Iowa does good

A while back I posted on the subject of so-called “gay marriage.” Shortly after posting that, I got involved in an email conversation with fellow St. Olaf College alumni in which I expanded on my thoughts. Today upon receiving a news alert from a friend that Iowa has joined the ranks of sensible states who are choosing to protect economic and legal fairness for all its citizens, I am prompted to post my email here:

14 November 2006

I agree with almost everything said so far, in particular the fact that it’s heartening to be reading this conversation [on a St. Olaf College LISTSERV]. I found it especially heartening for it to have been started by Pastor Benson. The public perception of this issue seems to be far too slanted in the direction of “religious leaders object to gay marriage.” It doesn’t seem necessary rehearse the various reasons for that here; instead I’ll add my thanks to him and all who have replied.

I’m not sure whether to be optimistic or not. Sometimes I’m optimistic; I think the fact that so many people are talking about it–and so many people, so reasonably–is a sign of tremendous progress since, for example, when I was at St Olaf in the 1980s. The fledgling GLBT community’s hottest topic then was whether it was safe to be “out,” at St Olaf or elsewhere. This feels like progress.

Sometimes I view it historically in a different way: the institution of marriage has hardly been static for more than a few generations, let alone throughout history, and I’m not sure that its present definition is one that’s going to last much longer anyway. More than a few progressive thinkers have suggested that nontraditional couples are in fact privileged by lack of access to traditional marriage, because they are both free and obligated to explore for themselves what they mean by committing to each other. I’m not sure it’s a fair trade, but it seems like a valid point.

Sometimes I’m pessimistic and think we’re weaving our handbaskets with so much damage already done by the misguided fights going on at the constitutional level.

Most of the time, I take a pragmatic view, or maybe it’s denial: I think it’s an issue that’s getting way too much airtime relative to more serious problems in our country and world, and I resent the fact that conservative extremists (read “bigots”) are so happy to exploit this as a wedge issue, but I just don’t see it as being nearly as pressing as the lack of universal health care, decent education, and a zillion other things that our politicians SHOULD be spending their time on first.

I wrote at greater length on the subject recently in a blog post, which you can find here:

The gist of that post was to propose that we separate marriage and civil union into two separate institutions. What I didn’t address is this: what are we all supposed to do in the meantime?

I have the great happiness of being “engaged” (or whatever) to a wonderful woman, and we plan to be “married” (or whatever) in January 2008, but I’ll be darned if I know how we’re going to do it.

We set a distant date in part so that we have time to talk to lawyers and financial planners and whoever else about how to go about creating a partnership with as many of the dimensions currently available to “married” couples as possible, given the patchwork of simple and domestic partnership options available to us. And then there’s all the questions around which laws will end up taking precedence over the others. Any legal experts out there want to help us? [Followup: we didn’t get any offers from lawyers, but I did receive an astonishing number of thoughtful, supportive replies from friends and strangers alike.]

We also have a pile of questions about what kind of ceremony to create with what kind of officiant(s), since the traditional options aren’t available to us, but none of that seems as important as figuring out how to protect each other and make ourselves accountable to each other financially and legally in all the myriad ways that straight couples get for the price of a marriage license.

MacArthur Maze fallout

As threatened in earlier posts about the collapse of the MacArthur Maze, I did indeed get back into the motorcycling game, so here is an overdue picture of the new baby, a 2002 Honda VFR 800FIA. Candy was reluctant to pose with me, perhaps miffed that we can’t seem to find her a helmet that fits.

In lay terms, it’s an 800cc Interceptor sportbike with fuel injection and antilock brakes. It’s by far the most modern bike I’ve ever ridden. No choke! A fuel gauge! A clock! ABS! VTEC! What do all these things mean in practical terms?

No choke means one less step while starting the bike. It means no hassles with having to fiddle with the choke level until you can coax the bike into starting. It means not having to remember to turn the choke back down after the bike has warmed up (about a mile from home). It means not having to fiddle with the choke during the first mile to get the mixture just rich enough but not too rich. It means a little lever isn’t in the way of your left thumb when you’re whacking the headlights’ low/high beam switch.

