hey, 2018? you best not suck!

I suppose it’s traditional in the last week of a calendar year to reflect on the year behind and predict for the year ahead. I’m certainly not immune to that impulse, nor am I immune to the predictable impulse to make promises to myself on how to improve the next year. Maybe we constantly think that the previous year’s sucktastic aspects were somehow our fault, and if we just change our attitude (or latitude), those problems won’t come back.

Instead of trying to come up with something on my own that I could implement as a resolution for 2018, I put the question to my Facebook feed. My Facebook friends – some of whom I’ve known for many years & some I’ve never met in person – chimed in with some suggestions. Here they are, with some commentary. At the bottom will be my actual resolution(s) that I thought up on my own.

REJECTED

  • Don’t make resolutions. I get this – don’t set yourself up for failure & you’ll have nothing to feel bad about, right? As a thought experiment, however, resolutions can be fun and educational. (Learning about yourself counts as educational, right?)
  • Manufacture jenkem in my basement. I had to look up what jenkem is, and I will not be fermenting human waste inside the house – or anywhere else, for that matter.
  • Throat punch more people. While probably morally satisfying, throat-punching people could lead to prison time. Not interested.
  • Kick a dog a day. Funny, sure, but not practical. Where I live in semi-rural suburban Richmond, Virginia, kicking somebody’s dog could get you shot. Plus I like dogs. Other people’s dogs. My daughter wants to get a dog in the worst way, but I know how much work it is to take care of a dog and I’m not ready to commit to that yet.

ABIDE

This one-word suggestion was probably my favorite. I’ve seen The Big Lebowsky just once, and honestly, while I thought it was funny, it didn’t resonate with me in the same way it has for many of its fans. My favorite scene was the beach funeral. So, so funny!

At any rate, abide is somewhat of a mantra for the movie’s main character, and it can in many ways be seen as the central tenet of Buddhism as well. No – wait for it – and trust me. Buddhist philosophy centers around the interconnectedness of all beings and all things. Enlightenment comes from glimpses of the true nature of this interconnectedness. We achieve enlightenment by opening our minds to the true nature of the world around us … and to do that, we must abide.

Most of the suggestions I received I can subordinate under abide, and so I have.

  • Don’t be a dick and Be kind. Google’s mantra used to be don’t be evil. They’ve moved away from that, but in general I think don’t be a dick is a great suggestion. The world would be a better place if fewer of us acted more in the interests of positivity instead of selfishness, and selfishness is the root cause of being a dick. Being kind is the polar opposite of being a dick, so these two suggestions work together. I love these suggestions, and I do hereby resolve to do my best not to be a dick (and therefore be more kind) in 2018.
  • Do something nice for someone I don’t know and Pay someone a compliment each day. Two more complimentary suggestions, and both will take me out of my comfort zone. I don’t consider myself a particularly nice person – meaning that I don’t feel I go out of my way to make other people’s lives better in meaningful ways. My family, sure. My closest circle of friends, sure. My coworkers, sometimes (when it benefits the company). In general, however, I am going to struggle with this, but I will try!
  • Add value to the space & lives around me and Find wonder, joy & beauty in the world. These were suggestions that struck me deeply and made me sit back and think a bit. The person the former came from has had a hard couple of years when it comes to family, with both unexpected gains and unexpected losses. Their family has had to move a few times in the past few years, something that can be quite stressful on kids. That they took this tack – adding value – is abstract enough to encompass many things, and I think that makes it easier to achieve. Find wonder, joy & beauty is something I will definitely have to work on, but I love the sentiment behind it. We read and experience negativity on such a large scale that it’s difficult to find the good things in life. I will try to see the positive.
  • Learn & do new things and Think more about being than doing. Another great pair of suggestions. When we stop learning, we stop growing. When we focus more on the experience of something than what it does for us, we harm our own growth. While I won’t be jumping out of airplanes, I think it would be fun and educational to try things in 2018 that I’ve never tried before.
  • Have fun. Duh, right? We often don’t think about life in this fashion, however, so getting a reminder from a friend to have fun is refreshing. I do a number of things that should be fun, but the fun in them is often lost or missed because I’m focused on other things. I need to work on that.
  • Wear great socks. I have terrible fashion sense, even for a fat guy. I should work on that.
  • Use fewer plastic items. This is a fantastic – and concrete – suggestion. Plastic comes from petroleum, and anything I can do to reduce the use of petroleum products is going to be good for all of us in the long run.

PLAY LIVE (MUSIC) WITH SOMEONE AGAIN

(also Play more guitar and Play guitar (nearly) every day) It’s no secret that I retired from being in bands several years ago. I do not miss being in a band. I do not, in general, miss playing live. I do not miss the constant, complex management of interpersonal relationships it takes to hold a band together.

I do, however, miss playing. I miss recording. I miss making music with friends.

In December, I committed to playing a show with one of my former bands some time in the first half of the year. I’ll post details when I have them. To make sure I don’t suck when that show comes around, I’ll be practicing and getting my chops back. In addition, I have a new guitar arriving the first of the year. It’s what people in the guitar world call a Partsocaster.

DRINK MORE WATER AND CONSUME LESS SUGAR

While I may have to soft-pedal Have cheese fondue more often and Eat waffles a bit, I think we can all agree that changing one’s diet is one of the resolutions people make the most often for the new year. It’s probably the one they fail on the most often, too. I am over 40 and overweight, so I know I need to pay closer attention to what I eat and how much (and how often) I exercise. I gave up soda on a lark in 2017 – I got tired of the constant caffeine headaches and sugar high-and-low cycles. I don’t drink coffee, but I usually have a cup of tea most days. I have been drinking more water, but I could always drink more.

