I wrote a bit ago about the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign‘s efforts to get an ad on a bus here in Bloomington.  The message on the ad: “You can be good without God”.  As I stated previously, I really like this message… it’s positive, it’s not insulting, not even condescending, a great example of the kinds of things I look for to say “I’m proud of what I believe, but I’m not trying to crack on people who believe differently.”

Much to my surprise (and, I think, many others’), Bloomington Transit rejected the ad, citing their ad policy which says that they may reject any ad they feel is ‘too controversial’.  Controversial?  It’s not like what the same campaign is now running in Chicago: “In the beginning, Man created God“.  Now THAT’s controversial… that’s getting in someone’s face and asking for a fight.  To disagree with “You can be good without God” is to assert that every non-Believer, now and throughout time (say, Marie Curie), is/was not good.  Now, I mean, maybe you just don’t believe that anyone can really be good, and in a purist sense, I wouldn’t argue with that.  I’m sure everyone who’s ever lived has done something unsavory.  But, somehow I don’t think that’s the “controversy” here.

Anyway, the ACLU filed suit in support of the campaign, and apparently Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan didn’t want the City’s legal department defending the case, so it was eventually dropped, and it looks like the ads will be showing up soon on a bus near me.  Cool.

Ok, so then yesterday I learn about a similar drama playing out in Des Moines, Iowa.  The Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers ran an ad on buses with this message: “Don’t believe in God?  You are not alone.”  Wow, now that’s really unoffensive.  I mean, that’s basically just saying “not everyone believes in God”, although admittedly with an added connotation of “it’s ok, and let’s support each other.”  I guess it’s that hint of “it’s ok” that led to an “overwhelming” number of complaints about the ads, which the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) cited when they took down the ads!  There’s already talk that the ads may be coming back, although aparently DART “has asked the atheist group to submit a new advertisement for consideration”.

So, the question is: how uncontroversial can you get?  What could the group possibly think of that’s LESS controversial than what was already running?  I honestly have trouble thinking of anything that might be more palatable to the presumptive complainers.  Maybe: “According to many passages in the Bible, non-Believers are all going to Hell.  But we still live in a country that allows us to speak freely and to peaceably assemble.  So, if you don’t believe in God, consider visiting iowaatheists.org”.  Any other ideas?

…and after they had walked a little way Christopher Robin said:

“What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?”

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best–” and then he had to stop and think. [For the purposes of this post, you can skip straight to the next paragraph, but you’d probably rather read what Pooh thinks…] Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have; and so, when he had thought it all out, he said, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying ‘What about a little something?’ and Me saying, ‘Well, I shouldn’t mind a little something, should you, Piglet,’ and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing.”

“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say ‘Oh, nothing,’ and then you go and do it.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

I don’t actually agree with Christopher Robin, I don’t think that Nothing is what I like doing best.  But, it’s a very important thing to do sometimes, I think.

I always struggle to put my finger on this, and I’m not sure this is the right approach, but maybe.  I get a longing at times when I feel busy.  But I’m not that busy.  My work schedule is calm, especially recently.  I do plenty of fun things, I’m sure I have way more fun than the average person.  Pri and I took a week+ camping vacation early this month that did have the wonderful “mind flush” sensation that vacations can bring.  I even watch TV shows sometimes (via DVD, we don’t have TV in the house).  So, it always feels wrong to say that I’m “busy”.  But that’s what I’m always tempted to say.

What’s closer to the truth, but always sounds awkward when I try to say it, is that I’m not getting enough time where I just do whatever comes to mind.  I get enough sleep.  I get a fair amount of reading done.  I dance, I tell stories with friends, I catch up with faraway loved ones with fair regularity.

But so often I have things planned.  It’s part of the Myers Briggs J personality type that I share with everyone I’m related to, I believe… while I’m working, I think “Oh, this evening I could/should do such-and-such”.  This is assuming I don’t already have something scheduled, which I often do.  As thoughts like that pile up, I start to look longingly at the weekends “I won’t be able to do such-and-such in an evening, at least not this week, so maybe this weekend.”  Of course, I often have things scheduled in the weekends too.

Anyway, this evening Pri asked if I wanted to go to a concert, the famous Menahem Pressler (who is also one of our neighbors now) leading a group in chamber music.  I’m sure I would have enjoyed it.  But I stayed home, not even knowing what I’d do.

