a riff on education

booknotesI was discussing an article about education with a former coworker this morning over IM, when he posited the following gem:

“No Child Left Behind also means No Child Gets Ahead.”

I was struck dumb by the brilliance of that comment.

As many of you know, I teach history at the college level, at both a 2-year community college & a traditional, public 4-year university. Because of how adjunct (part-time) professors are prioritized, I only ever teach 100-level courses. This means that the vast majority of my students are freshmen – and at the 4-year institution, that means they’re generally in their 1st or 2nd semester of college.

I’ve been teaching since 2001 and have noticed a precipitous drop-off in the skills these students bring to my classes.

I want to clarify a something real quick before I continue. I’m not talking about intelligence.  In all my years of teaching, I have yet to meet a student who is just flat-out stupid.  Not understanding history, chemistry or calculus doesn’t mean you’re stupid – it means you don’t understand that thing, whatever it is. The reason we seek education is to improve our understanding of the world.

OK, now that we’ve cleared that up, I’ll continue.

To succeed in a history class, you need some pretty specialized skills, such as:

1.  The ability to take notes.  This is not just writing down every word the professor says, but paraphrasing the lecture’s main points effectively in a way that you will understand later when you read over your notes.

2.  The ability to concentrate on one thing, and a brain-intensive thing at that, for an extended period of time.  There’s more distractions in the world than Facebook, spring blossoms and the cute classmate sitting next to you.

3.  The ability to take an exam.  I’ll get into this a bit more down below.

4.  The ability to think creatively, abstractly and analytically.  This skill is perhaps the one that most students – at least in my history classes – lack, and it’s the lack of this skill that hurts them the most when final grades roll around because it affects every other aspect of the class.

Let’s get into the correlation between NCLB (or NCGA as I may refer to it from now on) and exams.

As most educators & parents know, the metrics that drive the NCLB program stem from all-encompassing examinations given to students every year. Because of the vast scope of both these exams and this program, there’s no way you could possibly have humans grade every exam – which means grading the exams relies on computers. With very few exceptions, computers lack the ability to reason – to understand – complex abstract & analytical thought. Computers are great, though, at determining if the answer to question #16 on this piece of paper matches the answer that it has listed as the correct answer to question #16.

Every year for 12 years, students take a multi-day multiple choice exam.  Multiple choice exams do have their place in academia, and that place is in a class where the material is largely fact based. To a large extent, that means science & math.  If I was a science teacher, I’d be all over multiple choice exams.  “Mitosis is:  A) When cells die unexpectedly; B) When cells grow little arms called flagella; C) When cells split; D) None of the above.”  (the answer? anybody? I don’t know, I just made all that up)

“But Wes!” I hear you cry. “History is about facts, too! Surely you could make a multiple choice exam for your history classes!”

Yes, I agree, that to a certain extent history is about facts.  George Washington was born in 1732. The Battle of Agincourt took place in 1415.  The first man to walk on the moon was Neil Armstrong.  Genghis Khan died in 1227. These data points are very easy to quantify and put on a multiple choice exam.

What is not so easy to put on a multiple choice exam is why the British winning the Battle of Agincourt was important or how they won the fight or what the repercussions were for the overall war effort on both sides in the Hundred Years War. That really requires, at the very least, a short essay to explain.

Why would you need to explain that?  How about drawing parallels between long, destructive wars and understanding what 21st century Americans can learn from them? You can’t put that on a multiple choice exam.

Since students coming to college now have this long history of multiple choice exams behind them, they’ve geared their entire educational experience towards succeeding on those types of exams, and that destroys their other critical abilities.  It changes what they think is important, so it affects what they write down in their notes – and later, what they study for the exams. It (and many items of technology) changes their attention span, because everything taught for the standardized tests is done so in bite-sized chunks to make the digestion of facts easier. It obviously destroys their ability to take an essay exam. Finally, since creative, analytical thinking isn’t important for a student to regurgitate facts and succeed on a standardized test, it’s simply not being taught at the levels or with the intensity of days gone by.

(I swear, this is not a “get off my lawn” moment.)