CUT DOWN ON CLUTTER

This suggestion tied in nicely with Clean out & throw away one item a day. I’m not going to get into Swedish death cleaning or snuggle my stuff to see if it sparks joy, but decluttering a room is a great metaphor for life. We could all stand to declutter. I have too much stuff – physical stuff and metaphysical stuff. I need to engage in a thorough cleaning of my house, my space and my mind.

I’ve already started by clearing out thousands of old photos stored on my phone and organizing them so just the ones I want to see regularly are on there. The rest have been organized and move to a computer hard drive.

RUN TO THE HILLS

My friend who suggested this knows of my unwavering loyalty to the British metal band Iron Maiden, but I took his comment from a philosophical standpoint rather than a literal one. I need to Spend more time riding a motorcycle and Go somewhere I’ve never been. If I Have more adventures (see/do one new thing a month), I’ll easily be able to Run to the hills in 2018. I did zero travel in 2017 that wasn’t work-related, mostly because of my dire employment situation throughout the bulk of the year. It’s not that I didn’t have fun sometimes, but if I wasn’t going somewhere for work, I didn’t go. Period.

I already have a plan, something that was germinating in my mind. I’ve written it down, which lends things a more concrete aspect, and I’ll be working on a plan.

One of my friends suggested I Play more wargames – one of my hobbies that I’ve drifted away from in recent years for various reasons. He’s right, and I would very much like to liven that hobby back up a bit in the coming year.

THE THINGS I THOUGHT OF

I have to thank my Facebook friends for coming up with some great suggestions – even if I rejected some of them. Look at it this way, Paul – your suggestion I manufacture jenkem in my basement led me to learn something about the nature of hallucinogenic substances, the popularity of some of those things in other parts of the world, and how stories can explode on the internet despite little basis in truth. It was quite educational!

Before I asked for suggestions on Facebook, I already had three things that I wanted to work on in 2018.

PHOTOGRAPHY

I found myself using my phone more often than not in 2017, simply because I lost the desire to cart my big, heavy DSLR rig around. When I did lug it around – the work trip to Denver and Salt Lake City comes to mind – I hardly used it and subsequently resented the effort it took to haul it with me. Resentment led to less desire to use it, even though when I did use it, I still like it.

My friend & coworker Bill switched from Canon to Fujifilm a few years ago and has enjoyed his new cameras. He clued me in to a new camera Fujifilm was due to release in late 2017, the X-E3. I did some research and decided that could well be the camera for me, but when it came out, it cost over $1,000 to get the body and one of their kit lenses. After being savagely underemployed for most of 2017, I’m still a little gun shy when it comes to spending money, so I just couldn’t justify coming up off the money for the X-E3.

Instead, I did more research into Fujifilm’s X-series cameras and decided to pick up a used X100. It’s a fixed lens camera – meaning you can’t take the lens off and put another one on – and I got it for a couple hundred dollars. It’s not as powerful as my DSLR, but it’s just as flexible, and what’s more important is the thing weighs less than a pound. Early test photos are sharp and clean and I even pulled over while driving the other day to take pictures of something I saw on the side of the road. I haven’t done that in a long time.

I’m also planning to use up some of my remaining film stock in 2018, using my Fujifilm GW690. It’s looking like 2018 will be the year of the rangefinder, which I’m excited about.

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That’s the GW690 on the left and the X100 on the right. The GW690 is a big camera, which makes the X100 look even smaller.

USING LOCAL BUSINESSES

Like many people, I may be addicted to the (nearly) instant gratification afforded to us by Amazon. In 2018, I plan to back off from that – part of my decluttering process – and try to use more local businesses for my everyday purchases. Fewer chain stores, fewer chain restaurants, fewer chain gas stations, that kind of thing. It’s important to me to support my community – one of the main reasons I wanted to leave Fairfax County for someplace less developed and with less population density was to live in a community I felt needed my support. I live in such a community now, and I want to become more ingrained into its small business economy.

MOTORCYCLE TRAINING

My motorcycling skills are stagnating as I find myself riding for work more often than for fun. There’s nothing wrong with that, but much of my riding in 2017 was just to get someplace, rather than to enjoy being on a motorcycle. I found myself confused in a number of situations, unsure what to do, and I decided to do something about that in 2018.

My primary serious, concrete resolution for 2018 is to take four motorcycle training classes – two for road riding and two for off-road riding. I’m sure I’ll write about it, so you’ll know about it if I succeed or fail in this endeavor.

DONE

Well, that’s it for the 2018 resolution cycle. I’m going to try to be less of a dick, simplify my life in a lot of ways (including photography), hold down a full-time job for the whole year, bring & find joy, use local businesses, get some training, and in general take better care of myself. We’ll see how it goes – and thanks for coming along for the ride!

(Yes, mom, I will Call my mother and of course I will Tell my children I love them every day. Those things are easy!)

Fist

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time to change the name of lee-davis high school

It’s become trendy in the last couple of years to propose renaming schools that bear the names of Confederate figures of importance. I support this trend because it first and foremost allows those whose values have evolved since the 1860s and 1950s to put their stamp on their communities. In Hanover County, Virginia, people are starting to talk about renaming Lee-Davis High School, so let’s take a look at the school’s namesakes.

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Photo of Robert E. Lee by Julian Vannerson.

Robert E. Lee was born in 1807 in Virginia, and he died in 1870 in Virginia. He lived in Virginia all of his life, except when he was off serving in the military. He served in the military forces of the United States from 1829 to 1861, and he served the Confederate government’s army from 1861 to 1865.

