REI wants me to stop buying stuff (except for the things that really matter)

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I received an 8-1/2″ x 11″ color booklet in the mail from REI. On the second page it tells about the pitfalls of wanting more stuff. It says that if something doesn’t make us “laugh and sweat and surprise ourselves” then it’s just another thing. We’re also told:

“As malls fill up and credit cards overheat, let’s get back to what really matters.”

So I turned the pages to find out what really matters. As it turns out, what really matters is a $350 YETI brand cooler that keeps snacks ice cold and dry. Also, lots of expensive shirts, jackets, and shoes. A $400 GoPro camera really matters. As does a $35 “Stanley Shaker Happy Hour System.”

REI, please don’t pretend you are somehow morally superior regarding consumerism, while at the same time suggesting that we buy your costly YETI coolers. Just admit that you’re no different than any other retailer trying to cash in on the holidays. We’ll respect you more.

If you really want to be different, make “opted out” the default for receiving glossy paper catalogs from you. Stop making your name so prominent on clothing and gear that I can’t use it without feeling like a walking billboard. 

Finally, if you’re worried about credit cards overheating, stop asking me to get an REI-branded credit card. 

i want to be the anti-trump

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Now that we’ll have a new Republican president who spent five years spreading the lie that President Obama was not a citizen, who spent $20k of Trump Foundation charity money on a six-foot portrait of himself, who admires Vladimir Putin, who brags about groping women, who Tweets crazy stuff in the middle of the night about a former Miss Universe, and will soon have the codes to unleash the U.S. nuclear arsenal …

Now that the KKK and neo-Nazis are celebrating the new Republican president …

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Now that we’ll have a Republican vice president who doesn’t seem to accept the reality of evolution or global warming, and who believes in preposterous “gay reparative” therapy …

Now that the last three years have averaged the hottest global temperatures ever recorded, and Arctic sea ice has declined by more than 30% in just 25 years, and we are likely to have a global warming denier heading up the EPA …

Now that we’ll have a new Republican Secretary of Health and Human Services who belongs to a group (AAPS) that pushes anti-vaccine and other fringe propaganda, and once co-sponsored a bill to define human life as beginning at the moment of conception, which, if passed, could have had birth control pills classified as murder weapons …

Now that our new Republican president has selected for Treasury secretary a Wall Street insider, former Goldman Sachs partner, and hedge-fund manager who’s profited from predatory lending (and Trump says he’s “draining the swamp” in D.C.) …

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Now that we’ve elected the guy who swore the election was rigged against him, and still makes the delusional, evidence-free claim that millions voted illegally …

Now that all that is happening, I have to do something to make me feel like I’m countering the crazy.

One thing I’m doing, which I planned before the election, is volunteering at a local youth tutoring program for kids. I help with skill building and homework. (I’ve been paired with an elementary school boy who is Muslim. His parents are probably immigrants. Hopefully in Seattle he isn’t a target for bullies and bigots.) I think that if I can instill some critical thinking in a youngster, I’ve done a small service.

I’ve also joined the ACLU – it’s been quite a few years since my membership lapsed, but I’m back on the rolls now.

I made a donation to Planned Parenthood, now that we could face the return of back alley             abortions if a near-future Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

I donated to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.

That’s barely a drop in the bucket. I’ll be looking for other volunteer or political action opportunities – something to avoid the dystopia that seems to be in the offing.

The backsliding on social issues — like reproductive freedom for women — is likely to cause considerable harm and suffering. Meanwhile, the science denial among today’s Republicans is excruciating to hear. It’s like riding a bus in heavy traffic and watching the driver gleefully put on a blindfold. The wingnuts are behind the wheel.

The small bright spot we can point to is that the majority of voting citizens did not vote for Trump. The current count is 2.5 million more votes for Clinton. There is hope.

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five tips i’ve learned from fellow motorists

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I’ve gained substantial knowledge from watching drivers around me on the road. Today I’m going to share some best practices that will get you safely and efficiently to your destination.

