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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Spanish Driver’s Guide to Horn Honking

In another essay I wrote about how we could reduce horn honking

The first thing you must remember about driving in Spain is that horns are not a way to warn people; they are used as weapons. Think of a horn as the passive-aggressive version of punching someone in the face. I’ve actually seen driving instructors encouraging their pupils to use the horn as a tactical weapon. You absolutely never pass up an opportunity to lean on your horn; if you show even a shred of restraint then you are failing as a driver—and don’t ever confuse drivers with human beings because these are two very separate life forms as people go through a transformation once they are under internally-combusted power. 

It’s like the old joke that Italians gesticulate so much when they talk that if you tie them up they are rendered mute. A horn is as essential to a Spanish car as the engine. This noise-making device gets as much usage as the tires.  

After you learn that only indiscriminate use of your horn is permissible, the next lesson is just how much horn to apply in any given situation. This can be broken down into four applications.

1 – Just a Brief Tap

Just tapping your horn is the method least used in street situations, and is appropriate in only occasional and very narrowly defined circumstances. I can’t list every case when a brief tap is adequate but here are a few examples.

-To test your horn before you start driving. If your horn isn’t working consider public transport.

-Someone in a wheelchair isn’t showing sufficient hustle in clearing the crosswalk. Give them a tap for motivation.

-You want to say something to your child sitting in the passenger seat beside you but they’re wearing headphones and doing their level best to ignore you.

2 – A Good, Solid Honk (GSH)

If you aren’t honking like this a couple of dozen times every time you get behind the wheel then you're doing it wrong. How else can you get your point across to the jerk in front of you who hasn’t sent his vehicle in motion the split second the light turns green…or even before? Constantly honking your horn is what keeps traffic moving smoothly, and it’s what separates us from the animals. Not honking when you have every right to honk is a sign of weakness that other drivers will use to humiliate you. Don’t let that happen! A GSH is also used to say hello to pedestrians and other drivers, and don’t worry about frightening the bejesus out of unsuspecting passersby.

3 – A 2-3 Second Blast

Now it’s starting to get interesting. This is when you would really like to knock someone out except that you are way too much of a coward to confront anyone physically, so you let your horn do the punching for you. Allowing another driver to merge is almost never done here without a good, hard blast on the horn. Civility and driving just don't seem to mix.

4 – Just Go Ahead and Lean on that Damn Horn

This obnoxious paroxysm of rage is reserved for the most serious offenses, but this doesn’t mean they are rare. Much like war crimes committed during WWII, reasons to employ this method of horn honking are all around you if you’re paying attention. Being stuck in traffic is no fun, but leaning on your horn gives you something to do and perhaps the sound waves emitted from dozens of angry horns will somehow push the jam along like a plunger releasing a clogged drain. Leaning on your horn is the only way to address crimes against humanity such as someone double-parked in front of you when you want to leave. Sure, you’ve committed the same offense at least three times on this same day, but rules are rules and you’re no maverick.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bike Trouble

RIP Trek
My city bike fell apart on me last week. The rear wheel was grinding into the brake pads so I figured the wheel was way out of true and I thought I probably needed to replace the bearings in the rear axle. My mechanic called and told me that one of the rear stays on the frame was broken. I always thought that as I rode this old bike literally into the ground that in the end I would have a decent Trek frame upon which to build a new bike. As it turned out, the only thing that I bothered to salvage was the seat and post.

Since I bought my Giant Roam® hybrid two years ago the Trek had been relegated to city bike status but only when distances and time restraints made Valenbisi (our local bike-share system) travel less than ideal. There are also certain times of the day when the bike-shares bikes aren’t very dependable because of high usage so two or three days a week I really appreciated the flexibility of using my own bike around town. Now I need a replacement and the sooner the better

The problem is that I’ve had terrible luck finding used bikes here in Valencia. I’ve already bought two new bikes since I got here which are two more new bikes than I bought in Seattle where I had a steady stable of three bikes all bought used. I’ve been desperately seeking a cyclo-cross bike for the past year or so to no avail. People here seem to think that their used bikes are worth about 90% of what they paid for them years ago. “Priced to sell” doesn’t seem to translate. In Seattle I bought a great mountain bike used for about a quarter of what it went for new only a few months earlier.

The thing is, I don’t want anything too flashy for my city bike so as not to attract the attention of thieves—not that thieves are above stealing even the biggest pieces of shit. You more or less have to expect that your bike will be stolen if you leave it on the street to the mercy of the jackals so I don’t want anything that I will be too attached to either financially or emotionally.

Seattle City Bike
In Seattle I had an old and slightly modified Cannondale mountain bike that I used in the city with a more or less bullet-proof aluminum frame. I bought this one after an old Nishiki mountain bike I had before split in two pieces. Frames matter! I think the way to go here is with a fixie which is bike without gears based on track racing bikes but with a freewheel rear hub instead of the actual fixed gear of the racing models where you have to pedal backwards to stop. The newer versions have caliper brakes or perhaps a front disc brake. The advantage to these is the weight savings from not having gears and shifter. Valencia is very flat it makes sense to skip the gears for a city bike. I’ve never actually ridden one so I may change my mind on the no gears thing.

