Tips for bicycle commuters in Miami

I love my bike. She’s a beautiful silver Trek, Urban style. I first got it to commute to and from school in Ohio, and I’ve recently started riding it to and from grad school here in Florida. I’ve accumulated some experience, and wanted to share some tips for anybody who is new to commuting by bike.
Note: I say some mean stuff about car drivers in here. Not ALL of them are idiots, and to those of you who are GOOD drivers, who OBEY the traffic laws, and who look for motorcycles, bikes, and pedestrians, THANK YOU. Please keep making us safer on the road.

1.) WEAR A HELMET
No really. Think you’re too cool to wear one? Then you’re too cool to be biking anywhere. You absolutely must have this, and not some ancient thing you found back in your garage. Like most other things, helmets have an expiration date, and you want one that’s going to protect your gourd. (There is some contention about this, but for me, I would rather spend $20 on a new helmet once every 1-2 years than be at risk.) My understanding is that sunlight can wear out the protective shell, and so helmets need to be replaced. And of course if it has sustained any damage, replace your helmet right away. Check out this site for more info: http://www.livestrong.com/article/362543-when-do-bicycle-helmets-expire/
Helmets aren’t just for car accidents either. Ever seen someone mowing their lawn? Ever suspect that a big rock might happen to get popped up right at your head as you pass by? What if you just wipe out on your own? (Hey, it happens to the best of us.) There are all sorts of injuries that can occur, so you should wear your helmet even if it’s just a short distance.

2.) Ride on the sidewalk in busy areas.
I know, technically that’s not the law. But quite frankly if you want to be safe, the less time you spend on the actual blacktop, the better. There are always some quiet roads where you’ll be able to ride on the pavement, but until then, try to stick to the sidewalk. *Disclaimer: Ahem. Don’t break the law. That is a bad thing to do. I did not tell you to do it… Now carry on.*

3.) Watch out for driveways and business entrances/exits
If you’re new to your route, pay special attention to any entrances to the road you’re on. Even on the sidewalk, you can easily get hit by someone who isn’t paying attention. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll know where these places are and you’ll be able to slow down as you approach. Don’t think that you can speed on by! I’m always tempted to speed by this exit that I pass on my way to school, right at the bottom of a hill after I pick up speed. But you know what? DON’T. Cars can go faster than you. And if you zoom out in front of them, you’re not giving yourself a good chance of being spotted.

4.) Give cars the right of way.
I know, I know. Bikes and pedestrians are supposed to have the right of way when they’re on the crosswalk. But you know what? 95% of drivers don’t care, especially Miami drivers. They want to turn right, and they’re going to do it whether you’re trying to cross or not. Your pride won’t do you much good when you’re in the hospital from a hit-and-run. Swallow your pride and take some time. Just be patient- there are SOME good drivers out there who will signal you across, which always makes me feel a little better. This leads me to my next point:

5.) Make eye contact
Do you think that guy at the stop sign saw you? Are you SURE? Is he texting? Is she on her cell phone? If you aren’t sure that someone sees you before crossing the road, assume that they DON’T see you! Wait to make eye contact, or for the driver to wave you on, some kind of acknowledgement. If you have to, then yell, “Do you see me?!” I have done this numerous times. It will work if it’s not drowned out by traffic. Many, many people are talking on their phones while driving, and they are not looking for cyclists AT ALL. Make sure that the driver is clear: You are crossing right now, and that’s ok with them.

6.) Be considerate to pedestrians
After all, they technically have the right to the sidewalk more than a bicycle. If someone is walking but has their back to you, don’t zoom on by, brushing them and generally scaring the s**t out of them! A bike horn or bell works great for this, or even just your voice, “Passing on your left!” I’ve never had someone turn around and defiantly stand in my way. If they know you’re coming, they’ll take a step to the side. You don’t have to wait behind them, and they don’t get sideswiped. Everyone is happy.

7.) Give clear signalsDo you know your bicycle hand signals? You should. How will a car know that you’re turning? Or stopping? Be clear: communicate! And when you’re on the corner waiting for the crosswalk light, make it clear if you don’t intend to cross yet. Put both feet on the pavement; nobody is going to bike away with both feet on the ground. This shows drivers that they can turn safely without cutting you off.

Another site that has some really interesting tips is here: http://flyingpigeon-la.com/2012/06/taking-the-lane-by-any-means-necessary/ I haven’t tried these techniques yet, but they sound reasonable.

In conclusion, be careful out there! If you are a driver, please take a second to think about where bikes might be. Even take a minute to bike down the road and back, just a mile or two. It might change your perspective. And if you are a cyclist who has never driven a car, get a buddy to help you find the blind spot. The more you know about how everyone else’s transportation works, the better. Stay safe!

Posted in current events, just for fun | Leave a comment

Contrary to Popular Opinion…

We’ve all heard that saying, “What is popular is not always right. What is right is not always popular.” Most of us hear this in gradeschool, usually to make our behavior better in the face of peer pressure. However, even today, I find myself harboring a very unpopular opinion, even though I believe it is right. I’m a little ashamed to say that I’m afraid to stand up and fight for it, even in the mildest way- a post on facebook.

Generally, I leave people to their own devices on facebook. You post your stuff, and I might disagree with it, but there’s no real reason for me to be contrarian and argue about it. Usually, if it isn’t grossly misrepresenting facts or attacking an innocent subset of humanity, I’ll leave it be. Similarly, I know there are a lot of people who don’t agree with my atheistic views, but we generally coexist in the facebook world pretty easily.