My students react with fear when I tell them their exams will be all essays. I think at some visceral level they know they’re not prepared for it. That in & of itself is one of the reasons I teach my history classes the way I do – not a collection of facts displayed with a PowerPoint production, but as a series of stories. I still throw in the facts, but I surround them with analysis, which (hopefully) makes them easier to remember when it’s critical they do so.

I would rather a student be able to tell me the story of why Henry II & Thomas Becket’s friendship died than the names of the knights who brutally murdered Archbishop Becket in his own cathedral. The names aren’t important and can easily be looked up. What’s important is that the struggle between church & state isn’t unique to us in 2013 – it’s been going on for centuries and frankly, is something we can all stand to learn lessons from.

You can’t do that with a multiple choice exam. Ever. Period.  Forcing kids into this pattern is effectively compressing the skill levels – it is raising up the bottom tiers, but at the same time it is also lowering the top tiers.  All of our kids are being forced into the middle with the hope that the middle will rise as a result of NCLB.  It won’t. Ever. That’s not how things work. The middle will remain the middle because that’s how nature works. There will always be high- and low-performing students and many of the kids on the extremes will succeed or fail in spite of their educations.

Maybe this is a great time to point out that Bill Gates & Steve Jobs both dropped out of college & went on to create two of the most successful technology companies in the history of business. Perhaps the richest man of all time (if that’s how you measure success) was Andrew Carnegie, who not only never went to college, but never went to high school, as he entered the workforce at age 13.

Albert Einstein, though – now, he went to college. What can be learned from that? Well, if you want to succeed in business, maybe you don’t need college, but if you want to succeed in physics, you better pick out a school with access to a supercollider.

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a quick look at helmet prices

I read Wired (wired.com) just about every day, and when you read a website every day, you get used to the kinds of articles they run. Color me surprised, then, when they ran a piece on the Schuberth C3 Pro helmet! As regular readers know, I wear a Schuberth S2 most of the time (my backup is a Shoei RF1100) and really like it. Last month I was discussing helmets – and helmet prices – when the subject of expensive helmets came up.

“Do I really need a $700 helmet?” he asked.

“No,” I answered, “but there’s plenty of people who will throw that old adage ‘if you’ve got a $100 head, buy a $100 helmet’ at you. Instead of listening to either bullshit or hype, go to a couple motorcycle shops and try on a bunch of different helmets and see what fits best. Buy that one & use it for 3 months, 6 months, a year, whatever. Then decide if you need a different one.”

The only difference between a “good” helmet and a “bad” one is that ANY helmet is better than no helmet. Your head, therefore, is a bad helmet. There are some typical differences between inexpensive & costly helmets, though. As you go up in cost, the helmets tend to get lighter (compared to other models of the same style), the shells get more high-tech (more composites & less fiberglas), the components (lining, cheek pads) get nicer or have more healthy qualities to them (removable/washable, anti-bacterial) and, perhaps more important than anything else, really, is the elitism factor.

“Oh, you use an HJC?” you can sneer at somebody when you wear an Arai helmet. “How nice for you.” You can feel superior to him if you like, but the bottom line is his HJC probably protects his head just as well as your Arai. Your Arai might feel nicer, look better and last longer, but the core of most motorcycle helmets – the EPS foam inside the shell – is nearly identical across all manufacturers.

I decided to put this quick comparison list together.  I looked at base model (solid color) helmets across a variety of manufacturers. (flip) = flip-up/modular; (DS) = dual sport. The helmets are listed with their MSRP (manufacturer’s suggester retail price) and, if I was able to find one, a street (or rather, web) price. Some manufacturers – like Schuberth and Bell – don’t discount their helmets, but you may find them on sale at this dealer or that dealer.

Schuberth SR1, 899
Arai Corsair V, 800 (600)

Schuberth C3 Pro (flip), 770
Arai RX-Q, 720 (648)

Schuberth S2, 699
Shoei X-Twelve, 682 (614)
Shoei Neotec (flip), 649 (585)
Schuberth C3 (flip), 630
Arai Defiant, 620 (558)
Arai Signet Q, 620 (558)
Arai XD-4 (DS), 600 (540)

Shoei GT Air, 550 (495)
Shoei Hornet (DS), 511 (460)
Arai Vector 2, 500 (450)

Shoei Multitec (flip), 430 (300)
Nolan N104 (flip), 450 (405)
Shoei RF1100, 440 (400)
Bell RS-1, 400

Nolan N90S (flip), 370 (243)
Scorpion EXO-R2000, 370
Shoei Qwest, 367 (330)
HJC RPHA-10, 360 (324)
HJC RPS-10, 360 (270)
Nolan N43E Trilogy (flip), 360 (324)
Icon Variant (DS), 350
Nolan N90 (flip), 300 (270)

Icon Airframe Construct, 295
Scorpion EXO-1100, 290
Scorpion EXO-900, 270
Nolan N85, 250 (225)
Bell Revolver EVO, 200
Scorpion EXO-500, 200

HJC FG-17, 190 (171)
Bell Vortex, 180
Icon Airmada, 180
HJC IS-16, 170 (153)
Icon Alliance, 160 (128)
Scorpion EXO-R410, 160
HJC CL-Max II (flip), 140 (126)
Fly Trekker (DS), 136 (126)
AFX FX-39 (DS), 135 (122)
AFX FX-140 (flip), 130 (117)
HJC CL-16, 130 (117)
Scorpion EXO-400, 130 (100)
Bell Arrow, 100
Speed & Strength SS700, 100 (90)

AFX FX-90, 80 (72)

IMG_2777(this is my Schuberth S2 helmet – love it!!)

(don’t) stand by your man

During an interview with CNN, New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner said his sexting scandal has hurt his wife’s career. Of course my first reaction to hearing that was “DUH!!! YA THINK???!!!”

His wife (and mother of his child), Huma Abedin, was a top aide for ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when the first sexting scandal emerged, the one that forced Weiner to resign from Congress.

Weiner swore he’d ended the salacious behavior, but sure enough, when he started running for mayor of New York City, allegations came out that he was not only still doing it, but he had kept doing it after he resigned from Congress.

I’ve read a lot of feminist rhetoric recently about how important it is for Abedin to stick by him, and that her doing so in no way diminished the cause of feminism or her place in that long, honored chain of activism.

At this point, though, I have to call bullshit on that. I’m sorry, I just can’t stand it any longer.

I disagree that staying with a lying bastard who sends photos of his dick to women he’s not married to is a positive aspect of feminist behavior. A real feminist would have kicked his lying ass to the curb the second time he got caught sending pictures of his dick to other women. Why the second? Because everybody deserves a chance to correct inappropriate behavior.

Caught once? “Don’t do it again.”

Caught twice? “My lawyer will be in touch.”

Staying married to this piece of shit is a slap in the face to every woman that fought for women’s rights. I’m sure she loves the guy, that much is obvious since she didn’t leave him the first time he got caught. I get it. Sometimes our heart is more powerful than our brain. In this case, though, it’s time Abedin listened to her brain and told her heart to shut up.

Standing by your spouse, partner or significant other when they screw up is a time-honored tradition, but the inference is that they have learned from their mistake and don’t do it again. Weiner has clearly fallen short of that expectation and needs to be free to sign up on eHarmony in the very near future.

I’m not alone in that I judge people by the decisions they make. Should Abedin ever show up on the national political scene, I’d vote against her in a heartbeat if she was still married to Anthony Weiner because staying with him clearly shows that she doesn’t make good decisions.

some advice for Tony Stewart

Anybody that knows me fairly well knows that I think our society’s sports fetish is out of control and the amount of money some of these athletes get paid and the adoration heaped upon them is utterly obscene.

However, due to my day job as a kind of journalist, I cover several major sports – football (college & pro), basketball (college & pro), baseball (pro), hockey (pro) & auto racing. When it comes to racing news, sometimes I throw in some motorcycle or Formula 1 racing, but the client really expects a NASCAR-focused feed.

It’s in that context, then, that I read about (and reported on) Tony Stewart’s crash Monday night in Iowa. Today, news is out that he’s had a 2nd surgery, in a hospital in North Carolina, to insert what in the orthopedic business is called a “tibial nail.”

Allow me to illustrate:

X-ray of a tibial nail insertion.

This is a scan of an x-ray of my left leg; the x-ray was done in May 1999 after I underwent the exact same surgery Tony Stewart just had.

What they do is pretty simple. First, they drill a hole down the middle of the tibia – however many pieces it’s in, they all get the drill. Then they insert this rod, maybe 14 or 15 inches long and up to 3/4 of an inch wide, into the bone through that hole. Then they secure both ends of it with screws and sew the recipient back up.