Be excruciatingly careful when turning

On city streets, please take your own sweet time making a turn onto another street. Even if there is no stop sign, traffic signal, or obstruction, come to a complete stop, then inch-by-inch, gradually edge your car around the corner. If there is a rare albino turtle sitting in the road around that corner, it will have plenty of time to get out of your way.

Assume there are bad guys following you

It’s important not to tip off the people in the cars behind you as what you are about to do regarding turns or lane changes. Do not under any circumstances use signals. This clever strategy will frustrate the government agents, personal enemies, or demons/space aliens who are always following you.

Make sudden moves

A similar principle is especially important for exiting freeways. Best practice suggests driving in the left lane until you are almost at the exit, then veering across two or three lanes of traffic to exit at the last second. It not only frustrates evil-doers following you in your fantasy action movie, but it’s also a fun challenge that will only kill you a maximum of once.

Understand traffic lights

Slow down when you approach a traffic signal that’s green because, hey, it might turn yellow and you want to be ready. In fact, if you slow down enough at green lights, they will always turn yellow before you get there, confirming that you were right to slow down.

Green = “Slow to a crawl.”
Yellow =  “Stop immediately.”
Red = “Rest and look at your phone, read a book, or daydream. Someone will remind you with a gentle honk if the light changes to green.”

Conserve your light bulbs

You can save huge amounts of money and labor on headlight replacements by not using those lights so much. If there is any daylight at all left in the sky, a reasonable person can see you. I mean, you’re driving a big, fat car, aren’t you? Also, if you’re just a few miles from your destination, there’s no point of bothering with lights.

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Those are all my handy tips for today. Study them, save a turtle, and rule the road.  

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how to deny that which is right in front of your nose

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Down is up! The sun is green! Pigs have wings!

An associate professor at a Florida university has been harassing the parents of one of the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. He claims the shooting never happened and their child never existed. He sent the parents a certified letter requesting proof that the child had actually lived.

There are lots of people who believe that mass shootings don’t happen. Here are some additional claims that deny what’s right in front of your nose

“Evolution doesn’t happen.”
“The Jewish Holocaust never happened.”
On 9/11 the Twin Towers were felled by our government, not hijacked airliners.”
“Vaccines ruin people’s health – especially children.”
“Global warming isn’t happening or is greatly exaggerated.”
“Eating GMO food will damage your health.”

It’s easy to do. Here’s a tutorial on how to defend a position that’s plainly nuts. Thanks Wikipedia, for compiling these.

  • Pick apart what the “other side” is saying rather than provide support for your own idea. Because actual support for your own argument is weak-to-nonexistent.
  • Favor conspiracy theories. Thousands of doctors/scientists/historians are lying in order to somehow pad their own pockets or to cover something up. Since the evidence is against you, smear the evidence-providers.
  • Cherry-pick your reasons. Carefully screen all available information, ignore the consensus, and trumpet a few scraps that seem to support your thesis. Because you want to pretend you have some credibility.
  • Use false experts. Use an expert who is not actually an expert in the subject at hand, or pay someone to provide “evidence.” Because you want to pretend to some credibility.
  • Move the goalposts. If your argument is lost, then demand even more evidence than initially requested, or ignore the point altogether and introduce a new one.

I think when people’s ideology is so deeply ingrained that it’s a fundamental part of who they are, then changing their minds is like destroying part of themselves. 

For example, a 9/11 “truther” may bank on being one of the elect, cool, radical folks who knows the truth. He gets to call everyone else “sheeple.” Rather than lose out, it’s better to not think too hard and double-down on the original belief.

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I harp on this subject because politicizing and denying evidence is a bad habit. It’s like driving a car toward a wall and saying the wall isn’t there. Somebody’s going to get hurt. People are already getting hurt.

