Happy. Healthy. Heathen.

Traveling, training, thinking, talking, typing


July 2012

Ragbrai blog. Ragblog.

Oh my yes.  Over and over.

Ragbrai 2012 has just concluded, and once again, it was the best week of the year.  I have tried for several years to blog about this event in such a way that I can make others understand why it’s such a fabulous event.  It truly is one of those things whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The dogs of Ragbrai 2012

The Des Moines newspaper is the Register.  In 1973, a couple of reporter friends decided it might be fun to ride their bicycles across the state over a week’s time.  That first year there were about 114 riders who made the whole distance.  This year, in addition to the 10,000 registered riders, it is unofficially estimated that there are another 5,000 “bandits”, riders not chosen through the lottery in the 10,000 limit.

The route is always west to east, and it is always a different route, spreading those tourism dollars across the state.  And the dollars were flying.  Pork chops, pie, t-shirts, pie, temporary tattoos, pie, barbeque, pie, beer, and pie.

Aden ate 2 pieces of cherry pie at this stop
These anti-paleo cinnamon rolls were as good as they look!

Team Fly has been rolling since 1990, although we didn’t call ourselves that then.  Our first year the kiddies were in the carts behind the bikes, and sometime after I scan our old pictures, I’ll post some of those.  Now our team runs about 18-20 strong, and includes family, friends, and even a few folks we’ve picked up along the way!

Roger BMX Denesha
Aden and Ben Daddy

The centerpiece of the team has become the Airbus, so named because of its airplane parts and aviation theme.  This is an old pic, but it does it more justice because in this one it has a new shiny paint job.  Big Jesse adds improvements every year – it has warm showers for up to 20, party deck, bunks, both first class and coach seating, overhead storage compartments, even 2 jump seats with 5-point harness.

Team Fly Bus

This year was a particular toasty ride for the first 4 days.  Temperatures in the 100’s became 112 out on the road in the sun.  However, in a highlight of the ride, the rain dance of the members of Team Fly brought magnificent thunderstorms and cooler temperatures for the final three days.  Unbeknownst to my teammates, I was also dancing for tail winds, and as it turns out, I have supernatural powers because indeed, the following day we had tailwinds for 85 miles!

Remember that time in Marshalltown?
more rain dance party
adding some hoop to the rain dance party

So after the 20 hour ride up, picking up the Colorado/Kansas group, 7 days and 480 miles of cycling, and the 20-hour ride back home, the bus is unpacked, hosed down, and parked til next year.  We’re all getting our nasty, sweaty clothes washed, our blisters, sunburns, and heat rashes are healing.

And we can’t wait til next year.

Jen at the Mississippi

Find us on Facebook and start pedaling!

Thanks for reading!







TAM 10

The Amazing Meeting.

And it has been amazing!

This collection of skeptics, scientists, researchers, entertainers gathered in Las Vegas is equal parts information, education, socialization, and great big huge fun!  It has been made even more fun by the fact that my daughter Glenda has been able to come with me.  Daughter Amy got to come last year, and we had an equally delicious time.

What is skepticism?  By definition: doubt as to the truth of something.  TAM bills itself as:

The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) is an annual celebration of science, skepticism and critical thinking. People from all over the world come TAM each year to share learning, laughs and the skeptical perspective with their fellow skeptics and a host of distinguished guest speakers and panelists.

What falls under this skepticism umbrella?  ESP.  Sasquatch.  Religion.  Alternative medicine.  Anti-vax.  Any type of quackery that tries to bill itself as science.  Founded by James Randi, the JREF has been fighting psuedo-science for years.  The man himself was in attendance and available for chatting up during the entire conference.

I attended TAM 9 last year with daughter Amy, and this year daughter Glenda got to come with me.  We had a great time – the event is held in the South Point Casino, which is an experience in itself.  She busted out an impromptu hoop performance in the Del Mar bar and gave a mini-physics lesson about centripetal force, color spectrum theory, and LED light energy that will have this group of science geeks (a term of absolute endearment) smiling for years.

Some of the speeches are on Youtube, but more of the texts are.  This one is particularly compelling by Pamela Gay, as it addresses the hot button issue of harassment issues both within and without the movement.

I know this post is short; I spent a few extra days in Vegas having too much fun (just ask daughter Glenda), and cut short my time to unpack and repack for our family bicycle trip across Iowa, which will be my next post!  Bus rolls tomorrow (Friday) at 6!

So, to recap:  TAM 2012.  Fabulous.  Go next year.  I’ll buy you a drink at the DelMar!

Thanks for reading!

Sex at Dawn. The book, not the appointment.

“We have good news and bad news.  The good news is that the dismal version of human sexuality reflected in the standard narrative is mistaken.  Men have not evolved to be deceitful cads, nor have millions of years shaped women into lying, two-timing gold-diggers.  But the bad news is that the amoral agencies of evolution have created in us a species with a secret it just can’t keep.  Homo sapiens evolved to be shamelessly, undeniably, inescapably sexual.  Lusty libetines.  Rakes, rogues, and roués.  Tomcats and sex kittens.  Horndogs.  Bitches in heat.”

And if that paragraph doesn’t appeal to you, neither will this book, or the rest of this review.

The book is Sex at Dawn:  How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships.  It’s written by researchers Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá.