By the end of the US Civil War, he was the general in charge of the entire Confederate army, and resistance against the United States collapsed after he surrendered his command to US forces at Appomattox Courthouse in April, 1865. Due to what is widely attributed as a clerical error, his citizenship in the United States wasn’t restored during his lifetime. Congress restored his citizenship in 1975, backdating it 110 years.

Lee was a military officer of distinction, having excelled at the United States Military Academy (aka West Point) and served in the Mexican-American War in the 1840s. He opposed the construction of memorials to his fellow rebels following the Civil War and supported the reestablishment of the pre-Civil War nation. However, he opposed racial equality and publicly spoke out against voting rights for former slaves throughout the remainder of his life.

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Photo of Jefferson Davis by Mathew Brady.

Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky in 1808, and he died in Louisiana in 1889. He lived in various places in the south, including a stint in Richmond, Virginia, when he was president of the ill-fated Confederate States of America (1861-65). He continued to live in Virginia until 1867, when he was released from prison. Following his time in prison, Davis lived in Quebec, not returning to the US until President Andrew Johnson issued him a pardon in 1868. He then moved to Tennessee, where he ran an insurance company. He lived on an estate (bequeathed to him by a wealthy widow) in Biloxi, Mississippi, during his final years.

Davis continued to espouse racist and divisive rhetoric to the end of his days, though he did so primarily in private. His several attempts to return to legislative service following his pardon and return to the US failed.

In 1958, Virginia was caught up in the torrent of the civil rights movement. The US Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision led to the forced integration of public schools across the country. The response to this legal order by the governor of Virginia, Harry Byrd, was the establishment of Massive Resistance. Instead of obeying the Supreme Court, Byrd and his supporters in Virginia’s legislature effectively shut down as much of Virginia’s public education system as they could as a way to prevent Virginia’s black school-age children from receiving an education equal in quality – and with equal access – to that of their white contemporaries.

Also in 1958, Hanover County, Virginia, was nearly finished constructing a brand-new high school along US Highway 360. The high school was the newest in the county; located in the town of Mechanicsville, the residents were justifiably proud of its construction. They chose to call the new educational facility Lee-Davis High School. At the time, naming public schools after Confederate figures was common practice across the southern states as a way to push back against the growing tide of the civil rights movement, and anybody that opposed the name of the new school would have remained silent about it, possibly out of fear for their personal safety. The Lee-Davis Confederates became a centerpiece of Mechanicsville life, and the school’s mission “to prepare students for success” remains, for all intents and purposes, a clearly obtainable objective in the 21st century.

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(To be perfectly honest, I find the naming of schools after any person to be ridiculous. New York City has the right idea with its Public School Number system. There’s no reason Lee-Davis couldn’t have been called Mechanicsville High School when it was built, or even Hanover County High School Number 2, both of which would have been both descriptive and adequate.)

Two of Hanover County’s other high schools – Atlee HS (1991) and Hanover HS (2003) – have simple, descriptive names that denote their location rather than singling out any individual for the honor of a name plate. The county’s other high school that opened in 1959, Patrick Henry HS, came about by consolidating four small schools into one. PHHS is named after Hanover County’s most famous resident, the American Revolutionary War figure Patrick Henry – you know, the “give me liberty or give me death” guy. He was also Virginia’s first governor following the establishment of the United States of America. Henry was born in Hanover County – in Studley, as a matter of fact, which is about five miles from my house. He lived his whole life in the state and died in Virginia, and though he was a slave owner, he actively supported efforts to end the importation of slaves into the USA.

If you have to name a school after a person, Hanover County got it right when they named Patrick Henry High School. Henry was a prominent, positive figure in American history, one that – despite his status as a slave owner – we can all respect. He also is from the county of the school that bears his name. It’s as appropriate a name as can be found, although West Hanover County High School would have been perfectly acceptable.

It’s time to eliminate the names of Confederate figures from our public education facilities. It’s time to allow all students to have and show pride in their schools and their schools’ mascots. The idea of black students at Lee-Davis cheering on their schoolmates under the moniker of the Confederates disgusts me to no end. While I can see why Robert E. Lee’s name would be attached to a school in Virginia, there is no reason to put Jefferson Davis’ name on any public education building in the state for the simple fact that he’s not from here, he lived here only briefly, spent part of that time in prison, and the only reason his name was attached to the school in the first place was to reinforce the dominance of the white population of the state over its black population during a time of social upheaval.

Instead of continuing the support the legacy of those who fought to preserve slavery (Lee and Davis) and those who fought to preserve educational segregation (Byrd), it’s time to support the legacy of local kids and the hope for the future they hold in their young hands and minds.

Change the name of Lee-Davis High School to Mechanicsville High School and put the establishment of a new mascot to a public vote in the school’s district.

your senate at work on gun control

In the wake of the horrifying loss of life at the hands of a coward with a rifle in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Congress has once again failed to accomplish any meaningful change.  Mostly this is because our poorly-chosen “leaders” cannot see past their own agendas to find centrist compromises that make sense and help people.

We all know that an outright gun ban is never going to happen.  The government is never going to come and take your guns.  The whole reason we have gun ownership embedded in our Constitution is precisely so the government cannot ban gun ownership or take guns away from the citizens.  If you don’t understand why this was important in the 18th century when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, stop.  Do not pass Go. Immediately take a US History course at your nearest institution of higher education.

Yesterday, four gun purchase restriction bills failed in the Senate.  Here’s some info on them and why they failed.

What they wanted: Improve background check system
Who wanted it: Republicans (Chuck Grasssley, R-Iowa)
Why it failed: Doesn’t expand background checks, which is what Democrats want. It seeks to improve the existing background check system by defining what “mentally incompetent” means and use that as a data point to deny gun sales to individuals. Also requires the attorney general to conduct a study on the causes of mass shootings. Provides no funding for either initiative.