Reality testing can be uncomfortable but it’s a good habit.

how it happened: big breakthroughs in web presentation

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I was lucky enough to get a transcript of a high-level corporate meeting in which some important decisions were made about interface design and user experience. Let’s listen in:

Marketing Specialist: “Here’s my idea. When someone starts to read an article on our site, a message will pop up that blocks the reader’s view. The message will say, ‘Sign up for alerts when we publish new stuff.’ And the poor reader can’t get rid of the message unless he signs up or clicks a checkbox to make the message go away.”

Executive: “But won’t that irritate people? Won’t they associate our brand with an unpleasant feeling?”

Marketing Specialist: “Yes, but most importantly, they’ll remember you. And along those lines, do you recall our last meeting, when we discussed how to annoy with video?   

Executive: “Of course.”

Marketing Specialist: “There’s a way to make video and audio automatically begin playing when you visit the site, whether the viewer likes it or not.”

Executive: “So if someone is in a public place like a library, the sound will disturb everyone?”

Marketing Specialist: “Exactly.”

Executive: “I love it. Although it seems both stupid and counterproductive, I’m sure you know best. You’re the consultant.”

Marketing Specialist: “Well, I have one more idea, but it’s just for phones.”

Executive: “Go on.”

Marketing Specialist: “Let’s construct our mobile site in such a way that after someone starts reading, an image will load up above the text and push everything down. That way the reader will lose her place and have to search for where she left off.”

Executive: “Could we fix it so that happens more than once, so readers lose their place over and over again? Hey, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this!”

Marketing Specialist: “That’s brilliant. I think we could do that, yes. I’ll look into it.”

Executive: “See that you do. I’m starting to get jazzed about this. I’m getting smart. For tomorrow – let’s think of ways to have advertisements follow people from page to page.”

Marketing Specialist: “Yes. Like fleas on a dog. You’re going to put me out of work.”

Executive: “Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ha.”

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it gets worse at 24-hour fitness

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I said I wouldn’t complain again about the music on the PA system at 24-Hour Fitness. I even praised them when for a day or two they switched to something that didn’t make me gag.

Of course they always returned to music that I describe as endlessly repeating bleeps and farts. Insultingly bad music that reaches into your head to stomp brain cells. It’s an odd strategy for a health club – playing tunes that make people want to cry and give up.

How could it get worse? By putting advertisements into the mix. Yes, these songs that resemble the soundtracks to chewing gum commercials are now interspersed with spoken ads. Today I heard an ad for Justin Bieber (the King Joffrey of pop). I was supposed to buy something and win tickets to a Bieber concert.

They also introduced a 24-Hour Fitness channel on the TVs in the workout rooms. The channel shows bad music videos interspersed with ads for the powdered protein crap they sell by the check-in counter. Are there any suckers who buy that stuff? There must be a few.

Why does this business work so hard to make the environment as unpleasant as possible for customers? I know they pretty much have me trapped – it’s right across the street from where I work. I don’t have other choices beyond going out into the rain and breathing auto fumes. But still, why bother poking the proverbial sharp stick in my eye?

My guess is that someone told 24-Hour Fitness that they could monetize the environment in the health club. It must have been a realization akin to being struck by lightning.

My god, they thought, most of our customers have working ears and we’re not shooting ads into their heads as they exercise! Good lord, these people have eyes and we’re not putting enough commercials in their faces.

“This is going to be easy. We just put sales pitches on repeat everywhere and it will turn into money.”

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more cycles

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Now that I have my bike back and repaired I’m ramping up again to train for that first 106-mile day of the RSVP. Today there wasn’t much time so I rode the Burke-Gilman Trail.

¿Que es mas loco? The people with no bike helmets at all, or the people who have a helmet attached to a backpack or hung from the handlebars?

Thank you, woman-on-the-bike-trail-who-lost-control-of-your-dog. It was just terrific to come around a curve and see your dog running across the trail, it’s leash stretched out across the entire path like a deadly booby-trap. I braked hard and no one got hurt … this time.

Earlier in the ride, another couple with a dog took up the width of the trail while they dithered about what direction to take. They seemed utterly oblivious to bicycles coming at them from both directions.

If only the world was as courteous and thoughtful as me, the perfect bicyclist.

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