A fuel guage means that you can keep track of how much fuel you have. Big deal? Well, in all the other bikes I’ve had, there was no fuel gauge. Instead, you had a two-part fuel intake from the tank. Most of the time, you operate the bike with the fuel dial in the main position, and fuel ran into a hose positioned too high to catch the bottom 1/8th of the tank. At some point, the fuel fell below this intake, the engine started to sputter, the rider started to panic (especially if executing traffic maneuvers), and the rider eventually recognized the behavior as a symptom of low fuel, took her left hand off the grip and clutch lever (after completing a shift, if applicable), grabbed for the dial under her left knee, tried to move it to the bottom “reserve” position while wearing gloves and continuing to maneuver in traffic, and then waited for fuel to make its way from the secondary intake at the lowest point of the tankbottom, down the hose, and into the engine, which would then give one last sputter and start running smoothly again. That’s if all went well. If instead you were confused or clumsy too long, the engine killed, and you had to restart it (perhaps after pulling over, figuring out what just happened, and then waiting for gravity to draw fuel through the hose since the killed engine wasn’t exerting any suck). You then knew you had about 15 miles (more or less, depending on the bike, the slope, etc.) to get to a gas station, fill the tank, and if you’re smart, return the fuel dial to the regular position. If you forgot and left it on “reserve,” you were at risk of running out of gas with no warning, no reserve, and no hope of getting to a gas station. Ask me how I know. Ask any rider how she knows. Having a fuel gauge is so much nicer! Now I just need to remember to glance at it now and again. Ask Mom how I forgot to do that in North Dakota in my rental car a few months ago and she had to drive five miles from her hotel with a red plastic tank of gas to get me going again. Ask me how embarrassing it is to have to ask your senior citizen mother to rescue you five miles from town. No, don’t.

A clock means you actually know what time it is while you’re riding, without having to pull over or else attempt to shove your zipped-tight leather jacket sleeve up, your long leather glove gauntlet down, and look at a wrist watch while riding. It’s sort of a two-handed operation, and for the most part you only have half a hand available for ancillary tasks while riding. You can get little throttle clamps, which are a sort of lame substitute for cruise control, but the one I had didn’t work very well, and it’s not hard to think of why these devices aren’t the safest things to be using. Suppose you have one, though. You can, in fact, ride no-handed, just like on a bicycle, but it doesn’t feel good–at least not to this wimpy excuse for a motorcyclist.

ABS’s benefits should be obvious to anyone who’s ever used anti-lock brakes in any kind of vehicle. Basically, they’re the difference between hitting something and stopping quickly enough to avoid hitting something, especially on wet, icy, or gravelly surfaces. In a car this means saving money by avoiding rear-end collisions. On a motorcycle, this means saving your ass by avoiding all kinds of collisions, spinouts, and lockups. The problem with braking (without ABS) on a motorcycle is that if you lock up a wheel, you have problems. If you lock up the rear wheel (easy to do, since the rear brake is operated by your right foot, and our legs are stronger than we usually realize), it fishtails behind you, and if you’re skilled, you can ease up on it and recover; if you’re not, you’ll go down. If you lock up the front wheel, which is harder since you operate it with your right hand and because front brakes are ridiculously effective on bikes, then the rear part of the bike flips around or over the front part, the bike goes down, and you go flying. I’ve only done this once, on my old Hawk GT, while deciding to test full-effort braking at a stop sign, not realizing that it had started to mist, the pavement was wet, and I was approaching an oily spot. Everything was fine until the last inches (literally) of my stop, when the front wheel slipped, the brake locked it, and the bike ever so gently bucked me off. It wasn’t a big deal of an accident at all–1 mph, no traffic around me, no damage to the bike–but I caught myself with my right hand, bent my fingers back HARD. I got back on, rode the rest of the way home, and then my hand started to throb. A lot of ice, vicodin, two doctors, an NP, and an X-ray later, I had a broken finger diagnosed. (The prescription? Use it as much as you can stand. Use ice and pain killers as needed.) Having ABS means this accident, minor though it was, wouldn’t have happened. It shortens stopping distance by astonishing amounts (say 40%) on wet pavement. It can slightly lengthen stopping distance on ideal road conditions, but only if you’re a much more skilled rider than I am. ABS is good. I’ll never buy another vehicle of any kind without ABS, and I get annoyed when rental cars don’t have it. It should be required by law, just like airbags and seatbelts.