What they wanted: Expand background check system
Who wanted it: Democrats (Chris Murphy, D-Conn.)
Why it failed: Requires federal background check before any gun sale can take place – private or commercial. Republicans don’t support expanding background checks to include private sales. The bill provides no funding for the expansion.

What they wanted: Prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns
Who wanted it: Republicans (John Cornyn, R-Tex.)
Why it failed: Requires 72-hour waiting period for anybody on the “no fly” and other terrorist watch lists trying to buy a gun, the idea being it would give authorities more time to do an in-depth background check on a prospective gun buyer – or even an opportunity to ask a judge to get off whatever list the buyer is on. Opponents (i.e. Democrats) say 72 hours isn’t enough time to do the required in-depth background check, so they say it will only slow down (and not prevent) the gun purchase. Provides no funding for the in-depth background checks.

What they wanted: Prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns
Who wanted it: Democrats (Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.)
Why it failed: Bans anybody on any of the terrorist watch lists from buying a gun. Allows appeals of placement on those lists in court. Provides no funding for the appeals.

All of these measures have been defeated before, and they were defeated again yesterday in what amounted to party line votes (meaning Republicans voted for their measures and against the Democrat measures, and vice-versa).

What they’re all missing is the clear middle path.

1. Anybody placed on any of the terrorist watch lists in the last X amount of time (2 years, 3 years, 5 years, whatever) cannot immediately buy a gun. They must be approved by *local* law enforcement within X amount of time (3 days, 5 days, 10 days). Create a funding channel to support the background check/investigation.  This is similar to the approval process in many states for the issuance of concealed carry permits.  Yes, this creates additional burden on local law enforcement agencies, but the funding channel should/would provide for additional employees to complete the investigations.

2. Anybody who believes they should not be on the terrorist watch lists is allowed to appeal their placement on the list(s). Create a funding channel to support the appeal process.  This might require the establishment of a special federal court, but again, the funding channel would provide that opportunity.

This is an important issue, but until Congress engages their common sense subroutines and embeds funding into these bills, they will never pass.

Fist

letter to the editor of Airmail and the board of the Airheads Beemer Club (ABC)

Letter to the Airmail Editor
From Wes Fleming, #3120

Re: June 2015 issue and the apparent feud between the Editor and Joe Glowacki

The kids today, they have this acronym they use whenever they’re perplexed by something. Like “dude,” it’s a catchall for a variety of emotions and reactions, and it can be applied to many situations.

Even though I’m not a kid – though many Airheads might consider me so at the tender age of almost 46 years old – but after reading (eagerly, from cover to cover) the June 2015 Airmail, I have to invoke the kids.

WTF!

While I think many of us can figure out what that means, I’ll relay the kinder, gentler version – WTH, or What The Hell! As in WTF is going on between B. Jan (Hofman) (editor) and Joe Glowacki (chair)?

When I opened the June issue and started reading, I found myself quickly confronted by five (5) – FIVE! – pages of Editor Hofman defending himself and blaming current leadership for spending/cash flow problems. I wasn’t aware until that moment that the editor received a stipend at all.

After perusing the Board of Directors Minutes covering meetings from September 2014 to March 2015, I found myself asking myself WTF have I gotten (back) into? People getting removed from their positions and booted from the club? Disappointing to say the least. I’d also like to know where the financial report mentioned in the November meeting minutes is – the comment “upon the submission of his report” is vague, and there’s no further mention of that report. If finances are an issue, then where is this report and why hasn’t it been made public?

The capper, though, is page 17, on which Chairman Glowacki makes aspersions against Editor Hofman and lays out a pay schedule that (apparently) clearly shows that the $1,000-a-month stipend schedule isn’t what’s being paid to the editor at all. I’m pretty sure $1,000 a month means $12,000 a year, and the $16,688 paid in 2014 isn’t $1,000 a month. Now, of course, there could be other expenses built into that amount (and the others) that aren’t being relayed, but that’s beside the point right now.

First of all, I don’t know nor have I ever met Mssrs. Hofman or Glowacki. It’s clear that Glowacki has no fucking clue how much work goes into the production of a monthly magazine – even one of just 24 pages. A thousand dollars a month is a paltry sum, a mere drop in the bucket, for doing a job with relentless deadlines and little in the way of thanks.

Having said that, for $1,000 a month, I definitely expect a higher-quality publication. Pages 2-11 of the June issue could have been laid out by my 13-year-old daughter using Microsoft Pages. While this reflects the club canon “Airheads believe that the simplest [engineering] solutions are best,” there’s no reason to pay somebody (anybody) even 12 grand a year for this kind of amateur product. I’m not generally one to toot my own horn, but in this instance, I’m going to do just that and encourage every Airhead reading this to visit the website for the BMW Bikers of Metropolitan Washington and check out a recent issue of Between the Spokes, the monthly newsmagazine that I produce for the club – AS A VOLUNTEER. I know exactly how much work goes into releasing a monthly publication at the club level and I know what an amateur in his off hours can produce with some dedication and effort. I’d gladly take $1,000 a month for the work I do for BMWBMW, but because I care about my club, I stepped up as a volunteer and receive no payment whatsoever.

I let my ABC membership lapse for a long time, and when I came back, I find the ABC in turmoil. It’s one thing to see this kind of crap on the Internet, where you expect trolls to go after each other, but quite another to see it in our signature publication.