I ended up in from of the computer, doing.. nothing.  Which took the form of some old-fashioned web surfing: “I wonder what’s online about such-and-such?  I wonder if Reason magazine did a book review of The Omnivoire’s Dilemma (which i just finished reading)?  oh, they did! back in November of 2006, and several other mentions of it since then.  oh look, this one links to a Mayo Clinic report on whether organic foods are better for you or not.”  etc.  That plus catching up on my friends’ blogs and such… but really, whatever came to mind.

I really think that’s the key… my mind is happy to be a worker, doing the thinking necessary to earn money, keep the house in decent shape, find fun things for me to do and take care of the logistics of doing them.  But without a bit of time to let my mind just run free, I start to feel a bit cramped.  I think I spent only an hour or so in this bit of nothingness I’m describing, but and the end of it I literally let out a loud sigh of comfort that I think I rarely find these days.

Then I went and emptied the dishwasher and otherwise tidied up the house for a bit.  I feel that if I’d done this earlier, my thoughts would have focused on things to do, etc.  Instead my mind continued wandering, thinking of things to do, but in a more abstract way, not trying to organize my time.  A different state of mind.  It felt good.

Eventually I started composing this very post in my mind while still cleaning.  It strikes me as one of the least “deep” and least focused things I’ve ever written here.  But, here’s a thought: “Blog” comes from “web-log” right?  Like you’re keeping a log like the Captain’s Log on Star Trek, describing everything that’s going on, but you’re saving it to the web.  That’s an interesting idea, and I think a lot of people treat it much more that way than I do.  For me, I like it best when it works as an outlet for thoughts that are stuck in my brain.  And ironically, the more things I’m doing, the less I feel that way, and the less I feel like I have to share.  In other words, the more that’s going on in my life, the less I feel like I have to write about.  Put another way, with less focus on the irony: it’s not just that being busy makes me have insufficient time to write in the blog, it’s at least as much that I like to write about things more “heady” than most of the stuff that makes me feel “busy”.

I don’t know.  It’s just a blog post about doing nothing.  Rather than wrap it all up, I think I’ll go do something else, because that’s what my mind feels like doing.


I heard about this at the Hemant “Friendly Atheist” Mehta’s talk, but they seem more organized than I’d realized.  Great!  I love the message!  I’m On The Bus!

Quick review: “Friendly atheist”: I cannot imagine a better name than that for this man.


Dear Mr. President,

I know, you said you weren’t going to, but… go ahead, Veto that bill.

Sorry that I’m writing you so late, but what can I say, there wasn’t much time.  And there still isn’t, so I’ll be really quick:

  • You ran against politics as usual, and the bill is totally politics as usual.  The party in power (it’s not just Dems, it’s whoever’s in power) throws in earmarks.  Nobody likes it.  You don’t like it.  So, just send it back, and say “pass me a bill without these earmarks”.
  • The congressional Dems are not going to have a standoff over this.  They are not going to turn to their constituents and say “we crafted a great bill and the President vetoed it, but we know that something needs to pass, so we’re just going to keep sending it to him as is.”  They’ll follow your lead, and they’ll follow it quickly.  They’d get a much better bill back to you before the end of the week.
  • Congressional Republicans will think “Wow, maybe Obama’s bipartisan rhetoric ISN’T just all talk.”  They’ll be thrilled, at least publicly.  In private, they might worry that you’re stealing a bit of their thunder, because it’ll be MUCH easier for them to pick up congressional seats in 2010 by pointing to a bloated “tax and spend” Democratic spending bill.
  • Democratic citizens will be shocked, but who cares, they love you deeply, and once they get over the surprise that we don’t just have 100% Harmony amongst the powers in Washington, they’ll easily say “well, it’s not like I really *liked* all of those earmarks…
  • Centrist and GOP citizens will cite the veto as a sign that you really are different, you’re not just a partisan, you are going to emphasize fiscal responsibility, Democrat does not just mean “spender”.
  • The press will say things like “unlike his predecessor, President Obama today sent a clear message that he’s willing to Veto bills that are passed by his own party.”

In short, politically, you’ll spend a small bit of political captial with the people who love you the most, and in return you’ll score huge points with everyone else, including the people who are most skeptical of you.  And you don’t even have to look like you’re making deals or compromising your values to do it.  Indeed, by signing it you WOULD be compromising your stated values somewhat.  A clear winner.