VTEC’s benefits are the most esoteric, but in the age of global warming, they’re not trivial. (A motorcyclist getting green seems weird to you? C’mon–this bike gets 54 mpg, which is on average better than your Prius, took far less energy and resources to produce than your Prius, will last two or three times as long, will take far less energy and resources to destroy when it’s dead, will consume far less parking space and the materials and energy it takes to create parking spaces, and will never need huge batteries replaced and the old ones destroyed like your Prius. And ALL of Honda’s vehicles have the best fuel economy in their class, and they don’t even make the most egregious monster vehicles. Your Prius might get great mileage, but when you buy a Toyota vehicle, you’re underwriting all those massive SUVs and trucks that Toyota also sells. If you think I’m a Honda bigot, you’re right.) VTEC means that of the four cylinders on this bike, only two of them are firing under light loads. When the load increases enough (around the speed limit or during wicked acceleration), the other two cylinders kick in. That’s right–this is a four-cylinder bike, but most of the time it’s acting like a two-cylinder bike. Pretty cool.

In addition to being an ecology nut, I’m a safety nut. That might seem weird, too, but as much as I like motorcycling, I like my life better. So here’s my hi-viz puke-yellow Aerostich Roadcrafter suit. I suppose some people might like this color, but it’s not my favorite, and it certainly doesn’t coordinate all that well with my red bike. But did you know that red is almost invisible to people, especially at night? This color is wicked visible always. To make sure, I asked Victoria to take a few pictures of it at night.

In the first picture, I’m standing in the low light of a distant driveway light. In the next three, that light has gone off, and the flash is doing its best. Can you find the black lab in these three pictures? Probably not. But would you miss seeing me if we were out playing in traffic together? Not a chance.

Unlikely friends?

Syltetøy, the young Siamese kitten we adopted in July, refuses to be intimidated by Candy, our ten-year-old black lab. In fact, they seem to be good friends. The other night, V and I were on the couch with Candy and Gjetost. Syltetøy wandered up, and I invited her to join us. She hopped up into the space in front of Candy and then settled down on her rear legs. Candy gave her a sniff, she sniffed back, and there they cuddled for the next ten minutes or so, until it was time for Syltetøy to get up and do some more of her important kitten work.

My favorite story, though, is from July, when we were staying with Jane. Syltetøy’s first vet visit revealed a yeast infection in her right ear. Sound familiar? Perhaps because Candy gets aural yeast infections all the time. It’s pretty routine for us to have to squirt Epi-Otic ear cleanser into Candy’s ears, let her shake it out, and then swab out the goop with a cotton pad. She hates it, and she invariably splatters us with the “fresh green apple!”-scented stuff, so we hate it, too. Imagine my joy when I learned I’d have to be doing the same thing to the wee kitty! It quickly became a favorite activity, though. See, Candy is so familiar with this procedure that when she smells Epi-Otic, she has a reflexive licking reaction; her job is to get rid of the stuff, after all! So after I squirted the stuff into the squirt’s ear, the squirt shook furiously to get it out, spattering me even more efficiently than Candy does, and then Candy kicked into action licking it off Syltetøy’s head. At first, the kitty was too startled to defend herself; then, she realized it was kind of nice, and she relaxed in my arms and enjoyed the maternal ministrations of the enormous black mama-kitty. Over the next couple days, she bonded even more with Candy, and eventually made her her plaything. Now sometimes Candy’s wagging tail is Syltetøy’s favorite toy–she bats at it just like a cat-dancer (those floppy wire thingies with the wad of cardboard that twitches spasmodically when whapped).

Recently I drained the juice from a can of tuna into Candy’s food dish, and Syltetøy was determined to get her share. This time I had a camera ready to capture the fun!