Reading this issue, I find that the club’s leaders are violating several canons, to wit: “Airheads appreciate function over form, fact over fiction, and friendship over friction,” “Airheads regard money as a tool, not a status symbol,” and “Airheads don’t take themselves, religion or life too seriously.” This issue is filled with fiction (Hofman and Glowacki can’t both be right, can they?), friction, money issues, and Airheads taking themselves far too seriously.

It may be indifference that kills publications, as Hofman writes on page 5, but controversy is what kills clubs. B. Jan Hofman and Joe Glowacki are killing the ABC, and they’re doing it in the pages of Airmail.

Everybody involved in this kerfuffle should be ashamed of themselves and given just my short exposure to what is clearly an internal power struggle, it’s clear to me that the best solution is for EVERYBODY involved to switch from German to Japanese traditions and fall on their sword. I’m calling for the Editor and all current Board members to RESIGN, followed by a snap election to seat all-new Board members and a new Editor as well.

Sincerely,

Wes Fleming, #3120, Fairfax, VA

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you can’t kill free speech

As some folks know, I’m a member of the BMW Bikers of Metropolitan Washington, or BMWBMW. I’m also a volunteer Board of Directors member, and in addition to my role as the Media Chair for the club, I also put together the club’s monthly newsmagazine, Between the Spokes. When I first started my editorship of BtS, I decided to run a periodic editorial column called “Between the Gutters” – a play on both the title of the club’s publication and magazine design, where the “gutter” is the space between columns or the space between the right side of one page’s content and the left side of the facing page’s content.  These columns have run the gamut from ethanol to tinnitus, and in the February 2015 issue, I addressed the issue of free speech. Most of the correspondence I have received so far has been positive, but this column did draw my first ever negative response. While it was well written and not at all aggressive, it did suggest that such a politicized issue as free speech had no place being discussed in a regional club’s monthly newsmagazine.  While I disagree, it’s certainly that person’s right to say so!

Now – on with the “offending” column!

In December and January, the attacks on free speech escalated. This is not a good trend, no doubt about that, but it’s not a new trend, either. We may think quashing free speech is a political, economic or religious issue, but it permeates many layers of our society, including the many thousands of words written by and about motorcyclists as well as the machines and products on which they rely.

While part of me still thinks it was a hoax, the cyber attack on Sony Pictures surrounding its release of the buddy comedy The Interview drew our attention in a small way to the issue of free speech. The film is a satire that bases its plot on an American TV personality, played by James Franco, and his producer, played by Seth Rogen, being granted an interview with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and then being asked by the CIA to assassinate him.

The assault on free speech related to this movie came from the attackers threatening more attacks and the release of private information if Sony went ahead with the film’s release as scheduled. Sony initially pulled the film, blaming major movie theater chains for refusing to show the film due to threats of violence against any of them that did. Under pressure from a wide swath of Americans, including President Barack Obama, Sony reversed course, releasing the film in a limited number of theaters and online through various websites in late December, more or less as previously scheduled. After earning more money than any previous digital release in Sony’s history, Netflix is — as of this writing — in negotiations to secure exclusive streaming rights for The Interview.

The incident that precipitated this column was the terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical newspaper published in Paris, France. On 7 January, three masked men armed with assault rifles killed two policemen, including one who was serving as the editor-in-chief’s bodyguard, along with ten employees of the paper, including four cartoonists, two columnists and the editor in chief, himself a cartoonist and columnist.

Charlie Hebdo is well known for its anti-religion stance; they regularly publish full-color, front-page caricatures of Mohammed, Jesus, the pope, other religious figures including generic Muslims, Christians and Jews, and a wide variety of French and European political and social figures. Many of these covers depict these people in humiliating or sexual situations and are patently offensive to many.

The paper’s offices were firebombed in 2011, without loss of life, but this time, the frontal assault resulted in a bloodbath. One of the policemen killed was lying wounded on the ground with his hands up when one of the Kalashnikov-toting terrorists shot him in the face. The terrorists shouted “Allahu Akbar,” a common Islamic invocation usually translated as “God is great.” These shouts were caught on video by onlookers, as well as a comment from one of the terrorists that they had exacted revenge for the newspaper’s portrayals of Mohammed. The outrage and sympathy at this horrific event focused on the perceived intention of the terrorists: punishing Charlie Hebdo’s writers, cartoonists and editors for their words and images, and by doing so, frightening other writers, cartoonists and editors into silence.

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Not even 24 hours after this terrorist attack, the Chinese government arrested and imprisoned the three brothers of a Chinese-born US citizen. Shohret Hoshur is a Uighur, and the Uighur are a long-oppressed ethnic minority under Chinese control. The implication here is clearly that if Hoshur continues to report on anti-Uighur events taking place in Xinjiang, his brothers will be subjected to unspecified punishments extending beyond the five-year sentence one of them has already received for discussing his arrest on the telephone with Hoshur.

In 2014, a dustup called “Gamergate” shook the video gaming world; while it spreads through a variety of issues, one of the core concepts is the active suppression of the opinions, ideas and efforts of female game designers, programmers and reviewers. Several women were threatened with rape, assault and death in an ugly, misogynistic attack on a perceived minority in the gaming world. In reality, females make up 52% of those playing video games according to the Internet Advertising Bureau’s study published on 17 September 2014.

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist writer who writes for the website Feminist Frequency and regularly discusses tropes that denigrate and marginalize women; one repercussion of Gamergate was the cancellation of Anita Sarkeesian’s talk at Utah State University after an unknown person emailed the university promising to commit “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if the talk proceeded. Sarkeesian, as well as game developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn, later fled their homes in the wake of numerous death threats.