I happened upon an image recently that seemed worth sharing. It was a picture from “We Fucking Love Atheism” shown below.

1013102_505256912882132_1659343727_n

I have experienced first hand the extreme harm that comes to children from religious indoctrination. Not just Westboro Baptist extremists either; your everyday Evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, you name it.  Raising a person to believe in one thing when you have absolutely no basis for it is abuse. It is CRUEL. If the child grows up and never realizes that there are other beliefs that have just as much validity as his, then you have failed as a parent. You have brought up a close-minded individual, who does not see WHY or HOW anyone could think differently. There are others who have different opinions, but that’s because they are “misguided.” In this case, you might not directly see the harm done to the kid. But in the world as a whole, I believe it contributes to a lack of responsibility towardss understanding our fellow man, and that is a travesty.

The second case is much more drastic and harmful to the individual. This is when that child grows up and realizes that everything they have believed their whole life is a lie (or, at least, that it could be.) To have the very foundation of your life ripped away is nothing short of traumatic. YES, I mean that in every sense of the word. Having your religion ripped away from you IS TRAUMATIC. This is especially true for those of us who were raised in particularly religious households.

I’m sure there are levels in between, but from what I have seen, experienced, and heard from others, there is nothing good that comes from religious indoctrination. Only negative things can happen. And this is child abuse.

Most people are familiar with this opinion due to Richard Dawkins’ mention of it in his book, “The God Delusion,” but I would say that even he has a soft approach. He won’t directly tell someone that they are abusing their child by teaching them religion.

My opinion is slightly different, and even less popular.

If you teach your child that religion is true, you are subjecting them to mental abuse, and it is as harmful as any physical abuse could ever be.

I wholeheartedly believe this opinion. I have evidence to back it up. I have considered it many times, and I always arrive at the same conclusion. But when I posted this on my facebook, and a Catholic facebook friend responded in defense of religion, I felt like I had no choice but to defend my belief and the millions of children who are victims of it (not to mention the rest of the world.) Besides, the person had crossed over to comment on MY facebook wall, so I feel that it is only fair.

The problem? I am terrified to go back and read his response.

I know that this guy just had a kid. I know he is going to raise the child strictly Catholic (or at least, it would surprise me if he didn’t.) In effect, I have directly called this person a child abuser to his face. And I believe it. And it is certainly NOT a popular idea.

I shouldn’t be afraid to express my opinion. If I truly think that indoctrination is cruel, then I have a moral responsibility to speak out about it. I can’t legally take away someone’s kid, or force them to change beliefs- we have to weigh the consequences, the social resources we have, our values of freedom of religion, etc. It is not an easy issue to solve as far as action, but it is much easier to come up with the philosophical belief. Again, it’s “walking the walk vs talking the talk.”

Realistically, discussing with people in a calm and rational matter would be the best way to change someone’s mind. But how can you do that when you have given such a grave insult? Most people consider child abusers to be sex offenders, molesters, neglectful parents who starve their children, druggie parents who pimp their children on the streets, and so on. Would I classify religious indoctrination with this level of harm?… YES. I would. I do.

Most people think this is extreme, but I don’t think so. I think it is the correct opinion on a topic that most people find taboo. You don’t tell other people how to raise their kids. You just don’t. But when someone’s kid is being abused? You are obligated by LAW to tell the police. Why should we think different for something that has been demonstrated to be so harmful?

I’m so afraid of reading the response. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I can’t escape it. What other choice do I have? It is my moral responsibility to look out for those who can’t defend themselves. Children are biologically wired to believe everything a parent tells them; they have minimal independant thought until it is too late. It’s like jell-o; it’s much easier to put the fillinings in BEFORE the jell-o sets. I don’t go out of my way to say it, but when asked directly, I have to stand by what I know to be true.

Unfortunately, this makes me see a parallel between some close-minded bigots and myself. If you tell someone they are sinning by being homosexual, aren’t I doing the same thing? Telling them they are gravely mistaken? That what they are doing is causing real harm? Surely, WBC (as crazy as they are) truly BELIEVES what they say. Do I really have any more evidence for my beliefs than they do? Well, I have to say yes (otherwise I wouldn’t believe it.) Mine is based on experience, what I see in the world around me, and the pain that I see religion cause. Theirs is based on a book and a single old man authority figure.

So yes, I’m terrified. I’m going to get knots and twists in my belly from insulting someone so gravely. But that is a burden that I owe all the other children who are being indoctrinated, to all the children who will be in the future, and to our entire society. I have to work to make this a better place, and I so earnestly believe that indoctrination is harmful. Oddly enough, this reminds me of a parallel with the Bible. Jonah and his whale. Jonah tried to avoid telling Nineveh that they were “sinning” and not “doing God’s will,” and that they should repent. He didn’t want to tell them what they were doing was wrong. Can you blame him??? Fictional character though he is, that is fucking terrifying. You could have a whole city up in arms against you!

So weirdly enough, I find myself comparing my situation to WBC and Jonah. But in the end, I can’t waste time letting the fish swallow me. I hope you don’t either.

Posted in personal concerns, philosophy | Leave a comment

Father’s Day… Mother’s Day…

Here’s to those of us who were disowned by our parents. We made it through without them, and we will continue to do so. Father’s Day sucks. Mother’s Day sucks. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every other holiday that you would spend with your family sucks.

We all ought to come together for “Adopted Family Day.” We can be each others fathers, brothers, mothers, and sisters. That’s what I say, anyway.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment