Monday, January 30, 2017

The Meaning of Travel

When I think about the Muslim ban, I think about the vacation we almost didn't take in 2007 or 2008.

We didn't have much money, but I was able to put four round-trip tickets onto a credit card for us to go visit my parents on the West Coast. I had bought the tickets using one of those bargain sites and when we got to the airport, the confirmation number I had wouldn't pull up any flight information. I found out from the attendant behind the counter that my flight was actually not leaving from Charlotte, but from a smaller airport about an hour and a half's drive away. Our plane was to leave in an hour and a half. We weren't going to make it.

With no money to buy new tickets and no refund available, I knew I was defeated. I would have to explain to my kids that our week-long vacation wouldn't happen. That despite weeks of careful planning, they wouldn't see their grandparents for another year or more. That all my careful shopping still meant $1,650 went down the drain, and there were sooo many places it could have gone. That I wouldn't see my mother.

We would have to just go back home. What would we do for that week? How could I entertain us with almost no money? What hope did I have of rescuing that vacation without feeling the constant pain of missing my parents? What would I tell them?

I did the only thing I could: I started weeping. Nasty-crying in the middle of the arrivals gate. My kids were embarrassed and confused. My husband was embarrassed and powerless. The attendants wouldn't make eye-contact. It was awful.

My story has a happy ending. After a few minutes of sobbing, an attendant hurried over to us. Didn't I get the phone call? They had left messages on our home phone. We had been driving. The flight that was supposed to leave from the smaller airport was cancelled. We would have to re-book at no additional charge. They had a flight that would leave in two hours. There were seats available for us.

So, imagine that it hadn't been a year or two, but several. A decade. Two decades. Imagine that it wasn't a 6-hour flight, but a 12-hour flight. Imagine that it wasn't a careless oversight on the part of the traveler, but a revoked promise on the part of the government. Imagine getting all the way there, and being told you'd have to start over in a few months. And imagine that "just going back home" wasn't an option.

I can't. I can't imagine that.

That's why we need to work to ensure those who were told they could get here can do so. I hope they get their happily ever after, too.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Lesson in Control and Release

I found myself praising my daughter for learning a lesson in lane control and release, but it was really that she taught me the lesson. (Spoiler alert; no daughters were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Most sites seem to call this "lane control" rather than "control and release," but what often happens over the course of a ride is both control and release. A person on a bicycle takes the middle of the right lane - rather than riding on the very outside edge - in order to control traffic behind them. When the lane widens, or a shoulder or bike lane are added to the lane, the person on a bicycle can move over to allow traffic behind them to pass safely.



In Anne Arundel County, bike lanes, shoulders, choke-points, and narrowing occur at random. The bad news is that people on bicycles sometimes have to take an aggressive stance to prevent people in automobiles from trying to "squeeze by." The good news is, it probably won't be long before the bike lane or shoulder magically reappears. (This is all bad news for people on bikes, who don't appreciate disappearing bike lanes or random choke points like the one below.)


An example of an AA County choke point. It's supposed to "calm traffic," but doesn't actually impede automobile traffic in any way, and is the opposite of "calming" for people on bicycles.

One road in particular tends to suffer from narrowing and widening lanes, as well as drivers in a hurry. In places, the shoulder can be measured in millimeters, while in other places there's a shoulder wide enough that it might be another lane (though it isn't marked as such). In much of the road, the lane is too narrow to safely be shared, but just wide enough to be tempting.


It was in this section that my daughter tried - unsuccessfully - to control the lane. She was passed by people in cars trying not to cross the double-yellow, because there was oncoming traffic.

When I bike this road, I always remind myself to put on my big-girl pants, steel myself, and take that lane. People in cars on this road will always try to share the lane with me if I don't take all of it, and that's a pretty bad situation for a person on a bike to be in. (Check out that first link in this post. No, really. It won't take long, I promise. Here it is again.)

My daughter's experience is one I've had. While I was busy clucking my tongue that she had to learn that lesson the hard (thankfully, not the hardest) way, I forgot that I was still learning it, too. Sometimes it's helpful to hear someone you love talk about a shared experience. It's a reminder to do what you need to do to stay safe, and validation that you need to do it. Thanks, Daughter.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

If You're Pissed Off About the Election

You're in good company.

It's Time to Do Something About it!


I'm also pissed off at being forced to choose between Hillary and Trump, and I view the system as being partial and rigged. This presidential election is an embarrassment.

If you feel passionately about having more than two parties, the time for action is now. The country is as ripe for a third-party candidate to sweep the polls as it ever was.


A Look at the Comparables*


Kind of like how Ross Perot did in 1992. Note that he started back in February of his year, though he did pull out and then re-enter. He ended up with 15% of the vote.

Well, there was also John B. Anderson, who had 13%-15% in August, and finished with 7%. He started early and worked hard throughout the season.

Even the most successful third-party presidential candidate ever, Theodore Roosevelt, who was already the incumbent (running incumbents have lost only 5 of the 14 elections in which they ran), only came in second, and still lost the election.

For reference, the guy most likely to come in third this year, Gary Johnson, has started early (announced his candidacy in January), but still only has about 10% of the vote - less than even John B. Anderson had at roughly this time during his race.


I Want a Third-Party Candidate, NOW!


Bad news: You'll have to wait.

If you feel passionately about the detrimental effects of a two-party system, talk to your representative and talk to your senator about the rules that prevent a third party candidate from being successful. Do it early, do it often. Ask your friends to do it. When the rules are fairer for third-party candidates, we can hash out which one it'll be.**

Pick the third-party candidate you think has the best chance as early as possible, and throw every ounce you have behind them. Be willing to support that candidate, even if you don't agree with them on a lot of issues, because you are passionate about having a third option.

This election is close. If you want a third-party option, figure out which candidate (Republican or Democrat) is most likely to help change the laws that prevent a third-party president, and vote for them. Don't throw your vote away on a spoiler effect candidate this time.


One More Thing



News flash: the meme you post may have value due to its humor, but you aren't changing anyone's mind with a meme, and you might offend people you're "friends" with. And you're wasting everyone else's "wall" space.

Since I mentioned that your third-party candidate isn't going to win, I should also mention that as far as I can tell, everyone has pretty much already decided who they're voting for. Whether it's "Dems-All-The-Way-Go-Hillary," "Reps-All-the-Way-Go-Trump," "Not-Trump-So-Hillary-I-Guess" or "Not-Hillary-So-Trump-I-Guess," we all pretty much know what we're doing by now.***

* Despite what spell-check says, "comparables" is a real word. It's a real estate term.

**Maybe it's my cynicism speaking, but you really don't expect to ever have a ballot with more than three names on it, do you?

***Except for those stubborn folk who just don't learn and are voting for a third-party candidate, anyway.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

On Accidental Saints

Last year (2015, for those keeping track) at Lent, my church picked two books for the Lenten book group. One was Accidental Saints, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, and the other was Desmond Tutu's Made for Goodness. Well, I was in college up to my eyebrows, and the book group ended up not having its last meeting, and I got severely behind in my reading. I didn't pick up either book again. Here are my first and last posts on the books.

The rest of this has spoilers, so, if you're not into spoilers for Accidental Saints, you should stop reading here.

So, now that college is all but over and I have more spare time, I went ahead and finished Accidental Saints. You can check out my review on GoodReads, but I wanted to add something that really struck me about the last 3/4 of this book. It was the chapter that dealt with Nadia's friend Bruce's drunk driving accident.

Nadia had befriended Bruce, a Bishop in the Lutheran church, whose wife was dying of cancer. Some years later, something bad happens. Nadia writes,
"In a brief exchange on instant message, I learned that, two nights earlier, Bruce got behind the wheel of his car with what tests would later show to be a higher than legal blood-alcohol level, lost control, and hit and killed a fifty-two-year-old mother of three. And by the time I found out, from my luxurious room in a resort in Mexico, Bruce was sitting alone in jail."
This chapter so spoke to me. I still often think of my bishop, who also got behind the wheel of her car with what tests would later show to be a far higher than legal blood-alcohol-level, wasn't paying attention, and struck and killed a 41-year-old father of father of two.

It was hard to know what to pray for - Tom Palermo, his family, and cyclists everywhere, or my suffragan Bishop Heather Cook, her family, and prisoners everywhere. Of course I prayed for all of the above. I wrestled with anger at the bishop, I wrestled with disappointment in a church leader, I worried about the divide this might drive between often liberal-atheist-cyclists and drivers and the church.

Nadia talks in this chapter about the need for mercy and the remorse Peter must have felt as he swam up to Jesus and proclaimed three times that he loved him. She writes, "We simply have to cling tightly to the truth that God can redeem it." I'm still struggling with that one.

I know Jesus being resurrected is supposed to make it all okay - that the resurrection makes everything okay. It washes away all our sins - as Nadia might say, mine, yours, Heather's, Peter's. But that's hard to swallow. It's hard to not still feel a little angry and a little lost and a little heartbroken.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

On the Narrow-Highway Exception to Maryland's 3-Foot Law

This is the letter I just wrote to Senator Jim Rosapepe and delegates Barbara Frush, Ben Barnes, and Josaline Pena-Melnyk about the need to get rid of the narrow highway exception to Maryland's 3-foot law. BikeMaryland's article outlines it pretty well, but it's important for individuals to speak out, in addition to the wonderful work being done by BikeMaryland and BikeAAA.

Dear Senator Rosapepe,

Getting rid of the narrow-highway exception to the 3-foot law will protect bicyclists in the short and long term, and help to defuse the tension between the bicycling community and the driving community.

My route to almost everywhere requires me to ride on Annapolis Rd between Arundel High and the traffic circle, then on Odenton Rd between the traffic circle and the MARC station.

Both of these roads fall under the "narrow highway" exception for bicyclists. Vehicles aren't obligated to give me a safe passing distance, and usually don't. Both the high school and the MARC station are destinations one would expect for bicyclists traveling to school or work.

As a motorist, I am aware of the inconvenience to motorists by the presence of a bicyclist. As a result, I prefer to ride to the right of the lane, so that motorists can pass when it is safe. When motorists pass too close - as the current law allows - I ride in the middle or left portion of the lane. Preventing motorists from passing too close is safer in the short-term, but I worry about the ill-will it engenders.

As a cyclist, I need the protection of the 3-foot law. I need to know that motorists will respect my need for safety by waiting until they can leave a safe passing margin, and that I don't have to take actions which would seem aimed at angering drivers in order to achieve my short-term safety.

Getting rid of the narrow-highway exception to the 3-foot law will protect bicyclists in the short-term and in the long-term, as motorists learn that leaving a safe passing margin is not the "polite" thing to do, but the legal thing to do.

When motorists understand that laws prioritize bicyclists' safety, they will be less likely to take cyclists' presence on the roads as a personal affront. They will be less likely - I think - to succumb to rage against an individual cyclist. Getting rid of the narrow-highway exception will be good for motorists and cyclists.

Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.

In peace,



Jennifer A. Carson

Monday, January 4, 2016

Terrorists vs. Assholes

Terrorists are total assholes, but not all assholes are terrorists. While this may seem obvious, it's clear that we could all use a refresher.

Let's start with definitions.

The FBI states that domestic terrorism must contain the following three characteristics. It must:

  • Happen within U.S. territory.
  • Include acts dangerous to human life that violate state or federal law.
  • Appear to be intended to 1) intimidate or coerce a civilian population, 2) influence government policy through intimidation or coercion, or 3) affect government actions through mass destruction, kidnapping, or assassination. 