All of these events above are ways in which somebody attempted to infringe on free speech in ways that evoked or threatened violence. They don’t have anything to do with motorcycles, though, so I’ll give you an example that does relate to our sport.

Most of us are familiar with Motorcyclist magazine. I have a subscription and read it cover-to-cover when it arrives. It’s a good magazine, but its administrative staff once fired a writer over a negative article he wrote for a completely different publication.

Dexter Ford contributed articles to Motorcyclist for three decades, but was summarily fired in September 2009 for an article he wrote for The New York Times. In “Sorting out differences in helmet standards,” Ford examines US and European helmet certification standards, which can often be confusing as they overlap and contradict each other. He criticizes the Snell Foundation for its 2005 and 2010 standards and reports that some helmet manufacturers have stopped submitting helmets for Snell certification in favor of US Department of Transportation (DOT) and United Nations ECE certifications.

Ford’s article is clearly critical of Snell, but does not mention any helmet manufacturer by name; the closest he comes is a passing mention of a “$400 Snell-certified helmet.” In 2009 in the US, that meant only a small number of helmets.

It wasn’t long before emails got leaked showing exactly why Ford was let go. Brian Catterson, then the Editor-in-Chief of Motorcyclist, said, “I’m getting serious heat over [Ford’s article],” because, as Catterson writes, Ford “greatly downplayed” the Snell 2010 standards.

“Sorting out differences in helmet standards” wasn’t Ford’s first blast at Snell’s standards. He wrote an exposé of just how bad the Snell 2005 standards were for Motorcyclist called “Blowing the lid off.” He researched extensively for the article, even backing his assertions with data from scientific tests, proving to himself and many others that Snell standards were inferior to DOT and ECE standards. Unfortunately, the article is no longer available on Motorcyclist’s website, but you can find it with a quick Google search.

The heat felt by Catterson came from helmet manufacturers Arai and Shoei; in 2005 and perhaps even 2009, these two manufacturers dominated the motorcycle helmet media, if not the market, enjoying their heyday before the proliferation of Korean- and Chinese-made helmets. It’s reasonable to think they were also major contributors to the Snell Foundation, which is a not-for-profit group that operates with funding from helmet manufacturers.

To boil the issue down to its component parts, Arai and Shoei threatened to pull their advertising from Motorcyclist because Ford wrote an article denigrating Snell standards for The New York Times. By doing this, both helmet manufacturers engaged in an attempt to quash free speech. They threw their weight around like the industry giants they were and cost a man his job. (Disclaimer: I currently own two Shoei helmets and have owned two Arai helmets in the past. All are/were excellent helmets and a Shoei RF800 and an Arai Quantum/f protected my head during two separate crashes. The RF800 most definitely saved my life in 1999.)

According to the termination letter sent by Catterson to Ford in October 2009, Ford wasn’t being fired for the hit piece he wrote for the Times; rather, his termination came from what Catterson characterized as Ford’s inability to prevent personal vendettas from infusing his work. Catterson mentioned specifically a press conference — not even a written article! — Ford participated in after the publication of the article. Of course, the leaked email chain refuted Catterson’s assertions, exposing the real reason why Ford was fired – because he crossed two of the magazine’s biggest advertisers, who complained to management. It’s also clear from the emails that Catterson shares Ford’s opinion of Snell, yet Catterson throws Ford under the GS, blaming him directly for costing Motorcyclist about $100,000 in advertising money.

Dexter Ford only lost his job. He wasn’t gunned down like the Charlie Hebdo staffers, he wasn’t threatened with rape and murder like the women of Gamergate, and he wasn’t even arrested like Shohret Hoshur’s brothers. From the day that Ford was fired, though, nobody writing for Motorcyclist would be able to continue to do so without taking into account the magazine’s advertisers — no matter what outlet they were writing for. Arai and Shoei are heavy hitters, but once manufacturers of their size and strength were able to force Motorcyclist to punish a writer for what he wrote, it’s not hard to believe that larger advertisers — say, motorcycle manufacturers — or even smaller ones wouldn’t be able to do the same. Once the seal is broken, as they say, it’s all downhill.

I’m not in any way trying to equate the firing of one motorcycle journalist to the brutal murders of ten political/cultural/societal satirists and two policemen, but both situations show the extent to which people will go to prevent the publication or dissemination of information with which they disagree or find offense.

There’s a reason that the freedom of speech is one of the very first things codified in our Bill of Rights. Free speech and a free press are fundamental concepts of social contract theory, a body of sociopolitical philosophy that has come to govern much of the world since its emergence in the 18th century. The American and French Revolutions, and the Constitutions that came after them to guide each country, were built upon the bricks of social contract theory. The citizens of the free world should never allow the actions of radicals and malcontents to curtail this fundamental freedom and must endeavor to protect these freedoms at all costs.

Without the freedom of speech and of the press, there is no freedom at all.

The article that got Dexter Ford fired is available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/automobiles/27SNELL.html.

a resolution for 2015: eliminating guilt, regret and forgiveness

This is the time of year when a lot of people engage in resolutions – promises they make to themselves that they hope will, in some way large or small, improve their lives.

Some promise to eat better, to lose weight, to read more, spend less time on the computer, pay better attention to their family/kids, drive less, exercise more, quit smoking (or some other bad habit), go back to school, find a new (more satisfying job), save money, reduce stress, eliminate debt, practice piano/guitar/tennis/chess more, take an epic vacation, volunteer more, dry out, get organized, clean out the basement/garage/attic… there’s as many resolutions as there all people.

Including me.