In the orthopedic world, it’s a pretty straightforward surgery. For the recipient, though, it’s an utterly traumatic event.

Like Tony Stewart’s, my tibial “nail” (why they don’t just call it a “rod” I’ll never know) started with a crash. Unlike Tony Stewart, though, I was neither racing nor at fault (not that I’m blaming Stewart for his crash, but, well, you know, he was racing!). I was merrily riding along on my bright yellow & white motorcycle, safely & comfortably wearing my bright yellow helmet when an old lady decided she was going to drive through the intersection I was riding through.

Enough about me, though. I’m 13 years post-op (I had a larger, longer rod inserted in 2000 to improve stabilization) and am doing fine.

These titanium beauties are put in to somebody’s leg every week and they work just fine. As a matter of fact, many of them get left in for the rest of the recipient’s life.

I’m here to offer some advice and a little consolation for Tony Stewart. I’ve been where you are, man, and I sympathize. Granted, I didn’t have access to the doctors that you have, but my orthopedic surgeon was damn good.

(An aside – when I was lying in the hallway behind the emergency room on the day of my wreck (I was covered with gasoline & stank to high heaven as a result), the orthopedic doctor on call, after finally getting my x-rays, came to check me out. We chatted a bit (he was the 5th person that morning to ask me if I knew the date & who the president was) and he looked at my chart. He said “I’m going to lift the blanket now and take a look at your leg. Don’t worry, I won’t touch it.”  He then lifted the blanket and looked at my leg. I saw his face go white and after a few seconds he said, “Um… I’m … ah … I’m gonna have to go get my boss.” Not exactly a reassuring way to talk to the patient, but in retrospect it was awfully funny.)

Tony, you’re in for a hard road to recover from this. You’ve got a badly broken leg and even with the rod in there, it’s going to take a while to heal. When you’re allowed to put weight on it again, probably in 6 to 8 weeks, you’re going to start physical therapy.

Make sure you get a beautiful young female physical therapist. There’s two reasons for that: 1) Everybody wants a beautiful young woman to like them and think they’re manly, so you’ll be less inclined to cry in front of her. Believe me, Tony, it’s going to hurt so bad you WILL want to cry. A lot. 2) Because you’re a man, you’re going to work harder to please this beautiful young woman. It’s subconscious, I think, but incredibly motivating.

(My physical therapist, Amy, was not only beautiful and young, but she was an incredibly talented and knowledgable physical therapist. It’s not hyperbole when I say that without Amy’s skills, I wouldn’t be able to walk without a cane today – if at all. She hurt me a lot over the three months I went to her, and I freely admit that I cried in front of her more than once – including after our last session together. Usually it was the pain that brought on the tears, but not at that last meeting. I was genuinely overcome with emotion at the gift this woman gave me – the ability to walk again.)

Once you’ve secured your beautiful young female physical therapist, do everything she tells you to do and do it over and over and over again for as long as it takes to get your leg back. It’ll never be 100% again, but come on, Tony, all you really do with it is mash the accelerator, right?  OK, OK I’m just kidding.  If you take your rehab seriously, you’ll be back on your feet in a few months and with a little hard work, I think you’ll be back on the grid at the start of next season.

Tony, you can do this. You’ll be OK. Really. If I can come back from severe leg trauma (and mine was a nasty, open fracture), then you can. You’re young, you’re strong and you’re already in pretty good health.

As a last bit of advice, don’t bother with a wheelchair and get rid of those shitty armpit-killing crutches they’re going to give you. Get a pair like people with polio use, the ones that have that little forearm cuff on them. They’re way better and will help you keep your arm strength up while you’re rehabbing. You can totally borrow mine if you want, I’ve hung on to them for over a decade & even my stepfather used them when he got his knee replaced. They’re awesome.

Try to stay positive, Tony. It’s going to be a long year, but I’m here if you need anything. Feel free to call or email.

$5 words and what they mean

I’m a big fan of what I call $5 words – or college words. My favorite by far is subinfeudation, but that doesn’t fit the model I’m using for the words detailed in this post. Let’s take a look at the words Faustian, Kafkaesque, Orwellian, Machiavellian and Pyrrhic.

Faustian

In its proper context, Faustian refers to some kind of abstract or metaphysical compromise, a Faustian bargain, in which the seeker of knowledge achieves that goal, but has to severely compromise his values or ethics along the way.

Let’s say that I was doing research on some aspect of Roman architecture. I found out that an archaeological dig near London had just turned up a Roman road nobody had ever known about (this actually just happened: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/crossrail-workers-discover-bedlam-bones-2141406). I felt so strongly that the digger’s notes could aid my research that I befriended one of them, then drugged him and stole his laptop containing all the info about the discovery on it to further my own research. That’s Faustian behavior.

Johann Faust was a legendary 15th & 16th century German mystic – an alchemist and magician. His name is attached to the nihilistic search for knowledge largely due to the efforts of Johann Spies, Christopher Marlowe and Johann Goethe, all of whom wrote apocryphal works about him.

(PS Apocryphal means “of suspect authenticity.” In one context, it can be attached to something that most likely didn’t happen – like the (apocryphal) story of George Washington cutting down his father’s favorite cherry tree, then refusing to lie about it. It can also be used to cast doubt upon the veracity of a written work, such as, in this context, Spies’ History of Johann Fausten, Marlowe’s The Tragical History of the Life & Death of Dr. Faustus, and Goethe’s Faust.)

(PPS Veracity means “truth” or “believability” in this context.)

Kafkaesque

Used properly, Kafkaesque means something that is completely baffling and nightmarishly disorienting, yet at the same time sinister and menacing.

The thing I’ve seen Kafkaesque used to describe the most is any kind of bureaucracy – like the IRS, DMV, ICE, the NVCC registrar’s office or any other agency that is driven by arcane rules & often incompetent, tenured employees. The way things work is so completely inexplicable that at the end of the day, you simply just have to laugh at how bizarre it all was – but you can’t really complain to anybody, because you’re afraid if you do, terrible things will happen to you.

(PPPS Inexplicable means “unable to be explained.”)

To understand where the term Kafkaesque originated, just read Franz Kafka’s book The Trial (which, in its original German, has a much more sinister title – Der Process). Kafka was a 20th century novelist who was in many ways the father of Philip K. Dick’s science fiction writing. Both authors were obsessed with themes of helplessness, alienation, transformation and dependence.

Orwellian

I imagine most everybody thinks they already know what Orwellian means. This term specifically refers to a society that resembles the one in his novel 1984. To more clearly define this atmosphere, since I think about 75% of the people that say they’ve read 1984 have not actually done so, Orwellian refers to a societal condition in which the people are over controlled in every aspect of their lives by a totalitarian, secretive, interfering, all-encompassing government and justifiably scared of the agents of said government. It implies that you have no privacy – and perhaps no individuality – whatsoever.

George Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair and besides Upton Sinclair, he is probably the world’s most well-known socialist writer. While Americans know him primarily for 1984 and his novella Animal Farm, he wrote prolifically and is considered one of the greatest British writers ever.

Machiavellian

Similar to Faustian is Machiavellian, which applies to the pursuit of political or ruling power instead of knowledge. A Machiavellian ruler is one who is willing to use any tool – generally unethical if not outrightly illegal ones – to achieve and maintain a position of power. This is where the old cliche that “the ends justify the means” originates, meaning that it’s OK to do nasty, evil things to achieve a positive or good goal – like governmental stability or becoming wealthy.

The perfect example of this is Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. In his efforts to achieve reelection in 1972, Nixon green-lighted a group breaking into Democratic National Headquarters in order to find out information about their candidate and how the Democrats were going to run their campaigns against him and other Republicans. When news about this started to leak out, Nixon lied to everybody trying to cover it up until the evidence was so incontrovertible that he simply resigned the presidency and walked away from politics completely.

(PPPPS Incontrovertible means “unable to be denied or questioned.”)

I find it interesting that its title in Italian, Il Principe, is very similar to the word principle, which it seems to be the exact thing Machiavelli is saying rulers don’t need in their quest for power.

It is widely believed that Machiavelli based his “new prince” on a man called Cesare Borgia. Unlike many of the terms on this list, Machiavellian is used almost universally in a derogatory fashion, as it implies a person who will most ruthlessly lie, cheat, steal and murder anyone that stands between him and his goals.

(PPPPPS Derogatory means “negative.”)

Niccolo Machiavelli was a 15th century bureaucrat who, upon his exile after a minor civil war and subsequent power transfer, became a writer during a 15-year exile. He wrote his signature book, The Prince, after his patrons, the Medici family, fought their way back into control of the Florentine Republic, though he no longer worked for them at that point. He didn’t just write about politics, though, he also wrote songs, poems and comedic works, none of which anybody pays any attention at all.

Pyrrhic

The terms in this post are meant to be used in specific ways, and Pyrrhic is no different. Correctly used with the phrase “Pyrrhic victory,” it means a victory that is so costly that it’s really quite difficult to tell the winner from the loser.

The perfect example to illustrate this term is the historical event (and person) from which we derive the term in the first place. In 279 BC, the Battle of Asculum saw the Roman army attacking a Macedonian (Greek) army near the city of Asculum, about 200 miles southeast of Rome. Pyrrhus of Epirus led the Macedonian army of about 40,000 troops; Publius Decius Mus led the Roman army of – coincidentally – about 40,000 troops. The two armies deployed in the standard formation of the time – infantry in the middle, cavalry on the flanks – and fighting started. After two days of brutal combat, the Roman army left the field of battle in defeat – not at all a common occurrence at that time – having suffered about 8,000 casualties. The Macedonian army suffered some 3,000 casualties, but many of Pyrrhus’ best officers and front-line veterans were among them, leaving his army in a total shambles. Pyrrhus was reported to have said “Another such victory and we shall be undone,” from which we can infer that the cost of victory was so high that, in looking at the big picture, winning the battle simply wasn’t worth the cost of the victory.

Pyrrhus went on to lose his protracted war against Rome and was beheaded in battle in 272 BC after (allegedly) getting konked on the head by a roofing tile thrown by an old woman who recognized him.

(I would definitely use the word apocryphal to describe THAT part of the story!)

the Maximization of Cycle World magazine

Change is always hard for some people to accept, yet it is, by its very nature, completely unavoidable. When it comes to our media institutions, though, we expect them to look the same year after year, decade after decade.

CW1Motorcycle magazines are suffering the same attrition that motorcycle manufacturers are. As the recession – though improving – continues to linger, people are spending less of their discretionary money on luxuries like motorcycles and magazines. Add to that the downward spiral being suffered by all print media outlets as the internet age marches on. The advent of the iPad (& other tablet computers) has really taken a giant bite out of magazine subscriptions.

In some ways, I support that move, the move to digital, but in other ways, not so much. There is still something special about getting a magazine in the mail, seeing that 8.5×11 cover (or bigger, if you used to get Rolling Stone or Vintage Guitar, but even RS has gone to a more standard format recently) and looking at the table of contents as you walk back to the house. Plus, face it, taking your iPad into the bathroom is just a little creepy, because you never know when the NSA is going to co-opt the onboard camera & microphone and start checking out your bathroom habits.

(I bet if you weren’t worried about that before, you are now!)

I read several motorcycle magazines – Cycle WorldRider, Motorcycle Consumer News (which, honestly, is the best of the bunch) and Iron Butt Magazine (which I also work for) as well as some BMW-specific magazines – BMW Motorcycle MagazineOwners’ News (magazine of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America) and On the Level (magazine of the BMW Rider’s Association). They all have their particular style and charm, from the stark, workmanlike aesthetic of MCN to the flashy, perhaps even Euro-trendy look of BMWMM.

(Yes, I am the kind of person who spots typos, spelling & grammar errors in magazines.)

A few months ago, I got my first copy of the redesigned Cycle World. At first, I was kind of excited about it. The new look was bright, colorful, flashy, bold and thorough – they left no stone unturned, no aspect of the magazine unchanged. After reading through the first new-look issue, though, I felt … strange. Unsatisfied. I went back and flipped through the magazine again, slowly, just looking at the graphics and layout rather than reading the articles.