Like so much else that I study and seek to understand, this topic sends me running to our evolutionary heritage.  This is, for me, the first step in gaining understanding, whether we are determining what we eat, how we live, why we act the way we do.  This phase of information-gathering is not the end, but rather the beginning of the process.  Our natural heritage is morality-neutral – nature cares not whether you eat/behave/live/die in this manner; it’s simply the manner in which our species have evolved to thrive.  Natural selection isn’t inherently good or bad.  But it is the framework upon which to study what behaviors have served us well in our survival through the millenia.  (And a side note, which won’t surprise anyone who knows me, we learn again how things got sideways in our prehistory with the advent of agriculture.)

And our species has thrived on, not to put too fine a point on it, sluttiness.  If you pause reading right here, you can probably answer the next question, WHY, without much help.  But this book offers a lot of fun in seeking the answer.

It has long been known that we share an ancestor with other apes, and that our closest relative is the chimpanzee.  What hasn’t been known until more recently is that we are as equidistant, evolutionarily, to the bonobo.  It is in observing these two societies, bonobos and chimpanzees, that we get a full picture of social behavior that runs a broader spectrum than initially understood in terms of how we as homo sapiens have evolved.  We have so many years of social/religious pressure adding to our history, it’s difficult to determine what is natural and what is cultural, and watching our not-so-influenced relatives give us insight into our own behavior.

What we have discovered is that while chimpanzees exhibit behavior that shows reproduction-based sexual activity, territoriality, exchange of female sexual favor for protection and food, bonobos behave quite differently.  Bonobo societies use sexual activity for conflict resolution, tribal bonding, celebration, and includes multiple partners/genders/acts.  Additionally, bonobos, like humans and unlike chimpanzees, have hidden ovulation, and therefore hidden paternity, which allows the entire tribe to take an interest in all the offspring of the group.

There are only a handful of books I have sent to all of my adult children, and this is one of them.  My kids are all progressive, open-minded, hippie-types, and as with all things, I love getting their feedback and observations, particularly when it concerns science, culture, and relationships.  They hold progressive ideas about marriage, monogamy, and relationships based on their own knowledge and experiences, and I look forward to having our family book discussion on this, fractured though it might be through time and distance!

The divorce rate in the US currently stands at about 50%.  If you were a car manufacturer, and you installed brakes on your cars that failed 50% of the time, you would consider this an absolute emergency.  If you were an investor, and you lost clients’ money 50% of the time, you should look for a new line of work.  If your restaurant food made people sick after one of every 2 visits, you’d be shut down in a big hurry.  There’s a problem with marriage in the United States, that doesn’t seem to be confined to any category:  age, religion, region, or race.   And because our religious and political entities have an interest in keeping the status quo, our citizenry finds itself, as it so often does, restricted from even asking questions and pushing back in the face of these dismal statistics.  The authors of the book don’t do a lot of moralizing – don’t go out and join a hippie commune, but perhaps share the book with your spouse and marriage counselor.  It’s a conversation we should be having.

“Could it be that the atomic isolation of the husband-wife nucleus with an orbiting child or two is in fact a culturally imposed aberration for our species – as ill-suited to our evolved tendencies as corsets, chastity belts, and suits of armor?  Dare we ask whether mothers, fathers, and children are all being shoe-horned into a family structure that suits none of us?  Might the contemporary pandemics of fracturing families, parental exhaustion, and confused, resentful children be predictable consequences of what is, in truth, a distorted and distorting family structure inappropriate for our species?”

Remember the documentary about the penguins?  Remember how we anthropomorphised that charming movie?  We aspired to be monogamous like the penguins, devoted to the nth degree to our offspring and to one another?  Churches showed this as worship service, in an effort to make us learn how very, very, ever so important it was to be like the penguin!  Calling them model parents, holding them up as an ideal example of monogamy, this film was lovely.  Touching.  And in its defense, that year spent with that egg on the ice was pretty accurately portrayed.  Those raging Antarctic blizzards don’t lend themselves much to extramarital temptation.  However….

“Once Junior is swimming with the other 11-month-olds – the penguin equivalent of kindergarten – fidelity is quickly forgotten, divorce is quick,  automatic, and painless, and Mom and Dad are back on the penguin prowl.  With a breeding adult typically living 30 years or more, these “model parents” have at least 2 dozen “families” in a lifetime.  Did someone say “ideal example of monogamy”?

You should read this book.  Every page reveals an interesting piece of the puzzle of human behavior.  Some of it is laugh-out-loud funny, and some of it is “who’s reading my email?” accurate.  I’ll throw in a couple of additional teasers: there’s a chapter on why a human penis is shaped like it is (try to guess first), and an entire chapter devoted to multiple female orgasm (as trippy as it sounds).  I have a copy I’m happy to loan, and there’s a Kindle version too.

After all that good stuff, let me issue one final caveat.  I HATEHATEHATED the final chapters.  After 300 pages of serious science data, cross-referenced sources, humor, light, the perfect balance of every word, the last chapter devolved into a Dear Abby column, and I have no idea why.  The authors have even added another chapter to the newest editions addressing all the complaints they received about that, but it was an unsatisfying explanation.  However, the totality of the book still rises about that imperfection.  This one’s a winner.  Read it, then tell me about reading it!

I envy you getting to read it for the first time.

Thanks for reading!

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