You know me, though. My resolutions aren’t going to be on that list because, frankly, none of those things are challenging. All those things require is simple will power. I’ve seen the world, I’ve studied history, and I know that the vast majority of people have no will power. Sure, some folks do, no doubt about that, but those folks tend to be at the extremes – Josef Stalin and Mahatma Gandhi had amazing amounts of will power. What I’m saying is that if Stalin wanted to quit smoking, he would have. If Gandhi wanted to … well, I was going to say lose weight, but that seems kind of tasteless. Too soon, I guess.

Anyway.

Here’s my resolution for 2015, then:

I resolve to eliminate guilt, regret and forgiveness from my life.

Wait – what?

OK, most people can understand why eliminating guilt and regret from one’s life would be beneficial, but that’s pretty selfish – totally focused inward. But forgiveness? That’s something you do that helps other people, right? Forgiveness is something that eases the minds of others, and that can’t be a bad thing – or can it?

Let’s start with guilt and regret.

Guilt is the most destructive psychic force in the universe. It leads to more bad decisions and poor behavior than anything else – more than avarice, lust and all the other so-called deadly sins wrapped up together in a nice little package. Many of our lives are wrapped up in guilt cycles, though, and I’m not going to allow myself to suffer from guilt any more.

Guilt comes from thinking you’ve done something wrong, so the solution is simple: Determine if you’ve done something wrong. If you have, apologize, correct it, and vow not to do it again – then don’t do it again! If you have not, refuse to apologize, refuse to accept responsibility for it, and vow not to do whatever it is. That doesn’t mean you can’t help repair the damage done by whatever it is, but it does mean that you understand it’s not your fault, nor is it your responsibility.

Guilt comes from making bad decisions. Eliminating guilt is only possible if you make good decisions, which means you must decide deliberately in everything you do, every day. Choosing a path to follow in a deliberate fashion means that you are steering your life with purpose and determination.

Does that mean every decision will turn out to be a good one? Of course not! I fully realize and accept that I will make mistakes in the coming years of my life. By refusing to feel guilty for the outcomes (or consequences, as we refer to negative outcomes), I am empowering myself to objectively analyze my decisions and decision-making processes. This will allow me to identify errors in judgment and alter my life in a positive direction.

Guilt clouds judgment. I refuse to be clouded. I refuse to feel guilty. If I make a good decision, then yay. If I make a bad decision, guilt will only prevent me from identifying the reasons behind that decision, and furthermore, guilt will prevent me from changing my behavior.

Guilt, then, is an emotion that promotes suffering in the present. If I’m constantly in a state of suffering, I cannot grow or move forward. I refuse to feel guilt.

(Having said that, it’s often difficult to control emotions. This will, I recognize, require work on my part. You know, will power. There, see? Everything comes down to will power!)

Now let’s move on to regret. Regret is just sublimated guilt over decisions made in the past that you’re convinced have conspired to make your life miserable. More suffering in the present, but this time the suffering is precipitated by wishing you’d done something different in the past.

Regret often comes from feeling like you missed an opportunity at some point in your timeline, and if you’d only made a different decision in 1990, your life would be filled with joy in 2015. If you hadn’t broken up with that girl, you think, you’d be happier now and have better kids.

The problem with that line of reasoning is that you could also be miserable now and have two kids in prison. There is no way for you to know what your life would be like now based on a fork in the road you took 25 years ago. Regretting that decision prevents you from living in the present and making good choices now.

The underlying cause of your happiness isn’t your decisions, it’s you. If you’re miserable, it’s because you’re miserable, not because your life has been a series of bad choices. Apples and oranges. I know plenty of people who I think make poor choices, yet they seem perfectly happy. I know plenty of people who make great choices, yet they remain the most miserable human beings on Earth. It’s not your decisions that make you happy, it’s your decision to be happy that does so. Just as you can choose joy and happiness, you can choose suffering and misery.

Regret, then, allows you to focus on the past and engage in a cycle of “what if” thinking. You cannot improve the present if you are constantly focused on the past, and since regret is focusing on the past, I refuse to feel regret over my past decisions. I will accept them for what they are and analyze their effect on my present, thus improving my decision-making abilities now, when it truly matters.

This brings us to forgiveness.

I have never been a fan of forgiveness, and this is something I’m quite open about. The chances are high, if you know me well, that you’ve heard my anti-forgiveness rant at least once. It’s time to codify it, because I think it plays into this resolution to eliminate guilt and regret.

Forgiveness does one thing, and one thing only: It assuages (or relieves) the guilt of another person.  I hereby affirm or avow that doing such a thing is not my responsibility!

If I’m not engaging in guilt on my part, why the hell should I engage in guilt on your part? If I can abandon guilt, then so can you. If you can’t abandon your feelings of guilt, that is your problem, not mine.

You do something that wrongs me. Ignore my feelings for the time being and deal with your own. You feel guilty about it? Identify the bad decision, engage in analysis of your decision-making process and vow to make better decisions. Give up the guilt and work to avoid regret about the choices you’ve made.

Asking me to forgive you absolves you of the responsibility to examine your decision-making processes. You get to feel better about making a bad choice, while now I’m left to feel miserable about the shitty thing you did to me. Forgiveness shifts the responsibility to the victim, and we already have too many victims in this world.

Instead of asking for forgiveness, acknowledge that you’ve made a bad choice that harmed other people and STOP DOING THAT. Instead of offering forgiveness, acknowledge that you’ve been wronged and work on not hating the person who has wronged you.

By refusing to forgive, you’re helping to short-circuit the guilt/regret cycle. You’re forcing the person making bad decisions to reflect on those decisions, rather than letting them feel better after hurting you.

My resolution for 2015, then, is to give up guilt, regret and forgiveness.

