Sunday, December 7, 2008

Faceplant update

Got some ibuprofen aboard now, midnightish; just one tab, but it's helping -- so long as I don't move the bad shoulder in certain ways. Unfortunately, that shoulder is the side I normally sleep on. Heaven only knows how it's going to feel in the morning. But it could be worse, yes, I acknowledge it could be much worse. No bruises have developed, and every body part is functioning more or less normally.

What I do appear to have are very sore and/or strained muscles. To ease them, a couple of times this afternoon and evening I've rubbed in a camphor/menthol/methyl salicylate ointment I found in the medicine cabinet. That does seem to be a bit helpful. Smells good, too. The greatest discomfort, with occasional stabs of outright pain, is in the spot I'd injured a few months ago, where the right-arm deltoid ties into the biceps. The left deltoid insertion is bothering me too, though not nearly as severely. In both arms there's also extension of soreness into the biceps and triceps themselves. That's where I've been applying the ointment.

I can tell my brachial plexus is going to be stiffened up tomorrow; it's already grumbling. The nape of my neck is also muttering vague threats. Some fingers are offering disgruntled comments on my clumsiness as well. My wrists likewise are not happy about their role in my failed attempt to stave off gravity. The lower back figures what the hey, might as well jump on the bandwagon too.

At least my glasses didn't go flying off and get lost in the leaf litter. Instead they stuck close enough to my face for it to ram them into the underlying solid surface of the trail. While my face is unmarked, the lens frame is canted inward at the bottom and one earpiece is winged outward from parallel. I was able to jigger them back into shape enough to wear the rest of the time I was out, but they need a visit to the eye doctor for reformation.

Ah, well, it could have been worse. The last time I took a faceplant fall like that, I broke my elbow. Of course, that was onto asphalt rather than leaf-littered grass. So I should count my blessings, eh?

There will be another update when I arise tomorrow morning. Assuming I do in fact arise tomorrow morning. Assuming I'm not too stiff to do more than slither out of bed and hobble painfully as far as the catfood dispenser, lest the felines take breakfast into their own paws, then collapse, whimpering, onto the nearest soft surface.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Wherein the author does a faceplant

It all started out so well this morning....

Or, um, no. No, actually, it didn't start out all that well; for whatever reason I'd been unable to get to sleep till nigh on 5:00 a.m. Only the desperation move of getting out of my sleepless bed to do some proofreading finally coaxed Morpheus out of hiding. (Or was it the Benadryl?) When the alarm went off a little before 10:00, it was so tempting to just shut it off and go back to sleep.

But no! No, I'd planned to go on the inaugural hike over a newly opened section of trails in the Appleton Grass Rides this morning, to be there in time for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, congratulatory speech-making, and group march. Stride-off time was 11:00 a.m.

So, sleep-deprived as I was, I struggled upright, fed the cats, pulled on suitable clothes, and headed out -- forgetting in my foggy haste a pair of mittens or gloves, though as it turned out the day was pleasant enough that they weren't needed for more than a fit of futile fretting on the drive over.

There was a good turnout -- couple of dozen, easy, with a lighthearted leavening of dogs revelling in their off-leash freedom. We did the ceremonials, then headed out. I found myself in the first cluster, marching alongside two of the men who'd done yeoman service in planning and clearing this abandoned and overgrown segment of the Rides. Walking briskly over the leaf-strewn undulations of the ride, we were merrily chatting, enjoying the day....

Then my toe caught the low stub of a cut-off sapling, hidden by the leaf litter, lurking unseen till my tripping over the damned thing revealed it.

Next thing I know, I'm toppling forward -- downhill, just to make it all more exciting -- my abrupt embrace of gravity ending in a full-body faceplant, complete with arms flung forward in a futile attempt to break my fall, which did nothing except rewrench a previously injured shoulder.

My solicitous companions, reassured by my regaining my feet and my evident possession of full mobility, were kind enough not to laugh. I brushed off the leaf litter coating my forward aspect, ruefully examined the sad warping of my glasses' frames, winced at the sullen protests offered by my shoulder at any attempt to move it in certain directions, and went on with the hike.

I knew by the time we returned to our starting point and I got into my car -- well, not my car, actually; the one I'm renting while my own dear little Scion is in the body shop getting healed of the damage inflicted in a moment of inattention on my part; but that's another story -- when I drove off I knew I was going to be feeling some after-effects, and so it has proven.

My first stop after Appleton was the barn, to visit and ride my horse Ben.


Lucky boy! Between my sleep-deficit fog and the low mutterings of developing body aches, I'd had enough after only ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Well, not wholly lucky; I turned over his reins to the young woman who exercises him for me, so he didn't entirely get out of working, just didn't have to bear as heavy a burden, or work as correctly as I insist on expecting from him.

Then home again, home again, jiggedy-jig, for a belated lunch, a reviving cup of coffee, and a judicious ingestion of aspirin, with stronger stuff in reserve if things really start going south. Now, some five hours later, I can actually trace the lines of the various aches brewing in arms, legs, neck, and back. It'll be, um, interesting to see how stiff I'll be when I get up (or try to, anyway) tomorrow morning.

So, that was my mostly excellent adventure today. I do hope tomorrow isn't quite so exciting.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Praise of Coasting: The Results Are In!

It's been a bit more than a month now since I began my experiment with coasting, and it is with surprised delight (and perhaps a touch of smug self-congratulation) that I report the results: It works! It really works!

I've done two mileage checks so far. The first produced a figure of 37.5 miles per gallon. The second came in at 36.79 mpg. I will confess to having slacked off a bit after the first mileage check, and am now driving with renewed dedication to the fine art of extending inertia to its safe limits.

So, how much fuel economy have I achieved? According to this website, a 2006 Scion xB should get overall gas mileage of 28 mpg. Not having done a baseline mileage check before the Great Coasting Experiment began, I can't be sure, but I believe I'd been getting around 30 mpg previously. So this technique is definitely paying off. At 30 mpg, driving 12,000 miles in a year would require 400 gallons of gas. Up the fuel economy to 37 mpg and the gasoline consumed drops to a smidgen over 324 gallons. At four bucks a gallon, that's some decent savings right there -- $304. Since the price of petrol seems determined to continue its ascent toward the stratosphere, future savings are looking even better.

And now, having tested my hypothesis and succeeded well beyond my modest expectations, I'm gung-ho to keep on coasting. Is 40 mpg achievable? Let's find out!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

In Praise of Coasting

Recently I came across an offbeat proposal for saving gas when one drives: Coasting. The author (whom I can't remember now) noted how he (pretty sure it was a he) has been letting off the gas pedal and coasting down hills for a while now, and has seen a modest but real decrease in his fuel consumption.

The idea intrigued me, and I tried it out. The driving I do, primarily at nonrush hours on gently undulating back roads, is well-suited to such an experiment, offering a plethora of opportunities and a paucity of other drivers I might inconvenience by failing to put the pedal to the metal at all times.

Well, whaddaya know -- when you look for them, there are lots and lots of coasting spots. Doesn't have to be a steep slope; even a gentle decline works just fine. Doesn't have to be a long stretch; even a few dozen yards here and there will add up over time to a respectable total. It's surprising how slowly the car's speed will slow even on a near-flat surface, and how far inertia will carry one beyond the base of a respectable hill before mere gravity gives not enough go. It's become a game for me now, seeing how many times on each drive the coast is clear.

And it's so easy, such a small maneuver; just lift one's foot ever so slightly, just clear of the pedal, poised for the soft descent that will initiate a smooth surge of acceleration when it's needed. Smooth -- that's the ticket. Smooth is good; smooth acceleration (and deceleration, for that matter) burns less gas than stomping on pedal and brake.

I haven't been paying sufficient attention to my gas mileage to note what sort of fuel savings this is achieving, in part because my little Scion's fuel economy is so good anyway that it's not much of an issue for me. What I have noticed as a benefit is the psychic gain: Not just, not even primarily the small glow of satisfaction at conserving energy, but rather the smoothing away of stress. Coasting, I find, is calming. Easing off the pedal eases off whatever tension I happen to be carrying. Coasting creates a relaxed focus on the now of driving, an enhanced awareness of the terrain I traverse.

Coasting is cool beans!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Uncomfortable ruminations: A friend responds

A good friend read my recent ruminations and emailed me a thoughtful and perceptive reply, one that I felt was very much worth sharing with others. With his permission, and with small identifying details redacted, I post it here:


Don’t be so hard on yourself. Biases exist. How we handle them is what counts.

It’s one thing to accept a biased view of humankind, without question, and to act in accordance with those biases. It is quite another thing to be aware of unsubstantiated views or predispositions or beliefs – biases – that we actively and conscientiously seek to account for in our judgments so that reason and an absence of bias inform our actions and choices. The idea that one can be unbiased is as illusory as the notion that a journalist can be objective. Biases need to be acknowledged, either overtly when writing opinion columns, or internally, when acting as a citizen in society.

I think of myself as unprejudiced, that is, I would not let ethnic or racial or gender biases color my opinions or judgments about others. But that does not mean I have no stereotypes that inhabit my subconscious. It would be absurd to think that. I am a product of my times, my upbringing, my life experiences. Consider: If I were to delude myself into thinking I had purged biases from my psyche, does that mean I would be comfortable living in an inner city ghetto? (Indeed, isn’t my characterization of it as inner city and ghetto just biases?) I would no more be comfortable, at home, in the society of the inner city than I would be living amongst the Southies of Boston.

People are not all the same; they differ vastly in sophistication, social mores, education, interest in the arts, intelligence, sensitivity – the list can go on and on. I believe what we as enlightened citizens of the world owe to our fellow humans is an unconditional respect: I respect other people, I recognize their values (even when they are different than mine), and I grant them the absolute right to be different than I am and to believe differently than I do. But I have no obligation to adjust my convictions to meet theirs, nor do I have to accord their beliefs equal weight in my own thinking. I simply need to respect them, and tolerate the differences between us.

It is fashionable today to equate different cultures, i.e., cultural relativity. That’s nonsense. I respect the fact that the culture of others may be different, vastly so, from my own; and I strive to be tolerant of differences I can’t understand or that seem nonsensical. Again, I see it as a question of respect: every person, and his/her culture, if it’s different than mine, must have my respect for me to say with truth that I am not prejudiced. But all cultures are not equal. The culture of the Maori tribes is in no way of equal value to the great, long-developing cultures of Western society, of which I am a member.

Allah and Muslims may be a great god and a great culture, respectively. But can you imagine trying to live in a Muslim culture? I couldn’t! I’m different than they are, and I have absolutely no desire to submit myself to their cultural strictures. But – I have no desire to suppress, or outlaw, or restrict their cultures.

I think that, again, makes me unprejudiced. Unbiased? No. My biases here are plain: I think my culture is better than theirs. And, concomitantly, I’m sure Muslims think their culture is better than mine. That’s fine with me. That’s the way it should be.

The fact that certain biases stubbornly persist in your psyche, despite your discomfort that they are there, is not a surprise. Your biases, beliefs, values, were inculcated in you from a very early age, and produced the person you are, with the character and integrity that you possess. Your intelligence, and growth as an individual, allow you to identify what are unsubstantiated beliefs – but that doesn’t mean they fade away. It means you have the tools available to you to make sure you act rationally and in a modern, enlightened way, because you know how to reckon with your biases.

Curiously, in my Catholic school upbringing, I learned the phrase “the occasion of sin.” The definition of that term included “thinking” a thought that, if acted out, would be a sin. In other words, either committing a sin or thinking about a sinful act were the same: a sin. Bullshit! (Though it took me years of guilt to realize that was a cockeyed notion.) I love my wife, and am devoted to her. And if I pass a gorgeous woman on the street and the thought flickers through my mind what spending the night with her might be like, that is in no way unfaithful to my wife, nor does it mean my affection for my wife is a sham. It means I have chosen to be loyal to one woman, my wife, but the god-given nature of men to be attracted to females hasn’t ended just because I made the choice to restrict myself to my wife.

Biases are bad only when one either doesn’t recognize the bias and acts therefore in a biased way; or, recognizing the bias, fails to adjust his actions to effectively neutralize the effect of the bias.

We are imperfect beings. No manner of perfection is vouchsafed to us. How earnestly we seek to know our imperfections and then effectively deal with them is, I believe, the measure of our success as tolerant individuals.

I’m sure you don’t think [our mutual friend] was biased towards white people because she chose to move back to Hawaii, where she could be more comfortable. We humans are communal people; we need to belong to a community. You can’t “belong” to a community in which you are uncomfortable. Seeking “your own kind” is not a form of bias, but a recognition of the human condition.

In today’s America, it is a strong indicator of biases successfully overcome if you can happily vote for a black Presidential candidate or, if you are a man, a woman candidate. A truly biased person could not do that.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Curiously mutable numbers

One would think, by using Quicken for keeping a checking account, that errors would, if not vanish, be far likelier to recede to insignificance -- a transposed or typoed number here, a failure to record a transaction there; small disruptions to the smooth procession of orderly numbers. Despite such glitches, the self-kept record should accord well with the bank's figures as shown in monthly statements and realtime inquiries via either phone or Internet.

Ha, I say.

A few days ago I dribbled away almost an hour trying to reconcile the disparity between what my generated-by-Quicken records show, and what Citizens Bank insists is my current balance in my business account.

I failed miserably. No matter how I tweaked and checked, the disparity remained, and what's worse, the actual quantity of the error kept morphing depending on what adjustments I tried making to account for it.

Gah. Once upon a time, my personal checking account so utterly refused to be disentangled that I opened a new one and let the old one lie fallow (other than a monthly automatic withdrawal for health insurance) for a few months till I could make the adjusting entry to resolve the whole mess: "Bank says."

I sure hope that remedy won't be necessary this time.

Some uncomfortable ruminations

I watched Obama's televised speech on race and racism in America, and afterwards did some soul-searching: an uncomfortable and at times discomforting process, which is, no doubt, why I tend to avoid it. Socrates may have asserted that the unexamined life is not worth living, but did he ever spend the wee hours pondering the uglier aspects of his life and preferring to pull the covers over his head?

Obviously, I'm not the only person moved to such reflections by the speech. On a message board I frequent, a member invited others to post their experiences: "
I'd really like to see a thread where people just try to understand the racial dynamics and baggage that each person in America carries. Disparities in opportunity. Disparities in treatment. Unequal histories. Fears, hopes, hurts, and aspirations. I'd like to see us lay out our own racial baggage."

I struggled with whether to respond. However much I may babble on publicly about superficial things, I rarely let out my inner demons for a run where others can see them. But I found myself compelled to air out what's been running through my mind ever since the speech, what's in fact been bubbling away inside for quite a while. So, as disquieting as it is for me to reveal so much of myself, here is what I wrote:
I was born in 1949 and grew up in a mostly middle class white suburb north of Boston. There may have been a black family or two in the town, but black people were pretty much an abstraction until I went to college. My family and their friends never made racist statements, that I can remember; they didn't demonstrate anger and alarm at the civil rights movement of King's time; heck, I have a vague memory of participating in some racial justice and harmony march in Boston, as a teenager.

And I was in the company of Negroes (the polite term then) for the first time in my life, and I didn't know how to talk to them, how to even look at them (being naturally shy didn't help). I departed from that experience no closer to any understanding of those people than I'd had before.

Those people. That's what black folks were to me. Beings so different from me that I couldn't see past the abstraction to the real people. Oh, I had imbibed the tenets of civil rights, even though my parents were lower middle class Republicans -- Republicans of that ancient strain that flourished when fiscal conservatism and belief in a strong defense hadn't been hijacked into a patriotic cover for extreme social-issues fanaticism and empire-building. The Congregational church I grew up attending was socially conscious and taught it from the pulpit. I believed in equality and justice and the American Dream for all -- but I never had to confront the reality of their application to those people.

In college I met blacks and got to know them as individuals, as real people, for the first time. I tried hard to comprehend what small glimpses they granted me of the black experience. Can't pretend that I did very well at it, but still, it built bridges for me, for my appreciation of folks whose differences, sometimes vast differences from me did not belie the underlying fact of our mutual humanity.

And yet, deeply rooted in my mind, ineradicable to this day, from childhood on were and are a whole host of ugly racist stereotypes. Where the hell did they come from? How did they get in there and why can't I cleanse my mind of them?

Where did they come from? From the society I grew up in, of course, a childhood time and place where blacks on professional sports teams were still a novelty; where the faces on television were all white, all the time; where assumptions of white superiority were so deep-rooted that they didn't have to be declared or debated -- that's just the way it was.

Now, I don't concede any validity to these stereotypes -- in my conscious word, deed, or thought. Over the decades since college I've tried my damnedest to live up to the liberty and justice for all ideal. I've rejoiced at the rolling back of prejudice and constricted opportunity in so many ways.

But the ugly thoughts are still there. Beaten back, beaten down, beaten into a low dull intermittent muttering -- they refuse to die. I've become resigned, at age 59, to the fact that, shameful as it is, difficult as it is to admit, I've got some racism in me that I can't scour out; the best I can do is shut the closet door, ignore the tiny hammering on it, and live my life according to the ideals I want to believe are the real me.

And that, my friends, is the racism of one Northeastern white liberal. Whether I like it or not.
As the conversation continued, this memory worked its way to the surface:
[A previous post] reminds me of a woman I knew some 15 years ago, a decade or so younger than me. She was of white and Japanese parentage, with a Japanese surname, and simply gorgeous, as a person as well as in her looks. She had two young sons by a black father. They were also lovely, lovely little young men -- physically, yes, but also in demeanor because my friend worked her butt off to raise them well despite being a single mother holding down a full-time, demanding job.

She was living in a close-in suburb of Boston when I knew her, but within a couple of years of our meeting she told me she was moving to Hawaii. "It's because," she said, "well, because....."

"Because you want to live where you and your kids look like everyone else," I interjected.

"Yes! Yes, that's exactly it!"

And we had a discussion of how hard it was for her to live among people who couldn't matter-of-factly accept her and her children because they didn't fit into the mold of their milieu.

I've been thinking about her a lot lately.
So there it is -- the confused muddle of a "typical white person" who really, really does want to be true to her ideals but must confront the fact that their foundations rest upon muck as well as granite.