In any case, a bike without gears is infinitely superior to a bike with shitty gears which is the case on most lower-end bikes these days. Simplicity is often a virtue, especially when it comes to bad quality bike components. The market for used fixies here is completely stupid as kids want 250€ to 400€ for their little works of art. “Clásico” and “Vintage” are common descriptions used for over-priced merchandise. What it really means is a chop job done on an old racing bike and a bad paint job thrown in for these new hipster bikes. I don’t want to be a hipster, I swear. I just want to get from A to B quickly and comfortably without donating another bike to the Valencia Bike Thief Fund.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Clear Choice

To voters who whine that this election is about choosing the lesser of two evils, or that both candidates are ill-qualified to be president, or that there is no clear choice and so they remain undecided or worse, that they aren’t going to bother to vote, I have only this to say: you are complete morons! Get off your whiny asses and vote.
Is Hillary my first choice for president? Not exactly but she is a competent and intelligent candidate who will surround herself with the best people we have in government service. If she is elected I can only hope that along with her the Democrats pick up a few seats in the Senate and the party can grow a pair and do some good. I hope this marks a shift towards government of cooperation and getting something done instead of the President working against the Party of No.

It really says a lot about voters when they support a candidate like Donald Trump. From the very beginning we saw the true “values” of the Republican Party and they have little to do with the meaningless and disingenuous slogans they have been parroting for the past 30 years, things like limited government, lower taxes, and free markets. What really ignited the fire under the collective asses of the mob that now backs the Republican front-runner has been the promise of a more racist America. Trump’s platform still involves building a wall and banning Muslim immigrants. The Republicans and Fox News seem unable and unwilling to do anything but follow in the wake of Trump’s Klan rallies masquerading as political events.

The specifics of Trump’s platform are anyone’s guess at this point only three weeks before the election as he just seems to be making up shit in response to the applause of the mob. When asked about his plan to fight crime all that he could venture to say was that he would restore law and order, whatever the fuck that means. His stance on cyber security was an incoherent rambling about how clever his ten year old son is with computers. You can’t make this shit up, as they say except that is exactly what this clown is doing at every step along campaign trail.

But which is worse: a candidate who is completely incapable of adult behavior or the knuckle-draggers who will still vote for him? I find it completely terrifying that anyone is still supporting Trump and that this reality TV clown he will garner a healthy percentage of votes on Election Day. What is wrong with people? Of course, that question is rhetorical because we all know what is wrong with people. People are stupid and ill-informed and will believe anything Fox News tells them to think. They will repost idiotic slogans attached to photos containing the vilest slanders imaginable and hold them to be sacred truths.

I won’t dignify the accusations against Hillary Clinton as most of them are completely crazy which bring me to my next point. There is a deep feeling of insanity among the anti-Clinton and pro-Trump crowd. At this moment their fucking bat-shit crazy meme is election rigging which is not only insane but a potential security threat to our nation. If a large part of our electorate doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of our election process then we could soon cease to be a democracy. Does Trump and Company have a shred of evidence to back up their claims? Of course not, he just thinks it or his herd of chimps thinks it. What will be the next insane utterance out of the mouth of this old know-nothing?

Civil war? I have said before that the biggest mistake we made in America was our Civil War. We should have skipped the war in favor of a rescue operation for the slaves. We could have freed the slaves and left the south to wallow in its ignorance and racism. We have seen in the eight years of the Obama administration that the Republicans are not the least bit interested in compromise, something of a civil war in itself. Democracy is all about compromise and the lack of it signals a shift into some other form of government, or a chaotic lack of government. 

More than a rightward political shift in recent years by Republicans what I have noticed is the unhinged quality of their narrative. After decades of clinging to failed ideals of lowering taxes for the rich, eliminating a safety net for the poor, and constantly increasing defense to absurd levels I guess you can’t really blame Republicans for taking a different tack which has been to double-down on racism, xenophobia, and paranoia about terrorism.

If you have any doubt about the current state of insanity among many conservatives I dare you to take a look at comments section of any online forum. It doesn’t even have to be about a political topic for comments to quickly devolve into psychotic ravings blaming liberals for every ill this nation faces.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Unfair Advantage

In Spanish we call these days “Veranillo de San Miguel.” I suppose this would translate as “Indian Summer” for anyone more interested in a faithful translation than political correctness. Whatever you care to call these gorgeous summer-like days of early autumn here in Valencia I can say that they are perfect for cycling. It’s almost like I am cheating in my fitness routine, like I have an unfair advantage over people who live in other parts of the world that don’t share out climate. This advantage is on a par with performance enhancing drugs when it comes to stretching out each and every bike ride or perhaps going out twice in the same day just to enjoy the last of the beach days we have left this year (I'm not much of a beach person but I like to ride by the beach).