To eliminate guilt, I will make more thoughtful decisions.

To eliminate regret, I will live in the present.

To eliminate forgiveness, I will hold people – including and especially myself – accountable for their actions and refuse to be responsible for making them feel better about their poor choices.

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a fleeting number of days

I had a fantastic day with my kid on Friday.  It saddens me a little that everybody (you know, “THEY”) says as my daughter gets older, the opportunity for those days will fade.  I don’t know if I’m willing to let that happen, but then again, I may have no choice.

I took the day off work and kept her home from school.  We planned to go to Richmond and just kind of bang around, go to a museum, get lunch, etc.  Not a terribly rigid plan.  I think I finally woke her up at 7.30, planning to leave at 8.30.  We more or less got out the door around then, but we had to stop to put air in the car tires (which required waiting 10 minutes for a nearly completely clueless dude to use the air machine before us – if only I hadn’t wanted to turn around first!).  I let her get breakfast at McD’s (which is maybe the 1st time I’ve let her do this in the last 5 years at least) and we hit the road.

I-95 wasn’t too bad except down around Dumfries/Quantico where all the construction is.  I thought about bailing out to US 1, but we weren’t really in a hurry, so I stayed on the highway.  I figured it would clear up sooner or later and it did.  South of Fredericksburg on I-95 is a real joy – clean, smooth highway and very little traffic.  I can’t wait to get out of this area to get away from the shitty traffic and sheer number of horrible people that live up here in NOVA.

I mentioned something about the traffic, which led to a long discussion about moving.  We plan to move south in two years when she finishes middle school, and I’m leaning heavily towards the general Charlottesville area.  One of the big reasons for the move is that I want to buy a house, and I simply can’t afford one in Fairfax.  I might be able to buy a tiny condo or a shitty, run-down townhouse, but a decent house with a garage is just out of my salary’s reach up here.

The conversations about moving are awkward.  My daughter is 12 and while she’s lived in 4 different houses (well, 3 houses & 1 apartment) in her life, she went to one elementary school and will go to one middle school.  We’ve worked very hard to make sure she has that opportunity.  As a military brat who got dragged all over the US & Europe, I wanted her to have the same set of friends for as long as possible.  I want her to go to one high school, too – but not one in NOVA!  Being 12, she can’t see the bigger picture and doesn’t understand about cost of living.  Up here, just to get by, I have to work a full time job AND a part time job; her mother has to have a full time job, too, and some months are still tight.  We could feasibly get by on just my full time job in Charlottesville AND be able to buy a house to boot.  Maybe not IN C’ville, but in that area.  I’m very much looking forward to it.

Anyway.

We planned to go to the Science Museum of Virginia, then get lunch, but because of traffic, it was about 1030 by the time we got to the outskirts of Richmond.  We changed our plan to go to a used book store (Chop Suey) and a fun toy store (House of Mirth), then get lunch, THEN go to the museum.  That way we could spend as much time at the museum as we wanted and not be rushing to do anything else.

Chop Suey is a neat, funky little bookstore.  Their prices are a bit high (no $1 bargains), but their quality is high, too (no crappy, half-destroyed books).  Very weak science fiction section, but we found some good stuff.  My daughter picked out a book about a classic (very old) comic strip called The Culture Corner. It reminded us of the Disney cartoons where Goofy is learning how to do something – play baseball, ride a horse – and it all goes horribly wrong.  It did my heart good to see her take an interest in an art form that’s on life support – and the strips are REALLY funny.

House of Mirth is just about the coolest little shop ever, but their prices are REALLY high.  We got an $8 zombie card game that looks like fun, but pretty much everything else there was just too expensive to justify.  We stopped at the Plan 9 record store, but going in there reminded me why I stopped going to the Plan 9 that used to be in Charlottesville – I’m just not cool enough.  The staff was cold and the selection of mainstream music was pretty weak.  Lots of indie and pseudo-indie stuff, though.

We had lunch at Mellow Mushroom, which was delicious, and set off for the museum.  We got there about 1.

Their Foucault pendulum is neat and we watched that for a while, but then we dove into the main exhibit area and had a really good time.  In the “unplugged” area we built an arch, then of course we destroyed it!

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We took in the IMAX feature “Worst Weather in the Solar System” in The Dome.  The movie screen is a … dome.  It made me a bit dizzy, but my kid loved it.  Did you know it rains diamonds on Neptune?  How cool is that?

We ended up closing the museum down; after they kicked us out, we headed to my mom’s place about 45 minutes away and spent the night there.  Grandparent time is important!  The next morning, we headed home so she could spend some time with a friend of hers that’s moving overseas in a couple of months and then she had a sleepover planned (at the other kid’s house).

We got along great, with only a little friction here & there – like at the museum, when I wanted to move on but she wasn’t done with an exhibit yet.  Most of the time I let her linger, but a couple times I hustled her up.  I tried to let her lead and we had a good time.  I feel like it was excellent bonding time – neither of us had anybody else to pay attention to for the most part, and it allowed us each to focus on the other.

Next year she’s 13, and it won’t be long before she’s in high school, then driving, then (hopefully) off to college and the rest of her life.  I can quell this melancholy feeling inside me that days like Friday are going to be fewer and further between as she grows up.  In one sense, I’m happy for her to grow up and become her future self, but I’m also afraid of that exact thing taking place, because it means I’m losing my little girl.  She’s a fun kid most of the time, and while it’s getting a little tough lately, there’s more good days than bad.

Your kid growing up isn’t one of the things people tell you about when you’re having a baby.  They throw down all the projectile vomiting and horrific diaper stories, but they don’t tell you about how hard it is to watch them turn into … people.