That’s when it hit me. Cycle World was emulating Maxim. If you’re not familiar with Maxim, it’s kind of like a lightweight Playboy without full nudity. The magazine is filled with photos of beautiful celebrity women, often wearing nothing more than the skimpiest of swim suits or even just covering their juiciest bits with their hands/arms. The content is largely of interest to men and boys – lifestyle items like watches or fashion brands are treated as objects as much as the women between its covers are. There’s not much in the way of news or anything resembling actual journalism in it, but that’s not surprising as Maxim isn’t about news/journalism. It’s about image.

That’s what I mean when I say “the Maximization of Cycle World” – CW has become more form than function. In the current issue, September 2013 (rec’d 5 Aug), it’s not until page 34-35 that any one article takes up more than a half-page. Nearly every odd page (on the right side of the spread) is a full-page ad; the only exceptions are pages 3 (table of contents), 15 (Yamaha YZ450F “first ride” by Jimmy Lewis – and 1/3 of the page is taken up by a silly waste of space running some numbers in a grid) and 25 (has a full-spread ad taking up the bottom half of both pages). When we finally do get something substantive, Peter Egan’s piece, it’s not news but rather a column – one of Egan’s great stories about his adventures on classic and/or vintage motorcycles. Still, though, the piece is broken up by another of the silly number-based graphic grids and the 2nd page of the column has a half-page ad on it. The first actual in-depth, interesting article about anything truly motorcycle-related starts on page 40 – their look at the new Yamaha FZ-09. Even then, this brand-new (and quite impressive) bike gets a full-spread photo and just one (ad-free) spread of content – that’s 2 measly pages on a brand-new bike that’s sure to set the naked bike fans afire.

I’m not even going to get into the weird mish-mash of typefaces they’re using other than to say holy crap!

CW2One of the other “substantive” “features” compares 5 bikes to each other, but each bike gets barely a half page and the giant (and beautiful) photos mean that there’s only a couple paragraphs of content.

It’s sad, really, to see Cycle World go the route of the short attention span. While on the one hand it’s great to see them printing larger, slicker photographs, it’s a shame they’re doing so at the expense of the content. It’s as if they’re saying “Words don’t matter – only images matter.” I definitely disagree and will be letting my subscription to this magazine expire without renewal.

Until then, though, I’m going to enjoy the photos, because that’s really all that’s left to love.

lions and tigers and anxiety – oh my!

I have these seemingly random anxiety attacks from time to time that really, truly freak me out.

They start pretty much the same – I break out in a thick sweat, but it’s not particularly hot wherever I am, nor am I exerting myself at a high level. It’s mostly a head sweat, coating my forehead and dampening* what little there is of my hair.

Next, my chest starts to hurt. Sharp, piercing pains in my upper left or right chest, ones that I had to learn are not indicative of a heart attack because no matter what you see on TV, the vast majority of heart attacks in men do not start with a sharp, shooting pain. (If you feel like your chest is being crushed, that’s very likely to be a heart attack, unless something is actually crushing your chest at the time.)

The chest pain is what really gets my attention, but it’s the next part I really hate.  My bowels get real loose, real fast, and that causes all sorts of running around. Yeah, yeah, I know – TMI (Too Much Information for y’all that don’t know).

After my 3rd or 4th trip to the bathroom, I’ve worked myself up into a pretty good frenzy, and it’s super hard to come down from this whirlwind of pain, sweat, discomfort and emotion. These attacks, when they happen, are really scary.

This morning, I woke up like that.  Drenched in sweat, running for the bathroom, sharp pains on both sides of my chest. Intellectually I know this is not a heart attack, but emotionally I’m scared to fucking death that it is.

After a couple of hours, I called my doctor to see if they had any cancellations so I could get a same-day appointment – they’re on vacation. After another couple of hours, I decided to go to the closest urgent care clinic. I reassured them I wasn’t having a heart attack; they subsequently assured me I wasn’t having a heart attack. You’d think that would be enough to calm me down, but you’d be wrong. The doc said my heart & lungs sound just fine, but they ran an EKG (ECG?) anyway. The doc said it wasn’t fine, it wasn’t even good, it was “perfect.” She sent me home with a prescription to “chill, man.”

These episodes are really starting to bug me, which certainly can’t help but cycle them more often. I imagine they’re stress-related, but I can’t think what in the hell stress is triggering them – especially the one today because I was asleep when it started!! That’s not even fair!

These things suck and I wish they’d stop. Now.