These are terrorists

Let's apply this checklist to the situation in rural Oregon:


  • Happened in the U.S. - Check! (Last I checked, Oregon was in the U.S.)
  • Includes acts dangerous to human life - Nope!
  • Appears intended to 1) intimidate or coerce a civilian population - Nope! 2) influence government policy - Not really. 3) Affect government actions through mass destruction, kidnapping, or assassination - Nope!

Now, admittedly, that third point on the checklist gets a little murky. I could see an argument that their actions appear intended to influence government policy - that would be, the government's policy of continuing to maintain and administer federal land. However, the Bundy's redress of grievances focuses not on government policy, but on specific actions of the government. The armed militia is not trying to affect government actions through mass destruction, kidnapping, or assassination. So, that third point still gets a "not really."
These are not terrorists
While I can get behind the sentiment that had this militia been composed of anyone other than white people, the reaction would have been different, the reality is that no one was threatened or harmed in this, with the exception of the threat of violence as a response to government attempts to clear the building. It's not white-washing - they just aren't terrorists.

We don't need to apply the terrorist moniker to them to even the scoreboard - we should stop applying it where it doesn't belong. That's how you even the scoreboard and maintain perspective.

We should be taking action. We shouldn't take action because we'd take action if they were Muslims or if they were African American. That's not why. We need to make it clear that taking over a federal building - occupied or not, remote or not - will not be tolerated. Not by terrorists, not by assholes.

As funny as the terms #Y'allQaeda, #VanillaISIS, #TaliBundy, and #YeeHawd are, this isn't terrorism. They aren't terrorists - they're just assholes.

Review:


Terrorists:

  • Da'ish/ISIL/ISIS/Whatever
  • Al-Qa'ida/Al Qaeda/Al Kayda/However
  • Boko Haram
  • Those Paris-hating assholes

Not Terrorists:


  • The man at work who wears a turban
  • The kid with a Super-Soaker
  • The asshole who pulls into the parking spot you sharked for hours to get
  • Those assholes occupying an empty rural federal building

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Powerful Editing Tool

In a creative writing class, we were taught to avoid adverbs if at all possible. I had spent this other class (a class on writing a novella) wishing for a "highlight adverbs" feature in Microsoft Word, or in Scrivener.

I hit Scrivener's feature request forum and did a search on "adverbs." Who'd have guessed I wasn't the first person to have the idea. The request was denied, but one of the comments referenced The Hemingway Editor.

The Hemingway Editor is a web-based app, but there is a downloadable desktop app. I only used the web-based one. It allows you to paste text into the editor, or compose within it.
 The app highlights adverbs, passive voice, difficult-to-read sentences, and overly-complex usages.

It grades your writing based on the number of sentences and words. The lower the grade, the better the writing. The grade may be commiserate with school grade levels - i.e., if it's rated a grade 4, a 4th grader could read it.

Pros:

You can paste a surprising amount of text into that window and it doesn't crash. Like, more than 5,500 words.

The mechanism to find difficult-to-read sentences is nuanced enough that it has two levels of difficulty, "hard" and "very hard."

It highlights "wordiness." It found all the times I said "in order to" when "to" would have worked, and all the times I said "all of" instead of just "all." It also found fancy-shmancy words like "consolidate" and "portion." When you hover over a wordy word, it recommends a simpler word or phrase.

You can format the text in the editor. There are options to make lists, use bold and italics, and the normal rich-text options.

Cons:

It doesn't find all the adverbs. It finds the ones with an "ly" ending, but misses "only," "even," "never," and some others.

If you paste a lot of words into the app, it can get confused. Switching the toggle from Edit to Write, pasting the text, and toggling back to Edit fixes this.

Pasting from Scrivener really confused Hemingway. The hard returns didn't transfer over, and this had an impact on the grading and on which sentences it thought were "very difficult." Often, adding a hard return where there should have been one downgraded the difficulty level and upped my grade.

It really wants you to write short sentences. Sentences without clauses. Simple sentences, with only one comma. That's great sometimes, but gets old after a while. I blame Hemingway himself for that one.