But really, you should veto it because you actually *do* *care* about fiscal responsibility, and while I no very little about the details of the bill, the fact that it’s going by the name “Earmark-Laden” in all the press is certainly not an indicator that it has anything to do with fiscal responsibility.  The stimulus bill was where you had justification for big spending, and whether or not everyone agrees, everyone does know that that’s not going to happen every year.  This bill is different, this bill represents the long-term for Federal spending.  And it’s not the path you want us to head down.

So, in my humble opinion, sir, Veto that bill.

It’s been over a year now and Pri and I knew where we’d be moving into, and that whole time I’ve been imagining a certain bike route.  When I worked downtown and lived on the west side, I had a route in my mind that was sort of the “long way home” route, about 12 miles, takes about an hour, and a nice way to get some exercise spontaneously.  Then I had a couple of other “after work” routes that I’d sometimes do, again about an hour, and focused on exercise.

I work at home now, so forget about the “long way home”.  But the “after work”, roughly-one-hour route should still be part of my repertoire.  And since the new house is on the south east side, there’s new side-streets to explore!  And although we only moved in last May, I never got around to this kind of thing last year.  :(  I mean, I was busy, but of course I wasn’t busy every single hour.  It should have happened.

But today, it did!  After a nicely productive afternoon and whiltling my inbox down to an amazingly small FIVE messages, I felt like doing something different before I dug back into more hopefully productive stuff this evening.  Well, remarkably, after some rather scary rainstorms this afternoon, the sun came out and it wasn’t even very windy…  It was 6:44, as I recall, but it still seemed light out.  “Oh right!!  Daylight Saving Time!”  So, I decided to celebrate the extra hour of evening sunlight with a spontaneous bike ride.  Finally!

And so, I present my first draft of the first south-east-side “after work” loop.  Only 8.5 miles, so I’ll probably try to have a “longer option” to go for a full hour, especially once I get used to where I’m going.  Today there was a heavy exploration factor, but I was still home about an hour after I had the original idea and got out the GPS, and all the other bike gear…

… and the new Heart Monitor that Pri and I purchased (thanks for the recommendation, Fiona! We love it!). According to it, I burned 627 Calories on the ride.  Based on that and another recent experiment, I’m starting to use 70 Calories per mile as my estimated fuel efficiency. I don’t know how that compares with other bikers, nor do I have extreme confidence in the data that the heart monitor puts out… But still, I’m sure it’s not completely crazy, certainly in the right order of magnitude…  And yeah, I had to pause and thing that when I do serious bike rides like the Hilly Hundred or the big bike ride to Indy I did with Erik years ago, I’m burning multiple thousands of calories. Multiple days of normal eating.  Wow.  No wonder I feel tired.

Not too tired after today’s run.  I should finish this up though so that I can still feel like the whole experience took less than 2 hours.  :)

For each of the first few years that I lived in Bloomington, I told myself that I should go to neighboring Brown County for the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival and see Bill Monroe perform while he was still alive. But I didn’t.  I was there once, saw some great music, but as I recall, he was too ill to make it, and a few months later he died.

Well, when I read that Ralph Stanley was scheduled to play at downtown Bloomington’s Buskirk Chumley Theater, I felt pretty strongly that I should make sure I went.  Not that this would make up for it, but if it’s that easy to see a living legend of an art form you feel a connection to… come on.

I was a bit concerned that the show might really just be a ruse… get some random musicians to play and just set Ralph in front of them and watch the money pour in, just cashing in on a legendary name.  There may have even been a small number of people at the show who felt like that was what happened.  But, if so, I’d say to them that they’re missing the difference between a legendary name and an actual legend.


It’s not officially a State Of The Union™ address, but you can read the prepared remarks or watch a video of the delivery thereof all from whitehouse.gov.  I don’t know if that’s an Obama administration original or not, but I LOVE that the Whitehouse is making information directly available to people like that.  Anyway, here are some reactions to the speech, in “bullet list” style to try to keep me from being too verbose:

  • Obama is smoothly referring to the deficit as something “we’ve inherited”.  I’ve long said that the Dems should take the GOP to task for spending so much for the 6 years they were in total power in Washington.  This isn’t exactly it.  And, since the Dems control congress, they can’t really blame it all on Bush. Indeed, I thought Bobby Jindal speech was actually more direct about calling the Republicans failures on fiscal discipline. (In general I found Jindal’s speech to be intelligent, but not very inspiring.)
  • When he says he wants to cut the deficit in half, is he talking about the ~$400 Billion deficit of the budget or the +$trillion deficit of reality?  If it’s the latter, he could cut it in half and still have the second largest deficit in history after the current year.  That is, prior to this year, we never had a trillion dollar deficit, I believe the record was in the $400 billions… so if he cuts it down to $500 billion….?  I may have my numbers wrong, but it seems like there may be a rather unimpressive way to technically meet that goal.
  • He sure is talking about a lot of spending, and even lowering a lot of people’s taxes.  But at the same time cutting the deficit.  How can it be?  Well, one thing is letting the “Bush tax cuts” expire, but that’s not going to make the difference.  What I’m hoping is that he really will go through the budget “line by line” and eliminate programs that aren’t working.  Take, for instance, the war on drugs.  Can anyone say that it’s working?  And it certainly costs a lot of money.
  • I really like his focus on responsibility and accountability in government.  I hope he can carry through on that.  A lot of politicians talk about that kind of thing, but I do feel like he is really more serious about it than most.  I hope I’m right.
  • I also like his focus on accountability and responsibility outside of government.  Republicans have got to love that too… except that they might think that he is stealing their lines… except that they might actually have some effect when he says them.
  • I really don’t think it’s fair to say that the United States is the nation that invented the automobile.  He could have said that we were the nation to turn it from a rich person’s hobby to a near necessity for everyone.
  • Energy, Health Care, and Education.  Democrats are definitely in charge.  I’m skeptical that they’ll be able to succeed at these goals.  But I hope they do.
  • “dropping out of high school is no longer an option.  It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.”  This is a great example of the kind of thing that I feel like Obama can say in a way that seems like it would actually resonate with an actual young person considering dropping out.  I hope I’m right.  If he could inspire our nation’s under-ambitious youth, he could transform our society in ways that no law ever could.
  • A really dense section of quite specific and often remarkable claims about his upcoming budget:
    • “end education programs that don’t work.”  That could be a lot of programs
    • “end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them”. I had to cheer at hearing this.  I sure hope he accomplishes that, although I don’t know how he can given that the Farm Bill just passed with huge Democratic support.
    • “eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq”, more cheers!
    • “reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use”.  Talk about a place to save money!! Maybe he will be able to spend all that money and still cut the deficit in half.
    • “We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier.” I don’t know much about this, but I can definitely imagine that there could be a lot of fat to trim there.
    • “we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.”  The Dems must love this, although I have to wonder if it’s more symbolic than anything.  Companies aren’t exporting jobs for tax breaks, and I doubt that the tax breaks add up to much.  It’ll still be cheaper to hire people in China or India than in the US, companies will keep doing it.  Having said all that, I do agree with the spirit of the statement that the companies shouldn’t get a tax break for doing it.  But… what exactly is this tax break?  anyone know?

Finally, you’ve got to be impressed by Ruth Bader Ginsberg showing up for work yesterday and staying up to attend tonight’s speech.  She looked kind of dazed to me, though.  I hope she’s doing well.

So apparently some of my friends (traditional English-language definition) coordinated some kind of a campaign to become my friends (modern social-networking definition) on facebook.  I received some 15 friend requests in the 11am hour this morning, without having a facebook account.  I actually had to wonder if somehow someone had managed to make an account for me on facebook without my consent, although if they had it was pretty clearly good hearted.

They didn’t.  Or at least, I don’t think they did.  I don’t really know.  But I did go ahead and create an account. There?  Happy?

So far, it’s overwhelming… which I guess it to expected.  Within an hour of signing up, my inbox had basically only facebook notifications visible in it.  Two full screens of messages, about 35 facebook notifications, and two normal legitimate emails.  Most of these are friend confirmations, so presumably those will die down soon once the initial rush is over.  Let’s hope…

Meanwhile, I find the facebook interface easy enough to use (very impressive how quickly it identified all of these “friends” for me) but… overwhelming.  Right now it feels like 30 of my friends are having a party in the room while I’m trying to work.  Not that I can’t see the attraction, but, at the risk of seeming a 21st century high-tech grumpy old man, I’m closing the window for now.

Ok, it’s really cold.  I wanted to express my respect and good wishes to everyone who braved the cold on their bicycles today… most particularly, my Brazilian wife!  Very impressive!

The walk from my bedroom to my office was far less harrowing.  I did have to walk to the mailbox to send in my estimated tax payments though – Due today, don’t forget all you self-employed people out there!

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