intention.

If this is so, then evolution, as is the case with every other scientific "truth," may be be an idea that is itself be still evolving.

Truth, by its definition, is a stable, non-changing thing. What is often called truth, by Francis Collins and others, often proves itself to be just another temporarily useful fiction, subject to steadily changing revision.